“O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalms 141:1-3, ESV)
Yesterday we saw that words express worship, either of God, or something or someone else. Today’s scripture points that out beautifully and reaches it’s crescendo in four powerful and prayerful metaphors. I’d like for us to isolate these metaphors and perhaps find something that will be a reminder to us about the importance of the words we speak.
The passage opens with a plea to God that He would be attentive to the psalmist’s prayer. I’m reminded of a verse from Hebrews, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV). I believe that the psalmist is expressing his faith in his plea for God to be attentive to his request.
After he entreats God to listen, he expresses he makes it clear that he desires for his words to be a reflection of worship. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you….” The scope of this post doesn’t have room for a deep discussion on incense, but I’d like to point out that incense was an important part of the Israelites’ worship. In fact two priests thought that they would offer incense that was not made according to God’s direction and God put them to death! The psalmist wants his prayers to please God and not be selfish.
His second metaphor further relates to his worship. “…And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. That this is in the same sentence as the incense metaphor strengthens his resolve and surrender to the will of God.
The next two metaphors are the “meat” of this passage. The psalmist has made every effort to ensure that both he and his prayer are in line with God’s will; and now comes the big “ask.” “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
It is common in the Hebrew Scriptures, and especially in the poetic literature, to use repetition for emphasis. Both of the last two metaphors represent the same petition. Recognizing the power of words, and likely his failures to hold his tongue on many occasions, he paints a picture of what he would like to see. He doesn’t ask for things; he seeks God’s grace and strength that he be able to use his words only for good.
Growing up I developed a quick wit as a defense mechanism. I found that as time went on I became less in control of what came out of my mouth. I would get a few laughs, which served only to open the “door of my lips” a little wider. Perhaps you have had similar experiences, or maybe your struggle with your words looks a little different. I’d really love to hear about your experience! Tell me about your battles in the comments below.
Blessings on your day!
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