Sometimes when I pray—and long to fill the air with words rich and weighty, I lean on the Psalms. I pick one or a portion, personalize it and pray it aloud.
“Let a righteous man strike me—that is kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.” (Psalm 141:5)
Few would call themselves perfect. “I’m only human!” is the perennial acknowledgment of our personal and collective lack of perfection and yet, often when criticism is leveled our defenses inflame--as though we were faultless.
Not King David. He pleaded with God to set a guard over his mouth, to keep his heart and hands from delighting in wickedness and should he slip, he prayed for intervention and correction.
David perceived an assault by the righteous on his inappropriate, misguided or sinful actions as God's kindness to him. He believed to be set apart—to be anointed with oil, was part and parcel with much-needed correction. Stop me Lord, before I ruin everything.
Despite being beloved of God, a warrior, musician and “ruddy and handsome,” (1 Samuel 17:42) David could also be a little stinker who needed to stand down. And he knew it.
Marvel at the humility of this king!
My daughters are competitive gymnasts and the Spirit has used their experiences to teach me much about the relationship of life and holiness.
An integral set of skills in any gymnast’s tumbling pass is the round off -back handspring. The round off allows the gymnast to transfer her forward momentum to either backward or vertical velocity so she has the speed and height to shoot up and back into a back handspring (or numerous other skills). It is both a fundamental and an advanced skill.
For three years my daughter had practiced transitions that would pay off with the much sought-after round off back handspring and when she finally got it, she was excited to show me. Of course, I was thrilled beyond words myself and waited breathlessly, iPhone recording in hand to capture this prolific moment.
She nodded at me from across the gym and then turned away, fixing her eyes on the track in front of her. A whirlwind of power and grace—she zipped through the air like she had been flying her entire life. It was a perfect moment. And I told her so.
“Mommy,” she said knowingly, “My arms were too far out, my legs weren’t straight, and my toes weren’t pointed. Plus, I went to too high and didn’t travel backward far enough.” Her eyes dazzled and she added “If you were my coach, I wouldn’t be a very good gymnast.”
Both my daughter and Israel’s ancient king knew something I hadn’t yet grasped in this context, namely the power of truth and the beauty of being shaped by it—as opposed to shaping truth into a form of our own creation…which isn’t truth at all.
Here’s the clincher: It is only a good thing to be schooled by the righteous if you want to improve. Otherwise their challenges will cause bitterness, resentment and inflamed defenses—because even though we’d never say we’re perfect, we tend to act like we are.
My daughter’s coach knew what the perfect execution of the skill looked like. He could also see where she fell short—and content with nothing less than perfection, challenged her to improve.
God the Father knows true perfection and unraveled the mystery…with a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
He is our perfection and our only hope.
My son put it this way: The King of Kings should have been born in the Castle of castles, laid in the Cradle of cradles but was instead placed in the Manger of mangers. The wonder of it all! Can you see why the angelic army burst into praise before the shepherds that glorious night? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
Believers stand firm on Christ’s imputed righteousness, submit to a lifetime of training and grow in sanctification. Nothing short of perfection comes into God’s presence, so like the woman in the crowd we grasp at the fringe of Christ’s garments, desperate for restoration and grace as power flows our way. Only then can we pray the Psalms of David:
O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:1-2)
My daughter competed valiantly and by the season’s end took her place on the podium, bowing to receive State’s first-place medal. She was a champion, not due to organic perfection--but a teachable heart that received correction as kindness.
During Christmastime many of us contemplate God’s condescension to us—the majesty and the mundane interwoven in a long and circuitous story of redemption. We aren’t perfect at Christmas or any other time of the year—though we long to be. Fear not for I have good news of great joy that's for everyone; Perfection has come to earth and we celebrate Him this season.
Sometimes when you pray—and long to fill the air with words rich and weighty, lean on the Psalms. The wisdom found within, never disappoints.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "