A bishop I much respected once told me he had this verse made into a plaque and placed it in a prominent place on his desk. That simple statement resonated within me then, and it does even more today! This prayer lies at the center of every leader’s heart, because it expresses the substance of every leader’s fear- that their own brokenness will one day sabotage their leadership and betray the ones they love and lead
The reason for David’s cry becomes obvious from the context of the verse. He is once again in trouble, his circumstances have become overwhelming (v 1-3; v 14-15). He describes them as a ‘flood’ and his predicament as ‘having no foothold’, no firm place to stand. He is being falsely but viciously slandered by an overwhelming number of enemies. It is not that he is guiltless (v. 5), but he is NOT guilty of what he is accused of. To make matters worse, he has become isolated and universally disdained. His own family has disowned him (v. 8), and both the elite (‘those who sit in the gate’) and the ‘drunkards’ in the streets mock him (v.12).
And why has this fate befallen him? It is for your sake (O Lord) that I have borne reproach… For zeal for your house has consumed me… (v 7, 9).
And where is God in all of this? He is hidden and silent (My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God v 3, Hide not your face from your servant v 17).
And what does David do in the midst of those devastating circumstances? He prays (Save me O God v 1, Deliver me… v 14, Answer me, O Lord v.16) and he vents (v. 22-28)!
It is the venting that troubles us! In fact the folks who put together the lectionary encourage us to skip it altogether!
But this, it seems to me, would be a massive mistake. To comply with it would almost surely lead to the ‘putting to shame’ of those we ‘lead’. How is this so? To ignore our desire for vengeance (and that is what David expresses), to pretend it does not exist, does not make it go away! To push it down into the dark, rather than bringing it out into the light, almost assures that we will act on it; we will respond to our circumstances fueled by this (warped and fallen) desire, and thus fail the ones who look to us!
Psalm 69 was an important text for the early church. It helped them understand the horror of the cross and the astonishing love of Jesus. Here was David’s ‘Greater Son’ enduring the greatest of all travesties (the ‘sinless one’ bearing the sin of the world), absolutely alone (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?), crying out to the Father, not for vengeance, but for forgiveness (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do).
When we ‘vent’ to this One in prayer, and then go on to ask him for the courage and the wisdom NOT to act on the ‘venting’ but to renounce it—in the midst of the difficult circumstances—we place ourselves in the position to receive his grace.
And it is that grace, and that grace alone, that can enable us to live and to lead— in the midst of our circumstances—without the fear of shame!