Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 14

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‘Lamedh’

At 117, Violet Mosse Brown holds the honour of being earth’s oldest living person. She saw the advent of flight, the early development of the automobile, the overthrow of Czarist Russia, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, the rum-runners of the Prohibition, and the decolonization of the British Empire. She has outlived everyone in her generation, and most of those in her children’s generation. She predates virtually every household appliance including every digital device upon which our lives are now so dependent. To her, insulin, anaesthesia, and antibiotics are new inventions. If there is one thing we can say about this supracentenarian, it is that she is enduring. But compared to Someone Else, Violet Mosse Brown’s life is but a breath, here today and gone tomorrow—a speck on the horizon of earth’s history. Listen to how the psalmist puts it.

“Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. / Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. / Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. / If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. / I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. / Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. / The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. / To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless”(Psalm 119:89-96).

That is ‘Lamedh’, twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and twelfth stanza of Psalm 119. In Lamedh, the psalmist uses words and phrases like “eternal”, “continues through all generations”, “endures”, “preserved” and “boundless” to express the lofty theme of God’s great timelessness. There is something secure and restful in the contemplation of God’s boundless, enduring existence. He is the epitome of one who keeps His word, both because He is unerringly faithful in His promises, and because He is unlimited in His enduring perseverance loving humans.

While the psalmist admits he experiences the affliction and conflict common to humans, he sees himself as brought into an uncommon circle of friendship with God that allows him to request help from God. He says, “For I am yours.” He is claiming God’s ownership of him. He is acknowledging he relinquishes his autonomy and self-made rights, accepting God’s purpose for his life. Not as a mercenary contract but as a natural corollary, the psalmist anticipates being the recipient of God’s great salvation through His word—the living Word we know as Jesus.

Where the psalmist ends, limited by his place in history, other servants of the ever-enduring God continue expanding on the concept of the boundless nature and gift of God. The Apostle Paul records in a letter to early Christians on the coast of present day Turkey a prayer he prays for all who will ever say, “I am yours” to God.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

This passage is rich with descriptions of the boundless love with which our enduring, persevering God wants to transform our lives. His love, rooting and establishing us, fills us with His fullness. It is wider, longer, higher and deeper than we could ever imagine.

Timothy Keller suggests “wide” refers to the scope of God’s love, available to every human being—no exceptions; “long” refers to the eternal nature of His love—His never-ending faithfulness to bring good into our lives; “high” suggests the heavenly realm to which His love will ultimately bring us, where body, soul and spirit will enjoy the fullness of God’s design for humanity; and “deep” reminds us of the depth of horror to which Jesus submitted Himself, dying on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin and yours.

Which brings us back to the psalmist’s request to be saved. God’s love, fully expressed through His Son Jesus, is the culmination of the answer to that prayer. The Father’s love and the Son’s ransom-paying act ultimately save us from ultimate harm, preserving us even through death for a boundless, delightful eternity with Him. Now that’s enduring.

Blue and Yellow Paint

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

(Hebrews 11:1)

            For a day or two this week, the view of the North Shore mountains rising from the lower mainland and Fraser Valley has been magnificent. Their heights are flocked with the first snow of the year revealing breath-taking beauty. Vancouver’s ubiquitous autumn clouds have unexpectedly fled. The clear sky reveals what local skiers, boarders, and simple view-lovers appreciate: snow-covered mountains. I am reminded of another brilliant sun-bathed day in those same mountains. No snow blanketed the mighty champions that day.

Emerging from the shady trail, a dazzling reflection blinded us. Sun-bleached exposed granite replaced the dim browns and greens of our forest path. We saw small splotches of blue and sometimes yellow paint, like thoughtless graffiti, randomly littering the rocky face as we scanned to find a route to traverse it. Then it came to us. These splashes of pigment were our waypoints. Unlike forest floors, rock leaves no footstep-trodden evidence of safe passage, provides no sturdy tree trunks on which to post trail markers. Blue and yellow paint was our escort.

The peak of Crown Mountain lay somewhere above us, out of sight. Below rose the tops of Douglas and Cedar trees whose roots held onto earth somewhere in their unseen depths. Before us stretched this granite desert. This would be no place to fall.

