Psalm 5 has much to say about prayer, but not just about specific occasions of prayer – also about a life of prayer. This psalm speaks about our connectedness to God, and the conversations and thought processes with have as we commune with God. There are also some interesting contrasts that we can look at … to see what these might be saying to us. Prayer is not really an event; it is more a way of being (in relationship with God). Prayer is interactive (a dialogue), and is also (or should be) deeply reflective.
(a) REQUEST (v.1-2)
The psalm begins with a fairly standard request for God to hear our cries for help. Prayer is often generated in times of despair or need; and here the psalmist (David) could be dealing with significant hurt. Maybe, normally, our prayers should begin with a little praise and thanksgiving; however, when confronted by difficult circumstances, it is understandable that we get straight to the point. God already knows how we feel about him, where our heart lies, and is ready to hear our words no matter how raw. Having said this, we see that David (the psalmist) does address God as both “King”, and also his personal “God” (v.2b). “King” designates someone with authority and power over world events, while “my God” designates someone with a deep personal interest and relationship with the one praying. Thus, David is directing his words, not just out there into thin air, but directly to God (“for to you I pray” – v.2c); and this is a God who can make a difference, both in large (organisational) ways, and also in small (personal) ways. The difference between prayer and positive thinking, is in whom our words are directed! Our prayers are targeted at a God who is relational, responsive, effective, and who has purposes to perform.
(b) ASSURANCE (v.3)
Verse 3 reflects an assurance that God indeed hears the psalmist’s prayer. This prayer was offered in the morning, which is always a good time to dedicate the day ahead and its likely challenges. Having heard David’s prayer, it is assured that God will be on the ball … acting, helping, guiding, delivering! So the psalmist can “watch”! The NIV translates here, “In the morning I lay my requests before you, and wait in expectation”. When we have prayed, we can look out for what will happen – how God will answer our prayers. We should pray with expectation, and then keep our eyes and ears open (for every sign of God’s activity), to show that indeed we have prayed with the sort of faith that knows God is alive and around (seeking to bless us and grow us). The Jerusalem Bible translated here, “At dawn I hold myself in readiness for you, I watch for you”. We have prayed … so something will happen; though God’s answer may NOT be what we expect, or even desire, but it will be what is in our best interests. It is fair to say, however, that there may need to be some passage of time before we fully see the wisdom of God’s answer. Do we perhaps become a little fixated on a certain way of thinking, and thus miss God’s even more creative and growthful answer?!?
Looking in the Mirror (v.4-6)
As we get to verse 4, we might think, at first look, that the psalmist’s mind is now directed towards others, those who have proven to be anti-God, or those who have given David a hard time personally. And when we get to verse 6, we see a particularly harsh attitude to those who have exhibited the most destructive behaviour. And this is where the psalmist has probably started. Don’t we, when things go wrong, first look toward others, and perhaps even begin to point the finger. It couldn’t have been us, it must have been them! There is plenty of evil for us to remark on, but how does that help us or help our prayers? This can actually tend to take our mind away from God, and reduce our capacity to pray. Whenever we go down this track of trying to allocate blame, we must quickly realise that we should hold up the mirror to ourselves. Yes, what we may find there in the mirror may be far less problematical than what we see in the world; however, what we see in the mirror is at least in our power to fix. It’s not all black and white – not all the “righteous” versus the “wicked” … it’s not all as cut and dried as that – lines are easily blurred or crossed.
Them, them , them … but what about me! Look at their unrepentance … what about my unrepentance!! The apostle Paul spoke about this in terms of his best intentions compared to the way things often turned out: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15b). So, part of prayer is constant repentance … confession and repentance. We hold up the mirror to ourselves, and with a little God-prompting, see what there is in the reflection requiring change. A lack of repentance is a blockage to praying in the first place, but also brings a blockage to being able to receive and accept answers to our prayers. Confession happens because of regret. Repentance happens because we are committed to change. However, listen to a comment from Richard Rohr about repentance … and see if it resonates. It seems [that] humans would sooner die than change or admit that they are mistaken (“Breathing Under Water”). How is change difficult for us? We might just allow Psalm 5 to speak to us, before we continue in our life of prayer. Is there anything about our interpersonal behaviour, our attitudes to others, or our level of honesty that needs to be addressed?!?
