Bible Text: Psalm 119:1-8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: the Way to God's Blessing Psalm 119:1-8 by William Klock Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday. It marks the beginning of the second half of the Church Year. The first half of the year, from Advent to Whitsunday, is about the life of Christ; the second half is about our life in Christ. And so it makes sense that since ancient times the psalm appointed for singing or reading on the Sundays of Trinitytide is Psalm 119. Maybe more than any other of the psalms, the 119th tells us how to live as God’s people. Martin Luther called it the gospel in a nutshell and said that he wouldn’t trade one page of it for the entire world. The psalm itself is a long one. In fact, it’s the longest chapter in the Bible at 176 verses. It’s said that the Scottish reformer George Wishart, when he was about to be executed for heresy, was asked what passage of scripture he would like read before he was hanged. He was expecting a pardon, but it hadn’t yet arrived and there he was standing on the gallows with the noose around his neck, so he requested Psalm 119. And the story goes that just as the priest was finishing the psalm, a rider arrived carrying Wishart’s pardon. (It’s a good thing Wishart’s favourite Bible verse wasn’t “Jesus wept”!) Now the reason the psalm is so long is that it’s actually an acrostic poem. Each stanza is made up of eight lines and in each stanza those eight lines all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Every line in the first stanza begins with aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Then in the second stanza each line begins with the second letter, beth, and so on through the whole Hebrew alphabet, which gives us twenty-two stanzas—one being appointed for each of the first twenty-two Sundays after Trinity Sunday. It’s an ABC’s, if you will, of the life and experience of the Christian. And so for the next twenty-two Sundays it is my goal to preach through these stanzas. We’re the people of Living Word Parish and our focus as a congregation needs to be, and I hope is consistently, on the word of God, both as it is written in the scriptures and as it is incarnate in his Son, Jesus Christ. It shouldn’t be any surprise that Psalm 119 has the same focus—that the believer must be rooted in God’s holy word and that God’s blessing comes in the form of holiness and godliness. Jonathan Edwards said, “I know of no part of the Holy Scriptures where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in the 119th Psalm. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verse of the Psalm, keeps his eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellency of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law—that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature, and prescription of holiness to the creature—is all along represented as the great object of the love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commandments ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold;’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.’ With that, let’s look at that first verse. If you’ve got your Bibles with you, please turn to Psalm 119. I’ll be preaching from the English Standard Version, but the Coverdale translation in the Prayer Book is not far off and you can follow along there just as easily, on page 421. I want to look this morning at the first stanza, the aleph stanza, which introduces the rest of the psalm. The Psalmist says: Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! (Psalm 119:1) Everybody wants blessing, but we all have two problems as we go looking for that blessing. The first is that because we are fallen—because our natural inclinations are always away from God and what he wants for us—what we consider blessed is never what God considers blessed. He created us as blessed creatures, but we rejected the life he gave us and ever since we’ve been redefining what it means to be blessed, sometimes it’s money and worldly “things” but even when we create what seem to us lofty and altruistic goals—say, world peace—we ignore God. It doesn’t matter how good it is, if it doesn’t have God at the centre, it’s not truly blessed. And of course, because we’re looking for everything except the blessing God wants for us, we go looking for it in all the wrong places. We trust in ourselves or, if we’re smart enough to know that we can never truly be self-sufficient, we try to squeeze blessings out of others or we insist that we have an inherent right to be blessed and insist that our government give that blessing. Maybe we do look to God for blessing, and yet the god we look to isn’t the true God—it’s an idol of our own making, a cosmic genie, who exists only to grant our wishes, only to grant what we think is best for us. The human race is looking for blessing, but we don’t know what real blessing is and we’re looking for it everywhere but in the one place we can find it. And so God tells us through the Psalmist: blessing—real blessing—is found in being blameless—in being holy—and that we find that holiness as we walk in God’s law. From the world’s perspective that’s as upside-down as it gets. Remember back to when we studied Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and he said all those things about the people God blesses: the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. The world says that you get blessing only when you grab everything you can for yourself. Blessing comes to the tough, to the hardboiled, and to the troublemakers—to the people who know how to get what they want. Of course, that’s because the world’s ideas of what it is to be blessed are, well, worldly. There’s no thought for God’s kingdom and his priorities. Submit to God? The world says, “Not me! No way!” If you want blessing everyone and everything has to submit to you! In a way Psalm 119 is an Old Testament parallel to the Beatitudes. In fact, when the ancient Jews translated the Scriptures into Greek, they translated the Hebrew word that is used here for blessing using the Greek word makarios—the same one that St. Matthew uses when he records Jesus’ sermon on blessing. God’s idea of blessing is well-being and happiness in the deepest sense. It’s to be in the state that he created us—or at least as close as we can be to it this side of the New Jerusalem. Ultimately it’s to be in fellowship with God—the very thing that humanity lost in the Fall. If we understand that real blessing means fellowship with God, then it ought to make sense that blessing comes with blamelessness—with holiness. Sin separates us from God. He is perfectly holy and for that reason he cannot tolerate sin—not even a “little” bit. Because he is just, he’s obligated by his very nature to punish us for our sins. That’s why he sent his Son. Jesus did what we can never do. He was perfect. He was holy and blameless, and when he died he took our punishment on himself. Now as we trust in the sacrifice he made on our behalf and as we make him our Lord, we can be holy again. We can come into the presence of the Father with Jesus as he covers us with the long robe of his righteousness. The Father sees not our sins, but the holiness of Jesus. In that sense the Psalmist points to Christ. Jesus was the only one who ever truly walked in the law of the Lord, and yet even as through Christ we are declared holy before God, he declares us holy so that we can begin living lives of actual holiness. Not perfectly—never on this side of eternity—but still actual holiness. The Holy Spirit indwells us and grafts us into Christ. He gives us new life and he gives us power over sin. He changes our priorities. He turns us away from the world and all the world’s mixed up ideas about what it means to be blessed, and he turns us to God and makes fellowship with him and living a life pleasing to him our new priorities. And of course as he turns our eyes in that direction, he directs our steps there too—we start down a new path as we follow the ways of God—as we walk in his “law” as the Psalmist says. Now what does that mean? The Hebrew word is torah. It refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, which the Jews referred to as “the Law,” because the law that God gave his people through Moses dominates those books. There are eight different words that the Psalmist uses throughout Psalm 119 that are almost, but not quite, synonymous: law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, word, and way. One of these words is found in every single verse except for verse 90, and they all refer to God’s revelation in terms of his instructions to his people. We don’t know who wrote Psalm 119. It may have been David, and some aspects of it are similar to the psalms we know he wrote, but there are other aspects that suggest this psalm was written much later, maybe after the Babylonian Exile. But if it was written by David, consider that the only parts of the Bible written in his day were the torah—those first five books—and maybe Joshua and Judges. When he writes about the law, that was his Bible, and so there’s a sense in which all these words Psalm 119 uses—law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, word, and way—simply refer to Holy Scripture. Remember St. Paul wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s the same principle that the Psalmist is getting at here. True blessing is found in holiness, and true holiness is to follow the instructions God has given us in Scripture—to walk close to God. Now look at verse 2: Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, Again we ask, “How can I be blessed by God?” And the Psalmist tells us: “Keep God’s testimonies.” When we think of God’s law we think of his commands—of the thou shalt’s and thou shalt not’s—the rules we follow to please God. And yet there’s more to godliness than just following rules. The Pharisees followed the rules, but they weren’t particularly godly. God warned his people over and over that lip-service and going through outward religious motions wasn’t enough—in fact he hated that kind of external piety. So, ask yourself: What’s a testimony? It’s a record of evidence. When you testify in court, you give evidence. When God testifies in Scripture he goes beyond merely telling us what to do and not to do. Yes, we can learn about him by studying his rules, but he doesn’t just leave us rules. Holy Scripture is a testimony of God to his people: who he is, what he’s like, how he works, what he does, and what he wants from us—so that we can know him. Notice the Psalmist says that the man or woman who is blessed keeps those testimonies and then follows that saying, “who seeks him with his whole heart.” Maybe “keep” is an understatement. I read an article this past Fall about a guy who was obsessed with airline travel back in the days when it was still fun and still a luxury. As a kid his family flew a lot on Pan-Am and he would walk the aisles collecting “souvenirs” that other people would throw away: placemats, coffee stirrers, cups, headphones, brochures, and then he’d take it all home where he carefully stored it all away for years. Now he’s an adult and has turned his obsession into an actual mock-up of a Pan-Am 747 first class cabin in his garage with walls, floors, stairs, seats, a bar—everything—scavenged from old Pan-Am planes. And it’s real right down to the dishes and silverware, placemats and coffee stirrers. In fact, the articles told how he had recently heard about a company that had made headsets for Pan-Am in the 1970’s and had several crates that had been in storage for thirty years. This guy went all the way to Singapore to pick them up. Now would you say that that man’s whole heart was involved in his hobby? He didn’t just “keep” airline paraphernalia—he treasured it, maybe even hoarded it—it became his life. And so for the man or woman who has his or her whole heart set on seeking God. Religion isn’t a hobby. A Bible isn’t something we pull out every once in a while like you would a stamp album. We don’t even just crack it open to read a few chapters each day—readings that we might not even remember an hour later. No, the one who truly seeks after God, pours over his testimonies—the word wherein God reveals himself to us—and treasures that word, mediates on it, memorises it, makes it a part of his life, that he might know God better. We know God as we know his word. If you don’t know God’s word, you can never truly know God. Do we pursue the knowledge of God and fellowship with him like we pursue other things in life? Is the pursuit of God a hobby, or is it our life? Verse 3 shows us the results of walking in God’s law and keeping his testimonies. It describes these people as those: who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but it’s also true that the more we seek after God the less wrong we will do. And yet it’s more than just doing no wrong—we walk in God’s ways. Is God holy simply because he does no wrong? Of course not. Doing good is as much a part of holiness as doing no wrong. Think of it this way. What if a farmer thought his only job was to keep his fields free of weeds. We could look at his beautiful acres and acres of weed-free…dirt. Would we call him a good farmer? No. A productive farmer not only keeps the weeds at bay, but plants a crop and tends it so that it will grow. Brothers and sisters, we need to think of holiness in terms beyond just avoiding sin. We need to remember that holiness is also to do good—it’s to know God and follow after him. It’s not enough to not hate your enemy. Show him love and do good to him. For most of us that’s a challenge and it serves as a reminder that we need to spend more time seeking after God and treasuring up his testimonies! The Psalmist goes on in verse 4: You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Here he talks about what God desires from us in terms of precepts. The idea behind a precept is a command, but more than that; it’s a command that God has entrusted us with. If God entrusts you with something, would you ignore and squander it? It’s sad to say that we do all the time, but we shouldn’t! Consider how many earthly things we treasure—things that have no eternal value—and then consider how much we ignore the things God has given us, favouring the earthly things over the heavenly things. It doesn’t make sense, but it happens because our thinking is still worldly. This is exactly why we need diligently to seek after God and his word as we long to have our mind, our perspective, and our thinking changed. If our perspective is heavenly, it’ll be completely natural to diligently keep the precepts God gives us. We diligently apply ourselves to the things we care about most. If you’ve got something worldly in one hand and a gift from God in the other and need to make a choice between the two, what are you going to do? If you throw away the divine in favour of the worldly, it’s because you need to do more of what the Psalmist exhorts us to in this psalm! Now, knowing what he needs to do and knowing that he doesn’t have the power in himself to do it, the Psalmist prays. Look at verse 5: Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! As we seek to please God, we’re prone to making two mistakes. On the one hand, lots of people think that pleasing God is just a matter of will-power and that they can avoid sin and do good all on their own—that it’s just a matter of knowing what God wants and then doing it. We’ve all probably tried that at some point. Some of you may still be trying that despite experience telling you that it’s not working. Brother and sisters, you and I can never pursue holiness without the help of God. And so the Psalmist asks for help. He cries out to God: “Keep me steadfast in following you!” But I said there are two mistakes we make. One the one hand we can try to do it on our own, but there’s an opposite mistake. Have you ever heard someone say: “Just let go and let God”? We have the modern Holiness Movement to thank for this little piece of bad advice that has led millions of Christians to seek after holiness by doing nothing more than praying for it. That’s just as futile as trying to do it on your own. Yes, the Psalmist pleads with God for help, but he also reminds us that God expects us to actively seek after holiness steadfastly, diligently and tenaciously by committing ourselves to the knowledge of God and his ways as they are revealed in Scripture. I know of no better way to overcome a particular sin than to study scriptures that address it and then commit them to memory—and then to ask the Holy Spirit to make every occasion of temptation into an opportunity for obedience as he brings the precepts of God to mind. Think about that. Do you ask God for help in pursuing holiness? That’s just as important as knowing what his standard of holiness is. Does your daily time of prayer include not only confession of sin, but also an appeal to God for help in overcoming it? This is the point behind the Collect for Grace in Morning Prayer in which we pray, “keep us by your mighty power, and grant that today we fall into no sin…but lead and govern us in all things, that we may always do what is righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s the point behind our post-Communion prayer in which we pray, “And here we offer and present to you, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice, humbly beseeching you that all we who are partakers of this holy communion may be fulfilled with your grace and heavenly benediction.” St. Paul calls us to be living sacrifices. Have you ever thought about what that means? If you put a living sacrifice on the altar, its natural tendency is to climb back off that altar and run away—and that’s just what our struggle is as Christians. We need, each day, to consciously lay ourselves on God’s altar and then pray that as we are diligent in seeking to know him and his ways, his Spirit will change our hearts and open our eyes to the great value of staying on the altar when we’d rather climb down and run away. Because, friends, staying on the altar has its benefits—that’s where we find God’s blessing, but it’s a blessing we won’t understand unless our hearts and minds have been regenerated by the Spirit. The Psalmist goes on in verse 6: Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. Shame is the consequence of sin, but with God’s help we can overcome sin and not have to experience that shame as we fix our eyes on all his commandments. Notice that word all. Whether we realise it or not we struggle with that word. Thomas Manton wrote, “Many will do some good, but are defective in other things and usually in those which are most necessary. They cull out the easiest and cheapest parts of religion, such as do not contradict their lusts and interests.” When we’re really honest with ourselves, we have to admit that a lot of the sins we avoid and a lot of the good we do have the wrong motive behind them. We avoid a lot of sins not because we desire to please God, but because we fear getting caught. We happily “overcome” the sins that we aren’t particularly attached to, but all of us have certain sins that we secretly love—sins no one knows about or that most people are willing to ignore. One of the surest signs of Christian maturity and a sign that our hearts are being drawn closer to God is our giving up of those secret sins we love—when we are willing to fix our eyes on all God’s commandments, not just the ones that are convenient or that aren’t painful for us to follow. He goes on in verse 7: I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. How often do we rejoice and praise God when his law convicts us of sin or calls us to some new duty that we’ve never seen before? As the Spirit shows us some place where we’re deficient in holiness, do we groan about it as if it’s some new chore we have to deal with? For the maturing Christian who is devoted to God, the Spirit’s sanctifying work may bring tears as we realise how we’ve failed God, but it also causes us to rejoice and praise him as he works to make us holy so that we can walk all the more closely with him. It’s interesting where the Psalmist goes from the theme of praise. Look at verse 8: I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! I will keep your statues. Real praise results in action. Charles Spurgeon preached, “When praise calms down into solid resolution it is well with the soul. Zeal which spends itself in singing, and leaves no practical residuum of holy living, is little worth: ‘I will praise’ should be coupled with ‘I will keep.’ As I said last week when I preached on worship, real worship is the result of feelings for God that come from the knowledge of who he is and what he’s done. What he expects from us is part of that too. Praise is the result of a desire for God and so true praise is always going to go hand in hand with a real desire for keeping God’s statues—with being obedient to him. But as we all know, it’s a daily struggle. The stanza closes with a plea for grace. The Psalmist knew the struggle and so he cries out “Do not utterly forsake me!” Brothers and sisters, that’s the prayer of a man who knows that he is a sinner in need of God’s grace. Is that our prayer? Or do we still think we can do it on our own? “Do not utterly forsake me!” That’s the prayer of a man who desires God enough to offer himself as a living sacrifice, but still cries out to God to provide the fire. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you have given us new life through the death and resurrection of your Son and regenerated our hearts by your indwelling Spirit, and yet so often the enticements of the world draw us away from you. Give us a passion for you and give us a passion to know your word that we might follow you more closely and find blessing in your presence. Give us an all-consuming passion to draw near to you by knowing your law, your testimonies, your ways, your precepts, and your commandments, that we might daily place ourselves on your altar as living sacrifices, while relying on your grace to keep us there in the centre of your blessed will. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who makes us holy. