Ever really concentrate on walking a straight line? Do you know how hard it is to do when you are spending all that time and attention on doing so? Now, before anyone thinks I have been pulled over for driving under the influence, let me assure you, I have not! I was just thinking back to when I was in physical education classes doing gymnastics and was up on the balance beam. Not only did I have to learn to walk "straight", but I had to focus on maintaining perfect balance, as well. The mind is really good at completing one task at a time - add in others and the brain is capable, but it needs a lot of teaching!
Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path. Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear. (Psalm 86:11 MSG)
Our passage today starts with our psalmist asking GOD to train him. First, let's explore the name of God David used here when he makes this request. The translation used here is that of Jehovah - the unchangeable one. David is seeking his training at the feet of the one who is not going to change at the drop of a hat. He is consistent through all of time. This provides us some assurances of consistency in "walking straight" which we would not have on our own. Whenever this name is used in scripture, the writer is wanting us to see the sum total of God's moral and spiritual attributes - consistent throughout the ages, never changing, and always faithful. Attributes are built into the character - they aren't put there. So, reliance upon GOD is really reliance upon one who already possesses everything we need for living right, faithfully, and in upright heart.
So, David is asking GOD to train him to walk straight. He is asking GOD to help him develop habits, thoughts, and behaviors by the discipline and instruction which comes from the "unchangeable one". Habits which are consistent - not doing this one day and that another. Thoughts which lean toward purity and honesty instead of jumping to judgmental conclusions which only serve to distract and cause us to be defeated. Behaviors so aligned with the character GOD is forming within - so as not to waiver - to be "in balance" on this "beam" we are walking.
It is apparent to me that we cannot walk this path on our own. We get "out of balance" quicker than we'd probably like to admit. Up on the balance beam in gym class, I was taught to find a "focal point" - not to watch the beam. The tendency we have is to focus so much on the "line" we are walking that we lose sight of the "end of the line". Up on the balance beam, if all I did was focus on the next few inches in front of me, I could easily "over-plan" a move and end up going straight off the end. This could result in injury. So, my teachers taught us to focus on a "focal point" - not the end of the beam, but some place in the distance on either end of the beam. As we maneuvered the "line" of the beam, we were ever conscious of the distance between us and the object. What did this do for us? As we drew closer to the object, we knew we were at on the beam. I wonder if we truly made GOD our focal point if we'd be more inclined to "read the beam" a little better?
David describes what having this consistency of "focal point" does for us in life. It "puts us together" - making our heart undivided, our mind focused and attentive. It isn't the "line" that needs our focus - it is our hearts and minds which require the focus. We get all consumed by the "line" and miss the fact of our heart and mind not having any focus other than the line. One thing I learned in gym class up on the beam - you WILL fall. It is unavoidable! Until you become proficient at "walking the line" without focusing so much "on the line", you will fall. Once you develop more awareness of your focal point and less awareness of the line, you begin to develop "balance". Balance is a result of focus - not of mere practice. As long as I focused on the "line" of the beam, I only saw the "smallness" of the beam. When I focused on my "focal point", I forgot about the narrowness of the beam and began to experience "balance". Maybe this is something David is picturing for us - balance. Not so much because we are aware of the "line" we are walking, but because we keep the right focus in the walk.
As with the beam, once we began to experience confidence in keeping our eyes on the focal point and less on the narrowness of the "line" we were walking, we each began to show less fear of the journey we were on. I think God's plan is getting us to the point of being less consumed by the "narrowness" of the line we are walking and more consumed by him. In turn, he gives us balance in all the right ways - heart and mind. As a result, we experience less "fear" in taking the next steps. Just sayin!