While speaking in Big Bear last weekend, I spoke on Psalm 38. About halfway through, the psalmist loses his hearing and ability to speak. After listing out all the terrible effects of sin–rotting bones, festering wounds, being doubled over with pain, contagion that chases away friends and family–he mentions that while his enemies seek his life, he becomes deaf and mute. He becomes an observer with nothing to offer. He cannot neither hear what is happening nor contribute to it. He can only watch helplessly.
This problem happens to us more often than we care to admit. We lose power to influence our world. We lose the ability to interact effectively with those close to us. Politics leave us feeling helpless. Sin takes hold until our only response is frustration and anger. We watch our environments degrade until that which supported life now kills it. Towards the end, this same psalmist does a very strange thing. In two consecutive lines, he both confesses his sin and faults, but that does not seem to justify the attacks that keep coming. We are powerless, but praying to the Powerful One. We are guilty, but the attacks against us are unjustified. This is the awkward and uncomfortable space of confession.
I was preaching this to teenagers who had hardly ever seen snow. But despite their lack of experience in the world, they understood that relationships–including our relationship with God–are complex. There is no easy way to just move past our sin. Sin scars us from the way we think about ourselves (better than we really are or worse than we really are) to the way we think about our others (out to dis-empower us or not to attack us) to the way that we think about God (out to punish every mistake or too lazy to get up off his throne). We have attitudes that need confessing. We have relationships that need work. We have appetites and desires that need to be either rebuked or encouraged, but we do not know which is which.
During this middle time of fasting and prayer, I hope we understand the purpose of the fast. It is not discipline for discipline’s sake. It is not morbid navel-gazing about our sin. This fast is about using our will in response to God to curtail our appetites and desires so that our attitudes and relationships can be given the space to receive an infusion of God’s grace. This grace provides for our sanctification (becoming more like Christ) and prepares us for joy. In the meantime, we feel sin’s full-embodied impact. We know it’s depth and understand the confusion that it causes. May we be reminded that as we persevere in our pursuit of holiness, our Savior is faithful to walk with us and lead us through.
“Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:22)