A Prayer for Dealing With Sin and Guilt (Psalm 6)


We all struggle with sin. There’s an old term that I can relate to: besetting sin. To beset means to harass, to constantly trouble or attack. A besetting sin is a sin that constantly causes us to stumble, troubles us, and leaves us feeling defeated. As somebody has written:

In the life of every individual, there is a “besetting” sin that can tower like a mountain between the individual and God. This is “the sin which doth so easily beset us”, and it differs according to the person. What is a besetting sin to one person may not trouble another at all. Sometimes this sin, or persistently assailing evil, is quite obvious to others, while in other cases it is hidden in the heart and known only to the individual and God. In either case, it is perplexing and harassing, and, if allowed to linger and grow, it may end in tragic moral failure. Practically every believer wrestles with an habitually assaulting sin, even those whose service to Christ is of outstanding quality.

I don’t know what your besetting sin is. But I know how it feels to feel defeated and guilty and full of shame as a result of sin. I came across this description of what it feels like. It’s written by people who struggle with pornography, although I think the same words could be written by those who struggle with other sins. In his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester shares the following quotes from men who have struggled with the guilt and condemnation that comes from viewing pornography:

“It’s made me want to hide from God …. It makes me doubt my salvation, and then the depression comes and with the depression comes temptation to sin again.”
“I feel crap about myself. I don’t feel worthy to serve God. And I don’t believe I can break the habit.”
“I feel dirty and unable to approach God after looking at porn …. So often I feel unable to come to him in repentance, even though I know my sin is already dealt with.”
“I couldn’t talk with God about my problems. My picture of him was that he would accept me if and when I had ‘scrubbed up’ enough.”

So here’s the question. What do you do when you’re at this point of having failed God again? What do you do when you want to hide from God in shame, doubt your salvation? When you feel like crap and that you can’t approach him because of your guilt?

In this psalm, David shows us what we can do. When you’ve sinned, he says, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

First, David teaches us, get honest with God.

David writes in verses 1-3:

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?

This psalm has traditionally been classified as one of seven penitential psalms found in the Psalter. A penitential psalm is one in which the psalmist confesses sin, expresses sorrow for that sin, describes the effects of guilt, and requests and celebrates God’s forgiveness. Don’t forget that the psalms are not just private correspondence between the psalmist and God. They’re placed here to teach us how to pray when we are in the same situation as the psalmist. So the implication is that we need to be taught what to do when we sin. The assumption is that we’re going to need this. There are times that we’re going to be caught in sin.

Ed Stetzer, a pastor and researcher in the States, writes of the time that his family moved from New York City to Florida. They lived in a house that grandfather owned. Because the house was in a rural area, it wasn’t serviced by the city sewer system. That meant it had a septic tank. The septic tank system worked fine most of the time, but occasionally there were problems. On such an occasion, Stetzer’s grandfather would do what any old and wise man would do. He asked Stetzer to meet him in the yard. He’d bring a metal bar to pry open the lid, and he’d bring a shovel to pry out whatever was stuck in there. One day his grandpa thought it would be funny to act like he was going to push him into the septic tank. And it was funny, at least until he lost his balance. Before he knew it, he was standing knee deep in sewage. That’s a pretty good picture of the situation that David’s in as he writes this psalm. So how do you pray to God from the middle of the septic tank?

Well, David does three things. First, he’s honest about his situation. He asks God not to rebuke him in anger or discipline him in wrath. Notice that David doesn’t deny that he deserves a rebuke and discipline. Clearly he does. David tacitly admits that he’s sinned against God and that he’s the septic tank, so to speak, because he put himself there. He shows us that we don’t have to clean ourselves up before we approach God. We can pray to him even when we’re in the middle of the septic tank of our sin.

Second, David is also honest about what he’s feeling. He talks about being frail and weak. He says that his bones are shaking. He’s terrified and wants to know how long his suffering will continue. His soul is troubled. David is not doing well here. He’s dealing with the effects and consequences of sin. Some people think that he’s literally sick here. I think he’s describing the anguish of his guilt in very dramatic terms. Psychologists talk about the negative effects of guilt. We know this. David is experiencing God’s displeasure and the shame and guilt that come from sin, and he’s honest with God about what it feels like. It’s like what one person’s said about sin: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you’re willing to pay” (Steve Farrar).

