This final section is a synthesis of what has gone on before. In it we read about what God does, what we do, what we desire, and how God responds to us. The whole of Psalm 119 is this: Let my soul live and praise You, and let your rules help me. It’s pretty simple, but oh, how hard it often is!
So what does God do? He gives us understanding, He delivers us, He teaches us, and He helps us.
Our role is to cry out, plead, praise, sing, choose, delight, and remember.
There are no excuses, extenuating circumstances, or circumstances that can interfere with our focus on the Lord. When we cry out, He gives understanding. When we choose His testimonies, He delivers. When we remember His commandments, He teaches. And when we praise and sing of Him, He helps us.
We must desire His salvation, seeking to abide in Him and longing for Him to find us when we go astray.
No matter how tumultuous the times or how complicated the circumstances, God is faithful to be with us. He speaks to us through His Word. When we remember His promises, we will live and praise Him with all that we are forever.
We are a people of checklists and boxes, aren’t we? There’s nothing like the feeling of striking through some task on paper. Even phone app lists give us that glorious feeling of accomplishment when we finish something.
So, does the checklist life include our praise? I mean, the psalmist says “seven times a day.” The question is rhetorical; of course not. If we did that, our salvation would be based on works, not faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. May that never be our approach to praise!
Seven is a number of completion or perfection. Jesus told Peter to forgive people “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18), meaning that forgiveness has no limit. Likewise, praise has no limit.
Some days, though, it feels hard. 2020 is just a hard year for most of us, and boundless praise seems like a challenge. The psalmist here offers some ways to begin our praise, which I have conveniently put into 7 points
• Stand in awe of God • Rejoice in God’s word • Love God’s law • Seek peace while standing strong • Recognize the hope of salvation • Mindfully keep God’s testimonies • Know God makes a way
If we (myself included) can begin with these precepts, we will find that an attitude of constant praise becomes our normal approach to even the most difficult times. All to the praise of His glorious grace.
Life is from the Lord. I wrote that in bright pink in my journal. Nothing I do or think or say gives me life. No matter what the circumstances may be, my life is secure in Him. There will be difficulties, challenges, and sorrow upon sorrow during my sojourn on earth, but I know my Redeemer lives, and in Him, I have life (Job 19:25).
This section of Psalm 119 also clearly connects deliverance to obedience: give me my life (because the Lord gives life) according to Your promise, Your rules, and Your precepts. Over and over, life is entwined with God’s character. It is His mercy and His steadfast love that binds us to a living and vibrant relationship with our Creator.
We must never believe that we have the power to save ourselves. Humans prove over and over that anything good in us is easily spoiled by a little bit of power. You don’t have to look farther than the daily news for evidence of people’s inhumanity to one another. The only deliverance available from the human realm is to exchange one marginalized group for another. There is no egalitarian utopia possible if human beings are involved.
God’s salvation is according to His mercy. God’s redemption is according to His promise. Our acquiescence to His word and His righteousness through Jesus is our hope for life.
God’s commands, precepts, and rules are grounded in His mercy, truth, and steadfast love forever. We can abide in Him, knowing that our lives are hidden in His grace.
Pandemic life keeps getting harder. What should be open? Do we send kids to school? Is this nagging cough allergies or Coronavirus? How long is this going to go on?
It’s hard enough it the daytime with incessant news and social media panic posting, but at least during the day there are distractions. It’s at night when anxiety rears it’s ugly head. Sleep evades us and fear of the unknown begins to dominate our thoughts. I see people struggling with anxious thoughts all over my social media fees, and there are a number of studies showing that depression is on the rise. And it seems to be the night hours that are the worst.
The Lord is there. In the dark, before the night watches and in the nautical dawn, He is near.
Our hearts can wholly call out to Him in the night, knowing that He hears us. We can listen to Him without the distractions of living and we can meditate on His promises. Our hope for the future is in His just and faithful words. Find rest in His eternal sovereignty. His promises, protection, and provisions are founded forever.
The Grand Canyon is misnamed. Grand is an understatement. It’s impossible to describe it adequately, especially since it’s impossible to see all at once. You might capture the width of it from and airplane, but the depth is missing. You might view the breadth from one side to the other, but still miss height. From the Colorado River you sense the scale of depth, but the length and breadth are hidden. As magnificent as our eyes are, they cannot contain the fullness of this one natural wonder.
