Psalm 119:113-128 – How to Change Our Spiritual Taste Buds

I hate anyone
whose loyalty is divided,
    but I love your Law.
You are my place of safety
and my shield.
    Your word is my only hope.

All of you worthless people,
    get away from me!
    I am determined to obey
    the commands of my God.

Be true to your word, Lord.
    Keep me alive and strong;
    don’t let me be ashamed
    because of my hope.
Keep me safe and secure,
    so that I will always
    respect your laws.
You reject all deceitful liars
    because they refuse
    your teachings.
As far as you are concerned,
all evil people are garbage,
    and so I follow your rules.
I tremble all over
when I think of you

    and the way you judge.

I did what was fair and right!
    Don’t hand me over to those
    who want to mistreat me.
Take good care of me,
    your servant,
    and don’t let me be harmed
    by those conceited people.
My eyes are weary from waiting
    to see you keep your promise
    to come and save me.
Show your love for me,
your servant,
    and teach me your laws.
I serve you,
so let me understand
    your teachings.
    Do something, Lord!
    They have broken your Law.
Your laws mean more to me
    than the finest gold.
I follow all of your commands,
    but I hate anyone
    who leads me astray.
(Contemporary English Version)

Some people try to avoid doing wrong and always try to do right. Others either bulldoze or sleepwalk through life, doing what they will, with impunity. Yet others try to steer clear of egregious sin, while indulging in so-called minor sins. 

Sin is messy business. No matter the form or the attempt at dealing with or without sin, the bottom line is that we all sin because we like it. We might not like the consequences of sin, but it tastes good while doing it.

That’s why we need a complete re-orienting of our hearts to hate every way contrary to God’s good commands. The psalmist proclaims and affirms that all God’s precepts are right, hating every false path which deviates from the true and good. 

If we sin because we like it, the way to avoid sin is learning to hate it – to loathe it so badly that it’s like a nasty stench in our nostrils. Hating sin comes from the acquired taste of loving God’s commandments. When we come around to cherish and desire God’s Word, then sin gradually becomes so odious that we want nothing to do with it.

The reason the psalmist could proclaim such an extended love song to the commands of God, is that he tasted how good they were. And it caused him to forsake every dubious way to human enjoyment. 

The reason I constantly encourage myself and others to read Scripture every single day, with a solid plan of spiritual rhythms, is that it really does have the power to change our taste buds. Sustained, consistent, daily eating of the psalms will teach us to want God and God’s ways – while forsaking the dark path of insolence and oppression.

The psalmist committed himself to avoiding worthless situations, as well as steering clear of harmful people with the propensity to doing wrong. These are fickle, double-minded people, divided in their loyalties. On one side of their mouth, they talk a good line about faith; and then talk out the other side of their mouth, spewing a bunch of worthless gobbledygook which, at the least, adds no value to anything, and, at worst, wrecks good plans and harms others.

If there are people in authority over us who don’t give a wit about our most cherished values, we will likely find ourselves tasked with doing things which rub against our understanding of God’s Word. In this state of moral distress, we are pushed, pulled, and tested in our single-minded devotion by the double-minded person to do what we are uncomfortable with.

In the stress and crucible of trouble, we need the courage to speak up, despite the fear of repercussions. And that strength will only be possible if we have a resilient spirit with the capacity to sustain our personal integrity in the face of our distress. That is, we need God and God’s Holy Word.

Scripture and fellow believers provide support because we need to care for one another as a community of redeemed persons who seek to live into the words of ways of almighty God.

It can be tricky business, wisely trying to discern between what we must accept and what we need to pushback against. Yet, with God, God’s Word, and God’s people, we possess all the resources required in living the spiritual life and navigating the sinful world we inhabit.

God Almighty, I pray that you will deal with me according to your steadfast love and teach me your statutes.  I am your servant; give me understanding so that I might know and live by your commands and forsake the evil of the world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 119:9-16 – How Can a Young Person Live a Pure Life?

