Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent March 7, 1999


Two Prayers God Loves to Answer: “Teach Me” and “Forgive Me”

Psalm 25:4-7


8, 154, 370, 416

Show me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD. These are the Words.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who said, “Ask and it shall be given to you,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,

I was leading a Bible class not long ago, and we got on the subject of prayer. An intriguing question came up, namely: “Which prayers does God answer?” Does He only answer prayers in which we ask for spiritual blessings? Well, we decided, that can’t be right, because the Lord obviously grants many of the physical things we need—food and clothing, a weekly paycheck, a place to live. What’s more, it’s pretty clear that God not only grants prayers for things we need, He often gives us luxuries, things we merely want, things that are nice to have, but not strictly necessary. But does God always answer our prayers for things like that? And what if we pray for something that’s downright bad for us—surely the Lord doesn’t answer those prayers, does He?

—Yes, He does! After studying the Bible, we came to the conclusion that God answers every prayer that His children pray. Sometimes His answer is NO, like when we ask for something which the Lord in His wisdom knows would be bad for us. Sometimes the answer is YES, BUT NOT YET, like when a Christian is called upon to bear a prolonged illness before a recovery takes place.

There are some prayers, however, which God just loves to answer. There are some prayers which the Lord always answers with an unqualified YES! These are gifts you can ask God for and know that He will give them to you—no exceptions, no delays, no strings attached. And these aren’t the cheap gifts, either. Among them are the richest blessings that the Lord has to offer. Our text for this third Sunday in Lent is about two of these kind of blessings. If you look carefully at this portion of the 25th Psalm you’ll see, in the words of our theme:

Two Prayers God Loves to Answer:

Psalm 25 is an interesting psalm. It is one of several “acrostic psalms” in the Bible—that means that each of the 22 verses in the psalm begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm is written by King David, the same one who was inspired to write the familiar 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” In that psalm, David is confessing his faith in God. In the 25th Psalm, though, David is saying a prayer to God. He has a couple of very specific things he wants the Lord to give him, and he’s not shy about asking for them! The first thing he asks for is guidance and instruction. The psalmist says, Show me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.

How many different paths are there that a person can take through life? Well, if you were answering that question off the top of your head, you might say there are millions of different paths a person could take; that each individual finds his own unique path through life. And in a way that’s true, of course. But when you’re talking about the spiritual side of a person’s life, the Bible reveals that there are really only two paths in life: the path of God, and the path of Satan. One of them leads ultimately to heaven, the other inevitably to hell. There is no middle ground—every human being is either on one or the other. And sad as it may be, Jesus told His disciples that the vast majority are on the path to eternal destruction. He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.—Mat 7:13-14.

So this was David’s prayer: “TEACH ME, O God! Show me the path of life. Make me to thoroughly understand Your ways.”—And that’s probably been your prayer, as well. No doubt there have been times when you’ve been confused about what God’s will for your life is. Times when you’ve faced a crossroads in your life—a big decision—and you’ve prayed, “If only I knew what path You would have me take, O Lord! Teach me! Show me the way You want me to walk!” Well, as a Christian you CAN say that prayer, and you can say it not in desperation, but in absolute confidence. Because this is one prayer God loves to answer! James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.—James 1:5. Ask the Lord to show you His way, to teach you how to recognize His will in your life—and an answer WILL be given to you.

Perhaps your problem is the other one, though. Maybe the Lord has somehow made it very clear to you what his will is for your life—but you just can’t bring yourself to carry it out. That’s a common problem among God’s children. Hearing God’s Word is one thing, keeping it is something else again! What Jesus told His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane is so often true about us, isn’t it?—“the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” You think you’re the first one to have trouble walking in God’s paths? No, the Apostle Paul, for one, knew exactly how it felt, “The good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.—Rom 7:19 NASB.

That’s why King David, in our text, prays not only for enlightenment, but for strength. He doesn’t just say, “Show me Thy paths,” but he prays, LEAD me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.—Actually, that’s not a very good translation. The Hebrew verb here means, “Cause me to walk” or “make me to walk…in Your truth.”

Have you ever seen a physical therapist working with a patient, someone who’s struggling to walk again after suffering paralysis? Sometimes, if the person is simply unable to move forward on his own, the therapist will actually make the person walk—by physically picking up the person’s feet and placing them, one after another, along the path he wants him to walk. That’s what we’re praying when we pray, “O Lord, lead me in your path.” Show me the path You want me to walk in—and O Lord, move my feet! And the Lord has promised that He will do just that. In fact, Scripture says that God already has your kingdom work all lined up and ready to go for you. The Bible says in Ephesians, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.—Eph 2:10. The Lord will teach you to know His paths, and He will teach your feet to walk in them—if you only ask. So do ask! This is a prayer God loves to answer!

Despite all God’s faithfulness, however, we are often faithless. None of us here today can boast a spotless record of walking the straight and narrow path. We’ve stumbled, we’ve strayed from the path, perhaps for a time we’ve turned around and gone in the opposite direction altogether. That’s why it’s a good thing for us that there’s another prayer God loves to answer—and that prayer is, “FORGIVE ME!”

King David says, Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.

You may have noticed the word “forgiveness” doesn’t occur in there. But that IS what the Psalmist is asking for, all the same. And in order for us sinners to get forgiveness from God, it’s necessary for the Lord to have a very selective sort of memory—I want God to remember His tender mercies, but I’d like Him to just forget about the sins I committed in my youth. I want God to remember very clearly His customary longsuffering and His lovingkindness—oh, yes indeed!—but when it comes to my own guilt and transgressions, well, I’d just as soon those things slipped His mind.

- Does God have that kind of selective memory? It seems like too much to ask. And yet, when we pray in Jesus’ name, God can’t say no to us—not even to an outrageous request like this one! Our gracious Lord will take every possible opportunity to let us off the hook and have mercy on us. “The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.—Psa 103:8. Overlook our past sins? For Jesus’ sake, it’s not a problem. God says, “I have cast all your sins into the depths of the sea…I will forget your transgressions, and your sin I will remember no more.” Isaiah says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

King David prays for forgiveness. He doesn’t demand it, he begs for it. On what basis? Not on the basis of his own worthiness—that wouldn’t get him anywhere, and he knows it. Rather, he bases his petition on the grace of God. He says, according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD. In faith, King David looked to His Savior for forgiveness, and He was not disappointed!

You may object: “Yes, but he was the apple of God’s eye. I’m no King David! Can the Lord Jesus forgive even a wretched sinner such as I?” In the first place, of course, David himself was no paragon of virtue, as the episode with Bathsheba proves. But if you need even more assurance, think back to the thief who was crucified with Jesus on Calvary. The request of the thief is strikingly similar to David’s request in our text: “Then [the malefactor] said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’” And what did Jesus reply? “No, I’m sorry, you waited too long to seek forgiveness”? “I’m afraid your sins are to great to be forgiven”? No. “Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’—Luke 23:42-43.

Hours, perhaps minutes before his death, a lifetime criminal receives a full pardon from His Lord. Jesus is offering you that same pardon. The precious blood He poured out for that wretched thief—was poured out to cover your sins, as well. Bring your sins to Jesus. Confess them, forsake them, and say the two prayers your God loves to hear: “Lord, TEACH ME; Lord, FORGIVE ME.” Your prayers will be answered, your sins will be forgotten, and your pardon will be granted. According to His mercy, Jesus will remember YOU for His goodness’ sake. AMEN.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached March 15, 1998
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA

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