But then notice that David asks God for mercy. He asks God not to rebuke him in anger; not to discipline him in wrath. Notice what David doesn’t say. He doesn’t ask God not to rebuke or discipline him. Spurgeon writes:

The Psalmist is very conscious that he deserves to be rebuked, and he feels, moreover, that the rebuke in some form or other must come upon him, if not for condemnation, yet for conviction and sanctification…He does not ask that the rebuke may be totally withheld, for he might thus lose a blessing in disguise; but, “Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger.”…So may we pray that the chastisements of our gracious God, if they may not be entirely removed, may at least be sweetened by the consciousness that they are “not in anger, but in his dear covenant love.”

Now listen. Some of us are struggling with guilt. We are in the middle of the septic tank. David shows us that we can approach God even when we’re dealing with the crushing effects of sin. We can cry out to God even when we’re experiencing all the guilt and shame of our failure. This is so important because when we’re in this state, the last thing we want to do is to come to God. We want to hide from him, like Adam and Eve did, because we’re ashamed. When you’ve sinned, David teaches us, the first thing to do is to get honest with God. But that’s not all.

Second, plead with God.

Some of you have kids who do this all the time. Sometimes I think that kids show signs of becoming great case lawyers in the future. You know that if a child wants something, they will come up with arguments and then present those arguments with great force before his or her parents. Did you know that this is what we are to do with God? David is caught in the middle of sin. But he doesn’t hide from God. He’s honest with God. But then he pleads with God. Again, let me quote Spurgeon:

The ancient saints were given…to ordering their cause before God. As a petitioner coming into court does not come there without thought to state his case on the spur of the moment, but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having also learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great one to whom he is appealing, so it is well to approach the seat of the King of Kings as much as possible with premeditation and preparation, knowing what we are about, where we are standing, and what it is which we desire to obtain…The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument. Sometimes my soul has been fairly melted down where I have listened to the brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third and then for a fourth and a fifth until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.

We need to learn how to do this, especially when we are dealing with sin and guilt. David pleads with God using three arguments here.

First, he pleads on the basis of God’s character. In verse 4 he says, “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” The word for “steadfast love” is one of my favorite words in the entire Bible. It means God’s unchanging covenant love. It’s a devoted love that promises to never let go no matter what happens. David doesn’t build an argument on his own character; he builds an argument based on God’s unchanging character and his covenant promise of love. God delights when we do this, when we plead with him based on who he is and what he has promised to do.

Second, he pleads with God on the basis of the praise that he wants to bring God. This is interesting. In verse 5 he says, “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” David is not giving a full-blown theology of the afterlife here. What he’s saying is that while he is alive, he lives to praise God. But when he’s dead he will no longer be able to do this. Graveyards are quiet places. David wants the opportunity to praise God’s name. By the way, this gives us a hint as to one of the main reasons we live: to bring praise to God. God delights in being exalted. David pleads on the basis that his restoration would allow him to continue to live and to praise his great God.

Finally, he pleads on the basis of his suffering. David says in verses 6-7:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

What is this? Is this just complaining and whining? Somebody journaled through the psalms and wrote, “What is it with these psalmists anyway? They’re such a bunch of whiners!” Well, it can seem that way, but David is doing more than whining here. He’s again making an assumption about God’s character. The assumption is that God cares about what David is experiencing, even if it is a result of his sin. He’s presuming on God’s compassion and care for his people.

He is making an assumption about the mercy of God. He is assuming that all of this really matters to God and that Yahweh will be touched with pity over his condition. He assumes that our misery arouses God’s mercy, touches God’s heart. A prayer like this assumes that the Father is like Jesus – always going around being moved with compassion.

So David teaches us that when you’ve sinned, get honest with God, and then plead with God. Argue with him. Lay hold of God’s character and reputation and his care for you, and then build on that. Use arguments in prayer. Make a case to God based on who he is and what he’s promised. Because we know what Christ has done for us, plead based on Christ having paid the penalty in full for your sin at the cross. Trust that he is interceding for you as well.

When you’ve sinned, get honest, and then plead your case. But there’s one more thing.

Third, having done all of this, rest in his forgiveness.

I love how David ends this. Listen to what he says in verses 8-10:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Some churches regularly hold a time of confession as part of their worship services. Together the congregation confesses sin to God. For instance:

Dear friends in Christ, here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

There has never been a time when I’ve lacked things to confess at that moment. After a time of confession, the officiant then stands up and says something like this:

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through the Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

I need that. I need not just the confession but the assurance that God has heard my confession and forgiven my sins, and that I’m cleansed and ready to go.

