How To Get Through Difficulty (Psalm 119:105-112)

Your word is a lamp
that gives light
    wherever I walk.
Your laws are fair,
and I have given my word
    to respect them all.
I am in terrible pain!
Save me, Lord,
    as you have promised.
Accept my offerings of praise
    and teach me your laws.
I never forget your teachings,
although my life is always
    in danger.
Some merciless people
    are trying to trap me,
but I never turn my back
    on your teachings.
They will always be
my most prized possession
    and my source of joy.
I have made up my mind
to obey your laws forever,
    no matter what. (Contemporary English Version)

Attitude. Affection. These are the two qualities that stand out to me in today’s Psalm lesson. The psalmist is a person who is determined to hold onto God’s Law because it is his heart’s delight.

Our attitudes and our affections are meant to fit together like a hand in a glove. Our attitudes help us push through suffering to realize better days. And our affections drive us forward, allowing us to experience joy in the present moment as we await our hope of ultimate deliverance.

Commitments are fluid, always moving – so they need to be continually rehearsed and refreshed. We are constantly either fulfilling our promises or reneging on them. There is really no such thing as a one-time vow.

Vows need reinforcement from our attitudes and our affections. Otherwise, they languish on the trash heap of good intentions. This is one reason why the Psalms are designed for constant use.

Spiritually healthy habits must be embedded in our lives, well before any suffering and hard times roll in.

If our normal daily routines involve regular sustenance of God’s Word, then we have a breadth and a depth of robust theology to draw upon when the going gets rough. Furthermore, the sheer force of habit brings us back again and again to the treasure chest of divine instruction, informing our decisions and illuminating the treacherous road ahead.

The psalter is designed to reframe our difficult situations. Especially when a person’s life hangs in the balance, we can view hard and awkward circumstances through the window of the Psalms. Although circumstances change, and we never quite know what to expect, God’s Law remains our ballast and our rock.

Circumstances may change but divine love and morality are unchanging. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Spirit is always with us, through each wave of hardship.

Life is a journey, an exploration into the unknown of the future. The path is shadowy and unclear. We are unsure of what is around the bend. God’s instructions and promises are like a forever energized flashlight, helping us navigate forward. Maybe Jesus had today’s Psalm in mind when he said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NRSV)

In Christianity, the Word is embodied in Jesus Christ; he is both the example and fulfillment of all God’s good promises.

A sequence of four metaphors runs through our verses for today:

  1. My feet. With Jesus as Word and Light, we have a constant companion walking alongside us for the journey.
  2. My mouth. There is an intercessor who takes our wordy or malformed prayers and presents them before our heavenly Father
  3. My hands. We do God’s will, despite adverse circumstances, by observing the Master who washed the feet of others.
  4. My heart. In desiring God’s decrees and commands, our hearts find their rest in the One who loved us and gave himself for us.

Our attitudes and affections are transformed into sustainable faith for the long journey.

Our hope is made sure through the promises of God.

Our love finds a resting place in the person of Jesus.

Faith, hope, and love are the shoes enabling us to walk the long uphill road, as well as absorbing the shock as we run with abandon downhill – into the loving arms of God.

I encourage you to find what works best for you in developing helpful spiritual habits. In reading the Bible, I often take the following approach using the acronym S.O.A.P:

Scripture

• Open your Bible and slowly, meditatively, read the portion of Scripture in your reading plan for today.

• Write the reference of what you read in a journal along with the date.

• As you read, ask God’s Spirit to highlight the verse(s) that speak to your life and write it in your journal.

Observation

• Make observations about what you just read and write them in your journal.

• Think about: What is going on? What is the context?  Who are the people being spoken to? What is the background or setting for this verse?

• Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your journal, in your own words.

• What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture?

Application

• Personalize what you have read by asking yourself how it relates to your life right now.

• Ask yourself how you can apply what you just read to your own life and write it in your journal.

• Ask yourself how your life will be different or changed as a result of God speaking to you in this Scripture.

Prayer

• Write out a prayer to God in your journal.

• Your prayer should relate to the verse that you highlighted. It could be asking for help, thanking God, etc. Write down what your heart desires to say to God in response to his Word.

May the words of your mouth, the meditations of your heart, the work of your hands, and the movement of your feet be to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.

