A Lamp to My Feet: Psalm 119:105-112

Psalms 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. . .

Ah, here we are — a verse from my childhood. I memorized Psalm 119:105 when I was small, though at the time the words were merely poetry to me. How I often wish I could go back and talk to my childish self! I would love to tell her that there is more to this verse than just pretty lyrical imagery. What a labyrinth of murky and confusing paths I might have saved myself if only I had taken the words literally.

At my present season of life, I find great comfort in knowing that I have a Lantern at hand to light the way. All too often in my journey, I find myself in a place where the path ahead branches and  both ways are dark and uncertain, disappearing into the blackness no matter how hard I try to discern the direction each takes.

It is at moments like these, of course, that I need the Word to light my path. However, I have found that just as it is not handy to have a lantern without fuel, wick, or understanding of how to operate it, neither is it particularly useful to have a Bible without some basic understanding of the need to do what it says. Doubtlessly, this is why the psalmist follows with “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep Your righteous rules.”

I must be honest, however. Sometimes I do stray from His precepts.  Always when I find myself in a state of confusion or turmoil, it is not because God’s word is unclear; it is because I have allowed my sin nature to take over. Doubt has crept in and distracted me momentarily. But when I finally direct my gaze back to the path from which I wandered, I find my Lamp shining just as brightly as ever, illuminating the way I need to go. It is up to me to walk in His ways.

Before I close, I want to express how much I love this image of the Word as a lamp, especially as I consider that the Lord is, Himself, the Light of the World. So many images from throughout the Scriptures coalesce here. I hope to explore this more in depth sometime soon, but for now, allow me to finish by considering just two of them:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Revelation 21:23

Dear ones, I urge us all to look to the written word that we may know the Living Word. For us, too, may His testimonies become the joy of our hearts as we incline our hearts to perform His statutes forever, to the end. Though the world around us may darken and fall to gloom, let us, Believers, walk always in the Light.

 

 

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Similarities: Psalm 119:97-104

Psalms 119:97-104

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day…

If you are hanging in there, we are past the half-way mark now. I don’t know about you, but I am finding that sometimes all the “precepts” and “rules” and “commandments” and “statutes” are getting mixed up in my mind. It’s OK — keep pressing on and we will all get it sorted eventually.  The main thing is to meditate on adoration of the Word and by doing so, draw closer to the Lord who gave it to us.

As I think about all the synonyms that frequently trip me up in my memory work, I am reminded that similarity does not always equal monotony. When I was young (and not a disciple of Jesus), my criteria for what I considered  beautiful was narrow. I only saw beauty in a very few human faces. Now that I am older, I see some marks of beauty in all faces; some faint shadow of their Maker’s image, perhaps. In fact, the human face fascinates me.

Aside from tremendous deformity-causing birth defects, all faces are remarkably similar, sharing roughly the same shape and features. Still, within this relative uniformity, there is an astonishing amount of variety.  Granted some arrangements are more appealing than others, but when one takes the time to really look, there is plenty to enjoy.

Old, young, black, brown, white, well-fleshed or rail-thin, freckled, dimpled, or creased — there are so many individuals, so many stories represented, so many trials and joys engraved in each line and stamped in each furrow, and all of them packaged in the same basic format. There is so much beauty and tragedy in the lives of individuals represented on their faces that my heart swells just to think of it.

I see Psalm 119 like this, too. There are many of the same words used, many of the same concepts expressed, some in roughly the same phrases.  In English, some stanzas flow very naturally while in others I am very aware that not all elements of poetry survive translation.

Still, there is a beauty to the psalmist’s outpouring of love for the written word of God.  Each similarity we encounter is not sameness, but a different facet of the same elegant gem.  In each stanza, no matter how clunky it may initially sound, there is a glimmer of something wonderful — the pure and simple adoration of the Creator by one of His children.

O Lord, teach us to truly love Your law! As we continue to memorize and meditate on this psalm, help us to move beyond loving only those portions that are encouraging and bright to loving the parts that cause us to squirm under conviction and bring the sting of contrition.  

May it be that our meditation on Your law brings us the wisdom we need to live as “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” (Philippians 2:15)

Yours: Psalm 119:89-96

Psalms 119:89-96

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me…

This may be one of my favorite stanzas so far. We have commiserated with the psalmist through trials and as he teetered on the edge of despair. Now, it seems, he is once again able to praise our magnificent God.  He seems to  comfort himself by the absolute unchangeable nature of God, finding solace in the reminder of the Almighty’s sovereignty.

