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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Psalm 119 - Ayin

No one likes to wait. The more important the answer and the more challenging the situation, the harder it is to wait. In this stanza the psalmist describes a time of waiting.

Although he has done what is right, he is still at the hands of his oppressors, and he asks God not to leave him there (v. 121). He longs for God's salvation; as he waits to see it, he feels the strain (v. 123). When he looks around at the enemy and the circumstances they have created, he declares that it is time for the Lord to act (v. 126).

There are times like this in life. A Christian can find himself in difficult situations that seem like they will never end. He can face trials that seem to have no possible answer. He waits on God until he runs out of patience; he continues waiting still, but no answer appears on the horizon. If he only knew there were an end, he could manage to endure, but he sees nothing to give him hope.

In such a situation, the believer needs to respond as this man did. His first response is prayer. It is quite clear in these times of waiting that man does not have the answer. Even if man knew what to do, he would be powerless to bring it about. It is God, then, to whom the believer must appeal.

The stanza is filled with prayers for God's help. "Do not leave me to my oppressors" (v. 121). "Be surety for Your servant for good" (v. 122). "Do not let the arrogant oppress me" (v. 122). "Deal with Your servant according to Your lovingkindness" (v. 124). "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 124). "Give me understanding" (v. 125). The psalmists asks for deliverance, for expressions of God's goodness, and for understanding. Each of these is a great request, and each expresses dependence on God.

The second response is one of unwavering trust. Trust in God is the foundation that keeps a believer secure when everything is falling apart. Faith assures him that there is an answer and that there is someone in control whether man can see it or not. Without this trust, hopelessness and despair would prevail.

The psalmist expresses his trust in God. His very prayers convey a sense of expectation for God to act. He expects God to do good for him (v. 122) and to show His lovingkindness (v. 124). He places himself humbly before God as a servant, dependent on the master (v. 125). He declares God's Word to be righteous (v. 123).

In fact, it is this man's estimation of the Word that most poignantly illustrates his trust. In spite of all that is happening in his life, and in spite of the lack of answers, the psalmist stands resolutely on the Word. He declares his love for the Word, declaring its value to be above the finest gold (v. 127).

The psalmist sees God's words and ways expressed through his circumstances and through God's seeming delay in answering. Everything he sees seems to cry out that God is wrong, yet the psalmist still declares Him to be right (v. 128). That is the essence of trust - believing God and hoping in God with no evidence (or even in spite of apparent evidence to the contrary). This man knows that his life is not currently a bed of roses, but he is controlled by a stronger belief that God is always right, no matter what.

"Therefore I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way." Psalm 119:128 (NASB)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Psalm 119 - Samekh

In this stanza, the psalmist reveals the contrast between his estimation for people and his estimation for the Word. He is surrounded by people, many of whom make no pretense of loving the Word; he refuses to yield to that peer pressure. He distances himself from the influence of the ungodly, while placing himself as firmly as possible in the pathway of the Word. The Word is what he esteems highly and chooses as his source of influence.

Four of the eight verses deal with those around him, people who are not walking with God. The psalmist says that he hates the double-minded (v. 113). If any of the people mentioned in the stanza have any inclination of following God, it is this group. They do not, however, have a consistent focus on the Word. They waver between two opinions, between two lifestyles. At times, they speak of God and claim to follow Him, and then they turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Such fickle, inconsistent friends do not encourage the psalmist in his pursuit of God; he loves the unchanging Word instead.

The psalmist instructs evildoers to depart from him (v. 115). Their presence is hindering him from following God as he would like. He recognizes that he will be more consistently obedient when he is not pulled astray by the influence of the wicked. While he has to live in the world, which is filled with ungodly people, being constantly in their presence does present challenges that he wishes to avoid.

In verse 118, the psalmist reveals a very good reason for not joining in with such people. They are rejected by God. The psalmist speaks of hypocrites; they are deceitful because their message is inconsistent. Their words and actions don't match. They used to walk in God's ways, and perhaps still claim to belong to God, but they have wandered from His paths. The psalmist calls these people useless. They neither encourage other Christians nor influence the unbelievers. They have lost God's blessing, and the psalmist does not want to be part of that group.

