“You’ve only yourself to blame.” How I hated being told this as a kid! The worst bit, of course, was knowing it was probably true: I’d got myself into a jam, and it was one of my own making.
How do we deal with our troubles when we know we’ve brought them on ourselves?
Psalm 130 describes a feeling of drowning and crying out for help. We’ve seen this several times before in this group of traveller’s songs: the pilgrim reflecting on their troubles. But this time, it’s not outside forces that are making them sink, but their own mistakes.
Our culture rarely encourages us to own up to our faults. But those who never admit wrong never find peace. To live at peace with ourselves, we have to be willing to confront the failings in our own character. And yet, it’s not healthy to wallow in failure either: we need to do something about it. How do we climb out from the depths we have put ourselves in? This song helps us acknowledge our faults, but also shows us who can help us.
Firstly, our failing. The term ‘sins’ (v3) is often misunderstood: it’s not a list of frowned-upon things we’ve done wrong; it’s the tendency we have towards selfishness, self-absorption, self-promotion to the detriment of others. We all have this tendency, and our use of it has devastating consequences for ourselves and others. One of those consequences is the feeling of drowning in life (v1-2).
Secondly: this is not a problem we can fix ourselves. Often there is little we can ‘do’ to truly right our wrongs. All that is left is to depend, not on self, but on another: to ask for help (v1), to wait for help to come (v5-6) and to place our hope in one who can help us (v7).
Thirdly, notice who it is who can help, and what he can do. Three words describe how God responds in such a situation: forgiveness (v4), unfailing love (v7), and freedom (‘redemption’, v7-8). To someone with a guilty conscience, these three words are like the lifeboat on the horizon that brings hope, the hand that pulls us up, the comfort that helps us breathe again.
If you feel like you are drowning in your own mistakes, abandoned by others who may not even know your plight, and unable to save yourself, know this: God knows, God cares, and God wants to help. He is ready to forgive, he loves you, he can set you free. Ask him for help, wait to see what he does, and look to him for hope.
PRAYER God, I am drowning. I am a victim of my own worst tendencies, I’m at the end of my rope, and I have no strength left to pull myself up. You say you are forgiving and loving and you can free me. Please help me today. Amen.
A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.