Today’s readings challenge me to think more deeply about the fundamental attitudes with which I pray and live. On the one hand, we have today’s reading from the psalms, which happens to come from Psalm 17. Now, this is one of those biblical prayers that takes a rather confident (perhaps too confident) approach to seeking God’s favor. The psalmist says, “Hear me, Lord, my plea is just…Hear my prayer; it does not rise from deceitful lips…Though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil…My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled.”
Admittedly, prayers like this have always seemed a bit arrogant to me. I typically feel much more comfortable with the spirit of Psalm 19, which takes a much more humble stance in terms of personal righteousness: “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” But then again, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing — and a desirable thing — to be able to point to our lives and say both confidently and accurately, “Lord, I have lived with obedience and integrity”?
Of course, I’ve become completely convinced that such a life is only possible when we are becoming more and more yielded to God’s Spirit. And that’s where today’s gospel lesson moves my thinking to a deeper level. In John 16:1-15, Jesus talks about the promise of the Spirit and says: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
A scholar named Dale Bruner has studied this and other passages and has come to the conclusion that it would be appropriate for us to think in terms of the “shyness” of the Spirit. “What I mean here,” he writes, “is not the shyness of timidity — but the shyness of deference, the shyness of a concentrated attention on another; it is not the shyness (which we often experience) of self-centeredness, but the shyness of an other-centeredness.”
If we want to picture the ministry of the Spirit, Bruner suggests, we could start by drawing a stick figure (representing Jesus) on a blackboard. Then, to express what the Spirit does, we stand behind the blackboard, reach around with one hand, and point to the image of Jesus: “Look at him, listen to him, learn from him, follow him, worship him, be devoted to him, serve him, love him, be preoccupied with him.”
Of course, Bruner goes on to observe that this same “shyness” characterizes the other members of the Trinity. Jesus doesn’t walk around saying, “I’m the greatest!” but instead, takes on the role of a servant and prays to his Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.” And even the Father, when he speaks at Jesus’ baptism, says, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.”
So, where does this leave us? Perhaps here. It’s a good thing to live in such a way that we can point to our lives and know that we are showing others an example of godliness and Christlikeness. But the ultimate goal in such situations is never to point to ourselves — but to point to the power and grace of the Triune God who makes such living possible. Perhaps the Apostle Paul put it best when he said: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)
Where are we pointing today? May our words and our lives direct people’s attention to the One who loves us and gave himself for us.