Confession: I have not really been enjoying my morning devotional lately.
I’ve been using Portals of Prayer – nothing fancy, but usually it is a good solid time – but I just haven’t been inspired by it. Last month was great. They were written by a mom who I had a lot in common with. I loved it. This month the author has decided to focus on Psalm 119 and something in me is annoyed.
I try to use the Bible verses referenced as a jumping off point, and read more of the context than they necessarily suggest. One or two verses makes me nervous cause I feel like I’m not getting the whole story or the whole picture. But I don’t want to read more of Psalm 119. It depresses me.
Psalm 119 is, among other things, a focus on God’s word and law. The writer’s prayer is that he will be directed by God, that God would be gracious to him, and that he understands how vital God’s law is to his life. It’s supposed to be a model of how to live (probably), written by a priest. You understand more what the priests focus is when you recognize his frequent use of these words: law, statues, precepts, commands, ordinances, and decrees.
And it’s verses like this stanza (verses 97-104) that get under my skin:
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
I just can’t relate to this guy.
I certainly do not feel like I have more understanding than my elders, or that I have “kept my feet from every evil path.” It takes me about 2 minutes into my day to fall on my face in sin or judgment. I’d like to hate every wrong path, but I think if I said that I would be fooling myself. And do I meditate on the law all day long? Uh, if the law is how to get my children to cooperate – yeah! I’m all over that. I don’t think that is what the priest is talking about.
Not much inspiration for me here, but I’ve learned a little despite my resistance to connect with these verses. As is the practice in Portals of Prayer, the author identifies a verse in addition to the Psalm. These have been from the books of the gospel and also from Paul’s letters. And when delivered in tandem with the Psalms, they have been revealing. The other day he directed us to some verses in Romans about hope. They were followed by this:
[As hope sustains the believer in suffering, so…] In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Romans 8:26,27
This helped me a lot. When I read this Psalm I mostly feel like a total failure. I like the parts when the writer asks God for mercy and praises him for his faithfulness. But I certainly haven’t studied the laws as I’m sure this guy did. Here in Romans it was one more reminder that as a weak child of God, I have the advantage of the Holy Spirit to guide me – even in my prayers. What a relief.
Yesterday the other verse was in Matthew, the 23rd chapter, verses 23-24. These verses are in a section my Bible labels “Seven Woes,” and the beginning of the chapter starts like this (verses 1-5):
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing ot lift a finger to move them.”
I love Jesus’ imagery here. And he goes on to explain how these ‘teachers’ love to BE honored, but it is the humbled and the servants who will be exalted in heaven. He proceeds to explain the transgressions of the Pharisees and here is the one from verses 23 and 24:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Jesus is telling it like it is, and I love it. But what this really made me realize, is that I rarely define the Law as “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” My mind identifies Law with the Ten Commandments and the book of Leviticus. But the author of yesterday’s devotional points out that “The Law loved by the psalmist includes all of God’s revelation to man…”
Not only does his Word include Leviticus and stories of men failing to hold to the “precepts” he set before them, but it also includes the answer to our failings, which is Christ. When we think about the punishment we deserve for not keeping “the Law,” then we are reminded that “Christ endured our deserved punishment [so he could] satisfy justice for our sins, exhibit godly mercy.., and demonstrate God’s perfect faithfulness…”
And while I know I cannot compare with following the letter of the law the way this Psalmist seems to, I need to seek to live a life that reflects Jesus. I have to make myself putty in God’s hands, so he can mold me. And maybe if I meditate on God’s word and, I guess you’d call it, His Law J, then it might be a little less painful. Justice, mercy, faithfulness. Jesus says these are important matters that need to be our focus. And it is only Jesus that can deliver these things. Which I guess means my focus, should be Jesus.