Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Scripture for the Day: Psalm 86:11-17

Scholars classify Psalm 86 as a psalm of individual lament. Typically, lament psalms move from petition to praise, from voicing a need for God’s attention or action to celebrating or anticipating God’s work. Most of the petitions in Psalm 86 come in the verses preceding our selection for today, although verses 14 and 17 do offer some clues as to the challenges the speaker is facing. But there is plenty of praise in the selection. The psalmist recalls God’s steadfast love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness. The passage recalls God’s deliverance in the past and reflects on the nature of God’s character. 

In reading this passage, my attention has been drawn to the psalmist’s requests in verses 11 and 12: 

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. Teach me your way, O Lord. 

With this request, the psalmist indicates that the way of God may not always be obvious or a matter of common sense. The psalmist expresses an openness to God’s way, a willingness to learn and maybe even be surprised by what might be taught. I find myself desperately wanting to know, and to live into, the way of God in these strange times. Beyond pundits and political posturing, social media and the twenty-four hour news cycle, I want to learn the way of God. I want to be instructed and formed in God’s ways. 

Give me an undivided heart to revere your name. The psalmist expresses how easy it is for the heart to be divided, how easy it is for commitment to wain. I hear in this request a desire for single-mindedness and focus. Maybe it’s just me, but I struggle to maintain an undivided heart these days. Distractions, anxieties, questions about the future, and the constant presence of other people in this quarantine life make it difficult to maintain anything close to singlemindedness. 

Along with these requests, the psalmist commits to walk in the Lord’s truth, to give God thanks, and to glorify God’s name forever. In the midst of pain, anxiety, and confusion that caused the speaker to cry out for relief from God earlier in the psalm, the speaker recommits himself to following in the ways of God. The psalmist commits to a life of obedience and worship, even in trying times. 

Whenever you read this devotion, I invite you to take a moment and complete a brief spiritual exercise modeled after today’s selection. First, review the list of God’s characteristics expressed in today’s reading. Then, list some of the tangible demonstrations of God’s steadfast love, mercy, and grace in your own life and in the life of your community. Third, reflect more on what is currently dividing your heart and ask God to unify it again for God’s purposes. And finally, commit yourself anew to walking in the way of God, to giving God thanks, and to glorifying God’s name in whatever circumstances you may find yourself. 

As you do the exercise above, I’d love to hear from you. How is God showing up in your life, and what is God teaching you in these times? How will you respond with your own expression of commitment?