Day 116: Upright Heart, Skillful Hands (Psalm 78)

Reading plan: Psalm 73,77,78

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psalm 78:72

I’ve written before about the five Psalms a day reading plan I’ve been doing for about twenty years now. In that plan, I always read Psalm 78 on the 18th day of a month. And on three occasions in my life, I’ve transitioned from a thing I was comfortable with to a thing I was scared to death about starting on or near the 18th day of a month. Each time, God was right there to encourage and comfort me with Psalm 78; particularly Psalm 78:72,

November 18, 2014

It was my last day in a job I loved— editing Bible study materials for a Christian publisher. I had worked for this company for 16 years, and I felt confident in my work, I loved my coworkers, and I knew what to expect from each day. Publishing has a slow, steady, methodical workflow, and in the time I was there, I felt like I had mastered it.

But I was leaving to join a church staff in Alabama as an education pastor. I hadn’t served on a church staff in nearly two decades; had never been an education pastor, and the only time I had been to Alabama was on the way to the beach.

I was afraid I would fail. I was afraid I would disappoint people. I wondered if it was only a matter of time before I would come crawling back to what I was comfortable and secure in.
This Psalm was part of my quiet time the morning of my last day at my old job. I read verse 72:

“With upright heart he shepherded then, and guided them with his skillful hand.”

It hit me that Asaph put these two phrases in this order for a reason. An upright heart must precede a skillful hand. If the heart is there, the skillful hands will follow. But if the heart isn’t upright, all the skill in the world doesn’t matter.

September 18, 2017

Two and a half years later, the cycle began again as another church in town called me to be its lead pastor. All the same fears of leaving what was known to try something new. Was I up for the job? Could I do more than preach? Did I have what it took to lead? I had told the search committee that I knew they were taking a risk on me, a 52 year old who had never been a pastor before doesn’t typically get called to a church our size for his first church.

Yet here I was, on my first day in the office. The day before was Sunday, and the crowd was big because everyone wanted to hear the new guy, and there was a big reception for me and my family, and we were overwhelmed with kind words and encouragement. Only now, it was Monday, and I realized I didn’t actually know what to do. So I did my quiet time.

And again, Psalm 78:2. Upright heart, then skillful hands. An upright heart must precede skillful hands.

April 18, 2023

Last Tuesday was the second day of my first doctoral seminar. We had spent the first day getting a grasp on the structure of the doctoral program, the pathway, the expectations, the schedule, the requirements, and the ministry project. There was a parade of seemingly every important person we would encounter during our seminar career. The president. The Dean of the Library. The head of IT. The Registrar. The head of financial aid. The head of Student Life. The director of the counseling center.

I looked around the room and was very aware that most of these guys were ten to twenty years younger than me. I wondered for the umpteenth time what I was doing here. Did I have what it takes?

By now you know what happened. I went to my Psalms. And 78:72 was like having your favorite song come on the radio, and you want to turn it up:

“With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭78‬:‭72‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Upright heart must come before skillful hands. If you walk with integrity, God will give you the skills. If you don’t walk with integrity, the skills won’t matter.

Beloved, be faithful in keeping these in the right order. And if you are in a position where you help make hiring decisions, look at the heart first. Skillful hands will follow.


2 responses to “Day 116: Upright Heart, Skillful Hands (Psalm 78)”

  1. Tim Harrison Avatar

    Always loved this post. I have some of your words written in my Bible next to Psalm 78:72. You have a great heart. I imagine you’re a great leader.

    1. James Avatar

      Thanks Tim. I appreciate your virtual friendship. Let me know if you are ever passing through Prattville!

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