To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
(Psalm 25:1-10 ESV)
Many of the Psalms have titles or dedications that don’t really figure into the text of the poem. Some simply say, “Of David,” as Psalm 25 does. Others have very intricate titles, like Psalm 57, “To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” The purpose of these titles and their exact meaning to the original readers has been lost. Our modern Bible translators have added a layer of text that isn’t in the original by putting “helpful” titles before sections of Scripture so we can see what the big idea of a set of paragraphs is. In bold print it will says, “The Beatitudes” or “The Ten Commandments”. These are signals the translators thought helpful.
David, the presumed writer of Psalm 25, adds one of his own at the beginning of this psalm. The opening line looks like a stand-alone. It says, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.” However, David goes on to talk about four ways in which he lifts up his soul to God, which makes a pretty strong case for this being more of a title or theme presentation than anything else.
The first way David lifts up his soul is trust. He contrasts trust with treachery. Being clever and being trusting are two very different things. A person who trusts God never really has to worry about being ashamed. Notice I didn’t say he doesn’t ever feel ashamed. We are still sinners, and the purpose of that feeling in our conscience that we’ve failed can be very helpful. But being ashamed, or maybe we want to put it “being a shame” before God because you were clever and ordered your life without him? That’s the worst position to be in.
Trust leads to learning. Real learning doesn’t take place until we trust someone. I’ve never learned anything from a teacher where I questioned whether the person in front of me knew more than I did. When I was in college there was this unwritten rule. You could leave the classroom after 5 minutes if a TA didn’t show up. If it was an assistant professor you had to wait 10 minutes. For a full prof, you had to wait 15. David says he “waits all the day long” for God. How incredible to have such a teachable attitude that you’d be willing to sit and wait all day just for a few moments with the teacher.
Learning is consolidated in memory. The only way I won’t have to go back and learn the same lesson over and over again is if I let the learning have its effect on me long after the initial lesson is done. I was reviewing a passage out of Philippians the other day that I memorized when I was 22. As I ran it over in my mind for the 200th time, all of a sudden something popped out at me I had never thought of before. A fresh level of learning had taken place even though I had memorized the thing 30 years ago. When David says, “Remember not the sins of my youth,” I wonder who he’s saying it to. I know it is addressed to God, but we know that these sins had been addressed many years before. What David is doing is reminding himself that what he wants to meditate on is God’s mercy and steadfast love, not his long-past sins.
What invariably comes from trusting, learning, and consolidating, is a kind of humility you can’t acquire any other way. Knowing that you don’t know as you ought to know makes you able to learn to really know. Even as I write this I realize in a new way that if all the ways of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, I have a lot to learn.