pet exhorts owner to read her Bible

The following “better than average story” is the work of a dear friend of mine, Kathy Read, long-time secretary for the Missouri Street Church of Christ in Baytown, TX.

Enjoy.

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In today’s normal use of the language, we rarely use the word “exhort,” a word meaning “strong or ardent urging.” However, it seems that God inserts a wide variety of exhortations and reminders into our lives, some being ones we would never have even dreamed possible. For example, who would ever have considered the word used for exhortation to be “Arf?”

Now this year’s Bible reading project in my church family is the Psalms. I will freely confess: a regular reader of the Psalms I am not. I am not! But, I am once again giving this project a try.

Evening is when I do my reading in the Psalms and my evenings are spent with the faithful companion that God put in my life about ten years ago. She is a wee, small thing, currently down to her 98 pounds from her high of 110. In the dog pound she looked so beaten down and sad, but she looked at me like, “Please, take me out of this place!” And so I did and named her Shadow.

Now Shadow exhorts me at times. She has various ways to do this exhorting. Sometimes it is with a look. At other times it is an ear-piercing bark. And at still other times it is by simply walking over to the fridge and staring at the door as she tries to get her frozen marshmallows to materialize for our 7:00 p.m. game of catch. They are a relatively safe item to throw in the house, especially the mini-size. Great fun.

But, back to the Bible reading project. Normally about 8:00 p.m. I’ll say to my companion, “It is time to go read the Bible.” And after several weeks of this it is now routine for us, most nights. We go into the living room where the good old recliner and lamp are and we get comfortable; me in the chair and her laying right next to me on the floor. This year after nearly falling asleep reading silently, I decided maybe I’d get more out of it if I read the Psalms aloud … to Shadow. She doesn’t mind the mistakes or mispronunciations. After a few sighs, she looks up at me as if t say, “All is well” and she stops throwing balls at me and talking to me about various topics I’m still trying to understand and we read half a dozen Psalms or so together.

That is “Normally.” Some nights I doze off in front of the television and that is when my personal encourager/exhorter kicks in. She comes over next to me and stands there looking at me until she wakes me up. I’m supposed to move at this point, but some nights I can’t budge. She begins pacing back and forth from me to the recliner, to the recliner and me. If movement does not take place quickly enough, she walks back to me with a soft bark and walks back to the recliner. If by then I still haven’t gotten into gear, her exhortation kicks into high gear. She has the most ear splitting “Arf” you can imagine! You need ear protection for jet engines … and Shadow. By then, I’m on my way to the recliner, my Bible, and the lamp.

I start in with “O Lord” or “Sing to our God” or one of those beginning phrases throughout Psalms and once again the contented sigh is heard in satisfaction, knowing she has accomplished the work that God has placed in her being, to be that encouragement that a person needs in this world today.

Several thoughts come from this little message – exhortations to us all – but two stand out to me in this moment. First, look for the good, the encouragement in the smallest of things, and you will find it. And the second – the most important – is this: if hearing God’s word brings peace and contentment to an old dog, just imagine the joy and happiness it brings to God himself if we take the time to read of his love story to us.

Peace and “Arf!” to you!

day 52 – put a psalm in my heart

Today we complete our reading of the longest psalm (Psalm 119.145-176) and the words of songs old and new spring to mind.

“… you teach me your decrees. May my tongue sing of your word …” (vs. 171b-172a)

This morning we read Psalm 119.145-152. “… you are near, Lord …” (vs. 151a)

Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart,
Draw me my Savior, so precious thou art;
Fold me, O fold me, close to thy breast;
Shelter me safe, in that haven of rest.

At noon we read Psalm 109.153-168. “Great peace have those who love your law …” (vs. 165a)

Peace, perfect peace,
in this dark world of sin:
the blood of Jesus
whispers peace within.

This evening we read Psalm 119.169-176. “May my tongue sing of your word … Let me live that I may praise you …” (vs. 172a,175a)

I sing praises to your name, O Lord,
Praises to your name, O Lord;
For your name is great,
and greatly to be praised.

day 51 – put a psalm in my heart

Today we read Psalm 119.105-144 and focus on three significant thoughts.

Morning: read Psalm 119.105-120.

“Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.”

True praise of God on your part opens you up to, builds hunger in you, for the Lord to teach you. The first step toward understand what God says is to praise God. Sincere adoration is essential to correct interpretation. Interpretation not bathed in praise is self-deception and self-serving pride.

Mid-day: read Psalm 109.121-136.

“Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.”

God’s word remains wonderful in our eyes in proportion to the wonder with which we hold him in our sight. The way we think of, and act toward, his word reveals what we truly think of, and act toward, him. We cannot reverence God deeply and not serve him strongly. And so, the feeding of our awe of God is at the center of our following what God has said toward action.

Tonight: read Psalm 119.137-144.

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.”

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the proof of our God’s character is his fidelity to what he has spoken to us. He is passionate about keeping his promises and our passion comes, in part, from discerning the fulfillment of his promises. We love the Lord who cannot lie to us and we must not make ourselves comfortable with any lie within us as to our zeal for him. As we participate in the practice of his promises and thereby, find our passion for him renewed again and again and again.

day 50 – put a psalm in my heart

This morning we ask of God, wonder at noon if he’s gone AWOL, and then discover he has answered us in the evening (Psalm 119.73-104).

This morning we resonate with Psalm 119.73-80 and ask seven things of God:

“… give me understanding to learn your commands. … May those who fear you rejoice when they see me … May your unfailing love be my comfort. … Let your compassion come to me … May the arrogant be put to shame … May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes. … May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees …”

At noon today we are confronted with Psalm 119.81-96 and wonder if our requests, or we ourselves, make any difference to God. Seven times we worry aloud:

“My soul faints with longing for your salvation … My eyes fail, looking for your promises … How long must your servant wait? … The arrogant dig pits to trap me … Save me … The wicked are waiting to destroy me … To all perfection I see a limit …”

Tonight we relate to Psalm 119.97-104 and see that all we asked of God this morning, and fretted over throughout the day, has been addressed, seven-fold.

  • We asked for greater understanding and it was granted: “I gain understanding …
  • We requested that we become joyful encouragement to others, and it has become so: “I have more insight than all my teachers …
  • We begged that we be comforted by God’s unfailing love, and such has come to us: “… you yourself have taught me.”
  • We yearned for his compassion toward us that we might live, and that compassion has arrived: “… all day long.
  • We petitioned God to shame our/his enemies, and he has done so, for we can now say we are: “… wiser than [our] enemies.”
  • We solicited God to send God-fearing people to us, and that is what has happened: “I have more understanding than the elders …
  • And we appealed to God for a heart given wholly to obedience to him, and we are seeing growth of him in us: “… I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path …

Praise the Lord!

day 49 – put a psalm in my heart

Today, we ponder an excerpt of a careful composition (Psalm 119.33-72) and this preacher’s comments on it are exceedingly random, having only the thought of paying close attention tying the remarks together.

This morning we read Psalm 119.33-48.

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (vs. 37)

Three decades ago, you could commonly find available for sale in a Christian bookstore (remember those?), wooden plaques with verse 37 inscribed on them. More often than not, if you entered a Christian home and found such an item present, it was sitting on top of the television set. 😉

I wonder: if a similar thing existed today, would it be a decal to affix to the top of one’s smartphone screen?

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (vs. 37)

At mid-day today we read Psalm 119.49-56.

“Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.” (vs. 54)

Perhaps it is the effect of a combination of antibiotics and steroids on my brain, but ever since I began battle with a relatively mild illness seventeen days ago I have woke up every day with a song in my head that I cannot remove until I go to sleep again. Each day’s song is different and the songs are quite random, most of them being ones I haven’t heard in many years. Only this do they seem to have in common: they’re all old rock songs and seem to have a reference or two in them to some passage(s) of Scripture.

Yesterday, the song was “Missionary Man” by The Eurhythmics and the line that stood out to me was the opening words: “I was born an original sinner; I was born in original sin.” Which I construe as a nod by Annie Lennox and David Stewart to the influence of Psalm 51.5 on their brains.

Which leads me to ask myself: what songs do I deliberately sing to myself or aloud throughout the day, whenever and wherever, that speak directly to something the Lord has said?

“Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.” (vs. 54)

This evening we read Psalm 119.57-72.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (vs. 71)

It is anything but natural or commonplace for us to hear someone say, “I’m glad I suffered,” “I’m happy to have been hurt,” or “My pain now pleases me.” When we hear such a remark we, like a dog, likely cock our head to one side with our ears up, as it were, and then tune in even a bit more closely as to what might, most oddly, be about to be said, or happen, next. Such statements don’t, upon first hearing, seem right at all?

And yet, if we’re reflective, we can likely say this of something(s) quite specific in our own life, can’t we? We found ourselves flattened by something that came our way in life – or that we unwittingly brought upon ourselves – and then, what we had hardly been about before – or at least not in this depth or way – suddenly became our ceaseless craving, our very hunger and thirst: a word from God. Then we perceived what we could not before: the pain was worth it to hear from God.

Which makes me curious: what will it take for me to give more of my attention to God, what is it that I need to be aware of that I am oblivious to at the moment,  and what is it that I currently seek to avoid that would remove my deafness, learning, and appreciation?

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (vs. 71)

day 48 – put a psalm in my heart

Today, we begin the beauty of learning, and re-learning, our ABC’s (Psalm 119.1-32).*

Morning: read Psalm 119.1-16. Knowledge, by itself, is at best, a dead end street; at worst, an elevated freeway to pride. As surely as whenever God speaks, something happens, our knowing God’s word is not meant to be an end in itself. We’re to seek after what God would have us to know for the express purpose of becoming it and doing it. Or to put it another way: we take up learning our ABC’s so that we may actually be what God would write through/with us.

“You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.” (vs. 4)

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (vs. 11)

Mid-day: read Psalm 119.17-24. In the Western world today, we tend to think in terms of “head” and heart” being separate matters, the former referring to our reasoning and the latter addressing our affections. Such a separation is the opposite of Scripture’s understanding and use of the terms for in the Biblical world, and in the world of the Bible, these terms were/are synonymous. But, if we were to roll along anyway with our Western thinking here, we cannot help but be impressed with the pure, unbridled passion this author has for grasping what God has given. May we become more and more like this author in heart and head, daily, like a Labrador off the leash!

“My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” (vs. 20)

Evening: read Psalm 119.25-32. Fact: we are totally dependent on God’s involvement and good grace for any and every good thing in our life. This holds true for all that he has revealed to us both in creation and revelation. We know this innately whenever we marvel over a spectacular sunset or stare at the twinkling stars. We are transported in wonder and mystery to our Creator. No one has to tell us that there is far, far more to be known of him than what we will ever know, and that if we ever know more of him, it will come only by his granting us such insight, and not merely by our effort.

But, let us be remember: the same holds true when we peer into God’s “other” book of inspiration, the book we call Scripture. We do not merely need this book of God, we need God’s personal involvement with us in understanding and applying it in our life. As surely as we must open his book and open our hearts, he must open our hearts and his book to us. His work was not made complete in revealing his will; his work is made complete as we revel in his ways that are beyond words, or in the words of an old hymn, “beyond the sacred page.” And he does indeed work to that end … as we invite him to do so.

“Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.” (vs. 27)

* Note: This psalm, as is made obvious in the NIV’s rendering of it, is an acrostic; the thought divisions of the psalm follow the Hebrew alphabet. This is how it works. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and there are 22 distinct paragraphs in Ps. 119. Each paragraph consists of 8 lines/verses. All 8 lines of each paragraph begin with a word that has the same first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

Le me illustrate it this way: imagine creating a similar psalm in English. There would be 27 paragraphs, each of them 8 lines in length, making a total of 216 lines. Every line in the first paragraph would begin with a word that starts with the letter “A,” all 8 lines of the second paragraph with a “B,” etc. Oh, the thought and effort required to even come up with such a piece!

And so, the great love the author of Ps. 119 had for their subject – praise of God revealing his will to us in the form of his written word – is expressed not merely in what the author says, but in the very beauty of the form in which it is expressed. Like Rachael (cf. Gen. 29.17 KJV), Ps. 119 is “fair in face and form.” Quite literally, the medium is part of the message.

And the same is meant to hold true for us.