It’s popular today to deny the concept of sin. There are only bad choices, mistakes to move on from, and other people to blame.
Behind that dislike of calling things “sin” is outrage that God would pass judgment on me and my actions. How dare he! To that person, God is a tyrant. What a different picture we get from the Psalms.
The third penitential psalm, Psalm 38, begins like this: “A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering” – or, literally, “A Psalm of David, to call to mind.” Far from denying the existence of sin or putting bad choices behind him, King David plunges into the mess and anguish that sin has caused in his life. He “calls it to mind” before the Lord, stares it straight in the face, and finds hope of salvation.
There are no words in Hebrew for abstract things, so the psalm is full of graphic images: arrows that have found their mark. Festering sores. Heavy burdens and traps. Friends and family who stand at a distance, enemies who laugh and provoke. These word pictures draw from me strong emotions. I can’t relate to stinking sores but I know the anguish of tossing and turning in bed, thoughts churning, feeling the burden of things I’ve done wrong like a terrible weight. Where is the remedy?
Pray with this psalm, and you will find it.
- Notice the rhythm, how David begins and ends with God, goes back and forth from bemoaning his own agony to turning to the One who can help.
- Notice the progression in verses 1, 9, 15, 21-22: How does David’s perspective change from one to the next?
- After an examination of conscience – pour your own sorrows, your hurts and your grievances into this prayer of David. Pray along with him and find your way to his conclusion — “Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (vs. 22)
“Perhaps your cry will never reach the ears of men, but it is always heard by God” (St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 37, 13-14)
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To incorporate lectio divina into your prayer and better recognize where you have sinned, express your sorrow, and ask forgiveness:
Pray: Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and show me mercy, for I am a sinner before Thee.
Read Psalm 38 all the way through several times. At least one time, read it out loud.
Reflect on the same psalm: read it slowly, lingering where your heart draws you.
Consider these questions, writing your answers in a journal if desired:
- What stands out to you in this Psalm?
- What do you hear God saying to you, personally?
Respond: What will you do about what you have heard? Respond to God in prayer.
Rest in his presence.
Close: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
- Read the Introduction to this series here.
- Download Praying the Penitential Psalms-download here.
- Read more about lectio divina here.
© 2014 Sarah Christmyer
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2016 update: Set aside ten minutes a day during Lent for a “spiritual cleanse” using my new journal based on these posts, Create in Me a Clean Heart: 10 Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms, available in paperback and on Kindle.