In his Counsel to Gospel Ministers, John Brown lists the rancid fruit of “indulging in ambitious inclinations” which leads us to “hunt after vainglory and applause from men”:
It will dispose you to trample the commands of God under foot
It will fearfully root out all proper regard for holiness
It will lead you to make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience
It will tempt you to say and do anything to please such as can promote your ambitious design
It will separate you from God as far as possible and render you an enemy to Him.
It will lead you to rob God of his due honor
It will deprive you of a gracious reward from God for your labors or even provoke Him to render you contemptible before men and an example of His destructive vengeance.
It will rob you of the joy of a good conscience when men speak evil of you.
Brown is not against seeking to advance the kingdom of God or taking opportunities which are given to you. Instead he is against that which is “eagerly seeking after outward, fame, honor, and advancement.
As I read Brown’s counsel I not only try to apply it to my life as a pastor but also as a pastor who uses social media. A lust for platform—whether it’s being able to brag about baptism numbers or Twitter followers—will always take you further than you wanted to go. You might even succeed in gaining that platform but these vices will follow you to the top. It’s no wonder we see so many men climb to the top and then experience a mighty fall; these vices followed them.
I’m reminded of the words of another Puritan, Thomas Boston, who said:
Consider that the applause of the world is nothing worth. It is hard to be gotten; for readily the applause of the unlearned is given to him whom the learned despise, and the learned applaud him whom the common people care not for. And when it is received, what have you? A vain empty puff of wind. They think much of thee, thou think much of yourself, and in the meantime God thinks nothing of thee. (From The Art of Manfishing)
Brothers and sisters let us heed these words and see the hook instead of the bait.
“It is a marvel that any man escapes ruin, the dangers which beset even the best being many and terrible.” –W.S. Plumer
Have you noticed 90% of news stories necessitate a person being ruined? Occasionally the ruin is not a result of a bone-headed decision or immoral choice. But more often than not, it is because sin has caught up with someone. And if you and I are being honest we’d have to admit that our absence from the front page isn’t for lack of opportunity but rather because of grace.
Psalm 38 is a painful Psalm. David is the guy on the front page whose life is ruined because of a personal transgression. And his whole world is coming apart. His relationship with God feels strained, his friends are keeping him at a distance, and his enemies are using this as an opportunity to pounce. The worst part is that David isn’t an innocent victim, he’s a guilty sinner. His conscience is not on his side.
Thankfully, I have not had an experience which totally fits King David’s scenario. I have said and done things which are dumb and/or sinful. I have had to endure consequences of my mistakes, but I do not believe I have experienced fully what David is going through in Psalm 38, at least not to this depth. And I hope I never do.
Of the many lessons we could learn from Psalm 38, one I’d like to consider is what to do when you’ve legitimately blown it as a leader and now your enemies are using this to pounce on you. This could be applied when you’ve front-page-of-the-paper blown it and when you’ve messed up and you’ve given those who are enemies a bit of fodder for their cannons. I see at least five things to take from this passage on that topic:
Don’t try to spin your sin, own it. David’s response in verses 13-14 is the correct posture for being in this position. He doesn’t give excuses. He doesn’t, at least at this stage, try to plead his cause against those who “seek his heart” and “speak of ruin”. He doesn’t attempt to save face or launch a PR campaign. He becomes as one who is mute, even while his enemies are laying snares for him.
Repent where necessary. Not all the accusations the enemy threw at David had merit. But some of them did. Where he was actually guilty David pleaded with God for mercy. He confessed his sin (v18). It’s tempting when folks are lying about us to move from the position of sinner to that of victim and ignore our very real guilt and sin. Let the Lord deal with the lies and repent of the truth in their fodder.
Acknowledge you are overwhelmed and cannot get yourself out. David’s sin was over his head. His friends weren’t able to help, and his enemies certainly weren’t going to be there for him. Dealing with actual sin is difficult enough, when those who are against you pile on unreasonable accusations, and often with violence, it becomes too much to bear. David became as a “deaf and mute man”. He was so overwhelmed that words escaped him, so he turned to prayer. When you’ve dug a hole you cannot get yourself out of it’s time to cry out for a hand of rescue.
Wait upon the Lord to vindicate you. It’s generally a good principle to let the Lord plead your cause. How much more is this the case when your sin has brought reproach upon you? You’ll sound like a real schmuck if you say, “I’m guilty of this, but I’m hurt that you’d accuse me of that”. Pray that God will allow the full truth to come out.
Rest in God’s character. In verse 9, David takes great comfort in the fact that God knows every bit of his crying. Though God also knows the depth of his sin, David is comforted by the truth of God’s omniscience. It also helps to know that God is merciful. As one has said, “It is both an affliction and a comfort to a good man to see the hand of God in all his troubles—an affliction, inasmuch as it shows us how vile we must be to need such sore corrections from the loving One:—a comfort, because we may be assured that mercy shall order everything.
I pray that I’m never in the depth of a Psalm 38 situation, but I know I’m not above it. Though our situation might not rise to the magnitude of Psalm 38 we can find help for our lesser trials. Because of the gospel we know that even if our sin puts us on the front page, the greater news story is that Jesus washes us clean.