Beckett: Psalm 5 – Lead Me in Your Righteousness

1, Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.
2, Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to You do I pray.
3, O LORD, in the morning You hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch.
4, For You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You.
5, The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.
6, You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
7, But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You.
8, Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before me.
9, For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.
10, Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions, cast them out, for they have rebelled against You.
11, But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may exult in You.
12, For You bless the righteous, O LORD; You cover him with favour as with a shield.

Verses 1-3

This psalm appears to me to be a morning prayer of David, perhaps because by giving our requests to God in the morning, we can wait expectantly throughout the day (especially when we wake in the morning in groaning and grumbling much like David in these first three verses).

I don’t know about you, but I am not a morning person. In fact, morning people make me even grumpier, especially before I’ve had my coffee!

Some of you may be in the practice of praying every morning and maybe in the evening as well, whether it’s your own prayer or one you recite every day. I’ve never been in that practice simply because it’s not a tradition I grew up with, and when I’ve tried praying every morning and/or night I find my prayers are inauthentic, or I’ll feel guilty when I forget to pray. Nevertheless, I think it’s a good habit to have and I commend those who do it.

Presenting our daily requests to God in the morning and giving thanks in the evening seems like a healthy habit. David wrote that in the morning he “prepares a sacrifice” before God and watches. This is in reference to Old Testament sacrifices in the Law, but I believe we can apply it to our prayers as well.

Peter wrote, “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). As Lutherans, we are well familiar with the priesthood of all believers; this is one of many doctrines that set us apart from all other denominations. As part of this priesthood, we offer prayers to God whether they’re intercessory or for ourselves. Either way, as priests we are making an offer to God, and they are acceptable to Him because of our status as His dearly beloved children.

For Luther, living out our vocations is sacrifice. Pastor A. Trevor Sutton and Dr. Gene Edward Veith Jr. explain it this way:

[T]he New Testament speaks of other kinds of sacrifice and thus other kinds of priesthood. In light of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, God calls us “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Loving and serving in vocation involves an act of self-denial for the sake of someone else. That is, it involves a sacrifice. The world is preoccupied with self-assertion and self-fulfillment. Vocation, on the contrary, is about self-sacrifice. That is to say, vocation involves bearing the cross: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23; emphasis added). The cross doesn’t just signify suffering; the cross is also an instrument of sacrifice. The word daily suggests that this passage refers not so much to martyrdom but to the everyday, routine acts of self-denial that take place in vocation. (Authentic Christianity, 168)

Thus, when the husband returns from work fatigued and spends time with his wife and kids, he is denying himself and sacrificing himself as a husband and father. Similarly, when the wife puts up with the cranky kids and prepares a meal for the family in spite of her fatigue and waning patience, she denies herself and sacrifices herself as a wife and mother. When an employee puts his best effort into his work in spite of fatigue and stress, he denies himself and sacrifices himself for his boss, co-workers, and the consumers/customers.

When we pray, we sacrifice our control over to God, and we wait and watch as He takes care of it, guiding us along the way. No matter how small the request or gratitude might be, I believe prayer should be a daily habit, even as little as once a day. I’m not saying this as a command, but simply a suggestion for Christian discipline, one I will attempt to take up myself. It does not matter how late or early we pray; God hears our voice and promises to silence our groaning.

Verses  4-8

God does not tolerate evil, so He does not respond beneficially to people who are conceited, liars, or deceivers. We don’t like to think of God this way, especially with today’s doublethink of “tolerance” in the political sphere. But the fact of the matter is, God is not tolerant of evil—He is not tolerant of sin, no matter how “small” or “large” we categorise them to be. June is now known as “Pride Month,” celebrating LGBTQ+ pride, an idol that is also known as the deadliest sin.

Pride, I believe, is the root of all sin. We are so prideful that we think we know what’s best, even so prideful as to redefine sin and pretend it doesn’t exist. People who commit sexual perversions aren’t the only ones who commit the sin of pride. More simply, some people wake up in the morning proud of their accomplishments, wallowing in their pride. Any sin we commit is the result of sinful pride. Rather than waking up in proud narcissism, David—a successful warrior and king—wakens to give glory not to himself, but to God.

In verse 7, David realises that we are only able to approach God because He allows it in His boundless mercy, and David does this in reverence and humility. He humbly asks God to lead him in His righteousness—to keep his path in a right relationship with Him because of his enemies who wish to knock him off that path. This is the exact opposite of pride. To be led in God’s righteousness today is to fulfil our vocations in righteousness.

In Lutheran theology, we teach what’s called the two kinds of righteousness. Passive righteousness is justification by faith—that before God, God declares us in a right, reconciled relationship with Him by virtue of our faith in Christ and not our works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Active righteousness is righteousness before people—that before people, we come into a right, reconciled relationship with them by virtue of our good works. To paraphrase from Luther, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Thus, when a husband is faithful to his wife and raises his kids well, he is righteous before them—he is in a right relationship with them. When an employee finishes her work dutifully and doesn’t create a hostile work environment, she is righteous before her boss and co-workers—she is in a right relationship with them. When a customer is tempted to steal but refrains from doing so, he is righteous before the store owner and the law—he is in a right relationship with the store owner and law enforcement.

Returning to the psalm, we all ought to have this attitude of David—to realise that God permits both our accomplishments and our failures, and we should give God glory no matter the circumstance. And when we do fail in our vocations, it is vital that we ask God for forgiveness and aid. If David can be so humble and thankful before God in his high vocations as warrior and king, then we certainly can as well, whether we’re mere knaves of society, members of Congress, or even the President of the United States.

Verses 11-12

David prays for those who seek God and take refuge in Him. He prays for their joy (which comes from God) and for songs of praise to be on their mouths. He prays for their protection in order that God may be glorified. David has experienced God’s protection numerous times whilst enemies surrounded him, so he knows God will shield all whom He favours—all those who believe in Him and call upon His name. If God was more than capable of protecting David from surrounding armies multiple times, imagine the wonders He can work in our lives according to our vocations. We should never hesitate to ask God for His aid.

Psalm 5 Prayer

Father, listen to my cries this morning [or day/night]. I trust You hear me. [Give thanks  for anything He’s done for you.] [Pray for deliverance from any harm you may face—war, oppression, abuse, safety, etc.] Lastly, Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Comfort and shield them as You have done for me—those facing persecution, those who need Your inner peace. Deliver them from the hands of our enemies so that they may experience Your joy, and ultimately deliver them from the evil one so that songs of praise may be on their lips as they glorify You. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Bibliography

Sutton, Trevor A., Gene Edward Veith Jr. Authentic Christianity. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017.

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