Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Devotion in Psalm 119

We're doing something pretty cool at Providence: we're going to focus on Psalm 119 while we're learning about the Bible. Why? Psalm 119 is all about God's written word. It also happens to be the longest chapter in the Bible (Coincidence? Don't think so). It's divided up into 22 stanzas of 8 verses. Interestingly, it is an acrostic. In the Hebrew, each verse of a given stanza begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So verses 1-8 begin with Aleph (the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet), verses 9-16 with the letter Beth (the second letter), and this pattern continues for all 176 verses. Scholars believe this longest of the Psalms was taught to Jewish children so that they could learn the alphabet--and about the centrality and importance of God's word.
As a church, we're also devotionally meditating on this Psalm each morning. Several leaders of the church are contributing. Today (day 4) it's my turn.

The stanza (Psalm 110:25-32):

25 My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
    teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
    and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
    and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
    when you enlarge my heart!


Today’s stanza in Psalm 119 has a different tone than what we’ve seen thus far. You can hear it from the very the beginning (v.25):

My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!

If it sounds to you like someone who is desperate, you’re right. Verse 28 continues the theme:

My soul melts away for sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word!

The writer is obviously experiencing some sort of hardship or period of deep sadness or grief. 

Have you been there? 

It worries me that in some Christian circles, going through a period of difficulty or sorrow can be looked down upon, as if a truly spiritual person should never experience trouble. If that’s the case, I’m not very spiritual. There are times when I can get discouraged. I totally know what the psalmist means by his soul clinging to the dust or melting away! That’s how it feels! Am I weak spiritually if I sometimes feel this way? Does that make me a failure?


That’s something I love about the Bible. There are so many examples of real people who have real struggles. There are lots of people struggling through different types of pain, frustration, and melancholy. Some of these are among the greatest saints in the hall of faith!

In fact, Jesus wasn’t always smiling. He had times of human sadness. He wept. In Isaiah 53:3 it says of him:

He was despised and rejected by men; 
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; 
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, 
and we esteemed him not.

It is not a sin to be sorrowful, neither is it a sign of spiritual immaturity. The telling thing is HOW we respond to these very human emotions. That’s the beautiful thing demonstrated for us in Psalm 119. The writer finds his comfort in God’s word, and pleads with God to deepen his knowledge of it.

26…teach me your statutes!
27…I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28…strengthen me according to your word!
29…graciously teach me your law!
31I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
32I will run in the way of your commandments…

Wow. There’s my lesson. 

When I feel down, when my world isn’t making any sense, or when I’m falling apart—it should drive me toward God’s word.

Because that’s where God is.

[This is where I had to end the devotional that was sent out to the church due to length. But God was not done teaching me from this stanza in Psalm 119. There was more.]

The last verse is curious at first glance (v.32):

I will run in the way of your commandments
    when you enlarge my heart!

I was with a close friend last night discussing this Psalm. He's going through a very hard time in his life right now. Those words, "when you enlarge my heart" stood out to him, and we discussed it. Interesting thought, really. It seems to read that after God enlarges the psalmist's heart, that's when he will be obedient. But it's more than that. The Hebrew use of "heart" is a little different than the English (or Greek, for that matter) usage commonly referring to passion or love. It is more often a metaphor for one's core being, one's character. So instead of a "I love you with all my heart" kind-of-meaning, it has a "a man after God's own heart" connotation—an enlargement of character, an improvement in one's core being.

I think the psalmist is recognizing a very important truth. 

When trials come and we respond to them by running to God by finding answers and comfort in his word, our character is enlarged and our core being is improved. In other words, we grow significantly in spiritual maturity. This, in turn, causes us to "run" (as opposed to walking) "in the way" (the road, the trail, the path) of God's "commandments" (God's will for us). 

My youngest child is about to get her driver's license. As with all my kids, learning to drive was an adventure! When she turned 15 and got her learner's permit, we began in abandoned parking lots and worked our way up to busier and more challenging driving experiences. She started, as everyone does, going very slowly and swerving all over the place while both hands gripped the wheel with white knuckles, over-correcting her route by lunging back and forth. But when she grew in experience and through failure, her confidence grew. Staying on the correct path became second nature. She was able to do this through persistence and with the guidance of her father, who offered words of experience and advice (and sometimes screams of panic—but that doesn't fit my analogy!). This is life. Trials make us better as we walk through them with God and his word. It enables us to run with confidence—in obedience.

James says,

2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ...12Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

So the next time you have a bad day, don’t push away from God. Pray that you will draw close to find help and healing in his arms. You will find him where he speaks—in his word. And pray that he will grow your character as a result. 

No comments: