Sunday, January 19, 2014

Meditations on Psalm 26

Psalm 26 Read it yourself

Integrity - whole, complete, soundness of moral character. Antonym: dishonesty

I remember hearing someone once saying, "Character is what you are, reputation is what people think you are." That statement has always stuck with me. Character is what God sees, others can only know your actions. I have always wanted to be a person of character. I remember hearing the stories of George Washington and the cherry tree ("I cannot tell a lie") and Abraham Lincoln walking a long way to reconcile the change of a customer he shorted when he was a store clerk. Yes, I am old enough to remember hearing those stories in school.

Today's culture is quick to reject such stories as a false historical facts. I don't know if they are facts or not, but I do know that I found, and still find, them inspiring. They are ideals that are humanly possible. They were told to us to inspire us to yearn for moral rectitude. It seems to me that today's culture not only doesn't value integrity, it suspects it. Anyone who appears to have integrity probably doesn't, and somewhere in the closet is a skeleton of moral failure waiting for an inopportune moment to pop out and prove the case.

I make no claim to moral perfection and there are actions from my past for which I am ashamed. I would be even more ashamed if my thoughts were to be exposed to other people, and thank God they are not. God knows my thoughts, and that thought causes me to feel trepidation. I find that I have to be constantly on guard against wayward thoughts. I can be quick to judge and criticize others in my thoughts and never say a word. That may play well to the people around me, but God is not fooled. In the mind, with our thoughts, this is where the battle between good and evil has to be fought.

I tell myself that it doesn't matter what people think. Yet when I observe my feelings I find that what people think matters to me way more than I want it to.The struggle for integrity is a struggle between reputation and character. Will I be true to myself and let who I really am be seen by others, or will I hide behind my reputation?

I think these thoughts are reflective of the thoughts of the Psalmist as he wrote Psalm 26.

He asks for vindication, claiming to have walked with integrity. To make that claim demands that you are truthful with God and that requires you to be honest with yourself. This is not an easy thing, especially when you are caught up in a web of sin. Sin, moral failure, results in delusion and deceit. You become blind to the truth and to reality and believe lies and falsehoods.

The Psalmist asks God to:
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in your faithfulness.

The Psalmist knows and trusts in the character of God. God is the author of truth and can be relied upon to always "speak the truth in love." Friends, acquaintances, and therapists do not have the same integrity as God when it comes to speaking the truth. At best they can only speak to the reputation that you have with them. Thus they may in fact actually validate the lies with which you have wrapped yourself. God, on the other hand, speaks directly to who you are. This is one of my greatest comforts and joys in my Christian faith. To know that those things that I am willing to confess to God will be revealed in their ugliness and purged from my soul. To know that the past does not define my present nor control my future is one of the best benefits of a faith in Christ.

The Psalmist then makes some bold observations of his own actions and decisions.
I do not sit with men of falsehood,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
    and I will not sit with the wicked.

Your friends define who you become. Who you hang around with shows the type of behavior, actions, and attitudes that you will eventually adopt as your own. To leave these 'friends' behind is sometimes a difficult thing to do. There is often a lot of common history that makes maintaining the status quo so much easier than leaving it behind and following God. I believe this was something Abram probably had to deal with when he left Haran and set out "to the land that I will show you." in Genesis 12:1. This is certainly something that I have had to do a number of times in my life. It is always accompanied by a feeling of loss and disconnectedness. These are times when life is in a time of transition.

The Psalmist then states what he wants deep within his heart.
O Lord, I love the habitation of your house
    and the place where your glory dwells.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
    nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes

I want to be with you Oh God, I want to be where you are. Don't send me off away from your presence, don't leave me in darkness with those who practice evil. My past is enough to condemn me. I can't escape the fact of what I once was. God has every right to sweep me up with the rest of them, yet I pray that He does not.

One of greatest things about my faith in Christ is the reality of his redeeming me from who I once was. I am not even talking about some great evil of my distant past. I am referring to the lapse of judgment I participated in yesterday when I spoke an unkind word, or the unforgiveness I held on to when that person cut me off on the freeway. Those are just as much a moral failing as the 'big' sins that we read about in the news. What I am thankful for is that each day becomes a new day to practice integrity as though the past never happened.

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great assembly I will bless the Lord..

The Psalmist captures that sentiment when he speaks of his future actions, "I shall walk in my integrity." Even though his past is in his thoughts he knows God's character, "redeem me, and be gracious to me" reveals his awareness that he needs redemption, he needs God's grace. The Psalmist's integrity is not based on a life of moral perfection rather it is based on the redemption and grace of a God that "makes all things new." This reality has a powerful impact on my future actions. I can live with integrity, honesty, graciousness because what I once was, I no longer am.

I stand on level ground, I am confident and sure footed in my integrity as I stand before others because I am confident in God's judgment. Regardless of the judgments and accusations of others, I am confident in my integrity because God has pronounced me righteous and upright. I can rejoice and bless him as He is the source of my integrity.

All biblical quotations in this post are from
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

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