1 I said, “Now let me watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin. I’ll put a muzzle on my mouth while I’m with wicked men.”
2 When I was silent and kept still and firmly held my peace, Not speaking even what was good, this made my pain increase.
3 Because of this my heart grew hot; the fire burned strong indeed The more I mused upon it all. Then I began to plead:
4 “LORD, show me that my life will end— how many days I’ll see— And cause me, LORD, to understand how brief my life will be.
5 “O LORD, how short you make my days before I sink in death. My years are nothing in your sight; man’s life is but a breath.
6 “Like shadows people go about; they bustle to and fro. They heap up wealth, but do not know to whom their wealth will go.
7 “But now, what do I look for, LORD? My hope is set on you. 8 From my transgressions rescue me lest fools in scorn pursue.
9 “I held my peace and would not speak, for you did this, I know. 10 Remove your scourge from me; your hand has struck and laid me low.
11 “For you rebuke and punish men for their iniquity. You, like a moth, consume their wealth; each man is vanity.
12 “O LORD, please listen to my prayer and hear my cry for aid; Do not be deaf to the appeal which I with tears have made.
“For as your guest I stay a while. I’m like my fathers all— A stranger and a pilgrim here. Have mercy when I call.
13 “O turn away your eyes from me. Let me rejoice again Before I finally depart and here no more remain.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Culross here.
I cannot be the only person who loves the Psalms for their honesty and their clear sense that the journey through life can be, at best, a bumpy road. When we are gripped by despair or frustration, the Psalms encourage us to speak out, honestly, what we are feeling.
The Psalmist here has tried to keep from speaking evil.. but eventually cannot keep silent any longer and nearly bursts with anguish “How much longer do I have to live – how much more do I have to endure?”. Then, as so often in a Psalm, we reach the ‘and yet…’ point – “Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you”.
After an honest outburst of how it really feels, the Psalmist starts to look at the situation including God in the picture. “I am a passing guest, as all my ancestors were”.
In a sense nothing has changed in the course of the Psalm, but blessing comes when the Psalmist takes God’s perspective into account.
Last Christmas I watched and waited with my mum as she was dying. On Christmas Eve I turned away from the tree and the turkey and spent a quiet hour by mum’s bed. There were times when she and I cried out “how much longer?”, but there were also times when we were at peace, knowing that the end would come, and that in life and in death she was safe in God’s hands – as was I and all whom she loved. As the gift of Christ at Christmas quietly approached, we accepted the coming of God to make us at home. Taking our lead from the Psalmist, we find in God’s perspective our hope and our strength.
Hear my prayer, Lord, Hear me when I cry out in honest pain. Help me to remember you are there. Hold me in your arms until I can stand again. In the name of Jesus who trusted you in all these ways, Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead is Moderator of the South Western Synod.