Pushing Our ‘Nathans’ Away…

One of the readings that I came across in the Lectionary for Morning Prayer was Psalm 32. It is Psalm written by King David who (in the form of a song) outlines the effect that unconfessed sin had on his life. It was a good reminder to me and fitting as in the Anglican Morning Prayer service it always begins with Confession of sin.  The prayer is very appropriate I think:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our
own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, 
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders
spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults,
restore thou them that are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. 1

In this prayer I am acknowledging to God that I am a rebel, (we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep); that I am an idolater, (we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts); that I am a lawbreaker, (we have offended against thy holy laws); that I am a sinner by commission & omission, (we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done), and that all I can do is plead to God for mercy because I am a sinful offender who is pitiable*.

This prayer is how I start my day and how I end my day, because I know that I am all these things, not only by choice and desire but also by instinct.

It is prayer I need to prayer because I know that it is instinctive of me when it comes to sin to try to bury it, to hide it, from others, from myself and from God. And this is where Psalm 32 comes into to view. It comes into view because in this Psalm King David outlines what happens when a person tries to bury their sin.

King David David may have been God’s King over God’s people in God’s place. But he fell…badly! We can all read the sad account in 2 Samuel 11 . To summarise, instead of going to war as King David should have done, he was idle and bored. He was on his roof, saw a woman bathing, instead of going inside. Adultery has already begun in his heart. He sends for her. Being her king, she goes. They sleep together. She falls pregnant. He brings her husband Uriah, (who is at war) home, he gets him drunk at the palace, tries to convince to sleep with his wife, so that the pregnancy will be seen as being legitimate. The husband refuses. So David sends him back to the frontline with orders for his commanding officer that would be deemed military insanity and that is the point, to have him killed. David succeeds. With the husband out the way, David can now marry Uriah’s widow and the baby will born without any stigma, no fuss, the sin is effectively buried. But David’s sin is not covered. God sends a prophet Nathan who confronts him.

I think it is very likely that in Psalm 32 David is reflection on this dark part of his life, not only of his sin, but of his attempt to bury it.

And in this Psalm we see the threefold effect that burying sin has on him:

  1. It affected him physically –

3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…

Perhaps David was speaking metaphorically, or perhaps not. Maybe his appetite was affected, perhaps he had digestion problems due to the stress that his unconfessed sin was causing him.

2. It affected him emotionally –

…through my groaning all day long.

I was heard former Archbishop of Sydney, Rev Peter Jensen speaking about sin and he said something that has stayed with me, “Sin is its own punishment”. This was certainly true for King David. He was emotionally physically and emotionally effected by his unconfessed sin and he had not even faced the consequences of it yet.

Remember that feeling when you were a child, when you know you have done the wrong thing, and your parents know that you have done the wrong thing. And you know that they know. And they know that you know that they know. It is an awful feeling and you feel it don’t you? Physically feel it. Emotionally feel it. And your parents have not even punished you yet. This is what it is like for King David, only immeasurably worse, immeasurably worse because David has sinned not against his parents but against the true and living God. The God who is a Holy God!

3. It affected him spiritually –

4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

King David He uses very powerful vivid language to describe his misery. This is what happens when we try to hide our sin from God, from the God who we can never hide from.

A hypothetical scenario: Just say there is a Christian who is name is Christian and he is not living the Christian life and there are aspects of his life that he is trying to hide from other Christians, and especially from God. Christian knows that he is  living sinfully and he knows that God knows.  When Christian is with his unbelieving friends, he is actually miserable. Because he knows that his lifestyle grieves God, he does not fully enjoy it, because he spends so much emotional energy trying to block the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to his conscience and trying to bury his sin. Christian is also  miserable with his believing friends, because he is reminded of his sin. Thus the joy of fellowship, the joy of the cross is not his. Praying, Bible reading, praising God in song, hearing God’s word read and taught and preached, seeing the peace that his fellow brothers and sisters enjoy in the Lord Jesus Christ only serves to magnify his guilt, and his sin. And this is very very draining. This was David’s experience.

We all know what happened to King David. God would not allow his sin to remain buried. It displeased him, so we read in 2 Samuel 12:1

And the Lord sent Nathan…

God knew what David had done and he enabled his prophet Nathan to know. If sin was the toxic waste buried deep under the earth, unseen and unknown by those above, Nathan saw what was buried as it if were laid out in the open.

Nathan tells King David a sad parable and then declares to him four words. Four words! Four words that force David to confront his sin, to exhume it and lay it out open on the ground, exposed for him and God to see together.

“You are the man!”

God sending Nathan was an act of grace. And there are times when we all need Nathans in our lives. Sometimes our Nathan is a Christian brother or sister who lovingly confronts us with our sin. Sometimes our Nathan is God’s Word, a verse from Scripture, sometimes it can be song. Looking back over my life, God has sent me plenty of Nathans. How about you?

And the big question is this: How do you respond to God when he sends you Nathan?

In our earlier scenario Christian is faced with a choice. He can either carry on with this double life and try to keep his sin buried, and remain miserable or he do what King David did in v.5:

I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”.

If there is a message and an application from Psalm 32 it is this: don’t bury your sin. Confess it. Don’t push God’s Nathan away. Follow King David’s example. Do what David did in the second half of v.5 and the promise is that he will forgive our sin, just as David’ experienced at the end of v.5.

Confessing sin leads to peace and leads to blessing, this was David’s testimony to us (see v.1).

Don’t cover up your sin.  Don’t push your Nathans away. Better still, why make it a daily practice to confess your sins to God before Nathan comes to your door?


1. Book of Common Prayer, 1662 Version – The Order For Morning Prayer – Daily Throughout the Year. 

2. The word Miserable in the BCP is a word that means more than unhappy. It is a term that means deplorable, wretched, worthy of pity.


 A short video by Bishop Thad Barnum on Psalm 32


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