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.

day 47 – put a psalm in my heart

Today, uncommon wisdom speaks to us as thanks is given, invitation made, and a party begun (Psalm 116-118).*

This morning we read Psalm 116 and listen to a joyful one offer up a thanksgiving celebration. As we do so, we’re wisely reminded of something we may not think of often at all:

“The Lord protects the unwary …” (vs. 6)

At noon we read Psalm 117 and give our attention to an excited herald declaring a global invitation. In so doing, something we may take for granted is insight-fully emphasized:

“… extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us …” (vs. 1b-2a)

Tonight we read Psalm 118 and hear an elated king speak in a victory procession. And this is surely so that we might never forget in whom we place our true faith and find our security:

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. … The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” (vs. 8,14)

* Note: Portions of all three of these psalms are quoted in the NT (Ps. 116.10; 117.1; 118.6,22-23,25-26). Jesus’ use of Ps. 118.22-23 is especially striking for the context in which Jesus quotes it (Matt. 21.42; Mk. 12.10-11; Lk. 20.17) is very much like the context of the psalm itself – a king surrounded by enemies that constantly swarm about him like bees (vs. 11-13; cf. Matt. 21.12.15,23,45-46; Mk. 12.12-13,18; Lk. 20.1-2,19-20,27).

day 46 – put a psalm in my heart

Today we consider a sanctuary alive with the living God and people who are as dead as their gods (Psalm 114-115).

This morning we read Psalm 114. And as we do so, we see nothing can stand in the way of the God who has determined to make for himself a people of his own. Even the most immovable of matter, sea and mountain, turn back and leap at his command and so nothing can stand in the way of his having his people. God has set up his home and his home is in and among his people.

“When Israel came out of Egypt … Judah became God’s sanctuary …” (vs. 1-2)

He is with us. Let us remember this when we feel as if God is distant or diminished.

Tonight we read Psalm 115 and are struck with the insensibility of those who claim to be sensible. Some look at the “evidence” and mock asking us where our God is now, all the while oblivious to the dead and nothing gods they have made for themselves and in whom they still vainly place their trust. We, however, have eyes to see the blessings of God to come and remain undeterred in giving him praise.

He is for us. Let us not forget these things whenever we are insulted or injured because we believe.

“… their idols … have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. … hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound … Those who make them will be like them …” (vs. 4-8)

And so:

“… it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord.”

day 45 – put a psalm in my heart

Today we’re reminded of the importance how we begin, and why we do, everything: we praise the Lord (Psalm 110-113).

Morning: read Psalm 110.* Consider who the Lord is, greater and stronger than any.

Our Lord rules over all.

Noon: read Psalm 111-112. Consider how what our Lord does affects his people and all others.

Our Lord brings blessing through his will and ways.

Evening: read Psalm 113. Consider what the Lord does for those who are weakest.

Our Lord notices all and stoops to serve any.

* Note: Psalm 110 is the psalm most frequently referenced and quoted by other writers in Scripture. In fact, nearly no OT text is channeled more often in the NT.

day 44 – put a psalm in my heart

Today, we wake up making music and bringing song to the Lord … and then we go to bed having had a very difficult time with the day (Psalm 108-109).

This morning we read Psalm 108. We know times like this and – dare I say it, and say it this way? – live for them. We wake up with a heart full of love for, and joy in, the Lord. A song is in our heart and we praise our great God (vs. 1-2,4-5). We think of good we can do for others and how we’ll speak of God’s goodness to them (vs. 3). Sure, we’re plainly aware of great troubles around and within us (vs. 6-12), but those things now appear more clearly in focus, much smaller and weaker than we had seen them before. And why is that? Because we have a confident spirit of faith in our God today. Our motto today is indelibly embossed on our mind:

“With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.” (vs. 13)

But, tonight we read Psalm 109. And we know times such as these, too, don’t we? God appears to be silent to us, unresponsive to what we have had to say to him (vs. 1). Further, as the heavens appear to be closed to us now, simultaneously the earth is opening up all around and beneath us as human relationships suddenly turn exceedingly dark and go bad for us (vs. 2-3a). We’re mystified and deeply hurt, for we can make no sense of it all (vs. 3b). We believed we had only tried to be a true friend to others and prayed for them steadily, but now they’re on the outs with us, and even at odds with us (vs. 4-5). Our head reels and our wounded spirit refuses to stop bleeding.

And things then grow even worse for us. Our hurts are so deep and the pain inflicted on us only intensifies and continues. Dark thoughts start to cloud our gray matter and begin to completely re-color even how we now talk to God, our God, the God who has been so seemingly silent toward us (vs. 6-20).

And then, like a thin shaft of light, some great sense breaks through in our spirit and so, we do the only sensible thing: we cry out to God and say,

“Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.” (vs. 26)

Having reached this point, we can now begin to deal with the horrors in our heart, rather than allowing them to have their way with us. And so, we get up and begin a journey back to God in praise of him (vs. 26-31). Whereas before we just wanted to find a cave and wall ourselves off from the hurts inflicted on us by others, now we determine to emerge and praise afresh the God who calls us to trust him anyway. We rejoin the journey with God and determine to do so with with others, knowing full well the risks of such anyway. And so we declare afresh with faith:

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.” (vs. 30)

Given the choice, which one of us wouldn’t rather simply live only with the morning’s experience? No one wants to take the evening’s path! But, they feed each other, no? Psalm 108 emerges from times such as Psalm 109, just as surely as Psalm 109 follows times like Psalm 108. Such is the long and winding road through the valley of the shadow of death … which the Good Shepherds sees us through, if we will only continue to have eyes to see him and remain on the journey with him.

Amen. And amen.