God invites—commands—us to speak with him. And before we ask, “But what should we say?”, he has already written and delivered to us an entire book of poetic prayers to read or recite back to him.

Circumstance invites—compels—us to speak with God, to implore his intervention, so we seek just the right Psalm. The 7th Psalm’s opening is promising. “O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me….” A phrase in the middle of the Psalm, though, the theme of which is repeated throughout, derails our prayer: “judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”

We know better than to negotiate deliverance from God on the basis of our own goodness; we know he has scoured the earth to find a single righteous person and found none—no, not one. He sees through the bias which allows us to condemn in others what we condone in ourselves, and condemns both: “With the same judgment that you judge, you yourself will be judged.” Indeed, when Jesus illustrates two ways to come to the Father in prayer, the personification he condemns sounds a lot like someone praying this Psalm. “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, the worst sinners; I fast and give regularly….”

But God did not give us Psalm 7 so we would avoid it. Two options remain. First: someone prays it for us. As Hebrews’ author puts it: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Our Messiah is righteous, has the integrity to stand before God without demurring. And he carries the passion of our dire circumstance—he has been where we are. (David being the messiah in the Old Testament, Jewish readers could give material voice to the anointed king who wrote and prayed this Psalm on their behalf; how much more, then, we for whom The Anointed King, The Messiah, intercedes.)

Second: we pray it in righteousness. The other personification in Jesus’ parable about how to pray is a despised traitor to the people of Israel, so appropriately ashamed of himself that he stares at the ground, repeatedly lays hand to chest, and begs only mercy. Yet Jesus says he leaves the temple righteous. He can pray Psalm 7 without fear. As Hebrews’ author continues from the citation above: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Praying something like the righteousness of a Psalm 7 might even prod believers to work daily on perfecting holiness, to use the language of Paul’s guidance to the Corinthians.)

To a week humbled by our sins, delivered by the Messiah, and emboldened by redemption.