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Hope is Now: Teach me thy paths

Reflections from Our Pastors

  As a college student, I sang for a while in the choir at a big, high, very formal church with classical music only – until one Sunday. A teenager pulled out a chair, sat down with a guitar, and plaintively sang “Unto thee O Lord, unto thee O Lord, I lift up my soul, O Lord unto thee. Teach me thy ways, teach me thy paths, thou art the rock of my salvation.” Murmurs rumbled through the stuffy crowd. The pastor fielded sharp criticism for allowing such a thing. For me, it was by far the holiest, most prayerful moment ever in my time at that church.

He was singing Psalm 25, another one of those “acrostic” Psalms, with each line beginning with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Who exactly are the “enemies” from whom the Psalmist seeks relief? God in God’s wisdom inspired our Psalm writers to leave such things unspecified. Fill in the blank as you need.

Often our biggest enemy isn’t out there. The famous Pogo comic strip line: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The Psalmist is dealing with guilt; notice verses 11 and 18 in particular. Mercy heals. Mercy lifts the unbearable weight of sin, false paths taken, harmful words spoken, self-recrimination or judging others, off our shoulders. Mercy is God’s gentle but firm embrace when we seem to have merited a reprimand or a thrashing.

What fascinates me about Psalm 25 is that it zigs and zags back and forth between pleading for God’s help, but then inquiring into self-examination, learning God’s ways, taking responsibility for the mess. How do we pray for help in a crisis? We ask for God’s help, of course, but simultaneously we pray (and begin to do the work!) to get in sync with God’s ways, which might just help us avoid a crisis or two, or thirty.

“Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, teach me.” This should (and could) be our daily prayer. I know some things about God. I want to know more, much more. Truth feels so jaded, so negotiable, nothing more than spin or bias or ideological preference. But there is truth in God, truth God wants us to seek, absorb, and live into.

It’s always corrective. I have, like the Psalmist, bungled things. I’ve followed my path, the path of least resistance, the path on which I see cool people up ahead, the path of the culture, the path of pleasure and ease. God’s path is a daunting one, not a popular path, winding in a very different direction from the one I’d been asking God to help me along. And God’s path is the one path that is actually going somewhere.

Ponder the abcdefgs of Psalm 25. Pray it tomorrow morning, and maybe the next morning and mornings also. Join forces with Mary Oliver’s lovely thought: “Another morning and I wake with thirst of the goodness I do not have. O Lord, grant me, in your mercy, a little more time.”

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