The Transformed Heart: Psalm 141

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Psalm 141 (NIV)

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
    for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
    and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
    so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
    in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
    from the snares they have laid for me.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
    while I pass by in safety.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

We should sing or read Psalm 141 as a companion song to Psalm 140. Here in Psalm 141, we begin to capture a deepening understanding about evil, which finally comes to full flower in the New Testament. Frequently, as we have seen, the Psalms portray evil in very stark terms: the worshipper of God stands in the company of the righteous, and those who reject the revelation of God stand in the company of the wicked. However, other, more nuanced understandings of evil also exist in the Psalms, such as in Psalm 141.

In this psalm, David sees himself as vulnerable to being drawn into the company of the wicked. Many of the very concerns he expressed in other psalms about the wicked he sees in his own life. David prays, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (v. 3). David is aware that his own lips, his own mouth, can participate in evil.

Remarkably, David goes on to see that the real source of this evil is not merely an undisciplined tongue, but his own heart: “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat their delicacies” (v. 4). David recognizes that the main source of evil is the human heart.

Jesus made this same point in the Gospels when he said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). We are accustomed to reading about or seeing on the news various studies about the causes of evil. It would be rare to hear of a study that identified the human heart as the source of any of the evils noted above. Instead, we often focus on the symptoms of evil, or the many secondary causes of evil. We are reluctant to really get at the heart of the problem, which is the unredeemed heart. Yet, Psalm 141 penetratingly understands the role our heart plays in the manifestation of evil. This psalm calls upon God to do this work. We can almost hear the echo from that famous prayer of repentance in Psalm 51, where David says “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

Sometimes one hears a false dichotomy that caricatures the Old Testament as only concerned with the outward life, whereas the New Testament focuses on the inner life. Actually, as this psalm demonstrates, the emphasis on the heart and the inner life is a persistent and vibrant theme throughout the Old Testament. The difference between the two Testaments is found in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (who is God’s empowering presence, transforming our hearts and enabling us to love God in deeper ways than the Old Testament could have envisioned).

In the New Testament, we are not members of the righteous because we are physical descendants of Abraham or David. Rather, by faith and the transformed heart, we are “children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7, 29) because circumcision is a matter of the heart (Rom. 2:29). Only when we can say with David, “My eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord” and “in you I take refuge” (Ps. 141:8) will we discover the key to the path of righteousness. It has always been found in opening ourselves deeply to the work and grace of God in our hearts.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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