Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble. -- Psalm 119:165 (NKJV)
Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, there must be a good reason why Psalm 119 is so long. Open my eyes to see and understand Your personal message to me in this Psalm.
There's an old joke/question that asks: "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer: "One bite at a time." Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, conspicuous as an elephant in your front yard. This lesson will help you digest this "elephant" and be better for the experience.
Psalm 119 is not just long. It has a complex structure known as an "acrostic." It contains 22 sections of 8 verses each, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Within each section, all 8 verses begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm has other interesting features, but we'll discuss them later. Let's jump in and start reading from the New King James Version.
Aleph: The Pattern of a Happy Life1Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!
2Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
The first word you encounter is "Blessed," which means "How happy!" It translates the Hebrew word asher, which also begins the second verse. Since any repetition in Scripture should get our attention, we must conclude that God is personally interested in our happiness.
So what is God's plan for our happiness? He wants us to be "undefiled in the way" and to "walk in the law of the Lord." Most of us have an involuntary (negative) response to the word "undefiled," because we know we can't be perfect. But the Hebrew word, tamiym, doesn't mean perfection. It has a ceremonial flavor of being uncontaminated.
For modern readers, "uncontaminated" has meaning. We live in a culture of toxic music, toxic politics, toxic philosophy and toxic sexuality. A local radio commentator described our world as a sea of garbage, with healthy families serving as islands of refuge. The Bible says that life has always been this way, and that God is our Refuge.
But while God is our Refuge, we can't directly see Him or listen to Him on the radio. Instead, we must learn to find Him in the Bible, and let the Holy Spirit make Him real for us.
Furthermore, verse one emphasizes that "blessed" people "walk in the law of the LORD." They don't just pay short visits. Blessed people make it the pattern of their lives.
Verse two tells us that blessed people are not forced to follow this pattern. The truly happy people are the smart ones who actively love God and "seek Him with the whole heart." If your walk is half-hearted, you won't be half happy. You'll be the sorriest person on Earth.
Let me explain. Salvation is an all-or-nothing state of being, as described in our Transformed Life series of lessons. At some point in your life, you must repent of religious behavior and truly submit your heart to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When you are thus "born again," the Holy Spirit can truly enable you to follow Jesus and become transformed into His image. Your heart will change, and you will want to please God and abide with Him.
On the other hand, if you trudge along in a religious rut, looking "clean" but unhappy about all the fun you're missing, you're worse off than the heathen. Because you're missing out on the joy that only comes from following God according to His plan. And there's a chance that you might find yourself in Hell with the heathen, being mocked as a hypocrite.
Let's continue our reading of Psalm 119 with verses 3 through 6:3They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways.
4You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.
5Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!
6Then I would not be ashamed when I look into all Your commandments.
Notice that in verse 3, the blessed people "do no iniquity." "Iniquity" translates the Hebrew word evel, which means actively evil. Blessed people who seek God with their whole hearts don't have any time or desire to do iniquity.
Verses 4 through 6 paint an interesting picture. Blessed people understand that true joy depends on following God's precepts (verse 4). But I also understand that human nature (and the televised sea of garbage that surrounds us) pulls me in the wrong direction. My heart cries out for guidance and strength (verse 5) to resist temptation. The good news is that a born-again person can receive that wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit. And when I cooperate with the Holy Spirit and follow his leading, then I am not "ashamed when I look into all Your commandments" (verse 6). My conscience is clear.
Now verses 7 and 8:7I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments.
8I will keep Your statutes; oh, do not forsake me utterly!
If I'm doing this right, my heart will be filled with gratitude and joy. The natural response is to praise God (verse 7) for His love and blessings in my life. I have learned that my relationship with God is a treasure to be guarded and cherished. Life would be dull and painful if I were to drift away from God and be separated from Him (verse 8). If your life seems painful and dull these days, peek into the treasure room of your heart and take inventory.
Our take-home message from verses 1-8 is the second part of verse 2:2...seek Him with the whole heart.
Beth: The Foundation of the House
Verses 1 through 8 give us the overall pattern of a blessed life. The remainder of Psalm 119 paints a picture of our journey through real life.
Verse 9 is a picture of a person just beginning to build his or her life of faith:9How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
At some point, you must begin to follow Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Maybe you came to the Lord as a small child in Sunday School. Maybe you were like me, coming to the Lord at age 30. Maybe you came to the Lord decades ago but never really committed your life to following Him. It doesn't matter. At some point, each of us must recognize that this world is a contaminated sea of toxic lifestyles. Each of us must repent of our toxicity and ask "How do I get cleansed of this stuff?"
