Psalm 119:9-32 Passiontide Begins. 21st March.
God of every blessing. we invite you now to shape our souls with your words in the psalms and inspire our lives with your works. Teach us to walk with you in your ways and teach us more fully and deeper, how to pray. Amen.
At school, did you ever have one of those poetry exercises – you know where you have to write a poem, with each line beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. I remember them well and how much hassle they were. They probably did stretch my brain how to write about a subject but I didn’t appreciate it at the time.
Psalm 119 is like those poems. We read through Psalm 119 last winter. Your Bibles will tell you that is an alphabetic or acrostic psalm. It has 22 8 line stanzas or sections. The verses of each stanza begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So, using our alphabet, you have 8 lines of words beginning eg with the letter B; then next section / stanza of 8 lines, each begin with the letter C and so on. Your bibles usually tell you the Hebrew letter. It could all feel artificial. But listen to what this scholar says: ‘’The author has a theme that filled his soul, a theme as big as life, that ranged the length, breadth, height, depth of a person’s walk with God. Nothing less than the use of the full power of language would suffice, and of that, the alphabet was a most apt symbol…’’ A theme that filled his life and nothing less than the full power of language would suffice!
This Psalm has been called the Golden ABC of the Word of God.
As we listen to these words, we also remember what Reformer Martin Luther said.
‘The great value of the psalms is that it relates not only to the works and deeds of the saints.
But also shows their words. … The psalter holds you to the communion of the saints…For it teaches you in joy, fear, hope, sorrow to think and to speak as all the saints have thought and spoken.’’ (Luther quoted by Ellen Davis.)
Let’s listen to this anonymous OT saint, about the theme that filled his life.
HOW can a young man keep his way pure? What a good question. Many of us wonder – as parents, grandparents, as young men and women. His question – how is it possible? The answer is inward and it is a choice. A few lines before he said: ‘’O that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees’ – he longs for a better life. Now he says, he will focus his longing upon God and his Word.
How can a young person – or any person – keep their way pure? He feels the pressure. Inside. Outside.
He shares the possibility of a pure life, depends upon the direction of our will, the contents of our minds and memory, what we speak and talk about, about our emotions and what we think on. Line by line he reveals this in these 8 verses.
He says: to keep your way pure, begins with the direction of the will, of what is going on inside you. What does the core of who you are, what does your heart seek? The psalmist – his heart ‘’I seek you – the Lord – with all my heart.’’ He choose deliberately to seek the Lord, his whole inner being will search and be directed to the Lord.
To be pure. What is your direction he asks.
To be pure. What is stored up in you. What is in your heart? To become pure depends on the contents inside you. His heart is stored up with the word.
To be pure, what are the contents of your mind and memory?
To be pure. What is on your lips. ‘’With my lips I recount’’ the gossip of about others,
with my lips, I criticize my friends or my spouse or my children.
For the psalmist. With my lips, I recount all the laws that come from God’s mouth.
Talking to ourselves, talking to others, our conversations to be soaked with what God has spoken.
To be pure, what do you regularly speak about?
To be pure, what engages our emotions? ‘I rejoice in following your statutes, as one rejoices in great riches.’ I rejoice in God’s word as I rejoice when Ajax win; I rejoice in God’s word as I rejoice when I get that new job; I rejoice in God’s word as I rejoice when I get flowers…
And the thoughts. ‘’I meditate on your precepts’’. Psalm 1 gives us a huge challenge and huge promise: Blessed is the person whose delight in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.’’ A big challenge to think and chew on the word. Day and Night. Often. Regularly.
A big promise. Even in the drought. He could have been describing Corona.
He can be like a tree by water which produces fruit.
To be pure. What mostly engages your emotions and thought?
It is all about choice, is what we hear this person praying.
We hear his words to God: I am determined. To seek, to hide your word within, to recount, to rejoice.
The person praying. He focus is the Lord and his word. Where are we at with God’s word at the moment? What patterns are helping you? What no longer work? Have you just stopped reading?
For some of us, it is about taking a few verses again, and chewing on them. For others, it is about reading big chunks again. What pattern works for you.
Phil Pusey was the great boss of Youth for Christ in Burton on Trent. Wonderful man. Preached at Jolanda and my wedding. Phil had a very hectic family life. Young family at the time Jolanda worked in his team. He knew he could not spend quality time with God and his word at home, due to home life and helping with the kids and being a dad. So he chose. He decided to, once a week, to come into the office, much earlier, before his team arrived, to spend quality time with God. Once a week. That was his anchor. He grabbed time and moments each day sure. He worshipped in a lively bible based church. But his personal time, to have quality time, he made a choice. He knew things were no longer working in the season of life he was in. He wasn’t prepared to wait til things got less busy at home – parents we all know that day never comes!
A choice which added into his diary. A choice which made changes. A choice he knew he needed to make. To be that tree by streams of water. To be able to give to others.
Persecution and teach me
The prayer moves on – whether the same day or another section written later…
He is in distressing circumstances. He faces persecution in fact. And not just from a neighbor who doesn’t like that fact he sings loud at home as he watches an online service. The powerful, the popular, the ones people like to be around, slander him, tell lies about him. He faces scorn and contempt.
We see now a double prayer.
For deeper insight from Yahweh, for his life, through the Torah.
For deliverance. He is a man seeking to live by God’s word, who seeks the Lord with his heart. And he has opposition. He faces persecution. Persection and mockery can come to us as we seek to follow the word. Paul told Timothy ‘ everyone who seeks to live a godly life will be persecuted.’’ And as Passiontide begins, Jesus at the start of Holy Week, tells Andrew and Philip, that death is coming towards Jesus. He will be lifted up. He will suffer. Be persecuted by the powerful, the rulers – in fact Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we will see the rulers sit together and slander Jesus, we will see him on trial and on the cross receive mockery and contempt.
