The Longest Chapter – Part 7 Feb. 23, 2016

Maybe you’re old enough to remember when memorizing passages of Scripture was a common practice.  We don’t hear so much about that anymore but it’s a worthwhile effort that should be revived.  A subscriber wrote in to say she’s doing that week by week with this study – memorizing the section of the week.  Want to join her?

Biblestudy

Psalm 119: 49 – 56

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.

Wow – what a magnificent section!  A great way to wake up each morning is to remember God’s promise – His covenant – for truly it is our only hope.  He is a covenant-keeping God, faithful to us because of His own integrity, not based on what we have or have not done.

On good days and difficult days, what keeps us steady in our faith is this: Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.  That verse reminds me of another psalm which I love:

The Lord is my shepherd. I have all that I need….

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love pursue me all the days of my life and

I will live in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23: 1, 6)

God loves you with an everlasting love; His desire is for relationship with you. This theme is consistently repeated to us in the pages of Scripture from cover to cover.  It is such a dominant theme that one cannot avoid recognizing that God is determined that we should know His love for us.

What about our love for Him in return?  Is it enough to just say occasionally, ‘I love you, my God’?

Love is more than a feeling; love is something that you do.  Love for God prompts you to want to know His Word; love for God draws you to meditate and study what He desires of you.  Love for God motivates you to want to obey His instructions.  It is the personal, heartfelt love for God that makes the difference between religion and relationship.  The commandments of God were never intended to be a cold and formal set of regulations to be followed mechanically as if we were robots!  Perish the thought!

Once you and I recognize that the instructions (commandments) He has given us come from His heart of love, only then does godly obedience follow.  Commandments are not ‘restrictions’; they are guidelines for blessed, happy and successful living which is precisely what the love of God wants for each of us.  And, my friends, obedience to His ways is the highest expression of our love for Him.  Love is expressed in the action of obedience to the One you love.

The psalmist knew this so well which is why the closing verse of this week’s section says:

This is how I spend my life, obeying Your commandments.

May these words be our song of love to the Father as well.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 6 Feb. 16, 2016

It’s Tuesday again.  Are the weeks flying by or is it just me?

119b

Open your Bibles to Psalm 119.  We begin today at verse 41:

Lord, give me your unfailing love, the salvation that You promised me.

Then I can answer those who taunt me, for I trust in Your word.

Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope.

I will keep on obeying Your instructions forever and ever.

I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to Your commandments.

I will speak to kings about Your laws, and I will not be ashamed.

How I delight in Your commands! How I love them!

I honor and love Your commands. I meditate on Your decrees.

‘Unfailing love’.  Do you know what that means?  God has in fact given us His unfailing love.  He says so in His word.  Unfailing love means that no matter how many things You do to make God not love you, none of them is strong enough to overcome His ‘unfailing love.’  Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t it make you want to stop and give Him praise for His great goodness?  OK – pause and do that……….

It appears that as much as we revere King David, in his lifetime there were some who taunted him, insulted him, harassed him.  We remember his wife, Michal, who scorned David’s exuberant worship of the Holy One of Israel.  There were other critics as well.

Who hasn’t experienced painful moments of being teased, embarrassed, humiliated by others?  David’s response was to turn to God’s Word.

I find this particularly meaningful at present.  I live in Israel.  Just a few miles away, a vicious war is raging in Syria and Iraq and large numbers of men, women and children are being killed – brutally killed – not because they are part of an opposing army, but simply because they believe in God and refuse to deny their faith.  Yet, out of this horror we are hearing the most amazing testimonials of persecuted Christians who are declaring the goodness of God and holding fast to His Word.  The same was true of Jews in Spain who were martyred during the Inquisition rather than renounce their faith in the Holy One of Israel.  How do such people stand strong in the face of barbaric brutality?  From what we hear, it’s because of their uncompromising devotion to, and trust in, God and His Word.

I will walk in freedom, the psalmist writes, for I have devoted myself to Your commandments. 

We discussed freedom a couple of weeks ago – freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’.  Remember that?  Like a good teacher who knows the value of repetition to instill a lesson, the psalmist returns to that very same concept as if to say, “Did you get it the first time?

Are you convinced that true freedom is found in walking according to God’s ways?

Are you meditating on His decrees, like I do?

Do you love His commandments? Do you honor Him by obeying them joyfully?

Are you ‘devoted’ to His commandments or do you obey grudgingly?

These are the questions this week’s section of Psalm 119 poses to us.

Is it any wonder that God said of David: He’s a man after my own heart.  What an amazing accolade.  Oh, to be a man or a woman of whom God could say the same thing!  Let us strive for that lofty goal.  It’s worth the effort.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 5

This week our study focuses on verses 33 – 40 of Psalm 119

Teach me Your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end.

Give me understanding and I will obey Your instructions;

I will put them into practice with all my heart.

Make me walk along the path of Your commands,

For that is where my happiness is found.

Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money.

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your word.

Reassure me of Your promise, made to those who fear You.

Help me abandon my shameful ways; for Your regulations are good.

I long to obey Your commandments! Renew my life with Your goodness.