That’s what happens in this psalm. Having come to God, acknowledged his sin, and pleaded his case, David know shows us the assurance that we can have. Prayer lays hold of God and his forgiveness so that we receive the mercy that we need. David says, “The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.”

Today you can come to God and get real about your situation. You don’t have to hide from him. You can tell him exactly what you’ve done and how it’s made you feel. You can then plead with him based on his character and his promises. And then you can leave this morning knowing that God has heard your prayer and has pardoned your sin.

But then you can also deal with your enemies. David has some enemies in mind here who aren’t letting him forget his sins. But we can also deal with Satan, the accuser, who tries to unsettle us and rob us of our assurance and peace in the gospel. In his book By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major “fiery darts” Satan uses to unsettle believers:

Fiery Dart 1: “God is against you,” Satan says. “He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?”
Fiery Dart 2: “I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins,” Satan argues. “What can you say in defense? Nothing.”
Fiery Dart 3: “You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day,” Satan insinuates. “How will you defend yourself then?”
Fiery Dart 4: “Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?” Satan asks.

But we can respond, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.”

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, writes of an encounter he had with Satan.

Satan, either in reality or in a dream, appeared in the depth of the night, and addressed him in the following terms: “Luther, how dare you to pretend to be a reformer of the Church? Luther, let your memory do its duty – let your conscience do its duty: you have committed this sin – you have been guilty of that sin; you have omitted this duty, and you have neglected that duty: let your reform begin in your own bosom. How dare you attempt to be a reformer of the Church?
Luther, with the self-possession and magnanimity by which he was characterized, (whether it was a dream or reality, he himself professes not to decide,) said to Satan – “Take up the slate that lies on the table, and write down all the sins with which you have now charged me; and if there be any additional, append them, too.” Satan, rejoiced to have the opportunity of accusing, just as our blessed Lord is rejoiced to have the opportunity of advocating, took up a pencil, and wrote a long and painful roll of the real or imputed sins of Luther.
Luther said, “Have you written the whole?” Satan answered, “Yes, and a black and dark catalogue it is, and sufficient to deter you from making any attempt to reform others, till you have first purified and reformed yourself.” Luther said, “Take up the slate and write as I shall dictate to you. My sins are many; my transgressions in the sight of an infinitely holy God, are countless as the hairs of my head: in me there dwelleth no good thing; but, Satan, after the last sin you have recorded, write the announcement which I shall repeat from 1 John 1:7,”The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” Luther in that text had peace; and Satan, knowing the source of his peace, had no more advantage against him. (Rev. John Cumming, 1854)

A hymn puts it this way: “Well may the accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none!” When you’ve sinned, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

We started out this morning talking about the shame and weight of sin, of how people feel when they’re caught in besetting sin. I gave the example of people who said:

“It’s made me want to hide from God …. It makes me doubt my salvation, and then the depression comes and with the depression comes temptation to sin again.”
“I feel crap about myself. I don’t feel worthy to serve God. And I don’t believe I can break the habit.”
“I feel dirty and unable to approach God after looking at porn …. So often I feel unable to come to him in repentance, even though I know my sin is already dealt with.”
“I couldn’t talk with God about my problems. My picture of him was that he would accept me if and when I had ‘scrubbed up’ enough.”

Without condoning the sin of viewing porn, Tim Chester offers the following words of hope to people who are struggling with pornography, and for all of us who are struggling with any sin:

Jesus lived God’s welcome to sinners. He embodied God’s mercy. He was known as the friend of sinners. The religious people didn’t like it, because it turned their proud systems of self-righteousness upside down. But Jesus sat down to eat with prostitutes, adulterers, and porn addicts …. On the cross, God treated Christ as a porn user …. [Paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 5:21], “God made Jesus, who never looked with lust, to be a porn addict for us, so that in him we might become sexually pure.”

Or, to put it differently, using the words of the guy who fell in the septic tank and who was standing neck-deep in sewage:

I am forever thankful the waste wasn’t any deeper that day. I could easily have been submerged rather than knee-deep. But consider Christ, who was not knee-deep and not even submerged, but who actually ingested the sin of mankind. (Ed Stetzer)

Because of Christ and what he’s done, we can stand before God and know that he’s heard our prayer. When you’ve sinned, get honest with God, plead with God and then rest in his forgiveness.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada