Praying for vigilance to stay on the right path

When we come to the end of ourselves, we can only find the necessary strength to do what’s right in God and in others whom we trust and know to be faithful.

Set a watch, Yahweh, before my mouth. Keep the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3

One of the most typical ways for us to disobey God is with what we say. Many times we speak before fully evaluating a situation, or we pass judgment without understanding other perspectives. Worse still, we may actually share and then act on information that we know is not helpful or may not even be true. All of these frailties come to pass because of ignorance, pride, and vanity.

The apostle James believed wrongful speech was a wild and untameable source of false teaching and factionism in the early congregations.

James 3:6-12 And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehinnom. For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind. But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.

His conclusion is that a person who can control right speech will be in control of the rest of their life, as well.

James 3:2 For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn’t stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.

In like fashion, the Psalmist here is praying for vigilance over the words of his mouth. He is asking God for strength in ensuring nothing destructive should come of his speech, or his actions.

Psalm 141:2-4 Let my prayer be set before you like incense; The lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice. Set a watch, LORD, before my mouth. Keep the door of my lips. Don’t incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice deeds of wickedness with men who work iniquity. Don’t let me eat of their delicacies.

He knows that what comes out of his mouth will be the revealing of what is in his heart, and that what is in his heart can lead to actions on a path to wickedness. Instead, he prefers to be brutally corrected, if necessary, by those who are righteous to keep him on the correct path. He is praying for resources outside of himself to ensure he does not sin.

Psalm 141:5 Let the righteous strike me, it is kindness; Let him reprove me, it is like oil on the head; Don’t let my head refuse it…

This poetic plea from the distant past is characteristic of those even today who struggle with the reality of their own weaknesses. The righteous are those who understand their own shortcomings, and yet still seek to stay on the path of life.

When we come to the end of ourselves, we can only find the necessary strength to do what’s right in God and in others whom we trust and know to be faithful. Unyielding vigilance over our speech and actions is a practical outworking of true humility, recognizing our propensity toward wrongdoing yet valiantly persevering in the right way at all cost.

For believers, our strength to accomplish what is right can be found in God. He can provide the resources through his Spirit and through the good counsel of those faithful whom he has placed around us.

Romans 8:13-14 For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do.

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