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:9-16 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Safeguard of Purity Psalm 119:9-16 by William Klock This morning we’re going to look at the second stanza of the 119th Psalm, verses 9 to 16. For those of you who weren’t here last week, I explained that for the next twenty-two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be preaching through Psalm 119, which is the Psalm specified for most of Trinitytide. You can follow along in your Bibles or in the Prayer Book, where this stanza is found on page 421. As I said last Sunday, this is an acrostic poem. That means that in each stanza, each verse begins with the same letter and that the psalm works its way through all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In this second stanza, each line begins with the Hebrew letter beth. Now unlike our letters, Hebrew letters (and this is true in most ancient languages) are actually words. As languages came to be written down, letters were named with the common words that began with them. Beth means “house” and I found it interesting this week as I was working through this passage that the key concept in these verses is purity. House and purity, or, how one keeps his house pure. As I’ve been reading the meditations and commentaries that the Church Fathers made on this psalm, I’ve found that in almost every stanza they find a connection like this between the letter and the stanza’s key idea. It’s always amazing to me how the Holy Spirit packs Scripture with meaning and sometimes in places that we never think to look. Now, as Christians purity is one of our first concerns. Think of your experiences with new Christians. When we first make Christ our Lord, we usually go through a period of great excitement. A lot of people find that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes and convicts them of sins they’ve tolerated in their lives and that initial love and passion for Christ often make it easy to set those sins aside. And yet as time goes by, we become accustomed to that first love and passion and it becomes the norm. We settle down a little bit and our struggle with sin becomes more difficult. Because we’ve been awakened to love for God by the Spirit, we’re conscious of our sin and God’s holiness and we long to be more holy, but pursuing holiness becomes a struggle. At first we might have felt spiritually invincible, but then reality sets in as we see ourselves continuing to fall into sin, over and over. Like Paul we’re confused by our own actions. We hate the sin in our lives and we want to be holy, but instead we see ourselves living out the sin we want so much to put behind us, not the holiness we aspire to (Romans 7:16-20). We understand what we saw the Psalmist saying in verses 1-8, that blessing is found in being blameless, and we want that blessedness so badly, and yet our feet (and our hands, and eyes, and ears, and everything else) keep leading us to sin. What’s the answer? How can we be pure? Look at verse 9: How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. Don’t let the Psalmist’s use of “young man” keep you from applying this question to yourself. Hebrew wisdom literature is almost always addressed to this hypothetical “young man”. Those of us who are men have been there and know, that as young men we probably needed this godly advice more than anyone else, but it applies to everyone. So how can you keep your way pure? That’s the question every true Christian is going to ask, because purity—holiness—is the great pursuit of every true Christian. Let me say, if you have no desire for holiness, you need to backup and ask whether or not you’ve trusted in the saving power of Christ’s death and whether or not you’ve made him your Lord, because once you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit take up residence in you and turns your heart and mind toward God and godliness. If you are concerned about pleasing God, that’s evidence that you have the Spirit and are a Christian. If you don’t have that evidence of the Spirit, you may not have the Spirit and, therefore, may not have ever trusted in Christ. But the Christian has to ask: How do I keep my way pure? The Psalmist says that you guard your way according to God’s word. The word used for “guard” is used in other places for describing how a shepherd guards and watches over his sheep. In other places it’s used to describe the way soldiers guard their captives or prisoners. In either case, we’re talking about consciously, actively, and alertly protecting our “way”—our life and our character. There are all sorts of things out there competing to give us advice and inform our “ways”. The world, the flesh, and the devil are working at us on a thousand different fronts every day, telling us to respond to this or that situation in their way. Each of us needs to ask: Which source of guidance is going to keep my way pure? God’s word or the competing counsel that arises from my fleshly and sinful nature, from the sinful world around me, or even sometimes from the devil and his minions as they spin their web of lies? One of my favourite examples, especially since the Psalmist is addressing this to young men, is King Rehoboam. Rehoboam was Solomon’s son, and when Solomon died he became the new king. When he showed up at his coronation he was confronted by a bunch of men who were tired of slaving for Solomon. Remember that he’d conscripted the men of Israel to build the temple and to build his palace and some of them were tired of all the hard work the king was demanding from them. They wanted Rehoboam to promise to take it easier on them. So Rehoboam first went to his father’s old and seasoned advisers, men who were steeped in the word, just as David and Solomon had been, and he asked them what to do. In their wisdom, they told him that if he was kind and if he responded gently to the people, they would be loyal to him as their king. They sound like men who had been reading Solomon’s Spirit-inspired proverbs. But Rehoboam didn’t like this advice, so he went to his friends—young men as it says—and asked what they thought. They told him that if he wanted to get anywhere as king he needed to tell these troublemakers who the boss was. So Rehoboam went back to the protestors and showed them his little finger and said, “You think my dad was hard on you? You haven’t seen anything yet! I’m king now and my little finger is bigger than my father’s ‘loins’. I’m a real man. Compared to me, my father was a wimp. Now get back to work!” Of course the protestors didn’t like that and they revolted. The end result was that ten of the twelve tribes revolted, split from the kingdom and formed their own kingdom and the rest of Israel’s history was one of almost constant war between the two—all because one young man decided to do his own thing instead of following the Scripture-laden advice of those very wise men. How often do we get into trouble because we do our own thing instead of living according to Scripture? The Psalmist asks: “How do I keep my way pure?” You keep it pure by guarding it according to God’s word. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “You must take heed to your daily life, as well as study your Bible, and you must study your Bible that you may take heed to your daily life.” Look at verse 10: With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! We need a guide. Take note: No one ever stumbles into holiness. No one’s ever lived a holy life by accident. If we desire to be holy, it means committing to pursue it with all our heart and soul and mind. And yet even still, the greatest desire isn’t enough. We need instructions and guidance. We need God’s word. It’s our map and our field guide as we go on the way. When I was a boy scout I remember one particular campout that was designed to teach us how to use a map and compass. They dropped us off and we had to hike six or seven miles to the campsite using our map. As we hiked along our patrol leader noticed a creek at the bottom of a ravine. We were pretty sure that creek passed not far from the campsite and he thought that it would be easier to climb down to the creek and follow it instead of following the map and using the compass. We found out later that had we followed the creek we would have been lost, because it wasn’t the right creek. We were spared getting lost, because halfway down the side of the ravine we stirred up a bees’ nest and were swarmed by bees that drove us back up to the ridge we were supposed to be on, although a lot worse for the wear. Following the creek looked like a good way to go at the time. Following the map would have taken a lot more work, or so we thought. And yet it was the way the map showed us that was the way to get us to our destination. As we walk the Christian life there are all sorts of things like that creek to distract us. They look good. They look easier. But whenever we stray from the way of God’s word, we’re always going to get into trouble. The Psalmist knew this. He’d taken his spiritual lumps and probably learned the hard way more than once. Think of David, who because of his dalliance with Bathsheba and because he had her husband murdered, had to suffer through the death of his beloved child. And so the Psalmist says in verses 11 and 12: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! Here’s one of the most important steps for living obediently and in holiness: store up God’s word in your heart. Why? That you might not sin against him. I said last week, if you struggle with sin, the most important thing you can do is to meditate on and memorise Scripture passages that deal with the particular sin you’re struggling with. Once the word is stored up, it comes to mind when you’re tempted and turns every occasion of temptation into an occasion for obedience. Store it away. Having you Bible handy isn’t enough. Store in your heart. It really means, store it in your mind. The ancient Jews didn’t understand modern anatomy. What we know to be the emotional and rational functions of the brain they attributed to the heart. What the Psalmist is saying is to memorise it. Carrying your Bible around is great, but if you forget it or someone takes it away or if you need it’s prompting on short notice or don’t know where to find what you neeed, it’s not always very useful. The most useful place for God’s word is in your head. It’s always ready and no one can take it away. Think of those Christians persecuted in countries where their faith is illegal and the only Scripture they know is what they’ve memorized. No one can take that away and they treasure it, because they know that it’s their one faithful guide in life and their only reliable way to know God. If David is the author of this psalm, consider that he could learn God’s ways from a whole host of priests that ministered in his God’s in the tabernacle, from Nathan the high priest and prophet, and consider that David himself was a prophet. David no doubt did learn from Nathan and from those priests—we have at least one example—and as a prophet David received the divine oracles of God, and yet his all-consuming passion was not for teaching from those other sources, it was the Scriptures themselves. I think we so often go looking for God in other places, whether it’s seeking the advice of others or waiting for some form of private revelation, because those things are easier than learning God’s word for ourselves. God makes himself known in a variety of ways and we’re encouraged to avail ourselves of them, but never does Scripture ever tell us to guard our way according to the advice of Christian fiends, or private revelations, or dreams or visions or any of those other things. There are no shortcuts on the road to holiness. Learn the word. Study it. Memorise it. Meditate on it. As the Psalmist says, God himself is blessed. Have you ever noticed how happy people like to share their happiness with everybody around them? God shares his blessedness the same way. God is blessed in being holy and the way for us to find blessing is to walk in obedience to him—to be holy ourselves—and as we walk closely with God he shares his blessed state with us. And so the Psalmist prays: “Teach me your statues that I might be holy and blessed too!” This is his prayer at several points throughout Psalm 119. In fact, it’s the knowledge of God’s statutes that brings praise to his lips. In verse 171 he proclaims, “My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.” That should give us pause for a serious spiritual reality check. Do we give God praise as he shows us his commands and as he teaches us how to be obedient? Does the recitation of the Ten Commandments here on the first Sunday of each month move you to praise as it reminds you of what God expects from a holy people? Does the Spirit’s conviction of sin as you read study and meditate on Scripture move you to praise God? It did for the Psalmist, because he knew and was convinced that holiness was the way to blessing and that blessing was found in close fellowship with God—something we can’t have if we bring sin into his presence. Now, how does he learn God’s statues? Look at verses 13-15. First, the student becomes the teacher: With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. Here’s another reality check. Is God’s word so precious to you that you can’t contain it within yourself? Do your praises of it spill out because you just can’t keep a lid on it? How many other things do you learn or read about that you just have to share with your friends, all the while keeping God’s glorious word to yourself? And as we do what should come naturally, God teaches us even more deeply. Those of you who have been teachers understand this. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it—to tell others—because you first have to learn it and comprehend it well enough that you can communicate it to others, but in addition to that, you reinforce what you’ve learned as you teach it. Even when we’re not teaching or telling others, vocalising the Scriptures is one of the best ways to reinforce them in our minds and to start the process of memorisation. Consider how much easier it is to memorise a Scripture passage when you repeat it out loud than when you try to memorise it by silently repeating it in your head. Verse 14 gives us Step Two: In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. Make God’s word your great delight and your first priority. Delight in the word the way worldly people delight in their money and their possessions. When I was little I like Donald Duck comics. How many of you remember Scrooge McDuck from those comics? He was the tycoon who spent all day in his money vault. If he wasn’t counting his gold he was swimming in it. It was his passion and his delight. Consider that David was rich beyond our imaginings. He was one of the great kings of the ancient world. He had gold and silver. He had land. He could have anything he wanted and yet he took greater delight in the word of God than he took in all the things of the world. Jesus asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Without the knowledge of God, we can have everything else, but still lose our lives eternally. Is God’s Word more important than the world for you? Look at verse 15: I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. This is what naturally follows as we delight in God’s word. Meditation is something we don’t hear about much in the modern Church. Today, when we hear the word “meditation” we’re probably more likely to think of things like yoga and eastern religion. And that’s sad that this eastern idea of meditation has almost completely displaced the Christian practice of Scripture meditation. Today when we approach Scripture in any depth our tendency is to turn it into an academic exercise. We pull out the commentaries and the dictionaries and start analysing each verse. That’s not bad. We need to approach Scripture that way, but we also need to approach it at other times prayerfully and ready for the Spirit to open our eyes to what he has to say, but to do that we have to slow down. You can’t rush through the Bible while you meditate on it. This isn’t the “Bible in 90 Days” or even the One Year Bible. It’s a lifetime exercise that involves reading Scripture slowly as you pray the words back to God, memorise them, ponder them and mull over them and let God speak to you through them. That prayerful conversation with Scripture coupled with the more “academic” study of it is what drives home the message of God’s word and causes it to be stored away in our hearts, with the end result that it serves to fix our eyes more directly and more consistently on God. Meditation is hard work, but it’s also joyful work as we draw nearer and nearer to God. Consider what God told Joshua: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. (Joshua 1:8) Living in God’s word brings knowledge of God and knowledge of God results in obedience. It also strengthens and grows our delight in him. Look at the final verse in this stanza: I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Now, delight is a good translations, but it doesn’t fully carry the meaning of the Hebrew word into English because the form of the Hebrew word isn’t the normal form of “delight”. It’s an intensive. It’s “delight” with a bunch of exclamation marks after it. It’s a happy and glorious excitation in the statues of God. The King James reads, “I will delight myself in thy statutes.” The Psalmist didn’t have any need for worldly sources of entertainment. He had no reason to get bored because there wasn’t anything to do. Regardless of where he was or what was going on around him, he carried his own source of joy and delight with him wherever he went and whatever he was doing, because he had God’s word stored up in his heart. Brothers and sisters, where are we at with God? You may have trusted in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but our Lord then calls us to grow. He calls us to walk alongside him. Friends, that’s how we enter the presence of God. Jesus takes us there himself. But we can only follow him in obedience to the extent that we know him and know his ways through his Spirit-inspired word. Do you feel far from God? Do you just go through the motions on Sunday morning? Do you want to follow him, but don’t seem to be able to figure out which way is the right way to go? The Psalmist’s delight in the word and his praise for God’s commandments are, I think, something that challenges every Christian to grow. But he also reminds us that regardless of where we’re at—whether you’re a young Christian with a long way to go, a middle-aged Christian who might have let his walk stagnate, or a great elder of the faith still pressing on to that upward call—wherever you’re at, God’s word is the source of your growth. It’s the meat and drink of every growing soul. God told Joshua not to let it depart from his mouth; he told him to meditate on it day and night. Again, why? That he might be careful to do all that is written in it. Every Christian desires purity, holiness, and close fellowship with God. The way to find it is to know God’s word and walk in the way it lays out before us. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you for revealing yourself to us in your word, that we might have a way to know you. Forgive us for all the times we ignore it and walk according to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Give us passion for your word that we might delight in it as the Psalmist did that it might guard our way and keep us close to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:17-24 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: The Sojourner's Help Psalm 119:17-24 by William Klock Last Sunday, in looking at verses 8-16 of Psalm 119, we heard the Psalmist acknowledging that God’s Word is the only sure for guard for a young man who tries to keep his way pure. We heard him pleading with God to keep him living according to his commandments. We heard him declaring his delight in God’s testimonies and that he would meditate on them and keep his eyes fixed on them, again, all that he might keep his way pure. I want, this morning, to look at the third stanza: verses 17-24. Here the Psalmist is no longer the young man whose ways would be anything but strait without the Word; now he’s the maturing servant of God. He’s following God and as he follows him, he’s learning to count the cost of walking in God’s ways instead of the world’s. And he’s also discovering that more he grows the more he finds himself walking through enemy territory. Maybe you’ve noticed the same thing in your own life. The more you mature in the faith, the more you ground yourself in God’s Word, and the more you commit to walking according to his ways, the more you find yourself walking apart from the world, and the more you realise that your real citizenship is heavenly, and not so much an earthly citizenship. The more careful you are to follow God, the more you find that you long to be close to him and the more you can identify with the Psalmist’s delight in God and his Word. That’s exactly what we see happening to the Psalmist here. In fact, we’ll see that this stanza has a structure that parallels the previous stanza and that emphasises his movement from spiritual immaturity to growing saintliness. Look at verse 17 (if you’re following in the Prayer Book, you’ll find this stanza on page 422): Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Notice first that he addresses himself to God as his servant. The Old Testament uses this word often to describe God’s worshippers, but it also uses the same word when it talks about slaves and subjects. This is the same word that described the Israelites as slaves in Egypt. It’s the same word used to describe conquered nations that owed tribute to a conquering king. To be in fellowship with God is to follow him, but to follow him is to be his servant and to be under his command—to owe him your all. If you follow God, you can never again be your own master. Adam and Eve fell into sin because they put themselves before God when they started listening to temptation instead of following his commands. This means that if we’re going to follow God, he requires that we follow him wholly. Think about it: a slave doesn’t decided when he’s going to obey. A conquered king doesn’t decide when he’s going to pay tribute. But a lot of Christians decide when they’re going to serve God and when they’re not. A lot of people are happy to proclaim Jesus as their Saviour, but they aren’t willing to make him their Lord. Jesus sacrificed himself for their sakes, but they aren’t willing to sacrifice themselves for him. That’s what St. James was getting at when he said that faith without works is dead. We aren’t saved by our works and we’re not saved because we’ve made Jesus our Lord, but real saving faith in him as Saviour is always going to show its genuineness by our making ourselves his servants. There’s no fence sitting in God’s kingdom. Either you follow him or you don’t. Following him part-time isn’t an option. Consider what this word, “servant”, means coming from David. God himself had chosen David and had him anointed as king of Israel. He had made David powerful and rich. And yet when David comes to God, he comes to him not as a king declaring his greatness. He comes to God as his servant. He asks God to deal with him bountifully not because he’s a great man, but because he’s doing his best as a faithful servant. And notice too, that David doesn’t ask God to deal with him bountifully so that he can do his own thing. How often do we approach God with our own agenda in hand? David asks for God’s bounty so that he can live to keep that Word to which he’s devoted himself. He’s asking to be enriched so that he can not only continue as God’s servant, but day by day become an even better servant. Bishop Cowper wrote, “To an elect man, life is a great benefit; for by it he goes from election to glorification, by the way of sanctification. The longer he lives the more good he doth, to the glory of God, the edification of others, and confirmation of his own salvation; making it sure to himself by wrestling with victory in temptations, and perseverance in well doing.” The Christian knows that he owes God for his physical life, he knows that he owes Jesus for his new spiritual life, and he knows that without the ongoing work of the Spirit in him, he can never live out the real purpose of his life, which is to live by God’s Word. And so the true Christian prays, “Lord, deal bountifully with me—equip me—so that I can devote myself to you even more.” But as we saw him say in the last stanza, we need help to follow God. No one becomes holy by accident. Look now at verse 18: Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. “Open my eyes.” That’s the greatest prayer we can pray. It’s the prayer of the blind man who, in verse 10, prayed, “Let me not wander.” It’s our first need as sinners, because every one of us is born spiritually blind. Jesus said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). Unless God opens our eyes to the wonders of the Gospel, no one can ever be saved. And yet it doesn’t stop with salvation. He continues to open our eyes. The more we walk with him, the more we see. But he has to open our eyes. Last summer when Veronica and I were over in Vancouver for a few days, we took in the “Dutch Masters” exhibit that was at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was an amazing exhibit to me. Ever since I studied art history in college, I’ve been fascinated by the Dutch Masters. They were the first painters to really begin painting in intricate and realistic detail. Until you’re very close, many of their paintings can almost be mistaken for photographs. I could have easily spent an hour or more in front of some of the paintings there, and so it was humourous to watch some people rushing through the exhibit and taking no more than a few seconds to take in each painting, and then complaining about how much it cost. Their problem was that their eyes were closed to the wonders that were there. A lot of those people had no idea why the Dutch Masters were important. They’d look at a painting and just say, “Yep, it’s a vase of flowers,” or “Yep, it’s a portrait of some rich guy.” A lot of the time we’re prone to approaching Scripture the same way. We rush through it and we don’t pay much attention to why it says what it does. Our physical eyes may be open, but our spiritual eyes are closed and we miss what God is telling us. We need to ask the Spirit to open our eyes that we might take it all in and understand the wonders that are there. The guarantee here is that with every bit of the wonders of the Word we see, the more we’ll want. The riches there are amazing. I’ve talked with people who won’t even read one of the Gospel accounts because, as they say, “They’re so boring!” The Gospels boring? And consider that David didn’t have the Gospels. He had only the law, but it was his delight and in it he found the greatest spiritual riches. A friend of mine preached through Leviticus a few years ago. When I tell people that they usually groan at the idea of a year of sermons on Leviticus. David’s perspective was the polar opposite. Why? Because the Holy Spirit had opened his eyes. The day will come when the veil will be taken away from our eyes entirely, but until then pray for God to give you the eyes to see the riches of his Word. He has a purpose for each of us here, but if we don’t immerse ourselves in his Word, we’ll never really be able to walk in the way he has for us. Don’t squander the time you have. Now look at verse 19. This is what begins to happen as our eyes are opened and as we live according to God’s Word. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! The more we walk with God, the more we’re going to feel like this world and its ways no longer belong to us. The more we walk in the ways of heaven, the more we’re going to realise that our true home is heaven. That’s what “sojourner” meant to the ancient Hebrews. A sojourner was a foreigner living in the land, but one who had no inherited rights to it. He didn’t really belong and was only there temporarily. That’s what God’s people are here. Now, think about the fact that this is probably David—King David—writing this and calling himself a sojourner. First, David was living in the very land that God had given to his people. David had an inherited right to it. But he wasn’t just an average citizen; he was the king of that land. If anyone belonged there, it was David. Can you imagine the Queen describing herself as a mere sojourner in England? The Queen is England! And yet that’s what David is saying here. The more his eyes were opened to the riches of the Word, the more he knew that this earth is nothing more than a temporary home, even for the richest and most powerful. With that in mind think about living abroad. I’m not the only one here who has lived in a country that isn’t my own. Thomas Manton put it well when he wrote, “A man’s greatest care should be for that place where he lives longest; therefore eternity should be his scope.” I’m an American and I lived almost ninety per cent of my life in the United States. Even after a couple of years, it’s a challenge for me to take an interest in Canadian politics. My interest is still in the politics and goings on in my own country. I’m sure that those of you who have lived abroad have had similar experiences. But I do find that the longer I’m here, the more I actually do start to care about Canadian politics. Now, if that’s true of our earthly interests, how much more should it be true of our spiritual interests? You and I might at most live a hundred years in this world, but we’ll spend an eternity in heaven. David realised this and that’s why he pleaded with God to show him his commandments. God’s commandments were the guide that led him through this strange land. Imagine being in a strange place where you’re not only not a citizen, but where you don’t understand the language and where you don’t understand the customs. It’s a scary place because it’s so different. You desperately want to get home and so you hold your passport tight to remind yourself of home and you follow your map as you walk down strange streets and roads, knowing that if you follow that map, it will get you home. Brothers and sisters, that’s how we Christians should feel in this world. It’s not to say that we should be escapists whose only thought is for the day that Jesus will come and take us home. He’s left us here so that we can do the work of his kingdom and make this strange land a better place and introduce more and more people to his kingdom, but as we do that, his Word is our passport—the reminder of our true citizenship—and it’s also our guidebook and roadmap to show us the way home. Now with this whole sojourner idea in mind, look at verse 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. Is that something you can see yourself telling God? I know I can’t say that. I certainly pray that I would, but I’m not there yet and that’s why I’m still not as holy as I should be. My problem, and yours, is that for all practical purposes we’re really only part-time sojourners. We’re sojourners when we’re here at church and when we’re reading our Bibles and praying during the week, but the rest of the time we live pretty much as if we belong to the world. We live just like the people around us. But if our minds were constantly cognizant of the fact that we’re sojourners here, we’d spend a lot more of our time longing for our real home and being consumed with God’s Word—a lot more time clutching and studying our map home. Remember, friends, that true godliness depends on our desires. Godliness isn’t just about doing the right thing. There are lots of time we do the right thing. Our problem is that we often do it for the wrong reason. True godliness is doing what we know to be pleasing to God, not because it benefits us, but simply because we desire to please God. Here’s another spiritual reality check: How do you feel about God’s rules? Do you long for them like the Psalmist did? He longed for them because he knew that God reveals his will in his rules—in his judgements, and anyone who longs to be in God’s will is naturally going to long for his judgements. Now in verse 21, the Psalmist gives a warning: You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. This is the problem of the whole human race: insolence. Some versions translate it as “proud”. “Insolent” actually sums up best the meaning of the Hebrew word, which describes a person as being more than just proud. It describes a wicked rebelliousness that’s rooted in wilful opposition. In fact, there’s a special verb form of this word that refers specifically to the Egyptians and that has Pharaoh in mind when he wilfully rejected the commands that God gave through Moses. That’s our problem. Ever since Adam and Eve wilfully disobeyed God, we’ve all been doing the same. No one sins out of indifference to God. We sin because, whether we realise it or not, we’re his enemies. Sin is insolence. Think of Cain who murdered his brother and then insolently tried to hide it from God. Think again of Pharaoh. Think of Haman who deliberately struck out at God by trying to murder the whole Jewish population of Babylon. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who declared himself to be god. Think of Herod who was so fearful of any challenge to himself as king that he tried to kill the Messiah and in the process had all the baby boys of Bethlehem murdered. Sin is always wilful. It’s always an attack against God. And God always punishes sin, because it’s an affront to his holiness. Notice that if insolence is the problem, the solution is humble submission. The humble man is willing to seek to please God instead of himself. The humble man is willing to admit his sins and for that reason, only those who are humble will ever find salvation, because salvation from our sins only comes as we admit we are sinners, that we cannot save ourselves, and when we turn to the sacrifice offered by Christ. In verses 22 and 23 David comes back to earth. He’s a soujourner here and that means that he has to deal not only with his own sins but with the sins of others against him: Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. These verses give us one of the best arguments for David having written Psalm 119, because they describe his unjustified persecution by men like Saul, Abner, and Ahithophel. Take some time to read through the life of David in the second half of 1 Samuel and in 2 Samuel. If any man suffered for all the wrong reasons, it was David. Every time he tried to do the right thing, someone was after him for it. None of us has ever had it as bad as David, but as Christians we can all identify with him. We’ve all had times when we got into trouble with the world because we chose to follow God’s ways. Like David we can pray to our righteous Judge: “Take away their scorn and contempt.” But be careful before you make that prayer. Remember that the man praying that here is the same man who has been proclaiming his delight in God’s Word and that his whole being is consumed with love for it. David wasn’t perfect, but he did truly desire to follow after God and for the most part he was pretty successful in it. When it came to these men persecuting him he knew he was innocent and he could be confident in pleading his innocence because he was thoroughly steeped in the Word. He knew what pleases God and what doesn’t. Before we plead our innocence with God, we would do well to know his Word well enough to be sure of our own innocence. I’ve met a lot of Christians who have claimed they were being persecuted for things they’d done, but what they had done was wrong. In some cases they sinned out of ignorance, but I’ve seen quite a few instances where these people knew the Scriptures, but they claimed that God had given them some kind of prophecy or personal revelation that they liked better. Friends, the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself. Our first rule is his Word. It’s presumptuous to ask for God to speak again on that which he’s already spoken about in his Word and its both presumptuous and lazy to bypass his Word and ask for some kind of personal revelation instead. But if we are blameless, we can plead our case with God and trust in him to clear us and deal with the situation. There’s no guarantee that God will resolve the problem the way we’d like him too, but remember, as his servants we submit our wills to his, not his to ours. They key is to trust him, regardless of how things work out. At the time David prayed these words, he didn’t know what God would do. He could have prayed and then taken worldly tactics to try to clear his name. That’s something we’ll often do. We have a problem so we pray and ask for God’s help, but then we do something very worldly to try to deal with it ourselves. Think of Abraham. God had promised him a son, but decades went by and the son never came, so Abraham and Sarah decided to take a very worldly course of action and Abraham chose to father a son with Sarah’s maid, Hagar, and made a mess of things. If we’re going to plead with God, we need to let God act in his own way and in his own timing. David pleaded with God for help, but look at what he did. He follows his prayer saying, “Your servant will meditate on your statues.” Here’s the practical application: If you’ve got problems with the world, give them to God, then get back to God’s Word and to his work. Don’t give it to him and then take it back. Give it to him and leave it with him and get on with the task of getting to know God and his ways better and of being his servant in the world. If people are persecuting you for following God, follow God all the more closely! Look at the final verse of the stanza: Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. David’s enemies were taking counsel against him. What did he do? He took counsel with God. He was living in the world and at every turn the world tried to counsel him just like it tries to counsel us, but he remembered his true citizenship was in heaven and continued to turn to God’s Word as his counsel. Brothers and sisters, if you are a Christian, it’s because the Holy Spirit has baptised you into Christ Jesus and given you new life through him. He parts the veil that blinds us to God, and opens our eyes, but that isn’t enough. He opens our eyes for a reason, and that’s that we might now delight in the very Word that he himself authored—a Word that without him we could never appreciate. The Spirit makes us citizens of heaven and sojourners on earth. For our part, we need to let that Holy Spirit be our counsellor and guide, but that will only happen as we delight in the Word he has written for us. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for the new life you have given each of us through your Son and for your Spirit who joins us to him as our source of life. But Lord, we thank you too for your Holy Word, inspired by your same life-giving Spirit, that you have given that we might know you and that we might have a guide as we sojourn away from our heavenly home. Give us a passion for your Word, that we might always be coming to know you better and always walking according to your ways. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:25-32 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Life for the Depressed Psalm 119:25-32 by William Klock Consistently upward spiritual growth isn’t a constant for most Christians. Some of us do tend to grow in a more or less steady and upward trend as we walk in the way of God’s Word. Some of us tend to jump from one spiritual plateau to another, each time getting a little bit higher. But the fact is that even the saintliest saint sometimes falls down or slides back to a lower level. In the last two stanza of Psalm 119 we’ve seen the Psalmist—probably David—growing from an immature young man in need of guidance from God’s Word to a more mature saint who has learned to lean on God even in the face of the world’s persecutions. Even when princes sat plotting against him, his response was to meditate on God’s Word (v. 23). As the world took counsel against him, he delighted in the statues of God and made them his counsellors (v. 24). David’s response to persecution was much like that of Jesus. St. Peter writes of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). David was growing as he walked according to God’s Word, so the next stanza, beginning in v. 25, comes as a real surprise—like a two-by-four between the eyes. After all this growth and striving after God, David begins the fourth stanza writing: My soul clings to the dust… The older translations say, “My soul cleaves to the dust.” Dust is symbolic in the Old Testament. First, it was associated with sin and with being brought low as a result of sin. After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin, God cursed him to crawl on his belly and eat dust. But dust was also symbolic of death and mourning. Man was made from dust and to dust he returns when he dies. And when death or some other calamity was being mourned, the people of the ancient world would rub ashes on themselves and pour dust on their heads. Dust is always associated with being low and with sin and death. And here this maturing man of God suddenly tells us, “My soul cleaves to the dust. My soul—my very being—is at one with the dust—with sin and death and sorrow.” Suddenly David’s in mourning. What he’s describing is a spiritual depression. From the high of verse 24, the Psalmist drops to a real low in verse 25, and yet it’s true that even growing Christian struggle with discouragement and depression. Sometimes circumstances in life over which we have no control can drag us down. Often, as I think is the case with David here, sin and the guilt we feel afterward—especially when we keep falling repeatedly into the same sin—can drag us down too. Being down is a part of life. The problem is when being down becomes an occasion to fall into further sin. Then we’re both down and out. That’s when we fall into depression. One of the best passages to illustrate this is found in Genesis 4. Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. (Genesis 4:1-5) Hebrews 11:4 suggests that Cain’s problem was that his offering was not made in faith—that he was offering it as a mechanistic way to secure God’s blessing. The fact that he became angry about the situation and that he resented Abel shows that his heart certainly wasn’t in the right place. Cain’s problem wasn’t the content of his offering so much as it was the rebellious content of his heart. He may have been going through the outward motions, but he was living in sin inwardly. He was convicted of his sins when God refused his offering, but rather than repent, Cain just got mad. He let resentment and bitterness fester in his soul, and the text says, “his face fell.” That’s a Hebraism for “he became depressed.” Like David, he felt like his soul was stuck in the dust. And that’s exactly how we feel when we become depressed. There’s nothing wrong with feeling down. Being down is an often a healthy indicator that there’s something in life that we need to deal with: a damaged relationship, some good that we’ve been neglecting, or some sin that we’ve been failing to deal with. Sometimes being down is the natural result of things we have no control over: the death of a loved one, losing a job, or health problems. In Cain’s case, his being down was a healthy indicator of a spiritual problem that he wasn’t dealing with. He was walking apart from God. But instead of letting this gentle nudge put him back on track, he kept walking further and further apart from God and his sinful response to being down turned into a spiritual depression. That’s when God came to him. Look at verse 6-7: The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” God gives Cain the remedy for spiritual depression. Cain has two choices: He can either “do well”—he can repent of the sin in his life that was causing him to walk apart from God—or he can continue in his sin, which God describes as a ravening beast crouching at his door, waiting to devour him—waiting to bring him down to total destruction. God understood, sin was real and it was a challenge for Cain just as it is for all of us, but God also makes it clear that he expected Cain—and us—to rule over sin rather than letting sin rule over us. His promise is that if we are obedient, if we “do well,” our faces will “look up.” The way out of depression is to stop responding sinfully to the situation. That’s not the advice you’re likely to get from a psychiatrist. Much of modern psychiatry is based on the principle of blame-shifting. If there’s something wrong with you—if you’re depressed—it’s someone else’s fault. If it can’t be pinned on someone else, then it’s simply due to a chemical imbalance in the brain that has to be medicated. Depressed people spiral down as they let their obligations slip, whether it’s working to mend that broken relationship or taking care of obligations at work or around the house. The deeper the spiral gets, the more we don’t feel like dealing with things—the more we don’t feel like “doing well.” The Psychiatrist’s solution is to try to make your “face look up”—to make you feel better—so that you’ll feel more like taking care of your obligations. He’ll medicate you or he’ll make you feel better by telling you to blame someone else for your problems. Maybe someone else did wrong you. Maybe you’ve been dealing with things out of your control. And yet Scripture tells us that we are always responsible for how we respond to the problems in our lives. God requires us to take responsibility for our actions—for our responses. And so he tells us, the solution is to first to “do well”—to fulfil your obligations. Work to mend that relationship. Return to your job. Stop letting the dishes and the laundry pile up. Once you’ve stopped neglecting doing what is right, his promise is that your face will look up. God’s rule is that right feelings follow right actions. You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story. Cain chose not to “do well,” and continued to brood in his depression and resentment. He spiralled further and further down into the pit of depression, eventually getting to the point that his anger and resentment led him into even greater sin: he murdered his brother, Abel. That’s commonly what happens when depression hits bottom. Death is the only way out, whether it’s to murder the one you resent or, more commonly, to murder yourself—suicide. Back to Psalm 119: David’s face had fallen just like Cain’s. He could have spiralled into depression, but he knew God’s principles. Look at verse 25 again: My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! David new that God’s Word was the source of life. The Word offers us God’s instructions for “doing well”—for living righteously. Not unlike Cain, David was stuck in sin and was spiritually depressed, but he also knew that the solution was to leave his sin behind and get back to living according to God’s way. And brothers and sisters, the only way to know God’s way, as we’ve been seeing over these last few weeks, is the Scriptures. And so David pleads God’s promise of life by the Word back to him. Thomas Manton wrote, “One way to get comfort is to plead the promise of God in prayer…show him his handwriting; God is tender of is word.” And yet Manton also writes, “These arguings in prayer, are not to work upon God, but ourselves.” When we’re stuck in sin, the solution isn’t for God to change, but to allow his Word to change us—to get us back on track following him. David was spiralling down into depression, but he knew the solution wasn’t to keep sliding down the spiral. Some people do that: they’re sliding down, so they pray, but they keep sliding—praying that somehow God’s going to turn the pit upside down and that they can just keep doing what they’re doing and slide back out of depression. Friends, prayer doesn’t change God so much as it changes us. David prayed that God’s Word would correct him so that he could quit sliding down and begin actively walking back up—that he would stop responding to life’s problems sinfully and begin to respond righteously. The place to start is with confession. Look at verse 26: When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! Now, God already knows about our sins. When we confess them, we aren’t telling him anything he doesn’t already know. Confession is about our owning up to our sins. The real root of depression is pride, and confession breaks down our pride as we humbly admit that we have done wrong and that we need his mercy and forgiveness. And so we humbly lay before God our lives. We admit our times of wandering and straying, our doubts and our griefs. But we do so knowing that God is always ready to forgive and, by his Holy Spirit, to open our eyes to his way as he teaches us his statutes. God’s promise of forgiveness leads us naturally to want to follow him more closely and so David pleads with God to teach him his statutes. Spurgeon wrote that, “Mercy, which pardons transgressions, sets us longing for grace which prevents transgressions.” Scripture teaches us over and over that God doesn’t clean us up so that we can run right back into the mud. We often do just that, but when he cleans us up, he always offers us the knowledge and grace that will keep us out of the mud. We just need to live by the knowledge and grace he offers. Knowing this he pleads in verse 27: Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. David wants more than just a set of rules. Raw rules only get us so far. David wants to truly understand God’s precepts so that he can know God himself. And understanding leads to meditation on, or in some translations, talking about God’s wondrous works. The ESV reads “meditate,” but “talk” or “tell” is right too. The Hebrew word can actually be translated either way, but as I was meditating on this verse myself this week, I realized that it makes sense that this Hebrew word can mean either “meditate” or “talk.” Consider that meditation is what drives something into our heart. As a priest people sometimes come to me asking for help, because the just don’t seem to have the feelings for God that they know they should. They may sing praises on Sunday morning, but they’re often just words. The solution is to meditate on the wondrous works of God—on his Word. It’s through meditation that we take the Word into our heart and we begin to have genuine feelings for God that motivate us to true worship. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus reminds us: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we charge the source of our feelings, the heart, with God, our mouths will naturally follow with praise. But David’s still struggling. He knows that he needs to turn around and start walking back up that spiral, but he doesn’t have the strength to do it. That’s how depression is. In verse 28 he pleads: My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Being down is never fun, but David reminds us that it’s better to be melted with grief over our sins than to be hardened in impenitence. In his weakness he cries out to God for strength. Have you ever felt that way? You know the good you need to do, but you just don’t have the power within you to do it? That’s where David was. But notice the source of strength: it’s God’s Word. This is something we all really need to consider. How often to we pray to God for strength? We regularly ask God for strength to be obedient in the face of temptation. We ask God for strength to do what we know is right. We ask him for strength as we deal with the trials of life, whether it’s a health problem or work or finances. And yet when we ask him for strength, how often do we go to his Word to find it? Prayer is good. In fact, it’s necessary. But God expects action from us. Too often we pray and then do nothing. If you need strength, pray for it, but remember too that we have this promise here that we will find strength in proportion to our knowledge of God’s Word. Now look at the next three verses. David finds his strength in the Word and with each verse we can see him standing taller and getting stronger—coming out of his depression. If we’re struggling with sin, we need to take these same steps. First, he starts with acknowledging his need in verse 29: Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! He acknowledges his sin. It’s not clear if he was confessing some occasion or situation in which he lied or been blatantly dishonest or whether he’s talking more abstractly about living dishonestly in general. There’s a sense in which self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and pride are all false and dishonest ways, because when we live in those ways we deny the reality of our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. Whatever the situation, David asks God to remove the dishonesty from his life and to replace it with the truth found in his law. Brothers and sisters, our hearts are always going to be full of something. If the truth of God’s law isn’t there, the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil will be. That’s why we need to steep ourselves in God’s Word. Where the heart leads, our feet will follow. The more we fill our hearts and minds with the ways of God, the less our feet will stray into the ways of the world! Second he resolves to change. Look at verse 30: I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me. Matthew Henry’s summary of this verse has been stuck in my head for days now: “The choosing Christian is likely to be the sticking Christian; when those that are Christians by chance tack about in the wind.” David deliberately chooses faithfulness to God, but notice that in each of these verses, whether it’s acknowledging his sin in verse 29 or resolving to be faithful to God, Scripture is always his focus. Again, his source of strength was the Word. And so as he chooses to follow God, he sets God’s rules in front of him, right where he can see them. As David writes this, we can see him gaining strength. He was weak and melting away at the bottom of his pit of depression, but strengthened by God’s Word he’s climbing out. God’s word is a chain. He’s grabbed hold of it and as he uses it to pull himself up and out of that spiral, we can see him going from a crawl to a walk and then to a very determined, intent, and joyful striding upward. Look at the complete 180-degree turn-around now in verse 31: I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! When we started, he was clinging to the dust. And yet that’s what got him into trouble. If things are bad, responding sinfully only makes them worse and before we know it, we’re spiralling downward and out of control. The lower we go, the harder it is and the longer it takes to spiral back up and out of it. But strong in the knowledge that “doing well”—living righteously and according to God’s Word and fulfilling our obligations—is the only way to reverse the downward spiral, David let go of the dust. He’s let go of the sins that got him into trouble and now he’s holding just as tightly to the Lord’s testimonies. He’s cleaving to them. He’s glued to them. He’s at one with them. And as things start to look up, he pleads with God, “I brought shame on myself, but by your grace I’m back on the right track and now I beg of you to keep me there. Keep me from falling into sin and shaming myself again.” And now that he’s back out of the pit, he writes in verse 32: I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! You can feel the weight of sin is gone, and yet the gravity of his need for holiness is still here. Someone stuck in depression doesn’t run. Depression tends to spiral down and down and the lower it goes the more lethargic the person gets—the more difficult it is to “do well” and to fulfil their obligations. That’s why depression needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible. The longer it’s allowed to fester, the harder it is to pull out of it. The longer we live in a sinful response to life, the more we train our brain to stay in that rut. But the opposite is true too. The more we choose to respond righteously to life, the more we train ourselves to live righteously—the more we run in the ways of God’s commandments. But again, God is the one who makes it possible. If this is you and you’re so low that you can’t even imagine running, ask God for help. Another comment on this passage that’s been running through my head all week is from Archbishop Leighton. In commenting on this verse he wrote, “It were a…wise and comfortable way to be endeavouring onwards, and if thou make little progress, at least to be desiring to make more; to be praying and walking, and praying that thou mayest walk faster, and that in the end thou mayest run….We must not be so dejected as to sit down, or to stand still, but rather we must be excited to go on.” Brothers and sisters, the key is to make some move in the right direction. You can choose to do well—to live righteously—or to continue in your sin. One will take you out of the pit, the other will drive you deeper. Cain shows us the danger of continuing in our sinful response to life’s problems. His sin grew and compounded until he saw murder as the answer to his problems. Don’t let that happen to you. If you’re in the pit, start “doing well.” If you’re way down in the bottom and can’t even take a step, start by crawling. As Leighton said, if you can’t run, walk, but walk and pray. Immerse yourself in God’s Word the way David did and let yourself steep. Let the Word soak in and ask God to enlarge your heart, ask him to give you the grace to walk in the way of his Word. Archbishop Leighton went on to say, “Here then is enlargement, to see purity and beauty of his law, how just and reasonable, yea, how pleasant and amiable it is; that his commandments are not grievous, that they are beds of spices; the more we walk in them, still the more of their fragrant smell and sweetness we find.” Life happens. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but regardless, God tells us that we’re responsible for how we respond. Hard situations in life never justify sinful responses. The more we’re full of God’s Word, the less likely we’ll be to respond sinfully in the first place, but David assures us here that even when we do sin and get ourselves into trouble, God is always there with his Word to give us both strength and guidance and to help us out of the pit we’ve made. Let me close with a word of encouragement that God gave Isaiah: They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31) Brothers and sisters, we just need to remember that the key is to wait on the Lord and to live according to his life-giving Word. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you are our source of life. You brought the Creation into being with the power of your Word. You teach us your ways through your Spirit-inspired written Word. And you have redeemed us from our sins and given us eternal spiritual life through your Word Incarnate. Let us be so immersed in and enriched by your Word that we might never find ourselves clinging to the dust as David did, but we pray also, if and when we do find ourselves there, strengthen us according to your Word. Enlarge our hearts that we might run again in your ways. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our light and life. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:33-40 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Grace for the Journey Psalm 119:33-40 by William Klock As we’ve made our way through these first stanzas of Psalm 119 over the last month we’ve seen the meditations of a man whose heart has been changed by God. St. Paul reminds us that the natural man or woman, following after Adam and Eve, our spiritual parents, lives a life of enmity with God. Friends, there’s no spiritual fence-sitting in this world. Either you are for God or against him. The problem is that because of our inherited sin, none of us is capable of changing loyalties. Our hearts are evil and corrupt. It takes the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to turn a heart and to place in it a desire for God and to follow him. And that’s what we’ve seen has happened to David. But God’s Word is the key to fulfilling the desire that the Spirit works in our hearts. To know God, to desire God, is to follow him and that’s what we see David desiring to do. And yet here this man who had access to a tabernacle full of priests knowledgeable in God’s Word and who was himself a great prophet, roots himself not in the wisdom of others or personal revelations, but with both feet firmly planted in the Scriptures. And rooted in the Word, we’ve now seen him maturing from a young and foolish man into a mature saint. We’ve seen him acknowledge that even rooted in God’s Word, he’s still prone to wandering. In the last stanza we saw him falling into a spiritual depression as a result of his, wandering, but we also saw him pull out of that depression as he returned to the way of God’s Word. Like all of us, David is growing, but learning as he grows. He’s experiencing the reality that none of us will ever “make it” spiritually this side of eternity. We’re always and will always be dependent on God’s help. And that leads us to the fifth stanza, the stanza centred on the letter he, the Hebrew “H”. He probably originated from the Hebrew word for “window” or “fissure” and the Fathers saw in this stanza a prayer for a window to be opened in the law—a window that let the light of God’s grace into the soul. We need this window that gives us a glimpse of grace. Many Christians have seen a disconnect between law and grace—as if the law has no significance for the Christian. But the fact is that we can’t have grace without the law. The law was given to show us God’s impossibly holy standard—a standard we can never keep. The law condemns us all, and yet we find grace in it as it drives us to the righteousness of Christ. Without the law, there can be no Gospel. People have asked me why the liturgy reminds us so often of our sins. It reminds us because without the knowledge of our sins, we’re prone to ignoring our need for the perfect righteousness of Christ—we’re prone to self-righteousness and spiritual pride. Brothers and sisters, the Gospel is only for those who are humble enough to admit and confess their sins and who are ready to leave behind their own righteousness, which is as filthy rags. Owning up to our sin is never pleasant, and yet in our humility we find the grace of God and the greatest joy ever. If you struggle with confession and with admitting your sinfulness, ask God to humble your heart, because as long as your heart is full of that spiritual pride, you’ll be pushing away God’s grace. Like David, kneel before God and lay your pride before him and ask him to humble you that you might walk in his ways and not your own. He prays in verse 33: Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. This is the prayer of a humble man who knows that he has no righteousness of his own and who knows that he’s utterly lost if he tries to go it on his own. St. Ambrose commented on this verse saying that “He who is his own student has a fool for his master.” He also used the illustration of a soldier. A soldier doesn’t give himself marching orders, he doesn’t set off marching whenever he feels like marching, and he doesn’t go forging his own path apart from the army. No. He takes his orders from his commanding officer and he stays in rank, because the commanding officer is the one who knows the ultimate goal. If he breaks rank and goes off on his own he loses his rations and his quarters and eventually gets lost and maybe even captured by the enemy—one man does not constitute the whole army and is only going to get himself into trouble or maybe even killed. But more importantly, a soldier knows that he follows his commander not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole army—without him the army is not as strong. Brothers and sisters, God has a plan. We know it leads ultimately to the New Jerusalem, but along the way we, at best, only get little glimpses of the plan that will ultimately get us there. David knew this so he humbly—like a child who trusts his parents—asks God to teach him the way of his statutes. He knows there’s no better teacher and he knows there’s no better way. And we know that this prayer is one that pleases God. Think of King Solomon. When he became king of Israel, I’m sure he had all sorts of his own ideas of how to govern the people. He certainly had no end of advisors ready to tell him what to do. But instead of trusting in himself or in worldly wisdom he prayed: And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:7-9) Brothers and sisters, that’s a humble plea for grace. The next verse tells us: “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.” It pleases God when we pray for his grace too. And consider that the desire to learn God’s ways is assurance that he will teach us. Again, unless God first turns our hearts towards himself, we will always be his enemies. If he puts a desire for him and his ways in your heart, you can ask with assurance, knowing that he who gave you the desire will gratify it too. But not only to gratify it, but as David says, to “keep it to the end.” That’s the wonderful thing about God’s grace: it always perseveres. God doesn’t put grace in your heart to regenerate it just so that you can fall away and go back to your old ways. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). But notice that David didn’t just ask God for the rules, as if he could mechanistically do this or not do that and expect God’s blessing. He asked for God to teach him the way of those statutes—the wisdom to know how to apply the Word to the situations that come up in life. It’s a lot easier to woodenly follow a rulebook than it is to truly understand those rules and to know how to apply them broadly. When I was in seminary I took a wisdom literature class from Bruce Waltke. It blew me away. Dr. Waltke, who was also my Hebrew professor and thesis advisor, more than anyone else I’ve ever met, exemplified the results of this prayer of David. At the time I would read Proverbs and didn’t see much beyond the specific situations mentioned in those wise sayings, and yet he was so steeped in the Scriptures and had let it so permeate his thinking that he could go on for hours on the practical applications of a single proverb to all sorts of situations in life. That’s what David is praying for when he asks God to teach him not just his statutes, but the way of them. This happens as we not only read Scripture daily, but as we meditate on it. He intensifies his prayer in verse 34: Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need the light that the Holy Spirit gives in order to walk in God’s ways. That happens on two fronts. The Spirit speaks through the Scriptures he has caused to be written for our instruction, but that same Spirit regenerates our corrupt hearts and renews our dumb minds so that we can understand what he has written. Without the Spirit indwelling us, as St. Paul tells us, God’s wisdom as he has laid it out for us in Scripture is foolishness. As our understanding grows, our hearts are changed even more. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The understanding operates upon the affections; it convinces the heart of the beauty of the law, so that the soul loves it with all its powers; and then it reveals the majesty of the lawgiver, and the whole nature bows before his supreme will.” Understanding of the Word unites our heart—it gathers up all our affections and pulls them from all the different things we desire and focuses our whole heart on God and following him. The Spirit-inspired Word gives us direction, and the Spirit-regenerated heart has the undivided desire to follow it. In verse 35 he continues his prayer: Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. The Coverdale translation in the Prayer Book is more accurate. David prays not so much to be lead, but to be made to go—to be made to march—in the path of God’s commandments. The word has military overtones. He’s praying for God to march him in the way of his commandments the way a commander marches his troops in the way leading to victory: “Command me—give me marching orders—in the path of your commandments, O God.” There are lots of different paths out there, but there’s only one that leads us to the New Jerusalem. It’s a narrow one. As Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). But even though the way is hard, we can take comfort in the knowledge that many have been led down that path before us. When the Greek-speaking Jews translated this passage they used a Greek word that specifically denotes an old and well-worn path or rut. Brothers and sisters, the path may be a hard one to follow, but know that God not only leads us, but the entire Church goes with us. Your brothers and sisters here walk it with you. Our brothers and sisters from around the world walk it with us. And the path has been well worn by the feet of all the saints from throughout history whom God has led down the path before us. A hard path is much easier to walk when you know that you’re not alone and when you can see that others have walked it before you and that your friends are walking at your side. David reminds us that there’s no such thing as a loner Christian. We walk together as the Church, to strengthen and exhort each other. And yet even walking in a well worn path with all our brothers and sisters around us for company, how often do we still stray? It’s not like we suddenly push our way out of the crowd and immediately head off in the opposite direction. No. When we stray it’s usually more subtle than that. We get bored walking in the bottom of the rut. In one of my old history textbooks, there’s a photo of a part of the Oregon Trail in the Rockies. The traffic was so great at one time that the wagon ruts are feet deep. That’s a well worn path. As we follow God’s path, sometimes we get tired of the view down in the rut, so we step out of the rut and onto the edge of the path to get a better view, but before long we notice the grass growing off the worn path and stray a little further away to rest our feet on softer ground, but the further we get, the more easily we can then be led astray to other paths. David understood this reality and he prayed in verses 36 and 37: Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain [“not to covetousness” as the old translations put it]! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless [or “vain”] things; and give me life in your ways. Covetousness is that “soft” sin that begins in the heart and that lets us stray without straying too far—at first. Covetousness might be the last of the Ten Commandments, but it’s often the first sin to lead us astray. Clement of Alexandria called it the citadel of the vices. Covetousness is dangerous because it’s a sin of the heart. It’s a sin that easily allows temptation to turn into sin without us even realising it and yet that sin festers and grows and eventually breaks out into every other imaginable sin. It’s a sin that turns the heart, but turns it so slowly that by the time we notice we’ve strayed off the path, it’s too late; we’ve already sinned. The feet go where the heart leads them, so David prays that God would incline his heart to his testimonies and away from covetousness—away from selfishness and selfish gain—ultimately, away simply from self. St. James tells us: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16). It’s the gracious work of the Spirit as we steep our hearts regenerates hearts in his Word—in his testimonies—that he inclines our hearts away from self and wholly toward God—that he sets our ways firmly on God’s path. But the heart is fed by the eyes. I had a friend in high school who walked to school and would get there early so he could check out all the cute girls getting off the buses. He said, “The Bible says not to take a second look, so I want to make sure the first one counts.” It wasn’t surprising to me when all that looking got him into trouble. The eyes are our first source of temptation. You can’t covet what you haven’t seen. And so David prays for protection over his eyes too: “Turn my eyes away from worthless and vain things and keep them focused on you, O Lord.” Both of these prayers—to turn first the heart and then the eyes—are prayers for grace. God doesn’t meddle with our eyes. If you choose to focus on material possessions or on money or on members of the opposite sex, God isn’t going to suddenly turn your head away when a nice car or an attractive guy or girl walks by. What he will do is change your heart. We focus our eyes on the things our hearts desire. What David’s really praying for is the continuing work of God’s grace to change the desires of his heart. He wants to be so absorbed with—to have his eyes so focused on—God’s Word and on the way God has for him, that all the things of the world go by unnoticed simply because he no longer has any desire for them. He already knows that the things of the world are vain and worthless—that’s already evidence of a Spirit-changed heart. Now he’s praying for that renewal to continue so that he’ll no longer have eyes for them, but instead focus himself on the things of eternity—to be able to ignore all the things that give the illusion of life and blessedness on earth and instead focus on real life in Christ and the joys we find in him. To that end David prays in verse 38: Confirm to your servant your promise [or “word” or “commands”], that you may be feared. St. Peter reminds us that God’s Word stands sure and firm (2 Peter 1:19), but that doesn’t mean our faith in his Word is always as sure and firm as it should be. It’s okay to express our doubts and fears to God. Jesus said that the way is narrow and hard. Our assurance comes from the promise of God’s Word. We’re often like the father of the demon-possessed boy who brought his son to Jesus. Jesus told him that all things were possible to those who believe. The father believed enough to trust Jesus, and yet he still had his doubts. He spoke that familiar plea: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We need to be like that man and like the apostles who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). None of us believes so fully that we can’t believe more and so we should pray for God to graciously increase our faith. But that said, the surest way to confirm God’s Word and to see our faith increased is to continue to follow and serve him. And of course, the more we follow, the more our faith to follow him is confirmed the more our devotion to the fear of him will grow as we exercise it. And the more our faith grows and the more the desires of our hearts are turned toward God, something interesting happens. When we start out, we desire to please God, but our primary motive for avoiding sin and obeying God is to avoid the personal consequences of those sins. But as we mature and as our focus on God becomes sharper, we begin to fear sin not because of the negative consequences it might have