This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Psalm 119 - Zayin

Sometimes as a Christian seeks to walk in God's ways, he faces opposition and times of difficulty. There are times when it seems his walk is all uphill; the footing is uncertain, the wind is blowing against him, and others on the path are bumping into him as they rush the other way. In times like these, the Christian must look to the Word for comfort.

In this passage, the psalmist refers to such a time of opposition. He is facing affliction (v. 50). He is being utterly derided by those around him (v. 51). The iniquity of the wicked is so flagrant that his spirit burns with indignation (v. 53). The psalmist mentions no one who is encouraging him in God's ways - only the opposite.

Walking faithfully in God's ways is a challenge. Previous stanzas have referred to the struggle within oneself to continually do what is right. In addition to internal struggles, opposition can also come from coworkers, friends, and family. Even other Christians, satisfied with a nominal Christianity, may try to moderate a vibrant Christian; they do not want the unspoken rebuke of a truly dedicated testimony.

Opposition also comes from the source mentioned here: the world in general is no friend to a dedicated Christian. By no stretch of the imagination is society pushing or encouraging Christians in a quest toward godliness. Just like the people in this psalm, the world flagrantly forsakes God's law (v. 53) and ridicules anyone who tries to keep it (v. 51). It is already a challenge to try to live for God; in this world, a Christian receives no encouragement, but rather faces constant opposition.

Was the psalmist impacted by this antagonism? Yes, he was. In verses 49 and 50, he describes a situation in which he needed hope and needed to be revived. The hostility he faced did affect him and threatened to drag him down. Thankfully, however, he did not give in or give up. He did not remain in a hopeless situation. He drew comfort from the Word and pressed on; verses 51, 52, 55, and 56 speak of his faithfulness to remember and keep God's ways.

Remember is an important word in this stanza. The psalmist could not receive comfort from God's Word if he did not remember it - but he did remember (vs. 52 & 55). As he remembered, he also asked God to remember (v. 49). As the psalmist remembered God's Word, he was reassured of its promised help and comfort. God's ordinances are from "of old" (v. 52). His promises have been effective and sufficient for people since the beginning of time, and those tried-and-true promises will be effective for this man as well. All that is necessary is for God to remember and act on what is contained in His Word. That is what the psalmist asks for; he merely reminds God of His Word and asks Him to act based on it. He knows that this will result in comfort.

There is no danger of God ever forgetting. He knows His Word and the promises it contains. He knows His nature as revealed in the Word. He knows His love for His children. He will always act based on His promises, His nature, and His love. It is entirely fitting for Christians to remind God of these things and to humbly ask for Him to act accordingly. Help will come just as the Word promises. When things are ugly and difficult, God's Word has always given comfort and always will.

One important realization by the psalmist is that this world with its surrounding opposition is not his home. He is on a pilgrimage (v. 54). The negative influences and the threatening hostility that surround him are only temporary. In time they will pass, and the psalmist will be taken to his real home, a place where all opposition will cease. Instead he will be forever surrounded only by things that uplift God and righteousness.

Meanwhile, the psalmist finds comfort in remembering God's Word. In this stanza that speaks of opposition, there are more words referring to hope than to affliction. He has hope in God's Word (v. 49). He has comfort and has been revived by it (v. 50). He again speaks of comfort in verse 52. In verse 53, he speaks of the songs that he sings. These comforts from God's Word are so present with him that he remembers them even in the night (v. 55).

The opposition that a Christian faces is real. It can be discouraging, but it does not have to be destructive or devastating. Comfort comes by remembering the Word of God with its promises that will not fail. These promises and the faithful God who gave them will uphold and comfort the Christian through this earthly pilgrimage, until he reaches his real home in heaven where all affliction will cease.

"This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me." Psalm 119:50 (NASB)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Psalm 119 - Vav

This stanza reveals how the quest to walk in God's ways begins to affect the way the psalmist lives his life. He is becoming aware of potential changes and differences that will come in some fundamental areas as he receives the lovingkindness and salvation promised according to God's Word (v. 41). That lovingkindness will lead to the results listed in the following verses.