And he tells Andrew and Philip – two apostles who will be martyred for him years later – ‘’Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant will also be.’’ Passontide reminds us, as we follow the suffering persecuted one, persecution will come into our lives because we follow the persecuted one. The words of psalm 119 can also easily become our words in times ahead.
But what is the choice of Jesus? In all he faces. ‘’Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour, No it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’’
The psalmist imitates Jesus. There difficulties he faces. He feels like a stranger an alien where he currently lives. Yet he does not seek earthly comfort, provision, or even to go home or move away, but what he seeks, a knowledge of God’s word – for him it is an all consuming longing. At whatever the cost for him, even the disapproval of the ones who are popular or powerful or influential, the Lord’s word’s will dominate his mind, emotions and the practical ways he lives his life. He has pressure to back off being a follower of God. He will not.
There is a popular bible reading plan – by c19th Scottish minister Robert Murray McCheyne. By it you would read the whole bible once a year. There were sections for personal and family reading. He says: the bible portions read, would be greatly illuminated if preceded by a moment’s silent prayer ‘’Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.’’ V 18.
It struck me. He asks God to ‘teach me your statutes / law etc’ .
There is a song by Parrell Williams in Despicable Me 3 called Hug me … Hug me, bring it in. The psalmists keeps saying: Teach me, bring it in.
‘’Teach me’’ is repeated 8 times throughout the psalm.
I was struck. Because the psalmist, he has the word. He has his mind. He has knowledge. He has perhaps wise people in his family or maybe people he listens to, who share about the scriptures. But despite all this. Lord, teach me. He seeks the illumination of God’s Spirit as he reads. You could say. He knows the words are from God – he wants God to teach him how it all applies, or to see the parts he misses.
I remember, at OM being taught about reading the bible and that when we read the Bible, we all wear glasses. Glasses mean – assumption, particularly cultural ones, but also ones shaped by life experience, or what others said to us, or even what society or social media tells us. We read the bible through lens. To be aware of what may be coloring our reading of the bible. Or even that big spot or scrape on our glasses so we don’t see as we could.
Teach me, the psalmist prays.
Paul – writes to Timothy – in probably his last letter before his martyrdom, and he tells him: ‘’All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’’ The scriptures apply across all situations in life, God’s will, how to follow Jesus… all here.
We say to the one who breathed the scriptures – teach me, bring it in!
V25-32 Daleth – Under Pressure
The person is facing acute stress. ‘I am laid low in the dust, my soul is weary with sorrow.’ It is a cry for help. The word used – for laid low – can mean, I cling / I cleave is one that is also used how a man and women shall we united to one another. So close together.
He feels so close to the dust, so ground down into it…
He is so crushed. He faces, humiliation, which laid in the dust can mean, real weariness – my soul is weary – temptation – keep me from deceitful ways.; and facing possible disappointments ‘do not let me be put to shame.’
The past year of Corona, we may look back and see how those words could sum it up for some of us. Stress, weariness, disappointment, temptation, laid low. He brings these to God. He shares how he feels in all its detail. He tells God how he has been hurt. He tells him his fears. He comes in prayer because ‘I recounted my ways and you answered me’’ – he has had prayer answered before, and be prays seeking answers again.
Where have you been laid low? Where have been the temptations? Where have been the disappointments?
Do we bring them to the Lord? As we shared a couple of weeks ago. The psalms, where the majority is lament, gives you permission – as the psalmist does here – to bring it all to the Lord. To pray through your disappointments, for the words of psalms like this give you the words to pray and say to God. God I don’t know how to express it, but these words sum things up: God I am weary. I am laid low.
Eugene Peterson shares: Better to pray badly, than not to pray at all.’
As I have shared before, when I was in training as a minister, my girlfriend Claire died, due to heart failure. My college were great in their support and I have a number of weeks off. Spent time with her family. One of the ways, looking back that was helpful, was that near their home, there was a lot of woods. And I got into a habit of going for a long walk each afternoon after lunch and talking to God, telling him everything I was feeling, thinking, including stuff looking back probably was pretty daft or selfish. I knew he heard me as a I wandered around woods in a January. My soul’s articulation, praying through my disappointment and pain. One particularly hard time, I remember, in my room, asking God, why did I meet Claire? If I had never met her I wouldn’t have felt all that pain and grief at my loss. In that moment maybe of total honesty, God spoke. A sentence came into my mind which, while it did not answer all things, it was a great help and in away, healed part of my grief. But I was honest – raw honest – what I thought, or felt. I was fortunate. God spoke at the moment. That was rare. But in the woods as I walked around, I know he listend and he gave me permission to share it all with him.
The psalmist is under pressure, and he models this turning to the Lord. His words : 7 prayers in 8 verses. Prayer strength from the word in the situation, for ultimately a favorable outcome in the situation he faces, but he prays further: for renewal – that he can be preserved, for grace to keep on the right way despite the pressure, for progress in his knowledge of God. He looks to the Lord to preserve him, to strength him to be gracious to him.
The psalms give us permission to bring to God : our hopes, dreams, struggles, victories, needs and cares. As Paul reminds us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’’
The psalmist prays about the theme that fills his life.
He states his choice.
Yet he does not live in a bubble. He faces persecution, yet cries out ‘teach me!’. He is under great pressure, yet he brings it all to God, while committing to continue faithfully trusting and following and seeking to live a Word Shaped Life.
Let your word be the treasure of our hearts, that we may delight in your truth and walk in your ways. I want to make good choices. I want to live a life that is pure. Teach me, bring it in. Open your word that I may see wonderful things within it. Reassure me that in all the situations I face – simply by choosing to follow your son – I can bring it all to you.
In Jesus Name.