However, the persecution or trouble is not ended, for he writes, “The wicked lie in wait to destroy  me…”  It is not an end to his problems that prompted this outburst of praise, then. So what has changed?

If David was anything like me,  the only change was probably one of perspective. While I have never endured the sort of trials David did — fleeing through the wilderness while being pursued by a murderous king or being chased out of my kingdom by my own vengeful offspring — I have had times of both physical and spiritual torment. I have felt very, very alone and wondered if my God would ever rescue me.

At such times, my faith is sorely tested and I cling to a knowing that He is good much as a shipwrecked man must cling to some bit of wreckage in order to stay afloat in the raging sea.

It is tempting in these dark moments to think God doesn’t hear, doesn’t care… but much like David, I remember that His word really is firmly fixed in the heavens; His faithfulness truly does endure to all generations. He is the supreme being, the only One who can cause the earth to continue, or with a word, to cease to exist.

It is for this reason that His law is and must be my delight, for without it, how could I stand? On those bleak and dreary days of adversity, I find it most helpful to turn my thoughts away from myself to the goodness of my God.

It is for this reason that I am working on adding this psalm to the other verses, passages, and chapters of Scripture already tucked into my memory. I not only never want to forget His precepts, I want to know them as well as I know the lines of my own hands.

Sometimes in the darkness words of devotion fail me utterly. At such times I find I can whisper those precious praises contained in the Scriptures. Reciting the adoring words written by others or remembering the promises of God lovingly tucked into His word — even recalling the rightness of my Father’s loving chastisement — these things called up from memory breathe new life into my faith when it falters.

Even now in the midst of a continuing physical trial, I cry out to my Maker, “I am Yours; save me!” And I know He will.

My God, save me from my tendency to doubt, save me from the wicked in this world, save me from the wickedness within my own heart. You have saved me once and for all with the blood of my Lord Jesus; continue to save me daily lest I forget You and drift away. Save me from my indolence and my faithlessness. Save me from my own, wrong motives. I am entirely Yours. Save me and do with me as You will.

Endurance: Psalms 119:81-88

Psalms 119:81-88

How long must your servant endure?

The psalmist has penned much concerning affliction in the last few stanzas. In this one it seems that he is nearing the end of himself. I do not know what was going on in the life of our author when he wrote these words, but I am sure any who have followed the Way for very long at all can understand the sentiment behind them.

These are words written during those times when faith is proved genuine, those times when there is nothing left but faith.

The circumstances have been unfavorable for long enough that even the memory of them has no sustaining power. The believer finds himself alone, surrounded by indifferent strangers at the best of times, malicious enemies at the worst.  All comfort has gone.

Perhaps, like Job, even family and health have been removed, or perhaps it is merely an internal period of stifling darkness that St. John of the Cross spoke of as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Whatever the cause, the believer fits the description in Isaiah 54:11, “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted…”  There is nothing tangible to cling to, nothing visible to offer comfort.

But there is faith.

It is here in these dark and tormented valleys that the believer’s faith is tried and found secure because it is not rooted in ephemeral assets such as vitality, prosperity, or the warm comfort of loved ones. This is where the foundation of faith is exposed to the brutal elements, yet it endures because it is heavily entrenched in the Eternal God, the unchanging Rock.

Here, the footsore and weary believer may plead to see the promises of God with his own eyes, believing that even if this dark night lasts for all the years allotted to him in this body, he will someday see the fulfillment of the eternal promise in Christ.

Yes, weeping may last for a terribly long night, but take courage, Believer. Joy will come  at last on the morning of the great Day of the Lord… if it does not come before.

Oh, Lord, for those who are enduring times of crushing pain or persecution, let Your joy come to them soon!

His Hands: Psalm 119:73-80

Psalms 119:73-80

“Your hands have made and fashioned me…”

These mighty hands that flung the stars into place, that gathered seas and formed land,  that formed the mighty elephant and the delicate butterfly also have made an d fashioned you and me. Isn’t it incredible?

The opening verse of this stanza also calls to mind Psalm 139:13-14:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

To think that the same wonderful hands that created us will also be there to guide our steps with firmness or gentleness as needed is comforting to me. The Mighty God who  formed me has not left me alone to figure things out on my own, but He Himself will provide the understanding that I need to walk in a manner pleasing to Him. He is neither remote nor uncaring. Instead,  He is as actively involved in shaping me now as He was on that day His skillful hands first formed me.