First, the psalmist will know what to say. When others reproach him, he won't be left helpless or speechless. He will have an answer, and that answer will be based on the Word of God (v. 42). When he speaks, he will be able to speak the truth, because his words will be based on God's words (v. 43). Even in intimidating situations, he will still know and be able to speak the truth (v. 46). The psalmist expects to enjoy this facility with his speech because of his confidence in the Word as he trusts in it (v. 42).

Second, the psalmist will be able to walk at liberty. As he receives God's lovingkindness, he will be able to keep God's law. He will be able to keep the law forever, because the law is dependable (v. 44). Therefore, he will always know the right thing to do. This consistency will give a level of liberty, as he will not have to battle with mysteries or constantly changing expectations (v. 45). With his reliance in the Word, he will not have the pressure of having to determine on his own the right thing to do.

Third, the psalmist will have guidance for his thoughts. His meditation on the Word means that his mind is constantly filled with God's thoughts. This meditation is actually what will prepare him with the right words to say and stabilize him with the knowledge of what to do. The meditation will also have an impact on his spirit. It will cause him to fall in love with the Word and to delight in it (vs. 47-48). This positive spirit will impact his everyday life.

With his trust in the Word which he has received through God's lovingkindness, the psalmist will be able to handle his words correctly, walk in liberating confidence, and maintain spiritual thoughts and a positive spirit. His dependence on the Word will have a noticeable effect on the way he lives life. In each of these areas, trust in the Word of God as the foundation will give stability and assurance as the psalmist operates based on truth. This truth is an anchor far more reliable than his own thoughts, instincts, or opinions.

"May Your lovingkindness also come to me, O LORD, Your salvation according to Your word." Psalm 119:41 (NASB)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Psalm 119 - He

While in some stanzas the psalmist talks about God, either to an unspecified audience or within himself, in this stanza he talks exclusively to God. Some of his previous talking to God was to share his heart's passion or to declare what he had already done or was determining to do. In this stanza his talking to God consists entirely of prayer for help. Each verse contains at least one request; verse 37 has two. The author recognizes his inability to live the way he wants to live, and he asks God to do everything necessary to make that happen.

The psalmist's prayers are based on his fervent desire to walk in God's ways. He very much wants to do the right thing. In verse 35 he speaks of his delight to walk in God's ways. He wants to have reverence toward God (v. 38).  He sees God's Word as good (v. 39), and he longs for it (v. 40).
This man is willing to put action to his desire. He wants God to do His work, but as God works, the psalmist's intent is to obey whatever God shows him. If God will teach him and grant him understanding, then he is resolved to follow His ways to the end (v. 33) and with all his heart (v.34).

These prayers for help are perhaps rooted partly in the reality of failure noted in the previous stanza; they are also in part because the psalmist recognizes the wickedness within his own heart. He needs God's help because he knows where his heart wants to go on its own. Naturally, he would turn to dishonest gain, but he wants God to incline his heart toward the Word instead (v. 36). Without God's revival and intervention, this man's eyes turn toward vanity, worthless things that don't really matter (v. 37).

The psalmist dreads the consequences of these natural tendencies; he knows they will lead only to reproach (v. 39). Therefore, he prays repeatedly for God's help; any spiritual success will be not because of his own righteousness, but only because of God's righteousness working in him (v. 40). Because of his weakness, he does not limit his prayers to asking for God's teaching. He does ask for that (vs. 33-34), but he also asks for God's work in his spirit. He asks God to pull his heart toward the right desires and away from the wrong desires (v. 36-37). Twice he asks God to revive him (vs. 37 & 40). There is an internal work that must be done before he is able to obey externally.

