You know my heart. You have come to me at night; you have examined me completely and found no evil desire in me.
I have always walked in your way and have never strayed from it.
I pray to you, O God, because you answer me; so turn to me and listen to my words.
Reveal your wonderful love and save me; at your side I am safe from my enemies.
Protect me as you would your very eyes; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the attacks of the wicked. Psalm 17: 1; 3; 5-10
David cries out to God for justice, begging God to defeat and punish his enemies. He claims that God, who knows him thoroughly, knows he is innocent.
Like David, I believe God knows my heart and has examined me completely. I’m not so convinced that he has found no evil desire within me. I can’t claim that I ‘never strayed’ from God’s way. When God reveals his wonderful love and saves me—which he has done many times and continues to do—it’s because he is good, not because I am perfect. That shows just how wonderful his love really is.
David recognizes that his enemies are stronger than he is, but not stronger than God. I have plenty of enemies that are stronger than I am, too. Many of them are within me. Take impatience, for example. Much as I’d like to be rid of it, I can’t make myself patient. I’ve tried it on my own many times, and been defeated many times. If I stop trying to tackle it on my own, I can ask God for relief. There’s hope in God’s power, which can do for me what I can’t do for myself, if I’m willing to surrender and trust Him.
Unlike David’s honest prayer, my honest prayer looks more like this: Listen, O Lord, I know I’ve let you down, but I need you. On my own I’m too weak to stand up against the enemies within me. I pray to you because you listen and answer me. It’s your love—certainly not my own strength–that keeps me safe. Thank you, Lord, for knowing my heart and loving me anyway.
How about you? I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflection whatever phrases speak to you today. Here are some questions that might help.
- What enemies are bigger than you today?
- How can God help keep you safe from their attacks?
- How has he answered your prayers in the past and revealed his wonderful love?
- What would your honest prayer look like?
Why won’t they taste the dinner? Because they didn’t want to. They were invited, but they all had something better to do than go to a banquet. (See Luke14: 16-21) One wanted to work with his new farm animals. One wanted to check out some new real estate. Who would rather work or evaluate investment property than go to a party? Another just got married. Could he possibly have thought his new bride wouldn’t be welcome, too? Who could think so little of his generous host?
The A-listers brush off didn’t stop the party from happening. The host in the parable welcomed other guests: not only the poor and disabled, but pretty much anybody else who wanted to what he had to offer. . Why would beggars, invalids, and who-knows-what random mix of last minute invitees accept? Maybe what they had, or didn’t have, made the offer way too good to pass up. After all, the things that kept the original guests from attending were possessions and a brand new relationship.
God’s generosity is not thwarted by our refusal to accept it. Who loses out when we say, “No, thanks,” to God? We do. How do we let our possessions, our work, our romances, get in the way of accepting the goodness God wants to offer us? Do we focus so much on work, new toys, or the excitement of new relationships that we have no time or energy for celebrating God’s love feast?
Maybe it doesn’t seem like God’s inviting us to a celebration. What if spending time with God or sharing His love in service seems more like an obligation? Did you ever have the experience of doing something you felt called to do and being filled with satisfaction? Or experience the joy of camaraderie in working together for something outside of yourself and your own plans? We weren’t meant to live in isolation. Sharing fellowship makes any experience a banquet of love.
I heard on the news recently that when her fiancé broke their engagement one week before the wedding, the jilted bride invited the homeless to attend the non-refundable reception at the banquet hall. Her own sorrow turned to joy, at least on some level. Caught up in her own saga, how easily she could have overlooked the needs of others, and who would blame her? Instead she opened her eyes and heart, accepted God’s invitation to do the loving thing, and shard in His love feast.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to your invitation.
Reflection: What is God inviting you to today? Have you got anything better to do than accept?
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.”
Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods.
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands.
How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!
I am always aware of the Lords’ presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16: 1-6; 8
When I’m afraid, this psalm never fails to comfort me. It becomes easier to trust in God for safety when I remind myself of all the good things I have in my life. It helps to recognize that, one way or another, they all come from God. Even when life is painful or chaotic I can find things to be grateful for if I’m willing to look. Although I might feel like I need a microscope to find them, I can see that willingness to look for the good is a gift in itself.
For today, I have no interest in joining those who rush to other gods, mainly because I’ve done it and brought troubles on myself. I’ve relied on my physical comfort, strength, and health. I’ve trusted my intellect, employment, and other people. All of these have let me down at one time or another. I can use and enjoy these blessings, but I can’t afford to make idols of them anymore. My security is shaky if I do. There is only One who has never let me down. If the resources I lean on are taken away, I have to believe God will provide some other way. He always has.