How To Live Well (Psalm 112:1-9)

By Stushie Art

Praise the Lord!
    Those who honor the Lord,
    who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!
Their descendants will be strong throughout the land.
    The offspring of those who do right will be blessed;
    wealth and riches will be in their houses.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
They shine in the dark for others who do right.
    They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous.
Those who lend generously are good people—
    as are those who conduct their affairs with justice.
Yes, these sorts of people will never be shaken;
    the righteous will be remembered forever!
They won’t be frightened at bad news.
    Their hearts are steady, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are firm; they aren’t afraid.
    In the end, they will witness their enemies’ defeat.
They give freely to those in need.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
    Their strength increases gloriously. (Common English Bible)

To live well is to obey well. Well, that’s a thought! And a deep subject it is.

It’s a matter of whether we’ll take our cues for living from S. Hiney Wells or his brother, Russ T. Wells.

S. Hiney tells us this:

“Listen, my friends, the Lord’s commands are not made for drudgery. They’re how to be happy in this here life. Obeying what God says leads to blessings of family, security, contentment, and peace. God’s never failed to keep bacon in my frying pan, folks to help me out in a pinch, and a heap of hope for when I’m lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.”

Russ T. tells us:

“Well, the world ain’t shiny at all. It’s all dark and covered in rust so thick you’d think nuthin’ good’s been used fer a coon’s age.”

S. Hiney responds: “Well, Russ T., there’s certainly a powerful lot of darkness everywhere; but that don’t mean there’s no light! Even a few little lightnin’ bugs helps us to see where we are in the night.”

Russ T. retorts: “Well, S. Hiney, them little bugs don’t help none when I’m brinin’ away in pickle barrel so full of vinegar that I don’t know whether I’m in the field or the henhouse.”

S. Hiney: “Well, now, fortunately we’ve got more than a few matches in our pockets. God’s own light shines so bright that it lights up the whole earth, a world-illuminating light that keeps every old fox away from the barn.”


Russ T.: “Well, that’d be mighty nice. But if that light’s so all-powerful, I ought to be able to see my hand in front of my face! All’s I see is a bunch o’ nasty weasels lurkin’ about, givin’ me a headache bigger than the Ozark Mountain Daredevils singin’ and playin’ on my tin roof while I’m tryin’ to sleep.”

S. Hiney: “Well, Russ T., I see it every time I lend money without any expectation of interest or return. I see it in my neighbor’s generous hand and sharing her prize winnin’ tomatoes and blue ribbon apple pies. And I mostly saw it with our dear mama’s teaching to “give until it’s gone, boys, not until it hurts,” rest her soul.

Russ T.: “I obeyed mama, bless her heart; she was one of the good ones. And I certainly didn’t wanna be on her bad side!”

S. Hiney: “Me, too. Her words of affirmation felt a lot better than those times when I was disobedient and found a willow switch on my behind! So, Russ T., were you happy listening to mama and doing what she said?”

Russ T.: “Well, now, I reckon I was. Things was a lot simpler and a lot less complicated when I listened to her. Whenever I didn’t, I felt like I was a polecat in the chicken house, like I didn’t much belong.”

S. Hiney: “My heart’s calculatin’ that your true love, the Lord God, is presently waitin’ on you to shake all that rust off so that he can give you a good shine on that soul of yours. But yer goin’ to have to listen, to obey what you hear, brother.”

Maybe because we tend to be all or nothing people, we often get hung up on either being perfect or being a failure. In reality, we are neither. We’re just simple folk trying to do our best in loving and serving the Lord with an obedient heart.

Christianity takes its cues in reading the psalms from Christ’s illumination. Jesus embodied the ideals of humanity, having neither material wealth nor actual physical descendants; yet he distributed gifts more generously than anyone ever did; and he has more spiritual progeny than anybody else.

Following in the way of Christ, we live in such a way that it is possible to be:

  • Poor and rich
  • Compassionate and competent
  • Gentle and shrewd
  • Gracious and tough
  • Giving and receiving
  • Faithful and doubting
  • Light and dark
  • Happy and sad
  • Vulnerable and powerful
  • Confident and scared
  • Brave and hesitant
  • Generous and just
  • Consistent and unpredictable
  • Mindful and forgetful
  • Weak and strong
  • Loving and questioning
  • Open to change and immovable

Living well means obeying well enough to see the best in others, seek the common good of everyone, and be resilient to deal with our personal foibles and the unforeseen pitfalls we sometimes experience.

