Psalm 119-Longing for that Marvelous Word

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My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (Psalm 119:20)

I got engaged in college. For Christmas break my wife-to-be went to her home in Oregon and I went to my home in Mississippi. Our wedding was scheduled for March. I planned on going out to Oregon closer to wedding. One day in late December my father approached me and said something like this, “Son you are useless here. Why don’t you drive out to Oregon and spend the months leading up to the wedding near your bride to be.” That was wise counsel. My body was in Mississippi, but my heart and mind were in Oregon. At different times in life we all long for things. Often the deepest longing comes when we meet the person we are going to marry. I longed to be with Julie. There are other longings, such as a desire for particular job, a deep desire for rest and peace, or even a longing for wealth. But for the psalmist there is something else he longs for. There is something else that fills his vision; God’s Word.

In Psalm 119:20 the writer expresses a longing for God’s Word. The ESV translates it as “consumed,” the NKJV translates it as “breaks.” The word means to be crushed by something. What is the psalmist crushed by? A longing for God’s Word. The psalmist has a deep desire to see the judgments of God come forth. There is no moderation here. This is not a mild desire to occasionally read the Word. It is a desire that consumes all other desires. The psalmist hungers and thirsts for the Scriptures.

But why? Why are the Scriptures what he pursues? In them he finds God. In them he finds salvation. In them he finds answers to the most important of questions. In them a thirsty man finds water. In them a hungry man finds bread. In them the sinner finds forgiveness. In them he finds the path to holiness. In them he finds Christ. Anything of consequence is found in the Word of God. The better question is why anyone would not be consumed with longing for the Word of God?

For the psalmist this is not a passing concern for God’s judgments. His longing for God’s Word is not like the dew which is here at 9 and gone by 10. He longs for God’s judgments “at all times.” We all hunger for God’s Word at certain times in our lives. If we are sick or lose our job or there are difficulties in our marriage or with our children we might long for God’s Word. If we have a secret sin that has been discovered we might run to God’s Word. That is good and we should let circumstances drive us back to God’s Word. But that is not our goal. Our goal is a constant hunger for the living bread of God’s Word. Our aim should be a life of persevering faith that is characterized by a love for God’s Word. Admittedly we all grow slack in this area at times. Our love for the Word God goes up and down. Yet we must strive to be a people who break with longing for God’s Word at all times.

What are some practical ways to learn to long for God’s Word?

  • Ask the Lord to give you a hunger for His Word. A good way to do this is pray through a section of Psalm 119 each day. Why would the Lord not answer this prayer?
  • Listen carefully to the preaching of God’s Word. Often pastors will open up the Word for us in ways we cannot ourselves.
  • Hang around people who love God’s Word, read it regularly, and are showing signs of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is infectious.
  • Read God’s Word. There are many ways to do this. Some read through the Bible in a year. I have done that. Currently I am reading a couple of Psalms, one Proverb and a portion of an OT book and NT book each day. But I read the same book all month. This month I have read through Micah 3 times and will probably get one more reading in before I am done. The NT book is II Corinthians. I have read that twice. Vary up your Bible reading, especially if it gets stale.
  • Persevere in faith as you read and hear God’s Word. In this life, there will always be times where we are dull to God’s Word, where we don’t want to read it, or hear it preached. We must believe that even in those times the Spirit is working through the Word. Even if it is hard, we must keep ourselves planted in the Word. In the long run, the Lord will reward this often with a renewed joy for Scripture.

I want to end with Westminster Larger Catechism Question 155:

Q 155: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A 155: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners;  of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

Why would those of us who have been saved by God’s grace, love Jesus, and want to be conformed to His image not long for more of this marvelous book?

Psalm 119:71~It was Good for Me to be Afflicted

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One of the primary values of our age is that suffering is bad. Physical pain and suffering must be eliminated at all costs. If it cannot be eliminated then we should have the right to end our lives. Children born with diseases should not have been born at all. Boys and girls are not taught to “fight through pain” anymore. They are taught to look for a way out. Pain, affliction, and suffering are enemies to be vanquished. Emotional pain is approached the same way. We avoid close relationships because they will create deeper scars when they are ruptured. We rarely commit to anything of substance because we could be criticized for it or it could go bad and we would look foolish. We guard ourselves against emotional pain.