Verse 9 tells us that God's word is the key to our personal "detox" program. By now, you've probably noticed that the key theme of Psalm 119 is God's word or Scripture. The writer mentions God's word in almost every verse, using synonyms like law, testimonies, ways, statutes, commands, precepts, word, and judgments.
On a deeper level, we have the New Testament perspective of the gospel of John, chapter one, which begins:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Psalm 119, verse 9 tells us to take heed according to God's word. John 1:14 tells that the word became flesh and became the Word -- Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. The character of Jesus embodied the character of God as revealed from Genesis to Malachi: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control. Our highest aim in life is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts into the image of Jesus.
Verses 10 and 11 tell us how to begin that process:10With my whole heart I have sought You. Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
The newly reborn child of God must make a quality decision to follow God wholeheartedly (verse 10). The best way to begin is to invest quality time in Scripture study. As we plant Scriptures in our hearts (verse 11), we imprint our hearts with God's own values.
When we read with understanding, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we gain both intellectual and character wisdom. We experience the joy that comes from trusting God and acting in accordance with His will. We see the unhappiness and broken lives that result from disobeying God, and we choose to be happy and blessed.
Verses 12 through 14 are a natural response of the heart to the joy that comes from God:12Blessed are You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes.
13With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.
14I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.
When we finally "get it" and make Scriptures our passion, we begin to experience true joy. We praise God (verse 12) for His love and wisdom, and we want to learn more. Before long, we begin to share this joy (verse 13) with friends and family, testifying that God has truly changed our lives for the better. We want the whole world to know the joy that comes from following Jesus (verse 14). We treasure our relationship with God above all earthly riches.
Verses 15 and 16 reinforce our new-found commitment to walk in the light of God's word:15I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.
16I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
The word "meditate" in verse 15 translates the Hebrew siyach, meaning to ponder by repeating the words to yourself until the meaning sinks into our hearts. The process is not exactly glamorous by the world's standards, but it is effective. Not only do we learn the words (verse 16) but we grasp the incredible love that God has for each of us.
Our take-home message from verses 9-16 is verse 11:Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
Gimel: Early Enthusiam
Your growth in the Lord continues, as we see in verses 17 and 18:17Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.
18Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.
So now you have begun your walk of faith. You have begun experiencing the joy of following Jesus and studying Scripture. You can sense the changes in your heart. Your friends and family can see the difference.
Even your thought processes are changing. You're beginning to realize (verse 17) that your every breath depends on God, and that you can do nothing in your own strength.
As a natural result, you want to learn more. In verse 18, the Psalmist asks God: "Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law." You need to know more than just the words. You want to know the heart of God, who inspired every word of Scripture. And you want to live the Scriptures in a way that brings glory to God.
The changes in your heart also change the way you view the world, as we see in verses 19 and 20:19I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me.
20My soul breaks with longing for Your judgments at all times.
The world outside our door is very different from heaven. As you grow in the Lord, you sense that most folks are not living in accordance with Scripture. You realize (verse 19) that you are a foreigner in a toxic culture. It breaks your heart (verse 20) to see lost souls all around you who are destined for Hell unless they repent. These lost souls are not necessarily bad people; but they are dead people unless they repent and receive the free gift of eternal life.
Some of your neighbors and co-workers will not be pleased with your new-found growth in the Lord, as we discover in verses 21-24:21You rebuke the proud—the cursed, who stray from Your commandments.
22Remove from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept Your testimonies.
23Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
24Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.
Our "culture" is toxic because its leaders have toxic values. These folks are described as "...the proud-the cursed, who stray from Your commandments" (verse 21). This is quite obvious when you see the anti-Christian and anti-Semitic bias of the major network news commentators and newspaper publishers. If you try to follow Jesus, you are a "right-wing" religious nut in their eyes. If you are Jewish and faithfully trying to live by the Torah, you are branded "old-fashioned." Suddenly you understand what verse 22 means by "reproach and contempt."
Nobody escapes these attacks. As this lesson is being written, in early 2004, our President is being subjected to a hateful verbal assault from those seeking to defeat him in the November elections. To put verse 23 in context, these "princes also sit and speak against" anybody who would dare oppose abortion on demand or toxic sexual practices.
So what are we to do about all this? Should we carefully read and listen to the shameful talk of these people? God doesn't think so. His plan is for us to meditate on His word (verse 23) and to take our joy (and direction) from communion with Him (verse 24). God's word is the perfect antidote for the poisonous talk flying around in this election year.
Our take-home message from verses 17-24 is verse 18:Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.
Daleth: Getting Weary
Our next section begins with a different perspective:25My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word.
26I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes.
27Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.
Our initial burst of enthusiasm has run its course. We have learned great things from Scripture and survived our initial skirmishes with persecution. But at some point, we find ourselves feeling like verse 25: "My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word."
When will (did) this happen to you? It might take a month or a year, but at some point you'll just feel burned out and cry out for a fresh anointing from the Lord.
When this happens, be sure to include confession and repentance in your prayers. Remember that the root meaning of "sin" is coming short of God's standards. You might have been less sinful than anybody on earth for at least the past 3 hours, but your behavior still comes short of God's standards.
The Psalmist understands this principle, as we see in verse 26: "I have declared my ways, and you answered me; teach me Your statutes." The writer has confessed his ways to God, and God has responded with His own evaluation of the situation. With a teachable spirit, the writer says, in verse 27, "Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works." The writer submits to the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit to imprint God's precepts on his heart, cooperating with the process by meditating on God's wonderful works.
The next two verses sound like a downed boxer, rising from his knees to continue the fight:28My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.
29Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.
It's always wise to confess that we can't keep going in our own strength (verse 28). We feel pretty confident and self-righteous at times, but this toxic world ("...the way of lying..." in verse 29) leads us astray. That's when we realize our dependence on God's grace ("...grant me Your law graciously"). This principle is echoed in the New Testament in Romans chapter 3:23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Verses 30-32 of Psalm 119 tell us how to get up after a fall:30I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.
31I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame!
32I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.
The first step is to consciously choose "the way of truth" (verse 30) and to turn away from (repent of) "the way of lying" that we saw in verse 29. The next step is to keep a tight grip (verse 31) on the truth of God's Scriptures.
Finally, we must recognize that life is a long-distance run (verse 32). We can't make it in our own strength, but God will give us more capacity to do His will if we ask: "...You shall enlarge my heart." The usual human tendency is to pray for God to shrink our problems; God would rather solve our problems by giving us more capacity to deal with them.
Our take-home message of verses 25-32 is verses 25 and 32:My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart."
He: Regaining Our Momentum
At this point in the journey, we see the writer recovering from his first major setback as a believer. Verses 33 through 35 show his perspective:33Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.
34Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
35Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.
Verse 33 contains several key principles. "Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes..." reminds us that our human minds can't fully grasp the full depth of God's law. As a kid, I memorized the Ten Commandments in catechism classes and thought I knew all the basics. But I was stunned to actually read the full text of the Mosaic Law for myself as an adult. Even now -- more than 25 years and many end-to-end Bible journeys later -- I'm still amazed at what can be learned from God's law.
Let me repeat: our human minds can't fully grasp the full depth of Scripture. In fact, our human minds don't even want to learn. Hence the writer implores the Lord to "Teach me..." (verse 33) and "Give me understanding..." (verse 34) and "Make me walk in the path..." (verse 35). In other words, we must give the Holy Spirit permission to change our hearts and understanding so we may "delight in it" (verse 35).
Let's cover one more subtle point about verse 33 before we move on. The phrase "the way of Your statutes" has deeper meaning than just obeying laws. Remember in John 1:14 we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Jesus embodied the character of God as revealed in Scripture. Jesus told His disciples, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). When we ask the Lord to teach us "the way of Your statutes," we're asking Him to teach us how to be like Jesus. Think about it.
Let's continue reading in Psalm 119 with verses 36 and 37:36Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.
37Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.
The writer continues to stress the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us and change our hearts. There is a two-part process involved here. First, verse 36 invites the Lord to "Incline my heart to Your testimonies," and to help me appreciate the value of the Spirit-filled walk. The second part is a plea to "Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things."
Worldly stuff can be a snare. At best, it occupies precious space in our hearts. At worst, it can draw us away from God and toward sin. So we must echo the Psalmist's plea for the Lord to pull our eyes away from the worldly stuff ("...lead us not into temptation...") so that we can be revived in His ways.
Verses 38 through 40 continue on the theme of healthy recovery and revival:38Establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing You.
39Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your judgments are good.
40Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness.
Notice that the emphasis is on the work of the Holy Spirit, rather than our own willpower. Verse 38 says "Establish Your word to Your servant," and make it a healthy habit. Verse 39 is a realization that even our best efforts fall short of God's glory, as we saw in Romans 3:23 earlier in this lesson. By verse 40, we come to really appreciate the difference in our lives since we fully committed to follow Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. We want more of God's blessings in our lives, and we pray, "I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness."
Our take-home message in verses 33 to 40 is verse 37:Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.
