Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Jesus often encouraged people to pray. Promises for prayer were frequently on his lips. At other times, he used parables to highlight the great value of prayer.
In one instance he told the story of a widow, who kept coming to an unjust judge asking for her rights against someone who had treated her unfairly. The judge finally relented and granted justice in her case.
Jesus encouraged the kind of prayer that is typified by the woman. He said, “Now, will God not judge in favor of his own people who cry to him day and night for help? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will judge in their favor and do it quickly.” (Luke 18.7-8).
The very next parable that Jesus told involved two men who were praying. One was a Pharisee who “stood apart by himself and prayed, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there'” (Luke 18.11).
The other was a tax collector, who bowed his head and pleaded with God, “God, have pity on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18.13).
These two parables are very helpful as we consider praying Psalm 26. If we are in a situation that is similar to the widow, who is asking for justice from oppression, we can freely use Psalm 26 as our prayer.
If we are like the Pharisee, who is proud of his own righteousness, we need to use Psalm 26 as a way to take our own spiritual inventory.
The notes below will highlight both ways of understanding this Psalm.
Declare me innocent, O Lord,
because I do what is right
and trust you completely.
Examine me and test me, Lord;
judge my desires and thoughts.
Your constant love is my guide;
your faithfulness always leads me. (Psalm 26.1-3)
The Widow – She knows that she is not sinless. However, she is in a right relationship with God. The compass that directs her decisions is God’s constant love and faithfulness. She trusts God to bring justice to her situation, because she is powerless and vulnerable. Only God can help.
The Pharisee – He should not declare his righteousness without an inventory. He should seriously ask God to examine and test him. Instead of comparing himself with others, he should ask for God’s constant love and faithfulness to be his guide.
I have never been in the situation of the widow. However, I have the opportunity to pray on the behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed of the world. As we expand our attention to the world, we will be able to plead their case before our Righteous Judge.
I can relate to the Pharisee. There have been times when I have thought, “God, I am glad that I am not like this person or that.” These verses provide a helpful guide to take my own spiritual inventory.
I do not keep company with worthless people;
I have nothing to do with hypocrites.
I hate the company of the evil
and avoid the wicked. (Psalm 26.4-5)
The Widow – I watched a documentary on TV this week where in the 1960s an Alabama sheriff literally ran black school children out of town on horseback with a cattle prod. The sheriff later had a heart attack. The same school children were seen kneeling in prayer outside of the hospital, praying for their attacker.
The school children were not sinless, but they were practicing the love of God that designed to conquer evil. Later, the sheriff was voted out of office and convicted of felonies.
The Pharisee – “Hypocrite” describes the Pharisee. He is an actor on a stage, pretending to be someone whom he is not. As we examine ourselves, let’s ask God to show us the true state of our spiritual condition.
Protection in God’s Presence
Lord, I wash my hands to show that I am innocent
and march in worship around your altar.
I sing a hymn of thanksgiving
and tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 26.6-7)
The Widow – She knows that only God can bring justice in her case. Only God can right the wrong that she faces. She draws near to God in worship and prayer, trusting his activity in her life.
In Africa, child slaves the age of our oldest grandson (7 years old) mine the minerals that are used in my smart phone. Chinese workers labor under tremendous stress, working unbelievably long hours at very low wages. Their labor and stress multiplies every time a new smart phone hits the market. We can worship and pray for these, and many more, who have no one to turn to for help.
The Pharisee – Pilate washed his hands, after sentencing Jesus to the cross (Matthew 27.24). This was supposed to be a symbol of innocence, but was actually a mockery of justice. Once again, let’s examine ourselves and ask God to show us what he thinks of our worship and religious experiences.
I love the house where you live, O Lord,
the place where your glory dwells.
Do not destroy me with the sinners;
spare me from the fate of murderers—
those who do evil all the time
and are always ready to take bribes. (Psalm 26.8-10)
The Widow – Once again, remember that the widow is not sinless. However, in contrast to her enemy, she is in the right. Her prayer is for God to make right what is an obvious wrong in her life.
The Pharisee – As we conduct our spiritual inventory, we can pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy in our lives. “Do not destroy me with the sinners,” is much more accurate to pray than the Pharisee’s words, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
As for me, I do what is right;
be merciful to me and save me!
I am safe from all dangers;
in the assembly of his people I praise the Lord. (Psalm 26.11-12)
The Widow – She can rejoice that God hears and answers prayer. She has relied on him and he has brought justice to her situation.
The Pharisee – The Pharisee may have prayed, “I do what is right.” He should have said, “God, do I really do what is right? Save me from myself.”
May I suggest that you check out some of these resources to get better acquainted with the position of the “widow.”
— TED talks on human trafficking – found on YouTube
— Documentary on Nike Sweatshops – found on YouTube
— The Cost of War Project from Brown University
May We Pray for You?
Maywood Baptist Church has a prayer team that is honored to pray for you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and will ask the prayer team to pray, too.