|Mercy Street Church of Christ
C. S. LEWIS' MEGA VERSE
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 19:14
I am relying on memory, but I think I have it right that the thoughtful C. S. Lewis named this verse as the most majestic lines in the English language. One would have to agree that a single verse of Scripture could hardly say more. It serves well as defining in but few words the point of religion: the commitment of one’s words and thoughts to the God of heaven.
It makes for an appropriate prayer — perhaps daily or even several times a day — for the living of these days. It might be a prayer of desperation for those who struggle to overcome foul language or lustful thoughts. Or those who become conscious of how much self-concern dominates their thoughts. When we become ensnared by this world’s values it is easy to be mindful of hardly anything but self-survival, getting ahead, making and hoarding more money, nursing our aches and pains, and enjoying such pleasures as we can. Self becomes the center of our universe.
Our Lord made it a kind of warning: “Where your treasure is. there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If one’s treasure has his or her name on it — if one’s world is one’s self — then that is where the heart will be, inordinate self-awareness. The Lord also refers to “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” which requires a generosity toward others and a self-abandonment that is beyond most of us.
Lewis may have been attracted to this passage in Psalm 19 because it addresses the sins of the heart and mind, such as pride, hatred, and slander, more than the popular sins of the flesh, such as adultery and drunkenness. He made the surprising statement that carnal sins are but “flea bites” in comparison to the sins of heart and tongue.
The passage is a soul-searching prayer for forgiveness: “Forgive me of my cruel judgments of others, and of my insensitive words that hurt and discourage others, and for being a loudmouth. And forgive me for thinking of myself most of the time, and for my lustful and carnal thoughts. Make what I say and think worthy to the eyes and ears of God.”
This prayer may be seen as a response to what has been said in the psalm as a whole. The writer sees the glory of God first in the phenomena of nature, and then in the excellence of the law of God. In the first “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” The “words” of nature go into all the earth, glorifying God, though it is a silent testimony.
But the law of the Lord can actually be heard and read. Six synonyms — law, testimony, statutes, commandment, fear of the Lord, judgments — are used to exalt the law. It is interesting that eight synonyms are used in Psalm 119, and one of them is used in each of the 176 verses! The author of Psalm 19 sees the law as perfect, converting the soul; as sure, making wise the simple; as right, rejoicing the heart ; and as clean, enduring forever.
Then there is the great line quoted by Abraham Lincoln, applying it to the agonies of the Civil War: “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” The Psalmist goes on to esteem the law as more precious than gold and sweeter than the honeycomb. The law warns us, he says, and in keeping it there is great reward.
Just before Lewis’ mega verse the writer lays bare his soul. “Cleans me from secret sins,” he prays, “keep back your servant from presumptuous sins.” He goes on to infer that the sins of the heart and mind are the “great transgressions.”
Now he is ready for the prayer that should be the prayer of us all, this time as the New Jerusalem Bible has it:
May the words of my mouth always find favour,
and the whispering of my heart,
in your presence, Yahweh,
my rock, my redeemer.
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