for us, but for the damage our sin can do to the reputation of God and his Church. Have you ever noticed how the world loves to dwell on the sins of big-name leaders in the Church or those whom everyone considers great saints? I’ve often hoped that I would never become a well-known pastor, because it’s clear to me that Satan focuses an enormous amount of his attention on prominent Church leaders. He knows that if he wants to tarnish the Church and the Gospel in the eyes of the world, taking down a big-name leader is the best way. When a Christian sins, the world typically shames God and our faith more than it shames the sinning Christian. David was a high profile man and he had a hot temper. He was passionate and that passion got him into trouble more than once—big trouble. And so he prayed that he would be kept from sin—not so much for his own sake, but to keep from tarnishing the good judgements and rules of God. He prayed that he would not give the world cause to bring any truthful accusation against him and his testimony. Brothers and sisters, we fall down here more than we realise. The Church today in the West is pretty impotent. Church growth comes mainly as the result of people playing ecclesiastical musical chairs and shuffling around from one church to another. We don’t engage in evangelism as much as we should, but what evangelism we do is too often undermined because we’re hypocrites. We preach a holy God who demands holiness from his people, but as his people we engage in all sorts of sins. St. Paul gives us several lists in his epistles of sins that bar people from heaven, and yet not a few of those sins have now become completely acceptable amongst Christians in the West. We gossip and slander, we revile and fail to stand up for justice, we undermine the unity of the body and hardly anyone says a peep about it. Brothers and sisters, we need to pray with David that we would not give the world any reason to slander God’s good Word, his law, or his Gospel. The solution is in the final prayer in verse 40: Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! David prayed that God would increase his faith and confirm his promises, but here he also longs for God’s precepts—his commandments. Our problem is that we often long for God’s promises, but we don’t walk in his precepts. We should be obeying God’s precepts in dependence on his promises. If we longed to follow God as much as we long for his promises and his blessings, we would give the world far fewer occasions to sneer at God and his Church. And even though we have eternal life through the perfect righteousness of Christ, we can always pray for a greater measure of life that we might walk in closer obedience. David prays this same petition over and over throughout his psalms and we ought to pray it too. We need to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit every hour of every day. We don’t use that word “quicken” anymore, but we should, because there’s no modern English word that adequately describes the life- and vigour-giving work of the Holy Spirit within us. Because of our fallenness, we’re always tending to slow down and to fall away. We need that quickening work of the Spirit. He’s the one who fills us with life; let us never stop crying out to him. Let the life he has put in us daily cry out for more. That brings us full-circle—back to grace. Brothers and sisters, the Christian is the one who knows his sins and knows how woefully inadequate he is to follow God on his own. He knows he needs the righteousness of another, and so he leans not on himself and his own understanding, but on the perfect righteousness of Christ and the understanding and quickening strength that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. But we don’t stop there. Grace is one of those things, as we see in David’s prayer here, that causes us to want more. The more we have the more we want. The more we realise our inadequacy and our sinfulness, the more grace we desire, and yet as God is faithful in giving us more grace, it simply opens our eyes to the fact that we’re still even more inadequate and sinful than we thought before, and so again, we cry out for an even greater measure of grace—every day leaning less and less on ourselves and more and more on God. Every day becoming more faithful in following his path as God focuses our eyes and hearts on himself. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace. Thank you for sending your Son to be for us the righteousness we lack. Thank you for your gracious life-giving Spirit and thank you for the Scriptures he has caused to be written as our only sure guide. Open our eyes each day to our need for your grace, that we might more and more lean on the righteousness of Christ, find our source of life in your Spirit, and take our orders from your Word. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:41-48 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Delight of the Sanctified Psalm 119:41-48 by William Klock The focus of Psalm 119 is God’s law. As I pointed out at the beginning, we need to remember that for the Psalmist—probably David—the law was the only part of Scripture he had. He didn’t have the rest of what we know as the Old Testament, and the New Testament—the Gospels and the Epistles of the apostles—was a thousand years away. For that reason, we need to understand that Psalm 119 is about the law, but it’s also about the Scriptures—about the whole Word of God. The remarkable thing is that so many Christians shrug off the Old Testament—and especially the “law”—as being irrelevant for Christians. And yet the Psalmist, having only the law, found grace. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that the law isn’t relevant and don’t ever let anybody tell you that there’s no grace in the law. David, not to mention all the other Old Testament saints, found God’s grace in the Old Testament and in the law—the same grace we know in Jesus Christ. And they didn’t have to go hunting for it the way we so often do. I suppose you might say we’re “spoiled” by the New Testament—so spoiled that we don’t see the grace in the Old as easily as men like David saw it. In this next stanza, verses 41-48, David carries this theme of grace a step further as he talks about God’s salvation, but even more so in these eight verses, about sanctification—about being made holy and devoting oneself wholly to God. David makes two petitions here: one in verses 41 and 42 and the other in 43. In both cases he’s asking God for his salvation, but the rest of the stanza is filled up with David’s promises. David asks for God to show him his mercy, but David isn’t asking for his own purpose. He asks, but then he promises God that his reason for wanting that mercy is so that he can be a better servant. David’s life was founded on something that we too often forget: that God’s salvation isn’t ultimately for our good, but for his glory. We’re prone to cheapening God’s mercy into little more than a “Get Out of Hell Free” card, when the point of God’s mercy is to create a holy people for himself who will not only worship him, but give him glory before the watching eyes of the world. Look with me at David’s first petition in verse 41: Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; David’s plea is for God’s steadfast love, or as some translations put it, God’s mercy. The Hebrew word is chesed and it may well be the richest word in the entire Old Testament. We get an idea of its richness, because it’s impossible to accurately translate it into English—the meaning is just that rich. We translate it as “mercy,” “loving kindness,” and “steadfast love” in most cases. It’s an idea that’s usually associated with God’s salvation. It’s love from God to us, but not just his love. It’s his kindness, his grace, and his mercy too. But again, it’s more than that. It’s his steadfast and never-failing love, kindness, mercy, and grace that depend not on any works of man, but on God’s character of being always faithful to his covenant promises. That’s why in the parallel David prays, “Let your salvation come to me according to your promise.” First, it’s in God’s chesed that we find our salvation, but second, it doesn’t depend on us. We can’t earn it. We can’t demand it, because God doesn’t owe it to us. All we can do is appeal to God’s promise and to the fact that we know God is always faithful to do the things he has promised. Over the years I’ve found that many Christians are under the mistaken assumption that the Jews in the Old Testament found their salvation in a different way than we do as Christians. That’s just not true. The New Testament reminds us over and over, maybe most directly in Hebrews, that the means of salvation in the Old Testament was Jesus Christ just as much as in the New. The Jews in the Old Testament were saved by the same grace that we are—by God’s chesed, by his steadfast and never-failing love and mercy. As David prays for God’s salvation, he grants that he is wholly dependent on God. He can’t save himself and he can’t merit God’s mercy. All he can do is rest on the promise of God’s Word. And notice, he wasn’t content to just live with the knowledge of God’s promise. He knew the Word. What he’s asking for is that God make good on his promise. He saw the words of the promise, he knew them, but he wanted to experience them in his own life. How often do we mistake faith for knowledge? Faith is rooted in knowledge. We have to know the promises before we can claim them. But salvation comes when our knowledge becomes faith and leads us to ask God to make those promises real. Spurgeon wrote about David, “He was not content with chapter and verse, he wanted mercies and salvation.” Salvation is the personal experience of God’s covenant promises. Look at verse 42. David knew his need. …then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Some people seem to think that all David was asking for is salvation from some earthly enemy. And while he certainly had his share of persecutors, I have trouble seeing this as anything less than a plea for salvation in the spiritual sense. The language is the language of redemption. Verse 42 is the confirmation for me. He wants God’s merciful salvation, so that he can have an answer for the one who taunts or, probably better, reproaches him. Maybe that’s a reference to some man who is pointing out David’s sin. Nathan did just that when he confronted David over his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, but it could just as well be a reference to the reproach of God in regard to his sin. Either way, David knows that he has sinned and he’s feeling the burden of those sins. He knows that the only solution, the only way out, is through God’s mercy. How often do you find yourself living under the knowledge and weight of your sins? David reminds us that God’s Word is the answer. Think of how Jesus responded to Satan at the beginning of his ministry. Three times Satan tempted Jesus and each time Jesus responded and rebuked him with God’s Word. Think of St. Paul’s command in Ephesians 6. He tells us that if we’re going to stand firm, we need to put on the armour of God—we need to put on the helmet of salvation and the belt of truth. We need to guard ourselves with the shield of faith, but maybe most importantly, we need to be on the offensive with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The rest of the armour is defensive. Stand firm in God’s salvation, in his Gospel, and in his Truth and you won’t fall back. But, brothers and sisters, you will never advance, you’ll never make any headway in your own Christian life and you’ll never claim any territory from the enemy if you haven’t picked up the sword of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are our answer when we’re faced with temptation. St. Augustine said that it’s right David puts this in terms of Scripture giving him an answer in the face of being reproached. He wrote, “It is not enough to have Christ in the heart if we have him not in the mouth also.” That leads right into David’s second petition. Look at verse 43: And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules. If we know the Word, there are only two things that take it out of our mouths. We lose it when we refuse to speak it because of cowardice, and we lose it when we disqualify ourselves by being unrepentant in sin. Throughout history, many Christians have denied the faith during times of persecution. One of the greatest controversies of the Early Church arose over what to do with those people who, in the face of persecution, had denied the faith, blasphemed God, and even in the case of some priests and bishops, handed over the Scriptures themselves to be desecrated by the Romans. You and I aren’t likely to be asked to make a choice between our lives and Jesus Christ, but there are many times when we may have the opportunity to tell out God’s Word or to share his Gospel with others, and yet we fear being made fun of or we fear that it will complicate personal relationships, and so we stay silent. We take God’s Word from our own mouths. David no doubt faced the same struggle, so he prayed that God would remind him of the true source of his hope and never let the Word be overcome by his own fears. There are other times, though, when the Word is taken away because ours sins disqualify us. There have been times in our lives when we could have spoken out, when we could have shared the Gospel, or when someone needed a strong Scriptural rebuke, but we kept our mouths shut, because we knew our own hearts were guilty—that we couldn’t speak out without becoming hypocrites. When I was in University a group I was part of decided that we would each submit our testimonies to the school newspaper as letters to the editor. We wanted others to hear our stories, so we’d send them in, one each day. We were hoping to keep it going for at least two months. One of my friends had a particularly moving testimony and I was looking forward to his sharing it in the paper, and yet when it was his turn, he refused. And every time we asked him, he continued to refuse, but wouldn’t say why. It was a few months later that I found out he was part of a group of students who were involved in a serious case of academic dishonesty in a piece of chemistry research they were doing. They’d all agreed to fudge some numbers and not to tell. My friend was afraid to share his testimony because he knew he had been dishonest. Up to that point the others in his research group didn’t know he was a Christian and he wanted it kept that way, because he didn’t want to smear the name of Christ. Brothers and sisters, we need to stand firm in God’s Word. David had experienced those situations when his mouth was tied up, but he knew the way out of that situation was through faith. He put his hope in God’s rules—in his judgements. It’s not rules in the sense that we typically think of them, but rules in terms of God’s judicial rulings—his judgements. In verse 41 David wrote about God’s salvation in terms of his promise and in terms of his steadfast and unfailing grace and mercy. Here he stands firm in the Word, because he knows that what God promises in the Scriptures can always be trusted. God’s judgements are fair and right. When he offers us salvation, we can trust that he will judge us righteously on the last day and we can also trust that he will hold our persecutors accountable. So don’t be afraid to take a stand and speak his truth. Don’t let cowardice take the Word out of your mouth. If it’s hard to speak, speak something—speak whatever you can. Charles Bridges wrote, “A stammering confession is better than silence. If we cannot say all we want of or for our Saviour, let us say what we can…A word spoken in weakness may be a word of Almighty power, and a present help to some fainting spirit.” And even as you talk about earthly things with people, be on the lookout for opportunities to turn the conversation to heavenly things. Share your hope of God’s promises and don’t be ashamed to do so. David asked for God’s salvation and he asked for the sanctifying power of his Word in his life. Now he makes a series of promises starting in verse 43. Again, he knew that God saves us for a purpose. Remember St. Paul’s words to St. Titus: “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). David promises in verse 43: I will keep your law continually, forever and ever… A desire to keep God’s law should be the natural result of experiencing his promises in our lives as David had. God’s faithfulness doesn’t just open our mouths to sing his praises or to proclaim his saving acts to the world, it also creates in our hearts love for the things that we know please him. The more we experience grace, the stronger our hearts will be pulled toward holiness. The Spirit regenerates the hearts of sinners and turns them to faith, but as we exercise that faith in the promises of God, it builds more faith, and that faith in turn builds still more. Our Calvinist brothers and sisters call this the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints”. Sometimes people will caricature it as “Once Saved, Always Saved”—as if once someone has trusted in Christ, they can never lose their salvation regardless of what they might do. That’s a real twisting of the doctrine. The real point is that once the Spirit has put faith in our hearts, that faith can never fail. It will always eventually lead on to greater faith. The issue isn’t whether or not someone with faith can lose their salvation by falling into apostasy, but that the man or woman with real saving faith never will fall into that kind of continued unrepentant sin. The more we walk with God, the more we love to walk with him. Jesus described the way to heaven as a hard and narrow path—and he’s right, but look at how David’s perception of that hard and narrow path changes the longer he walks it: …and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. On the one hand Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 16:24), and “Whoever finds his life will lose it” (Matthew 10:39). Giving up your life is a hard thing. Taking up and carrying a cross is not only a hard thing, but a shameful thing. And yet once we’ve made the choice to follow Christ, our perspective changes. Yes, we gave up our lives, but Jesus also says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), and “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). For David that hard and narrow way turned into a “wide place”. The challenge to follow Christ is in giving up all our other priorities and things in life. It’s often a very difficult decision to make. Jesus calls us to a very, very narrow path. And yet, friends, once we’ve made the choice and begun to walk with him, we find that everything we could ever want and more is in that narrow way. Suddenly it doesn’t look nearly as narrow; it doesn’t look nearly as hard and difficult. It turns into David’s “wide way” and we find our greatest joy walking in it. What looked hard and restricting, is now the place where he finds more freedom than he ever imagined. Look at the difference it makes in verses 46 and 47: I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. This is what holiness and the love of holiness do—they gives us boldness. David had been afraid to speak the Word at all—especially afraid that he would only bring shame on himself and on the Word. Now he’s ready to proclaim it before kings like Saul and Achish of Gath. Remember, it was Saul who persecuted and sought to kill David. And during much of that time, David slinked away to Philistia and worked as a hired thug for Achish, one of the Philistine kings. There were times when he was living in sin and to proclaim God’s testimonies to men like that would have brought shame, but now as he walks in holiness, now that he’s found righteousness through the steadfast mercy and grace of God, there’s no more shame in proclaiming the Word. Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The wicked are always afraid someone’s going to find them out. They’re always on the run, always trying to cover up and hide their sin. But those who pursue holiness have nothing to hide. Like David, they’re free, and so they have boldness. Think of Daniel. Holiness made him bold as a lion, and when he was in the lions den, his holy boldness put the lions at bay. Think of Martin Luther. He was a man known most of all for his boldness, but that boldness was rooted in his holiness, and especially in the Word. When the emperor sent for him to go to the Diet of Worms his friends told him not to go, but he said, “I will surely go, since I am sent for, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…though there I knew that there were as many devils in Worms to resist me as there be tiles to cover the houses, yet I would go.” Hugh Latimer, one of our own English reformers, was known too for his boldness rooted in holiness. He wasn’t afraid to give a gift of a New Testament to Henry VIII—a man known for his sexual immorality and adultery—wrapped in a paper on which he’d written, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” This was the same man who was burned at the stake with his friend and fellow bishop, Nicholas Ridley, and as the flames were consuming them called out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.” David shows us that our thankfulness to God is shown as we give our tongues to his service, proclaiming his testimonies, and as we give our hearts to him and pledge our affections to his service. But he shows his thankfulness and his love to God a third way. Look at verse 48: I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. He gives his hands up to God’s service too. Bishop Cowper looked around him and saw a Church that wasn’t being what it should have been. He said, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power; we are the disciples of the Master, who first began to do and then to teach. But now the world is full of mutilated Christians; either they want an ear and cannot hear God’s word, or a tongue and cannot speak of it; or if they have both, they want hands and cannot practice it.” Brothers and sisters, if you have found the gracious steadfast love of God, its because you trusted in the promises of his Word. Keep trusting in those promises. Keep trusting in his Word. And as you plant your feet in his Word, God will grow you; he’ll make you holier day by day. He’ll take that narrow and hard path that might have been such a hard thing for some of us to choose, and as he changes our hearts, he’ll turn it into our greatest love and the place where we find freedom to serve him. Let’s not be “mutilated Christians,” as Bp. Cowper put it. God wants all of us. That’s why he saved us in the first place. He wants not only our mouths, not only our hearts, but also our hands. He calls us to proclaim him, he calls us to love him and have all our affections united on him and on his Word, and he calls us to serve him in all the things we do, that the whole world might see his glory as he works in and through us. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for the steadfast love that you have shown us. Thank you for transforming our hearts, that we might no longer be your enemies, but your friends and faithful servants. Remind us each day that you saved us not so much for our benefit, but for your own glory and let us always commit our all—our hearts, our mouths, and our hands—to serve you and to build your kingdom. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:49-56 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Foundation of Faith Psalm 119:49-56 by William Klock The verses of the seventh stanza of the 119th Psalm begin with the Hebrew letter zayin, which is the word for “dart”. The Fathers saw a connection between what David has to tell us about God’s Word in this stanza and St. Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians about the armour of God. Remember, Paul told them that as they went out to battle the enemy, they were to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the helmet of salvation, and to take up the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. It’s all imagery of the armour and equipment worn by Roman soldiers. The sword was their key offensive weapon in hand-to-hand combat, but it was the shield, held in their other hand that was at the heart of their defensive armour. And just as the Roman soldier’s shield was crucial to his defences, so our faith is at the centre of ours. