Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul.
There are two Psalms that are read in the early part of the sacrament of Holy Unction. These Psalms are also my personal go-to Psalms. They are both read at every Orthros, Paraklesis, Salutations to the Virgin Mary, and Holy Unction service. One of these Psalms is Psalm 143 (which we will discuss in this reflection) and the other in Psalm 50/51, which we will discuss in the next one.
Psalm 143 is a go-to Psalm when I’m not sure what to do. Many of us come to forks in the road in our lives, to places of uncertainty, where the answer for what we should do is complicated and not obvious. When one is unsure of what to do, Scripture and prayer are the perfect places to go.
Most of the Psalms actually read like prayers. When you can’t think of the words to say in prayer, there is most likely going to be a Psalm that catches your mood. As a helpful hint, read a Psalm a day for 150 days, most of them will take no longer than a minute or two to read. Write down on a notepad which emotion each Psalm captures and then you’ll have a list of places to go based on what you are feeling. On my list, under “when I’m not sure what to do” is Psalm 143. I don’t only read this Psalm. I pray this Psalm.
The Psalm begins by asking the Lord to hear our prayer and not to judge us. It is comforting that in this Psalm (prayer), we read the words “For no man living is righteous before Thee.” (Psalm 143:2) We are all the same when it comes to feeling inadequate standing before God.
The “enemy” that pursues us (v. 3) can be a person, a situation, a setback, or our own sense of anxiety. There are many times when that “enemy” makes us feel like we have been “crushed” or that we “sit in darkness.” (v. 3)
What is our response when we feel this way? If we are honest, at times we all feel this way. Is it to quit? Or self-medicate? Where is the first place we run when we feel crushed?
The Psalm reminds us that when crushed, we are supposed to stretch our hands to the Lord (v. 6) We are to run to the Lord for direction for how we are to go. Many of us turn to media, or social media, or friends for direction. We follow the latest fad, or go to the thing that will provide either the quickest relief or quickest escape. When we lift our souls to the Lord, asking Him to teach us which way we are to go, that way may not be the easiest way or the most convenient way, but it will be the most blessed way.
When we pray “Let Thy good Spirit lead me on a level path” (v. 10) we are saying that we are willing to follow where the Spirit leads. In truth, many of us pray this verse as “Let Thy good Spirit advise me and I will take it under consideration before I choose my own way.”
As we begin this journey to the healing of soul and body, the elements of this Psalm are very appropriate. If we are seeking healing, then the Spirit is the doctor, the leader, and we are the patient, the follower. If we are seeking healing, that means we cannot provide healing ourselves. There is no need to seek something we already have. If we are seeking spiritual healing, and lifting up our souls to God, then our souls have to be willing to follow the way that the Spirit teaches us we should go.
There is a critical omission in the translation of verses 11-12. Most English translations of Psalm 143 omit the word “soul”, in Greek “psihi”. The Greek translation of this Psalm says: En ti dikeosini Sou exaxis ek thlipseos tin psihi mou, which correctly translated means “In Your righteousness bring out of trouble my soul.” (v. 11) The English translation most often used says “bring ME out of trouble,” which can mean many things, because we get in many kinds of trouble—trouble with the law, trouble with finances, trouble passing the test we didn’t study for, etc. The intention of the Psalmist is that our prayer is for spiritual healing, that our souls be brought out of trouble.
Verse twelve concludes the Psalm by saying: ke en to elei Sou exolothrefsis tous ehthrous moo, ke apolis pantas tous thlivontas tin phisin mou, oti ego thoulos Sou imi, which correctly translated is “And in Your mercy destroy my enemies, and You will totally destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am Your servant.” A cursory read in English will lead us to think that we are to use the Psalms to ask God to wage war against anyone who is against us, which could be an unfair boss, or a mean coach. This verse asks God specifically to destroy those who afflict our souls, not our lives. Being rid of anything that doesn’t go our way is not healing. It’s narcissism. Asking God to be healed from the things and people that afflict our souls and therefore our relationship with God, is a fair request, and one that I believe He will always answer.
We can’t expect God to heal every infirmity of our bodies, or every setback of our lives. We can ask for God to heal the infirmities of our souls, many of which are the results of the infirmities of our bodies and the setbacks of our lives. A life is a temporary thing. Our souls will live forever. When we ask God to teach us the way to go, we don’t do so merely by lifting up our lives to the Lord, but our very souls. It is important that we begin to move away from looking at God as the answer to our material dreams, and to instead look at Him as the healer of our spiritual infirmities.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications! In Thy faithfulness answer me in Thy righteousness! Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for no man living is righteous before Thee. For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore, my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. I remember the days of old, I meditate on all that Thou hast done; I muse on what Thy hands have wrought. I stretch out my hands to Thee; my soul thirsts for Thee like a parched land. Make haste to answer me, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not Thy face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the Pit. Let me hear in the morning of thy steadfast love, for in Thee I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to Thee I lift up my soul. Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies! I have fled to Thee for refuge! Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God! Let Thy good spirit lead me on a level path! For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In Thy righteousness bring me out of trouble! And in Thy steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am Thy servant. Psalm 143
Let us lift up our souls to God, and ask Him to teach us the way in which we should walk for our spiritual benefit, asking Him to heal the spiritual misfortunes which threaten to take us off that path!