O LORD, hear my plea for justice. Listen to my cry for help. Pay attention to my prayer, for it comes from honest lips. Declare me innocent, for you see those who do right. You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong. I am determined not to sin in what I say. I have followed your commands, which keep me from following cruel and evil people. My steps have stayed on your path; I have not wavered from following you. I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray. Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways. By your mighty power you rescue those who seek refuge from their enemies. Guard me as you would guard your own eyes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. Protect me from wicked people who attack me, from murderous enemies who surround me. They are without pity. Listen to their boasting! They track me down and surround me, watching for the chance to throw me to the ground. They are like hungry lions, eager to tear me apart— like young lions hiding in ambush. Arise, O LORD! Stand against them, and bring them to their knees! Rescue me from the wicked with your sword! By the power of your hand, O LORD, destroy those who look to this world for their reward. But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones. May their children have plenty, leaving an inheritance for their descendants. Because I am righteous, I will see you. When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.
Psalms 17:1 - 15 (NLT)
This is the confident prayer of one who has assurance that God will answer. But who can pray such a prayer? Did you see the next-to-last sentence?
Because I am righteous, I will see you.
Ahem….excuse me….declaring yourself righteous? You’ve been good? I mean, like, really, really good? Perfect?
From a traditional (doctrinal) Christian vantage point this borders on boasting. In Ephesians the Apostle Paul reminds us that being really, really good is not God’s measuring stick. Grace is for sinners…people who are really, really NOT perfect:
8God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
So…was the Psalmist boasting? Was he taking credit?
Who can pray that prayer, claiming he or she has walked the walk, and knows God will answer; the bad guys will be handled and the good guy (me) will ride off into the sunset with the girl and live happily ever after?
The term “tough love” hit the American scene in the 60’s. Its common usage suggests a parent making choices that seem rough on the child, but beneficial in the long run to develop the child’s character.
Tough trust is like that, but it’s self-inflicted. If you are faced with a hard choice between following God’s ways without wavering, or taking the easy, more culturally-accepted, but morally-stilted way out – you do the tough thing. You swim upstream, become counter-culture. In other words, you live like a Christian no matter who’s looking. You trust God. It’s “tough trust”.
This is what the Psalmist did – and his confidence in God wasn’t a reward for how good, or how trusting he managed to act. That would be performance-based “love” on God’s part. But, the determination (choice) of the Psalmist to live trusting God is the very thing that places us in God’s care – the care that is ultimate and unfailing. The Psalmist wasn’t expressing confidence in his own performance; he was expressing his confidence in God.
I lost a friend this past Monday. Melvin was as good a man as you’d want for a friend. His 74 years was a model of simple trust that God is good. He was faithful to his family, faithfully supported and worked in his faith community, and enjoyed life with a smile. Melvin wasn’t perfect, but his trust in God’s Word to lead him through this maze of earthly existence was well-placed in a God who IS perfect.
It may be tough to trust God some days, but tough trust is never disappointed.