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.”

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.

 

It Is Well

In 2010, author Shane Claiborne published a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I like the book. It’s designed to guide the daily prayer life of a group or individual. I’ve used it, like other things, as an off-and-on devotional since we bought it. I happened to pull it out this morning to use it for my personal reflection, but not necessarily for the blog, however, here I am. I’m going to use a simple quote from the March 1 reading in conjunction with the lyrics of a song from a concert that Hannah and I attended last night. I want to write it off as coincidental, but this endeavor is about seeking. So, let me break these moving parts down for you and see what you think.

Yesterday, Hannah and I had a doctor’s visit. She’s now 39 weeks pregnant. We’re completely aware that we are well into the birth range timetable, but things have progressed in such a healthy way that we haven’t been too worried about how things have progressed. Hannah and our boy have remained healthy throughout the duration of the pregnancy, and we’ve counted it a significant blessing. Yesterday though, there was a slight hiccup in a pretty routine visit. Our doctor wasn’t overly concerned about it but needed to run some tests to rule out possible complications that could change some of the details of our birth plan. Given how the pregnancy has gone up to this point, it seems unlikely that it will turn into something more serious. Nevertheless, this was the first instance in the 39 weeks that we’ve had to do something like that and in the moment it felt jarring.

We had tickets to a concert last night, The Lone Bellow, at a venue near our home. We saw them once in Chicago a couple of years ago and loved the energy they brought to their live performance. On the heels of the news from our prenatal visit, we were unsure whether we should attend. We want to do whatever we can to reduce stress at this stage and make sure we’re proceeding responsibly. We decided to go but would sit in the back and just enjoy the music.

Lone Bellow

The band added their stop here in Memphis late to their tour, so the setting was intimate. We saw a few friends and found some seats in the back corner. We couldn’t see the stage very well, but at different parts in the show could easily make out the upper quarter of the musicians. They were good. The Lone Bellow is not explicit about their religious beliefs, but there are certainly elements in their song writing that strongly suggest that they are people of faith. It’s possible there’s an interview somewhere in which they talk about it, but I haven’t searched that hard. Either way, there was an interesting moment in the concert last night during their song May You Be Well when the frontman Zach Williams, during an instrumental interlude in the song, raises both of his hands and clearly mouths the words “May you be well” multiple times with eyes closed. It was an odd sensation. It felt out of place, which is weird because it was a concert where a singer was singing the words to his own song. It felt out of place because he clearly wasn’t singing. It looked like he was speaking those words. It looked, very much, like he was praying those words over the crowd.

It seems somewhat unlikely that this is actually what was happening, but I couldn’t shake it. It felt so much like the moment in a worship service when the singer repeats parts of the song as a prayer under his breath. Fast forward to this morning and the aforementioned Claiborne book. There’s a quote for today’s entry from fourteenth century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich.

The worst has already happened and been repaired. . . . All Shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I’ve stated previously in this blog that sometimes pain will last a lifetime. We aren’t promised reprieve during our lives, but we hold on to the hope of the life to come. The refrain here of “all shall be well” is unavoidably similar to the lyrics of the song last night. I can’t help but feel encouraged. Even though I know that we aren’t promised that bad things won’t happen to us, and even though these types of moments are easily written off as coincidental, I’m not going to do it with this one. I’m going to choose to believe that it’s the Spirit. I’m going to take the connection and rest in the comfort it provides.

Simeon Temple

Prayer and Reflection

What connections might you have written off recently as coincidence? Could they be something more? Pray that God gives you the courage and ability to see what he’s doing in your lives. Pray for God to remove the cynical spirit that keeps us from living in the joy he provides.

Hunger, Temptation, Jesus

 Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the templeand said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

This passage is the heart of the Lenten fast. It’s where the 40 days of Lent is traditionally derived. It’s a powerful example of the resistance of temptation and the goodness of God. Jesus reminds us at each moment of temptation to shift our focus away from that temptation and back toward God.

If you’re searching for the rhythm of Lent, this is it. It’s the ebb and flow of hunger, temptation, Jesus, hunger, temptation, Jesus. Whatever you may be fasting from, the longer you go without it, the greater the temptation grows, and the more we need to lean on Christ. It’s hard, and it’s also a microcosm of the Christian life.