119-34

The opening words of this section reveal a vital biblical principle.  The psalmist asks that the Holy One would teach him and at the same time declares that what he learns he will do to the end of his life.  This, in fact, is the essence of true learning.  The accumulation of biblical knowledge has limited value unless it produces the fruit of wise living.  We see this in the case of so-called ‘scholars’ who may know the Bible better than you do but whose lives bear no witness to its teachings.

Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is useless from the biblical point of view.  What matters to our heavenly Father is what we do with what we learn.  This is why the psalmist’s words are so instructive.  He repeats the same concept in the next verse as if to impress on himself the utter importance of what he had just penned.  Give me understanding and I will obey Your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart.  He then acknowledges that true happiness is found by living according to God’s word.

Echoing an attitude we saw in Part 2 – that is, that the Word of God is greater than any earthly treasure we may acquire – David prays that he would consistently be more eager to know and do the Word of God than he is to earn money.  Turn my eyes from worthless things, he cries, and give me life from Your Word.

Money – or the lack of it- ranks exceedingly high on the scale of mankind’s priorities. The acquiring of it occupies much of our time and attention.  Yet money – and possessions – are at best temporary.  David acknowledges that money is a part of life but looks past it to a greater priority; i.e., that zeal to live according to God’s commandments and statues is of greater value than millions in the bank.

Life is fragile. Life on this planet is temporary.  But there is a world beyond where life is eternal.  What we take into that world when we pass from this one will have nothing to do with our earthly bank account but everything to do with our heavenly one.  What does the balance sheet in the heavenly book reveal? Acts of obedience, of kindness, of humility, of service to others?

What are the ‘worthless things’ to which the psalmist alludes?  ‘Worthless’ means without value, useless, ineffective, unproductive, fruitless, empty, hollow and pointless.  When viewed through a heavenly lens, David is asking himself, ‘What am I really doing day to day? How do I spend my time? Are my activities productive from an eternal perspective or am I just filling up hours and minutes?  Is my routine empty, hollow, pointless?  Or do I spend my days in pursuing those things that foster life?  Prayer, study of God’s word, kindness, justice, compassion, service?  Am I living according to what I have learned?

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your word.

Is that my prayer?  Is it yours?

Selah.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 4 Feb. 2, 2016

In part four of Psalm 119, we read the following verses:

I lie in the dust; revive me by Your Word.

I told You my plans and You answered.  Now teach me Your decrees.

Help me understand the meaning of Your commandments and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.

I weep with sorrow; encourage me by Your word.

Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing Your instructions.

I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by Your regulations.

I cling to Your laws. Lord, don’t let me be put to shame.

I will pursue Your commands for You expand my understanding.  (119:25-32)

pray

The opening words of this section reveal to us a despondent or depressed psalmist, one who is disheartened. We don’t know exactly what discouraged him but as we go through life, we all have opportunities to feel the same way.  Where do we turn at such moments? The psalmist sets an example for us: he turned quickly to the Lord.

I told You my plans and You answered.  In his despondency, he voiced to the Almighty what he intended to do in response to the situation.  God listened and ‘answered’.  We are not told the answer but we get a clue by the psalmist’s next words: Now teach me Your decrees.  This is a man who has a living relationship with God; in his darkest hour, he knows where to turn.  He speaks to the Lord as a man speaks to his friend.  He relates his feelings and his discouragement to the only One who can truly help.  Whatever the situation, he knows that the ultimate answer to depression and discouragement is to meditate on God’s Word.  His promises are eternal and His compassion never fails.  He strengthens our heart to remain at peace in the midst of a storm by renewing our faith in His abiding care and protection.

The writer goes on to ask for understanding and commits to meditating on all the goodness God has already shown him in the past. I will meditate on Your wonderful deeds.  This is not just a vague or general statement but is personal to the writer and highlights a powerful truth: Gratitude – cultivating an attitude of thanksgiving – is one of the most powerful deterrents to depression and discouragement.  Recalling all the blessings we have already received from the Lord is a mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy exercise.  All those things we take for granted…the little things we never thanked Him for – calling them to mind stirs up within us the light of appreciation that drives the darkness of despair far from us.

Keep me from lying to myself, he continues.  Do you do that? Perhaps you’ve never thought of it this way but consider: Self-talk that is negative, degrading and demeaning is actually lying to yourself.  You are a child of God, beloved by Him.  On your worst day, you are still precious in His sight and His love is steadfast towards you.  To tell yourself otherwise is to lie to yourself.  Not a God-pleasing thing to do!

Now here’s the challenge: we are least inclined to pray or turn to God’s Word when we feel discouraged or depressed.  Yet that’s precisely when we need to do it the most.  The choice is ours.  Will we follow the example of the psalmist?

In the very next verse he declares, I have chosen to be faithful.  That’s a critical statement.  Notice what he didn’t say – I feel like being faithful or I’ll try to be faithful.  No, he said “I have chosen…”  He made a purposeful decision to do the very thing that will lift him from his discouragement; i.e., to immerse himself in God’s word.

I am reminded of the passage in Deuteronomy that says ‘…man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.’  Deut. 8:3

I make you this promise based on the Scriptures and the experience of many people I’ve known over the years: The surest path to freedom from depression and discouragement is choosing to turn to the Lord and to ponder and study His Word.

Make friends with the Psalms, especially this one that we are currently studying.  Purpose in your heart to increase the time you spend in reading scripture.  It’s the best investment for your soul.

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