We are so small. There’s no getting around it. The planet on which we live is a tiny blue dot in the vastness of the universe. Our lives are short. The things we consider important is trivia in the expanse of time and eternity.
In all our relative insignificance, God knows us, individually. He who created all things calls us by name (Isaiah 43:1). While we cannot begin to fathom the height and depth and breadth of His love for us, we can consider His attributes individually. We can meditate on His Word. We can hope in His promises and we can remember His precepts. His righteousness is forever; beginning to understand His holiness requires more than a lifetime.
We will never run out of discoveries when we seek after the Father with our whole hearts. Like the Grand Canyon, there is always more to learn, to see, and to know about the Almighty One who calls us each by name.
I love the map app on my phone. I like knowing immediately how to get from point A to B and about how long it will take me to get there. But sometimes I think we need to look at old school paper maps. I’m not quite old enough to remember glove compartments full of gloves, but I do remember glove compartments stuffed with maps. One map for the state, one for cities, one for towns. Maybe one for the whole US. When we used maps for directions, we might see something of interest along the way, so we could meander off the quickest way and see the sights.
Maps had to be refolded carefully or they wouldn’t fit back in the glove compartment. When we opened them, we observed the directions of each fold, and we usually didn’t open the map any farther than necessary. We were purposeful in how we unfolded and refolded the maps.
Psalm 119:130 says that the unfolding of God’s word gives light and imparts understanding. As with paper maps, we should be purposeful and observant as we unfold the directions for living according to His precepts. It is when we take time to carefully consider the Word that we see how each part is connected and we may learn something completely unexpected as we follow the path outlined for us.
There are too many people who call themselves Christians who depend only on the mobile map app. They show up on Sundays to refuel, and then take off for what they think is the most efficient direction to living a good life. They miss the beauty of the side roads and the lessons in appreciating the waiting when they don’t really unfold the word in a purposeful way. They are then easily distracted by things that look good, but may not be best. Busy lives, like busy highways, may make us feel like we’re making progress, but where are we going in all the hurry?
The last verse of this section of Psalm 119 is a lament for those who choose the quick and convenient over the careful unfolding of learning to walk with the Lord. This lament is important; we must not judge or criticize those who skim through their faith, but we should sorrow for what they are missing. Additionally, we must be bold in how we speak to those who call themselves believers yet walk in the same fear as the non-believers do. Our lament comes from a place of loving each other, and our words and actions must reflect that love.
It’s not enough to want to go “back to normal.” In fact, “normal” was the problem. We might have been busy FOR the Gospel, but were we truly abiding IN the Word? There was nothing wrong with choirs and orchestras and social events and hugs and sports and children’s programming, but I suspect too many Christians looked at those things and checked the boxes of thing-good-Christians-do and stopped short of digging deep into their relationship with the Lord. A worldwide pandemic stopped everything for a time. And there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3). God was not surprised by COVID-19. He didn’t cause it, but He allowed it to cross borders, I believe as a wake-up call. For five months, now, “normal life” has been interrupted and subdued. Believers had different approaches to the pause. Some worried about the economic effect. Others worried about how their children would be educated. Some blamed the media for conspiring to keep people in a state of fear. Others called the virus a hoax until it touched someone they knew. Church leaders made hard decisions about how to handle church services, and even five-months later, there are massive division about the “right” way to reopen. One large church in Georgia essentially closed its doors for the remainder of the year. Another large church in California sent a letter to the governor respectfully declining to acquiesce to his demands to shut the doors. Most churches are finding some middle ground. But even the middle ground is temporary.
All of this is temporary. We need to look beyond going back to the familiar routines and discern WHY the Lord allowed us to suffer. We must plead for God’s grace as we learn again to long for His word. Instead of looking back to what was, we must turn our faces to the future, the the face of God so that we reflect His visage as we learn His statutes. And we must encourage and challenge our brothers and sisters to do the same.
Unfold the Word. Let His light reflect from you to a world that is desperate for hope.
What if 2020 is the year that God begins to judge whether or not we as believers truly long for His appearing? There is no question that the Church has been complicit (either by commission or omission) in some of the evils that pervade our culture. Perhaps not in this generation, but history is replete with examples of “christians” who violate every principle in God’s law.
