Which Way to Go?

Morning Prayer: Psalm 143

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul (Psalm 143:8).

For people who pray (and everyone prays at some time or another), much of the focus of those prayers is directed to an unknown future and the decisions that go with it. Today, if there’s something you’re trying to sort out, something that looms in front of you with confusing options that offer no clear path, you would do well to linger with Psalm 143.

There’s an oft-used phrase for those moments when we’re mired in indecision: “Paralysis of analysis.” We gnaw incessantly on possible scenarios and outcomes, never finding the confidence we need to risk a next step. That’s what the Psalmist expresses in 143:4. The ESV says “my heart within me is appalled.” The NIV and CSB use the word “dismayed.” The NLT captures the idea by saying, “I am paralyzed with fear.”

In Psalm 143 we find three petitions or requests for such moments.

Three Requests

First, there’s a simple request for knowledge (v. 8b) “Make me know the way I should go.” Perhaps we might include here our prayer for “insight.”

Second, we ask for the readiness to act (v. 10a). “Teach me to do your will.” Our request for insight or knowledge speaks to how we’re thinking through a matter, weighing the options. But at some point, we need to act. We want that action to be in line with what God wants.

Third, we ask for guidance (v. 10b). “Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” In this we’re asking God to go in front of us and bring us along on the right path – the level ground or the way that offers “firm footing” (NLT).

Knowledge or insight as we think things through.

Conformity to God’s will as we take action.

The Spirit’s guidance to make our steps firm.

These are good and basic ways to pray when you don’t know what’s next or which way to go. But remember, these are prayers, not incantations. These petitions will not magically remove all risk or uncertainty. These prayers don’t give us the luxury of not needing faith.

That’s why we need to offer one more prayer that provides the backdrop or context for the other three.

But First . . . 

Before those three requests the Psalmist prays, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust” (v. 8a).

What’s the first thing you do every morning?

How do you start your days?        

How many waking moments pass before you turn on the TV or look at your phone?

To pray Psalm 143 is to begin the day in a posture of listening. I’m not insisting that you have to wake up early for prayer time like the monks – but let’s not ignore the obvious.

The Psalm models a seeking after God at the start of the day.

This seeking is largely a posture of listening or hearing. It is attentiveness to what God says before we rush to what we want to say or ask. The listening is an expression of trust.  

This listening requires time for silence and stillness. Yes – I’m reading this into the text, but I don’t how we can hear of his steadfast love when the Today Show is dominating the room.   

By the time you read this your day will be well under way. But maybe you can find a few moments to read through Psalm 143 and make it your own prayer.   

Where do you need help with knowing which way to go?

Collection of Tears

Morning Prayer: Psalm 56

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book (Psalm 56:8)

Somewhere this morning someone is waking up from a fitful and short sleep, their head on a pillow that just hours earlier had absorbed tears that ran down their face in the darkness.

Perhaps, at some time, that person has been you.  

The words of Psalm 56 are spoken out of such moments. This is the prayer of someone immersed in personal conflict and opposition. The exact nature of this opposition isn’t explained in the prayer. The prescript says this is David’s prayer when “the Philistines seized him in Gath.”

I like the NLT use of the English word “hounded” (56:2). Ben Patterson notes that this particular word evokes the image of the way hunting dogs pursue their prey. The relentless chase and constant yelping run the animal to exhaustion. The opponents of Psalm 56 don’t seem to land a decisive blow, but their constant criticism and slander is exhausting. 

This is the prayer of a person who is very alone.

The trouble or threat is very real – nothing imagined.

This is the prayer of someone who feels fear. And yet the prayer is at the same time a firm resolve to not live that way.       

As you read Psalm 56 (be sure to do that) there a few things worth noticing and lingering with.

First, the lived experience of fear finds a home in our prayers. This where our fears can be named and expressed. The prayer owns the fear: “When I am afraid.” Not if, but when. But this acknowledgment of fear is met by a declaration of trust. The Psalmist is determined to live with confidence in God. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (56:3,4,11).

Second, this confidence isn’t stubborn bravado in the face of fear. Rather, this confidence is rooted in God’s word. The NLT of 56:4 says, “I praise God for what he has promised.” The NIV says, “In God whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid.” God’s words or promises feed a life trust. They are the foundation upon which a life of trust is built.

Finally, this prayer rehearses a basic truth about what God is like. This truth is captured in the words of 56:9. “This I know, that God is for me” (ESV). Or, as the NLT renders it, “God is on my side.” The adversity of the moment should not be confused with God’s posture toward us. God is with us and for us. God is indeed “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

This brings us to the most poignant image of the prayer. Not a tear we shed is wasted, ignored, unnoticed. God notes every one of them. He collects them all in a bottle like precious treasure. He keeps track of each one, as if recording them in a journal. Our restless tossing in the dark of night is marked and counted. Yes, a day will come when God will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). But until that day, in the words of Psalm 56, our tears are collected.

Take a few moments and let Psalm 56 shape your praying this morning.

Name your trouble and the fears it stirs in you.

Claim the simple promises of God’s word. Maybe Psalm 34:18 (above) is a place to begin.

Rest in the assurance of his intimate knowledge of you and what you’re dealing with today.        


Gracious God, help me to live this day with the firm resolve of the Psalmist. By your Spirit, teach me to hold fast to your promises in the midst of my problems. I would love for you to take away my tears and sleepless tossing. Until that day comes, I will trust in you knowing that you are for me – and for that I give you thanks and praise through Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.