I need reminders like these from time to time, for there are seasons when God does seem to be far off or aloof. Yet, like the Psalmist, I have that unshakable knowledge that His rules are righteous. When I am afflicted by His silence, it is in faithfulness that He afflicts me — and far too often the silence is a result of me wandering from His side and not the other way round.

That His steadfast love will always be there to comfort me when I return is a promise I treasure intensely.  It is because of His love and mercy that I can delight in His laws; it is because He is good that I know His rules and ways are good.

These are promises that are sure and steadfast, more certain than the sunrise and longer lasting than the very rocks of this world.  May it be said of all of us that those who fear our God will rejoice along with us. May it be that we, too, seek to be blameless in His statutes and to share His testimonies with all the listening world.

There is great joy to be had in the Living Word. Let us start the new year right by meditating on His wonderful precepts and rejoicing together in His promises!

Affliction: Psalm 119:65-72

Psalms 119:65-72

“You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord…”

I can honestly say that the Lord has dealt well with me. When it comes down to it, I am often shocked that He has dealt with me at all.  My Creator would be well within reason had He chosen to annihilate me for the rebellion of my youth, yet He patiently waited for me, watching as my youthful fury burned itself out in futility until the time came when I realized that all the worldly wisdom I had embraced was empty, that a life lived for myself by my own invented principles was meaningless.

I was afflicted, both by the choices of others when I was small and by my own decisions as a young adult. Acting in what I believed was freedom, I found myself chained more securely by my choices than I would have been by the God I rejected. He found me there, in utter darkness of soul and thoroughly disillusioned, and He extended forgiveness and mercy. He began to show me the Truth and how to walk in it.

In the most incredible act of love the world has ever known, my King paid the penalty of my defiance with His own blood. Regardless of my state of affairs in this world, how can I not say, “You have dealt well with Your servant?”

Had I not been brought so low, my heart would never have softened enough to allow Him access. It is truly good for me that I was afflicted, and now I know that a life lived according to His statutes is true freedom. Now, I endeavor to keep His word, not out of obligation or duty, but from love and the understanding that my Father knows what I can not. His law is my delight.

Even still, each time my King has allowed some hardship or infirmity to come into my life, it has always proved good for me. Sometimes affliction has uncovered some area of sin that I had blinded myself to, other times it has served to either strengthen my faith or to prove it against some trial.

I do not always enjoy these times of discipline or difficulty, but even in the most grievous of such times, I can now look back and see how each prior instance has led to growth, to a deepening of faith, to a more profound love for my God. I can remember that He always deals well with me.

In times when I feel hard-pressed, I remember that a grape or an olive is a good thing, yet only when they are crushed do they yield their most desirable products.  Neither olive oil nor wine are obtained without bruising the fruit. I do so want my life to be as a fine wine or a fragrant oil to my Lord.

Yes, He has dealt well with me, perhaps especially in allowing affliction.

Lord, teach me, teach us good judgement and knowledge, for we truly do believe in Your commandments. Let us not lose heart when difficulty comes but remember Your goodness and how well You have already dealt with us. May we learn from You and deal well with others, offering Godly counsel and encouragement to those who are going through afflictions now, amen. 

My Portion: Psalm 119:51-64

Psalms 119:57-64

The LORD is my portion…

There is a rich word picture given in the first words of this week’s passage.  In his Treasury of David, Spurgeon points out that the first words of verse 57, “The Lord is my portion,” are only two words in the original Hebrew. He believes it is written almost as an exclamation of wonder: chêleq yehôvâh — My portion, Lord!  To have the Almighty as one’s own portion! Now that is something to shout about.

In the modern vernacular, the word “portion” often conjures up the thought of how much food a person ought to eat: smaller portion, super-size portions.  However, in the psalmist’s time,  portion referred either to one’s inheritance or to a person’s share of a meal, sacrifice, or the plunder from a victorious battle.

So then, to have the Lord as our portion is to have an eagerly awaited and wonderful share in the Glorious Presence.  Our share in the feast of the Bread of Life, our part of the sacrificial Lamb of God, our spoil from the victory of the battle against sin and death — if He is our portion, what a tremendous portion we have!

As we ponder what it means to have God as our portion, let’s briefly consider the remainder of the stanza. For my part, I need the subsequent reminder in verse 58 not to take my Portion for granted. I need to entreat His favor, not because He is reluctant to bestow it, but because I often forget that it is not mine by right but only by His graciousness and mercy.

Much of the content in the remaining verses in this passage may be looked upon as guidelines or indicators that the Lord is, indeed, our portion. The psalmist writes of examining his ways and turning his feet back into the path of God as well as prompt obedience to the Lord’s commands.

