The Will to Pill (Psalm 32)
People in our society are obsessed with their health. Turn on the television and witness the barrage of ads concerning different pharmaceuticals. There is a different pill for almost whatever ails you. As we watch television, you see all these ads featuring happy and attractive people walking in the woods, mountain biking, sitting in bathtubs, and throwing footballs through tires because they took a pill that made it possible. Want to lose weight, get more sleep, get stronger, or deal with an embarrassing social disease? Just ask your doctor, pop the pill, and relax. Call it “better living through chemistry.”
It’s certainly true that many of these advances in medical science have made a different in the quality of life for people; many of you (and I, myself) have benefits from these advances.
But as good as these pills are, they’re not strong enough to do the job alone. Taking cholesterol medication while continuing to eat back fried in lard probably negates any good benefit the drug offers.
But that doesn’t stop people from relying on them. Of all the pharmaceutical ads popping up everywhere, the ones targeting America’s rapidly expanding waistline seem to get the most response. After all, if you could really lose 10 pounds while still sitting on the couch eating cheese puffs, wouldn’t you want to make it happen? Diet pills have been around for decades featuring before-and-after photos of folks who’ve gone from flab to fab without diet or exercise. Sales of these pills have swelled in the last few years along with the bellies of consumers. Every year brings new diets or a new remedy that claims we can have it all and still look good, too.
But, if you read the fine print of many of these products, you see that they only work to chew up fat you already have. If you continue to overeat, they won’t work. Bottom line? These pills only work if you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly—stuff you should be doing in the first place. Truth is that most people don’t need the pill, they just need the will to get out and do what’s right for their bodies.
In fact, it’s not just that people need the will to do what’s right for their bodies—they need the will to get out and do what’s right for their souls. Psalm 32 reads a bit like a doctor’s orders for a people suffering from the debilitating effects of sinful living. Just like diet and exercise can reverse the effects of mistreating one’s body for years, the diet of Psalm 32 can reverse the effects of mistreating our souls. This diet isn’t a one-shot personal power pill but a daily workout regiment. What is this diet, you ask? Confession, prayer, and instruction.
Confession, v 5
“I acknowledge my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
The psalmist determined that he would not that he would no longer hide his sin, but he laid it out before God. People with addictions going through 12-step programs know that the first step toward healing is the acknowledgement that there’s a problem, be it alcohol, drugs, or anything else.
You understand why that’s the case—sin loves darkness, secrecy. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20). Think about our own society for a moment: when do most robberies occurs? Why do they occur at night? Because deeds can most easily be concealed in the darkness. That general truth works quite well when it comes to sin as Jesus himself noted—sin loves darkness.
There are great benefits in Scripture for the one who will confess his sin.
God forgives the sins of the one who confesses those sins.
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov 28:13). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
Confession restores the relationships lost through sin.
When the Prodigal Son returned to his father, he confessed his wrongdoing by saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk 15:21). Wives, what is it you want from your husbands when they’ve wronged you? Husbans, what do you want from your wives when they’ve wronged you? Don’t we want an apology, a confession of wrongdoing?
Notice that in this Psalm there is a change in the relationship between the writer and God once he confesses his sins: At the beginning of this Psalm, he mentions being under God’s judgment for sin (vv 3-4)< but he confesses his sin (v 5) and moves to praise (vv 6-7).
Confession humbles us greatly.
Notice what we read in a Psalm where David is confessing his sin with Bathsheba: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17). Is not the humiliation precisely why it’s so hard to confess our wrongdoings? Who wants to be brought down several notches and be humiliated? It may seem quite odd that I would mention being humbled as a benefit of confession. However, without being brought down a few notches and realizing that we don’t have all the answers, can we ever please our God?
Being general director of the New York opera took a toll on Beverly Sills; she ballooned into obesity. She said, “It made me sick to look at myself. I’d reached the point where I didn’t want to have my clothes made anymore. It was too embarrassing. So I ordered everything from catalogues.”
Eventually Sills was forced to face the problem. “I woke up one day and realized I was really ill,” she wrote. She went to see a specialist who put her on the scales. The scales read 215 pounds. She gasped, “I cannot possibly weigh that much!” The doctor said, “Please look down. Are those two fat feet on the scale yours or mine?” She smiled and wrote, “Once I accepted the problem, I was on my way.”
Will we accept—confess—our problem and be on our way?
Prayer, vv 6-7
“Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”
In the ancient world, the sea and other wild waters represented evil and chaos. Thus, the psalmist rejoices that as he prays, God will deliver him from the rush of great waters.
We understand the grat power of deliverance which comes from prayer. y“Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish” (Jon 2:1) and found delivered in a fish’s vomit. 1 Samuel 7:7-11. When the Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to preach no more in Jesus’ name, the apostles came together with the rest of the church in Jerusalem and prayed, and “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
What can deliverance we can have through prayer! “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. O which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven given good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7-11). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:6-7).
How much do we seek that deliverance which comes through prayer?
Abraham Lincoln felt a great need for wisdom during the Civil War. A person friend of his wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President. One night—it was just before the Battle of Bull Run—I was restless and could not sleep. From Lincoln’s bedroom, I heard the low tones of his voice. Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten. The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible. He did not know I could overhear his agonizing supplications as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God who heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me. I cannot lead these people. I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help. O Lord, hear me and save this nation.” The answer Lincoln receive is now history as the Union was preserved.
We may not always get the answer we seek, as did Lincoln. However, even in the darkest of nights, we can cast ourselves at the feet of our God who will hear and aid us in the night.
Will we call out to the God who will hear us?
Instruction, vv 8-9
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understandings, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.”
The speaker at this point in the psalm certainly seems to switch from David to God. God says that he will instruct the psalmist and teach him in the way he should go. It’s almost as if the psalmist gets himself a personal trainer in the form of God who is going to instruct him in the way he’s to go.
God has provided us with the way to go. “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 25:8). “Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose” (Ps 25:12).
God once directly instructed people in what to do (e.g., he instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac). Now, we find that instruction in Scripture. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Yet, God is acutely aware of man’s tendency not to do what he knows is best for himself. The fact that the rate of obesity in the United States has grown despite an accompanying rise in diet pills and books, exercise videos and other fitness-related products tells us that we know what’s good for us, but we’re often too stubborn or set in our ways actually to do it. Over and over in Scripture we read of people sinning to their detriment—the Israelites in the wilderness, Nadab and Abihu, David and Bathsheba, and Judas, just a few examples.
What will we do? Will we obey God, or shall we be like a mule which needs a bridle to stay close?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.