Delight In Your Will

Psalm 119:9-16

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

I’ve always had a rebellious streak. I wasn’t a bad kid and was largely obedient to most boundaries that had been set for me. I certainly explored those boundaries and crept across them from time to time. I had to explore that boundary and inspect it for myself. For the most part, I stayed out of trouble. My rebellion was much more of an internal struggle. When I was told that something was a certain way or that I needed to think in a particular manner, I bucked against it. When I see everyone moving in one direction, I have to go the other way and see what they’re running from. I have to investigate it for myself. Buried deep inside the roots of who I am is a skeptic and a cynic.

Those qualities aren’t exactly seen as negative in our culture, and it’s true that they have served me well in certain situations. Nevertheless, they are some of my least favorite. They’ve bred arrogance and pride, selfishness and ego, safety and complacency. My fear is that I sometimes treat Scripture with the same level of skepticism. I read a passage and hear how it has been interpreted for centuries and think to myself that it must be saying something else. I don’t want to accept something that may not be true just because people have largely agreed with it. This is a dangerous boundary to toe because at the same time, I don’t want to reject something that is good and pure for the same reason.

This has been and still is in some ways a real challenge for me. It’s a fight against the arrogance that I know better. It’s a fight against elevating myself and my own intellect over that of others. It is, at its root, pride. I do think that there are healthy expressions of those qualities, but when I’m honest with myself, I know that I miss that mark far too often. So, this passage is my prayer.

Prayer and Reflection

Let me guard my way according to Your word and help me not to wander from Your commandments so that I don’t sin against You or against others. Give me the vision and heart to learn your statutes and to declare them. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

Miracles

Psalm 107:1; 15; 22

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!

22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

I’ve doubled back around to Psalm 107 because it has been on my mind the last few days. If I were to break it down further, it’s really these three verses. March 10, 2018, Hannah and I had our first child, a boy named Julian. I foresee some of this blog ultimately turning into things that I want him to know about the world, about life, and about God, but that’s for another time. Right now, I want to give thanks.

I want to give thanks to God for the miracle of childbirth. I have never witnessed something more awe-inspiring. It will stop you dead in your tracks and give you all the emotions at once. I already thought pregnancy was a really amazing thing, and I still do. Pregnant women literally grow humans inside of them. It’s mind-boggling that this human boy that I can now hold was once roughly the same size as the diameter of a single strand of hair.

But Birth? Birth is the process of all that internal effort coming to fruition. The baby begins to physically separate from the mother and stake his claim in our world. Julian has existed for the last several months, but his existence changed 3 days ago in a way that I can’t comprehend. In fact, even if I understand the biology of what’s going on, I still can’t comprehend the ways in which his personhood will be shaped and developed. There is, of course, a biological element to this, which is already imprinted in his DNA, but there is also an environmental element, which is a future that I can’t see. He will be a combination of both me and his mother in some ways, but in many many other ways, he will be uniquely himself.

I’m elated to witness this process of change and development upon which he will embark. I’m overwhelmed by the possibility of things he can experience, positive or negative, far more overwhelmed than I have ever been about the possibility of things I could experience. There’s a lot of mystery moving forward, but what I do know is that God’s steadfast love endures forever. I’m confident in this. I’m largely confident in this because people for multiple millennia have testified to it. This very passage from Psalm 107 could’ve been written over 3000 years ago. The same steadfast love that’s testified to in verse 1 is the same love that I feel in moments like this, and it’s the same love that will be there for my son as he grows into the man that he was created to be.

So, how could I not give thanks for His wondrous works to children of man? The only response I can fathom is to tell of this love and to tell of His deeds (verse 22). I witnessed a miracle at 12:13 A.M. on March 10, and the amazing thing is that it’s so commonplace I’ve taken it for granted my whole life. Children are born every day, 250 times a minute, in fact.

I started this blog to help me find truth in every day occurrences, but I wasn’t expecting to find miracles. Thank you, Lord.

He Hears

Psalm 107:1-3; 17-21

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Today is a day for joy. It’s hard for me to read a passage like this and not feel gratitude. In some ways, I can’t speak for the experiences of every person, but deep down there are things that I know are true about us all. I know that we have all experienced hurt, and if you haven’t, I’m confident that you will at some point. It’s not that I like to be overdramatic about these things, but I do like to tell things like they are. So, at some point in our lives we have or we will experience brokenness. We’ll have to come to terms with our failures and our shortcomings. We’ll have to grapple with the fact that we are far from perfect. We are, in fact, sinful.

