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Psalm 32


My guess is that everybody here wants to be happy.
You dream of happiness, you plan for it, and perhaps pay any price
to achieve it. Searching for happiness, one person will try to
make a lot of money; another gives all his money away. In the
same search one woman will have five or six kids; another enters
a convent. Ask the average person what he or she wants out of
life, and the chances are they’ll reply without hesitation, "I
just want to be happy".

Occasionally you meet someone who enjoys being miserable
– and who gets a perverse delight in making others unhappy. Woody
Allen apparently wasn’t joking when he said: "If my film
makes one more person feel miserable, I’ll feel I’ve done my job!"

Having more of anything, leisure or brains or money
or power, being rich or famous doesn’t make you happy. Aristotle
Onassis said just before he died: "I’ve just been a machine
for making money. I seem to have spent my life in a golden tunnel
looking for the outlet which would lead to happiness. But the
tunnel kep going on. After my death there will be nothing left."
His daughter, Christina Onassis, seriously attempted suicide at
least once. Inb 1973 Richard Burton tried to drink himself to
death. Voltaire wrote "I; wish I had never been born".
Gould, the American millionaire, when he was dying, said "I
suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth". No, being
rich or famous won’t – in itself – guarantee happiness. ("A
celebrity is someone who works all his life to become famous enough
to be recognised, and then goes around in dark glasses so no one
will know who he is!")

Some Swedish psychologists studied 1000 happy people.
Some of them were old, two were blind, one had an incurable disease
… but the great majority of them were free from tension and
fear, they enjoyed friendships with other people, and they had
a goal in life.

Happiness is lots of things … but primarily three:
1. Happiness is enjoying living with yourself. It’s the art of
"being yourself". Robert Louis Stevenson once said,
"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of
becoming, is the only end of life." No person is on earth
by accident. You are unique – an unrepeatable miracle of God’s
creation. And He does not love anybody else more than He loves
you. (And, moreover, nothing you can do – or be – could cause
Hinm to love you anymore than He loves you now!)

2. Happiness is loving service to others. Confucius
wrote: "He who wishes the good of others has already secured
his own". Mother Teresa was recently awarded the Nobel Prize
for her work among the destitute dying, the "poorest of the
poor". A highly educated Mauritian girl entered her order
in India, and for three hours she lovingly cleaned an old woman
who’d been found in a dust-bin, where she’d been left to die.
"She came home radiating joy," said Mother Teresa. ‘I
have been touching the body of Christ for three hours,’ she told

3. The third important relationship is, of course,
with God. And that’s the theme of Psalm 32. But before we look
there a very important principle must be stated: Happiness is
not attained by trying hard to be happy. It’s a by-product of
doing other worthwhile things. Happiness is "serendipity"
– the art of making happy discoveries while looking for something

Psalm 32 is one of the seven penitential Psalms (6,
32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), and tradition attributes it to David,
a year after he had committed adultery and murder and was faced
up to his sin by Nathan the prophet. This psalm describes five
keys to happiness:

1. Confess – and you’ll be forgiven (32:1-5) Leonard
Griffith says this Psalm is a case-history. The psalmist describes
three stages in his experience, the first a stage of abject misery
(vv.3-4). Ancient Jews connected all sickness with sin. Job’s
so-called comforters pressed that point almost brutally: "Name
a single case where a righteous man met with disaster" (Job
4:7). Job himself was more enlightened, and insisted his sickness
might have nothing to do with sin, a view Jesus confirmed (see
John 9:3 – man born blind). However Jesus cured a paralysed man
by saying "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5).
Today we are quite aware of the connection between sin and sickness.
S I McMillen’s "None of These Diseases" examines a number
of common diseases – high blood pressure, migraine headaches,
heart-trouble, peptic ulcers etc. – which may be caused by our
failure to obey God’s laws. "It’s not what you eat but what
eats you …!" Sickness can result from unresolved guilt.
Sometimes, in Shakespeare’s words, we need "more … the
divine than the physician". Paul Tournier tells many stories
of patients who must choose between two roads – the clinic, or

The second stage: repentance (32:5) – turning from
sin to God. It’s a simple, decisive act, and you can sense incredible
relief in the psalmist’s words. Augustine, in his "confessions"
tells of his conversion as he read Paul’s words in Romans 123:13-14:
"All at once, as I came to the end of the sentence, my heart
was filled with a sunshine of confidence, before which all my
dark doubts fled away."

Psalm 32 was his favourite psalm, and he had it put
on the wall over his bed.

The psalmist’s third stage was blissful happiness
(32:1,2). I have read somewhere that no language has so many words
for sin as the Hebrew, so sensitive was this people’s relationship
to their God. There are three words here, which mean "wilful
disobedience", "missing the mark" and "wrong-doing".
But there are also three words for forgiveness here: a burden
is lifted away, God has cancelled a debt, the Divine Judge has
put the sin out of His sight.

Forgiveness, in the Bible, is an event, not just
an idea. In the forgiving transaction, something tangible happens.
Our sins are "blotted out", cast into the sea, though
they are scarlet they become white as snow, removed as far as
the east is from the west (an infinite distance, unlike northness
and southness which are finite). When God forgives, something
happens. He releases us from a crushing burden, and rather than
our re-enacting the atonement by punishing ourselves, we simply
receive it. Our task is to "own" our sins, then "disown"
them. To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything
He doesn’t know. Until you confess them, however, they are the
abyss between you. When you confess them, bridge-building commences;
God’s grace meets your confession, and you are reconciled.

2. Pray – and you’ll be rescued (32:6-7) This psalm
is a "maschil" or psalm of instruction, and it tells
us that if we’ve got a problem we ought to share it – with God
in secret, and in joyful praise in the congregation. "Ask
– you will receive". "You have not because you ask not".
Prayer – mind at rest & mind of God.

Different people react to trouble different ways.
Some "die", become immobile, collapse, when something
thwarts their plans or hurts them. Others explode in frustration
or rage, externalising their feelings destructively. Still others
internalise the problem, and usually become sick. The most creative
response: adapt to trouble, use it constructively, "tack
into the wind". It’s the vision of God being "at work
in all things for good". He does not make mistakes: all things
are at least permitted by Him. The best lessons in life are learned
in the school of adversity. (Life gets better and better and harder
and harder …") "in distress" – cf. 3 men in furnace
"with you".

3. Submit – and you’ll be guided (32:8-9) lThe Scriptures
assure us that we are not like rats in a maze. God wants us to
know His will. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and told
them not to be fools, but to know the will of the Lord (Eph. 5:17).
He prays for the same wisdom for the Colossians (1:9, 10, cf.
4:12). You find God’s will be submitting to Him. It works the
same was in any relationship. As I and my wife "submit"
to one another, we learn more about each other’s "will"
and how to please each other. (Jn 7:17 "will is to do His
will – shall know")

Norman Vincent Peale recounts how his good friend
(he has thousands of "good friends"!) J L Kraft makes
deicsions. "I pray hard and think hard. When the time is
up and I must act, if I have done all the thinking and praying
I can do, I say "Lord, show me the next thing to do".
I believe that the first idea that comes into my mind is the answer…"

4. Trust – and you’ll be protected. (32:10) Here
the psalmists contrasts the wicked and the righteous. The wicked
man trusts in himself, and lives independently of God. The righteous
person trusts the Lord, and is dependent on Him. Romans 15:13
talks about being filled with joy and peace through our faith
in God, who is the source of hope. Happy people are trustful people.

"In the morning, when I wake, I say ‘I place
my hand in God’s today’, With faith and trust that by my side
He’ll walk with me, my steps to guide. He leads me with the tenderest
care, When paths are dark, and I despair. No need for me to understand,
If I but hold fast to His hand My hand in His; no surer way To
walk in safety through each day. By His great bounty I am fed,
Warmed by His love and comforted. When at day’s end I seek my
rest, And realise how much I’m, blessed, My thanks pour out to
Him, and then I place my hand in God’s again.

5. Obey – and you’ll be joyful (32:11) Another psalm
has the same idea (see Ps. 128:1,2). There are many verbs in the
Bible in the imperative mood. Jesus is our Lord: He has the right
to command. But He is also our Lover, and we should want to obey
(Jn 14:21). David, who was tempted to think he was accountable
only to himself, fell badly. He should have learned from his predecessor
Saul’s experience with the Amalekites (see 1Sam. 15:22). (To obey
is better than sacrifice. The Lord wants YOU)

The key question for the christian isn’t "What’s
going to happen to me?" but "What does my Lord want
me to do?" It isn’t "Why is this happening to me?"
but "What is His will for me in this situation?" If
we ask the right questions, we needn’t worry when we don’t understand
all the reasons for His actions. "Trust and obey, for there’s
no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!"


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