Finally, the psalmist speaks of God's judgment on the wicked (v. 119). Those who reject God's ways and blatantly oppose Him will be removed. They may have their place for a while, but their end is death and destruction. They do not have the eternal life that really matters, and their judgment is the result of their rejection of God and His Word. The psalmist loves the Word, because accepting and following it leads to life.

In contrast to these verses in which the psalmist repels the influence of the ungodly, the remaining verses describe how he embraces the Word. The Word is his protection (v. 114). It provides him with a refuge in which to hide. It is a shield to defend him from attacks. When the psalmist is in danger and in trouble, he finds the Word to be the right place to put his hope. He waits on it, expecting to see the protection it promises.

The Word is his strength (v. 115). When he is weak and fainting, the Word sustains him. It is his life and his hope. It keeps him from being ashamed by falling flat on his face.

In verse 117, the psalmist says that the Word is constant and faithful. As the God of the Word upholds him, he is able to live a long life. All throughout that life, he is able to look at the Word and see it ever faithful. His gaze can be fixed on the Word continually, without ever being disappointed.

In both verses 113 and 119, the psalmist declares his love for the Word, but his love is coupled with a seemingly strange partner in verse 120. This man's love for God and the Word is accompanied with fear for God and the Word. This reverent fear is not so strange, however, when one considers what this man knows. He has seen what happens to those who do not follow God's ways. He described their end in this stanza.

He has also seen what happens to those who do keep God's ways. He noted them as early as the first stanza, and he has longed for the blessed life they enjoy. There is quite a contrast between the two groups, both in the way they live and in the way their lives end up. He knows which end he wants - blessing, not judgment. That end will be achieved as he fears opposing God and as he reverently follows the Word.

The psalmist has seen some turn from God's ways; he has seen the double-minded and the hypocrites. If some of those around him have walked in those false ways, what is to stop him from doing the same? He is rightfully fearful of that end and rightfully dependent on God to keep his steps right.

Knowing the guidance that the Word provides, it is no wonder that he loves the Word. Knowing the danger that wrong influences introduce, it is also no wonder that he separates himself from those people. When it comes down to the choice of being influenced by peers or by the Word, the psalmist wisely and determinedly chooses the Word.

"I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law." Psalm 119:113 (NASB)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Psalm 119 - Nun

In following God, there are times of peace and blessing. Those blessed times, however, are not constant, and sometimes there seems to be a lot of trouble in between the times of peace. The psalmist certainly found that to be true, and this stanza reveals the sustained difficulty under which he was living.

He states that he is "exceedingly afflicted" (v. 107).  His life is in continual danger (v. 109) because of the snare set for him by the wicked (v. 110). These are obviously not minor difficulties. Because of the menacing attacks, this man does not know how many more days he will live.

In spite of the challenges, the psalmist remains determined to follow God. "I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances" (v. 106). So far he has continued to walk in the right paths rather than going astray (vs. 109-110). He resolves to continue that faithful walk "to the end," however long that may be (v. 112).

Such a goal cannot be achieved by mere human strength and dedication. The psalmist speaks of his need for help. He needs revival from the Word of God (v. 107). He wants to continue to learn God's ways (v. 108). He must have God reveal to him what he needs to do.

That idea is presented well through the double metaphor that opens the stanza. In this well-known verse, the psalmist declares that God's Word is lamp for his feet and a light for his path. These are apt pictures. The man is walking in darkness - even in the valley of the shadow of death. When the situation around him is so dark, it would be difficult to see the right answer. The Word of God provides the answers as it illumines the path, giving clarity where there was none.

The light gives guidance in a trying time, and the possession of that light affects the man who has it. Because he knows guidance is available and answers are achievable, the psalmist is able to call God's Word "righteous" (v. 106). He is able to freely give offerings of praise to God (v. 108). He calls God's testimonies the "joy of my heart" (v. 111). In the midst of extreme difficulty, the psalmist can rejoice because he knows there is a source for the illumination he needs.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105 (NASB)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Psalm 119 - Mem

The psalmist shares some very important truth he has learned about devotion to the Word. He has experienced a tremendous, perhaps unanticipated, blessing from spending time in the Word. In this stanza he delights in expressing to God the wonders of this blessing.