Waw: Growing Pains
As we continue our walk of faith, our next test is how to behave when we're not in crisis. It's very easy to remember to pray when we've lost a job or a loved one. We know exactly where to focus our energies: on seeking the Lord's help in making it through the difficult period.
Fortunately, most of life is not a crisis. The Lord gives us peaceful times, and we relax. It's easy to let our prayer time be eroded by other pastimes. The danger is that we sometimes leave the house in the morning without putting on the full armor of faith (Ephesians 6:10-19). Then we are at risk for the rest of the day. Verses 41 through 43 of Psalm 119 describe a comfortable Christian who suddenly finds himself unprepared for what he's facing:41Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD — Your salvation according to Your word.
42So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me, for I trust in Your word.
43And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for I have hoped in Your ordinances.
In verse 41, the believer says "Oops, be merciful to me, Lord, and help me get out of this mess." Maybe the issue is a hostile co-worker, and the believer knows that the proper response is not returning the hostility. Time for a quick prayer for wisdom ("...an answer for him who reproaches me..." verse 42). With the Lord's help, the believer can receive "...the word of truth" (verse 43), and defuse the difficult situation.
So the believer escapes the small crisis. Now what? Can we afford this pattern of casual prayer?
Remember that God equips us with armor, not beach wear. We are to carry shields, not surfboards. We are to cope with life by using the sword of the Spirit, not the TV remote control.
The honest believer repents of his slothfulness and resolves to do better:44So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and ever.
45And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.
When we are walking according to "...Your law continually" (verse 44), we are bathed in the love of God, shielded by His power and equipped for every good work.
An amazing discovery is that completely submitting to the Holy Spirit brings us complete freedom! Verse 45 says "And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts." When our hearts are drawn to seek what God wants, we are completely free from the snares of this world.
Now is the time to take inventory and see if you are trying to carry a worldly "issue" with you down the path of freedom. Is there something in your life that you'd be embarrassed to admit to your pastor?
You should be especially concerned if you are carrying an issue of substance abuse or harmful habits. Addictions are idolatry, since they become the driving passions in a person's life. Jesus said that we cannot serve Him while in bondage to alcohol or anger. A man cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13).
Are you in bondage to anything in this world? Have you allowed yourself to be enslaved by a habit? Has your anger become an issue? Have you allowed your own children to control your life? God can set you free, but you must give Him permission. Remember that the Christian's bar of soap is 1 John chapter 1, verse 9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Your part is to admit you are sinful and powerless to get better in your own strength. God's part is twofold. He can give you legal pardon for your sins. But just as important, He can purify you from the mud that you have wallowed in. You will be free. You will be clean. You will be able to "walk at liberty" (verse 45).
Verses 46 through 48 describe the natural reaction of a man or woman who has been set free:46I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
47And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love.
48My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes.
Our new freedom gives us great boldness. We become sensitive to opportunities to "...speak of your testimonies" (verse 46) and tell others about the life-changing power of God. Our friends and co-workers will notice that we're different, and that we seek to please God (verse 47) rather than observing the latest fad.
But verse 48 reminds us that our most-important duty is private worship. We cannot pretend that we love God if we don't spend quality time with Him every morning. We cannot be imprinted with the wisdom of Scripture if we don't study the Scriptures. We will not have power in spiritual warfare of ministry if we have not allowed the all-powerful Lord to indwell our hearts that morning.
Our take-home message for this section is verse 45:I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.
Zayin: Dark Days
Are you old enough to have experienced more than one major crisis at a time? Those of us over 50 are vulnerable to losing parents, friends and close relatives to physical death. Many times, a death will happen soon after another trauma, and we feel devastated. The Psalmist shares his feelings during one such difficult period:49Remember the word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope.
50This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life.
51The proud have me in great derision, yet I do not turn aside from Your law.
Happy days have come and gone. Dark days have come and set siege to our hearts. We feel surrounded by pain and loneliness. We can't remember what laughter feels like.
Sooner or later, we turn our hearts to the Lord and seek help. To our great surprise, we don't hear His voice right away. We don't feel His joy right away. Are we doing something wrong?
The Psalm writer's heart is broken, but his mind comes to the rescue in verse 49: "Remember the word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope." The writer remembers the Scriptures, and remembers that the Author of Scripture is faithful. So he calls upon God to honor His promises.
Not only is God faithful, He knows and loves each of us personally. Strange as it sounds, He knows exactly what's in our hearts and how much we can take:No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of excape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
No matter how bad your pain is, God knows you can get through this if you turn to Him in faith. Hence verse 50 of Psalm 119: "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life." The writer doesn't feel any better yet, but he's starting to regain hope.