God truly is all I have and He does give me all I need. I found that out when my first marriage ended and an MS attack left me unable to take care of myself. Business as usual was not possible. I didn’t see how I could possibly manage without the supports I was used to. I was way out of my comfort zone and terrified. I didn’t get everything I wanted and it didn’t come on my timetable, but somehow I got everything I needed. Faith moved from my head to my heart. It wasn’t a pretty process, but God got me through to the other side. He truly was all I had during that time, and He truly was all I needed. My future is safe in His hands.
How about you?
- Who or what are you trusting in today?
- Can you trust in God for safety?
- What good things are in your life? Can you see them as coming from God?
- What “other gods” have you rushed to? What have you gained or lost in the process?
- How is God giving you all you need?
- How can you call to mind God’s presence when circumstances are shaky?
- Why can awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trouble bring you peace?
What does living in the grace of God look like? It probably means we stop trying so hard to earn God’s love. Grace is a gift, not a salary. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of it but we have it nonetheless. Accepting love and forgiveness that we didn’t earn—that we couldn’t earn—doesn’t mean we don’t pay a price. The price is humility. Not a “shucks, I’m not worth it” or groveling self-loathing, but a healthy recognition that God loves us exactly as we are, warts and all
A spiritual director once told me, “God is crazy in love with you.” How humbling. God knows all about me, including the things I’m not too proud of. And he loves me anyway. It’s too good to be true, but it is. Christ was willing to give his life for little old me and for every one of us—even if we don’t care or don’t even notice. Our indifference or arrogance cant stop his love, although they might stop us from experiencing it.
What does living in the grace of God look like? Here’s a few things that come to mind. Please feel free to add to this list.
- Awareness of God’s grace would keep us humble—a good antidote to judging or looking down on others.
- It’s a good antidote to looking down on ourselves, too. We’re loved by a perfect God! What more do we need?
- We don’t have to prop up our self-worth by tearing others down or showing off.
- We don’t need to pretend we’re better than we are.
- We don’t need to impress anybody, least of all God. We can afford to be honest because that is how God loves us.
- We don’t have to be stingy or self-centered. We can afford to reach out to others in love.
- We don’t have to beat ourselves up over past mistakes and wrongs. God knows all about our past and still loves us. He’s waiting to forgive us when we turn to him.
- No need to count the sins of others to avoid looking at our own.
Living under the grace of God sounds a lot like heaven on earth, and it’s free for the taking. After all, that’s why they call it grace. We don’t have to hoard it. We can afford to share it with others.
Prayer: Lord, your grace truly is amazing.
Reflection: How can living in the grace of God change your day today?
Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right, whose words are true and sincere, and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends nor spread rumors about their neighbors.
They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.
They make loans without charging interest and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will always be secure. Psalm 15: 1-3; 5b
Who can live up to all that? It sounds like we need to be perfect to worship God. But David, who wrote this psalm, didn’t live up to this himself. He had his neighbor Uriah killed so that David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife wouldn’t be discovered. Talk about wronging a friend!
And yet David is referred to in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Maybe because he met an important qualification listed in the psalm. David was one of those…whose words are true and sincere… David was honest about his failings. When his wrongdoing was pointed out to him he admitted it and asked for God’s forgiveness.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed by reciting his merits—maybe he was trying to prove he lived up to Psalm 15. In contrast, the tax collector honestly admitted his sin and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus tells us it was the tax collector who rightly connected with God.
If we’re honest we have to admit we can’t live up to perfect ideals this side of heaven. In fact, trying to appear perfect is a recipe for hypocrisy. It paves the way for slandering others, so our own wrongdoings don’t seem so bad. Integrity is so much better than a veneer of respectability. When we’re honest we’re secure because we have nothing to hide. Our insides match our outsides. We don’t have to live in fear of being found out. Not that we shouldn’t try to live up to our values, but when we fail—as we will—we can, like David, own our mistakes and go to the God of mercy and love, our true source of security.
This psalm is a great format for taking an examination of conscience that can lead the way to receiving God’s forgiveness.
- What tempts you to put your will above God’s?
- When have you not lived up to your conscience?
- In what ways have you been less than honest?
- Have you gossiped or spread rumors?
- When have you not kept a promise?
- In what ways have you sold out?
