Theme: The Substance of David’s Prayer
In this week’s lessons, we learn about David’s prayers, and how we, too, need to pray for God’s protection as we seek to live an upright life.
Scripture: Psalm 141:1-10
In yesterday’s study I wrote that true prayer is speaking to God and not merely going through some religious exercise. Have you noticed that this is exactly what David indicates in verse 2? He refers to some of the forms of worship practiced at the temple in his day, specifically the use of incense and the offering of the evening sacrifice. But he relates each of those practices to genuine prayer and the devotion of the worshiper. 
Incense, which filled the Holy Place of the temple and rose heavenward in heavy fragrant clouds, is a common biblical symbol for prayer. We read in Revelation of the redeemed holding “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). As for the sacrifices, in addition to pointing to the future atoning death of Jesus Christ for sin, the offering of animals also taught the need for a humble and contrite heart on the part of the one who was praying. The prophet Samuel told Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). 
Verse 2 is a keen insight into the spiritual understanding of the most enlightened of the Old Testament saints, all of whom understood that it was the spirit of the worshiper that was the essence of the sacrifice. 
Verses 3-7 contain the substance of David’s prayer, the things about which he was concerned and for which he was praying. Of these five verses, verses 3 and 4 are the clearest. In verses 3 and 4 David asks God to “set a guard” over: 1) his mouth; 2) his heart; and 3) his actions. Asking God to set a guard means asking God to keep him from sin and enable him to be upright or pure in these areas. And that is what David wanted most. This was a natural thing for him to have thought of following his comparison of his evening prayer to incense, since one thing everyone understood about the preparation of the incense offered in the temple is that it had to be utterly pure and meticulously prepared. 
1. David’s mouth. The first thing David asks God to do is guard his mouth so he will not speak sinfully or in a way that might harm others. There is no biblical writer that seems so conscious of the harm that words can do as David. We find references to harmful words or speech in many of his psalms, sometimes about the words others have spoken in order to harm him and other times, as here, about his own propensity to speak wrongly. We have a saying that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But words do hurt, and they have done far more harm in the long history of the human race than physical weapons. 
Have you ever asked God to set a guard over your mouth so you might not say harmful things and speak only what is helpful? Xenocrates, the head of the famous Athenian Academy from 339-314 B.C., said on one occasion, “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having been silent.”1
2. David’s heart. Where do harmful words come from? They come from the heart, for, as Jesus said of the evil man, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If our heart is corrupt, our speech and actions will be corrupt too. But if our heart is pure, our words will also be pure. How can that be the case, since our hearts are not pure but “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9)? Obviously, we need a transplant, and equally obvious, the only one who can give us our new heart is God, the Great Physician. This is what God has promised to do. Ezekiel quotes God as saying, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). Likewise, Jeremiah, the very prophet who described our hearts as being deceitful above all things, wrote, “‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts….For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’” (Jer. 31:33, 34). The one who has received a new heart will begin to speak only wholesome words and begin to act in a wholesome manner too. 
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p. 731. 
Study Questions:

What does incense represent? What does animal sacrifice represent? 
Explain what David means by “set a guard”? What are the first two things David asks God to set a guard over? 
Where do harmful words come from? 

Reflection: Think of times when words you have spoken have hurt someone. Ask God to set a guard over your mouth. 
Prayer: Pray for a pure heart that will result in pure speech and pure living. 
Key Point: It was the spirit of the worshiper that was the essence of the sacrifice. 
For Further Study: To learn about God’s protection from the perspective of his providence, download for free and listen to Barry York’s message, “The Protection of Providence.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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