He also speaks of the cords of the wicked, indicating that he does not forget the Word in the midst of persecution. He keeps company with others who fear God, possibly due to the very human need for accountability. At the end of the stanza, he is the perpetual student, understanding that he will always need coaching in the Lord’s ways and praising the God whose love fills the whole world .

Good advice. May we all learn to follow such steps as the psalmist, taking care in our walk with God that we do not slip or stray.

So my friends, as we enter the season of Advent, I hope that the Lord is your portion, too. I hope that together we can think on our ways, turn our feet toward His testimonies, and encourage one another to keep His precepts.

This season, let’s not get caught up in the mayhem of greed nor forget that all the Christmas presents we give or receive are transitory. The true Gift of Christmas is Jesus, and what He gave was His life, given as a ransom in our place and paying in full the tremendous debt of sin we had against God.

That is our portion, our ultimate Christmas Present, and it will neither break nor fade nor be lost. Our salvation is secure in Christ forever.   Praise be to God on High!

C. H. Spurgeon on Psalm 119:53

I simply had to share this insight from Charles Spurgeon, taken from his Morning and Evening Devotions.  If time allows, I may add my own meditation later in the week, but for now just enjoy this wonderful reflection on verse 53!

As an aside:  If you have a smart phone or tablet, the book is public domain and many copies are free to download.  I highly recommend it as a family or personal devotional. In our family, we read this together than everyone has their own, personal time with the Lord and His word separately.

Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law.

Psalms 119:53

“My soul, feelest thou this holy shuddering at the sins of others? for otherwise thou lackest inward holiness. David’s cheeks were wet with rivers of waters because of prevailing unholiness; Jeremiah desired eyes like fountains that he might lament the iniquities of Israel, and Lot was vexed with the conversation of the men of Sodom. Those upon whom the mark was set in Ezekiel’s vision, were those who sighed and cried for the abominations of Jerusalem.

It cannot but grieve gracious souls to see what pains men take to go to hell. They know the evil of sin experimentally, and they are alarmed to see others flying like moths into its blaze. Sin makes the righteous shudder, because it violates a holy law, which it is to every man’s highest interest to keep; it pulls down the pillars of the commonwealth. Sin in others horrifies a believer, because it puts him in mind of the baseness of his own heart: when he sees a transgressor he cries with the saint mentioned by Bernard, “He fell to-day, and I may fall to-morrow.”

Sin to a believer is horrible, because it crucified the Saviour; he sees in every iniquity the nails and spear. How can a saved soul behold that cursed kill-Christ sin without abhorrence? Say, my heart, dost thou sensibly join in all this? It is an awful thing to insult God to his face. The good God deserves better treatment, the great God claims it, the just God will have it, or repay his adversary to his face.

An awakened heart trembles at the audacity of sin, and stands alarmed at the contemplation of its punishment. How monstrous a thing is rebellion! How direful a doom is prepared for the ungodly! My soul, never laugh at sin’s fooleries, lest thou come to smile at sin itself. It is thine enemy, and thy Lord’s enemy-view it with detestation, for so only canst thou evidence the possession of holiness, without which no man can see the Lord.”

Finding My Delight: Psalm 119:41-48

Psalm 119:41-48

…for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.

In an impulsive moment, I recently commented on a somewhat controversial conversation thread on social media; something I rarely do. As is typical with my impulses, I later regretted it and went back to delete my comment. “Rash words are as the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing,” — words from the Proverbs that it would be well for me to live by always.

However, as is His habit, my great Teacher does not let my mistakes go to waste. Instead, He has had me ponder why I ever felt the need to have my say in the first place. It was not a case of “always being prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within” me. It was just a moment where I saw some of the thoughts that had been swirling in my head put partially into print by someone else. I felt a moment of identification and I responded.

While there may be nothing inherently wrong with the above scenario, I must be honest that there was something wrong with my motives. Ignore, for the moment, the fact that my remark was made spontaneously and with little thought and was not even representative of a fully fleshed-out idea. My error lay less in that (though it is a problem in its own right) and more in the fact that I was not finding my sense of acceptance and delight in God’s Word alone.

