Psalm 25 – Facing Shame

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 31st 2016. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – ps 25.

Merriam Webster defines shame as, “a feeling of guilt, regret or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong.” We all remember moments when we felt ashamed because of our behavior. However, there is also a more subtle form of shame–a sense of inadequacy which human beings struggle with, which says that we are somehow lacking, or somehow that we are not good enough.

Both of these internal movements of shame (whether we actually look back at some event or acton, or whether we have an ongoing sense of not-enough-ness) tend to have the effect of making us feel distant from God, a situation that is not helped by our tendencies towards ongoing sin, defensiveness, and anxiety.

Psalm 25 is a prayer set to music by King David, which allows us to enter into his struggle with shame, and to see a model of how we can address the isolation and fear that shame causes.

Vs.1-3 ACKNOWLEDGE THE ISOLATION SHAME HAS CREATED IN YOU.

I Am Not Ok: To You, O God, I lift up my soul. In you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame. Different versions of the Bible rephrase these first lines of David’s prayer, making them sound less passionate, which seems an odd choice in a Psalm where David is struggling with shame. For David, at least, though we do not know the specific situation behind his Psalm, this is not a dispassionate issue. However, whether or not we are dealing with a specific sin that feels as though we are separated from God, or a sense of inadequacy, shame is painful and isolating. Shame feels like failure and actually rewires the neural pathways of our brains so that we think less clearly. Shame creates a tendency in us to draw away from people and relationships and to isolate ourselves. We come to believe that we are not enough and that we are failures. We feel unwarranted ongoing, often unspecified guilt towards our own personal standards, our families (spouse, parents, children), society (work, school, church, friends). Many of us live with this unspecified, ongoing sense of shame–lingering under the radar, but profoundly affecting our speech, behavior and our motivations for much of what we do.

What Does God Think of Me?  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.  It is easy to read these words as a kind of self-justifying statement by David (e.g. I’m not going to be put to shame, but I know some really bad people who will be), but that is completely out of keeping with the rest of this Psalm. David is making a statement, but then questioning himself because of shame. He believes that those who trust in God will not be put to shame–but what about someone who has acted treacherously without excuse–like a king who stole a man’s wife and had the innocent man killed?

Many of us have these questions. On a quiz we might all say that we believe God is forgiving and gracious, but to ourselves we often think about past sins, ongoing present sins–the issues of our lives that we are truly ashamed of, which make us feel that God might or might not truly love us, receive us and forgive us. David has this question, and he realizes that the only way to answer it is to stop doing what shame always tells us to do–to stop hiding.

Vs.4-7 ASK GOD TO COME AND FIND YOU.

Heal My Life:  Show me your ways, O Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God, my savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  These words can sound like David is asking for instruction–information on how to do better–and that would do violence to what is happening here.

If we read this Psalm as a prayer, then we realize that David is asking for healing and connection with God, from whom he feels distant. What David needs, and what we all need in the face of shame is not mere information and instruction–as though we were repairing a washing machine. Rather, David is saying, I have gotten lost. I have wandered off from what is good and true. My life is like a child lost in the woods at night. I have done this to myself!  In fact, David’s request here breaks down into a three part statement…

  1. Remember how much you love me!  vs.6 Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old
  2. Don’t remember my waywardness and willfulness! “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.
  3. Take my hand (metaphorically) and lead me out of the mess I have gotten myself into! “According to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.

Vs.8-15 ACKNOWLEDGE THE CHARACTER AND MOTIVES OF GOD.

Why Should God Help Me?  If you aren’t asking this question, at this point, you either have no shame issues or you are shutting this Psalm out. The soul of shame is the belief that we are not worthy of love or help or the consideration of another, much less the God of the universe. The one who struggles with shame is going to ask: Why should God help me out of my own mess?  Why should God not remember my willful behavior, words, actions?  David, to whom these questions have occurred, stops to acknowledge the character of God. The following affirmations become his statement of confidence that God will, in fact, hear his prayer.

  1. Vs.8 God’s Passion is Healing and Restoring Sinners and Broken People: “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in his ways, he guides the humble in what is right.” The character of God is not to shame and destroy, but because he is upright, he seeks to instruct and heal sinners.
  2. Vs.10 God is Committed to Relationships: “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.  The covenant that David knew was the OT agreement which allowed God and his people to be in relationship. Central to the covenant were commandments intended to heal the lives of those who kept them, and sacrifices for sin and restoration. God has always desired relationship with people and has always made a way to restore those who offended him. Jesus Christ is the final word on the lengths that God is willing to go to in order to have relationship with us and to restore us when we are wayward, rebellious and do shameful things.
  3. Vs.14 God Confides and Trusts Those With Whom He is in Relationship:  The Lord confides  in those who fear him…  The character of God is not to sit up above us in a dispassionate, disinterested way, but to confide in us–to give us his trust–to invest in faulty, broken human beings.

For His Name’s Sake!  For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity (waywardness) though it is great…my eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Why would God take our hand and lead our lives out of the mess we have made of them? Because that is who God is. God’s name, his identity, is that he is one who saves, heals, renews and blesses our lives.

David recognizes something important in vs.15. Not only can he cry out to God and ask God to deliver him in/from his shame–but it is only God who can deliver him from shame. Isolation is our attempt to move away and heal ourselves (like wounded animals), but isolation only deepens our shame. Psychologists  are now realizing that the answer to healing for shame is vulnerability–the willingness to expose oneself to others who will help them to reestablish social connections so that the mind can heal. But our greatest need for healing, and thus our most important vulnerability, is to be vulnerable before God.

Vs. 16-22 DON’T HIDE.

Breaking the Pattern:  Shame, then, cuts us off from others. When we feel shame we tend to hide and our mind actually stops working properly, breaking off social connections so that we do not think or act clearly–neural pathways are actually cut off.

But isolation violates a basic aspect of our humanity – “It is not good for people to be alone” (Gen.2:18).

As David ends the Psalm, this is the issue which he addresses.  Shame is lonely and painful. Shame is the enemy that David asks God to rescue him from…

    • Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
    • The troubles of my heart have multiplied–free me from my anguish.
    • Look on my anguish and my distress and take away all my sins.
    • Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.

What we see in these verses is the lonely call of the shamed person (perhaps intensified because of the expectations placed on the king of Israel). Many people struggle with this brokenness. But shame must be confronted and dealt with, or it eats away at the soul. This is perhaps a key for our understanding of what Jesus did for us–(Heb.12:2, 1 Peter 2:24). God’s answer to David’s prayer/Psalm, is not only to take our hands and help us find a way to healing, but to take our shame and sin on himself and offer us complete freedom and forgiveness.