The psalmist has repeatedly expressed his determination to walk in God's ways. "I shall keep Your statutes" (v. 8). "I shall not forget Your word" (v. 16). "I shall run the way of Your commandments" (v. 32). He continues his determination in this stanza: "I shall observe it to the end" (v. 33). He has mixed his determination with prayer in previous stanzas, but never yet to the extent that he does in this stanza, where he thoroughly bathes his determination with prayer for God's help. In fact, in this stanza he identifies God's help as a prerequisite for his spiritual success. The work of God comes first, and his obedience results only after God's intervention.

This is not the only Scripture to identify the essentiality of God's intervention in order for spiritual growth to occur. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul speaks at length of his struggle to do what is right. Paul's desire was right; he states, "I joyfully concur with the law of God" (v. 22). He very much wanted to do the right thing, but gives this evaluation in verse 18: "The willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not." Paul identifies the answer to his dilemma in verse 25; the only one able to give him victory is Jesus Christ. Even his desire came from God, however - a truth he identifies very clearly in Philippians 2:13: "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

This passion to walk in God's ways cannot be achieved on one's own. Any Christian relying entirely on determination or effort will fail. The desire to walk in God's ways is a work of God. This does not free a Christian from the responsibility of longing for God's ways, striving to walk in them, or placing himself in a position in which he can grow. It does mean, however, that those aspects must be accompanied with prayer. In addition to prayer for help in knowing the right way and following the right way, there must also be prayer for help in wanting the right way.

"Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it." Psalm 119: 35 (NASB)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Psalm 119 - Daleth

Anyone who has ever made a decision to live for God can relate to the psalmist in this stanza. The moment of decision or dedication can be very exciting. It can be extremely peaceful in contrast to the preceding battle. It can be a time of confident determination and firm resolve. It can be emotionally uplifting.

Many times, however, those positive thoughts and feelings fade all too quickly. The reality of life rushes in. The awareness of the outworking of what has been promised reveals itself. Perhaps most disheartening is the inevitable failure to follow through on all that has been resolved. The reality of weak humanity means that the firmest of resolves wavers; the excitement fades, and the spiritual high can quickly plummet into the dismal disappointment of unachieved aspirations.

Following God faithfully isn't as easy as simply deciding to do it. A closer walk with God does not come solely because the determination has been made. Such endeavors are life-long pursuits, and the journey is filled with a progression of ups and downs. The victories will be mingled with failures, and some of those failures may be so intense that they seem to deny the possibility of success.

The psalmist begins the stanza with a heart-cry of failure. "My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word" (v. 25). Verse 28 speaks of his weeping and grief. He is troubled by the false way that still plagues him (v. 29),  and he refers to the potential of shame coming to him due to his failure (v. 31).

In this disappointing soul-searching, the psalmist knows the solution. He needs to know God's truth. His understanding is still too shallow. He prays, "Teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts" (vs. 26-27). The more he comes to understand God's Word and know His ways, the more strengthened he will be, and the more able to walk faithfully in the right ways.

The psalmist's resolve has not changed. If anything, it is stronger now and more determined than before. He has realized that his growth will not be immediate and that his spiritual endeavors will not be perfect. With that knowledge, he is determined to follow God anyway. "I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies" (vs. 30-31).

With his knowledge of the solution and his determination to persevere, the psalmist also utilizes the right approach. He turns to God for help. This stanza contains seven prayers for God's help: revive me, teach me, make me understand, strengthen me, remove the false way, grant me Your law, do not put me to shame. This man is fully aware of his personal inability to do what is right; he must have God's help and God's enabling.

The psalmist also has a good understanding of God's character. He knows he has not lived up to what God desires, and he is rightfully humbled and broken. He weeps over his inability to understand and follow through with God's instruction. Very importantly, however, he looks for God's gracious response to such humility. God understands the frailty of the human frame. Instead of waiting to pounce upon this man's failure or give up on him, God is patient to progressively teach more and more of His Word, and He is gracious to do so gently. The psalmist fully expects God to answer his prayers, resulting in success in his walking the right way. "I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart" (v. 32).

