Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:12-13 ESV
David had experienced the joy of God’s salvation on more than one occasion in his life. He had known what it was like to have God step into his circumstances and perform a miracle of deliverance. Now he was asking God to do it yet again. The NET Bible translates verse 12 this way: “Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!” David had had a front-row seat when God delivered him from the giant Goliath; his own king and employer, Saul; and on numerous occasions from the Philistines. David knew what it was like to be in a difficult spot and then to have God do the seemingly impossible. He also knew the joy that always followed those events. There was nothing like watching God work and realizing just how much he loved and cared for him. He was not alone. He was not defenseless or helpless, no matter what his circumstances might say otherwise. God was good and far greater than any individual or incident. So David asked God to restore to him the joy that accompanies God’s salvation. He wanted to experience the incomparable euphoria that comes from knowing that the God of the universe has been your deliverer. God’s deliverance is permanent, not partial. It accomplishes the impossible.David was asking God to save him from his own sin. He was miserable as a result of his moral failure. He had confessed, but he need God’s forgiveness and deliverance from his own sinful nature.
David knew that deliverance from God produced a highly beneficial byproduct: a willing spirit. When David prayed, “uphold me with a willing spirit,” he was asking God to transform him into a person who willingly obeys. When we see God work miraculously in our lives and deliver us from difficult circumstances, we are much more prone to obey. God’s deliverance tends to breed increased dependence and obedience. But if we’re not careful, it can be short-lived. It is so easy for us to forget what God has done and fall back into our patterns of willful disobedience. David knew that God’s salvation tended to produce in him a more willing spirit. And that willing spirit became a witness and testimony to all those around him. When we live in dependence upon God, allowing Him to fight our battles for us, we have the joy of seeing Him work. That life of willing reliance upon God becomes a walking testimony to all those around us. David knew that if God could forgive him of what he had done, others would take notice and be more willing to return to God for forgiveness and salvation from their own sins.
But it is so easy for us to forget what God has done. His times of deliverance can be quickly forgotten and the joy experienced during those times can fade away. The Bible is full of stories illustrating that reality. In Psalm 106, the psalmist recalls God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. “So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:10-12 ESV). God saved them and they sang His praises. But then they forgot. “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 106:13-15 ESV). Their joy quickly turned to sorrow. Their songs of praise turned to moans of agony and pain. The bottom line is that “they forgot God, their Savior” (Psalm 106:21 ESV). It is so easy to do. God had even warned the people of Israel not to forget Him. When they stood on the edge of the land of Canaan, waiting to enter into it and take possession of it, God warned them, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV).
It’s interesting to note that David’s prayer was the result of his sin with Bathsheba. But his sin with Bathsheba was the result of his unwillingness to go to war. Instead of leading the armies of Israel against the enemies of God, he chose to stay home. And his decision led to his immoral actions. In essence, he got fat and happy, choosing to enjoy the luxuries of kingship rather than risking his life ridding the land of enemies of God. His heart was lifted up and he soon forgot God. But God used David’s disobedience to bring him back. He got David’s attention. And now David longed for God’s salvation and the joy that accompanies it. Oh, that that would be the desire of every Christ-follower today. What a difference it would make if we longed to see God work in our lives, delivering us from our own self-inflicted pain and rescuing us from our enemies. We would know the joy of God’s salvation, and be able to tell others of His unfailing love and ability to deliver mightily.