The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 21, 2021
As children we learn to talk by repeating what others say. As Christians we learn to pray by repeating what those close to God pray. Psalms is a prayer book whose prayers we’d do well to say ourselves that we might learn what it means to have a conversation with God. Let us then listen in on a prayer David once prayed.
God fails no one, not even those who fail a lot. He may mystify, frustrate or discombobulate; but God never fails anyone. He always comes through, keeps His promises, and provides what’s best. As the last verse of this Psalm prayer says, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Yet, God’s constancy in caring does us good only if we walk His paths of steadfast love and faithfulness … if we, with what consistency we can, “keep His covenant and His decrees”. Traveling the path of obedience and traveling the path of grace are one and the same. Walking in life like that doesn’t purchase His good will; it’s just how we appropriate its benefits, how we make its blessings our own.
This psalm of David arose from his personal experience of great trouble. Yet, he seems to have written this prayer, not just to help himself, but also to help those in similar situations. He generalized his prayer, it seems, that it might be of use to a wide range of folks. For example, while he prayed to deal with enemies meaning to kill him, we can pray his prayer after him to deal with enemies such as ill health, bad situations, bad habits, personal character defects: whatever threatens our happiness, peace of mind or prospects for success. David knows our kind of trouble and has earned the right to urge us to turn to the Lord.
In these ten verses, David shares three aspects of his attitude toward the Lord, five truths about the Lord, and three requests we too might make of the Lord in our times of trouble.
So how does David come to God for help? First, he places himself in God’s hands. He starts his prayer by saying, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Aware of his inadequacy to surmount his challenges by himself, David seeks to give Himself over to God even before he gives himself out in in ethical and spiritual effort. He puts himself under God’s care and control before he puts himself out to do what is his to do. David means to entrust his entire life and being to the Lord.
Next, he locks his eyes on God to find the help he needs. He prays in verse 2, “O my God, in you I trust.” He does not depend first and foremost on his sharpness of mind, people skills and network of connections, though he had such in bundles. He utterly depends on God’s utter reliability in being helpful in steadfast love and faithfulness. David’s confidence banks, not on who David is, but on who David’s God is!
Then, because of who God is, David embraces hope in defiance of his dire straits. In verse 5 he prays to God, “For you I wait all day long.” In other words, he holds on to God’s promises and holds out for their fulfillment no matter how long it takes. He expects better times ahead because God is true and good every moment of time.
David’s ability to entrust Himself to God’s care, to trust in God’s word and to hope in God’s grace is rooted in his knowing God’s character. Thus, David strengthens his faith by reminding himself (and whoever makes his prayer their own) about five facts about God. First, in verse 5, David declares the Lord to be “the God of my salvation”. He knows it’s God alone who delivers him from his enemies and from himself when he is his own worst enemy. Second, in verse 6, David declares that God’s “mercy” and “steadfast love” have “been from of old.” God has shown Himself constant in His concern over countless years, and thus He can be counted on today. Third, in verse 8, David declares, “Good and upright is the Lord”. God has no ulterior agendas. He’s all about helping us. He’s ever true. He’s pure and perfect in integrity. Fourth, in verses 8-9, David declares a fact about God so important he feels compelled to repeat it three different ways: God “instructs sinners in the way”, “leads the humble in what is right”, “teaches the humble his way”. God shares His way with those who can’t find their way. Fifth, in verse 10, David declares, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness”. He never fails us – and never will!
Bearing in mind how wonderful God is even when things are awful, David makes three requests of God. At the start of his prayer in verse 2, he turns over to God his deathly danger and asks God to save him from his enemies. That, the first of his three requests in this prayer, articulates his urgent desperation; and the last of his three requests articulates on what basis he believes with bold confidence that God will keep him secure. In verses 6-7 he prays to God, “for your goodness’ sake”, “be mindful of your mercy” and “do not remember” my “sins” and “transgressions”. David’s faith is grounded in God’s grace, in an undeserved and thus unbounded generosity of steadfast love and faithfulness.
But it is David’s second request of these three that is the central one, one so important that about it also he feels compelled to put it three different ways. Believing that God will do the biggest part in defeating the evil designs of our enemies, all David asks of God here is that God enable him to do his small part of obedience and “keep His covenant and His decrees”. He prays, in verses 4-5, in a trio of formulations of one fundamental request: “Make me know your ways…teach me your paths…lead me in your truth.”
By faith we can rest secure that from God we have all the help we need, whatever our challenges may be. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,” and all that is required of us is that we follow God down His paths in obedience. Let us pray!