We like to always paint this as a complete negative, but I’m not always confident that it is. We are sinful, but it’s our sin that exposes our need for others and ultimately for God. We realize that it’s really hard to go through life alone and that we can’t always naturally pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We need a supernatural help from the Lord.

The good news is that a passage like this tells us some things about who God is. He has gathered together in one body, the global church, to be his heirs and to encourage, equip, and love one another. I know that this isn’t everyone’s experience with churches. Unfortunately, there are many people who have distorted the image and function of the church to be something that it was never intended to be. It was never intended to be oppressive, yet that’s many people’s experience. It was never intended to be abusive, yet many experience abuse at its hand. Despite the deeply distorted portrait of the church that some communities portray, it isn’t always aligned with the biblical vision of how things should look and function.

19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.

God does not promise deliverance from hardship in this lifetime, nor does he promise to end discomfort on your timeline. God is in this for the long haul. He has eternity in mind and is concerned with a spiritual freedom that only he can promise. Nevertheless, he has called the church to seek justice and relief on behalf of others. One of the charges of the church is to care for those who are struggling. We serve a God who hears the cries of his people. We serve a God who heals and who delivers. God hears your voice when you cry out to Him. It’s a time of joy and a time of thanksgiving. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Prayer and Reflection

If you feel like you need to cry out to God about something, do it. If the Psalms show us anything, they show us that it’s okay to do that. Cry out because He will hear you.

And the Swallow

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
    ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

If you could break this Psalm down to one theme, it would be longing. Have you ever been homesick or longed to be with the people that made you feel loved? Have you ever wanted to just get away from a situation and go to a familiar place? Many of us have felt this way at one time or another. Hannah and I lived a transient life for quite a few years. Nothing ever felt permanent, which made it difficult to settle. There was always an undercurrent of restlessness that would occasionally creep to the surface of our consciousness. It was in those moments that we felt longing. We wanted to go where people knew us.

I think what draws me into this psalm is how positive it remains. When I become overtaken with these same emotions, I move so quickly in the other direction. Instead of dwelling in the beauty of my memories, I dwell on my disdain for my present situation. I so quickly move from the positive to the negative. I think, “it was so wonderful to be and to feel known,’ and then immediately move to, “I want that now. Why haven’t I found that here? When will I feel that again?”

The psalmist, though, is content with the memories and more importantly, content with God. Of course, the psalmist longs for home but understands that if he cannot be there, he can still be with God who gives him strength. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the purpose God has when we are overcome with the longing to go, to leave. Wherever you are, God wants you there. He wants you to seek His kingdom, to live according to His ways, and to glorify Him through your actions. He’s given us these memories to strengthen our resolve to push forward, not to live in the past.

The end of verse 10 hits the place that I would’ve gone in verse 2. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” We look around at our world, and there’s so much beauty. It gives me hope. I think of those moments when I have felt known, and I feel hope, but sometimes I look around at the rampant injustices throughout every segment of society and it becomes crippling. I struggle to know what to do. I’m tempted, as many of us are, to hope for the world to regress to a simpler time, a time when I was unaware of these tragedies, when I was burdened with the pain of others. But, I don’t want to be unaware anymore. We can’t move towards justice if we’re unaware of the injustice. It’s in those moments, that my nostalgia moves to a future hope. I don’t long for the past, I long for a future. It’s not about the pains of the present but about the hope of the forthcoming. It’s not about making things great again, but as Dr. King said it’s about making things the way they ought to be.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray that in moments of longing, you can derive strength through the knowledge of God’s presence. Pray that you can lean into the memories as a source of joy and goodness. Pray that you can move forward instead of always looking backward.

Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Refrain:
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Last night, Hannah and I went to an event called Do Justice that was hosted by the Memphis organization Agape. We heard two speakers, Brian Fikkert and Bryan Stevenson, both authors and both concerned with justice. Bryan Stevenson, the author of the book Just Mercy, talked broadly about criminal justice reform and about seeking justice as Christians.

He told the story of the first time we went into a prison to talk with an inmate on death row. He was nervous about it because he was still a law student and thought the inmate might wish for someone more qualified. The inmate walked in, hands and feet chained, hunched over and sullen. He looked defeated and explained that he hadn’t had visitors in two years and was afraid to let his family come because he was nervous that he would have an execution date set and would have to tell his family. He didn’t want them to have to deal with that.