There is some truth in our gut reaction to pain and suffering. It is not the way it was supposed to be. Without sin there would not be pain, at least as we know it. But in this fallen world pain and suffering don’t just exist. They are good for us. In the world, as it is now, suffering plays a central role in the life of the Christian. We might say that God has redeemed suffering and pain. In a few short verses the Psalmists tells us three times the value of affliction.

Psalm 119:67, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71, It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119: 75, I know, O Lord , that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted.

The word translated “afflicted” in all three verses means to hurt, humiliate, cause to suffer, or cause pain. It is used in Psalm 105:18 where it says that Joseph’s feet were “hurt” when they were put in irons. It is used in Psalm 89:22 where it says that David will not be afflicted by the wicked. Perhaps most striking is Isaiah 53:4 where it says that Christ was “smitten by God and afflicted.” These three verses in Psalm 119 give us a rich theology of suffering. Continue reading

Psalm 119:51~Mocked on the Stage

Stage Light

The proud have me in great derision, yet I do not turn aside from your law…the proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep your precepts with my whole heart. Psalm 119:51, 69

The American landscape is littered with men and women (and whole denominations!) who once professed faith in Christ.  Men and women who read God’s Word, sat under preaching, were baptized, and ate at the Lord’s table. Yet at some point these people decided that following Christ was no longer worth it. An outsider who knows nothing of America may assume that some great persecution arose and has caused these people to leave the faith. But those of us living here and watching the events of the last 50 years know that is not the case.  What has caused such a large number of professing Christians to either leave the faith or opt for a  Christian walk that looks nothing like the Bible?

One answer is found here in Psalm 119.  Christians in America do not fear physical persecution. It is a non-existent threat. We do not worry about our church services being broken in to, our women being raped, or being beheaded for our faith. But we do worry about our reputation. There are two main reasons people leave the faith: they either wanted to indulge a sin the Scriptures condemn or they wanted to be thought of as cool. It is this last category that the Psalmist is addressing in these two verses.

He is being derided by the proud. The word here is used throughout Proverbs and is often translated scoffer. It is also used in Psalm 1:1 where the righteous man does not “sit in the seat of scorners.”  The picture here is not of ISIS militants killing him, but of someone making fun of the Psalmist. They are laughing at him. He is the butt of the jokes at the water cooler. His family thinks he is too uptight. He used to have friends, but they don’t want to hang out with him any more. Maybe a blog or two has been dedicated to mocking his views. He is laughed at.

The second verse talks about the proud lying about the Psalmist. The word translated “forged” actually means “to smear” and can be used of glue. The enemies of the Psalmist have smeared him with lies and they have stuck to some degree. Again no physical persecution, but rather the proud attempt to ruin the reputation of the Psalmist. His life has been plastered over by the lies of his enemies. They talk about him behind his back to other employees. The family gets together without her and spreads little rumors about her home life. They lie about what is preached or taught at his church. And these lies stick and dog the Psalmist wherever he goes.

In our culture one of the biggest threats to our walk with Christ is the fear of being left out, rejected, of losing our reputation and status. We want the world to like us and approve of us. We want to be part of the in-crowd. We don’t want to be the geek who still believes the God made the world in six days, that sex is for marriage, children are a blessing, self-fulfillment is not the ultimate goal, the lost need to repent, the Bible is God’s Word, greed is sin, and women should not be pastors. So we bend. We compromise, slowly but surely moving away from the Bible.The Psalmist goes the opposite direction. When his reputation is threatened he moves towards the Bible.  He refuses to turn aside from God’s Word no matter what the cost is to him.

