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Summer Reading Challenge - a response to Psalm 143

Harry Wood, team vicar in the St Helens Town Centre Team, responds to Psalm 143

Watch Harry's reflection here

“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day; If I forget thee, do not thou forget me”

These are words attributed to Jacob Astley, ahead of the battle of Edge Hill in the civil war of 1642. In a moment of trial, of fear and no doubt confusion, Astley’s’ prayer, is that in all that was about to happen, God will not forget him.

There is a sense of helplessness … and sadness in his words. They are the words of a soldier shaped by a particular fear, not a fear of the enemy, but a fear that in the ‘busyness of battle’ he will forget himself and so forget his faith.

Psalm 143 reminds me of Jacob Astley’s words. As in the face of an enemy, who has ‘crushed his life to the ground’, and caused his spirit to fail … the psalmist prays fearfully … that God will hear him, and not forget him.

What are your fears, what are you wrestling with at the moment?

Perhaps there is a ‘battle’ are you about to enter or one you are already in the midst of.

In these strange times there is seemingly so much to fear and so much anger, there are so many battles to face and so many adversities to overcome

Within the shape of our everyday lives, we all have those moments when in the busyness of life and the busyness of the battle that life can sometimes be, we too ‘forget’;

There are moments when our thoughts, words or actions don’t exactly reflect the faith we hold.

They leave us feeling ‘crushed to the ground’, as the psalmist says, with our hearts ‘appalled’ within us.

This is especially true, when we realise that the reason for our forgetfulness and the ‘real enemy’ we do battle with … turns out to be ourselves.

Our frustration and sometimes unwillingness to live out of our faith; that tension of being in the world but choosing to live not of the world.

Much of our faith is concerned with ‘overcoming ourselves’, learning who we really are within the constant, ever present, creative love of God.

The psalms reflect this frequently, beginning in desperation or from a place of brokenness they ‘seek out’ God, before whom they sometimes lay out with brutal honesty, all the challenges and frustrations of life.

It’s in this space, that a reconciliation is born of a deeper underlying awareness that God is always there.

It is from that awareness and a mediation on divine works that the writer of Psalm 143, thirsts for the “steadfast love of God.” “Teach me the way I should go … Let your good Spirit lead me on a level path.”

When our own prayer and our meditation becomes shaped and underpinned by “Teach me the lord, the way I should go …”, then we ‘realign’ ourselves with that love, and we move in faith and in a direction we might call … ‘Hope’.

So often the cause of our ‘forgetfulness’ is fear. Fear of the unknown, of being left behind, of being hurt by or hurting others, of getting things wrong, fear of failure, fear, that God is not with us not listening to us, has somehow forgotten us. Fear clouds our awareness that God is always there, always with us.

In Romans 8, St Paul says ‘you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear’, but a ‘Spirit of adoption’,

It is the adopted love of God our father, which breaks the cycle of fear, teaching us to make the words of the psalmist our own; “let your Spirit lead me … I put trust in you”

Even today, in the words Christ gave us, we pray to be ‘delivered from our enemies’. They are within us as much as without. Stress, anxiety, a sense of unworthiness, and among them is always fear; fear which in the ensuing battle, can cause us to forget our faith and our God.

Whenever I read or pray the Psalms I’m thankful that they witness to this truth and that whatever I go through, and however it makes me feel, others have been there before, and importantly, in the midst of their anger and doubt, worry and fear, they have sought God, and in doing so, have entered into this reconciling space where there is room only for the truth, which like the psalms themselves can be ugly and uncomfortable, but which is none the less honest and much needed.

At the very heart of our faith is a desire to be reconciled to God, to one another and to ourselves.

This is a ‘unity’, which we profess to be God’s will.

This reconciliation is sustained and nurtured by faith, hope, and love.

And it is God’s Love, that knows no bounds which overcomes fear.

We find it at the start of each message from God in the words of Angels, “do not be afraid”

And we hear in the words of the Lord walking to the disciples on the water, “do not be afraid, it is I”

I know that if I want to overcome my adversity, my fear, myself … If I want to walk the path of faith, hope and love, a good place to begin would be the prayer of the psalmist here,

“Teach me the Lord, the way I should go, let your good Spirit lead me … for I trust in you”


God Bless you.


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