O Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
I’m a talker. I always have been. My four-year-old son can’t seem to stop – he’s always humming something or making noises to go along with whatever he’s playing, and I know he comes by it honestly. Extroverts are like that. We think out loud. We open our mouths. Sometimes we put a foot in it. Sometimes both. I’ve always got something to say. Slowing down, and holding it back, and really listening to those I converse with… is a learned skill, for me. It doesn’t come naturally. But it does come. What helps with the learning is the conviction that I’m not the only one with something valuable to say (if what I have is even something valuable, and not just a two-footed mouthful waiting to happen!). I’ve been able to learn it with people because I’ve learned it with Jesus.
He disarms me.
My wit and so-called wisdom are no match for the One who is truth. My highest is nothing, by comparison. When I encounter – or rather, “when I am encountered by,” for that is the true nature of things – the presence of the Almighty, I am silenced. What is there to say? Except, perhaps, “Woe is me! I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and I have been ushered into the presence of the Almighty God!” I like to think that Isaiah and I would have been good friends, but such a thought is born of vanity and I am disarmed of it in the Lord’s presence. Like the old friend who you know so well but who one day suffers a terrible loss, and you go to him to console but no words come out and you just end up sitting together in silence. Only, I’m the old friend who has nothing left; I’m the one drawing strength from His presence with me; I’m the one who’s faculties have failed; I’m the one who has been undone, because it’s not about me anymore – and if my mouth is going to open, He will have to open it. If words are going to pass my lips, He will have to bring them forth. If my voice is going to sound, it will only be as He gives it utterance. O Lord, open thou our lips.
It is the prayer of a child lost in awe in being ushered into the throne room of the great and mighty One. One day every knee will bow; one day every tongue will confess; until that day comes, until God’s Kingdom is known in fullness, I will set myself to practising this discipline. Because when I open my lips there are all kinds of things that come out, and many of them are the wrong things. And many of these cannot be taken back. But when the Lord opens my lips, what can I utter but His most worthy praise – words that honour Him, being born of Him; words that echo His written word, being spoken by Him; words that speak of His glory.
When I enter into a time of prayer, when I pray one of the daily offices, I begin with these words because if I didn’t begin with these words, when once I have entered into God’s presence – the throne room of grace, then I would not begin. I could not begin. The true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. So let the Holy Spirit lead your prayer, guide your speech, direct your mouth.
Fr. Jonathan Hoskin+