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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, July 20, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 86:11–17

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (NRSV)

The typical pattern of reading scripture or most any piece of literature is to read from beginning to end. That is how we were taught to read, right? But what if we were to mix it up a little? Try beginning reading this psalm with verse 14: “O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”

The alarm is sounded by the psalmist. The panic button is pushed. The cell phone rings at 3:00 a.m. Plunged in and completely undone, the psalmist grabs our hearts and leaves us breathless, because we know what it is like to have the band of ruffians after us, whether internal ruffians like the haunting sense that life is just not adding up or the external ruffians of addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, or something unmentionable.

Are they seeking our lives? Yes, at times, our very lives are at stake. But on the heels of the prayer to Almighty God is confidence and hope that God will hear and answer the prayer. Clenched teeth, tearing hair, and a powerful trust that God is there, really there.

And now we reverse the pattern in reading and look up on the page to verses 12–13. And this is odd, really. Really odd. The psalmist leads with the claim that he has already been claimed and rescued by God: “you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” It has already happened. God has answered our cries. The way is clear. The not yet gives way to the already.

And when we back up even one more verse, we find something even more unexpected. The psalmist asks to be taught in God’s way. And here is the beginning and the ending, really. Because it clarifies the ask: our lives are not swayed by every passing crisis, but our lives are formed by God’s steadfast instruction. As one writer says, “God’s providential care is less about changing our circumstances and more about changing us.”

In the chase of life, we fall steadfastly into God’s full embrace, God’s full blessing to us.

Blessed and assuring God, whatever we hold this day, whatever we fear this day, whatever unsettling awaits us this day, you are there. You will never, ever forsake us, as you wait for us to come to you. For this we are so grateful. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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