- How do these weaknesses contribute to your insecurity or discomfort?
- Are you willing to bring them to God?
- Can you trust that God loves you as you are?
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speak to you today.
Jonah refused to do God told him to. Instead of heading to Nineveh to preach, Jonah hopped a boat in the opposite direction. When a storm almost sank the boat. Jonah realized his responsibility. He asked the sailors to toss him overboard. The pagan sailors showed compassion and tried to row to shore but the storm got worse. Finally, they threw Jonah into the sea. When the storm calmed down instantly, the terrified sailors converted on the spot.
After his ordeal and three days in a whale’s belly, Jonah became willing to do what God intended him to do. He preached to the people of Nineveh and the whole town repented. It is ironic that God used Jonah’s reluctance to convert the sailors he never would have encountered had he not resisted God’s will. Once Jonah surrendered himself for the sake of others, God did what Jonah could not do and calmed the storm. As a result, the sailors on that ship were saved both physically and spiritually.
Like Jonah, we have choices about whether to cooperate with God’s plan for us or not. I don’t think God zaps us with disasters as revenge. I do believe God gives us opportunities to rethink our choices. Jonah did, and from the moment he acknowledged his wrongdoing and thought about others instead of what he wanted, God used him to achieve the purpose
God can bring good out of everything—even our reluctance—when we surrender to His plan. It’s never too late to change.
Prayer: Lord, help me see what you have in mind for me today.
Reflection: How am I avoiding God’s plan for me today? What would it take for me to trust his plan?
The Lord looks down from heaven at us humans to see if there are any who are wise, any who worship him, but they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.
Evildoers frustrate the plans of the humble, but the Lord is their protection. Psalm 14: 1-3; 6
Sometimes our “smarts” lead to all kinds of foolishness. An AA member once said, “I never met anyone too dumb to get this program, but I met a lot of people too smart to get it.” C.S. Lewis put it another way, saying “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” C.S. Lewis We are more than our brains. There’s no wisdom in making idols out of our intellects and using ourselves as our only reference point.
According to the psalmist, we’re all in the same boat. We say things like, “I’m only human,” or “I’m not perfect,” or “I’m no saint.” So isn’t putting all our trust in our very fallible natures pretty silly? Left to our own devices, not one of us does what is right. If we could save ourselves by being perfect, then, as St. Paul said, “Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2: 21) The good news is, God looks down on us with mercy, mercy that is available to us when we are open to it.
Back in my college days, I thought knowledge was power. I was pretty arrogant. Meanwhile, all my good grades and deep thinking friends couldn’t help me grow emotionally or spiritually. I was on shaky ground that kept getting shakier. My first honest prayer as an adult was, “God, I don’t know if you’re out there or not, but if you are, please help me.” It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it was heart-felt desperation. The crisis didn’t disappear, but I was led through events as they unfolded. It was not my own intellect or power that got me through because I was at my wit’s end.
Discomfort can be a good motivator. Our weakness in the face of problems brings us back to healthy humility. Then we become open to the source of strength and wisdom. That may be the genius of God. He can bring good out of anything, even our foolishness. How could we worship someone outside of ourselves until we are humble enough to look beyond our egos? I wonder if any of us become wise without being foolish first?
How about you?
- When have you felt foolish? How much of that feeling was related to pride?
- What does being wise mean to you?
- How can humility help you grow?
And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. Colossians 2: 15
A victory parade? Crucifixion looked more like defeat. God’s idea of success is very different from ours. What was Jesus’ victory? He accomplished His Father’s will in spite of all the opposition the world could muster.
What looked like weakness actually brought us forgiveness and new life because our debts were nailed with Christ on the cross. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves–free us from the bondage of our wrong-doing and the burden of guilt and same that goes with it.
“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know the source of this quote—if you do, please let me know. I love it because it reminds me to get over myself. Sometimes, success means refusing to continue a pointless argument. Sometimes it means being satisfied that one person got something out of something I wrote instead of worrying about the number of books I sold. Success can also mean letting go of my agenda and listening to someone who needs to talk.
These things don’t always feel like victory, and they may not look like it to most people. That’s okay. Every time I imagine what success looks like to God, I let go of my will and feel more peaceful in accepting things as they are. When that happens (and I wish it happened more often than it does) I can see my pride, self-will, impatience, being led away in Christ’s victory procession.
Prayer: Lord, what does success look like to you in this situation?
Reflection: How might your idea of success change today if you look at things from God’s point of view?