It is important to note that the blessing is fundamentally tied to his time in the Word. Each time he tells of the blessing he has received, he very clearly links the blessing to his devotion to the Word.

Devotion is a good word to use. The author's statements make it clear that this is not a mere passing interest, nor is it a half-hearted or obligatory duty. He declares that the Word is his "meditation all the day" (v. 97). He says that the Word is "ever" or always his (v. 98). The Word is his "meditation" (v. 99). He has "observed" God's truth (v. 100).

The word for meditation refers to devotion and reflection. Ever comes from a word meaning concealed, with the idea that it is for all time. Observed is not just looking at, but guarding, protecting, and preserving. This is a man who is serious about spending large amounts of time pondering the Word, studying it, and learning it.

What is the primary blessing that the psalmist reveals in this passage? It is wisdom. Because of his knowledge of the Word, this man is "wiser than his enemies" (v. 98). He has "more insight than all [his] teachers" (v. 99). He understands "more than the aged" (v. 100).

Because of his time devoted to the Word, the psalmist has not just knowledge and intelligence, but also more important skills like prudence and discernment. He is circumspect, wise, and skillful. He knows how to be successful over his enemies. Although young enough that he still has teachers and does not count himself among the aged, he has more insight than those leaders. His knowledge of the Word has equipped him incredibly well for living life.

The wisdom is not an end in itself. Because the psalmist understands issues properly, he makes the right choices. His knowledge has caused him to restrain his "feet from every evil way" (v. 101). Because of the teaching he has received from God, he has "not turned aside" from God's ways. The right choices and right living are the logical outcome of the understanding he has achieved. It is also quite logical that the psalmist is elated over this resultant blessing. After all, his objective from the beginning was to faithfully walk in God's ways. He is now realizing how his devotion to the Word is enabling him to meet his objective.

The stanza begins with love and ends with hate. "O how I love Your law!" (v. 97). It is no wonder that the psalmist loves the Word, when he realizes the tremendous benefit that has come to him through it. Such an incredible resource surpasses other things that he would ordinarily consider to be superb. "How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (v. 103). The Word is surpassing sweet because of the blessing of wisdom that it provides.

The psalmist loves the Word, but he hates "every false way" (v. 104). The false way does exactly the opposite of what the Word does. Through lies and deceit, these false influences lead the believer down the wrong path. The input and philosophies of the world may sometimes sound good, but they produce wrong understanding, leading to wrong choices. The believer who opens his mind to the false way invites barriers that prevent him from living faithfully for God.

If the goal is to walk with God, it is logical that the believer will hate false ways. Whether it be worldly philosophies like humanism, the blatant immorality of the world's entertainment, or the limited human wisdom of friends, these false ways lead to wrong thinking and pull the believer away from his goal of godly living.

Why follow the false way that leads to failure and destruction, when following the Word leads to the blessing of wisdom and right choices? Why wouldn't a believer love the Word when it yields so much benefit? The psalmist realizes that due to his devotion to the Word, he now knows what to do and is enabled to do it. The Bible will do the same today for the Christian who will take the time to meditate on its truth.

"I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts." Psalm 119:100 (NASB)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Psalm 119 - Lamedh

This stanza presents a very simple, but wonderful, concept. In essence, God's Word has power to help people because of its permanence. The faithful Word of God is trustworthy because it never changes and never loses its power.

Verse 89 boldly states the premise: God's Word is established forever. There is no time in the past at which God's Word has ever failed, and there is no time in the future at which it ever will fail. It is settled, like a monument or pillar that has been erected to timelessly mark a significant event.

God's Word is faithful because God Himself is faithful. Verse 90 declares that God's faithfulness continues for all generations - from the beginning of time to the end of time. One incredible display of God's faithfulness is the creation. Verses 90 and 91 describe the earth as it still stands in obedience to God's command. Most of what man makes becomes useless or ruined within a short space of time. Occasional artifacts date back a few thousand years, but they are no longer useful. God's earth is approximately 6000 years old, and its systems are still working.

God's creation faithfully remains, servant to a God who is ever faithful. The creation is proof that what God says stands. This amazing example helps to illustrate that God is faithful beyond anything that man can do. It is entirely reasonable, therefore, to trust in His Word.