So, we have held up the mirror, and as a result, have detached ourselves from any addiction to sin. Repentance brings forgiveness, healing and transformation. This brings a full appreciation of God’s abundant and steadfast love. We have received grace; not through any merit of our own, but purely because of how God feels about us. We now feel more part of God’s family … we are truly God’s children, because we are on the road of growing into our Heavenly Father’s image. We naturally want to respond, and worship of God is the most natural and appropriate of ways to respond. This is what the psalmist is doing at verse 7. We also become more free to interact with others in places of worship – this is because we have become more ourselves … some of the heavy burdens and negative accessories we have been carrying have been removed. Together we celebrate the awesomeness of God. And together we “bow down” in unrestrained prayer … seeking God for all God is worth.
This leads on to verse 8. We still need guidance if we are to survive, let alone thrive, in life. So many choices to make! Such complexity!! There will continue to be threats to our well-being; and various forks in the road and possible diversions. There are so many conflicting, confusing and critical voices to cloud the issues. Some people will want to pull us down, or divert us to where they would be comfortable with us. But we are Jesus people! And God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. God has a role for us to perform within his united Kingdom. So it is to His ”righteousness” that we need to defer (v.8a). This means that we seek God’s character in our lives; that we live in ways consistent with the way Jesus lived. This means that we need good discernment in all sorts of moral and ethical calls. It means we look to get the priorities straight. This also means that we may have to stand out in unpopular counter-cultural ways. This may mean attaching ourselves to causes outside our comfort zones.
Negating Undue Influence (v.9-10)
Again a contrast enters this psalm at verse 9 – those who use their mouths to bring down and destroy. What people must have been saying about this psalmist (David) … to bring this response!! Such destructive words come from dark hearts – we might almost say ‘dead hearts’ … as their “throats” are referred to as “open graves”. And some people just say words to get what they want, and lack any sense of sincerity. Verses 9-10 make me think of three things … three responses in terms of my relationship with God:
(i) THAT MIRROR AGAIN – again that mirror looms large, this time specifically about my use of words. Can I enter a ‘discouragement free zone’ with my speech? We should all be finding active ways in which to encourage one another. To ‘encourage’ literally means ‘give courage to’ … this is something we can provide for all those we encounter (right across the community).
(ii) MY HEART – we cannot afford to let bitterness define us or take us over. Many times we have been hurt, and sometimes the perpetrators are nowhere near sorry; but we still need to let go and forgive – or bitterness will just eat us up. I don’t think there is any greater hindrance to good decision-making than bitterness. At least the psalmist (David) here, in verse 10, seems to be leaving any judgement on their oppressor to God (although there does seem to be some advice being given nonetheless). The psalmist may eventually be shocked, as we are shocked, when God gives our so-called ‘enemy’ another chance. We gain nothing by hoping for the worst for someone else! When we feel underappreciated, unfairly criticised or personally attacked, we need to be acutely aware that God loves us, accepts us and values us highly.
(iii) UNDUE INFLUENCE – we have to guard against subtle and quiet accommodation to undue influence. Sometimes things that are popular remain problematical. There are many people who start on the way of Jesus, but soon fall away. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the bill of goods they were sold was unrealistic – they were promised that if they came to Jesus then everything would be easy and all their problems would instantly go away. This, of course, is NOT a proper representation of the Gospel. Perhaps someone failed to encourage, nurture and support such a person in their new faith. But, perhaps other activities or endeavours just held much more excitement. We, for our part, have to resist any influence that would tend to upset our equilibrium in God.
Joy & Blessing (v.11-12)
(a) TRUE FREEDOM
This psalm concludes in a very positive vein. The mirror has done its job. Having prayed, watched and worshipped, having repented and dispensed with bitterness, we can live with joy and in total freedom (refer verse 11a). Things can turn around for the better. God can bring beauty out of what seemed to be ashes. Yesterday’s problems can be today’s success stories. We know that today’s uncertainty can be tomorrow’s tale of growth. Our songs of joy and thanksgiving loom loud and sincere. We sense God’s arms around us each moment of each day.
Right living, as we talked about before, brings its own reward. There is a sense of blessing on our daily journey, because, despite various mistakes and set-backs, we are living within God’s will and purposes … living into God’s mission and future. This is a life that can make a difference – God’s favour travels with us and shines through us.
So let’s pray with assurance and watch with expectancy. As we continue to pray let’s allow the mirror before us, not to convict us mortally, but rather to lead us into restorative action. Then we can worship in spirit and in truth, enthusiastically in the company of our sisters and brothers in God’s family. We can strengthen one another to be less prone to bitterness and less subject to undue influence. As we grow under the discipline of Jesus, let us express joy; and the freedom in which we live should there for all to see and appreciate.
God will give me beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In our righteousness, we will be like great trees
that the Lord has planted for his own glory. Amen.
(based on Isaiah 61:3 from NLT)