Expository Sermon on Psalm 25
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/6/2023
©2021 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch this entire worship service, click this link:
Please open your Bibles to Psalm 25.
Today’s sermon is still another in a series I started a few weeks ago, called “Encouraging Chapters.” There’s a lot of numbing discouragement in the world today, but the Bible has many “high spots” which can give us courage.
Today’s chapter is Psalm 25. What’s so encouraging about this psalm? For one thing, it’s where we get the song “Unto Thee, O Lord,” which we’ll be singing as our closing song at the end of the service. Somebody many years ago decided that this Psalm was encouraging enough to make into a contemporary Christian psalm.
When I first heard this song, it was quite refreshing to me. And the reason was that this song had “enemies” in it. In fact, the repeating chorus mentions them again and again: “Let not mine enemies triumph over me.” Usually, most church hymns don’t have enemies in them. “Amazing Grace” has no enemies in it. It has “a wretch like me,” but no enemies. “Shall We Gather at the River” has no enemies. Nor does “In the Garden” or “The Old Rugged Cross.”
But “Unto Thee O Lord” does not ignore enemies. Neither does it ignore “the sins of my youth.” It’s a transparent, open-hearted, realistic conversation with God, just like Psalm 25.
But the main encouragement I get from Psalm 25 is that in its verses, David reaches up to the Lord and asks Him to deal with a lot of real things David is going through. David trusts God to handle real issues, real challenges, in his life.
And as we read through this Psalm, and finally sing a bit of it, I think you and I can find a lot of encouragement, as we discover what David trusted God to do for him.
Psalm 25:1 NKJV: To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
If you’re taking down sermon points, here comes Sermon Point One. What’s the first encouraging thing David says God can do for me?
God can safeguard my soul.
Now, this might not sound very breathtaking at first—until you look at that word “soul.” In Hebrew, this word “soul” is nephesh. That’s exactly the same word used in Genesis 2, verse 7, where it says that when God created Adam, Adam became a “living soul” or “living being.”
So here in Psalm 25, verse 1, “soul” means everything Adam was when God created him, and later created Eve. According to the Bible, the soul isn’t some wispy spiritual add-on which God downloaded into us after we were created. Instead, the soul is everything that you are. It’s your body plus your mind.
So when David says, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul,” he is offering everything he is, his essential humanness, to God. He’s saying, “Take me, Lord, take all of me, take that nephesh You have given me. I’m giving all of myself to you. I’m not holding anything back.” Because David knows—from a lot of personal experience—that God can safeguard his soul, and anything else about him God decides to safeguard.
So this means that my own soul’s safety need not be left to my own ability or strength. Little kids understand this. One of the occupational hazards of being a toddler in a church foyer is that you are often approached by huge, strange people you never remember seeing before. These people are staring at you, and smiling widely at you, and possibly even talking baby talk to you, and reaching out to you.
What’s a toddler to do? The most logical thing to do is to turn abruptly away from the approaching monster, and reach up your arms to Mom or Dad, and implore them to lift you up to safety. “Unto thee, O Dad, do I lift up my soul.”
And since, in God’s eyes, we are all His children—we’re all His toddlers when you think of it—this is how we should relate to Him. How do I lift up my soul to God? I repeat this Bible verse. I keep my eye out for other Bible verses, and other Bible examples, which show people doing this. And I act like them.
One of the most heartwarming examples of lifting yourself completely up to God happens in 2nd Chronicles 20. Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah, and one day he gets word that the Moabite and Ammonite armies, plus other hostile forces, are gathering to attack them. Verse 3 says that Jehoshaphat feared, but it also says that he doesn’t instantly collapse into a fetal position. In the next breath it says that he “set himself to seek the Lord.”
Then, the king gathers a lot of people together and asks them to help him pray. And in verse 12, here’s how he concludes his prayer: “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
To me, that is one of the Bible’s most thrillingly perfect “crisis prayers.” The king admits he’s afraid, he admits that he’s powerless, he admits that he doesn’t know what to do, and he finally looks up to God and says, “Our eyes are upon You.” “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my eyes.”