In Hebrews 10:33 the author says the congregation there was willing to become a “spectacle” or be “publicly exposed.” The word is “theatrizo” which means to be brought up on the stage to be mocked. Paul uses a similar word in I Corinthians 4:9 when he says, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.” In the coming years, we will not hold fast to Christ unless we are willing to be mocked and scorned.  Unless we can stand on the stage and let the world laugh at us our faith will fail. Our biggest danger will not be death, but rejection. If we long to be part of the cool kids and refuse to be rejected then we have already lost the battle.  We must not fear their derision, scorn, scoffing, and lies. Our reputation is not more important than Christ. Let us cling to His Word and be willing to suffer shame before the world. Are we ready to be a spectacle before our friends, neighbors, family members, and community?

Psalm 119:17-19~Help for Pilgrims

     

Psalm 119:17-19 reminds us that the grace of God is essential for obedience to his Word and understanding of his Word. The Psalmist understands that he is weak and blind. He knows that God’s Word requires much of him. He knows that God’s Word is often shrouded in darkness. The meaning and the application of it can be hard to discern. He knows the human heart is like a rock unable to receive the seed of the Word. He knows that we are fallen, weak men who need God’s strength to help us obey.  Therefore he begins this third section of Psalm 119 with a plea for help.

He asks God to deal bountifully with him. This word is used in several other Psalms to express God’s great kindness (Psalm 13:6, 116:7, 142:7). The psalmist is asking the Lord to open up the treasures of his grace and pour out his goodness upon him. The psalmist is a servant of the Lord. But what does he ask God to do for him? He wants God to be kind to him by helping him walk according to God’s Word. What a great prayer!  Oh, Lord show me your grace so that I might obey your commandments. The Psalmist understands that grace, God’s unmerited kindness, precedes obedience. If he is going to live and keep the Word, grace must come first. 


Next the psalmist cries out to God for understanding of his Word. The phrase translated “wondrous things” means something that is surpassing in its greatness, but at times hard to understand. God’s Word is wonderful and filled with treasure beyond all the wealth of this world. But it can be difficult to grasp. There are passages that we must think about a long time before we come to understand them. Sometimes we understand what a passage means, but are not sure how it impacts our lives.  The psalmist knows that he is blind. He needs God to remove the scales so that he can understand and obey. Verse 18 is a great little prayer to recite prior to reading God’s Word or hearing the Word preached.

Finally the psalmist asks God to unveil his Word because he is as stranger in this world.  He, like all Christians, is passing through looking for that final house whose builder is God.  It is the nature of man to find himself too at home in the world. He forgets eternity and his own immortality. He becomes too entangled in the affairs of this earth and the end becomes blurry. An older author described this as putting anchors down in the world. We become tied to this world by a thousand ropes. While Christians can and should enjoy the many gifts God gives in this life, our eyes should not lose sight of the final destination. Calvin says we are to “aspire after the place we are invited.” We are to long for our heavenly home. But why does this lead the psalmist to pray that God would not hide his commandments from him? What is the connection between being a stranger in this world and seeing God’s commands rightly?

Any stranger in a foreign land needs maps and brochures to keep him from straying and to bring him safely back home. God’s Word furnishes us with a map for navigating this world. We are strangers, but the Word can give us direction. It tells what to believe and not to believe. It provides us with a picture of sin and death. It reminds us of God’s purposes for this world and how it can be used to his glory. But it also reminds us that our final home is not here, but there.  The Word provides comfort when we grieve in this fallen world by pointing us to the next world.  Finally, the Word draws our eyes forward to the new Heavens and Earth when we will swim in the glory of God, when all things will be made new, when all pain, death, and sorrow will be eliminated, when our old bodies will put on incorruption, and when we shall Christ as He is.  He prays Psalm 119:19 because God’s Word provides direction, comfort, and vision for wandering pilgrims, like us. 

