Theme: The Need for Self-Examination
In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.
Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15
As far as a claim to innocence is concerned, consider God’s evaluation of Job. Job was certainly not sinless. But when God called Satan’s attention to his servant, his words were, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). At the very end of the book God says that he will accept Job’s prayer, because Job had not spoken folly as his comforters had (Job 42:8).
This is the sense in which David is claiming innocence, and it is what we are also to possess as a foundation for our requests. In fact, one of the most important exercises of prayer is self-examination to determine whether we are approaching God rightly and whether our prayers are righteous prayers or not. It is along these lines that Paul told the Corinthians to “examine” themselves before participating in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. l 1:28).
Here are some areas in which we should conduct a self-examination:
Are we being disobedient? This is what Isaiah 59 is talking about when it says that God will not hear us if we cherish sin in our hearts. Are you doing something that you know is wrong? Are you defying God’s moral law? Are you neglecting the Lord’s day? Have you been stealing? Committing sexual sins? Lying? Coveting something that is not yours? If you have been doing these things (or others that you know are wrong), should you be surprised if your prayers seem powerless and perfunctory? You need to change what you are doing. You need to renounce the sin. Remember how Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Are we being selfish? It is right to pray for our own needs, of course. David is doing it in this psalm, praying for God’s protection and deliverance. But our prayers for ourselves often go beyond what is fitting and right and become mere selfishness. One correction for this is to pray for others’ needs before our own.
Are we neglecting some important duty? Sins of neglect are real sins, as are sins of commission. Remember the collect for “Morning Prayer” from The Book of Common Prayer, which says, “We have left undone those things we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.” If you are neglecting some duty, make it right. Above all, if there is someone you should be caring for but are not, attend to that responsibility. Paul told Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Why should God listen to such a person’s prayers?
Is there a wrong we should first make right? Maybe your sin is a sin of commission. Jesus had words for this. He said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24). You cannot claim that yours is a “righteous plea” if you have wronged another person.
Are our priorities in order? David speaks of his priorities in verses 3-5, arguing that he has determined not to sin with words or walk in the ways of violent men, but rather to hold steadfastly to the path God has given him to walk. If we have our priorities in order, these will also be our determinations, and we will be able to claim an upright life as the first argument for God to answer our petition.
From the lesson, what questions can we ask ourselves to help us examine our own lives? Are there any other questions you can think of?
David speaks of his priorities in verses 3-5. How can you apply them to your own situation?
Application: Review each of these questions for self-examination. In light of them, is there anything you need to do differently in your Christian life?