Praying with the Psalms – Friday 26th June

O Lord, open our lips!

Psalm 51

  1. Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness;
    according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences.
  2. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness
    and cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I acknowledge my faults
    and my sin is ever before me.
  4. Against you only have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
  5. So that you are justified in your sentence
    and righteous in your judgement.
  6. I have been wicked even from my birth,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.
  7. Behold, you desire truth deep within me
    and shall make me understand wisdom in the depths of my heart.
  8. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean;
    wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
  9. Make me hear of joy and gladness,
    that the bones you have broken may rejoice.
  10. Turn your face from my sins
    and blot out all my misdeeds.
  11. Make me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
  12. Cast me not away from your presence
    and take not your holy spirit from me.
  13. Give me again the joy of your salvation
    and sustain me with your gracious spirit;
  14. Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked
    and sinners shall return to you.
  15. Deliver me from my guilt, O God, the God of my salvation,
    and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.
  16. Lord, open my lips
    and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
  17. For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it;
    you take no delight in burnt offerings.
  18. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  19. be favourable and gracious to Zion;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem.
  20. Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness,
    the burnt offerings and oblations;
    then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.

Reflection

I wrote in my last reflection about the experience of singing the opening words of Psalm 119 as a member of my college choir. This Psalm too is one which became very familiar to me as we sang Book of Common Prayer Evensong services several times a week.

The very opening words of the service are drawn from this Psalm:

O Lord, open thou our lips:
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

Psalm 51.16

They are followed by more words from Psalm 40:

God, make speed to save us:
O Lord, make haste to help us.

Psalm 40.13

And in the responses later in the service, just before the collects, we get a cocktail of references to the Psalms, coming back around again to this one as the responses end:

O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us.
And grant us thy salvation.

Psalm 85.7

O Lord, save the Queen.
And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.

Psalm 20.9

Endue thy Ministers with righteousness.
And make thy chosen people joyful.

Psalm 132.9

O Lord, save thy people.
And bless thine inheritance.

Psalm 28.9

O God, make clean our hearts within us.
And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.

Psalm 51.11-12

Some of you will also be jumping up and down to point out that various verses from Psalm 51 make an appearance at various points during Lent. And, to be fair, much of the tone of the whole Psalm is deeply penitential.

The words I love most of all are from verses 2 and 3, and I love how they are expressed in the Book of Common Prayer. The words were taken and set to music by S.S. (Samuel Sebastian) Wesley when he was organist of Exeter Cathedral, around 1840, and you can find a recording linked below.

Wash me throughly from my wickedness, and forgive me all my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults and my sin is ever before me.

Not thoroughly, but throughly. Somehow that expresses the sense I know all too well of being soaked in sin, and needing to be washed throughly – the stain is deep, and the washing must go deep too.

carrot without the stickI confess it, I am capable of wallowing in my faults, and at times I think the Psalmists are capable of wallowing too. (The Book of Common Prayer can seem to dwell on our faults as well.)

When I get into one of those funks where “my faults and my sin are ever before me” it is a sure-fire sign that I’m wallowing. I’m like the donkey with the carrot dangling before its eyes. Whichever way I turn my head, I can’t get my shortcomings out of my field of view – they “fill my windscreen”, and I can see nothing else.

But what should really fill our windscreens, whichever way we turn? The great goodness of God, and his abundant compassion (verse 1). God’s desire for truth in us, and his gift of wisdom in the depths of our hearts (verse 7). The joy of salvation and the graciousness of the Spirit (verse 13).

When we’re tempted to wallow in bad things, these are the good things we should dwell on, and then the prayers of verses 11-16 will be answered: our hearts will be washed clean (throughly clean!), and the Holy Spirit renewed in us. And the Lord will open our lips, and our mouths shall proclaim his praise – as a witness not just to friend, family or neighbour, but to the ‘wicked’ and ‘sinners’ too – to our enemies, and those we fear.

When our windscreens are filled with the right things, God looks different to us, we look different to ourselves, and in fact the whole world looks different. Differences dissolve, and we just want to sing of God’s righteousness to whoever will listen.

So, quit wallowing in the bad, and dwell on the good, and pray with me: “O Lord, open our lips…”

Reflection by David Brooke
Hub Leader (Chapelfields Hub)