How can a young person live a pure life?
    By obeying your word.
I try with all my heart to serve you.
    Help me obey your commands.
I study your teachings very carefully
    so that I will not sin against you.
Lord, you are worthy of praise!
    Teach me your laws.
I will repeat the laws we have heard from you.
I enjoy following your rules
    as much as others enjoy great riches.
I will study your instructions.
    I will give thought to your way of life.
I enjoy your laws.
    I will not forget your word. (ERV)

Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry and is steadily growing. The younger generation is particularly susceptible in this internet age of easy access and multiple porn websites.

  • 35% of all internet downloads worldwide are related to pornography.
  • Teen-aged boys are the largest consumers of pornographic internet sites. 

The following percentages of children report having seen pornography in some way:

  • 50% of 11-13-year-olds
  • 65% of 14-15-year-olds
  • 78% of 16-17-year-olds
  • 75% of parents believe their children have not seen pornography online.
  • 53% of the children said that they had seen pornography online.

Into this terrible muck of impurity an impropriety enters the biblical psalmist with his ancient, yet truly relevant question for us today: How can a young person live a pure life? 

The answer the psalmist gives is this: By guarding the heart through obedience to God’s Holy Word. The psalmist himself stored up the commands and teachings of Scripture in his heart so that he might not sin against God.

A solid tried-and-true activity parents can do for themselves (the statistics for adult use of porn are staggering) and for their kids in this area of purity is for the entire family to do some old school Bible memorization. Yes, I mean getting down to rote memory work. 

This is to be neither a legalistic practice nor some fetish that will keep evil away. Instead, memorizing verses and large sections of the Bible provides a solid foundation from which to construct of base of operations for the work of meditation. When temptation occurs, there will be something to stand upon in the heat of the moment.

Today’s lesson from Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. Expand to memorize the entire psalm, all 176 verses of it. When faced with the decision of viewing pornography or not, it would be wise to dedicate the time to memorizing Scripture so that there will be a delight in God’s statutes rather than a depressed guilt over another fall into impure thoughts and/or actions.

Now, I can feel the pushback from some folks. You might not have memorized anything your entire life, or so you think. One of the reasons many people can freely quote lines from movies is that they have watched their favorites repeatedly. Ah, so we are on to something, right!?

I have been reading the Holy Bible for over forty years, every day. I have large chunks of Scripture memorized – mostly because of all that reading. So far in my life I’ve read the entire Old Testament around 100 times and the New Testament about 300 times – not because I ever had the goal of doing all that reading but because I need God’s Word.

What’s more, I take the further step of spending some time in reflection and ongoing meditation on Scripture, especially at night before retiring. This might seem over the top to some. However, the reading and reflection of Scripture is about a 30-minute venture for me on most days. The goal is engrafting the message of the Bible into the heart and life. Memorization is simply the means of helping that to happen.

There are some memorization tips I use and have picked up along the way to aid in pressing Scripture firmly into my soul:

  • Sleep on it. Studies show that our brains process and store information while we sleep. Try to review some Scripture just before you go to sleep—even if it’s only for a few minutes—and see if it helps embed the information in your memory.
  • Repeat it. There is no substitute for consistent and repetitive reading or listening to Scripture being read to you. This one practice alone has been key to my own ability to memorize. 
  • Write it out. Writing helps deeply encode biblical truth we’re trying to learn because there is a direct connection between our hand and our brain. To increase recall, speak the Scripture out loud and visualize the concepts as well.
  • Sing it. Singing is what got my middle daughter through school. Songs or jingles use your brain’s right hemisphere, helping us to remember. There are already plenty of songs out there for all kinds of biblical passages. And, of course, you can always try making your own music.
  • Sense it. Use as many of the five senses as possible. Our senses enable us to use more parts of our brains and retain information better. For example, when I read Scripture, I use a physical Bible to hold and often use a pointer when reading (touch); have a cross in front of me (sight); read out loud, sometimes with worship music in the background (hearing); light a candle (smell); and, I always have a cup of coffee to sip while reading! (taste)

The biblical psalms are meant to be prayed. So, using them for that purpose has the effect of shaping our prayers and desires in a good direction, as well as helping us to live into the commands of God to “repeat the laws I have heard from you.” In a world of spiritual impurity, emotional assault, and mental adultery, we need the purifying work of God’s Word to wash our souls clean.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Merciful God, thank you for providing your Word to me so that I might read it, use it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and engraft it into my soul.  Fortify my spirit against the demons of impurity by the power of your Holy Spirit, to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56 – Night Reflection