In verse 51, we see that the devil has friends who are not friends of yours. You may know them personally or professionally. Unfortunately, they might even be members of your local church fellowship, sitting in self-righteous judgment: "You must have done something really bad to deserve this!"
Twenty years ago, I was faced with an unwanted and very painful divorce. Every day I sought counsel from the Lord, and received just enough comfort to keep going. After a few weeks of this terrible process, my pastor called me into counseling and said I was wrong to be getting a divorce. It hurt terribly to have him accuse me of wrongdoing. Fortunately, the pastor was a good man; he changed his mind swiftly after trying to have a similar conversation with my then-wife. To his credit, he called me and apologized soon afterward. I knew I had not turned aside from God's law (verse 51), and the Lord made that clear to my pastor.
When these long periods of depression strike, we become grateful for small blessings, as we see in verses 52 and 53:52I remembered Your judgments of old, O LORD, and have comforted myself.
53Indignation has taken hold of me because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.
In a quiet moment, the writer takes inventory. He experiences a moment of comfort (verse 52), knowing that the Lord is in charge. Then he takes stock of his friends and enemies. In a flash of insight, the writer begins to understand that some folks are contributing to the problem. Could it be coincidence that the problem folks are those who are not walking in the light and love of the Holy Spirit? Verse 53 makes it clear that the rebels against God's law are not just misguided; they can truly be agents of evil. Our experience makes it clear that these evil agents can be anywhere, including in a pew next to you every Sunday morning.
Since we won't necessarily get comfort from our acquaintences, we continue to seek comfort from God:54Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.
55I remember Your name in the night, O LORD, and I keep Your law.
56This has become mine, because I kept Your precepts.
Remember that this world is a pilgrimage (verse 54). This world is toxic, and the nights can be very long and dark. But we "remember Your name in the night, O LORD..." (verse 55), and stay true to our principles. We honor God (verse 56), knowing that He will keep His promises.
The take-home principle in this section is verse 50:This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life.
Heth: Mid-Course Correction
At this point of our journey, our pain has driven us to our knees. Each day we have gained just enough comfort to keep going. Eventually we come to a revelation, Psalm 119, verses 57-58:57You are my portion, O LORD; I have said that I would keep Your words.
58I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; be merciful to me according to Your word.
In this world, earthly parents leave an inheritance to their children, divided among them as the parents see fit. As usual, God has a better idea. Instead of houses, land or other perishable stuff, He gives us Himself (verse 57).
The word translated "portion" is the Hebrew word cheleq, meaning "inheritance." The believer in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, receives an early partial distribution of his portion:13In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13-14
At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that He would soon go to the Father. Then He made these remarkable statements, recorded in the gospel of John, chapter 16:6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.
7Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.
The disciples loved Jesus and had followed Him everywhere for three years. How could they possibly be better off with Jesus gone?
The disciples didn't fully grasp that Jesus needed to die on Passover to be the sacrificial Lamb whose blood would cover the doorposts of all our hearts. His sacrificial death paid the price for the sins of all who believe in Him. Before Calvary, the disciples were sincere but they weren't saved.
After Calvary, and after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, they were born again to a different type of life. They were still following Jesus, but now Jesus could speak to them through the Holy Spirit and give them daily guidance in their ministry.
We should still be following Jesus according to this pattern. Sincerity and church attendance are not enough. We must fully trust that we are saved by faith in Jesus' sacrifice and not by our own works. We must submit to the Lordship of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts that we can be born again. Then we must follow Jesus, as the Holy Spirit reveals His will to us.
The point is that God is our portion, as we saw in Psalm 119, verse 57. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our portion, and we are called to follow Jesus as the Holy Spirit leads us.
As a result of this work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are called to live for more than ourselves. We are called to be ministers (servants) of the Gospel, abiding in Christ (John 15 verses 4 to 10) and showing the work of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our hearts.
When we come to this revelation, we get fresh perspective on our problems and fresh resolve to serve the Lord, as we see in Psalm 119, verses 59-60:59I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies.
60I made haste, and did not delay to keep Your commandments.
This turning (verse 59) is called repentance. In this case, we are not repenting of violating God's laws; we are repenting of selfishness. We are not repenting of bad stuff; we are repenting of our stuff. God did not give us the indwelling Holy Spirit to simply make our lives wonderful. He expects us to share.
God wants us to realize that He is our Treasure, He is our inheritance and He is the most-precious Gift we can give our children. God wants us to be completely devoted to following His Son, Jesus -- abiding in Him and permitting the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts into His image.