It is a only a Word this dependable that is able to give hope and help to believers. The psalmist states, "If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction" (v. 92). Nothing else was sufficient, because nothing else is as dependable. If this man's delight had been in his circumstances, his family, his friends, his own ability, his riches, or anything else, those things would have failed him. God's Word did not fail him.

In verses 93 through 95, the psalmist continues these thoughts. God's Word has been enough in the past ("You have revived me"). It is enough in the present ("Save me, for I have sought Your precepts"). It will be enough in the future ("I will never forget Your precepts"). God's Word is faithful to help in every stage of life.

The stanza closes with what seems to be a comparison. The psalmist has "seen a limit to all perfection." Every wonderful thing that he has ever seen has limits. Any other source to rely on will fall short and will end. The Bible, on the other hand, "is exceedingly broad." It continues on and on. There is no limitation. There is no end. God's Word is forever faithful.

What a comfort it is to have a source so reliable! There is no need to wonder if the Bible will still be true in today's world or if it will be effective for modern problems. There is no fear that the Word of God given to Abraham and Moses and David and the apostles will fail the Christians of today. It has been tried and proven from the earliest generations, and it will continue faithfully the same through every generation to come.

"Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven." Psalm 119:89 (NASB)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Psalm 119 - Kaph

Every believer has rough patches in life. Then there are the times that make those rough patches seem not so bad after all. There are brutal desert stretches in which everything seems wrong, nothing makes sense, and there is no answer in sight. These are times that try the souls of men - that plunge into their deepest beings and snatch out every bit of hope.

This stanza describes such a poignant situation encountered by the psalmist. He describes the state of his soul and the desperation of his inner being. He is suffering, feeling that his soul is completely spent. There is nothing left to give him strength. He searches for help and strength, but it is all gone. He is parched and dried out.
v. 81 "My soul languishes."
v. 82 "My eyes fail with longing."
v. 83 "I have become like a wineskin in the smoke."

Physically, he feels that he is at the point of death. It seems that he has few days left. The traps and persecutions are so intense and oppressive that he is at the point of destruction. The trial that he is facing is no mere trifle; it is something far beyond his ability to withstand.
v. 84 "How many are the days of Your servant?"
v. 85 "The arrogant have dug pits for me."
v. 86 "They have persecuted me with a lie."
v. 87 "They almost destroyed me."

He asks the desperate question of "How long?" He is waiting for God to give him hope and comfort. He is waiting for God to deliver him by responding in judgment on the wicked. He knows that trials are part of life, but he has waited and endured, and it seems that this one will never end. He pleads for God's intervention.
v. 82 "While I say, 'When will You comfort me?'"
v. 84 "When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?"

The psalmist also includes some brief and simple cries for help. When the trial has been so overwhelming, and he perhaps finds himself at a loss for how to pray, these prayers by their very simplicity reflect his helplessness and desperation.
v. 86 "Help me!"
v. 88 "Revive me."

This is a man in desperate times. It is in times like these that some who have faithfully followed God for years will turn aside. They fail to see God's answer, and they conclude that He has failed them or even that everything they had followed and believed was merely a myth. In times like these, there are sadly those who give up on God and on Christianity. Those who continue to follow God may find themselves doing so out of habit or duty, lacking any inner conviction or any foundation of faith to uphold them. They are just going through empty motions because they don't know what else to do.

This man does not make either of those mistakes. As black as things are, and as tried as his soul is, there are things that he knows are right, and he clings tenaciously to those truths. In addition to the descriptions of his bleak situation, this stanza is filled with continued reliance on the Word of God. This man knows that the Word is the place to find his help. He knows that the Word is right. He knows that he must remember it and continue to keep it.
v. 81 "I wait for Your word."
v. 82 "Longing for Your word."
v. 83 "I do not forget Your statutes."
v. 86 "All Your commandments are faithful."
v. 87 "I did not forsake Your precepts."
v. 88 "So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth."

Even his prayers for help reveal this man's reliance on the truth of the Word. The Word reveals things about God and about His treatment of His children. Because the psalmist has learned truth, he knows what he can expect. While not always directly stated as an expectation, his words reveal that he expects salvation (v. 81). He expects comfort (v. 82). He expects righteous judgment (v. 84). He expects help from God (v. 86). He expects revival (v. 88). He expects to experience God's lovingkindness (v. 88).

