Psalm 39 – Being Honest with God

I promised I would watch my steps
    so as not to sin with my tongue;
    promised to keep my mouth shut
    as long as the wicked were in my presence.
So I was completely quiet, silent.
    I kept my peace, but it did no good.
    My pain got worse.
My heart got hot inside me;
    while stewing over it, the fire burned.
Then I spoke out with my tongue:
    “Let me know my end, Lord.
    How many days do I have left?
    I want to know how brief my time is.”
You’ve made my days so short;
    my lifetime is like nothing in your eyes.
        Yes, a human life is nothing but a puff of air! Selah

Yes, people wander around like shadows;
    yes, they hustle and bustle, but pointlessly;
        they don’t even know who will get the wealth they’ve amassed.
So now, Lord, what should I be waiting for?
        My hope is set on you.
Deliver me from all my sins;
    don’t make me some foolish person’s joke.
I am completely silent; I won’t open my mouth
    because you have acted.
Get this plague of yours off me!
    I’m being destroyed by the blows from your fist.
You discipline people for their sin, punishing them;
    like a moth, you ruin what they treasure.
        Yes, a human life is just a puff of air! Selah

Hear my prayer, Lord!
    Listen closely to my cry for help!
Please don’t ignore my tears!
    I’m just a foreigner—
        an immigrant staying with you,
        just like all my ancestors were.
Look away from me
    so I can be happy again
    before I pass away and am gone. (Common English Bible)

God is big. The Lord is big enough to hear whatever is on our hearts. It really does no one any good to have pretense with God. The psalmist initially thought he had to hold back in speaking with God:  He was silent and held his peace with God. However, his distress grew worse.

The psalmist, David, finally opened up. He went on to speak openly and honestly to God, with flavorful expression, about what was really on his heart and mind.

Sometimes we may mistakenly believe we need to be guarded with God – that somehow we should treat the Lord of the universe like we do with other people – coy, hesitant, keeping a respectable distance in conversation.  Maybe that ought to occasionally happen with other people, but it is silly to approach God in such a manner. With God, we ought to be brutally honest about how we are really doing and how we are actually feeling. 

If we desire to move mountains and have God work powerfully in and through us, then we need to acknowledge and admit there is a mountain smack in front of our faces.

I’m quite sure God has heard it all from people in the long millennia of human existence. The Lord isn’t going to be surprised by any of our thoughts and words. So, why hide them? 

It may be a radical thought for some that we can say anything to God and express our deepest emotions to the Lord who desires to listen. God wants to help us journey in this pilgrimage of faith we are on. For that to happen, we must be up front about our current location and how we are doing.

Like everything in life, honesty is a skill to be developed and utilized. Being honest with ourselves and the Lord involves the following:

Acknowledging both the good and the bad.

Shying away from the shadowy places of our hearts will never resolve the icky-ness we may feel inside. Neither will peace come only by focusing on our screw-ups and bad traits. There is both bad and good within us all, and so, we need to hold them both together, recognizing the tension. The better we accept this reality, the sooner we can walk the path of faith with patience and confidence. Both prayers of confession and praise help us keep the good and the bad in mind.

Giving some time and space, daily, to reflect.

Debrief with yourself about your day or events within the day. What did you do well? What could you have improved? Is there anything you will do differently next time? How might you engraft this kind of reflection into your daily prayers?

Admitting your mistakes and when you need help.

Only a person who admits their mistakes can learn from them and correct them. This is a necessary part of spiritual growth and development. Faith cannot be properly formed if we don’t face up to our own reality. Blaming others only causes us to take the focus off our own needs. Failure and admitting need is to be human. Asking for assistance requires humility and courage – qualities we all possess if we will access them.

Paying attention to your emotions.

David, the psalmist, did it. He was aware of his emotions, acknowledged them, and expressed them to God. Our feelings are not some necessary evil. Rather, they are important to our faith and well-being. All emotions exist as signs for us to pay attention to something, whatever it is.

Listening to the gut.

You and I can learn the difference between an impulsive reaction and an intuitive response. The gut level instinct we possess is our conscience giving us insight. Avoiding this important epistemic ally usually results in a lack of self-awareness and poor decision-making. However, listening to the spiritual whispers within can serve us well.

Reading a psalm every day.

The psalms are emotional. They are also, obviously, biblical. Therefore, emotions are godly. A daily regimen of reading at least one psalm out loud can have the effect of bringing our mind, spirit, and emotions into alignment so that they are not disparate parts inside us.

God of the Ages, you are above all and know all things. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears.  I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my forefathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!  My hope is in you; without your abiding presence I am nothing. Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Hebrews 9:23-28 – Once for All

Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of Christ’s crucifixion

It was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world.

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (NRSV)

Once for all. Those few words are some of the most gruesome and beautiful in the entirety of Holy Scripture.  The sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament had its place. Yet, those were mere shadows pointing to the reality of the Messiah – the one whose sacrifice is so potent as to do away with sacrifice forever.

The cross of Christ was the once for all sacrifice that has settled the sin issue forever.

This is the heart of New Testament good news. Forgiveness of sins comes through the sheer grace of God in Christ. Through faith, we have the privilege of entering new life. Jesus has paved the way for eternal life, everlasting salvation, and complete remission of sins.

