My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.
A few weeks ago, my wife Heidi and I had a chance to get away to Florida for a week of vacation. It was a much-needed time of rest and recreation away from the constant demands of planting & pastoring a new church. So we headed to the airport, dragging our one, hugely oversized piece of luggage behind us. But when we placed the suitcase on the scale, we found that it exceeded the airline’s weight limit by six pounds. The kindly woman at the counter informed us of our options—pay an additional $75 for the bag, or figure out a way to shed some weight. The choice was clear. We had a problem: we were carrying more than we needed…there would be consequences…something had to change.
There’s no getting around it – life gives us plenty of burdens to bear, so we’d better be sure we’re only carrying the right stuff…the stuff we need to carry. It’s a good lesson to learn. But here’s the problem: this wasn’t the first time this had happened to us. The problem wasn’t that we didn’t know the consequences, it’s that we had forgotten them.
Psalm 38 begins with an inscription, intended to provide some context for the song. The New International Version translates this heading as, “A psalm of David. A petition.” And that’s exactly how it sounds in verse one: “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.” But a more literal translation of the Hebrew inscription would be something like, “A psalm of David. To cause to remember.” David isn’t simply writing this song to ask God to back off on the anger and wrath, but rather, “to cause to remember.” Who does David want to remember? What does he want them to remember?
David’s song is of course a reminder to himself (and to us) that sin has real consequences. Because of David’s “sinful folly” he is “wounded, burdened, and bowed down” (vs. 4-6). These consequences aren’t just metaphorical, they are an actual health crisis! David complains that he has “no health in his body,” and “no soundness in his bones” because of his sin (vs. 3); he experiences “searing pain” in his back (vs. 7), and intense fatigue (vs. 10). David is “caused to remember” that God takes our sin seriously, and that God’s righteous wrath is not to be trifled with. It would do me well to remember that truth as well!
But David is also causing God—or asking God—to remember some things as well. First of all, David wants God to remember…God!
Implied in David’s petition for mercy is a reminder of God’s grace and compassion, God’s mercy and forgiveness. God is the one who wonderfully chooses to turn from his wrath and relent from his anger, so that He can show us the depth of His glory (see Romans 9:22-23). David wants to remind God of who He is. But he also wants God to remember David’s sincere desire to live a life that is holy and pleasing to God. His petition for mercy is accompanied by honest confession (vs. 18) and humble admission of his need for a Savior (vs. 21-22). Like David, I need to remember that the pathway to spiritual health and wholeness is through repentance and humility! (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Last week we celebrated Good Friday and Easter. We were “caused to remember” Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice on the cross and Jesus’ vindication and victory at the resurrection. I don’t know about you, but I need constant reminders of what all of that means for me. It means, first and foremost, that there should be no question in my mind that God loves me and God is for me. Paul reminds us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners; that his death means that we are “justified” and “saved from God’s wrath” through his sacrifice; and that we can obtain eternal life through Christ’s resurrection (see Romans 5:8-10).
All this should also cause us to remember that even though sin has deathly consequences, we don’t need to carry that weight any longer! Like David, we can approach God in honest confession; like him, we can humbly embrace our need for a Savior. Life may still give us plenty to bear, but we never need to be burdened by the guilt and shame of our sin. God has done that heavy lifting…we are forgiven, and we are free to lay down anything that keeps us from the joy of following Jesus (see Hebrews 12:1-3).
This is the season of Easter! We are invited to live in the reality, and the hope, and the confidence of the resurrection. So shed some spiritual weight, lay down your burdens and celebrate Jesus. And always stay thirsty for him!