As of yet, this man's expectations remain unfulfilled. There is nothing to encourage his expectations. Everything outside of this man and everything inside of him tells him that his life is falling apart and that there is no answer, but he refuses to believe that. In spite of every bit of external evidence and every internal inclination, this man clings to the fundamental truth that God cannot be wrong. God says that He will watch over His children as they seek to follow Him. That knowledge, though seemingly unsupported in his current situation, was enough for the psalmist, and it is enough for every Christian. God doesn't need man's feelings. He doesn't need visible evidence. His Word is sufficient. In times of deepest desperation, when no evidence can be seen, the Christian can cling to God's Word, knowing it is right.

"They almost destroyed me on earth, but as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts." Psalm 119:87 (NASB)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Psalm 119 - Yodh

The psalmist turns his attention to the impact his testimony has on those who observe him. While he considers others, both the godly and the ungodly, he is not unduly obsessed by what they think of him. Rather, his motivation is still very God-focused. He knows, however, that as he achieves his desire of living correctly before God, there will be a resulting effect on others.

The beginning and end of the stanza provide a great framework for revealing his God-centered focus. He starts with an important foundational truth. "Your hands made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments" (v. 73). He is God's. God made him. There is nothing more natural or appropriate than for the created one to please the Creator. The psalmist wants to learn God's truth so that he can do that.

The final verse of the stanza again states the psalmist's heart desire. "May my heart be blameless in Your statutes, so that I will not be ashamed" (v. 80). Because of the truth he knows, he wants to live the right way. He wants to keep God's way blamelessly. He does not want his life or testimony to be one of shame.

Between the foundational truth and the heart-felt desire falls the present struggle. Verses 75-77 describe this Christian who, in the midst of life's circumstances, is seeking to live out what he knows to be true. He is striving to correctly apply truth so that he will have a blameless testimony.

The psalmist pulls his thoughts to truth that is going to help him think the right way so that he can have the right testimony. He remembers that God is always righteous and faithful, even when life is filled with affliction (v. 75). He reminds himself that God's Word has the compassionate comfort that will help him through the affliction (v. 76-77).

It is important for the psalmist to direct his thoughts in these ways if he is to have the proper impact on others. Without submission to God and without reliance on God for support, the psalmist would end up rebellious, full of pain and bitterness, hopeless. Other Christians who look at him will find nothing to encourage or inspire them. The unsaved will find nothing to draw them to God, but only "proof" that their rejection of Christianity is valid. The psalmist does turn his thoughts to truth, however, and the result is that he does have a right impact on others. His testimony is good.

His godly life has an influence on those who reject God. There are those who are attacking him, who are rejecting God. They think he is a weak man who has to have some crutch to lean on, and they don't even think his chosen crutch is reliable. They arrogantly proclaim, "Where is this great God that you so faithfully rely on? How has your faith helped you? You are a loser, and your life will be a disaster. You should trust in yourself and your own strength like we do."

The psalmist prays that, as he faithfully lives for God, these men would be ashamed (v. 78). He desires for their boasts to be empty, their predictions to be false, and their assertions to be proved erroneous. These desires can be met as the psalmist remains faithful and trusting through the difficulties of life. If onlookers form a jury that must decide whether the psalmist or his accusers are correct, they will have to rule in favor of the psalmist. When they see that his life doesn't fall apart even in the midst of trouble, there is no other verdict they can reach.

The psalmist also has an influence on those who love God. They also watch his responses and examine the evidence. As they observe this man faithfully following God, they have two responses. The first is found in verse 74; those who fear God will see him and be glad. This man's testimony will be cause for rejoicing. Those who love God will rejoice to see someone else faithfully doing the same, especially in a time of trouble.

What an encouragement it is to see a testimony of faithfulness and trust in the midst of difficulty. The gladness is in part on behalf of the believer himself; others observe his testimony and rejoice over his spiritual victories. They delight to see that he has learned to give God-honoring responses. The gladness goes deeper, however, because the fellow Christians know that the sufferer's victorious responses are anchored in deeper truth. The sufferer can respond in the way he does only because God is who He says He is. The triumph can come only because the Word of God can do everything it claims it can do. This individual therefore becomes another encouraging evidence that living for God works.

