I have been studying prayer over the last several months. Tough subject. Really tough. Recently, I discovered a hole in the prayers that I pray. My prayers generally consist of expressions of thankfulness, repentence, and submission, and requests for intervention in other lives and my own. I would never even have considered coming before God to proclaim my blamelessness and righteousness. I have never said to God what David said: "I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt." (Psalm 18:23) How could I? This is simply not the case. I have no right to say such things, and to say them to God, the one who knows intimately the darkness in my heart? No. If I'm really being analytical and thinking critically, David had no right to utter these words either, did he?
I have no problem searching out and praying the Psalms to express my guilt, my worry, my fear, my repentance, my praise. Sometimes I feel like shouting or singing the Psalms of thanksgiving and praise. They just seem so full of life. And God's goodness in my life compels me. But to pray Psalms that presume my rightness before God, my goodness and lack of wickedness? I don't think so. This would be lying. These Psalms do not belong to me. They must have been intended for someone else, like Mother Teresa. The things I know about myself prevent me, indeed, prohibit me, from claiming to be other than sinful, wicked, forgetful, unfaithful . . . on and on. I wonder if you skip these Psalms too. Or, when you do read them because they are part of the daily devotional you receive, you think: "Yeah right!" or "No one can honestly pray that!" or "Maybe one day, I'll clean up my act enough to say something like that." or "I wish I could be that, forgive me Lord for all that I am not." You put the kinds of expressions in these Psalms, as do I, into the ever-growing category of traits that simply do not, and never will, characterize you.
Let me share something with you: These Psalms -- the ones that proclaim your righteousness and blamelessness before the Most High God -- are yours to pray, to shout, to sing. If you are skipping over them, believing they do not apply to you, you are missing something fundamental and critical to who you are as a follower of Christ. You are foregoing a freedom of spirit that is yours to hold on to. You are believing things about your standing before God that are not true. Despite all inclinations and appearances to the contrary, you are, I am, blameless before God. I am right with God. You are right with God. You can stand before Him with a clear conscience. And that this is so, you know all too well, has nothing to do with anything you have done or anything about your individual make-up. It has solely to do with what Jesus Christ did for you and for me:
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corin. 5:21)
"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:21-22)
"But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:5)
"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14)
I know you know this. I know this. I've read it, heard it in church. But how many of us have actually prayed at all, let alone with confidence: "I am blameless before You." "I am right before You." And if we haven't, why haven't we? From my perspective, it is hardly understandable, it stretches my mind beyond what it can comprehend. How can I say I am something because someone else is?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "[I]t is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God's word and thanking for it. So not only are we permitted, but directly obligated -- provided we take God's action to us at all seriously -- to pray in all humiliation and certainty: 'I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt' (Psalm 18:23); 'If though testest me thou wilt find no wickedness in me' (Psalm 17:3). With such prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ." (Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible at 53).
What is it like to say this prayer to God? To know exactly the darkness within you and yet proclaim with confidence and boldness your blamelessness and rightness before Him because of what Christ did? For me, it has caused such deepening of faith and gratefulness and understanding. It has decreased the volume and persistence of the condemning voice in my head. It has freed me in a way I could not have imagined to do what God asks, to play my role, however imperfectly at times, in his redemptive plan. See what it does for you.