The gift again is mercy. The prayer is that we might experience the riches of God’s mercy. Mercy produces joy and gratitude, despite our circumstances. Our circumstances might not change, but we can always have incredible joy and gratitude that we have been given God’s merciful love instead of the wrath that we deserve.
Psalm 40 shows us that we can confidently approach God in our time of need, and that we can continue to worship and rejoice in him, even when our circumstances would indicate otherwise. It also sets a clear pattern that God doesn’t always tie things up in a perfect, red bow at the end. It doesn’t promise that “all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion.” That prayer is prayed, but as far as we know, those attempted murderers are still on the prowl. What it does promise is we can go to God as our refuge and strength in the midst of this.
I don’t think the lesson of Psalm 38 is meant to be a clear-cut “1. Bad things are happening to you because you sinned, 2. Confess your sins and the bad things will stop happening.” I say this because the psalm itself doesn’t have much clear-cut about it. The suffering the psalmist experiences is ambiguous in its source. It starts out as a result of God’s wrath toward sin but without announcing it, becomes stimulated by enemies who want to kill and harm without cause and the psalmist is once again seen as an innocent victim (verse 20). I think the lesson or point of this psalm is to once again guide us to run to God’s mercy and grace when we are experiencing suffering, even when the suffering continues. A unique feature of this psalm is its reminder to us that God’s wrath is real, so how much more should we 1. do our best not to sin, and 2. run to Jesus for his grace and forgiveness to cover our sin and satisfy God’s wrath. Once you are a Christian / believer, this is a once-and-for-all covering. Jesus’ work is finished. But it’s healing and freeing to remember what it is we deserve from God (apart from Jesus) so that we can so much better enjoy and experience his undeserved gifts of grace and mercy that he lavishes on us. When we start acting like God could never be wrathful because he’s just not like that (though Scripture says otherwise), we lose out on how big of a gift his mercy and grace to us really is.
For the most part, I grew up in church being taught that people in the Old Testament (old covenant) were saved by works and people in the New Testament (once Jesus died and rose–the new covenant) were saved by grace. Psalm 32 shows us that that just isn’t true. People in the Old Testament were also very much saved by grace. The psalmist describes a very Jesus-like salvation here where he talks about his sins being covered and forgiven, the Lord not counting his sins against him, and the act of confessing sin and being forgiven, with guilt being taken away. I could include numerous New Testament verses to each of those phrases. My point here isn’t to get us going down a theological wormhole, which we certainly could do, with some legitimate questions around the old covenant and around Jesus. My point is to stay with the point of the psalm, and that is to bask in the freedom of being forgiven!
In our loneliness and anguish, we can come back to the gospel. We can be reminded of God’s amazing grace, mercy, and love toward us. We can ask God to pour more of his grace, mercy, and love on to us. Asking him to help us experience these truths more fully in the midst of the anguish we are in.
One of the most healthy spiritual disciplines for me is to regularly sit before a holy God during my prayer time. I use Exodus 9:9-25 and visualize myself sitting on the holy mountain as one of those original Israelites. I try to feel the emotion that comes with trying to comprehend the vast chasm between God’s holiness and my sinfulness. Then I turn my prayer and meditation time toward Colossians 1:22, Romans 8:15-17, and Matthew 3:16-17. The chasm of separation between me and God gets filled as the floodgates of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy open. I can only unlock the riches of this gift if I first walk the path of understanding how much I don’t deserve it. When I begin to comprehend that I don’t deserve it, I can begin to experience how beautiful and amazing it is that I get to have it.