How blest is he whose trespass hath freely been forgiv’n, whose sin is wholly covered before the sight of heav’n. Blest he to whom Jehovah will not impute his sin, who hath a guileless spirit, whose heart is true within.
2 While I kept guilty silence, my strength was spent with grief; thy hand was heavy on me, my soul found no relief. But when I owned my trespass, my sin hid not from thee, when I confessed transgression, then thou forgavest me.
3 So let the godly seek thee in times when thou art near; no whelming floods shall reach them, nor cause their hearts to fear. In thee, O Lord, I hid me, thou savest me from ill, and songs of thy salvation my heart with rapture thrill.
4 I graciously will teach thee the way that thou shalt go, and with my eye upon thee my counsel make thee know. But be ye not unruly or slow to understand; be not perverse, but willing to heed my wise command.
5 The sorrows of the wicked in number shall abound, but those that trust Jehovah, his mercy shall surround. Then in the Lord be joyful, in song lift up your voice; be glad in God, ye righteous; rejoice, ye saints, rejoice.
Reflection I invite you, reader, to pay attention to this song/Psalm verse by verse. On this first Sunday of Lent it may serve to give structure to a spiritual Spring Clean as we engage with it devotionally.
Verse 1 celebrates the blessing of being forgiven. A blessing indeed. God places no blame. We can be who we truly are.
Verse 2 gets personal and specific in applying the general principle of verse 1. ‘I’ was bent down with guilt and grief. ‘I’ confessed, speaking out the messy truth to God. ‘I’ experienced God’s liberating forgiveness.
Verse 3 speaks of the experience of turning to God in trouble and finding strength and solace. It brings to mind Horatio Spafford’s hymn, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul’ which came to him in a time of deep distress when his four children were lost at sea. I think, looking also at the NRSV, that this is the meaning of verse 3. Not that we will escape life’s tumult but that we are held in the midst of it.
In Verse 4 God speaks of giving direction on the basis of seeing (understanding) a person’s actual situation. Our part is to be open to God’s guidance, learning to pause and listen to that inner voice.
Verse 5 Jesus said that he came to save sinners. Let’s leave ‘the wicked’ to his compassion, including the wicked within our own psyches, attitudes and actions (back to verse 2). Let’s bask in God’s mercy and steadfast love (NRSV). And so we end where we began, with blessedness and joy.
Prayer Lord God, by your Spirit, bring to mind any buried mess I should confess … Thank you for taking my burdens and setting me free. Hold me as I meet the challenges of this day and give me strength … Help me to be open to your direction. You are my joy and delight.
The Rev’d Gwen Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrew’s URC, Southampton.