I wonder as I look at your faces on my screen how many of you at some point in your life have shared in this experience? It may have been at school or university, it may have been at work. As you sit down to write a piece of work, depending on how far back you have had to go in your memory banks but one of two things might happen.
The sheet of paper stays blank and your pen refuses to move or in a more modern setting the screen in front of you has a curser blinking back at you and I’m convinced if you listen hard enough you can hear it laughing at you too as you dearly wish for a set of invisible fingers to start rattling the keyboard on your desk. You shout at your brain to start thinking. Oh aye it thinks all right. It thinks to itself not today, thank you, I’m having a day off. And you are left sitting looking forward with at best a vacant look and at worst feeling as though the lights are on but nobody’s in.
The irony in all of this is that is where I was once I had chosen today’s Psalm, Psalm 86 is a prayer. My prayers or my conversations with God almost fell behind the urgency to look elsewhere for inspiration. As I read around some books trying to glean information that would inform my reflection. Going nowhere fast, I thought, why don’t I write about not being able to think of something to write about and lo and behold about ten minutes before the service was due to start I found something to write. Only joking it was more like fifteen minutes.
I mentioned last week that scholars suggest that the Book of Psalms can be divided into five sections or five books.
This morning we move into number three which could be the book of Psalms about sanctuary. Sanctuary can be a physical place where one is safe or it can be a state of feeling safe or protected. We hear it often used in the context of people fleeing some particular difficulty and they are offered sanctuary, both in the way of a place or as an emotion or state of mind. It is something that is addressed in several places within Scripture and certainly in the Psalms as the writer comes before God with the issues of life. How fitting that we think on this Psalm of prayer on the Sunday leading up to the Moderator’s call for pray for church and nation.
At 8am each morning a pre-recorded reflection will go live on the Church of Scotland website and on Facebook.
In the evenings a ‘live’ gathering on Zoom will commence at 8.30pm. The prayers from each evening will also be watchable on catch-up through the Church’s digital platforms.
Reading: Psalm 86
Possibly this Psalm could be used as a model prayer for any believer. It is a prayer that asks for God’s help when enemies are all around. Of course the word enemies may be any kind of trouble that is facing us at any particular time of our journey. And as we all know, and has been spoken about quite a bit lately, in the current situation we are living through. Troubles can come at us from within as well as from out with. This Psalm, this prayer, is mostly a reflection on God’s goodness and God’s greatness. The Psalmist does not write so much about his own needs as he does about God himself.
Compared to the greatness of God the Psalmist’s troubles are small. But be assured they are very real for him and concerning enough that he feels this desire that he needs to take them before his God and by doing so affirming God’s sovereignty over the world. The connection we made last week about the Divine Creator journeying with humanity the created continues here in this Psalm. David says teach me your way Lord. In the midst of all that has gone earlier in the Psalm; David stating that he is poor and needy, asking God to bring joy into his life, asking this forgiving God to hear his prayers, stating quite clearly that God alone is God. Teach me your ways, David says. In the midst of all that living this human life means and all that this life can throw at us David says to God.
May I learn your ways that I may learn from these hardships, that I may remain faithful and steadfast in service.
Then something that we may struggle to understand fully if we don’t put it into proper context, David asks for an undivided heart. For David and his people talking about the heart is not only referring to emotions but any mention of the heart is to refer to the whole person. David is praying to God, ‘Make all of me yours that I may offer all that I am in praise of you. That all of my journey may be in a single direction where the focus is you my God.’ All of this makes the Psalm very usable for us today. It may still be used as a commitment to God demonstrating our belief in his deliverance from our enemies, whatever that may mean, for any individual or community. What a place and state of sanctuary to be in when we have an undivided heart and we are able to love God with all of who we are.
As we pray today as individuals and as a congregation, as we join with the wider church this week in prayer and reflection, we join with the people of our nation, we join with the people of the Psalms, we join with the people of God from generation through generation,
‘hear, O Lord, and answer me
teach me your way, O Lord,
I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart.’