We are called to become ministers (servants) of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we are called to be ordained ministers or missionaries. Very few of us are called by God to be pastors. Even fewer are called by God to be missionaries to foreign lands infested by cockroaches and snakes. We are all called to be salt (seasoning and preservative) and light in our own families and communities. Jesus told His disciples:13“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
With this realization, we pull free of our weariness and gain new joy:61The cords of the wicked have bound me, but I have not forgotten Your law.
62At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.
In verse 61, "cords" translates the Hebrew word chebel, meaning ropes. Obviously you have not been tied down by physical ropes, but by the invisible chains of this world's value system. Our generation has grown up saturated in radio, television and musical messages. A tiny fraction of these messages include the Gospel message. All the rest, including the great majority of televised "religious" programs, are voices of other values.
Whether you realize it or not, every message you hear imprints your heart. Your conscious mind might understand and reject the falsehoods, but a portion of your heart hears every word and accepts it uncritically. Nazi and Communist propagandists understood this principle and bombarded their subjects with constant "Big Lies." The bigger and more outrageous the lie, the more times it was repeated until the "common wisdom" was that the lie was true. Modern politicians still indulge in this practice, especially in election years. Does the expression "weapons of mass destruction" ring a bell?
Now is the time to start recovering from the cumulative effect that radio, TV and music have had upon your heart. Resolve to spend more time alone with God, reading His word and listening for His voice. Then, "At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You" (verse 62) -- we will have the joy of the Lord morning and night, good times and bad.
As part of our recovery, we need to include one more element in our resolutions:63I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts.
64The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes.
We must commit to spending quality time with other believers in worship services. In the epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 10, the Apostle Paul wrote:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
It is important to reinforce our own experience of rebirth and revival by spending time with other believers. We must not forsake "the assembling of ourselves together" (verse 25); that would allow this toxic world's messages to be our primary source of information.
Do you regularly attend a church fellowship where the Scriptures are faithfully taught (Psalm 119:64) and followed? Can you see and sense the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people in that fellowship? If not, then you should immediately seek the guidance of the Lord in finding another place of worship.
Our take-home message in this section is verse 59:I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies.
Teth: Learning from Affliction
As we continue to recover, our joy in the Lord increases:65You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
66Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments.
We understand that despite our problems, God has been faithful to His promises (verse 65). Receiving salvation as a free gift, by faith, is wonderful beyond belief. But God is not just faithful; He loves us, personally and passionately. He showers us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, that we might have "good judgment and knowledge" (verse 66) as well as great joy in every circumstance.
Another insight comes to us:67Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
68You are good, and do good; teach me Your statutes.
In your early walk with the Lord, perhaps you were too "inclusive." You might have indulged in a habit that was harmless to others but toxic to your spiritual walk. Only you know what that practice is or was. And you never confronted the consequences until you hit the hard times.
As you sought the Lord's guidance to escape the hard times, the Holy Spirit quickened your heart to the "mid-course correction" we described in the previous section. Now that you have repented, you can tell the Lord, "now I keep Your word" (verse 67).
More importantly, you understand that "whom the Lord loves, He chastens" (Hebrews 12:6 and Proverbs 3:12). "Chastens" means correction or discipline. If God didn't love you, He wouldn't bother giving you a spanking every now and then. The right response is Psalm 119 verse 68: "You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes."
Your insights continue, as we see in verses 69 through 72:69The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
70Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in Your law.
71It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.
72The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver.
Remember our discussion of the the toxic messages bombarding us from radio, TV and music? Most of these messages advocate values that contradict Scripture. Worse, they speak evil of people who believe in Jesus, as we see in verse 69: "The proud have forged a lie against me." Christians are portrayed as hateful and intolerant by people who themselves are hateful and intolerant.
The healthy response to these lies in found in verse 70: "Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in Your law." You can't change these people, but you can fill your heart with Scripture to neutralize the toxic messages and strengthen yourself in the Lord.
It is important to learn how to praise God in every situation. Then we can honestly say "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes" (verse 71). And we recognize that God's promises in Scripture are "better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver" (verse 72).
If you find yourself unable to praise God in difficult times, please take a few minutes and read our lesson on the subject.
Our take-home message for this section is both verse 67 and verse 71:Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.
Yod: Deeper Love
As we mature in the Lord, we appreciate God's love on deeper levels:73Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
74Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in Your word.
Maturity begins when we truly appreciate both the gifts and the handicaps that God has given us.
Deeper maturity begins when we truly appreciate both the gifts and the handicaps that God has given other people.
Every cell, every muscle, every organ in your body exists according to God's plan for your life. This means that every weakness or deformity exists according to God's plan for your life. Likewise every weakness or deformity in other people should be recognized as God's plan.