And watch how the Lord responded to this utter faith. Jehoshaphat enlisted some singers to sing praise songs, specifically singing a quote from Psalm 106:1 about how merciful the Lord was. And 2 Chronicles 20:22 – 24 says: “Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped.”
That’s the kind of utterly miraculous turnaround that can happen when you lift up your soul—your whole life, your whole being—to the Lord. There are those of you in this very room who have seen the Lord work dramatically in answer to your trust in Him.
But now let’s look for another encouragement from this Psalm.
Psalm 25:1 – 3: To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.
What’s another encouraging thing can God do for me? Here’s Sermon Point Two:
David reminds me that God can not only safeguard my soul, but He can baffle my bullies.
I could’ve said “baffle my enemies,” but I couldn’t resist the two “b’s” in a row. God can safeguard my soul, and He can “baffle my bullies.” Because, after all, these days we most often don’t face David’s kind of enemies. His enemies had swords and spears and arrows, but the antagonists in our lives are more like bullies than they are military foes. And God can definitely deal with them, as we saw with the King Jehoshaphat incident.
But the fact that our modern-day bullies aren’t apt to hack us with swords doesn’t make them any less hard to take. I’ve lived a pretty placid life, but when I was in fifth grade in a little one-room prairie Adventist school, there was a seventh-grader who was emotionally sadistic. For some reason he hated me, and I never did know why.
And when I was going to college during the days and working full-time at a state institution for the developmentally disabled from 11 to 7 at night, there was an older fellow-employee who made life difficult for me. He had decided to detest me, and did it very effectively. I always dreaded the nights he and I would have to work together on the same dorm.
I don’t know who your bullies are. Maybe it’s somebody at work. Maybe it’s somebody at school. There are political bullies whom we may never meet face-to-face but who can still cause us sleepless nights. There are religious bullies too, pastors or church leaders who make life difficult for church members who oppose them.
And there can be bullies inside your head. Maybe the things that other people have told you about yourself – maybe even parents or other family members – maybe those comments are still corrosively damaging to you.
David gives us some more insights about enemies or bullies and how God can deal with them, starting in verse 15. Notice how David constantly turns his attention to God, and keeps sharing with God how he feels.
Verses 15 – 21: My eyes are ever toward the LORD, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, For I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; Bring me out of my distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain, And forgive all my sins. Consider my enemies, for they are many; And they hate me with cruel hatred. Keep my soul, and deliver me; Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for You.
We have to keep in mind that what David is writing here he did not keep locked up in some private journal in a desk drawer. He was writing a song. He was writing a hymn that was designed to be sung in worship services. David let his name be put on the front of this song. He didn’t care that his personal agony, and the fear of his enemies would be things that people would sing about.
Because David knew that a lot of people were going through the same kinds of things he was going through. David knew that it was okay to get real, and honest, and open, and vulnerable with God.
Quite frankly, I don’t know that I will ever be that vulnerable, at least in music, at least in a song service. I think the way I grew up was to be a strong, silent internalizer of my enemy-fears. I would pray to the Lord about these matters, but I wouldn’t sing about them, or tell people about them. It just didn’t seem the manly thing to do.
But whatever kind of personality you have, David makes it very clear that it’s okay to open up to God. It’s okay to share with Him anything you want. I myself tend to go the journal-in-a-drawer approach.
I have filled several prayer journals getting very frank and very real with God. I generally write three pages before I stop – and these are large pages – and I always start with thanking God. Most of the time, the thank-you’s take up at least a whole page, maybe a page and a half, before I get into what I’m asking him about. And by the time I’ve finished thanking, often my own worries have shrunk into perspective. They’re still worries, and I still go on to pray about them, but my courage is higher.