That churches are still largely segregated speaks volumes to the systemic complicity of the Church in regards to the “isms” of modern culture: racism, sexism, ageism, classism. The question now is, what happens now?
Enough has happened so far this year that believers must consider the message God has for us. I believe He is trying to rouse the Western Church from its malaise and take up the mantle of the gospel with the same fervor as our Eastern and African brothers and sisters. But before we can be effective as teachers and ministers of the gospel to the world, we who are Christians must first come together in unity across cultures, ethnicities, races, social economics, preferences, and whatever non-essentials currently divide us.
The Church changed the world when believers were united by the work of Jesus. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Maybe 2020 is the year we begin to see who we really are so that we can begin to heal the Body from within.
Pray, listen, and reach out across everything that divides. Be part of the great work of reconciliation and unity so that together we can share God’s great love. Then we will see the salvation we long for in the fulfilled promises of the Lord.
The Lord is our shield, and our faith is how we hold it up as protection against the “flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). Without God, we have no hope. Hope in His word is not a wish, but a sure conviction and assurance that it means what it says, and that God’s promises are true (Romans 5:5). There is no shame for trusting in the Father.
Hope and faith are inextricably woven into our shield of protection. As long as we hold fast to it, we can withstand any assault against us. This year seems to be the year of assaults. A worldwide pandemic, nationwide protests and riots, and individual job losses and uncertainty definitely challenge our faith if we are not well armed with the promises of God. The Father will hold us up and keep us spiritually safe no matter what the world throws at us. Our responsibility is to stay true to His statutes and build up a strong defense.
There is another reason to be perpetually prepared to hold tightly to the full armor of God. The first 7 verses of this part of Psalm 119 proclaim God’s protection of the faithful, but the last acknowledges fear of God’s judgment. If the psalmist has faith, why does he fear?
God is holy, perfect in all His ways and only He is righteous to save. If our faith is misdirected to our intellect, our creativity, our humanity, or our policies, we will be subject to the judgment on those things; they cannot protect us. Faith that keeps us safe is in the Father who loves us so much that He sent His Son as our redemption (John 3:16). Nothing else matters if Jesus is not our perfect redeemer as He claimed to be. If we want to be confident in hope that doesn’t disappoint and in faith that shields us, we must examine ourselves and make sure our trust remains in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 13:5;2 Peter 1:10).
The old illustration about how lamps light the way seems especially relevant these days. Lamps (or candles or flashlights) don’t make the whole path clear, but they provide just enough illumination to safely take the next step.
In these uncertain days, we can’t plan very far into the future. Plans people made for 2020 vacations are largely canceled or significantly curtailed. Between the pandemic, racial unrest, and a general distrust of authorities and the media, the only thing we know for sure is that nothing is certain.
The psalmist wrote “I hold my life in my hand continually.” Not occasionally, but continually- every hour of every day. Why? Because he could not be certain he was safe from his enemies. Yet he recognized that he didn’t need to see the whole future. He needed to focus on God’s word for just the next step and the one after that. He knew that his forever heritage and legacy was tied to the Lord’s true testimonies and nothing more.
God’s word is sure. Our heritage is His testimony and His glory. Our joy comes in deepening our relationship with the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). What comfort there is, especially now, in knowing that our times are in His hands and that He will reveal the way, one step at a time.
Why study scripture? Why does the psalmist say that he loves God’s law and commandments? Why should we continually read and meditate on the Word of the Lord?
We read, study, and meditate on God’s Word because we live in a broken world where people do what is right in their own eyes. The only way to know what is good and pleasing to the Lord is to study His words. In an uncertain world, the only truly unchanging thing is God, and we learn His work and will and way in His Word.
Knowing scripture well allows us to recognize the false narratives of current culture, especially the ones that seem good on the outside, but are bent on destruction. There’s an old story that must be in every seminary course on sermon illustrations that compares learning the truth of scripture to a banker handling money. The more real money bankers handle, the more quickly they recognize counterfeit cash. The kinds of counterfeit money may change, but it never feels quite like the real thing. The counterfeits of cultural relativism may change seasonally, but God’s Word, like His character, remains the same forever.