“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
In my college years, it was the fashionable thing to find a "life verse" for yourself, typically a verse that would serve as a focus-point or an anchor-verse for your life. For many, that verse was "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). Some even had the reference tattooed on their skin…and in some rather interesting places! Mine was Philippians 3:8-10, which reveals Paul's singular goal of life--to know Christ above all things. And, no, it is not tattooed anywhere on my skin.
To this day, those verses of Philippians 3 are still very precious to me, and ones to which I often return. But I can honestly say that my anchor-verse (if I may call it that) has changed. There are two reasons for this. First, I've come to see that Paul's words in Philippians 3 are responsive in nature as opposed to revelatory in nature. And there is a huge difference between the two. Responsive verses emphasize our role, our desire and our responsibility to pursue God. While our personal response to God is a critical aspect of the Christian life, we have to recognize that it is only a response. And a response by definition is the result of something else. For instance, if I say "Wow! That was the most delicious, nutty, aged, goat cheese I've ever tasted," my "wow" is the result of something else…the cheese. Without the cheese, there is no "wow." Without the cause there is no response. It follows, then, that if you want to respond correctly to God, your first priority is to "taste and see that he is good"--to focus on who He is and not on how I will respond.
The second reason for the change is located in verse 8 of King David's psalm. He chooses a verse in his Bible that reveals God's character. There is no "I" in it, only God. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that Exodus 34:6 was probably David's life-verse, his anchor-verse of life. Compare what David writes here in verse 8 to Exodus 34:6.
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness….” (Exodus 34:6)
Verse 8 is a direct, word-for-word quotation of Exodus 34:6 (see the italicized part). This is not the only place David quotes this verse. With some variation, he quotes this verse of divine revelation throughout his psalms (see Psalm 25:10, 26:3, 36:5, 40:11, 86:15 as a few examples). David is not the only one! Nehemiah, Joel and Jonah quote this verse as well (Neh. 9:17, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2). But why this verse? Why Exodus 34:6? Because this is God's own word of self-disclosure! This is his voice speaking! And what wonderful words they are! --merciful, gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. To a people often mired in failure and shame, what do our souls need the most? We need truth from God, about God, and full of God. And note, David is not quoting a responsive text here, but a revelatory one--one that would eventually become Flesh and dwell among us to display the true depths of God's mercy, grace, and love on a cross. These are God's unassailable virtues upon which our lives must be built! They have the power to fill the saggy sails of our fragile hearts with fresh wind for the voyage!
While we need responsive texts of Scripture--"what I will do"--they are not what moves the will to act! We must let our hearts, like David's, dwell upon God himself, who He is and what He has done. Then we will find the inner strength to respond in blessing, praise and thanksgiving.