7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
11 Rejoice in the LORD and be exalted, you righteous.
Sing for joy, you upright in heart.
The most intense struggle that a child of the kingdom can experience is with unrighteousness.
I’m not talking about the everyday, external wickedness that consists of lying to or deceiving a neighbor. For those temptations as well as the inclination to all other sins are lodged in his wicked heart. But, schooled by the Word and Spirit to understand that lying and deception are works of the Devil, a person is able in the Lord’s strength to abstain from such wanton service to the Devil. The Word commands this: “Let every man speak the truth to his neighbor.” By the power of the Word, he does just that.
No, the insincerity with which a child of God struggles until the day they die goes much deeper. It’s lodged inside and touches their spiritual standing before our All-Knowing God. That’s why Almighty God, the Father of believers, says consistently: “Let me see that you walk before me sincerely.” Psalm 25 says: “Let uprightness and godliness protect me.” Christ was amazed to find that Nathaniel was a genuine person “without deceit. Truly, no deceit was found in him.” And the great, glorious promise found in the New Testament is “that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
The deeply insightful Psalm 32 provides light on the question of what the Lord God means by the uprightness of his children.
The struggling person who by the Spirit’s leading pours out their soul in this psalm is a child of God. But they’re a child of God who deviates, struggles, and falls into sin. And now, after having fallen into sin, they find themself standing in God’s presence as insincere. After they fell into sin, their heavenly Father sought them out. God scrutinized them with that holy, godly, penetrating look of his. By that look he intended to wound them as well as to connect with them.
But the fallen child of God didn’t want to see that disturbing look on God’s face. They didn’t dare to return it. They didn’t look up at their God looking down on them. And when they very clearly felt and understood that God wanted them to say something, they didn’t say a word. They remained silent. This is how David put it: “When I stayed silent … your hand was heavy on me all day and all night. My strength was sapped, as in the heat of summer.” But that silence was wrong on David’s part, for in the immediately preceding verse he confesses that “my spirit was deceitful.”
But then he comes clean and says very frankly that this was foolish on his part. He should have spoken immediately when God confronted him. He should have confessed his guilt. He acknowledges that he had been “like a horse or a mule, like an animal that has no understanding.”
Of what benefit to him was it that he had been so insincere in God’s presence?
Did it help him at all? Did it remove his sin? Did it prevent God from knowing his sin? Was his soul uplifted a little by this silence of his, by his proud and arrogant silence?
Not at all! In fact, his heart languished. His soul was torn apart. He felt oppressed inwardly by it. It made him very tense to avoid looking his holy God in the eye! In fact, it made him miserable.
Just listen to his jubilation, however, when his soul finally broke through his silence:
“Oh, how blessed when God forgives someone for their transgressions and covers their sins. How unspeakably blessed I am now that the Lord no longer counts my iniquities and that my heart is free of deceit.” He had moved from death to life, from despair to joy.
But initially he had not wanted to have anything to do with that blessedness or with that amazing grace. He had spent the whole day, every day, making a lot of noise; but through all that clamor, his soul had remained totally silent. He had simply left God standing there, tested him, and held out on him. “But when I was silent,” he confesses now, “my bones wasted away.”
That’s because opposing God and holding out on him causes us pain. It gnaws at the marrow of our bones.
Finally, he could hold out no longer.
The large dike of his own pride was breached. The waters of God’s grace flooded into the fields once again. “Then I made known my sins. I no longer concealed my unrighteousness. I said: ‘I will speak; I will confess my transgressions to the Lord!’ Oh, blessed experience! As soon as my confession crossed my lips, my faith was restored ‘and you forgave my sin and unrighteousness.’ ”
Now set free, he is jubilant and he professes: “Therefore, all who are holy will worship you in the day they are found. And even a flood of great waters will not touch them!” Then he adds: “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! Sing for joy, you upright in heart!”
Scripture itself teaches us what it means for God’s children to be “upright in heart.” It intends to say that they should not merely think: “God certainly knows what I’ve done wrong!” But they should remember that they are obligated and accountable to make known to God themselves what their sins are. They’re required to spell them out for him. They’re obligated to confess them, not keep quiet about them. They’re expected to do so continuously and to admit to suffering the deepest humiliation that a child of God can possibly endure with respect to the eternally merciful love of God.
And don’t just say that all of this doesn’t matter all that much, or that it will happen rather automatically. Don’t think that pretty much everyone responds this way. The experience of the soul tells us just the opposite! It demonstrates that sin produces something quite different. It weakens and reduces the ability to pray. It sees to it that people really do want to drop to their knees, but that they seldom get around to it. It makes sure that when people pray, they pray in generalities. It guarantees that their praying lacks the moral power to force them beyond the outer court and into the holy of holies.
The destruction that sin produces is quite awful. Compare a bud on a stem that you think is going to open and blossom. Then sin comes along, and like a worm it chews on that stem. Before you know it, the bud that should have opened just withers away.
Ahhhhh! But there’s still an enduring power of life remaining in the root!
Sin no longer brings death to the plant cultivated by God, even though sometimes there’s fear that it might. Grace, nothing but grace, is what finally turns the heart in a new direction. Heated passions die down in the heart. Calmness is restored. This is the sensibility brought by the soothing strokes of a higher hand. The soul that so recently was still angry and untrue shuts down to unrighteousness, and it no longer yearns for what it shouldn’t. Then it opens and unfolds and emits a wonderful fragrance. From the depths it is now able to profess: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy of being called your child.” That’s when it realizes once again that what it thought was gone was really present all along, namely, “the everlasting arms of mercy”!
Sisters and brothers, when your soul genuinely confesses your guilt, you are enabled to pour out your hearts to the Lord. But then never exalt in yourself. That you are able to do this, that you now feel that you’re being completely truthful, and that this comes very easily for you is due only and completely to God’s merciful grace!
This still needs to be added, however.
A child of God doesn’t experience this struggle only in unusual spiritual circumstances. It doesn’t happen only when they’re dealing with a blatant sin that goes against their better judgment and is persistent and brutalizing. The intense battle against wickedness needs to be waged constantly.
To suppose that there is as much as a single moment in their life while a child of God is here on earth when sin doesn’t grate their soul is an abhorrent self-delusion. Sin oppresses them. It restricts their spiritual maturation. It puts them in tension with the image of the Son of God being renewed within them.
The person who judges casually imagines otherwise. But the person who uses a more exacting measurement knows better.
Look, sin produces inner discord. When we examine ourselves closely, very closely, we feel we’re good for nothing. Everything about us falls away. We’ve nothing left to offer. And then the tempter whispers: “Is this really a child of the God who reigns on high?” And when the world comes along and regards us as being so much holier than we really are, or when Christian brothers and sisters see a holiness in us that really isn’t there, then our hearts are split down the middle. Then there’s a chasm between what’s in our hearts and what crosses our lips! That distance is what’s false, insincere, deceitful, and even self-deceitful, about us. It shouldn’t exist. It has to be closed. “Lord, let my tongue and my mouth and the deepest desires of my heart be well-pleasing to you!”
To realize this, you need faith! You need faith to understand how miserable you are, how glorious Jesus is, and how richly merciful God is. With such faith, you will be able to see and understand and experience this truth: “The All-Merciful God has addressed my miserable condition from the riches that are in Christ Jesus.”
Such faith is the ax wielded against the root of wickedness.
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms