Open Heart Examination

Scripture Focus: Psalm 17.3-5
3 Though you probe my heart,
     though you examine me at night and test me,
 you will find that I have planned no evil;
     my mouth has not transgressed.
 4 Though people tried to bribe me,
     I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
     through what your lips have commanded.
 5 My steps have held to your paths;
     my feet have not stumbled.

Reflection: Open Heart Examination
By Erin Newton

I’ve been rewatching a sitcom about a genius who pretends to be a lawyer in New York. The main character spends every day on the precipice of disaster as he struggles to keep his lie hidden. One episode opens with the song lyrics, “You’re a fraud and you know it…It’s always been a smoke and mirrors game.” Season after season, he bears the weight of his guilty conscience.

A different story plays out in Psalm 17. There is no fraud. The psalmist opens his heart, shining a light onto any hidden corner. No smoke and mirrors. He is steadfast, firmly confident that God will find no guilt in him. This psalm is a stark contrast to the sitcom.

Each psalm reveals a scene from life and makes proclamations about psalmist, enemies, and God that reflect a moment in time. The psalmist here is not universally guiltless. This is not a mirror of perfection left for us to imitate. In this moment, whatever causes this critical crisis of the psalmist’s life, he is innocent. He is confident because he has actively rejected opportunities for sin.

Hearts are not always willingly exposed.

The heart can be a labyrinth, twisting and turning with various desires. The heart can be a catacomb hiding the proverbial skeletons in our closet. 

And yet, the heart can be the home of wisdom. The heart that trusts in God can be an open book.  

God is able to navigate the complexity of the human heart. Other verses in the book of Psalms invite God to examine the heart (Ps. 17.3, 26.2, 139.23) and others proclaim God’s ability to do so (Ps. 7.9, 33.15, 44.21). Like a skilled surgeon, God can open our hearts and assess their health. There are no dark corners obscured from divine examination.

The psalmist is confident in his innocence in this matter. People have tried to bribe him and he refused. People have tempted him toward violence and he has rejected their offer. He follows the road less traveled, God’s paths of righteousness.

It is a tender and humble request to ask God to examine your heart. We know what lies within the crevices of our souls, things we wish to keep hidden. But like the fraud in that sitcom, disaster crouches at the door and reality becomes smoke and mirrors.

God is able and has already examined your heart. He has loved you regardless. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they will be filled. — Mathew 5.6

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 24 (Listen 4:48)
Psalms 17 (Listen 1:58)

Read more about Judging Our Hearts
If the tree is sickened at its heart, the fruit will be sickened as well.

Read more about Choices and Hard Hearts
Hardened hearts happen in stages. Our choices matter. Our hearts are hardened or softened day after day.

Our Delightful Inheritance

Scripture Focus: Psalm 16.5-6
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
     you make my lot secure.
 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
     surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Reflection: Our Delightful Inheritance
By Erin Newton

The rising cost of housing is not news to us anymore. Headlines recently have read, “Gen Z Can’t Afford the Rent,” and “Realtor Explains Why Millennials Struggle to Buy Homes.” Where former generations bought homes and land with relative ease, younger generations are seeing it as an impossibility.

Land has served as a means for gaining security and wealth throughout millennia. In the Old Testament, key figures are marked by their possessions and their land. Abraham is promised land as an inheritance for his descendants. The vast number of livestock owned by Job hints at a large land ownership necessary to care for the herds. Land meant security and prosperity. Land was desirable.

Stories about the twelve tribes settling into the Promised Land contain details about the divisions and make little impact on us today. But the absence of land given to the Levites is noticeable. How did the Levites feel about their lack of inheritance?

Psalm 16 is a confession of faith by someone who is devoted to the Lord. The psalmist relies on priestly language speaking of the “holy people” of the land and the dangers of idolatry. The psalmist rejects the idea of pouring out “libations of blood” to a false god. It could be that the perspective is that of a priest, a Levite.

[It’s important to understand that inscriptions reading, “of David,” can mean more than authorship. Some of these psalms are attributed to David, written in the style of David, or about David.]

If the psalmist is truly a Levite, he is landless. This expression of joy uses the language of physical blessings but the content of each blessing is God.

God is his portion. His lot is secure. His boundary lines fall in pleasant places. He has a delightful inheritance. Rolf Jacobsen rightly identifies the source of hope, “The relationship that the psalmist has with God is the psalmist’s all—the portion, cup, lot, boundary, and inheritance.”

With headlines that remind us of all that we lack, do we see God as our all? With a savings account that doesn’t seem to go anywhere but down, do we see the pleasant lines of our inheritance?

A health and wealth gospel will try to convince us that we need something more than God to be content. Do not pour out offerings to the gods of this world. Eternal pleasures are at his right hand alone.  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 23 (Listen 5:38)
Psalms 15-16 (Listen 2:03)

Read more about Inheritance of Rachel’s Daughters
Inheritances are promised and given, not earned or attained. They can’t be purchased or procured.

Read The Bible With Us
What does the Bible mean? Find out. Join our Bible reading plan and find meaning at a sustainable, two-year pace.


Scripture Focus: Psalm 7.3
3 Lord my God, if I have done this 
and there is guilt on my hands— 
4 if I have repaid my ally with evil 
or without cause have robbed my foe— 
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; 
let him trample my life to the ground 
and make me sleep in the dust.
6 Arise, Lord, in your anger; 
rise up against the rage of my enemies. 
Awake, my God; decree justice. 
7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you, 
while you sit enthroned over them on high. 
8 Let the Lord judge the peoples. 
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, 
according to my integrity, O Most High. 
9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked 
and make the righteous secure— 
you, the righteous God 
who probes minds and hearts. 
10 My shield is God Most High, 
who saves the upright in heart. 
11 God is a righteous judge, 
a God who displays his wrath every day. 
12 If he does not relent, 
he will sharpen his sword; 
he will bend and string his bow. 

Reflection: No DARVO
By John Tillman

David, falsely accused, tells God to let his enemies kill him if their accusations are true.

False accusations do occur, like the ones David denied in this psalm, but accused leaders often use techniques described by the acronym DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

First, despite evidence or testimony, they deny allegations and repeat claims of innocence. Alternatively, they replace “deny” with “double down, ” claiming what they did was not wrong or was within their rights.

Next, they attack the character, motives, or mental health of accusers. Lastly, they claim victimhood and persecution, promoting themselves as heroic sufferers or fighters.

DARVO is not new. It is just a new description of how the powerful twist justice and public opinion to benefit them. King Ahab had his version of it when he called Elijah the “troubler” of Israel. (1 Kings 18.27) Saul, whose persecution of David is the likely subject of this psalm, used it against David.

How can we live in a world dominated by Sauls and Ahabs, the disciples of DARVO? How can we know what the truth is and who is telling it?

First, be wary of the tactic. Those aware of DARVO tactics are less likely to be fooled by them. Simple denial isn’t DARVO. Truly false allegations should be denied. But when attacks and pleas of martyrdom occur, we should beware and call it out. It’s a red flag indicating bad intent.

Second, rely on God’s justice AND seek earthly justice. We often focus on God’s destruction of evil at the end of time, but when David rejoiced at the sharpening of God’s sword, the bending of his bow, and his shield’s protection, he was thinking of his “now,” not his “not yet.” Like David in this psalm, victims entreat God, and us, for earthly justice. And God would have us deliver it.

Especially if we like or support leaders, we shouldn’t let them get away with DARVO. Seeking truth does not mean seeking evidence to support specific claims of innocence or of guilt. We must seek truth and justice, whether it acquits an enemy or convicts a friend.

Whether justice cuts down a pastor, a politician, a movie mogul, or a media star, we should rejoice that victims’ voices were answered by God. We should say, paraphrasing David, “If they have done this, let their enemies overtake them.” May justice be done, and that right soon.

Music: “Better tell that long-tongued liar…
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.” 
— Johnny Cash (God’s Gonna Cut You Down — Video)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
What terror you inspire! Who can stand before you when you are angry? — Psalm 76.7

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen 6:16)
Psalms 7-8 (Listen 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 19 (Listen 7:31), Psalms 9 (Listen 2:21)
2 Samuel 20 (Listen 4:51), Psalms 10 (Listen 2:13)

Read more about Hope for Mercy
Because we are tethered to this world, our sins can bring earthly consequences.

Read more about Weeping For Rebels
David was never more like Jesus than when he wished he had died on a tree rather than his beloved son.

Temple Admission

Scripture Focus: Psalm 5.7
7 But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.

Reflection: Temple Admission
By Erin Newton

Throughout Psalms, the poet focuses on the differences between the wicked and the righteous. The wicked are arrogant, bloodthirsty, and deceitful. The righteous are humble, peaceable, and honest. The wicked are barred from the presence of the Lord. The righteous enter the temple with ease.

What is the cost of admission into the temple? Sin bars the wicked from entering. The righteous—well, the righteous are not perfect either. How is one rejected and the other accepted?

Our English translation of Psalm 5.7 adequately reflects the important word order of the Hebrew text. The verse begins with the important conjunction that signals a shift in focus— “but.” The characteristics of the wicked will now stand in contrast. But not to the psalmist!

The Hebrew reads, “But I, by your great love, I come into your house…” (The NIV translates the Hebrew nearly verbatim here.)

It is not “by the great works of the righteous” or “by the pious offerings of the righteous” or “by the comparatively less horrible deeds by this guy.” It is by God’s love. The wicked are not contrasted to the righteous in this case. The wicked stand against the plumbline of God’s character, specifically, his love.

The price of admission to God’s presence is his love. The sin that bars the wicked from entering is also present within the righteous. Neither enter by their merit.

Despite our anchored belief that salvation is by faith alone, we sometimes believe that we deserve to be accepted because we are not as bad as someone else. Opening the door to God’s presence means a series of locks with keys of righteous deeds that only need to be performed. Voila! We purchased our own tickets to heaven. (Or so we delude ourselves.)

We change the word order of the verse in our hearts. “But I can come into your house…” with a haphazard inclusion, “by your great love,” just to cover our religious bases.

When we read the psalms, we identify with the righteous sufferer. We are never the wicked; we are always the accepted. In many cases, this may be true. The psalms were preserved for the benefit of a community that struggled in faith and rejoiced in God’s victories.

But in our reading, among all the “me” and “my” statements, the valiant character is always God. It is our trust in his love that grants us entrance. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.26

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 17 (Listen 5:00)
Psalms 5-6 (Listen 2:45)

Read more about A Worn Out Welcome
When we go into the house of the Lord, is God glad we have come?

Read more about Maintaining Sacred Space
Through spiritual disciplines and practices, we maintain and carry with us sacred space.

Counting Waves

Scripture Focus: Psalm 3.5
5 I lie down and sleep;
     I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 4.8
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
     for you alone, Lord,
     make me dwell in safety.

From John: I’m pleased to tell you that for the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing twice a week from Erin while I’m working on another project. I look forward to hearing her voice more often during this time.

Reflection: Counting Waves
By Erin Newton

As a child prone to nightmares, I learned that a sleepful night was a dreamless night. As an adult, those sleepful nights were interrupted by crying babies or nagging thoughts about the day.

Restful sleep is a luxury. In our fast-paced world, our tragedy-filled world, our stress-inducing world—sleep is often minimal, fitful, or both. When was the last time I laid down in peace and slept?

Psalm 3 is a call for deliverance. Pleading for God to arise and deliver, the psalmist recounts the number of enemies and their mocking voices. Psalm 4 asks God for deliverance from distress. Calling for relief and mercy, the psalmist seeks the ear and attention of God. The world around them is not at peace.

I lie down and sleep.

In peace, I will lie down and sleep.

It is not the circumstances of life that lead the psalmist to close his eyes without fear or anxiety. God is a shield for his people. God is an open receiver for his people. God is the sustainer of his people. These two psalms can boast of a good night’s rest because God stands ready amidst their turbulent lives.

Turbulence usually keeps us awake. We toss and turn, thinking about how we will pay our next mortgage, how we will tell our kids about cancer, how lonely we are, how much we have messed up—and more. We fret well; we don’t sleep well.

One day, many centuries ago, Jesus got in a boat with his friends. The group set sail upon the winds of the Galilean Sea. The journey was underway, the day had been long, and Jesus laid down in peace to sleep. Suddenly, the winds shifted, and the waves tossed. A storm came over the sea; the boat was swamped with waves. But Jesus remained asleep within the boat.

The disciples urged Jesus to awake, their voices strained with fear. “Teacher, do you not care if we drown?” Their world was not at peace. Their hearts were not at peace.

But Jesus did care. He stood ready amidst the turbulent waves. And the waves were still. Jesus knew that God protects, God hears, and God sustains.

As we lay down, may our minds drift to thoughts of our Lord speaking over the waves—speaking over the lie that he doesn’t care if we drown: Hush, hush, be still.  

He cares.  

Divine Hours Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 16 (Listen 4:03)
Psalms 1-2 (Listen 1:56)

Read more about State of Our Souls
Reflecting on the work of Christ in our lives is something we must repeat…an anchor in these storm-tossed waves of life.

Read more about Bearing Cursing
Rather than lashing out, may we seek consolation in God and humbly endure insults in the name of Jesus.