Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways so that sinners will turn back to you. (Psalm 51:12-13)
The Power of Then
If you know me personally, or if you’ve read enough of my Thirsty Thursday posts, you know that I love words. Words and language fascinate me, and they always have. I recently read an article in Psychology Today titled, “The Power of Then” by Dr. Liane Gabora. The article explores our unique human ability to think beyond the here and now—to reflect on things in the past and to dream about possibilities in the future. The “word nerd” in me realized for the first time as I was reading, that the little word “then” can refer to something that happened in the past (back then), AND it can refer to something that might happen next (until then). Weird, I know! And as Dr. Gabora points out, among all the species, only human beings can process this idea of “then.”
“Then,” along with “if” are the two parts of the equation we call a “conditional statement.” If this happens, then that. For example, IF we start saving money when we’re young, THEN our investment will result in a better retirement when we’re old (we hope). The second part is conditional upon the first part.
In Psalm 51, David the King begins “Have mercy on me, O God.” This isn’t just a general prayer for blessing; it’s a specific plea for forgiveness, mercy and restoration. David admits that he has sinned against God, and done what is evil in God’s sight (vs. 4). His sin includes lust and adultery (Bathsheba), deception and murder (Bathsheba’s husband Uriah), arrogance and cover up. This is David’s here and now. He finds himself between what happened back then and what will happen next—the conditional if…then result of his actions. According to God’s law and justice, what happens next is not good. David doesn’t have an excuse. He’s guilty…he’s condemned already. And yet, David pleads, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion.”
IF God operates in judgment, THEN David knows he doesn’t have a prayer. But IF God operates according to His unfailing love and great compassion, THEN as the Apostle James would write 1000 years later, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
So, David asks God to “cleanse” and “wash” him (vs. 7); he asks to hear “joy” and “gladness” in the midst of his shame (vs. 8); he asks God to create a “pure heart” and renew a “steadfast spirit” in him (vs. 10); he pleads for God’s “presence” and “Holy Spirit” (vs. 11); he wants God to restore the joy of his salvation and to sustain him with a “willing spirit” (vs. 12)
And IF God does those things…THEN what?
Then I will teach transgressors your ways so that sinners will turn back to you. (Psalm 51:13)
IF God does something to forgive my past…IF God does something to change me in the present…THEN, and only then, God can use me to make a difference for good in the world.
As human beings, we do have the God-given ability to consider what’s happened in our past. But regardless of what our past looks like, we also have the God-given ability to imagine, to hope for, TO PRAY FOR our better future. Like David, we can ask for mercy—no matter what we’ve done. Like David, we can pray for real change in our lives—change that brings joy and gladness, forgiveness and freedom. Like him, we can imagine a future in God’s presence, living out God’s purpose for our lives. But there’s one condition–it all starts by acknowledging and confessing our shortcomings to God.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
Psalm 51 reminds us that real life…a better life…is possible. We don’t have to settle for the “IF…THEN” of our past. We have a present and future hope in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect expression of God’s unfailing love and God’s great compassion. IF we truly want real life, THEN Jesus promises to give it to us. It’s as simple as that. He is the source of life. He is the Living Water. Always stay thirsty for Him!