What will you do when you’re in a pickle?

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Some Well-Ordered Wisdom (Psalm 37:1-17)

Don’t be worried on account of the wicked;
    don’t be jealous of those who do wrong.
They will soon disappear like grass that dries up;
    they will die like plants that wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    live in the land and be safe.
Seek your happiness in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desire.

Give yourself to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will help you;
he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun.

Be patient and wait for the Lord to act;
    don’t be worried about those who prosper
    or those who succeed in their evil plans.

Don’t give in to worry or anger;
    it only leads to trouble.
Those who trust in the Lord will possess the land,
    but the wicked will be driven out.

Soon the wicked will disappear;
    you may look for them, but you won’t find them;
but the humble will possess the land
    and enjoy prosperity and peace.

The wicked plot against good people
    and glare at them with hate.
But the Lord laughs at wicked people,
    because he knows they will soon be destroyed.

The wicked draw their swords and bend their bows
    to kill the poor and needy,
    to slaughter those who do what is right;
but they will be killed by their own swords,
    and their bows will be smashed.

The little that a good person owns
    is worth more than the wealth of all the wicked,
because the Lord will take away the strength of the wicked,
    but protect those who are good. (Good News Translation)

Today’s Psalm feels as if it could be in the book of Proverbs; it’s chocked full of wisdom sayings. And wisdom is most definitely something you, me, and the entire world needs. Indeed, we have enough fools around us running their mouths with a bunch of gobbledygook that’s nonsensical and meaningless.

We need helpful language and well-ordered words which reflect our ordered creation.

The underlying assumption of all biblical wisdom literature is that our world has been created by God with a material and moral order built into it.

That means that to buck this order is stupid and foolish. Somebody who walks off the roof of their house because they don’t believe in gravity will experience the harsh reality of that belief. Likewise, anyone who walks any old way they want in this world, without regard to the divine force operating within it, is going to experience a broken spirit.

Our human well-being depends on knowing the ordered creation we inhabit. There are social expectations which need to be realized in order to conform and be in sync with the natural (and supernatural!) universal rhythms all around us. Those expectations are framed for us as wisdom sayings.

Our actions and inactions have consequences. It’s our task to gain experiential knowledge as we move about this earth and interact with others. Notice I did not say we need to be perfect. No, instead, we are continually in a mode of improvement – seeking and learning to be better and do better.

And one of the things we all must discover is that our own personal actions and attitudes effects the entire surrounding community.

Biblical wisdom literature communicates how we receive blessing and how we hold onto it. True wisdom is to live in a responsible awareness of both Creator and creation – and then to make appropriate choices which will bless God and others.

So, in our Psalm for today, we have some wise choices to make that put us in the groove of how things are ordered and established:

  • Don’t worry about the evil simpletons around you. Why? Because in the Lord’s well-ordered world, the wicked cannot and will not survive; their end is certain, just as sure as death and taxes.

Those who are evil—
they are like straw
    blown by the wind.
Sinners won’t have an excuse
    on the day of judgment,
and they won’t have a place
    with the people of God.
The Lord protects everyone
    who follows him,
but the wicked follow a road
    that leads to ruin. (Psalm 1:4-6, CEV)

  • Trust the Lord. Everything changes. Everyone is fickle. Why trust? Because God, unlike everything and everyone else, is consistent, stable, and always true to character.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track. (Proverbs 3:5-6, MSG)

  • Be patient and wait on the Lord. Why? Because God is good, all the time, and has only good plans in mind for you and me. We short circuit what God is doing whenever we fail to have patience.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:7-8, NIV)

The best things in life are internal, not external. One’s inner well-being, peace of mind, emotional awareness, and spiritual health are worth infinitely more than any title, position, wealth, or delusions of control.

A well-ordered life comes from tapping into the divine resources available to us.

Grant us patience, O Lord, to follow the road you have taken. Let our confidence not rest in our own understanding but in your guiding hand; let our desires not be for our own comfort, but for the joy of your kingdom; for your cross is our hope and our joy now and unto the day of eternity. Amen.

– A Prayer of St. Augustine

Obey with Integrity and Love (Psalm 15)

God, who gets invited
    to dinner at your place?
How do we get on your guest list?

 “Walk straight,
    act right,
        tell the truth.

“Don’t hurt your friend,
    don’t blame your neighbor;
        despise the despicable.

“Keep your word even when it costs you,
    make an honest living,
        never take a bribe.

“You’ll never get
blacklisted
if you live like this.” (The Message)

Nearly all of us had to work hard to get good grades in school. Each schoolyear began with a blank slate; then, what we did with learning the lessons determined the grade.

So, it’s unthinkable for many of us to consider that we all begin God’s school with A’s. We’re all 4.0 students. There’s only a lower grade if we neglect to do the things necessary as an A student. And, as it turns out, the most important things are a matter of basic human kindness and respect for others.

At the end-of-the-year banquet, awards are given. If we’ve done what’s expected, then the invitation to come to the front and receive the award is assured.

Yet, if anyone has gone out of their way to be deliberately stupid and ignore what’s right, then they aren’t going to show up at the banquet. They’ll dismiss it as a waste of their time and blabber about how they don’t be around a bunch do-gooder pricks and Abe Lincoln’s, blah-blah-blah.

Integrity, honesty, kindness, accountability, and commitment matter. Virtue shows itself through the practice of obedience.

We might get hung up on obedience for a few reasons:

  1. Many Westerners, especially Americans, have a strong anti-authoritarian strain; obedience smacks them as something negative. For some, they would rather stick-it-to-the-man than obey. Even Christians might sacralize their disobedience by linking obedience to law – as if gospel and obedience are antithetical.
  2. A lot of people have been personally hurt because they tried to do the right thing by obeying their authorities, but it ended badly. Now, they aren’t so sure about the whole obedience thing.
  3. We just plain don’t want anyone else telling us what to do and not do; and that includes not wanting to obey God. So, we focus on the freedom to do what we want, to the exclusion of obedience.

Yet, there’s no way to get around the pervasive reality of obedience to Torah, to Yahweh. Obedience is both the glue which holds a people together, as well as the major means of expressing love to God and others.

Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15, NLT)

Love and obedience go together in Holy Scripture like a hand in a glove. Jesus insisted that upholding Torah and loving others is by obedience to divine commands.

When Jesus first began his teaching and healing ministry, he sat all the people down who were following him and gave them a summary of the Old Testament understanding of God’s righteousness. These are the things, Jesus explained, that characterize a person who loves God:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:12-17, NIV).

Obedient believers are characterized by their:

  • Authentic humility
  • Deep concern over sin, to the point of tears
  • Gentle and meek spirit toward others
  • Intense desire for personal righteousness and corporate justice
  • Daily life of mercy, purity, and peacemaking
  • Willingness to accept adversity as part of the spiritual life

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

Humanity is meant for wholeness, integration, and alignment of head, heart, and gut – with the glue of obedient love. We are designed to have all of life in parity and balance – work, play, family, and faith – because God is Lord of it all, not just the spiritual parts.

Historic confessional Christianity acknowledges that obedience is both duty and delight – and they go together in perfect harmony.

Believers consider it a both a high charge and a wonderful privilege to love the Lord with a life devoted to obeying divine commands.

It’s just that sometimes we have our lives so planned and pre-determined that when God’s Spirit shows up to take us to a place of obedience, we struggle to realize what’s happening. And we miss what the Lord is doing in this world. 

At other times, we read scriptural commands and feel the gentle nudging of God’s Spirit, yet we either cannot or will not respond out of fear, busyness, or grief. 

Then there are times in which we are attentive to God’s Word and Spirit, seeking to obey – only to mess up and fail at it. It can leave us wondering if God could ever really do anything in or through us.

The truth is this: Love conquers all. Grace overcomes everything. Mercy never fails.

We are here on this earth because of how much the Lord is devoted to us. Even though we often walk the spiritual road in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-backward kind of way, God accommodates to our weakness. 

So, we keep learning the ways of the Lord under the tutelage of God’s Spirit – who patiently and powerfully works within us so that God’s kingdom breaks into this world and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Blessed God, I seek not my own will but to fulfill your will in my everyday life. Enable me and strengthen me for this sacred duty and delight, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.