Psalm 19 – Living Wisely

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Most of life, as you well know, is lived in the mundane.  We drive the same well-worn roads to work; spend most of the time at our jobs doing routine ordinary things; repeatedly say the same things to our kids, day after day; engage in ordinary chores; and, worship in predictable ways each week.  Excitement is certainly to be had, but it is more the exception than the rule.  Yet, it is the patience, perseverance, and plodding that comes with living wisely which is the norm for realizing a thriving and flourishing spiritual life.

Psalm 19 is a celebration of God’s self-revelation.  Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made himself known to humanity.  What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life.  This is to the benefit of the common good of all persons.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice.  It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life.  We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use his revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law.  It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned.  Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances.  That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Self-revealing God of creation, your words are sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.  May I be humble and wise as I meditate and think about how you are the center of everything in my life; through my Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Psalm 119:97-104

            We live in a wonderful, complex, beautiful, broken, and upside-down world.  The information we have access to, the choices we make, and the networking we engage in all require a great deal of wisdom.  Throw into the mix the reality that most things rarely go as we plan, and you have a recipe for disappointment and/or frustrating anger.  So, is there a path, a way of approaching this world that can help us navigate all of its twists and trials?  Well, yes, there is a light through it all.  And I will let today’s psalm, from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, inform us of how to proceed:
 
I deeply love your Law!
I think about it all day.
98 Your laws never leave my mind,
and they make me much wiser
than my enemies.
99 Thinking about your teachings
gives me better understanding
than my teachers,
100 and obeying your laws
makes me wiser
than those
who have lived a long time.
101 I obey your word
instead of following a way
that leads to trouble.
102 You have been my teacher,
and I won’t reject
your instructions.
103 Your teachings are sweeter
than honey.
104     They give me understanding
and make me hate all lies.

 

Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56

            Insomnia happens to all of us, some more than others.  We all know the experience of not being able to get to sleep at night.  Then, there are those persons who actually choose to arise in the middle of the night just to pray.  Yes, there are monks who do this, but there are common people who do, as well.  I think about such persons when I read a verse like this:  “Even in the night I think about you, LORD, and I obey your Law.”
 
            At various times in my life I have actually chosen to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning in order to pray.  I know it may sound crazy to some, but this discipline has taught me something very valuable:  God is Lord over all time, and I am his servant.  The exercise of me wrapping my life around set times of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life making time bend to my wishes.  But it is all really an illusion – that I can somehow control the clock.  Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are but a vapor that lasts only a moment.
 
            Whether we find ourselves awake in the night because we cannot sleep, or intentionally choose to use the night for connecting with God, the wee hours of the night afford us a unique opportunity to think about God and his Word.  The next time you find yourself awake at night, don’t just turn on the TV and wait to fall asleep.  Use the night-time for thinking about the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day.  In doing so, you will find a blessing in the dark.
 

 

            God of all time, no matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs.  You have given me blessings in the day and in the night because you are the one I choose to obey.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

2 Chronicles 34:20-33

            Today’s Old Testament lesson is both very sad and quite joyful, all at the same time.  When God’s temple was undergoing repairs, the Book of the Law was found.  What is sad is that it was lost to begin with.  Somewhere along the line a king, a priest, some people, they all just plain forgot about God’s Word to them.  But what is joyful about it is that King Josiah had God’s Word read to him and he and his officials responded by promising “to faithfully obey the LORD and to follow his laws and teachings that were written in the book.”  What is more, Josiah asked the Israelites to make that same promise.
 
            It is likely that you are reading this because you are a person committed to listening to God’s Word.  It is likely that you don’t need to go on an archaeological dig inside your own house in order to find an old dusty Bible to read.  God’s Word is important enough to you to read and obey.  So, maybe you need to take the next step, like Josiah of old, to not only listen and obey yourself, but to ask and invite others to make the same promise.
 
            You and I both know that Bible reading often does not take place within the homes and even the churches of many confessing believers in Jesus.  Take the next step.  Invite others to read with you.  Ask your fellow Christians to read Scripture, make observations about it, apply it to their lives, and base prayers upon it.  Ask them to make the same promise that you have made to God:  to listen to God’s Word and do what it says.
 

