Bless this Mess
When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them (Psalm 69:10-11, ESV).
We all know what David did involving Bathsheba, the one-night stand, the cover-up, the conspiracy to commit murder . . . a really bad stretch for a guy who, up until that point, had been the model of character, valor, and unusually noble self-restraint.
What’s not as well known about this part of David’s life (since the Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, although it’s quite easy to calculate) is that he proceeded to keep his secrets hidden for roughly a year. Except for the people on the very inside, no one knew or probably even suspected the evil their king had done. And if God through the prophet Nathan hadn’t called him to account (see 2 Samuel 12:1–15), he’d likely have been content whistling through life with his sin undiscovered for the rest of his days.
But give him some credit. When confronted with his sins face-to-face, he didn’t balk. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD’” (2 Samuel 12:13). He wept and humbled himself with fasting. And if his Psalm 69 is any indication, he “made sackcloth [his] clothing” (Psalm 69:11)—the common Old Testament uniform of the remorseful and repentant.
Sackcloth and ashes. What kind of person, especially someone of David’s public stature, would be willing to walk around in such an embarrassing state of shame and confession? What kind of person, exposed in scandal, even goes so far as to write a personally unflattering song about his sin (Psalm 51), baring the pitiful weakness of his own soul, so that people can stand up and sing it in church?
The only person who does it is someone who’s sick of the lies, who’s sick of the cover-up, who doesn’t care anymore what he looks like or what anybody else thinks about him. He’s adopted a new and radical rejection of externals. Instead of being so careful and cautious with his defenses, he’s now indiscriminate in his confessing. No more filter. No one’s left to wonder what really happened or what this person was really like, because he’d be the first to tell you. Yes, I did it. I was like that. I hate it, and I wish I’d hated it more then, but I don’t mind you knowing it now.
Wow. Sound too messy for you? Too revealing? TMI? Would you never dream of letting people in on some of the things you’ve done and how you’ve failed?
Then maybe you’re not truly repentant yet . . . because when you’re genuinely repentant, you have a strong need for letting people know who you really are. In fact, that part—the telling part—is not the part that sounds so messy to you anymore. What’s messy to you was all that wasted time, all the tactics you deployed and juggled to avoid being exposed, all while knowing full well exactly who you were and what was actually going on.
That’s the freedom that only repentance can generate. “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment” (2 Corinthians 7:11)! When you’re finally ready to “clear yourselves”—to give an explanation of the truth, to set the record straight without concern for reputation or fallout—that’s when you’ll know God is doing something in you that no hard-hearted person would allow. Something you’d never have done before. Something that only happens to people who’ve been truly saved, truly changed, and are truly His.
- What would be a modern-day equivalent of “sackcloth and ashes”?
- Repentance is messy. What happens when a church doesn’t want to be a messy place? How can you help contribute to ensuring that the culture in your church is one where even the messiness of repentance is embraced?
Heavenly Father, Your amazing grace and Your complete acceptance of me in Jesus have become so precious to me that worrying about what others think pales in comparison. Thank You for what I know You can accomplish through helping me be more open, honest, and vulnerable. May I be a bright reflection of Your grace when others see how You’ve changed my heart and made me new. I pray this in the wonderful, redeeming name of Jesus, amen.
For more from Dr. James MacDonald please visit Walk in the Word on OnePlace.com.