And I need to remember how David dealt with his bullies, his enemies. In actual military conflict, of course, he used military weapons. But when it came to King Saul, David refused to harm this biggest bully in his life. Saul had been anointed to the kingship by the prophet Samuel, and David respected that.
Because after all, David understood that in the end, dealing with enemies was God’s job. Psalm 25 was written by someone who had learned not to automatically put together a strikeforce every time somebody bullied him. David had learned to turn his enemies over to the Lord and wait for the Lord to deal with them.
I’m sure there’s a lot in this psalm we could spend time with, but I’m going to bring out just one more encouraging truth David focused his Psalmist-spotlight on. Let’s start back at verse 4.
As you remember, the first three verses talk about David’s enemies. They must’ve been at the very top of his mind, because he mentioned them first. But once he gets his bully-comments off his chest, he turns to something even more important.
Verses 4 – 5: Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.
David reminds me that God can not only safeguard my soul, not only can He baffle my bullies, but God can also mentor my mind.
First of all David lifts his soul to the Lord. Then he talks to the Lord about what’s next-uppermost on his mind – his enemies, his bullies. He gives them over to the Lord, and urges the Lord to deal with them. He probably vividly remembers Deuteronomy 32:35, where God says, “Vengeance is mine.” In other words, God says, “Leave your enemies to Me.”
But then David turns to something which is even more important than that his enemies will be dealt with. David wants mentoring from God. He wants God to show him God’s ways, to teach him God’s paths. And then he wants God to lead him in God’s truth, and teach him.
David wants God to mentor his mind, his thinking. David has military skills, and musical skills. David has interpersonal skills, and has great ability to gather people together and lead them in victory after victory, whether it’s fighting the Philistines, or consolidating a group of restless tribes into one nation.
But David still isn’t satisfied. He wants to learn more about the way God thinks. He wants God to mentor his mind.
One of the most effective teachers I ever had, and one of my favorites, was Dr. John Berggren. Dr. Berggren was the chairman of the music department at what is now Northern State University, the college I attended in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
I had become fascinated with singing, but I didn’t know how to do it. I was bad at it. So I knew that I needed lessons. And somehow Dr. Berggren found a slot in his teaching schedule where he could give me private voice lessons once a week.
Now, probably a lot of other teachers could have taught me what John Berggren taught me – how to breathe with your diaphragm muscles, how to keep your throat open, how to click your consonants and keep your vowels pure.
But Dr. Berggren didn’t just teach me – he mentored me. It was more than just teaching me technique. For one thing, Berggren had attended Julliard. For another thing, when you entered his office studio there in the music department, on the walls you saw several 8 x 10 photos of other young musicians who had been mentored by him, and who had gone on to fame. One young man, whose name was Ron Holgate, grew up there in Aberdeen, South Dakota, went on to become both an opera singer and also a Broadway and movie star.
So I think John Berggren mentored me just as much by the knowledge that he had had a lot of experience, and knew his subject so well. He would give me tiny but very important bits of advice, seasoned by years of training other singers, and by performing himself. Just standing beside his piano, I felt that great things were possible. I was learning what to do with my mouth, but more importantly, I was being mentored—his mind to mine.
Let’s listen as David continues to ask the Lord for His mentoring. And now we see that David is very frank about his own limitations, his own sin. But still he has faith that God will guide him right.
Verses 6 – 14: Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD; Therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth, To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. For Your name’s sake, O LORD, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth. The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant.
Notice how David comes back again and again to teaching, leading, guiding, mentoring? David wants a mind like God’s mind.
And David put this all in a song, a psalm, for people to sing. A few decades back, a songwriter named Charles F. Monroe took part of this very Psalm and transformed it into a popular Christian song. You know it well, or you’ve heard it, and I’d like you to sing it with me as I lead it from the piano. And I’d like you to notice how true this song is to the Psalm it comes from.
And as we sing, let this be our own prayer to the Lord who loves us so much, the one who—if we allow Him to—will safeguard our souls, baffle our bullies, and mentor our minds.