This is very difficult to accept. The devil would have you believe that a loving God wouldn't allow you to suffer. In fact, the opposite is true, as we saw in the previous section. God afflicts and disciplines us precisely because He loves us.
God wants us to remember that our true inheritance is Him. He will reward us in His Kingdom according to our faithfulness during our brief lifetimes on earth. We gain rewards by responding in faith and praise to our afflictions.
I don't enjoy my afflictions. Some of my afflictions are physical deformities. Others are hidden from view but no less real. But I've learned to praise God for not giving me physical perfection. I've learned to thank God for not giving me worldly self confidence. This learning process is essential, and even the Apostle Paul had to go through it, as we see in chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians:11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (KJV, emphasis added)
We do not gain eternal rewards for enjoying our God-given physical strength or beauty. We gain eternal rewards for praising God for His love for us. We gain eternal rewards for responding in faith and love to the afflictions of this life.
How should we respond to the handicaps and afflictions that other people experience? Let's repeat these verses from Psalm 119:73Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
74Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in Your word.
The normal human tendency is to feel uncomfortable around people with handicaps. God says that He fashioned every one of these handicapped people (verse 73), and that Christians who love God should "be glad when they see" handicapped people (verse 74).
Just as every affliction that we encounter is an opportunity for faith and growth, our handicapped friends have even more potential for faith and growth. Their physical and mental limits are constant reminders that this toxic world is not their home.
Every human life is a gift from God. Every human being is fashioned by God according to a plan that you and I can't fully grasp.
God's plan and His fashioning begin long before we are born. Psalm 139 verses 13-16 says:13For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
15My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.
At this point, we must discuss abortion. Every form of abortion, including the "morning-after" pill, takes innocent life that was fashioned by God.
There are very few abortions that can truly be called "therapeutic." When the life of the mother is threatened by a medical complication involving the pregnancy, the Christian family must pray. The Holy Spirit may give a gift of healing to rescue mother and unborn child. At the very least, the Holy Spirit will give wisdom to the family to understand His will in that situation.
Advances in medical science enable doctors to evaluate the development of the unborn child. This includes predicting handicaps or deformities, and pressuring the parents to terminate the pregnancy. Well-meaning doctors might call this "euthanasia" (a mercy killing), and speak in terms of the "quality of life" of the unborn child. Don't listen to them. Murder is murder, and premeditated murder is the worst type.
The unborn child is fashioned by God, to fulfill God's purposes and to testify of God's goodness. Every life is precious to God. That realization brings us to greater maturity.
Another level of maturity comes when we recognize that God created the heavens and earth in six 24-hour days, not over 16 billion years. All of our lives, we have been bombarded with evolutionary theory, which claims that life organized itself from random combinations of molecules. We intuitively know this is ridiculous. Everything in the universe is wearing out and becoming less organized. Left to itself, nothing in this universe is combining itself into more-complex forms.
Consider that all living animals and plants have DNA. Each creature's DNA contains the pattern of that particular life. Scientists have known since the 1950s that DNA is amazingly complex. Furthermore, it is a digital code, more complex than any computer program ever devised by man. No computer on earth is as complex as the DNA of a skunk. How could DNA be constructed by the random interaction of molecules?
Evolutionary "science" claims that the universe is billions of years old, pointing out that distant stars are billions of light-years away. In other words, it now takes billions of years to travel that distance at the present speed of light. But strong evidence is surfacing that the speed of light is slowing down dramatically. Barry Setterfield has published articles proving that the speed of light was millions of times faster in the distant past. Light may have traveled instantaneously before Adam's fall, but it has been slowing down ever since. I encourage you to visit Barry's web site and read some of his articles.
Now let's return to Psalm 119 and read verses 75-77:75I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
76Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant.
77Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight.
Verse 75 reaffirms what we've been saying about our afflictions and imperfections. God has allowed us to be afflicted, but "Your judgments are right." We can trust God's plan because we trust God's faithfulness.
Verses 76 and 77 speak of God's "merciful kindness" and His "tender mercies." Mercy is not receiving the full penalty that our sins deserve. God is kind and tender towards us, like a loving parent. We read of God's love in Scripture, and we experience His love day by day.
Verse 78 through 80 speak of the believer's growing awareness of his circumstances:78Let the proud be ashamed, for they treated me wrongfully with falsehood; but I will meditate on Your precepts.
79Let those who fear You turn to me, those who know Your testimonies.
80Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed.
Who are "the proud" of verse 78? Just turn on your television and take your pick. Some of them are network news anchors. Some are supposed to be entertainers. Some are politicians. Very few of them are born-again Christians. Most favor abortion on demand and endorse perverted sexual practices (which is any sex outside of marriage).