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:16 that it’s the breastplate of faith that will extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one. David writes here about the same kind of protection from affliction that he finds in faith. That’s what this stanza is all about: faith. Look at verse 49: Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. David grabs hold of God’s Word. He knew it and he knew the promises there. Without the Word neither he nor we would have any reason to hope, because we could never know God, we could never know his promises, and we could never know that his character is always to keep his promises. Brothers and sisters, I’ve met a lot of Christians over the years who lack hope. They despair when they face hard times in life; when they face health problems, marital problems, lost jobs, financial troubles, wayward children, or sick parents. They despair in the face of the world’s troubles: war, poverty, corruption, and economic depression. We’re all prone to worrying about what might happen and how we’ll deal with it when it does. When we’re in the middle of a problem, we’re all just as prone to despairing of ever seeing our way out of it. But I’ve noticed that those who lack hope the most are those who don’t know God’s Word—those who haven’t taken the time to learn the promises of God that Scripture tells us about or to learn the nature and character of God as he tells us about himself in the Scriptures. Friends, David had hope in those Scriptures. He knew the promises and he knew God’s character. That’s the result of his love for the Word and of his reading, and studying, and meditating on it: hope—and faith. He knew what was there, and so prayed in faith: “Remember your word.” And he expected God to answer. Here’s another important point that David teaches us: The Word of God shapes our faith and gives us confidence. Faith has to have an object. As Christians we put our faith in the Triune God and in his promise of forgiveness of sins through the once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus made for us—faith in the Gospel and the God of the Gospel. And yet we can only know the Gospel and its God as we know his Word. You can put your faith in anything you want, but faith itself won’t save you. It’s the object of your faith that saves. You can have all the faith in the gods of Islam or Hinduism, or even in the gods of the Unitarians, the Mormons, or the United Pentecostals, but you won’t find salvation because none of those gods is the God of the Gospel. You can put your faith in the Mormon gospel, or the Adventist gospel, or Social gospel, or the Prosperity gospel, but you won’t find salvation there no matter how great your faith is, because none of those is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we find in God’s Word. And yet, even after we have rightly put our faith in the Triune God and in his Gospel as we find them in Scripture, we can still lack confidence in our prayers and we can still find our prayers going unanswered. David shows us that the key is the Word. It’s knowing God and knowing his ways. The more we know the Scriptures that God has given us, the better we will know him, what pleases him, and what his promises are; and as we know all those thing better and as the Holy Spirit unites the desires of our hearts to follow him, the more our prayer life will be changed. Our prayers will be infused with greater faith and confidence as we pray more and more “Thy will be done” and less and less “my will be done.” God has given his Word that we might know him; he’s given us grace that we might hope in him and in his promises as we come to know him, and David teaches us that God will never disappoint those who hope in him. His grace never fails, he never gives it frivolously, and he will never takes it back. So David says in verse 50: This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. We don’t know specifically what the affliction is the David’s referring to here. He faced all sorts of afflictions, but all those years that he spent fleeing Saul were probably the worst of them. Whatever the case and no matter how bad it got for David, the life-giving promise of God was his comfort. People cling to all sorts of things when times are bad: money and their earthly “stuff”, friends, drugs or alcohol, and more and more government. It’s especially sad to see Christians trusting so heavily for our security in earthly possessions, in money, and in government. Friends, it destroys our witness to the world. Our earthly possessions and money are someday going to go up in smoke. Earthly government have terrible track records. And yet when we see immorality in the world, it seems that the most common response of Christians today is to say, “Let’s pass a law to keep people from acting that way!” Sadly, we hear that far more often than, “Hey, let’s evangelise those people so that they find Christ and will be changed from the inside out.” And even less do we hear Christians ask, “What can we as the Church do to improve our witness to a world in need of our testimony to Christ?” No, David’s faith and hope were in the promises of God. I can’t think of a more powerful way to say it than he did: “Your promises give me life.” That’s Gospel hope right there. Matthew Henry paraphrases David’s words and expands on them saying, “[Your Word] made me alive when I was dead in sin; it has many a time made me lively when I was dead in duty; it has quickened me to that which is good, when I was backward and averse to it; and it has quickened me to that which is good, when I was cold and indifferent.” Our faithlessness often turns molehills into mountains, but God’s promises flatten even the biggest mountains into a flat plain. Joy and life come when we trust in God’s promises, but again, remember, the only way to know those promises and the God who makes them is to steep ourselves in his Word. As I’ve said before, the creative power of God is in his Word. Without it, there can be no true life. Now look at verse 51: The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. The insolent, the proud, derided and scorned him. Again, he doesn’t specifically mention any particular situation here, but if this is David writing, I can’t help but think that he has Saul in mind. God took the throne away from Saul because of his sins and gave it to David. And yet instead of just stepping down, Saul fell into deeper and deeper sin. Like Cain who was angry because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice of faith and not his own defective sacrifice, Saul became angry, not over his own sin which had disqualified him, but instead he became angry with the righteous man to whom God chose to show his grace—so angry, in fact, that like Cain, Saul decided to try to murder his “rival”. The guilty have a tendency to do just that sort of thing when faced with righteousness. We’re all prone to dealing with our sin by comparing it to the sins of others. As long as we can find someone with worse sins than our own, we can feel good about ourselves. That’s self-righteousness. But when someone who is more righteous comes along, we get bumped off our pedestal. When that happens we should take it as an opportunity for reflecting on our sin and repenting, but far too often we don’t. That’s especially true of the world. When the righteousness of the Christian shows it up, it more often attacks the Christian than it repents. David found comfort in his faith in God’s promises. God’s promises gave him life, as he says in verse 50, and that life is what now keeps him from turning away from God’s law in the face of persecution. Persecution and hard times should drive us to the Word and through it to God. And yet over and over I meet Christians who are driven away from God when they face difficulties—and even worse, Christians who blame God for their problems. That’s the sort of thing that will drive you into a pit of despair with no way out. I’ve heard Christian counsellors advise people who are dealing with difficulties that they should forgive God. This is a big flaw in the Twelve Step programme, which at one point requires participants to forgive everyone who has wronged them—including God. Brothers and sisters, none of us will ever have occasion to forgive God, because God will never do us any wrong. To forgive God is to say that God has sinned against you. That’s blasphemy, friends. Blaming our problems on God is nothing more than a form of escape from personal responsibility, either for the situation in which we find ourselves or, in the case of problems we haven’t had a hand in creating, it’s escape from responsibility for the sinful response we’ve had to the situation. If you are discontent with God, you will never be able to find life in his promises—never. Instead, you will drive yourself further and further away from him as you falsely accuse him of violating the promises of his Word. Instead, we need to find our life in God’s Word. We need to trust in his promises and in the knowledge of who he is and his own goodness and faithfulness. David says in verse 52: When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord. When David says he thinks on God’s “rules”, he’s referring to God’s judgements or his judicial rulings—the times when he has kept his promises to bless those who are faithful in following him and to punish those who reject him. In the face of sin and death, what better place to find comfort than in the evidence of God’s past judgements on sin and death? But let me point out three things here. First, you can’t take comfort in things you don’t know. David knew because he read, studied, and meditated on God’s Word. Second, you can’t find comfort when you’re unwilling to trust. This goes back to the Gospel itself. Salvation is found when we trust in the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. Unless you trust in him for your salvation, you won’t be saved. And yet there are people who trust in Jesus for their salvation, but reject him when it comes to all sorts of other things. As I said a bit ago, there are Christians who blame God for their problems and are bitterly angry with him. They’re turning God’s promises on their heads and proclaiming God to be unfaithful. If you put yourself in the position of denying God’s promises and faithfulness to them, you can never find comfort in his judgements. And third, notice that as we take comfort in God’s judgements, we find comfort not only in his love and grace, but even too in his divine judgement on sin. It teaches us that God’s promise that right will prevail isn’t empty and it gives us hope for the future. More importantly his judgement and punishment of sin show us that he truly is holy and give us reason to glorify and praise him for his holiness and justice. We see this last point vividly in verse 53: Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. Literally, David says he’s “burning up” because of the wicked. He’s angry as he sees people forsake God’s ways. Presumably he still has in mind the same situation of personal affliction—maybe Saul’s persecution of him. Now, notice his perspective. He’s not angry because he has personally been wronged, but because the wicked are rejecting God and his law. This is the perspective of those who know what God’s judgement will be on unrepentant sinners. This ties into Jesus’ statement in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn.” Christians should be deeply offended by sin, but because we know the gravity of sin and that the greatest wrong committed by the sinner is always against God, we are angry with the offense and at the same time mourning the fate of sinners. David Brainerd wrote, “I have had clear views of eternity; have seen the blessedness of the godly…; and have longed to share that happy state; as well as been comfortably satisfied that through grace I shall do so; but, oh, what anguish is raised in my mind to think of an eternity for those who are Christless, for those who are mistaken, and who bring their false hopes to the grave with them! The sight was so dreadful I could be no means bear it: my thoughts recoiled, and I said, “Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?” The knowledge of God’s judgements and anger over sin should lead us to tenderness. Spurgeon writes that, “Those who are the firmest believers in the eternal punishment of the wicked are the most grieved at their doom. It is no proof of tenderness to shut one’s eyes to the awful doom of the ungodly. Compassion is far better shown in trying to save sinners than in trying to make things pleasant all round. Oh that we were all more distressed as we think of the portion of the ungodly in the lake of fire! The popular plan is to shut your eyes and forget all about it, or pretend to doubt it; but this is not the way of the faithful servant of God.” How often are we more willing to forget about sin and to shut our eyes to the doom of unrepentant sinners? How often is our anger over sin not an anger resulting from seeing an offense against God, but vengeful anger because we’ve been wronged or offended? I think that when we’re honest, our attitude toward sinners is to be happy at the thought of them roasting in hell, when we should be wanting to see them turning to God through Christ. Of course that’s only going to happen as we are faithful to share the Gospel with them. If you’re not there yet (and most of us probably aren’t), the solution as we see over and over in the psalm is to plant ourselves more firmly in the foundation of God’s Word. Look at verses 54 and 55: Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your law. David made the Word his song. We sing about the thing we value. Secular songs are about the opposite sex. Patriotic songs are about our nation. The Christian ought to sing about his God. But not just about his God, because we can’t love God without having a passion for his Word too. And so like David it should be the song in our hearts. And, of course, if our hearts are dwelling on the Word, so will our minds. David steeped himself in the Word until eve in the night—the time when thoughts are overpowered by sleep—his mind was still on God. David makes a key point here: He kept God’s law, because he always had God in mind. Have you ever noticed that Scripture speaks about sinners saying that they have forgotten God? Contempt for God’s law is the result of not knowing God himself. I can’t say it any better than John Morison did: “Hours of secret fellowship with God must issue in the desire of increased conformity to his holy will. It is the remembrance of God that leads to the keeping of his laws, as it is forgetfulness of God that fosters every species of transgression.” David ends the stanza, summing it up and saying: This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts. The Hebrew simply says, “This I had” or “This has come to me” and it’s not clear what “this” is. The New Living Translation may not be far off when it reads, “This is my happy way of life: obeying your commandments.” The ancient commentators saw “this” as referring to the hope or comfort that David found in his troubles, and as he’s been saying, that hope and comfort is God’s law. And so he concludes saying that he has found his way through all his trials and tribulations by being obedient to God. And that brings us full-circle, because obedience is the result of faith and trust. He obeyed God, because he knew that he could trust in God’s promises. He knew the Word. He saw there the promises that God had made, and he could see there the fulfilment of those promises. And not only that, he saw the fulfilment of God’s promises in his own life. Brothers and sisters, this is especially appropriate in light of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper this morning. We have not only the promises of God written for us in his Word, but we have the Sacraments, these signs and seals of his grace that remind us of his faithfulness to his promises. Here we find grace in a foretaste of the great banquet that awaits us on the other side of eternity. Friends, we come to his Table in faith as we trust in his promise—as we trust that this is the down payment of that which he will fully consummate in eternity as he brings our salvation to full fruit. And as he makes his promise here and we receive it in faith, it should change our lives as it renews our faith and send us back into the world, ready to face trials and temptations like David did: with our arms wrapped around the Word of God, the source of our knowledge of his promises of new birth and fullness of life; full of his grace; and ready to share those promises with a world in desperate need of them, that they might share our hope and faith in you. Please pray with me: Merciful Father, thank you for your promises: for the new birth, for the life-giving work of your Son and the life-renewing work of your Spirit. Thank you for the grace you have given that lets us put our trust in you. Turn us daily to your Word, that we might see afresh your promises and have our faith renewed and strengthened by them. And, we pray Father, give us boldness to take your promises to our family, friends, and neighbours that they might come to trust in them too. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:57-64 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Power to Transform Psalm 119:57-64 by William Klock This morning I want to continue our look at the 119th Psalm with the eighth stanza, beginning at verse 57. Two weeks ago we looked at the seventh stanza, where David wrote about God’s Word as being the foundation of faith. God’s Word contains God’s promises, but it also shows us over and over how God is always faithful to keep his promises. Now in verses 57 to 64 David expands on that. It’s because of his faith in God that he can say what he does in verses 57: The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words. In Hebrew his statement: “The Lord is my portion” is really more of an exclamation: “The Lord! My portion!” Think of soldiers dividing the booty or the spoils after a victorious battle. As they see all the treasure each one jumps in, grabbing the things that appeal to them and shouting out his claim: “This is mine!” Because of his faith in God, David could look at everything around him and claim the Lord as his portion. Again, consider that he was the king. He had money, he had power, he had women, he had access to all sorts of worldly stuff, and yet he proclaims: “The Lord is my portion!” Let me get off-topic for just a few minutes. If you have your Bibles open to this passage, how many of you see that Lord is in all capitals? Depending on your translation, some of you might have “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”. Someone asked me this week what it means when we see “Lord”in all capitals in the Old Testament. The short answer is that it means that this where God’s proper name was written in the original Hebrew text. The proper name used for God in the Old Testament goes back to Moses’ experience at the burning bush. When he asked God whom he should tell the Israelites had sent him, God told him, “i am who i am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘i am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). God’s name expresses his perfect state of being. His name is “I Am” or “I Am Who I Am”. God’s name is a form of the verb “to be”. Over time, the ancient Hebrews became afraid that they might blaspheme God’s name by saying it lightly or by saying it incorrectly, so they adopted the practice of replacing it with the title “Lord”. So when a Jew was reading the Scriptures and saw the name “I Am”, he would instead read “Lord”. Most of our English translations continue that practice. Now, here’s where it gets more complicated. Like most ancient languages, Hebrew isn’t written with any vowels. In the middle ages, Jewish scribes were concerned that people might forget how to pronounce the words since they were written only with consonants, so they came up with a system of dots and dashes that they would write underneath the letters to show what the vowel sounds were. When it came to God’s name, they left the consonants alone, but they wrote the vowels for the word “Lord” underneath them. This wasn’t a problem for the Jews. But at around the time of the Reformation, Christians started taking an interest in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament. They didn’t know that the Jewish scribes were writing the consonants of one word with the vowels of another. They just read it all as one word and got the name “Jehovah”. And of course, “Jehovah” is a nonsense word. It doesn’t have any meaning. I always cringe a little when it comes up in some of the old hymns. It would be like taking the consonants of my last name: (Klock) KLCK and combing them with the vowels of my title: (rector) EO to make Klecok, or something like that. It wasn’t until the early 19th Century that Christian Hebrew scholars figured this out and started trying to determine exactly how the Hebrew should be pronounced. The problem is that since no one has spoken the word for thousands of years, no one really knows. Scholars think that the most likely pronunciation is “Yahweh”, but there’s no way for us to really be sure and there’s still disagreement, which is why the best practice is probably to stick with the practice of the Jews and simply read “Lord” as most of our English Bibles do. And so it was the Lord in whom David trusted and whom he claimed as his portion. And the practical application of that was that David promised to keep God’s word. David was able to find his satisfaction in God precisely because, as we saw last time, God keeps his promises, but in response to God’s faithfulness, his people serve their Lord by living their lives in obedience to his Word. Think of Jesus’ words in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Doing the things that Scripture tells us are pleasing to God isn’t optional for the Christian. We don’t earn our salvation by pleasing God, but desiring to please him is the evidence that our faith and love for him are real. If you love your husband or your wife, it naturally shows as you do things that you know will please him or her. There are lots of couples we know love each other and of whom it would almost seem silly to ask, “Do you love each other?” because it’s obvious from their actions that they do. It ought to be like that when people see our relationships with God; it ought to be obvious that we love him, because we keep his commandments. We don’t pick and choose. We don’t ignore the things he tells us that we don’t like. In fact, more and more, there’s nothing he can tell us that we would object to, because we love the things that he loves. This struck me as I was reading the headlines this past week. As some of you may have seen, author Anne Rice announced that she is no longer a Christian. She’s the author of a bestselling series of books about vampires and made headlines about a decade ago when she became a Christian. And yet this week she announced that she was leaving—not leaving Christ, but leaving the Church. At first she said that she couldn’t be part of such an infamously hostile and quarrelsome group, but what was more telling was that later in her statement she noted that while she wanted to follow Christ, she couldn’t adhere to the various moral and doctrinal standards of the Church. She rejects the Church’s condemnation of sexual immorality; she rejects its pro-life stance; she rejects its teaching on the roles of men and women; and she rejects its stance against secular humanism. And yet those aren’t just the Church’s positions; the Church holds to those positions, because they are God’s positions and because we, the Church, desire to please him. Rice wants the benefits of life in Christ without the obligations. But friends, you can’t claim to love him while rejecting his commandments or spurning his body. Bishop Cowper wrote, “Many will say with David, that God is their portion…how do they prove it? If God were their portion they would love him; if they loved him they would love his word; if they loved his word they would live by it and make it the rule of their life.” People reject the Church all the