Psalm 17:8-15

Fortunately, we continue reading this remarkable psalm today because, in yesterday’s reflection, we did not acknowledge two important facts that hover over this prayer: its peril and its promise. 

The peril involves the psalmist’s situation. This person of integrity is facing enemies who have done more than say unkind things about him. These enemies are deadly (v. 9) and are tracking him down to kill him (v. 11). If we think of an innocent man facing execution for a crime he didn’t commit, we’ll get a feel for the passionate language of this psalm. Indeed, some of its petitions are almost incomprehensible. Commentators note the off-kilter Hebrew and the unclear, incomplete thoughts within this psalm that explain why comparing several translations reveal vastly different interpretations. These lines are the anguished, disjointed stammers of a man in great peril.

When we are in great pain or under great stress, nobody’s prayers are quite coherent, or grammatically correct, or have much balance or beauty to them. In our anguish we may even utter “pre-Christian” sentiments that would never pass from our lips otherwise (see verses 13 and 14).

But that leads us to recall the promise that hovers over this prayer—and ours as well. The Bible tells us that when our prayers are little more than incoherent groans, “the Spirit helps us…[and] intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Even when, or especially when it feels like we don’t even have a prayer, “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for [us]” and hears our cries (Rom 8:27).


Recall “messy” prayers you have heard or uttered. What stories of God’s goodness do they tell?


God who knows what I truly need much better than I do, help me live this day always mindful of you, whose near presence means I shall never want. Amen.

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