Look Inward – Psalm 17 (Weekly Word)

Read Psalm 17

This Psalm begins with David affirming his innocence and justice:

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
    listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
    may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart,
    though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
    my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
    through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
    my feet have not stumbled.

When I read and think about this, a few errors that Christians sometimes make come to mind.  First, I’ve often experienced Christians so emphasize the reality of sin that they make it sound like there is no hope for self-improvement.  We must never forget our own brokenness, but we must also have hope in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to help us progress towards Jesus.  Second, Christians are sadly known as people who are much quicker to point out the sins and flaws in other people.

In this Psalm, David is looking inward.  He is examining himself and crying out to God that what he desires, that his prayer, is just.  David invites God to examine his heart, confident God will find he has planned no evil and stayed true.  Of course, we know from other Psalms (51, for example) that David did not think he was perfect.  It appears he could equally be honest with his flaws as well as be honest when he was on the right track.

The biggest thing this brings to mind is the importance of inward, self-reflection.  Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 7:3-5 when he says:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This teaching of examining and fixing your own life before turning to worry about others is echoed across many wisdom traditions.  Here are just a few:

  • “One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others.”– Buddha
  • “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” -Rumi (medieval Muslim poet)
  • “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy (Russian novelist)
  • “If you can’t even clean up your room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” – Jordan Peterson (Canadian psychologist)

On one hand, as Christians we simply ought to trust and follow a teaching because it comes from Jesus.  On the other hand, if we find this same idea popping up all over the place, we should definitely pause and give it a hearing!  If God is truth and all truth points to God, then it should not surprise us to find truth popping up that echoes the Truth.

All that to say, may we take some time to look inward – to examine our lives, clean our rooms, change our selves – so we can then echo David’s prayer with a pure heart.

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