You will find nothing?
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine praying like the Psalmists. In Psalm 17, for instance, the Psalmist (David, in this case) has been accused of some kind of evil and he wants his name cleared. So he starts off, “Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!” (v. 1a). So far, so good. But, then he goes on, “Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!” (v. 1b) Free of deceit? Who could honestly claim that? David certainly couldn’t (cf. 2 Sam 11).
Nevertheless, in verse 3, he goes on to declare his innocence to God: “You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing.” If God tried my heart (or yours), he’d find a lot more than nothing! As the Psalm continues we read, “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped” (v. 5). There are only two ways to read this. Either David is focusing on a (extremely) narrow situation where he doesn’t believe he’s sinned OR this isn’t David praying at all.
Ultimately, every human author of Scripture is secondary to God, who inspires. There is a long-standing tradition to read the Psalms as the prayers of Christ. (That makes perfect sense of course, as Jesus is the word of God and took on human weakness. He is perfectly suited to pray the psalms and is, himself, the giver of them).
Let’s consider the Psalm from that vantage point. There is no doubt that Jesus’s cause was just (v. 1a) or that his lips were free of deceit (v. 1b) or that God would find no evil thing in his heart (v. 3) or that his steps perfectly kept to God’s path (v. 5)… But, just look what that right-standing with God allows him to pray: in verse 6 he is certain that God will hear his prayer, “I call upon you, for you will answer me.” He knows that he is the apple of the Lord’s eye (v. 8) and asks for God’s protection, “hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
The psalm finishes by contrasting the reward of the wicked with the reward of the righteous. The wicked will have earthly riches and leave their abundance to their children. But, the Psalmist “shall behold [God’s] face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (v. 15).
The problem with this psalm, is that it hinges on being free of deceit and not stumbling from God’s path. But, that’s just the problem. We realize that if the Lord were to visit us at night to search our hearts, he would find something.
So, should we tell God what Job told his friends? (miserable comforters are you all, Job 16:2).
Not at all, instead we should remember that Jesus Christ was perfect in order to credit us with his perfection. No matter how personally sinful, EVERY repentant Christian has the right to ask the Lord to guard, protect, hear, and vindicate.
Every Christian can pray from the basis of being innocent, pure, free of deceit, not because they are, but because Jesus is. It’s not our legers that the Father is looking at, but Christ’s.
So, dear Christian, today, remember that where you are weak, there he is strong and that his power is made perfect when we rely on him and not ourselves.