Remember your promise to me;
    it is my only hope.
Your promise revives me;
    it comforts me in all my troubles.
The proud hold me in utter contempt,
    but I do not turn away from your instructions.
I meditate on your age-old regulations;
    O Lord, they comfort me.
I become furious with the wicked,
    because they reject your instructions.
Your decrees have been the theme of my songs
    wherever I have lived.
I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord;
    therefore, I obey your instructions.
This is how I spend my life:
    obeying your commandments. (NLT)

Insomnia happens to everyone, some more than others. We all have experienced the inability to sleep. Then, there are those persons who choose to arise in the middle of the night just to pray. Yes, monks do this, but there are common people who do, as well. In my own times of trying to get to sleep, I think about such persons. I especially and reflexively go to the psalms. Along with the psalmist, I reflect at night on the character and nature of the Lord.

The psalmist seems to be awake at night because he is frustrated and upset with people who both spurn wise instruction and direct their contempt at those trying to live according to God’s Law. Although insomnia might be the result of angry or unwanted feelings, maybe it is something else altogether. Perhaps the psalmist simply chose to be awake at night and do some theological reflection on God, others, and himself.

At various times in my life I have chosen to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning to pray.  I know it may sound crazy to some. Yet, this discipline has taught me something valuable: God is Lord over all chronological time and every season. And I am a servant of God, not master. 

This nightly exercise of weaving my life around a set time of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life trying to make time bend to my wishes. It is all really an illusion – that I can somehow control the clock. Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are a vapor which 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 darkness afford us a unique opportunity to ponder the Lord’s promises and commands, attributes, and works. 

The next time you find yourself awake at night, try avoiding the television and a zombie-like state of hoping for sleep. Try using the night-time for thinking about the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day. Pray. Reflect. Consider. In doing so, you may find a blessing of light within the dark.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56, NKJV

Psalm 119:97-104 – God the Teacher

I deeply love your Law!
    I think about it all day.
Your laws never leave my mind,
    and they make me much wiser
    than my enemies.
Thinking about your teachings
    gives me better understanding
    than my teachers,
and obeying your laws
makes me wiser
    than those
    who have lived a long time.
I obey your word
    instead of following a way
    that leads to trouble.
You have been my teacher,
    and I won’t reject
    your instructions.
Your teachings are sweeter
    than honey.
    They give me understanding
    and make me hate all lies. (CEV)

We live in a wonderful, complex, beautiful, broken, and upside-down world. The information we access, 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 its twists and trials?  Yes, there is a light through it all. Today’s psalm informs us how to proceed.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the ability to take revealed truth and put it into concrete daily practice. So then, a life marked by the love and study of God’s Word brings both right living and enjoyment. God is our teacher and faithfully guides us into grateful living through his promises and commands. We can put ourselves in a position to sit at the master’s feet and receive gracious instruction for life.

Lectio Divina is one way of doing just that: allowing God to teach us through his Holy Word. Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.”  It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, provide wisdom, and draw close to God. 

Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read the Bible, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do.  It can be done privately, or with a small group of people.  The goal for the Christian is to become more Christ-like.

Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).

First Reading

During the first reading, read the text aloud twice. Read slowly and carefully. The purpose of the first reading is for each person to hear the text and to listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures their attention. As group members recognize a word, phrase, or idea, they are to focus their attention on it, repeating it within their minds several times.

Second Reading

During the second reading, read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus their attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to their life that day. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? What is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? After the reading, a brief period of silence is observed and then group members share briefly what they have heard.

Third Reading

Read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus on what God is calling them to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. During this final reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to be.  After the third reading, there is a period of silence, then group members share what they are being called to do or to be.

The psalms, especially Psalm 119, are meant to be read over-and-over again, to be used for prayer, worship, and study. Devoting ourselves to the psalms and grafting them into our lives is one of the best practices we can do to live a healthy and happy spiritual life.

Almighty God extend your goodness to me according to your Holy Word. Teach me knowledge and good judgment because I trust your commands. I seek to obey your wondrous Word. You are good, and what you do is always good. Teach me your decrees through Jesus Christ my Lord in the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. Amen.