 

            Patient God, you continue to wait for people to read your Word and obey it.  May I not simply attend to your laws in isolation from others, but freely ask others to make the same promise I have:  to obey Jesus Christ, my Lord by living and loving like him in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 19


            One of the bedrock realities of the world is that God created the heavens and the earth.  Furthermore, he has given us his very great and precious promises through his gracious law.  God’s creation reflects his wondrous character.  The sun is the constant presence bringing light, warmth, and life to the earth – just like God.  Everything is creation bears the mark of its Creator to such a degree that it is almost as if the creation itself speaks.  Even at night, it is as if our God keeps constant vigil, gently whispering the knowledge of his presence and protection over us.
             If this were not enough, God has given his people his perfect law with all of its right precepts, clarity of commands, and truthful statutes.  God’s law, like his creation, reflects his gracious character.  The Lord did not leave us alone to fend for ourselves and to try and figure everything out about how to live in God’s world.  He has provided an extension of himself, his law, to provide us with sure footing and solid direction.  The law of the Lord is so good that it is more valuable than gold, and more desirable than any food.
             Since all this creation and law is available to us, it would be a good thing to memorize and meditate on this very psalm.  Take just a few verses with you out for a leisurely walk in God’s good creation.  Carefully reflect on them as you notice all the grand scope of God’s vast sky, and the intricacies of God’s small details.  Let it all rise to a paean of praise and appreciation to the God who notices, has acted, and will intervene.
             Wondrous God, you created the heavens and the earth in its splendor.  Your law mirrors your grace to a world which has lost its way.  In the face of such a large God, cleanse me from my inadvertent sins.  Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable before you, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

"What Do I Say?"

 
 
            So far this year I have had an unusual amount of persons within my congregation who have and are experiencing significant health issues, especially cancer.  The church, of course, has a wonderful opportunity in such occasions to offer prayer, comfort, and encouragement.  However, oftentimes church members struggle with knowing what to say to persons going through such physical trials.  They may feel unable to truly say something helpful, so they do not say anything at all.  They might avoid going to visit someone in the hospital because they are too intimidated about the situation.  Even pastors and church leaders may feel so inadequate and small in dealing with some parishioners’ overwhelming pain and disease that they fail to say anything substantive.  This is a problem that does not really need to be a problem because we possess the words of God contained in Holy Scripture.
 
            Here’s the deal:  it is not really our words that bring health and healing to a person in need; it is God’s words.  Much more important than believing our speech is going to make or break a patient or victim’s health or happiness is our very presence.  Taking the time to be with someone in need and simply hold their hand and sit for a while can communicate more comfort and care than a bevy of forced words out of our mouths.  So, then, when we visit someone either at home or in the hospital our presence coupled with God’s Word are the vital tools of building encouragement into a patient’s heart. 
 
            Knowing the Bible is crucial to knowing what to say to a person in need.  Even the most shy among us does not need to put pressure on ourselves to come up with something to say when we are equipped with the Book of Psalms.  Whether it is reading Psalm 23 with its comforting promise of God’s provision, protection, and presence, or Psalm 91 with its grand vision of a God who shelters His people in a time of upheaval, the psalms offer us words to say that transcend anything we might come up with on our own.  More than once I have gone into a hospital room or a bedroom at home and simply spent my time reading Scripture after Scripture and allowing the Spirit of God to seep down into the fearful recesses of a person or a family’s innermost soul, bringing a sliver of light into the clouds of doubt and darkness that loom within.
 
            Another great fear of the one who would like to comfort another is whether they will be able to answer the difficult questions brought forth by the afflicted.  And, yes, they do often have questions of life and death on their lips, like an impetuous four year old peppering his mother with inquisitions for which she becomes exhausted over.  Yet, as human beings, we are not so grandiose as to have the answers to questions that only God glories to know.  “I don’t know” is a phrase that is not only perfectly acceptable to say, it may even be the best response to a large query.  Trying to drain all the mystery out of life by claiming to know the hidden places of the universe strikes me as, at best, hubris, and, at worst, leaves a person feeling more awful than they did before their inquiry.
 
            The only obstacles that stand in the way of our ministering care and compassion to a hurting person is our own self-made walls of excuses and fears.  If our presence and God’s Word are truly the best companions, then we can walk with confidence into the life of another and know that we are being conduits of grace to those who need it most. 
 

