Communal Shepherding — A Work of God

I was struck by this reading a week or so ago in Psalm 141.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.”

Certainly it’s a prayer we all could pray.  In fact, it sounds very much like Jesus’ model prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  With Satan described as a “roaring lion” looking to consume us, and knowing only God has the power to defeat him, it’s a prayer we should pray.

But how will God “keep watch over my lips” and keep us from being drawn to evil?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter . . . as long as He does it.

But David doesn’t leave it at that.  He recognized that God acts not only on His own, but within community – the people of God looking out for God’s own.  It’s their job.  And so David continues his prayer in a way most of us wouldn’t: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it . . .”

We’re not wild about communal shepherding . . . are we?  We don’t favor being corrected by others.  And yet, when David was on the receiving end, he considered it blessing – direction from the Lord.  Solomon put it like this: “Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (Proverbs 13:18).  It’s not the way of the world, but who wants to follow where the world is headed?

Saturday, May 25. Psalms 141 – 144

In Psalm 19:14 the writer prays: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Throughout the wisdom literature, there is an emphasis on the danger of unguarded speech. In the New Testament, James writes: “No man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (4:8).

In Psalm 141, the writer is conscious of the influence of others on his speech and this is the focus of his prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to that which is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.”

What comes out of your mouth often smells a lot like what you take in. When your companions are those whose speech is perverse, you will soon sound like them. It’s the way things work.

Here’s an exercise: Make a list of all the words your parents would have objected to when you were young. Which of those words now reside in your vocabulary? If speech betrays the heart, purifying the heart will require excising from our vocabulary the “adult” words that never should have been there in the first place – words that have more in common with a pagan world than a pious one. You might also want to adopt the prayer of Psalm 141 in the purifying process.