time, while still claiming to love Christ. What their statements, like Rice’s, really demonstrate, is that, first, they’re full of pride—they think they’re better or more mature or too good to associate with all the people in the Church who are still struggling to obey Jesus; and, second, in rejecting the teachings and commands of Jesus, they demonstrate that they really don’t love him the way they claim to. The bottom line is that it’s a matter of the heart. God listens to your heart whether your mouth speaks or not, but he’ll never listen to your mouth when your prayers aren’t from the heart. Look at verse 58: I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. David teaches us the key to prayer and I can’t think of anything more important for us to understand about prayer than this: pray according to God’s promises—pray according to his Word. As David has said, God’s word is the foundation of his faith and his confidence, because the Word lays out God’s plans for us. His Word tells us that he desires to show us mercy and grace—and that’s what David is praying for—but it also tells us that we can only come to him through Jesus Christ as we repent, believe, and obey. This is the world’s problem as Anne Rice showed us this week. Many people want the benefits of God’s mercy, but they want to come to him on our own terms. It doesn’t work that way. And yet when we do come on his terms, when we accept his promises and take him at his word, we can have confidence that he will do what he has promised. And notice that David’s prayer is for grace. The closer we get to God and the more we take in and come to know his Word, the more each of us realizes that we desperately need his grace. As we grow closer to him, the light of his holiness and the knowledge of his Word never stop showing up our sins and shortcomings. The more we mature, the more we realize how far we are from his standard of perfection and the more we humbly fall back on his grace as our only source of redemption. Look at verse 59: When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; How often do you take time to examine your life? It’s really something we should each be doing daily as part of a vital life of prayer and meditation on God’s Word. We need to consider how we’ve been living and ask if it’s in accordance with what Scripture tells us is pleasing to God. But a major part of that work of self-examination depends on being firmly rooted in the Word, because the Word is the only reliable place to find out what is truly pleasing to God. We’ve all heard people say things like, “If what I’m doing is wrong, the Holy Spirit would tell me.” Or, “If what I’m doing is wrong, God wouldn’t let me be comfortable with it.” Friends, let us never be so presumptuous. If you want to know if something is right or wrong, the Spirit has already spoken through Scripture. It’s spiritually presumptuous and lazy to demand God give you some new revelation when he’s already spoken clearly. Study the Scriptures. Do it daily. Do it with depth. Meditate on them. Memorise them. Let them fill your heart and mind. Let them change your thought patterns and inform your conscience. And as you do that compare the way you live your life to the path laid out in God’s Word. And as the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to the things in your life that need to change, pray for grace that you might turn your feet to follow the testimonies of God. We have two problems doing this. The first and most basic problem is that we often don’t bother with the Word. Our Bibles sit on the shelf collecting dust and often when we do read them, we do so haphazardly or we don’t really take the time to ponder and meditate one what it says. God’s Word is the source of life. If you don’t know it, you won’t grow as a Christian. But the other problem is that we often do know the changes we need to make, but refuse to make them. We take a smorgasbord approach to Scripture. We embrace the things we like or that are easy, but we reject the things that really challenge us and the things that require major changes in how we think, or how we live. For one person it may be a refusal to give up some form of sexual immorality, for another it could be a refusal to be generous with their possessions, or for another it might be a refusal to give up bitterness and anger toward someone who wronged them many years ago. In each case it means making a drastic change and giving up something in which we’ve found pleasure or security or even some kind of strength, and yet as long as we are knowingly unrepentant in sin, we push God away, put ourselves in a spiritual stall, and will eventually begin to backslide. God will never force us to do anything, but he will graciously help us to make the changes we need to make. We just have to ask, and that’s what David does here. As Charles Spurgeon put it, “God will turn his saints when they turn to him.” That said, don’t drag your feet when it comes to doing this. Look at verse 60: I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. We’ve all had those times when we wish we’d done something sooner and missed out because we waited. When I was a kid I somehow got the idea that cheesecake was made with cheddar cheese. That was an absolutely disgusting idea and I wouldn’t get anywhere near cheesecake. I wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to tell me that it wasn’t made with cheddar cheese and that it was, in fact, delicious. It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I finally decided to try some…and, of course, I discovered that I’d been missing out for years. We do the same thing with God, but when we do it with God we miss out on a lot more than a delicious desert. We hold onto our sins and earthly goals, finding our security in them, and go for years missing out on the great blessings God has for us if we would only follow him. Brothers and sisters, when the Spirit or the Word he’s caused to be written for us pricks your conscience, do something about it now. The longer you wait, the longer you put it off, the more you will gradually deaden your conscience and harden your heart toward God. Take advantage of the opportunities God gives you to put off sin and to clear your conscience. Those are things within your control and if you let God help you deal with them, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the things that are out of your control. Look at verse 61: Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law. Think of all the passages in the book of Proverbs that warn us against getting dragged into sin by the snares of the wicked. Proverbs 5:22-23 tells us: The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. David reminds us that there are forces in the world that want nothing more than to ensnare us and drag us into sins. Proverbs refers over and over to the snares of the harlot and the gang of thieves and ne’er-do-wells, but those aren’t the only forces with the ability to coax us into sin and then trap us with their cords. We can face the temptations of the world and the devil much better when we’ve first learned not to delay in keeping God’s commandments and as David says here, the knowledge of God’s law is the safeguard against all these snares and entrapments. David closes the stanza with three statements that tell us three ways we can keep the Lord as our portion. First, look at verse 62: At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules. First, David’s love of God’s Word was so great that he was happy to get up in the middle of the night to praise God for the grace he found there. Does this mean we have to get up at midnight to praise God? No. But it tells us something about the character of David’s relationship with God and his Word. God came first, even before the necessities of things like eating and sleeping. This is the principle behind the traditions of fasting and night or early, early morning prayers that today are rarely observed outside monastic communities. Getting up in the middle of the night is a spiritual discipline for many Christians that demonstrates their devotion to him. We don’t know if this was a nightly practice for David, but clearly from what he tells us in the Psalms it was a regular practice. The fact that he says he rises tells us it was deliberate too. He wasn’t just dealing with insomnia. He was choosing to rise at midnight for the purpose of praising God. That kind of devotion only comes as we commit ourselves to God and to the knowledge of him we find in Scripture. A sign of increasingly maturity in the faith is a desire to commune with and praise God that is greater even than our desire to eat or to sleep—greater than our desires for the things that are necessary to live. God was truly David portion—his treasure. His devotion is seen in his willingness to give up something like sleep, but that devotion was first rooted in God’s Word. Second, what company do you keep? Look at verse 63: I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts. Love of God and love for God’s people always go hand in hand. This is what Anne Rice is missing. You can’t claim love for Jesus, but reject his body. The two always go together. St. John wrote: He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21) Scripture tells us over and over that as we gather together we build each other up. We saw that in our study of First Corinthians. God gives us all gifts for the purpose of building each other up. The writer of Hebrews warns us: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We all have probably heard the story of the pastor who went to visit one of his straying parishioners. He didn’t say anything, he just took the fireplace poker and pulled a coal out of the fire. Within seconds that coal that had been glowing red-hot, cooled and turned black. The pastor then pushed the coal back into the fire and it began to glow again. As Christians we’re each like that coal. When we are with the rest of the body our vitality is renewed and we’re, as Hebrews tells us, exhorted to love and to good works. When we stray off and start living alone, it doesn’t take very long before the things of God are put on the shelf and we not only begin to live for ourselves, but we throw the doors open wide to temptation and sin. Worse, when we do fall into sin, we no longer have our brothers and sisters around us to give us warning and to help pull us away from it. Finally and third, David had learned to see the world through the lens of God’s loving-kindness. This is that word chesed again—the one so rich with meaning that we can’t accurately translate it into English. The more he knew God, the more he saw the steadfast and unfailing love and mercy and kindness of God around him, the more he saw God providently at work for the good of his saints, and the more he was at peace trusting in God’s promises. And as he saw the loving-kindness of God surrounding him, he craved more. “Teach me your statutes” became his prayer just as it should become our prayer, brothers and sisters. David claimed God as his portion, and as he steeped himself in God’s Word, it changed him: who he was, how he lived, and how he saw the world around him. The same should be true of us. The wonderful thing is the way in which all these changes sort of tumble together, and if we let them, they feed on each other as we feed on Christ, and his Spirit propels us along as we change and grow and mature in the faith. The more we feed on the Word—both written in Scripture and offered here at the Lord’s Table—the more we see the goodness and loving-kindness of God at work in us and around us. And as we see his loving-kindness, we draw closer to him, we give him praise and glory, and he feeds us more from his Word, which changes our hearts even more and again we see his loving-kindness at work in ever-new ways and go back again to him to give him more praise and glory and to feed even more on the Word. To start the cycle, all we have to do is wholly commit ourselves to him and to his Word. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we prayed in our collect this morning that you would grant to us the spirit to think and do those things that are right, because without your gracious help we can never live according to your will. We ask this again. Strengthen us with your gracious Spirit that we might desire to do your will, that we might commit ourselves wholly to you, and that we might daily feed on your Word and be wholly transformed. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:65-72 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: The Knowledge of God's Goodness Psalm 119:65-72 by William Klock Sometimes the things that are good for us don’t feel very good. This past week a new guy joined my lap-swimming group. He’s fast. At least quite a bit faster than the rest of us and on Friday I wore myself out not quite keeping up with him. I was out of breath. My shoulders and my legs were sore when the workout was over. But it was good. The problem is that most of us there are all about the same speed. We’re prone to settling into a pace that’s comfortable, and we don’t really push ourselves. But since the goal is to et fit, being comfortable isn’t where we should be. When you’re exercising, challenge and discomfort—even a little pain—are good. When I was in elementary school my mom and her friends got into the 1970s health food craze. From what I’m told, health food is supposed to be good for you, but all I remember was that most of it tasted awful. The good stuff tasted like cardboard. The really bad stuff was just plain awful. I would have much rather guzzled root beer and ice cream, but the fact is that the stuff that doesn’t taste as good is better for you. What’s good for you is often not nearly as fun as the stuff that’s bad for you, and in a lot of cases, doing what’s good for you is just plain unpleasant or painful. With that in mind, let’s look at Psalm 119—specifically verses 65-72. David writes: You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord.” That’s an acclamation of praise. But we need to ask, “What did that well dealing look like?” Let’s go back a few verses. In verse 8 David cried out, “Do not utterly forsake me!” In verse 19 he wrote, “I am a sojourner on the earth.” In verse 25 he looked at his own sinful life and lamented, “My soul clings to the dust.” A few verses later, in verse 28, he wrote about his spiritual condition, saying, “My soul melts away for sorrow.” He pleaded with God in verse 39, “Turn away the reproach that I dread.” When he did do what was right, he was persecuted for it. In verse 51 he writes, “The insolent utterly deride me.” If we were to look at the books of Samuel, we could see how miserable David’s existence was for many years. And in light of all those things—things and situation that so often caused him sorrow and misery—he makes this acclamation of praise: “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord.” How often are we ready to praise God, when by all accounts our lives look grim? Face, most of us probably whine more than we praise. But St. Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), even the “bad” ones. Or consider Job. He was experiencing misery greater than any of us likely ever will, and yet he could tell his friends, “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). We’re prone to doing the opposite. We complain about hard times and bad situations. Worse, sometimes Christians blame God, get angry with him, or curse him. Thanks and praise are the last things on our mind. So what was the difference in David’s life? It’s in the second half of the verse: “according to your Word.” David knew God’s Word. That’s where God has chosen to reveal himself to us, and as he knew the Word, David knew, first and foremost, God’s character. He knew that God was holy, righteous, and just. And because he knew the Word, he knew the history of God’s dealings with his people. He knew that God always keeps his promises. He knew that God doesn’t break his covenants. And he knew that God wants to grow us—that he doesn’t just want to save us and leave as we are, but wants to make us into holy people who will give him glory and be his witness in the world. David could look at Scripture and see that God challenges his people—not to be sadistic or because he takes pleasure in bring misery and misfortune on us, but because through hard times and difficult situations, he teaches us to trust him, he teaches us to love, and he teaches us to set aside our sinful ways and turn to holiness. To put it in terms of my earlier illustrations: those hard situations are like the coach who pushes you harder than your comfortable so that you’ll be more fit and perform better; those situations are the cardboard health food that might not taste great today, but will lead to a healthier tomorrow. The key is to trust in God through the hard times, resting on his promises and knowing that, as St. Paul writes in Romans, “for those who love God all things work together for good.” But not just in our earthly or worldly understand of what’s good but specifically, as he goes on to say, that we might “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28, 29). Much of David’s perspective came from his understanding that he was a sinner. He knew that he could never earn or deserve God’s love—that, in fact, he was an enemy of God. And yet despite being his enemy, God loved him and had chosen to show him grace and mercy. David acknowledges that he’s God’s servant—and an unworthy one at that. But because of the continuing graciousness of God, his desire was always more and more to be a better servant. That’s what grace does. People who trust in themselves and people who think they’re good enough to merit Gods love and favour will never experience grace, and having never experienced grace, they will never grow. From their perspective God owes them and when bad things happen, their first reaction is to blame God or to get angry with him instead of remembering that God is gracious and that he uses everything in our lives to conform us to the image of Jesus. David goes on in verse 66: Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. That should be the prayer of every believer. God often uses hard times and difficult situations to teach us, because we refuse to let him teach us in easier ways. Often times our pride gets in the way and we lose the teachable spirit that we should have. Sometimes dealing with the hard things of life is the only way to learn, but many times we’d make life easier if we simply trusted God when he tells us something in Scripture and then obeyed. After all the hard times, this may be where David’s at now. He prays that God will teach him and that means that David had developed a humble and teachable spirit. John Ryland wrote that “The beauty of holiness shines forth resplendently in the word of God, in the divine character, in the law, in the gospel, in the cross of Christ, in the example of Christ, and in the conduct of all his true followers…” That’s very true, but so often we miss seeing the beauty of holiness. Ryland goes on and points out that seeing it is conditioned and that God’s saints will only see it “so far as they are conformed to the lovely image.” That’s why David prays for knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the understanding of God’s truth. Without it we have no anchor. Without it we’re “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But we need more than bare truth. We also need judgement. Judgement is what allows us to apply God’s truth and live it out. David had grown to love God’s commandments—and so should we—but none of us can live out his commandments on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us. He does that through is Word and as he indwells us, giving us wisdom and strength. David didn’t start out with this teachable spirit and desire to follow God. He says in verse 67: Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. I hope you all can see yourselves in this verse as much as I see myself. How many times have we all had to learn from our mistakes? When I was in high school I worked as a draughtsman for an architect. One day I arrived after school and was immediately pulled into the office manager’s office. She informed me that I had made a mistake on a set of plans. One of our clients was building a large 6,500 square foot house and I had drawn the plans. I’d made a mistake when I was dimensioning the foundation plan, and instead of specifying a 6” foundational wall, I had accidentally written 16”. It was a mistake I should have caught when I checked over my work. The office manager informed me that the homeowner had been in the office that morning and was furious, because his concrete contractor had followed the plans, not asking any questions, and had poured over $15,000 in unnecessary concrete—and it was my fault. I was told to go up to my desk and think about what the best solution would be and that when I had come up with something, I was to go in and explain it to the Boss. I was sweating bricks and was pretty sure I’d be fired. When I did eventually go down to see the Boss, he heard me out and then explained that the concrete contractor hadn’t actually poured the 16” foundation wall, but had called them that morning to confirm. He had wanted me to learn not to make that mistake again. I was relieved. I also never made that mistake again! I didn’t deliberately make that mistake. It was an honest one, even if it was stupid and sloppy. Similarly, David didn’t go out so much to deliberately stray from God’s ways either. He desired to follow God. We know that from all the psalms he wrote. But he still made some big mistakes in life, because his flesh was sometimes weak, because temptation was strong, and because he wasn’t guarding himself against sin the way he should have been. Consider that when he had his affair with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, based on what the story tells us, he didn’t clue in that he was really doing wrong until he was confronted by Nathan. On some level he must have known, but through it all he was being careless in living his life. It took a spiritual two-by-four between the eyes to knock him out of his spiritual stupor. God has to do the same with us often. He has to let us fall to rock bottom before we finally wake up and start following him. Spurgeon wrote that, “Our trials act as a thorn hedge to keep us in the good pasture.” It’s no fun to run into a thorn hedge, but once you have, you’re not likely to do it again. David had wandered, but his God-permitted trials brought him back to the pasture and tethered him there where the good feed was. It’s a humble man who says in verse 68: You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. That’s more praise. God’s discipline, as hard as it may be, is always good. I was reading Charles Bridges sermon on this passage. He points out that we often rush to judgement. We find ourselves in a difficult situation, and, as he puts it, we imagine God sitting in heaven frowning or glaring down at us in anger or laughing at us sadistically, when, in fact, if we’d just stop and consider the situation through the eyes of faith and remember who God is, we’d realise that no matter what, God is always dealing graciously with us and smiling down on us as he works to conform us to the image of Jesus. And with that understanding—that God is always doing us good—our prayer should be, with David, that he would teach us his statutes. David longed to know more because he’d been in trouble for a lack of godly knowledge and judgement, but even still, the more we know and the more we conform, the more our desires will always be for even more of God’s teaching. If there’s ever a time that you don’t feel like you want or need God to teach you anymore, there’s something wrong. And remember, David prayed that God would teach him, but he knew that the Scriptures are God’s curriculum. I’ve talked about this before. “Let go and let God” is not the biblical answer to growing in godliness. Lots of Christians somehow have the idea that all they have to do is pray that God will make them victorious over sin or that he will teach them his way. It doesn’t work that way. The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom to understand the Word and he gives us strength to overcome sin, but if we don’t apply