Does your pastor ever start out the sermon with “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you,” or something along those lines? Maybe not a sermon starter, but have you heard Psalm 19:14 used before?
I’ve heard many preachers use this as a prayer to start their sermons, including myself. While I think we all genuinely hope that what we are saying is pleasing to the Lord, I wonder how much thought we all put into that before we spout off this well known Psalm. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not putting myself above others, because I certainly use this prayer as well, I’m not saying others shouldn’t use it. They may have already worked out their understanding of this Psalm, but the last time I heard this Psalm, actually in song form, I started wondering.
I couldn’t help but wonder, when I heard this Psalm last, what is it that we are actually asking the Lord? Are we asking the Lord to grant what we’ve already prepared to say, what we’ve already written down, or jotted down in our heads, to make it as something pleasing to God? Are we asking God to listen to what we say, let’s say in sermon form, and to grant it to us as, “Oh, yes, that is pleasing,” even though we’ve already put all these thoughts and sentences down without that consideration? As ministers preparing to offer a sermon, at this point haven’t we already decided what our opinion is? At this point haven’t we already written a sermon with a “thesis statement,” with an opinion we want the congregation to hear? At this point, aren’t our minds already made up as to what we want others, including God, to hear?
Even those of us that preach from memory or from an index card of notes have engaged in some sort of preparation. (At least I hope we have!) All the reading and studying that has happened the week (or two) beforehand has formed inside of us some sort of opinion or “thesis statement” that we want the congregation to hear. Granted, many of us try to be careful that it is not our own opinion that others are hearing, rather something we think the congregation needs to hear from God, but regardless, to pray this prayer at the last minute before a sermon seems a little counterintuitive.
It seems as if Psalm 19:14 would be a prayer we should pray each morning, that before we even remove the sleep from our eyes, before we turn the iPhone to silent, before we put our feet on a cold floor we should pray this prayer.
God, guide me this day. Open my ears and my heart to listen to you today. I want all the words that I speak, to you, or to anyone else, and all the thoughts in my head and my heart to be something you would be proud of. Guide me. Direct me. Show me the ways that I can make my life something you would be proud of. Show me the ways that every little thing I do can be something by which you are honored. I pray this prayer to you, my rock and my redeemer.
But what about that prayer a minister offers before a sermon?
What I truly hope to get across in my prayers before a sermon is that I hope people will not hear me. I hope that they will hear God. I’m still not yet comfortable saying that what I say as a minister is as if I am speaking words of the Lord (yes I have authority issues), but I do hope that people will hear God. I hope that I will get out of the way enough that people can truly hear God speaking to them. As someone who has struggled to find a way to listen to God herself, someone who continues to try new forms of prayer in attempts to continue to listen to God in the clearest way I can hear, I just hope others can hear God.
God I pray that the words of my mouth are those that you have put there, and not the ones I put there thinking it was you. I pray that the thoughts I have in my heart and in my head are from you, and not from my own ego. I hope that the words I speak will be your words to others. I pray that whatever I say, people will truly hear your word. Because your Word is that rock and your Word is our redemption. May we all hear it… in whatever form we can.
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