Wednesday, December 30, 2015


"Will you stay if we promise to be good?"
"That's a pie-crust promise. Easily made, easily broken!"

-Mary Poppins

I'm usually unsatisfied with my behavior no matter what time of the year it is. Nevertheless I make no resolutions for such promises, easily made, are easily broken. David learned that lesson well when, on one occasion, he resolved to hold his tongue...and couldn't do it.

David was angry with God, yet he knew he shouldn't vent his anger in the presence of God's enemies. (It's always wrong to speak against a friend, especially in the presence of his antagonists.) So he resolved not to speak. "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin," he vowed. "I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence."

For a short time he was able to restrain himself, but "the fire burned," David fumed, erupted...and lamented: "Show end, and the number of my days. Let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." Thus failed resolve leads us to consider the brevity and frailty of our existence. 

We are eternal creatures with perfection in our hearts, and the perennial desire to move toward that perfection. Yet we exist in time and space as imperfect, flawed human beings, utterly unable to keep our promises. "The Spirit is willing, but the flesh (our unaided humanity) is weak." That's why our resolve breaks down and we fall back to old habits and patterns of behavior.

There is but one way to make any real progress toward goodness: it is to know how frail we are. So David prays, "Cause me to know my end," literally, "my boundaries" (vs. 4). Change begins with humility and the awareness that our resolve is mere "breath" (vs. 5). We voice our resolutions and they dissipate like breath into thin air.

Enduring change does not come by vows, decrees, New Year resolutions and strong resolve, but solely by the grace of God. Our part is to earnestly desire righteousness and to pray for it. God's part is to bring it about in His own time and in His own way. "Man proposes; God disposes, an older generation of Christians used to say.

This David learned: "Now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions... (Then) I was silent; I did not open my mouth, for you did it!" (vss. 7-9).

There is an echo in Paul's promise: "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

David Roper

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