After speaking with the man for three hours, the guards came to take the inmate away. Their conversation had changed the inmates demeanor, his face had brightened and he felt invigorated. As he was led away, the inmate began to sing a hymn, Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way). Stevenson’s point was that his time, his conversation, his proximity with the man gave him hope.

He called us last night to proximity. He believes that proximity is required to see justice realized, to see reconciliation, and to promote hope. Those of us who have the ability and the access to advocate have to place ourselves in uncomfortable positions. We have to step into the margins and meet the people who live there. We have to know them and to know their stories. It’s in being proximal that we develop the ability to change the social and cultural narratives that promulgate fear and anger towards people who are struggling.

The call was powerful. His words were powerful. They were convicting and urgent. We Christians so often fail at stepping outside ourselves and seeking reconciliation, hope, and love for people that don’t look like us, act like us, or live in our neighborhood. But isn’t that exactly what we’re called to do? Isn’t that what Christ did in humbling himself to become a man and to serve.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for opportunities to be proximal. Pray for opportunities to seek justice and to humble yourself. Seek the margins, be brave, and give hope.

 

Nothing Hidden

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

C. S. Lewis called Psalm 19, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world” (Reflections on the Psalms). It’s a simple and beautiful psalm that is broken into to two main parts, verses 1-6 and 7-14.

Verses 1-6

This section is about the praise of God in nature. Its beautiful poetry shows how all creation pours out its love for God. There’s an idea embedded in verse 2 that has formed the curiosity of the world that exists deep inside me. It’s that knowledge can be found throughout the universe. We can observe and discover the infinite God within creation. He’s given as a world to explore from the micro-universe to the macro, from quarks to clusters of galaxies. God has given us the mental faculties to learn the way in which he has ordered everything and the emotions to see the beauty in it. “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

Lewis rightly identifies verse 6 as the linchpin of the psalm. It acts as the transition from a meditation on creation to the law of the Lord. In the same way that the sun dominates the daytime sky, the Torah dominates human life. As theologian and biblical commentator Peter Craigie states,

There could be no life on this planet without the sun; there can be no true human life without the revealed word of God in the Torah.

Sunset Yosemite Bradford

Verses 7-14

These verses give 6 characteristics of the law and then illustrates how those characteristics are beneficial to and impact each of us.

  1. The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul
    • It is the nourishment that our inner selves need
  2. The testimony of the Lord is sure and makes wise the simple
    • It supplies wisdom and meaning to the ordinary
  3. The precepts of the Lord are right and make the heart rejoice
    • It is the source of joy for our lives
  4. The commandment of the Lord is pure and enlightens the eyes
    • It reveals truth and reality in our existence
  5. The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever
    • It is the everlasting foundation upon which our lives are built
  6. The rules of the Lord are true and righteous altogether
    • It provides, in its totality, a picture of righteousness

The psalmist continues by adding imagery to the value of the law comparing it to honey and to gold followed with a prayer that will also be ours.

Prayer and Reflection

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen.

 

Digest

Wilt thou love God as he thee ? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne’er begun—
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath’ endless rest.
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Holy Sonnet XV – John Donne

Poetry like this can feel antiquated.  The language is confusing and disorienting, but I’m still drawn to it. I think I’m drawn to things like this because it forces me to slow down. It forces me to read carefully, then to reread it. I’m thankful for things in my life that force me to do this because I’m always reminded of how much richness I miss. This poem is beautiful, but it takes work to understand.

I first encountered this poem in one of my favorite seminary classes. We boiled this poem down to a simpler, more understandable idea. It’s a poem about downward mobility. It’s about God humbling himself for us. It’s a Trinitarian poem showing how God the Father, Son, and Spirit, has exhibited this downward mobility for our sake. It’s in the Spirit, served by angels, making His home in us. It’s in the Father who has a Son, making us co-heirs with Him. It’s in the Son, putting on flesh and being slain to unbind us from sin.

Trinity Painting.jpg

Prayer and Reflection

God humbled himself for us and for our benefit. How can we have a heart like that? What can we do to live into that beauty? In what ways can we humble ourselves? I’ll leave you with a prayer. Pray it with me.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

– Peace Prayer of Saint Francis