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Psalm 17:1-9

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer – it does not rise from deceitful lips. Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. 

Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed. Though people have tried to bribe me, I have kept myself from the ways of the violent through what your lips have commanded.

My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled. 

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.

I grew up attending Christian schools my entire life. From kindergarten to grade 12 I was in reformed Christian day schools. First at Holland Marsh District Christian School (now called King Christian School) and then at Toronto District Christian High School. However, for reasons I will not elaborate too much on here, I didn’t graduate with my secondary school diploma the year the rest of my classmates did. Instead, I did a 5th year at the local public high school. In those days, some students were required to do grade 13; it was called OAC’s – Ontario Academic Credit – and it functioned like a prep school for people pursuing post-secondary education.

During that year I took an OAC level Law Class. As part of the class we debated the ethics and legal structures of abortion in Canada. Now, for this part to make sense you need to know that even though I attended Christian schools my whole life prior to that moment – I was not what you would call a “good” Christian. In some ways my story is cliché (and maybe you’ve guessed some of it from the fact that I didn’t graduate the year I was supposed to), but I didn’t walk closely with Jesus when I was younger. To be sure, I never really doubted the truth of the Bible (at least not in a strictly epistemological sense); but I also had yet to experience the truth of God and Jesus’ call on my life as settling on my heart and making an impact. And by the time I came to that public high school my reputation preceded me – in large part because the people I hung out with socially already attended the school; increasingly in the lead up to that year I had little place for my Christian “friends” in the regular machinations of my life.

And so, when I took a stance against the proliferation of abortion in Canadian culture and argued for an obviously Christian moral position regarding unborn life and women’s rights, I have to tell you it felt like all eyes were on me and that you’d have been able to hear a pin drop. People were astounded that I, the one with whom some had just smoked drugs or with whom that weekend previous had drunk to excess, would be arguing for a traditional Christian perspective on a so-called “social” issue.

In the courtroom of my peers, my personal moral life invalidated my witness and undermined my ability to make a compelling case for my position.

By way of contrast, the claims that David makes in Psalm 17 authenticate his witness and support his cries for God to be faithful and to intercede on David’s behalf. Psalm 17 uses the language of the courtroom for the way that God is able to see into the depths of David’s heart and life: “though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me.” (vs. 3) This reads as an echo of the perhaps more familiar Psalm 139, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (vs. 23-24)

Some of us might have anxiety just from thinking about how God is able to see past the walls we put up and peer through the masks we put on. But David takes comfort in this truth about who God is. He relies on it for his cries for help. And, to be clear, while we know that David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; repeated in Acts 13:22) we also know that he sinned and was far from perfect (cf. Ps. 51; 2 Sam. 11 & 12, esp. 12:13; 2 Sam. 24:17). In the particular context of Psalm 17 David has his leadership of the people in mind when he says that his prayer does not rise from deceitful lips (vs. 1b), or that he has (at least up until that point) “planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed.” (vs.3), he hasn’t accepted bribes, or robbed, or acted like a tyrant (vs. 4). In short, “David is not claiming to be sinless as a human; he is denying that he is corrupt as a ruler.”[1] To that end he could offer up his story of faithfulness as a testimony compelling God to act on his behalf.

We have a word for this compelling virtue: integrity. In engineering, for instance, the word integrity is often appears as “structural integrity” – referring to a structure or component being “fit for purpose under normal operational conditions and is safe even if conditions should exceed that of the original design.”[2] In short, integrity means it does what it supposed to do. When I talk to my kids about personal integrity, I add to that definition: as a virtue, integrity means not just living in line with your design and purpose, but also doing what you say you will do, in the manner in which you know it should be done, in the time frame you commit to (or more quickly). When we act with this kind of integrity our very lives become compelling testimony of the one who created us and gave us a very good design/purpose. When we don’t, like a building without structural integrity that creeks and groans, and like all of creation that is groaning under the weight of sin (viz, living out of the integrity for which it was created [cf. Rom. 8:22]), we add to the groaning around us because, I believe, people are hungry for men and women of integrity.

At the risk of being too political, I think this is one of the reasons why Donald Trump was such a phenomena in the United States – not because he is a compelling person of integrity, far from it… instead, it is, in part, because there is little to no pretense about him. With Trump you get what you get – and for so many that is refreshing. In an age of political drama and politicians being the best actors wearing the most convincing masks, a politician who didn’t play that game, who appeared to come without pretense, filled (if only temporarily) the hunger for integrity restored. Of course, “little to no pretense” isn’t the same as integrity – but it scratches the same itch in a world of deceitfulness and power politicking and agenda management.

Of course, there will be times when we fall short of this type of integrity living. When that happens integrity also has a way forward for us: we must admit/confess the fault, accept responsibility for the impact; if possible, we should ask those effected about the impact of our failure instead of simply assuming we know; where possible we should ask forgiveness; and we should make a commitment to the way of integrity again – where others are effected we should make that commitment to them personally, not just in our own minds. In all of this we continue to model the virtue of integrity. 

I remember a time when, as a young pastor, I made a mistake in caring for someone (to be sure, I’ve made more than “a mistake” – but hopefully I’ve learned from them all). When I visited with the person afterwards I apologized for my failure and I asked him about the impact on him. I will always remember when he shared that no one had ever truly apologized to him like that and how he was never sure if he could forgive because he was never sure the person understood the full scope of the hurt they caused. Hearing the full impact, I repented and committed again to a way forward in shared integrity. Years later, when he moved away from the church I was at, he mentioned to me in our good-bye visit how that earlier visit changed the way he heard my preaching and the way he was able to hear the gospel of Jesus from me each week.

My desire to maintain the virtue of integrity validated my witness and added to my ability to make a compelling case for the gospel of Jesus in his life.

One final note worth mentioning here: the truth of the gospel, the truth of Jesus, and the truth of living in line with God’s design and purposes, is not – I repeat, not ultimately validated by my, or your, living in line with it. The truth is true even if no one believes it or lives it because we believe that truth is a man; truth is the God-Man who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn. 14:6) 

And yet, as I know from experience on both sides, when I live like it is actually true, it sure helps others wonder if it might be true for them too.

Lord Jesus, help me to connect what I know to be true about you with how I live out that truth in the everyday stuff of life. May I commit to being a person of integrity, and when integrity breaks down, may I commit to raising up the virtue again in how I respond and approach those effected by my short comings. Ultimately, may my life be compelling example of your love in midst of a groaning and dark world. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus, 24.
[2] Taken from TWI Global. Accessed online