Tongues, Thumbs, and Prayers

Scripture Focus: Psalm 39.1-3
1 I said, “I will watch my ways 
and keep my tongue from sin; 
I will put a muzzle on my mouth 
while in the presence of the wicked.” 
2 So I remained utterly silent, 
not even saying anything good. 
But my anguish increased; 
3 my heart grew hot within me. 
While I meditated, the fire burned; 
then I spoke with my tongue: 

Reflection: Tongues, Thumbs, and Prayers
By John Tillman

The psalmist, presumably David, suffers in silence. He muzzles himself, not even saying good things because of the wicked. Silence increases his anguish. Inner turmoil heats up. He turns to meditation, but heat becomes a burning flame. So, he opens his mouth to speak…

If we stopped at verse three, we might assume the psalmist’s unsheathed speech became a sword, fighting for God. We might think his words laid waste to the wicked. We might imagine ourselves following the psalmist’s example by opening a social media app and delivering a diatribe of harsh truths to destroy ideological opponents. We’d be wrong.

The psalmist spoke to God, not humans. He had questions, not claims. He sought truth. He didn’t weaponize it. His faith was mixed with doubts. His courage was mixed with fears. His prayers were mixed with weeping.

Don’t forget the first verse of this psalm: “I will…keep my tongue from sin.” The Bible repeatedly warns us of sinning by speech. If James had seen us on mobile devices typing in our social media apps, he might have written “thumbs are a restless evil” instead of “tongues.” (James 3.17)

Should we—can we—use our tongues to speak or our thumbs to type without falling into sin?

Do we need better vocabulary? Surely if we eschew harsh, foul, or insulting language, our speech can’t be sinful? No.
Do we need to be less dogmatic? Surely we can avoid sin by placating both sides and avoiding hard stances? No.
Do we need greater intellect? Surely intellectualism, facts, and data can keep us from sinning by speech? No.

It is not our tongues or our thumbs that cause us to sin. It is our hearts. (Matthew 12.34; Luke 6.45) A better vocabulary won’t heal our hateful hearts. A more understanding tone won’t calm our heart’s fear of confrontation. The brightest of intellects can’t enlighten the sin-darkened pathways of our hearts. 

When avoiding sinful speech, the factor that is more important than our vocabulary, our sensitivity, or our wisdom is prayer. Our prayer life changes our hearts.

The psalmist is brutally honest with God. Are your prayers honest?
The psalmist seeks forgiveness and help. Are you confessing and requesting?

There is a time to speak up, testify to the truth, and defend what we believe. When that time comes, will our prayer life have prepared us to speak?

Divine Hours Prayer: The request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night, I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen 3:53)
Psalms 39 (Listen 1:49)

Read more about Prayer When None Are Faithful
We are dismayed, Lord…
We are sheep among wicked shepherds…
Will only braggarts lead?
Will only the boastful hold sway?

Read more about Cultivation Requires Planning
For a mustard seed faith to grow, it must be cultivated. Do you have a plan to cultivate your spiritual growth?

Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer

Psalm 37.7
Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Reflection: Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

As we celebrate the Easter season, we seek to continue to “throw our hats in the air” in celebration of the victory won by Christ. Yet we still sojourn in a sin-scarred world, filled with loss, sorrow, and pain.

We grieve this week with Christian brothers and sisters across our world. We lift up the burned churches in Louisiana, the burned cathedral of Notre Dame, the bombed churches of Sri Lanka, and the churches of Nigeria whose members are being gunned down in violent attacks. These are our churches, too, for we are one in Christ.

Christ promised we would have trouble in this world, and many people are willing to aid that promise coming true. The world’s powers and governments, in vain, promise us that they can prevent future suffering. But in Christ’s promise we know that until he comes to end this world and begin the next, there will always be a “next time.” Often the perpetrators of “next time” will be the very governments who, in the name of protection, ask for our unwavering support and pressure us to yield to them unrestricted power.

The inevitable next tragedy will come. Whether it is the result of unthinking violence, tragic accident, or premeditated and targeted hatred, we turn to God in prayer, trusting that in past, present, and future sufferings, his grace is sufficient for us.

Prayer Amidst Evil
Lord, we come mourning.
Our eyes flow with tears and our hearts bleed
On behalf of our brothers and sisters.

Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Lord, when we suffer…
When our houses of worship are burned
When our sanctuaries flow with bloodshed
When our fellowship is disrupted by violent killers
May we turn to you.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
   do not fret—it leads only to evil…
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
   though you look for them, they will not be found.
The Lord laughs at the wicked,
   for he knows their day is coming.

We don’t need vengeance, Lord.
Vengeance belongs to you.
We don’t need worldly power, Lord.
Yours is the power we need.
We don’t need violent reprisals, Lord.
Repentance and revival is needed.

Work in us, to bring this to pass.
Pass by us, and call us to follow.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 3 (Listen – 6:01) 
Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 4 (Listen – 6:11) Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)
Numbers 5 (Listen – 4:39) Psalm 39 (Listen – 1:49)

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Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
Making Jesus known will lead to suffering and rejection. As the world investigates Jesus in our lives, we can expect the same treatment that Jesus received. May we do so, knowing that he is with us in all our suffering.

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
Join Christ in his suffering, praying excerpts from this psalm prayed on the cross, ending with excerpts from Psalm 30 from our reading for today.