LORD, hear my righteous plea and listen to my cry; It does not rise deceitfully or come from lips that lie.
Declare me innocent and vindicate my name; LORD, may your eye see what is right and free me from all blame.
Though you examine me and probe my heart and mind, And though you test me in the night, yet nothing you will find.
I said, “I will not sin in anything I say.” From those who practise violence I have kept far away.
From every evil path by your word I’m preserved. My feet have held to all your ways; from them I have not swerved.
I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; O turn your ear towards my prayer and hear my earnest plea.
Display your steadfast love and save with your right hand All those who flee for help to you when foes against them stand.
In shadow of your wings hide me in times of strife; And as the apple of your eye preserve and guard my life.
Hide me from ruthless foes who follow wicked ways, From those who circle me about and seek to end my days.
They close their callous hearts; they speak with swelling pride. They dog my steps; my enemies are found on every side.
They fix their eyes on me to cast me to the ground. Like hungry lions stalking prey, they crouch without a sound.
Arise, confront my foes and bring them down, O LORD; Deliver me from wicked hands and free me by your sword.
Save me by your right hand from all such people, LORD, From mortal men who in this life will have their sole reward.
You fill them with good things; their sons are satisfied. They leave their children all the wealth which they have set aside.
But I in righteousness your face will surely see; And with your likeness, when I wake, I satisfied will be.
You can hear a Free Church congregation sing from v 6 onwards to the tune Franconia here. It can also be set to the tune Swabia which you can hearhere.
Newly at university, Lesslie Newbigin didn’t believe in God, but he found the faith of Christian friends to be ‘appealing’. Asking, ‘If I wanted to be a Christian, how would I begin?’, he was told, ‘Buy an alarm clock.’
Psalm 17 implies that the routine of praying at the beginning of the day (verse 15), and at its end (verse 3), is a worthwhile ‘holy habit’. It can be so steadying an anchor as we are buffeted by all that contemporary life consists of.
Psalmists are often very frank about themselves and about the world in which they live. Today’s author is, too. Whilst as individuals we will often candidly confess our flaws and errors, this psalm helps us accept that there is also a time to tell God how we have tried to be ‘innocent’. It’s not about boasting, but rather acknowledging gratefully how good it is when, amidst temptation and distraction ‘my feet have not stumbled from your paths’ (verse 5).
Setting our personal life within its proper place, ‘out there’ at the heart of society, maybe we also recognise the psalm’s language for depicting the state of the world: ‘callous’, ‘ruthless’, ‘proud’, etc. Moreover, despite that ‘righteous plea’ in line 1 of today’s metrical version, we don’t need to buy totally into the psalmist’s suggestion that it’s only ‘the wicked’ who err; too often we will be able to see such shortcomings in ourselves. Psalm 17 offers us the opportunity – alone and together – to pray for wisdom and strength that we might stick to God’s path. Above all, though, the psalmist pleads for the wonders of God’s hesed, expressed above as ‘display your steadfast love and save with your right hand … in shadow of your wings hide me in times of strife; and as the apple of your eye preserve and guard my life.’ How precious a prayer that is, for ourselves, for the Church and for the world. Contemporary life can vex us. Despair, though, will only make things worse. The Christian’s vocation is to replace despair with prayer, through Jesus Christ, in whose living, dying and rising that hesed of God finds its perfect expression.
Most of us are either larks or owls, better in the morning or the evening. Whichever it is, every day has a start and a finish when we can pray, looking in ‘faith, hope and love’ to the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’. So it is that even the alarm clock becomes a helpful tool for ‘walking the way, living the life of Jesus today’.
Eternal God, as we wake in the morning and retire in the evening, receive the prayers that we offer for your glory, for the health of the nations and for the wholeness of our own lives, through Jesus Christ, Amen
The Rev’d Nigel Uden Minister of St Columba’s and Fulbourn URCs in Cambridge.