February 16, 2019

The Doorkeeper

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not turn my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with those who work iniquity; do not let me eat of their delicacies.
Let the righteous strike me; let the faithful correct me. Never let the oil of the wicked anoint my head, for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.
When they are given over to those who shall condemn them, then they shall learn that my words were pleasant.
Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land, so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.
But my eyes are turned toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; do not leave me defenseless.
Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me, and from the snares of evildoers.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I alone escape.
Ps. 141:3-10

I humbly prayed when I read Psalm 84 that God would deign to let me be a doorkeeper in God's house rather than sojourn in the tents of the wicked. And here in Psalm 141 I am bold to pray that God would be the Doorkeeper in my own God-given house. And the Apostle James tells me why I must do this:
the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing [Jas. 3:5-10].
If I try to watch my mouth or hold my tongue, I usually fail, for "unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain" [Ps. 127:1].

The context for this little prayer-within-a-prayer—that God would set a guard over my mouth—is rather amazing, and it deserves more thought than I might give it if I'm just reading without meditation. That's because it seems on the surface like it's the precursor to a prayer for revenge. But on closer inspection, that's not the case at all. The psalmist prays for correction from the righteous, while saying nothing against wicked people—only against their deeds. And I love how the psalmist says, "don't let me eat their delicacies," and "never let their oil anoint my head." That's as vengeful as this prayer gets.

But while the psalmist doesn't pray for revenge, he or she does say that when the wicked get what's coming to them, they're going to discover that not everybody is so gracious.

While for God's protection doesn't actually wish ill upon enemies, it does remind enemies that people reap what they sow. Psalm 141 ends up being a prayer for gracious speech despite the deeds of the wicked. I admit that there are aspects of this prayer that I cannot imagine myself praying, but when my back's against the wall, I do hope that my main prayer would be for the same kind of graciousness that this psalmist asks for, and that God would guard my tongue.

Keep me from lashing out in anger, Lord. Whether you take vengeance on others or not is up to you. In my life, I ask that as you guard my life, you would also be the doorkeeper of my lips. In Christ's Name who taught me to pray...

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