ourselves to studying the Word, the Spirit’s wisdom is wasted, and if we don’t apply ourselves to taking positive steps toward holiness, the Spirit’s strength is going to go largely wasted. God may give us the ability to follow him—an ability we don’t have in and of ourselves—but he still expects us to cooperate with that grace and be proactive in following him. Praying for knowledge or praying for holiness while avoiding God’s Word is like praying that you’ll pass an exam and then never cracking open the textbook or attending the lectures. God is good. And as the song we often sing says, he’s good “all the time.” Even when his discipline doesn’t feel good—when his workout brings us pain or when we feel like we’re eating cardboard—we can trust that it is for our good. Look at verses 69 and 70: The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. The proud and insolent defrauded him, as we saw in verse 51; they defamed him in verse 61; and now they slander him with lies because he’s lived in such a way that they can’t find anything scandalous to expose. That tends to be how things work. The world doesn’t like holiness. If you live a holy life, you show up everyone around you. You break the curve, and nobody likes a curve breaker. We can be much more comfortable in our sin, when we can compare ourselves to all the people below us. It makes us uncomfortable when we’re confronted by the life of someone who is truly following Christ. Remember, our natural state is to believe that we can save ourselves—that we can merit or earn God’s favour if we’re only good enough. We think hell is for people like Hitler or Stalin, not for us. The problem is that when someone comes along who exhibits true godliness, he upsets the balance. He shows us that we’re not as good as we thought. And instead of acknowledging that we can only be saved by the perfect righteousness of Christ, the world instead gets angry and retaliates. But Jesus warned us this is what would happen: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). David gets right at the heart of the problem—literally. The hearts of those who persecute him are “unfeeling like fat.” A heart clogged with fat—today we call it cholesterol—eventually stops working. In the Hebrew mind the heart was the seat of our feelings and emotions. When you feel something, it affects your heart rate and that’s where you “feel” it. That’s the problem. The unregenerate have hearts clogged with spiritual cholesterol. God speaks, but because their hearts are so clogged, they feel nothing. David, on the other hand has been put through God’s spiritual training camp. His heart is healthy and when the Word speaks, he hears it, he recognises it, he does it, and he delights in it. God’s training isn’t always easy, but the end results are always good. As he says in verse 71: It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. It was good for me that Friday our coach at the pool had us doing 1000 metre “pyramids”—that’s 40 lengths where you build up your speed until you’re giving it your all and then gradually back off to an easier pace…and then do it again. It was good for me, but at the time it hurt. When I used to bike commute between Vancouver and Portland for a summer job, I can remember a lot of days when I was riding home up the I-205 bridge. It’s a steep uphill grade, it was hot—35 or 40 degrees—and there was a 50 or 60 kph headwind, and as my legs pumped up and down, my mantra was “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” But I made it up the bridge and it was good for me. Some days David cried out to God: “My soul cleaves to the dust!” “I’m gonna die!” It hurt. But when it was over he could see that God’s spiritual training camp had purged the spiritual fat from his heart and made him fit for doing God’s kingdom work. Through the hard times, God had taught David his commandments and his statutes. And the more David trained, the more his perspective on life changed. We see that in the final verse of the stanza: The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. One thing I’ve learned in being around people who regularly eat health food is that they don’t think it tastes like cardboard. In fact, they really like it. And that happens because our tastes adjust. Giving up worldliness for the sake of following God is not an easy thing for most of us. We usually do it because we know we should and because the Holy Spirit convicts us when we don’t—but it’s not easy. And yet, the more we make it our practice to follow God’s hard and narrow path, the more our tastes—the desires of our hearts—change and the more we actually want to keep following God. David teaches us that the key is to take the first steps. Once we start walking with God, our worldly treasures will dim in comparison to the life-giving Word of God, which not only teaches us how to walk more closely with him, but truly introduces us to our loving Creator. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, even though it’s often difficult, let us learn to see your hand at work in all the situations of our lives, that as we trust in your Word, we might give thanks in all things. Teach us your ways, we pray, even when it means running into a thorn hedge, that we might be tethered to feed on the grace you provide in your pasture. Change our hearts and put in them a desire for you above all the things the world holds before us. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Psalm 119:73-80 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Psalm 119 The Word: Opening Our Eyes to God's Grace Psalm 119:73-80 by William Klock The tenth stanza of Psalm 119 carries on from the point we left off last week, at the end of the ninth stanza, with verse 72. You’ll remember that in the last stanza, David praised God for having dealt well with him, but that as we looked at what that meant, we saw that David’s experience wasn’t always what we’d be inclined to think of as “good.” He suffered hardships, he was abused by the wicked, he was slandered by the insolent, and more than once he fell into sin and experienced himself God’s discipline. David’s life wasn’t by any means easy. And yet in light of all that, he praised God for having dealt well with him. David could say that because he had the right perspective on life. There were many times when life was good, but there were other times when God allowed him to be afflicted, but used the affliction to teach him and to draw him closer. He understood that for God’s people, life is a sort of bootcamp to train us for heaven. The training programme is sometimes almost unbearably hard, but it makes us fit for God’s use. David wrote about the insolent as having hearts that were unfeeling as fat. Their hearts were so clogged with spiritual cholesterol that they had no feelings for God or the things of God. In contrast, David had been put through God’s training programme. He was spiritually healthy. God had purged the fat from his heart, and because of that, David developed a heart for God and his desire was to walk in the way of God’s Word. I told you last Sunday about the summer I spent bike commuting to work across the Columbia River. At the end of long days I’d have to ride home up a steep bridge, usually into a strong headwind, all in 35° or 40° heat, and as my legs pumped up and down I’d be chanting in my mind: “I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!” Sometimes that’s how life feels as we experience God’s training programme, but in the end all that difficulty is what makes us fit for heaven. Sometimes we just need a change in perspective. That’s what David had and so as he experienced hardship, his mantra changed to “I’m gonna live! I’m gonna live!” And it changed because he knew that God’s is always good and that God always works in us toward that goal of eternal life. With that in mind, look now at verse 73: Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. That word “hand” is the keyword of the whole stanza. In fact, each verse of the stanza begins with the Hebrew letter yod. It corresponds to our letters “y” and “j”, but yod is also the Hebrew word for “hand.” And in this stanza, David considers the hand of God, first in terms of his own creation, but then in giving him new life and sustaining and renewing him in all things. Verse 73 is a remarkable passage. I’ve found myself meditating on it all week and I encourage you to do the same this week, because it’s good for us to think about the grace that God has shown each of us in our own creation and what that means for us. David appealed to God: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me.” Those are very personal words that are rich, not only with the creative power of God, but also in expressing God’s involvement in creating each one of us individually. This isn’t the divine clockmaker of the Deists, who created the universe with a set of physical laws, set it all in motion, and now sits back to watch, but never involves himself in it. We don’t usually think of mass-producing things with our hands. That’s what machines are for. Hands mould pottery. Hands craft wood. Hands knit and stitch and embroider. Hands create things that involve our personal attention. God doesn’t have literal hands—he’s spirit—but David knew, as we should, that God has lovingly crafted each of us the same way the potter’s hands mould a pot, the carpenter’s hands shape a block of wood, or the seamstress’ hands stitch together a the pieces of a lovely garment. God’s involved, he cares, he loves his handiwork. He doesn’t just make it—any machine can do that. No, he fashions it. That’s an expression of intent and thoughtfulness. I was reminded of the old saying that “God doesn’t make junk.” No, he doesn’t. He makes people, like you and me, and he makes us lovingly, masterfully, and purposefully. Now, what do you do with your handiwork? Do you ignore it? Of course not. When I was in junior high I took a woodshop class. Our first project was to make a chequerboard out of strips of light and dark coloured wood. I was so proud of my chequerboard that I actually started playing chequers, which was a game I hated. I enjoyed my handiwork. When I finished my master’s thesis and received the bound copy back from the bindery, I couldn’t put it down. I kept picking it up and paging through it. It was the same way when I got my First Corinthians commentary from the publisher. A copy sat on my desk for a couple of weeks, because I enjoyed picking it up and paging through it and thinking to myself, “Cool! I wrote that.” Brothers and sisters, if you and I take that much care and pride in our own creations, how much more care do you think God takes in his? And so David prays, “Lord, I know you will never forget or ignore the work of your hands. Complete your creation. Make me holy. I am the vessel you made—and made with purpose. Fill me up and use me.” And friends, if we can be sure of God’s continued interest in us simply because of our physical creation, how much more can we be sure of his interest in us now that he has caused us to be born again of water and the Spirit? He sent his only Son—the ultimate price—to die that he might create us anew. Do you really think he doesn’t care about us? We should be praying, just like David, and asking God to complete the work he has begun in us. If you are in Christ, you have been washed and renewed by his indwelling Spirit. Pray that he will continue to work in you each day, giving you understanding and giving you strength to follow God’s way. David reminds us that our increasing maturity isn’t just about “us,” nor is it strictly about God. Look at verse 74: Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. When we think about following God, it’s easy to remember that we do it to please him and it’s easy to remember his promises that he will bless us if we follow him. What I’ve noticed Christians are very prone to forget is the impact that following God has on us corporately. Ever since the Enlightenment, Christians have had a growing tendency toward individualism. More and more “Christians” remove themselves from the Church. But even for those who attend or are members of a church, when it really comes down to it, our faith is all-too-often best described as “Me, my Bible, and Jesus.” Not only is there little room in our lives for the authority of the Church—if we hear something we don’t like, we just ignore it or move on to a different church—but we forget that as individual Christians we are part of Christ’s body and that his body is made up of other Christians. St. Paul warns us about being loner Christians. You might be an eye, but an eye can’t accomplish anything without the rest of the body. In fact, without the rest of the body, the eye will die. But Paul also warned that the Church needs the eye in order to function the way God intended. If you take away the eye, you blind the body. Getting back to our passage: the body benefits as her members follow after God—as they hope in his Word. Just as you share your abilities as an eye or an ear or a hand or foot, we all share with the body our passion for God and for following him. We all weep when a member of the body stumbles and falls into sin, but we all rejoice as we see our fellow members pursuing holiness and growing in their spiritual maturity. The key is for each of us to hope in his Word—to trust the promises there. If we trust God’s promises, we trust him, we follow him, and as we do that he build up his body, the Church. And that, again, moulds and shapes our perspective. Look at verse 75: I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. God always judges righteously. His rulings are just. David knew that because he knew God’s Word. He knew God’s covenant. He knew God’s promises. And on top of all that, he had the record of God’s having dealt faithfully with his people. And so David could see the hard times in his life and understand them as being just as much a part of God’s being faithful to him as the times when things were going well. Both the good and the bad were God’s blessing. God is always a good Father. When I was a kid I can remember complaining to my parents because So-and-so down the street was allowed to do this or to do that, but I wasn’t. My parents would always explain that their rules and their limits were there because they loved me. Sometimes I got spanked. I didn’t like it, but my parents always made it clear, even when I didn’t want to hear it, that their discipline was rooted in their love for me. That doesn’t mean there weren’t times that I sat in my room afterward and grumbled about how mean my parents were and how I’d never treat my own kids that way. Sometimes we do the same thing when God disciplines us. We’ve got his Word. It tells us that he always loves us, that he always cares for us, and that in everything he works for our good—and that he will discipline us when we need it, because he loves us. But when we actually experience his discipline, we grumble, “If I were God, I’d never do that!” Brothers and sisters, it’s a good thing we’re not God. It demonstrates a bit step in our spiritual growth when we can look at God’s discipline, see his faithfulness to us in it, and give him thanks and praise for it. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy for us to look for God’s faithfulness and love in the hard times, let alone give him thanks for it. It’s easier to say, “I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!” than, “I’m gonna live! I’m gonna live!” And it’s easier to get angry with situations or with God than to give thanks in all things. But God never promised that following him would always be easy. His commandments are hard—which is why we often fail and end up having to be taught our lessons through God’s discipline. Jesus tells us to love our neighbours and then tells us a parable in order to point out that even the person we’re most prone to hate is just as much our neighbour as the people we’re naturally inclined to love. People come into our lives and for whatever reason we find that we just cannot love them. The solution isn’t to reject God’s commands—that’s only going to lead to more discipline. The solution is prayer and action. Throughout the Psalms we see David thanking and praise God in difficult circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it was easy for him. He also teaches us to rely on grace, because without grace, we’ll never be able to be obedient when the going is hard. Look at what David prays in verses 76 and 77: Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. First he appeals to God for his steadfast love. It’s that wonderful Hebrew word chesed again—the word that describes God’s steadfast and never-failing mercy and kindness and love. What we need to remember here is that God’s loving-kindness—his chesed—is always shown in the context of his covenant. And that’s the wonderful thing here: David could pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and love with full confidence, because he knew that he was in covenant with God. God had made a promise to him through Abraham, and David himself bore the mark of God’s covenant in his circumcision. He was one of God’s people and God’s covenant was an objective foundation of his faith and hope. Brothers and sisters, you and I can appeal for God’s love and mercy with the same confidence. We are his covenant people just as much as David was and each of us bears his covenant sign that was given to us in the waters of baptism. This was why Martin Luther, whenever he found himself doubting, would put his hand on his forehead and remind himself, “You are baptized!” He bore on himself the covenant sign of God’s promise to be faithful to him. Occasionally I run into someone who was baptized as an infant and later rebaptised as an adult. They’ll tell me that their infant baptism didn’t mean anything to them because they couldn’t remember it, but that their baptism as an adult did mean something because they were old enough to remember it or because they were old enough to give the responses themselves. But friends, if baptism depends on you or me for its validity, it is then no longer a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness to us, but of our own fickleness. If baptism depends on us, then we have no sure confidence. Baptism is the sign of God’s covenant with us—a covenant that you and I break every single day, but a covenant that God will be faithful to for all eternity. That’s why we only baptize once and hold that it’s blasphemous to rebaptise. Rebaptising is not only a declaration that God’s promise wasn’t good enough the first time, but it stands the sacrament on its head by making its efficacy dependent on us instead of God. God’s covenant is dependent on him. He’s the source of mercy, not us. We’re the ones who are dead in our trespasses and sins without his covenant mercy. And that’s the second appeal in David’s prayer: “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live.” There are two sides to that prayer. On the one hand, he knew that the only way he would ever find eternal life was by God showing him mercy. He knew he was a sinner and that eternal damnation was what he deserved. God’s mercy was his only means to life. But the other side of this prayer, in this context, is that he knew that God’s chastisement and discipline are evidence of his mercy just as much as the times when God showered him with blessings. He teaches us that if we’re struggling with those hard times, we can pray for a change in perspective and God will give it. And we can approach God in confidence because he has established his covenant with us. Now notice in verse 78 how David prays in terms of dealing with those who were the immediately cause of his problems: Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. More than anything else, David is simply acknowledging that the fate of the insolent is shame. His prayer praises God for the fact that he is always just and punishes sin—and in God’s economy pride always results in shame. Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). What David’s doing is leaving the punishment of the wicked to God. His ability to do this is a direct result of his knowledge of the Word, his knowledge of God’s character that the Word taught him, and his faith that God is just. David wasn’t out for revenge. He left that to God. We often do the opposite because we forget that God will take care of things. Having a vengeful attitude ultimately shows our lack of trust in God. So leave it to him. That’s what David does. Instead of letting himself be consumed with justice himself, he has chosen to be consumed with the Word of God: “Lord, I’ll let you bring shame on the insolent men who have wrong me. I just want to spend my time meditating on your Word.” Charles Spurgeon sums this up very well: “He would leave the proud in God’s hands, and give himself up to holy studies and contemplations. To obey the divine precepts we have need to know them, and think much of them, hence this persecuted saint felt that meditation must be his chief employment. He would study the law of God and not the law of retaliation. The proud are not worth a thought. The worst injury they can do us is to take us away from our devotions; let us baffle them by keeping all the closer to our God when they are most malicious in their onslaughts.” In fact, David would rather we a witness to draw others to God than focus on revenge. How’s that for a godly perspective on life? Look at verse 79: Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. I’m of the opinion that David was praying this during one of those times when he had fallen into some kind of serious sin. People had looked up to him as a mature saint. Consider how their view of him would have changed when it came out that he had had an affair with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered. We’ve all experienced that. Maybe it was a mature Christian friend or mentor whom we saw fall into sin. We probably weren’t as inclined to look to that person for guidance anymore. If we haven’t experienced it personally, we’ve all seen it happen to well-known leaders in the Church. That seems to be what David was experiencing. He had been an encouragement to the saints, and now he was an embarrassment, and so he prays that God would restore him—that even as God disciplines him and brings him low, that his brothers and sisters would see it, would see his repentance and the change his heart makes, and once again that he would be a faithful witness and an encouragement to the body. Let me close with the final petition of David’s prayer. Look at verse 80: May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! Brothers and sisters, if we would have life, it comes down to the heart and whether or not we seeking God’s grace in our lives. Neither you nor I can please God on our own. His great desire is to complete the work he has begun in us. The waters of our baptism are the outward sign and seal of the work that God has done in our hearts. Through the blood of Jesus he has washed away our sins and with his Spirit indwelling us he has grafted us into Jesus and given us new life. He has given us his pledge of faithfulness. It’s now up to us to live out our baptism—to live out our new life. What we need to realise is that God is always faithful even when we are not. He will see his work completed in us and that means that his grace comes easily when we embrace it and it comes hard when we resist it. The more we steep ourselves in God’s Word as David did and the more we pray like David that God will turn our hearts toward him, the easier the road will be to life. But even when grace comes through hard and difficult times, the more we’ve come to know God through his Word and the more we’ve prayed for his grace, the more ready our eyes will be to see his grace at work in all things and the more ready our hearts will be to give him thanks and praise for continuing to renew our minds and regenerate our hearts. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, in our collect today we asked that you would grant us a measure of your grace that we might obtain your promises as we live out your commandments. We ask again, Father, for your grace. For grace to live out your commandments and for grace to see you at work as you train and teach us to walk in your way. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.