I know, I know, we are social beings, made to be social and operate in community. I have heard that, too. But what does it mean, really? How “social” are we actually being on the sorely misnamed social media platforms? To have a genuine conversation over a cup of tea with a live, flesh-and-blood person is a social activity. Commenting on a Facebook thread is nothing more than counterfeit community. But I digress…

The biggest problem lies in looking for confirmation from any source other than my heavenly Father. The fact is that, no matter where I find myself, whether before kings or before preschoolers, there is no human being who can fully fulfill the need for community that I have because not only are all human beings twisted by sin, the very need that I have is twisted by sin.

God  is gracious to give me a family and excellent friendships, yet He has never hesitated to point out to me the frailty of such relationships in a fallen world. In so many ways, the very community I find myself a part of, while wonderful and often vibrant, still points to the need for the unchanging Rock of my salvation.  Friends may move away. Circumstances often constrain the time we have for one another. Mistakes and, yes, rash words can cause injuries or rifts in relationships. People die.

I firmly believe that God allows a deep, soul-shaking lonesomeness to plague His own from time to time to remind us that He is our primary source of companionship and the only One who can truly fulfill our needs. Perhaps a sense of loneliness can also serve as a reminder that we are not yet at home. He will one day come to physically receive His bride to bliss. Until then, we have His word in which to take delight.

When I speak out of the turmoil of my heart, out of my own sometimes conflicting thoughts and emotions, I am frequently shamed by what spills out. However, if I find my delight in My Lord’s words, if I speak of His testimonies and lift up my empty hands to His word, then “I will not be put to shame.”

Once refocused, I do find my delight in His commandments, which I love. And when I do delight in His word, the burden of my need for connection or reassurance is shifted to the only pair of shoulders that can bear it — the mighty shoulders that have already borne the weight of humanity’s sins –those belonging to Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Teach Me: Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40

Sometimes the days are all blue skies and sunshine, fluffy white clouds and a fine fragrance borne on the breeze.  Sometimes your home school looks exactly like one of those curriculum catalogs in which the respectful, eager student is cuddled next to Professor Mom on the couch, and smiles are more abundant than raindrops in spring. Sometimes your extended family exemplifies love and forgiveness, and all is well with the world.

And sometimes not.

Here we are, not even a half-dozen Hebrew letters into our acrostic and the world erupts into a zillion disordered bits of chaos and disconnectedness — or at least my little corner of it has. Suddenly, there is no hiding the reality of the sin nature. It is there, vivid and angry, breathing hot breath right into your face and daring you to deny its existence.

For me, last week was one of those that leaves you feeling helpless, useless, and empty of purpose. An already rotten home school year seemed to come to some sort of appalling climax. An incident involving my extended family escalated into a full-blown conflict, and my heart was broken many times over in so many ways I cannot even begin to list them even if I were so inclined.

Yet despite the horribleness of everything, I know my Rock is still there. Still, the week was a distressing reminder of how much I have yet to learn in following my King.  I find myself crying out every day, “Teach me, O Lord!”

For the matters here at home, I have done a lot of soul-searching to find out if I am at fault for the problems in my home school.  Perhaps I have been too strict or too lenient, too lax or overly managerial. Maybe I have required too much of the kids. Maybe I have not required enough.

Wherever the fault lies, the bald fact is that I have reached a point where I am drowning. All three kids have seemed to hit a spiritual, emotional, and academic slump at the same time, and there seems to be nothing I can do but persist in prayer and slog through the necessaries each day. I have no idea what else to do.

“Teach me, O Lord!”

Sometimes a person just needs a sobering reminder of how desperately she needs teaching. Sometimes, she needs to plead for understanding because everything she has ever tried before has fallen short. Sometimes, she just needs the strength of her God not to fall into the sin of hopelessness. Sometimes she needs her Guide to literally  her eyes from the worthlessness of despair and she must pray fervently for life in His ways.

And so, this week I pray:

Teach me, O Lord, how to remain humble and teachable. Teach me not to give up but to be diligent to the very end.

Give me understanding so I miss nothing in Your word and the wisdom to obey it.

Lead me on the paths You know to be safe and sure and teach me to delight in Your way even when the going is rough and other paths appear more friendly.

Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to any form of selfishness, be it laziness, unforgiveness, greed, or anything else.

Turn my eyes from looking at the worthless ways of this world, from trinkets and distractions, from my “rights” and from self, for in self-focus is death. Give me life in You alone, my King.

Confirm Your promise to me and teach my heart appropriate reverence and respect. Do not allow me to forget who You are and the undeserved mercy You have given me.

Turn away the reproach that I not only dread but well deserve. Remind me that Your rules are good even when the days are long and dreary and full of pain.

I long for You, O Lord; to be freed from the body of this death and revived in the righteous life of my Lord Christ!