The key point of these three verses is that we need the grace of God to obey his Word, to understand his Word, and to use his word to guide us in this world. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11
Psalm 119:13
Psalm 119:14
Psalm 119:15-16

Psalm 119:15-16~Study, Remember, Obey

Psalm 119:9-16 ends with four ways the psalmist will “take heed to God’s Word” (vs. 9). He will meditate on it, contemplate it (fix my eyes-ESV), delight in it, and will not forget it (Psalm 119:15-16).  These last two verses show that the psalmist takes seriously his own need to focus on and retain God’s Word. 
Those things which we find most delightful are those things that we roll over and over in our minds. When a young man is courting a lady she is never far from his thoughts, even if he is not speaking of her.  So it should be with God’s Word. When there is delight in God’s Word (Psalm 119:14) we meditate upon that Word. When we recognize our need to “keep our way pure” (Psalm 119:11) we ponder and contemplate the Word of God day and night. Though a different word is used, this verse expresses the same idea as Psalm 1:2. Meditation and contemplation means there is serious study of God’s Word and a daily attempt to obey God’s Word. The Psalmist says he will contemplate God’s ways, which means how the Lord would have him live. Psalm 119:15 weaves together the intellectual focus on God’s Word and the practical walking in God’s Word.


But meditation and contemplation are not all. The psalmist goes on to repeat that he delights in God’s Word. This has been said once already (vs. 14). But it is repeated for effect. Delighting in God’s Word is one of the proofs that we have meditated on it properly. If study does not lead to delight we have missed something. Even when our sin is exposed in the reading of God’s Word we should rejoice. God is showing us our faults and seeking to form us into the character of his Son.

Finally the psalmist says that he will not forget God’s Word. Like delight the psalmist repeats a previous idea. In verse 11 he says he hides God’s Word. Here he says something similar. God’s Word should not be a seed thrown on stony ground that is snatched away by birds. It should take deep root in our hearts, minds, and lives. How many of us are content with a shallow understanding of God’s Word? How many of us are content with reading of God’s Word but not the planting of God’s Word? The psalmist isn’t. He wanted the law of God woven into his thoughts, emotions, and actions.


Here are several points to remember from Psalm 119:15-16.

We need time to meditate on the Word of God. Reading is good, but not good enough.  We need to taste the word over and over. We need to take passages and go deeper with them, asking more and more questions of them, thinking through how the Word applies to us. Our hearts, though renewed, are often reluctant to take time with God’s Word. We are busy people. But if God’s Word is to fill our minds and direct our ways then we must resolve to do more than just read. We cannot meditate every time we read God’s Word. But there should be times where we slow down and spend time savoring God’s Word. This is a great activity for Sunday afternoons. Take a passage, several chapters, or even a short book of the Bible and spend some time with it. Take some notes on it. Pray through it. Read it out loud instead of silently. 

Delighting in God’s Word is a sign of maturity in one’s walk with God. All Christians should read the Word. But mature Christians delight in it. If God’s Word is dry, dull, or dead to us then something is wrong. Leaders, such as fathers and pastors, especially must have a deep delight in the words of God. They must set an example for their homes and churches of men who love God’s Word and find it sweeter than honey and more profitable than the riches of this world.  This does not mean that every time we read God’s Word we will feel lightening from Heaven, just like every time I kiss my wife it will not be like lightening from Heaven. But our joy and delight in God’s Word should go deeper and deeper.

Finally Psalm 119:9-16 is focused on hiding or not forgetting God’s Word. The Psalmist ends by saying, “I will not forget your word.” Many of us are like buckets with holes in the bottom. God’s Word goes in and then goes out. We must learn to keep God’s Word in minds and in our hearts. We do this by systematic memorization of it, regular meditation on it, singing it, and diligent obedience to it.

To sum up Psalm 119:9-16 we could say, When we delight in God’s Word and know that it is necessary for holiness we will take the time and energy necessary to study it, remember it, and seek new ways to obey it. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11
Psalm 119:13
Psalm 119:14

Psalm 119:14~The Treasure of Obedience

The heart of man is drawn to the riches of this world. Many of us spend large amounts of time and energy acquiring and keeping our wealth. Even those of us who are not wealthy will let our lives be dominated by the desire for wealth or jealousy over those who have it. I grew up in rural Mississippi among some of the poorest folks in this country. Money and how they could get more was the dominant theme of their lives. I have also seen those making six or seven figures worry without end about their money. Do they have it invested wisely? How can I get more? How can I keep more? We believe money will bring happiness, thus we pursue it with all our might.