Any Christian or political conservative will agree that "the proud" folks have "treated me wrongfully with falsehood." Jesus spoke of these hypocrites in John 8 verse 44:44You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
Jesus was speaking of the religious hypocrites of His day, the Pharisees. These "proud" folk didn't have TV as a platform, and couldn't be successful politicians because they weren't Romans; therefore religion was their career path to fame in their communities. The Pharisees of our times are easily detected through their attitude toward the Bible. If they value any other book equal to or over the Bible, or if their current leader's teachings are considered "the living word" and given precedence over the Bible, then beware of "the proud."
With falsehood spreading all around us, we must continually reinforce our hearts in Scripture and fellowship with other believers (verse 79). We must strive to live every day according to God's word (verse 80).
When we live in the light of the Scriptures, we grow more aware of the falsehood surrounding us. But we also grow more aware of God's unfailing love for us. That's why our take-home message for this section is verse 76:Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant.
Kaph: Revive Me Again
Our next section might cause some puzzlement:81My soul faints for Your salvation, but I hope in Your word.
82My eyes fail from searching Your word, saying, “When will You comfort me?”
83For I have become like a wineskin in smoke, yet I do not forget Your statutes.
84How many are the days of Your servant? When will you execute judgment on those who persecute me?
Why is my life in crisis this time? I've kicked (most of) my bad habits. I've been faithful to God's word (verse 81). But here I am, crying over my Bible and asking "When will you comfort me?" (verse 82).
I'm really tired of this. My heart feels dried up "like a wineskin in smoke" (verse 83), and my only consolation is praying Scripture to the Lord. How long will the Lord let my enemies get away with the persecution we see in verse 84?
Welcome to real life. As long as we seek to please the Lord, we anger the enemy of the Lord. The Apostle Peter described our enemy and how to respond to him:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
Peter says (verse 9) that "the same sufferings are experienced" by all believers. But we should not accept this persecution as helpless victims. We should "resist him, steadfast in the faith." Our enemy will land a few punches, but God will give the victory "after you have suffered a while..." (verse 10).
In the meantime, we must "be sober, be vigilant" (verse 8). As this lesson is being written (early 2004), our nation has spent more than two years fighting "The War on Terror." In Iraq and Israel, the agents of the devil continue to perform sneak attacks and suicide bombings. Innocent people get killed. Some pacifist politicians and TV commentators wring their hands and pontificate that we should "be nice" and pull away from these conflicts. Unfortunately, we cannot. We must "be sober, be vigilant." We must "resist him, steadfast in the faith," both in politics and in our personal lives.
Continuing with Psalm 119, we read:85The proud have dug pits for me, which is not according to Your law.
86All Your commandments are faithful; they persecute me wrongfully. Help me!
Our enemy is not a nice person, and neither are his followers. Fortunately, our God is faithful, and we will have victory if we continue steadfastly in faith according to the Scriptures. Remember the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, and the summary verses:32And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
35Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
Our enemies don't play by God's rules, as we saw in Psalm 119, verse 85. We feel tempted to seek revenge right away, in fleshly anger and in our own strength. But we must allow the Lord to help us (verse 86) according to His plan and His timetable. We have the testimony of Scripture that God is faithful to His promises, as we see in Hebrews 12:1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
At times, we do feel "weary and discouraged" as Hebrews 12:3 above tells us. In fact, our trials are often life-threatening -- as we read in Psalm 119 verses 87 and 88:87They almost made an end of me on earth, but I did not forsake Your precepts.
88Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.
There is only one way out, and only God can help us get there. We must echo the plea of the Psalmist in verse 87: "Revive me!"
My friend, God will revive you, because He loves you. Be faithful to trust Him, keep your mind on His lovingkindness, and give Him praise in every situation.
The take-home message of this section is verse 88:88Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.
We have studied exactly half of Psalm 119 so far. I suggest you take time to process this lesson before continuing to the next lesson.
To help you in your review, here is a summary of our take-home messages:2"...seek Him with the whole heart."
11Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.
18Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.
25My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. 32I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.
37Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.
45And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.
50This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life.
59I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies.
67Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. 71It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.
76Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant.
88Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.
Closing prayer: Father, my problems feel overwhelming some days, but I know You love me and have a wonderful plan for my life. Open my eyes to see the power of Your promises, that I may be encouraged to act in faith. Guide me by Your Holy Spirit, and give me fresh vision for this day. Amen.
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The Whole Armor of God: Ephesians 6:10-19:10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—19and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,
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