The second effect on the fellow believers is edification (v. 79). The one who has gone through the trial and has honored God has opportunity to support and encourage and teach others. He is able to minister to those around him based on what he has learned on his journey toward maturity. Other believers recognize him as a source for truth, and they come to ask questions. "How did you do it? What truth did God use to encourage you? How can I avoid the dangers? What kept you from falling?" These observing believers desire to hear what God did for someone else; through his words of testimony and truth, they are encouraged as they seek and expect God's work in their own lives.

When God does a work in the life of one of His children, whether it be through trials or merely through the ongoing work of spiritual maturity, that work is never limited to the life of just that person. Each Christian is a showcase to the unsaved and to the saved alike. It is somewhat like a coach, trainer, or director who turns his attention to a single individual. When that personal training takes place in a public setting, all those around, whether they be fans, teammates, or critics, are able to see what is happening. Successfully mastering a skill silences the critics while inspiring the teammates and fans; most importantly, it brings honor to the Teacher who made it all possible.

"May those who fear You turn to me, even those who know Your testimonies." Psalm 119:79 (NASB)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Psalm 119 - Teth

The psalmist begins this stanza by stating that God had "dealt well" with him. Two stanzas earlier, he had asserted that he would be blessed when God remembered His Word and acted accordingly. He now testifies that this is, in fact, what happened. God did act according to His Word, and the result was good dealings with His servant.

It is very insightful, however, to see the channel through which God's goodness came. Unexpectedly, the psalmist states, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes" (v. 71). The affliction was the setting for God's good work in this man's life. At least part of the affliction involved false accusations or maligned reputation that was orchestrated against him by the wicked (v. 69).

Perhaps more surprising than the affliction being the setting for God's goodness is that the affliction was actually the catalyst for manifesting God's goodness. The psalmist realizes that going through the affliction has created a change in his life. Before the affliction, he had gone astray from God's ways, but after the affliction, he keeps the Word (v. 67). Something about the affliction itself worked to bring growth in his life.

The psalmist had prayed for God to lead him in knowing His ways and in doing what was right, and God answered that prayer. The path to the answer is not one that the psalmist would have chosen, but it is one that he recognized as effective. There are some lessons that can be learned and some growth that can be achieved only through affliction. A Christian who insists on only rosy pathways and placid waters is restricted from the means to the very growth that he desires.

This man did not insist on such an idyllic life. He saw the affliction that came to him and the resulting growth, and he stated that God had dealt well with him. He told God, "You are good and do good" (v. 68). These are the words of a man who is submitted to God. This response is the sign of a man who is truly committed to learning God's ways, willing to accept whatever methods are necessary to bring that result about.

Part of the reason the affliction is so beneficial is because of what it causes the believer to do. It causes the believer to seek answers to the emerging doubts and questions. He is driven to the Bible to find those answers, resulting in a deeper knowledge of the Word. The psalmist prays, "Teach me good discernment and knowledge" (v. 66), and "Teach me Your statutes" (v. 68). He needs wisdom and truth so that he can properly respond within the affliction.

When those answers are found in God's Word, faith is strengthened. The believer is bolstered by rock-solid, dependable guidance. The increased knowledge of the Word, submitted to in obedience, forms the basis for more confident faith. This man declares, "I believe in Your commandments" (v. 66), and "With all my heart I will observe Your precepts" (v. 69). He has learned to trust the Word of God with a reliance intense enough to compel obedience.

In addition to the deeper faith, the Bible also becomes more precious to the believer who receives its hope and answers in the time of affliction. When the Bible's true value is recognized, it is completely expected that it will be held in higher estimation than it was before. The psalmist triumphantly declares, "I delight in Your law" (v. 70). He says, "The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (v. 72). The Word is wonderful and special to him because of its inestimable worth; it can do and provide what no other source can.

No one desires affliction. Some of the growth that God wants to bring in the lives of His children, however, can be achieved only through affliction. When the Christian freely submits to God's hand at work, he is able to recognize God's goodness even in the affliction. He is able to see the affliction as good because of the results that it brings. A Christian who clings to the Word during his affliction will develop an increased dependence on the Word, a heightened faith in the Word, and a greater love for the Word. These are good results that make the affliction worthwhile.

