“Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!” Psalm 143:1
The opening lines of this psalm struck me this morning. At first I started to skim over them—it’s easy for me to do at the beginning of a psalm. Wanting to get into it, to get to the “meat.” But something pulled me back. Focusing in, I find it remarkable what they show us. The writer begins by crying out for mercy. Which means he knows he is in the wrong, and not just slightly, because he is issuing pleas for mercy. That in and of itself isn’t so remarkable. But in the next line, he calls out for an answer, asking God to grant it in His faithfulness and righteousness. That’s what stopped me in my tracks. This transgressor, this sinner, is calling on the faithfulness and righteousness of God. What is it that makes him think that faithfulness and righteousness are his to claim?
His plea is based not on his own merit, for he is clearly aware that mercy is required here. So what is the basis for this request? What is it that gives him confidence that the Holy God he has sinned against—the very One he has offended greatly—will be faithful to him? It reminds me of Daniel’s prayer we see later in Scripture, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules…O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Daniel 9:4-5, 18-19).
The pleas are based on the great mercy of God. They are based on His character. They are based on the faith that the God to whom they pray is faithful to uphold His covenant even when they fail. It highlights to an even greater extent how infinitely unworthy we are…sinners who turned our backs on Him, trusting that He will not respond in kind. Trusting that He isn’t like us, that He is greater. That His faithfulness and righteousness apply even now, even to us.
It is a few verses later in this psalm that we see this request: “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8). Amazing, isn’t it, that a sinner can come to God, clearly guilty and unworthy of His notice and greatness, and not only cry out for mercy but also ask to hear each morning of the steadfast love of the Lord? Trust is at the root. Belief that God is infinitely faithful and true, that He will not forsake His own, even when we fail Him. So when we fall, when we blatantly rebel against His holiness and truth, we can draw near to the cross in humble repentance seeking forgiveness and mercy. When we see our unworthiness and admit our guilt, we can trust that God will come in grace and transforming power, that He will lead us in paths of righteousness, making known to us the way we should go. We can lift up our soul to this great, almighty God, the One who is a consuming fire, and trust that He will not respond in wrath. Solely because Jesus took it for us.
So again, everything goes back to Jesus. The picture of the grace and power of God, making a way for forgiveness and mercy. Giving us hope through His sacrifice.
“And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…by nature children of wrath…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:1-8