How well do we prepare to worship God? How do we prepare to pray? I have heard many stories of families arguing bitterly on the way to a place of worship, only to emerge from their vehicles with smiles and joyful greetings to all as they enter the assembly. I remember once refusing to participate in the Lord’s Supper because of a disagreement I had not resolved with another Christian. I was stunned when that person sought me out immediately after the service, seeking to make right what had gone wrong between us. They had noticed my choosing not to partake, and guessed my reasoning correctly.
While the Bible records prayers offered in anger and lament, some prayed by people with checkered moral or ethical histories, prayers like that of Psalm 26 suggest preparation for worship in attitude, choices of association, and lifestyle. The Psalmist confesses, too, an awareness that strikes me as foundational for our practice of prayer when he prays:
“Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:2-3).
The Psalmist lays out his life as an open book before God; he invites God to review his thoughts and actions. He also remembers God’s nature – unfailing love and faithfulness. He foreshadows words concerning God from the New Testament:
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Events of the past few weeks have reminded Americans that it is critically important to speak truth and to expose lies. It’s important to determine what is true and to refuse to encourage acceptance of falsehoods. This psalm urges assembly with those who seek truth and goodness, who eschew lies and violence, who praise God:
“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites. I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, LORD, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds”(Psalm 26:4-7).
One of the most difficult aspects with the pandemic scenario for me has been the interruption of regular assembling together to sing and pray with other Christians. I have missed singing, teaching, and conversing with other Christians in large groups. The dynamic of those assemblies revives our awareness of God’s glory. The synergy of the assembly often alerts us to aspects of truth we had not realized. I yearn for reunion, for the joy of worshipping with others. I pray along with the psalmist:
“LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with those who are bloodthirsty, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes.” (Psalm 26:8-11).
The psalmist prays with awareness of God’s character. He prays that his own character and his associations will reflect God’s love and faithfulness. He prays that he will be innocent as he praises God and tells others about what God has done. He does not want to be perceived as a hypocrite. His prayer challenges me to live with integrity, to seek and to speak truth, to act with love.
Wrapped around this prayer are petitions for God’s protections and a pledge to live a life that reflects God’s character and that is grounded in trust in God:
“Vindicate me, LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered…I lead a blameless life; deliver me and be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the LORD” (Psalm 26:1, 11-12).
He prays with conviction that God will deliver him. He knows God’s love and faithfulness; he models his own character and associations on those traits of God. He loves worshipping God with others who share his love for God; He praises God in the great assembly. He has prepared to worship the Lord. May we do the same.
Faithful and loving God, May our ethical and moral choices indicate our resolve to shape our lives in reflection of your character. Our nation was rocked by news of violence and death as people who had believed a lie tried to overturn an election and sought to overthrow our government. We pray for those whose lives have been scarred by their actions, that they may know healing of spirit and body. We pray for our nation, that it may recover and prosper, and for our incoming President, that he may lead with humility, courage and wisdom. We pray that our departing President may recover from his disappointment and anger, that he may choose to live with integrity and compassion as he moves forward in his life. Give us all the courage to examine our lives, to repent of sin, and the willingness to confess while seeking to heal. Help us all to appraise ourselves honestly, but with hope based on faith in you. We pray also for those who mourn because loved ones have died. A friend of mine died from the coronavirus yesterday. Bless his family and us, his friends, as we grieve. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
- Quotations from the Bible are taken from the New International Version 2011.