Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Door of My Lips

LORD, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
(Psalm 141:1-3)
This is a psalm of David. He cries out to Yahweh; he needs God’s help and he needs it in a hurry. He has no incense to burn, no sacrifice to offer, but he asks that his prayer be heard and answered just as if he did.

His urgent need? There are wicked people coming against him, setting traps and snares for him (v. 9). Even now, the bones of his own people lay scattered at the grave (v. 7). But notice his prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

What is striking about this is that he does not first ask, “Set a guard over me,” or, “Keep watch over the door of my heart.” No, his primary request and the thing that concerns him most is his mouth and his lips — his words! He realizes that it is these, above all else, that needs God’s attention.

Words are very powerful and vitally important. The author of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). In the beginning, when God saw that darkness was over the face of the deep, He spoke into existence what was needed: “Light, be!” Words are the basis of reality.

When God formed man from the dust of the ground, He breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and man became a “living being.” Targum Onkelos, an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into its cousin language, Aramaic, says that man became a “speaking spirit.” Man, made in the image of God and created to be like Him, has the ability to speak words just as God does. Indeed, we were created to speak in agreement with the words of God.

Proverbs teaches us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Our words can be live-giving or death-dealing, so if we want to live and enjoy life we must choose our words with great wisdom and care. This is especially true when we are in difficult situations and the pressure is on us to “do something” (anything is something, so the pressure is to “do anything”). We are tempted to speak in haste (see Don’t Be Hasty), and that can end up causing much harm to ourselves and others. So David’s primary request in the midst of his troubles is, “Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

This does not mean, however, that he has nothing to say about the wicked and their deeds, but he says them to God: “For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked” (v. 5). Indeed, his prayer is not so much against the wicked themselves as it is against what they are doing. In fact, he recognizes that these are people being led into opposition by treacherous leaders. When such leaders are thrown over — sometimes quite literally, and sometimes by the people themselves — there will be a vacuum. Let that vacuum be filled with wise words, life-giving words, words that agree with the words of God. That is what David wants to bring, instead of words spoken in anger and haste. “Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff, and they hear my words, for they are sweet” (v. 6).

Perhaps that will bring his enemies to their senses and lead to reconciliation. However, a positive result will not come about by a mouth that is volatile or lips that are indiscreet. Set a guard and keep watch over them, O LORD.