If it has not yet become self-apparent as to why Christ’s once for all sacrifice is such a game changer, then let’s perceive the cross from this angle: guilt is done away with, forever. Do you believe your life would change forever if you never had guilt hanging over your head?  What if all your past indiscretions, unhealthy life decisions, failures to speak or act when needed, overt things done which you cannot take back, or even the little things said or done in anger or hate were all washed away, forever?

Just as Jesus was nailed to a cruel cross, so guilt and shame was nailed there – once for all. There are three options of dealing with a guilty conscience when it happens…

Rationalize

First, you can rationalize it away, as if you have no responsibility or no culpability. One simply ignores their conscience. This is a one-way path to hardness of heart. Whenever we sin in speech or in action, and do not acknowledge it as our fault, then there is a little piece of us which hardens. The next time it happens, it’s a bit easier to respond with callousness. If you’ve ever encountered someone who seems utterly unfeeling to your situation, then there has likely been a pattern in that person’s life of keeping distance from pain. It only leads to hardness of heart.

Punish

A second way of facing guilt is just the opposite of rationalization. It is to punish and beat yourself for your faults and sins. Heaping abuse on ourselves for our sins takes two different tracks with either: discouragement, defeat, and depression resulting in inaction; or, working like crazy to try and earn God’s favor with hyper-activity. Both ways are a kind of self-imposed penance to try and atone for one’s sins or failures.

Confess

Fortunately, there is a better way to face and deal with our guilt. When there is true guilt for things done or undone, said, or unsaid, we must confess it, repent of it, and believe God has taken care of it. Unlike dealing with guilt in unhealthy ways resulting in callousness, discouragement, and hyperactivity, the path of confession and repentance allows the person to have a clear conscience, resulting in freedom. Christ’s once for all sacrifice is completely able to clear the conscience of the worshiper so that they may live into the grace and freedom of an enjoyable daily life. 

Nothing needs to hang over the believer’s head because Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation, has accomplished deliverance from and forgiveness of sin, once and for all. Jesus didn’t just put a nice-looking veneer over sin; he took care of it, thoroughly and completely. Jesus didn’t whitewash things so that we looked okay; the salvation he offers is permanent.

The cross which held Christ’s naked and tortured body exposed the true violence and injustice of sin. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness and sin, and, a God of extreme sacrificial love and grace.

What I believe this world, including you and me, need more than anything else is forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving, but a real forgiveness which lasts forever.

To justify or to judge is God’s business. Our business is to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that brings permanent and lasting forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, might experience deliverance from sin and its horrible effects.

“For he delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

May you know the freedom and joy today which comes from knowing Christ as Savior.

Acts 24:10-23


            We all have a conscience.  It is the moral compass, the intangible guidance system, and the sense we cannot always explain which is constantly with us giving us insight beyond mere facts and objectivity.  Without a conscience we are bereft and aimless in this world.  But paying attention to the conscience and allowing it to do its vital work in our lives will serve us quite well.  It is the constant angel on our shoulder, directing us to better things and the good life.
             When we allow the conscience to dictate a course forward, we are neither influenced toward inaction in the face of stress, nor spurred to sinful activity and words when in trouble.  The conscience tempers our inbred fight-or-flight syndrome so that we engage properly in each adverse situation.  The Apostle Paul, when standing trial before Governor Felix, gave testimony to his Christian faith.  Paul gave a cogent apologetic for his life and ministry not because he was trying to get off the hook or because he thought it was his duty, but because of his conscience:  “I always strive to keep my conscience clear before man and God.”
             I will suggest to you that the reason Paul was able to accomplish so much in his life without fear, and his effective engagement with others came from his God-given inner resource of the conscience.  I cannot help but think:  What if I shared this same concern as Paul to always have my conscience clear before both God and others?  What if sought to make decisions and live my life continually in conversation with my conscience?  What if my church all did this?  What if everyone did this?  We would be in much better world, for sure.
             Gracious God, you really do provide everything we need for life and godliness in this world.  Help me to keep my conscience clear and tender toward your will so that others might experience through me the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

            “Some people have made a mess of their faith because they didn’t listen to their consciences.”  Most people really know better.  They didn’t just wake up some morning and decide that being an alcoholic would be a good decision, or that spending more money than they possess would be just fine.  They didn’t make a snap decision that God wasn’t there or doesn’t really care.  Their consciences let them know well before they ended up in exorbitant debt or with a DUI that the daily choices being made were not wise.  Faith is either built up or torn down; there is no neutral ground to it.  And it doesn’t occur quickly.  Faith either slowly erodes over time or it is consistently built by listening well to the conscience and following its counsel.
 
            Listening to the conscience requires stopping long enough to hear it.  The conscience is malleable; it can be seared into impotence through constant busyness which presses on with no heed to substantive thought.  We don’t want to hear it.  We have things to do, and have no time for this conscience thing.  But in the end, if we ignore it, we will be ruined.  Our faith will be a mess.  Eventually, there will be no faith left to hold onto.
 
            But if, like Martin Luther facing the crucial decision about whether to please people or God, our consciences are held captive to the Word of God, we will speak and act with integrity and truth.  There will be peace, even if circumstances are difficult, because we have done the right thing.  The real test of character is doing what you know you should do, even if it is hard, inconvenient, or not what you really want to do.
 

 

            Faithful God, you stand at the nexus of my schizophrenic spirituality where I wander in and out of making wise and foolish decisions.  Help me to listen well to the conscience you gave me.  And let it be informed by your Holy Word in all things, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.