As a chaotic 2020 nears its end, I invite you to reflect on seven petitions from a psalm of David, Psalm 25. These ancient words still resonate, for they speak our pleas as we reflect on the year just past and plot our hopes for 2021. My year did not go as planned. I suspect that is true for almost all who will read this post. Plans to travel to see my children and grandchildren, to preach and teach, to draw nearer to completing a goal that my wife and I have of visiting all fifty of the United States, vanished as she and I adapted to the constraints of living through a pandemic. On the other hand, my wife drew nearer to finishing academic goals while I resumed running and read aggressively. While we lamented reduced in-person fellowship with a local church, we sang hymns, prayed, discussed the Bible, and ate the Lord’s Supper with unleavened bread baked in our own oven. We engaged with congregations online for worship and participated, again online in a church small group. We encountered unexpected obstacles during the year that challenged and forced us to assess our trust in God. That is where the prayer of Psalm 25 begins:
“In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. I trust in you, do not let me put to shame nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause” (Psalm 25:1-3).
The prayer asserts trust, but the petitions that follow reveal humility and concern as the worshiper encounters problems instigated by opponents or ignited by his own faults. He prays with an urgency that cries out to God with imperative verbs: Guide, Remember, Forgive, Relieve, See, Guard, and Deliver. When we pray in desperate times, we use these verbs, too. We also trust in God’s mercy and love (verse 4), in his faithfulness (verse 10), and in his grace (verse 16). He is the foundation of our hope, for we realize his uprightness and his confidence in those who respect (fear) him. We too implore God to remember his character as he engages with us:
“Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old” (Psalm 25:5-6).
Difficult times often reveal the worst in people. We have witnessed that during the last year in violent acts by frustrated or despondent people, and in the deterioration of civil discourse in social media. When we recognize our own failings, we ask, we pray for forgiveness:
“For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great…Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins” (Psalm 25:11,16-18).
As we begin a new year, we hope that 2021 will be a better year, that disease and civil unrest both will dissipate, and that we will plan and live with greater “normalcy” and confidence. The realization of that hope rests on truths from this prayer as well:
“Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you” (Psalm 25:20-21).
God is the ground, the foundation of our hope. When we learn from his ways, we conduct ourselves with integrity. We seek the welfare of others and not just our own. In 2020, we have learned to wear masks, not to protect ourselves but to protect others. The year has been a difficult year; hundreds of thousands of families have mourned as loved ones died who otherwise might still live. Psalm 25 in its first twenty-one verses is an intensely personal prayer in acrostic form. The final verse diverges from that form and moves to a national perspective:
“Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” (Psalm 25:22).
You, as I, may wish to insert the name of your nation of concern and residence in that phrase as you pray those words. As we enter a new year, we hope for an end to our trouble and the realization of our dreams for a brighter, healthier future. The God who sustains remains able to deliver and to heal us in body, mind, and soul. Let’s pray that in 2021 we will witness a renaissance of hope, health, and love for one another.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.