 

            If you are not sure about what kind of Scripture to use in a person’s life, every pastor on planet earth enjoys suggesting portions of God’s Word to use.  If you do not want to go alone to encourage another, there is likely a genuine follower of Jesus who would jump at the chance to be with you and assist in any way possible.  Too many hurting people’s pain is compounded by a well-intentioned person who simply says and does nothing out of a misguided belief that they have nothing to offer.  To feel ill or dying is to feel discomfort; to feel ignored is to suffer a terrible agony worse than death.  May God’s people use God’s Word to edify God’s people and transform God’s creation for God’s sake.

God’s Word

The Bible is to the Christian what weights and barbells are to a bodybuilder.  The people of God need Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in order to spiritually grow and become mature.  Christian character formation cannot truly occur apart from the continuous repetitions of reading the text of Scripture, and letting it build strength into the muscles of the soul.
 
 
 
Scripture is a powerful unifying force within the life of God’s people.  At the end of the day, we may not explain every Bible verse in exactly the same way, but a common desire to honor, apply, and obey God’s Word will draw us closer together rather than separate us.  It is the devil’s strategy to magnify our differences, and minimize our common confession of Christ around the Word of God.  A passion to listen, talk about, and apply God’s Word will bring believers in Jesus together.  Perhaps because the average American household today has at least three or four Bibles, we take for granted the availability of God’s Word.  It is always at our fingertips, even on our smartphones and computers.  Yet, because it is always present and available we may let the busyness and business of life keep us from paying attention to it.  When we commit to reading and listening to Holy Scripture, it should not be done quickly or mechanically, and certainly not half-heartedly.  If we are to allow God’s Word to penetrate and seep into our souls, we must take the time to listen carefully and slowly.
 
            A famous first century rabbi, Akiva, once noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. The rock below bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, “If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God’s Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?” He realized that if the water had flowed over the rock all at once, the rock would have been unchanged. It was the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, that completely reformed the stone.
 
We sometimes want quick answers to our questions without taking the time to prayerfully listen and reflect on the Word of God. God likes to reveal truth over many days, months, and years, as we read and discuss Scripture together. Big splashes aren’t usually God’s way of doing things. Instead, through the slow drip of study and prayer and reflection, day after day, year after year, he shapes us into what he wants us to be.
 
When we approach the Bible it is necessary to come at it with a teachable spirit.  Sometimes God’s Word is not apparently relevant.  We oftentimes need others to help us, and we need the patience to stick with reading it and learning it, even when we aren’t sure about what it is saying.  Rightly interpreting Scripture typically happens in community, and not in isolation which is why small groups of people interacting on the Bible’s message is so very important.
 
One of the things a careful reading of Scripture does is to expose our sin.  When we look intently into God’s Word, it doesn’t take long for us to see God’s faithfulness and our disloyalty; God’s compassion and our selfishness; God’s holiness and our fickle nature.  And, for the believer, it causes us to grieve and be distressed not only over personal sin, but the fact that this sin is universal.  We are all guilty.  But sin does not have the last word, because God’s grace trumps everything!  So, do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength!  Being truly forgiven washes away the guilt and shame and brings restoration.  God’s Word both slays us, and gives us new life.
 
With this freedom, God’s Word opens our eyes to the needs of others.  An appropriate response to hearing God’s Word is to address and provide for the problems of others.  In other words, God is not just concerned about us, but about other people, as well. 
 
In ancient Israel, Scripture was so important that, by the age of twelve, every Jewish boy had the first five books of the Old Testament memorized.  They did this because they wanted God’s Word to be internalized and known so that it influenced every situation and every relationship of their lives.  What do you suppose would happen if we all committed to carefully reading and listening and meditating, even memorizing God’s Word on a daily basis?  Would it make a difference?  Would it transform our worship?  Would it make a difference in our relationships?  Would a commitment to learning God’s Word together change our life together?
 

 

There is no substitute for the heavy lifting of working through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.  Read, meditate, reflect, memorize, and prayerfully consider the Bible, and let its contents be the means of bringing intimacy between you and the divine.  In so doing, we lift up God’s Word and let it do its work within us.