But for the psalmist all the riches in the world cannot compare to the gold that is mined from the law of God (Psalm 119:14).  He rejoices in the law of God as if God had given him all the wealth in the whole world.  The word “way” is a synonym for the how one lives or his conduct. The psalmist is not just delighting in reading God’s law. The pot of gold is not his daily quiet time. True riches are found when he learns to walk in God’s ways. Obedience to God’s word is what he really longs for. Obedience is his treasure. 

For many of us obedience to God’s Word is a duty. It is like punching the time clock at work or stopping at a red light. Do this or we will get in trouble. But we should aim higher than an obedience which comes from duty. Our goal should be an obedience which comes from delight.  Obedience should be a want to, not a have to. A love for God and his Word and a belief that only in obedience is there true joy should drive us to walk in the way of His commandments.

Why doesn’t obedience to God’s Word delight us more than riches?

We love our sin. This is the most obvious reason the joy of God’s Word is blunted. Many of us want our sin and the Bible at the same time. But it does not work that way. We cannot simultaneously love God’s Word and love our sin. Are you clinging to a sin that might be keeping you from loving obedience? 

We love the world. We treasure this world more than the next. We horde things that rust, die, and rot instead of treasure in heaven. We account for every dime and nickel. Does the world have your devotion, affection, and loyalty instead of God’s Word? Watching your life would men know that you love obedience to God’s Word more than your stuff? 

We are distracted and busy. We do not settle down to think on and consider God’s Word. We do not take time to examine our lives and see if we are obeying. We flit from thing to thing. Days will go by, maybe weeks, and we have seriously thought about our walk with God. Obedience requires a deliberate disciplined life where God’s Word and how to apply it to our lives is meditated on (Psalm 1:2). Could it be that you do not rejoice in obedience to God’s Word because your life is whirlwind? Could it be that you have traded a flurry of activity for the riches of God’s Word? 

What gets our blood pumping more, a six figure income or obedience to the Word? Is God’s Word our delight? Do we long for it more than riches? Does obedience to it bring us joy?  If not, we need to repent and work and pray for the day when we rejoice more over obedience than a raise or bonus. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11
Psalm 119:13

Psalm 119:13~Bible Shaped Speech

The psalmist has memorized God’s Word (Psalm 119:11) and he prays to God to teach him the word (Psalm 119:12). But he is not content with memorization and understanding. He must declare the law of God (Psalm 119:13).  One commentator thinks this refers to speaking to himself God’s Word. Most commentators think this refers to telling others the judgments of God. Either way, the Word of God does not remain in his heart, but overflows into his speech.  Jesus says that our speech reveals our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19). God’s Word has filled up the psalmist’s heart. He has stockpiled God’s Word.  So God’s Word is what comes out of his mouth.

The psalmist is not declaring his opinion or his idea, but the very words of God.  Our own thoughts are of little consequence. The question at the bottom of all questions is what does God think? That is why the declaration of God’s Word to those around us is essential.  Our words are to reflect God’s statutes. His interpretation of events, actions, emotions, and thoughts is to be our interpretation of them. Too often we see things through our eyes instead of through God’s Word. 

The world is often what shapes our words instead of God’s Word. The movies we watch and the songs we listen to mold our hearts so that we think and feel as the world does. If we find ourselves unable to converse easily about things like sin, salvation, redemption, Christ, the Church, grace, etc. then we should go back to verses 11-12 and begin internalizing God’s Word. If the language of the Bible is foreign to you then it has not taken root in your heart yet. 

But often we know God’s Word and still refuse to declare it.  We might refuse to declare God’s Word because we are cowards. We keep God’s Word in our hearts so no one will think the less of us or make fun of us. We want to be thought of as respectable and cool. Therefore we are quiet and God’s Word is left at our desk and never brought into the workplace, the dining room, the living room, the park, or the family reunion. We might refuse to declare God’s Word because we do not want to look “holier than thou.” This is a legitimate problem. But God does not give us the option of being silent. We must learn to declare God’s Word without being pompous or proud. There are probably other reasons we do not talk about God’s Word as we ought to.

Our speech reflects our hearts. If God’s Word is not on our tongue then it might be because it is not in our hearts. Or it might be in there, but instead of glorying in it we are ashamed of it.

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11