As the Spirit begins to sanctify us from the very beginning of our faith and begins to pare away sin from our lives, the temptation for our comforts, our old ways grows stronger. It becomes harder to resist. We’re faced with choice to remain steadfast or to momentarily lapse into our old ways and try to fill the hunger with the idols we used to carry. When this happens we enter into a different rhythm, one of confession, repentance, and belief.  We enter back into the cycle and the Spirit continues to work in us.

This is the work of the Spirit, to make us more Christlike through the rhythms of the Christian walk that are magnified during the Lenten season. Maybe think of it like a workout routine. You don’t start with lifting the heaviest weight in the gym, and you don’t start with the marathon. You build your way up to those things. The good news is that with this spiritual exercise, the Spirit guides you and helps you along the way. We don’t do this alone. Not only has He sent the Spirit to help us grow, but he’s also sent other people. We’re never alone in this walk no matter how it may sometimes feel.

If you feel like progress is slow, just know that you’re not alone and that even Jesus is served by angels at the end of this event, and at the end of ours, He’ll be there too, lifting us up in our exhaustion. He’ll be there to feed us the feast He has prepared.

Prayer and Reflection

Reflect and pray the collect from the Book of Common Prayer for this past Sunday. Also, think about what idols you need help shedding and lean into the support of the Spirit, who will guide you to truth.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Breath of Truth

2 Timothy 4:1-5

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Whew! There’s a lot to say with a passage like this. I’ll try to make this one a little shorter than yesterday, but if you know me, you know I’m long winded. That plays itself out in writing just the same. For our purposes and for the purpose of Lent, we’re going to focus in on just a couple of key pieces after looking at the passage as a whole.

  1. Verses 1-2 have an exhortation for the Christian (and specifically Timothy, to whom the letter is written). “I charge you… preach the word.” The meaning here is simple enough. Preaching the word should “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” and you’re to do it “with complete patience and teaching.”
  2. Verses 3-4 are a commentary on the tendency of people to gravitate towards things that suit themselves rather than challenging themselves with what is true. This is where we’re going to spend the bulk of our time because I think it’s the most obviously recognizable piece in our own lives.
  3. Verse 5 doubles back to the same charge as verses 1 and 2, just worded differently. He says “fulfill your ministry” by doing the work.  There’s also a charge to “endure suffering” which is a form of patience, a theme that will carry over throughout these posts.

Verses 3-4 are where I really want to focus for the rest of this post. Man, if we don’t all fall into this trap from time to time. In fact, it seems that for many people, finding a teacher to suit their passions is their ultimate goal and is, they believe, their God-given right. I want to offer an alternative perspective. Maybe you don’t believe in truth. If that’s you, then this alternative perspective may not say very much to you. It’s a completely different conversation that we need to have, however, for those that do believe in truth, listen up.

Sometimes coming to grips with what is true can be difficult. Sometimes it’s much easier to listen to someone who is telling you exactly what you want to hear, what you want to be true. This is where we get into to trouble. We begin to construct for ourselves a house of cards that becomes more and more fragile the higher we build it. The deeper we move away from reality, the more cards we stack on top until the smallest breath of truth sends the structure crashing down.

It boils down to the same message that I mentioned yesterday. We can’t skip the hard parts of reality and go right to what feels good. The more we medicate our lives and placate our senses with ideas that simply suit our desires, the more we become detached from reality. We build a shaky frame that’s always in danger of falling apart. We’re always rushing to plug every hole and fix every leak, and we become exhausted. Pretending is exhausting.

So seek the truth. Find comfort there. Find rest there. Find meaning there. If Lent is about anything, it’s about stripping away the things that make us believe we are independent, that we don’t need God, that we don’t need community, that we are self-reliant, and that we control everything around us. Lent is about stripping away the flashy and getting to reality, authenticity, and truth.Philosopher with a mirror

Prayer and Reflection

Pray that God reveals those things in our lives that prevent us from listening to truth. Pray that He helps us to see ourselves as we are, helps us to love ourselves as He’s created us.