Is it possible to stand honestly before God without fear, to face one another vulnerably without shame, and to face the world without any of the secrets that would demean and distort our humanity?
For most of us, the answer to this question is “Maybe.” Or more frankly, “No.” We may find a smidgen of courage to stand fully honestly before God on occasion, but we frequently find ourselves hiding things from God, for fear of being (harshly) judged and found wanting.
We may be truly vulnerable with another person here and there, but we also fear being rejected, and so we hide our truest self from others, even from those who are closest to us, and so rob ourselves of the gift of deep, rich community.
Or we may like the idea of living fearlessly in the world, but the hardships of life make us want to play it safe and to protect ourselves from the unpredictable realities of our broken world.
So is it really possible to be honest to God—truly open and unafraid with God and with others? The psalms answer yes.
And God gives us the psalms as an antidote to our inborn temptation to hide and as an invitation to stand under the light of God so that we might be made fully alive in Christ by the power of his Spirit. How then do we live in the way that the psalms offer to us?
First, we invite God to search our hearts. Psalm 139 is the paradigmatic psalm of the honest person in the Bible. Here the psalmist invites God to see it all. “You have looked deep into my heart, oh LORD,” he writes, “and you know all about me” (v. 1 CEV). To be known by God in this way, nothing hidden (v. 15), nothing excused (v. 23), is beyond the psalmist’s capacity to fully grasp. And yet it comes to him as profoundly good news.
Second, we choose to stand fully vulnerable before God (vv. 13–16), because this is the only way that we discover our truest identity. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the psalmist writes in verse 14. Not our darkest nights, nor the secret thoughts of our
hearts, can hide us from the Lord’s sight (vv. 8–12). Nor should we wish to hide, as the psalmist sees it.
For with the psalmist, third, we choose to believe that the searching gaze of God is a form of the Lord’s sovereign care (v. 16). “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about” (v. 23, MSG). To what end? So that the psalmist might walk in the life-giving “way” (Ps. 1:1).
Fourth, we acknowledge the futility of hiding from God. If the psalmist kept silent about his secret sins, his bones, as it were, would turn to powder (Ps. 32:3) and his heart would turn to dust (Ps. 22:15). Yet when he honestly confesses his sin, the Lord forgives him (Ps. 32:5). And
instead of “covering up” his sin, God covers his sin (v. 1, 5); instead of hiding from God, God becomes his “hiding place.”
Fifth, we look to Jesus, for whom the psalms functioned as his prayerbook, as the model for a life that is lived open and unafraid. Everything that Jesus does in his life and ministry, he does
fully vulnerably, because he is so certain of the “steadfast love of God,” which is a phrase that appears repeatedly in the psalms. With Jesus, then, we pray the psalms, trusting that they will open up a space in our hearts to receive the love of God, from whom no secrets are hidden.
In the end, we don’t need to hide from God, the psalms remind us, because we can be totally confident in God’s grace. We don’t need to fear being vulnerable with others, because God’s grace is our help and our shield. And we can choose to be wholly alive in the world, without any of the secrets that distort our humanity, because the grace of God fills our hearts to the full.
— Adapted from Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, by W. David O. Taylor
How to Use This Book
Open and Unafraid will help the people in your church discover the nature of a faithful life in the prayerbook of Jesus: the Psalter. Through a close study of key themes in the psalms— honesty and community, sadness and joy, justice and enemies, life and death, nations and
creation—this book invites you to experience the devotional heart of the Christian faith.
With its brief essays, discussion questions, suggested exercises, and prayers, Open and Unafraid will help you foster a more transparent and resilient life of faith, one that has marked Christians throughout the ages, who have found the psalms to be a treasure house of prayers. Get copies today and consider it for your small group and adult education ministries. For use in conjunction with the book, additional free teaching resources for the Psalms are available only through ChurchSource.