"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word." Psalm 119:67 (NASB)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Psalm 119 - Heth

In this stanza the psalmist does a bit of evaluation regarding his spiritual progress. He looks at the past in order to remember what he has set out to do. He has promised to keep God's words (v. 57). This is the ambition, stated in the very first stanza, which he has pursued ever since. He had made this resolve because he realized he was not where he wanted to be spiritually. Verse 59 reveals that he had considered his ways and had realized that he was walking in the wrong direction; accordingly, he had turned his feet to walk in God's ways instead. This was not a haphazard decision; he sought God with all his heart (v. 58). When he determined to live for God, his decision meant something. It completely changed the focus of his life.

After recalling the passionate resolve that had started his quest for spiritual growth, the psalmist looks at the present to evaluate whether or not he is following through. He first notices his timely obedience (v. 60). Such was the tender submission of his heart, that when God indicated a path or right action for him, he immediately gave himself to follow God's direction. This sensitive spirit is important for spiritual maturity. A heart that delays in obedience not only retards forward progress, but it unwittingly makes itself less sensitive to receive future instruction. God loves to see a heart that responds and obeys quickly, as this allows God to introduce the next area of growth.

The psalmist also notices in his evaluation that he has been faithful to obey God even under pressure (v. 61). This verse seems to recall the previous stanza, in which he was derided and oppressed by the wicked, but he continued to be faithful anyway. This response is again a reflection of the depth of his passion. He was not doing the right thing just because everyone else was or because he wanted to look good. If that were the case, he would have caved when things got tough. He didn't do that; instead he clung in commitment to God's Word even when outside pressures tried to stop him.

The third evaluation is regarding his associations (v. 63). The people that he associates with are those who fear and obey God. There is no record of who his friends were before he started his quest, but there is a record of who they are now. It is apparently a change, as he considers his current godly associations worthy of mention in the midst of his evaluation. In the first stanza, he had observed righteous people and had aspired to be like them, but now those people are his companions.

Christians sometimes have great aspirations about living for God. When they don't notice results right away, they might be tempted to give up. They feel that their efforts are wasted. They may even conclude that a godly life isn't really possible, at least not for them. This stanza offers encouragement that spiritual progress can happen; it did for this man. In fact, it will happen for any Christian who sincerely seeks it.

Sometimes the discouraging failure to see results comes because one doesn't take the time to look for them. As this man evaluated his life, he noticed results. He noticed them in specific areas: timeliness of his submission to God, faithfulness through difficult situations, and quality of his friendships. This focus on specifics is perhaps wise; it gives more definitive proof than a nebulous question like "Am I more spiritual than I used to be?" Instead of a criteria so broad, this man took note of measurable and tangible observations.

Spiritual growth can happen. Christians can experience success in building their walk with God. The growth is often so gradual and subtle that it goes unnoticed on a day-by-day or week-by-week basis. Over a period of months or years, however, a Christian should be able to identify areas of growth. He should notice that he doesn't struggle quite as much or quite as long to do what he ought to do. He should notice good things being added to his life that he did not previously do, and he should observe that he has diminished or abandoned practices that he used to do that he should not do.

Periodic evaluation is helpful as a Christian checks to see that he is striving toward the goal of being more like Christ. Evaluation of self, however, cannot be the focus. Perceived growth can easily lead to pride and complacency. The psalmist does not do this. He begins the stanza by claiming God as his portion (v. 57). God is the one who supplies him with everything necessary to live right. He asks for God's graciousness as he seeks to please Him (v. 58). He ends the stanza by asking God to continue to teach him (v. 64).

As he recognizes God's help as vitally important, the psalmist expresses his intent to thank God (v. 62). He is aware that it is God and His Word that are righteous, not himself. Any righteousness that he has achieved is by the grace of God. While he is rightfully thankful for the growth he has observed in his time of evaluation, he knows it is unwise to rest upon past progress or performance. He remains humbly dependent on God for maintaining and increasing his success in walking God's ways.

"I sought Your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Your word." Psalm 119:58 (NASB)