The psalmist's failure is not due to a lack of resolve. It is not because of an absence of love for God. In reality, it all comes down to maturity. He knows God's Word - just not well enough yet. He is eliminating wrong things from his life - but the process is still ongoing. In order to please God and walk faithfully in His ways, this man (like all Christians) must continue to remove erroneous thoughts and philosophies and replace them with  a solid understanding of God's ways. The psalmist prays for this very thing in verse 29.

"Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law." Psalm 119:29 (NASB)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Psalm 119 - Gimel

In this stanza, the psalmist continues to express his desire to walk in God's ways. Within that passion, three ideas emerge. First, the psalmist admits his ignorance. He is aware that he still has a lot to learn about God's paths. He asks God to open his eyes (v. 18) so that he can capture the truths of the Bible. In verse 19, he alludes to the fact that some things are still hidden from him. Verse 20 expresses his soul-crushing longing to know and see these truths.

The second concept concerns the psalmist's observance. He notices (v. 21) what happens to those who reject God's ways. Life does not go well for them, and he does not want that judgment for himself (v. 22). In fact, he desires the opposite. He is so desirous of God's blessing that he wants to closely embrace the Scriptures in spite of what those around him may do or say (vs. 23-24).

Third, the passage reveals the psalmist's reliance. He cannot do either of the first two things without God's help. He cannot learn what he does not know if God does not show it to him. Verses 18-19 especially focus on the need for God's illumination of His truth. The psalmist needs God to open his eyes to truth and to reveal His commandments.

Neither can the psalmist remain faithful in the midst of the wicked unless God helps him. Verses 17 and 22 record prayers related more to the ability to live faithfully. The psalmist needs God's help to keep His Word, and he needs God to respond to him as he seeks to obey.

Any Christian can relate to the ignorance. There is always more and deeper truth to be learned from the Bible. No one has learned it all.

A Christian can also relate to the observance regarding the wicked. At times, those people may seem to escape God's judgment, but their reprieve is only temporary. While avoidance of wrath should never be the only motivation for doing right, someone who truly loves God will desire the peaceful life of blessing that comes from doing the right thing.

Finally, every Christian must be aware of his need to rely on God. Only with God's help can one know what to do and continue faithfully on that pathway.

In terms of Christian growth, a Christian should be never satisfied, never complacent, never self-reliant.

"Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word." Psalm 119:17 (NASB)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Psalm 119 - Beth

Having expressed in the first stanza his passion for walking in God's ways, the psalmist comes to an important question at the beginning of the second stanza. He has observed others who have walked uprightly, and he wants to know how such a walk is possible for him. "How can a young man keep his way pure?"

Although he asks the question (v. 9), it is apparently rhetorical, as he knows and supplies the answer. He will be able to walk uprightly when he follows God's Word. It is the Bible that will keep him from wandering and keep him from sin (vs. 10-11).

Extended thinking about this concept may pose some confusion. After all, our world is filled with multitudes of people who grew up with the Bible but are not walking uprightly. In addition to many who simply no longer care about God, far too many of those who were brought up within Christianity have yielded to heinous sins or have completely turned their backs on God.

The reason for this defection cannot be a lack of exposure to Scripture. These people were in church midweek and for three services on Sundays. They sat in daily Bible classes and in chapel services several times per week. They memorized hundreds of verses. They were part of family devotions and were encouraged to have personal devotions. Some of them taught Sunday school classes and preached sermons. With so much inundation of Scripture, how could these people leave God's paths?

The psalmist uses a number of words and phrases that reveal the key ingredient that must be included.

"With all my heart I have sought You" (v. 10). The Word was so important to him that he devotedly and whole-heartedly sought it from the center of his being.

"Your word I have treasured in my heart" (v. 11). He held the Word as worthy of esteem and valuable to hoard and store up.

"I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies"  (v. 14). The Word was so precious to him that it brought him great joy.

"As much as in all riches" (v. 14). He counted the Word as valuable as the accumulation of all riches.

"Regard Your ways" (v. 15). He looked on God's ways intently and with pleasure because of what they were.

