Psalm for the Day: Psalm 143: 5-8
by Chris Holmes*
Desperate. Needy. Anguished. That’s how our selection from Psalm 143 sounds this morning. The psalmist paints a verbal picture of a contorted body crying out in prayer: hands outstretched, a parched soul, a fading spirit. And there’s no mistaking the urgency of his plea. He needs an answer from the Lord  quickly  (v. 7), and he asks to hear about or from God  in the morning  (v. 8).
For some, this portrait of a man desperate for divine intervention is hard to accept. We don’t know what to do with the psalmist’s cries. The happy, praise-filled Psalms are so much easier to read and reread. Perhaps there is something in this Psalm’s distress that challenges our own ingrained cultural sensibilities. Our culture exalts independence and self-sufficiency, perhaps above all else. We live in a get-out-there-and-make-something-of-yourself sort of world. The early bird gets the worm. Bootstraps are pulled. Dogs eat dogs. We are what we make of ourselves. We plan, and we execute. We don’t wait or whine. We get the job done.
And so it can be unnerving to read a Psalm in which the speaker expresses his utter dependence on God. Our selection for today opens with the psalmist’s prayerful meditation upon God’s deeds in the past and the works of God’s hands (v. 5). And it ends with a humble request: “Teach me the way I should go” (v. 8). The psalmist cannot live without God’s presence, God’s spirit, God’s creating power. He says in verse 7: “Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.” The Pit is a symbol of abandonment, danger, and imprisonment; it’s also a synonym for Sheol, the place of the dead. Without God, the psalmist is as good as dead.
If I’m honest, this time of isolation and social distancing has begun to chip away at my own sense of self-determination. With kids at home from school and the need to work from home, I’ve lost so much control over my own schedule. I can’t run the errands I used to. I can’t see or hug friends that I love dearly. I can’t keep up with the laundry. Or the dishes. I literally can’t do it all. And so this Psalm and this season of life remind me of my dependence on God, even when I struggle to acknowledge it as such. Both the psalmist’s words and the stay-at-home orders remind me, in the words of the apostle Paul, that I (and all of us) are what God has made (Eph 2:10). We are God’s workmanship, God’s beautiful and dependent creation. Nothing more. Nothing less.
One of my favorite contemporary worship songs that captures the idea that we are “God’s masterpiece” is Gungor’s “Beautiful Things.” You can check out a live version  here
*Chris Holmes is the son of FCC members Reba and Verl Holmes . He is the John H. Stembler, Jr., Scholar in Residence and Director of Biblical and Theological Education at First Presbyterian Church (Atlanta, GA). In this capacity, he serves as the resident scholar and chief creator of unique learning opportunities and platforms for teaching Bible, history, and theology that bridge the church and the academy. For more information, click here.