Psalm 17 – Prayer in Anxious Times

Listen to what’s right, Lord;
    pay attention to my cry!
Listen closely to my prayer;
    it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie!
My justice comes from you;
    let your eyes see what is right!
You have examined my heart,
    testing me at night.
You’ve looked me over closely,
    but haven’t found anything wrong.
    My mouth doesn’t sin.
But these other people’s deeds?
    I have avoided such violent ways
    by the command from your lips.
My steps are set firmly on your paths;
    my feet haven’t slipped.

I cry out to you because you answer me.
    So tilt your ears toward me now—
    listen to what I’m saying!
Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways
    because you are the one
    who saves those who take refuge in you,
    saving them from their attackers
    by your strong hand.
Watch me with the very pupil of your eye!
    Hide me in the protection of your wings,
        away from the wicked
            who are out to get me,
        away from my deadly enemies
            who are all around me!
They have no pity;
    their mouths speak arrogantly.
They track me down—
    suddenly, they surround me!
    They make their plans to put me in the dirt.
They are like a lion eager to rip its prey;
    they are like a strong young lion lying in wait.

Get up, Lord!
    Confront them!
    Bring them down!
Rescue my life from the wicked—
    use your sword!
Rescue me from these people—
    use your own hands, Lord!
Rescue me from these people
    whose only possession is their fleeting life.
But fill the stomachs of your cherished ones;
    let their children be filled full
    so that they have leftovers enough for their babies.

But me? I will see your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I will be filled full by seeing your image. (Common English Bible)

This is one of David’s personal psalms of lament. It’s a prayer forged smack in the middle of adversity with unjust adversaries seeking to take his life. 

The psalm is a visceral plea for God to vindicate David and subdue those who wanted to harm him. Today’s psalm is also a heartfelt lament that wickedness exists and often gets its way; it is an expression of grief about the constant threats swirling around David.

There was so much mean and arrogant violence that David prayed God would keep him as the apple of his eye and hide him in the shadow of his wings. 

Indeed, perhaps no better prayer could be said in times when there are people who make untrue accusations and only wish harm to be done to you, that the Lord will keep a continual watchful, focused, and vigilant gaze upon us.

In times when angry simpletons spew their worst and misguided miscreants seek us harm, we need to confidently know: God watches over us with affection and cares for us as a mother hen protects her chicks.

Even before we make the request, neither our predicament nor our hearts are strangers to the Lord. Our human ingenuity and stamina is not enough to overcome intense hardship and adversity. The Lord must be there to help us and to guide our hearts toward the good. Even when the way is painful, later it will bear the fruit of righteousness.

You and I are precious to God. We can run to the Lord when there is trouble. There truly is a benevolent God showing firm commitment to those who seek truth, loving actions, and merciful words. 

When going through a difficult season, in which another or others accuse you of wrongdoing and you know you are innocent, the proper prescription is to pray this very psalm repeatedly at night before bed. For we all know that sleep can be elusive and hard to come by in such difficult circumstances. The palpable stress can make it impossible to tone down the racing thoughts.

Trying to fall asleep through sheer willpower is totally ineffective. Instead, try to stay awake by praying. While it may sound counterintuitive, trying to stay awake through prayer lessens the anxiety around trying to fall asleep. Since falling asleep is an involuntary process, taking our minds off of the task at hand gives the brain the break it needs, and the heart the comfort it needs. 

Perhaps, along with David, you will be able to say that your prayers are answered – that you beheld the face of righteousness and had good sleep. And in the morning, when you awake, you will feel satisfied with having seen the likeness of a God who hears and cares.

Gracious and merciful Lord, you are the holy One who has pity for all our weakness. Put away from us worry and every anxious fear so that at the end of a hard day – in which you saw all of our labor and all our adversities – your compassionate eye will watch over us and your loving hand will hold us as we lay down for rest. And when the night has come, may we receive from you your priceless gift of sleep, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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