"Delight in Your statutes" (v. 16). He was pleased to gaze upon the wonder of God's Word.

What do these phrases reveal about the psalmist as he thought about God's Word? In summary, he placed immense value on it. Far from bringing drudgery, the Word was a source of delight and rejoicing because of its unmatched worth. When the Bible is viewed with that level of devotion and admiration, there are some things that will happen.

"Teach me Your statutes" (v. 12). Since the Bible is so valuable, the follower of God will want to learn all of it and will want to comprehend the things that he has not yet mastered.

"With my lips I have told" (v. 13). This follower will be so enthused with the valuable truths that he will want to talk about the treasure he has received.

"I will meditate on Your precepts" (v. 15). Because the truths are so precious, he will want to think about them at all times and to ponder them deeply in order to appreciate their full worth.

"I shall not forget Your word" (v. 16). Certainly something of such value must not be forgotten. God's words need to be remembered.

This stanza reveals critical truth about a Christian's interaction with the Bible. The attitude toward the Word is far more important than the specific actions that are done. Listening to teaching and preaching, reading the Bible, memorizing passages - none of these can be done as a matter of routine. They cannot be done simply because they are expected actions. Instead, they must be the natural results of a heart that holds the Word in high estimation and values it above all treasure. A heart with that kind of devotion will enable a Christian to walk faithfully in God's ways.

"I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches." Psalm 119:14 (NASB)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Psalm 119 - Aleph

Psalm 119 is a wonderful psalm about a man who wanted to go on to higher ground in his walk with God; in particular, he recognized the crucial role the Scriptures must play in such a quest. This lengthy psalm is divided into stanzas, with each stanza representing a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

While God may have inspired the author to write the psalm all at once, the content of the psalm represents a lifetime of growth. Each stanza represents a different stage in the author's life or a different lesson that he learned. For each of these learning moments, he records the truth that he has captured. By the end of the psalm, we see the life-long testimony of a man who sought to walk in God's ways.

The journey of the psalmist starts with a goal. His goal is based on a passion that has been ignited in him by others he has observed. He has seen others who "walk in the law of the LORD" (v. 1). He states in verses 1-3 that these people are blameless, they observe God's testimonies, and they seek God with all their heart. They do no unrighteousness, and they walk in God's ways.

The psalmist is not observing perfect people, because the Bible clearly states that there are none. What he does see are people who are committed to following God and who have testimonies of consistent obedience. The author's estimation of these people is that they are blessed, a word he uses in both verse one and verse two.

This young man is filled with admiration and respect for the godly influences in his life. He recognizes the wonderful blessing of their position. Verse four expresses the significance of what these spiritual leaders are doing. They are doing what God has intended for them to do. God desires for His people to obey Him diligently.

The examples of these spiritual heroes inspire the psalmist to long for the same experience, stability, and spiritual success that they enjoy. He earnestly expresses his own desire in the final four verses of the psalm. He wants to be able to walk according to God's Word. He desires to keep God's Word to the extent that he is not ashamed by failures. He expresses his intent to thank God after his goal, which he clearly believes to be possible, is achieved. The stanza closes with a firm statement of intent and a plea for God's help.

This stanza is a great challenge to any Christian in two respects. First, it calls for evaluation. Is he living in a way that would inspire others to want to live for God? Is he faithfully keeping God's commandments? Is he earnestly seeking God? Would people look at his spiritual experience and believe him to be blessed? Does his testimony encourage others to long for a deeper walk with God?

Second, it calls for commitment. Does he have a heart-felt desire to walk in God's ways? Is he determined to keep His commandments? Does he long for an increasing intensity in his Christian life? Does he want to move from where he is to achieve the same blessing that his spiritual heroes have received?

The psalmist's words of prayer are a tremendous guide for supplication by God's people today. It is certainly appropriate to echo these intentions, aspirations, and longings. It is also appropriate and necessary to ask for God's help in the pursuit.

"Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!" Psalm 119:5 (NASB)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Would Be Like Jesus

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'" Matthew 16:24 (NASB)

The previous posts have looked at discipleship based on Romans 12:1-2. The concepts given there are common throughout the Bible. The above verse gives the same teaching through the words of Jesus Himself. What must a disciple of Jesus do?

First, be not conformed - "he must deny himself." A follower of Jesus does not live to serve himself or to satisfy his own pleasures. Rather than battling for and insisting on the pleasures and comforts of this world, he denies himself those distractions and weights so that he can follow Christ.

Second, give reasonable worship - "take up his cross." The disciple's life is about service to his Savior. A dedicated follower makes himself a slave to Christ, to do whatever labor or whatever service that would exalt and honor God.

Third, be transformed - "follow Me." A disciple has a pattern to follow, and he knows who that pattern is. There is only one Person to follow, to imitate, to fashion his life after. Where the footprints of Jesus go, there goes he.

The hymn "I Would Be Like Jesus," written by James Rowe, aptly expresses the heart-felt desire of a true disciple. Below are the first verse and chorus, which speak of denying the allurements of the world in order to be like the Savior.

Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.

Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Be Transformed

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2 (NASB)

The verse opens with a negative (Not Conformed), but quickly turns back to another positive: "be transformed." As a Christian considers how to give his life in a sacrifice of worship to God (verse 1) and how that sacrifice cannot look like the world, this instruction to be transformed indicates how to accomplish both. When a Christian is transformed, his life becomes a sacrifice appropriate to be given to God. When he is transformed, he will not be conformed to the world.

Transformation is a change - a dramatic change, in fact. After a transformation, someone or something looks entirely different  than it did before. What is the "before" picture? Conformity to the world. This is especially evident in the lives of many people who are saved as adults. Prior to their salvation (and perhaps immediately afterward), they looked exactly like the world. There is a very logical reason for this: prior to their salvation, they were indeed part of the world. They looked like what was their nature.

In addition to a "before" picture, transformation also includes an "after" picture. What does a Christian look like after transformation? He looks like a life that is wholly given in an act of worshipful service to God (Reasonable Worship). He looks like someone whose nature has been changed, so that his life no longer reflects the world that surrounds him. In fact, his nature has been changed; he is now a new creation and no longer part of the world.

This transformation is possible because a believer is placed into a new family. As a member of the family of God, he begins to look like his Father. He starts to look like Jesus, who provides the best example of what a transformed Christian should look like. Romans 8:29 tells us that those "whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." Christians are therefore to be conformed - but to Christ, not the world.

Placing Jesus as the example can help a Christian to make decisions. Such an example provides clarity in making choices and establishing patterns for life. Considering what Jesus looks and acts like assists in knowing what appropriate speech is like. It helps in discerning which influences would be detrimental. It helps in choices about music, dress, entertainment, activities, and so much more. A Christian who is transforming asks questions like "Would Jesus do this?" and "When I do this, do I reflect Jesus?"

Sadly, too many Christians do not have a good idea of what Jesus is like. Instead of looking to Christ's true character, their imaginations invent a character that is palatable to them and permissive of what they desire. Such evaluations are often prefaced by words like "I don't think Jesus would . . ." or "I can't believe that God would . . ." With such statements, a Christian complacently believes himself to be Christ-like when he may, in fact, be very far from reflecting Jesus.

How then does a Christian know what Jesus is really like so that he can conform to that image? The answers can be found only in the Bible. Romans 12:2 states that a Christian is transformed by the renewing of his mind. Prior to salvation, his mind was corrupted by the world of which he was a part. Now the Christian must learn to think in a new way. He must develop new patterns for thinking. He must establish new truths as the basis for his decisions and as the guidelines for life.
The Bible is filled with truth about what Jesus is really like and about what God wants His children to look like. As a Christian faithfully reads and studies God's Word, he will learn truth. As he submits and conforms to that truth, he will be transformed into a beautiful living sacrifice that reflects the nature of Christ.