Hand and foot we made our way across the rocky expanse. Paint splotch after colourful paint splotch guided us when the way seemed impossible. We entrusted ourselves to the route chosen for us by someone else. And so, little by little, we completed that daunting section of the trail. More forest trail, followed by more precipitous courses over and around blue and yellow be-dabbed granite led us further and further up. The path was always safe and true, but sometimes, the other option—the one that could lead to disaster—was only a misstep away.

We reached the top that day. (Some even scrambled to the precipitous jutting spur to lay claim to the very top). Breath-taking views stretched across mountaintops rimming the sky in every dizzying direction. Even there, maybe especially there, our safety was assured only as we stayed ourselves on the marked path. A thoughtless move and one might be silently swallowed by that magnificence.

Father God; These awe-inspiring mountains teach us of you. We walk each day in places we hope will bring us satisfaction or beauty, excitement or rest. Sometimes the going is pleasant and we journey somewhat mindlessly. Shady paths and leaf-softened forest floors easily mark our way. But other times we find ourselves on exposed rocky cliffs needing to grasp at granite where no handholds exist, where it seems the surface is too hot or too cold to touch. We fear we don’t know the way.

Then we see your splotches of blue and yellow paint—promises of Your love and faithfulness—directing us through difficulties. As we follow You, O Great and Loving Guide, we fear no evil for You are with us. Rock of Ages, draw our eyes to you. Steady us. Keep us from the dizziness of looking at the world around us for hope. Bring us safely home, gloriously spent, and aware only of your awe-inspiring faithful presence.

(Photo Credit: By Maoman (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #24

Prayer Acknowledging God’s Character-building Work in my Life

(Paraphrase of Psalm 138)

You are worthy of praise, God. In Your love and faithfulness You are changing me for good; You are reforming my heart from the cold, hard, fractured thing it was into a steady, focused core of purpose that moves my life. Instead of chasing every zephyr of this world’s fleeting promises, I’m becoming wholehearted in singing Your praise. The more I acknowledge Your greatness, the more I find You making me strong from the inside out.

In moments of despair or discouragement I call to You for help. You answer me by assuring me You are near and by making me stouthearted and peaceful within. I am beginning to see that You want me to look at troubles differently than as distressing inconveniences; when my focus is on You, LORD, troubles are reminders of Your steady intention to remake me.

I wish we all would turn to You, God. I wish we would turn off the blaring cacophony of this world’s propaganda and listen instead to the life-transforming words You speak. Rather than building a flimsy scaffolding of self-esteem through proud monologues, we would join with the throng of the faithful, singing Your praises. Bowing to Your claim on our lives, we would find You endowing us with strength to stand.

As I walk in the midst of trouble, preserve the inner core of my being, LORD. Make it impervious to my foes. Cause fear and doubt to flee. Replace reckless abandon and selfish striving with self-control and kindness.

I see that with one hand You protect me from my old enemies, and with the other You create in me character. In speechless wonder I know You have envisioned good things for me. You will be faithful to complete and fulfill Your purposes for me, developing in me the character of Your own precious Son, Jesus.

Your workmanship, LORD, is good. Continue Your creative work in me until I am everything You want me to be. Your love, O LORD, endures forever.

(Photo Credits: By NN – Töpfer woodcut from year 1641, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29708898;

By Milartino – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20677304;

By Mcnultyc1 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6749541)

 

 

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #17

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Prayer of Simple Trust (A Paraphrase of Psalm 131)

My prayer today, Lord, is a simple one. I just want to tell You that I’m trusting You. I’m turning my thoughts away from myself—those foolishly high and lofty wonderings of my mind. So much focus on self has got to go. I’m putting away those imaginings that I can impact the world with my beauty, brains, and brawn. Others seem to inhabit that realm where power and prestige are Goal One, but I’ve left all that.

What is in my power is only this: I settle my soul in Your love and faithfulness. In those rare, quiet moments when I’m really honest with myself—when all those false grand notions of my identity and importance are put away—I feel a stillness and quietness knowing You are here with me. Never leave me!

When I realize that everything I am and have and do is bound up with You I feel a deep, comforting peace. I’m like a weaned child with her mother. I do not demand to accomplish great things, go far places, or experience all that this world advertises. Just being with You exceeds all that.

Your presence fills and satisfies me like nothing else. I know all who put their hope in You find the same sense of rest. Help me remember, Lord, that this is the goal of faith: simple, soul-deep trust in You.

(Illustration Credit: [[File:Léon Perrault, 1894 – Mother with Child.jpg|thumb|Léon Perrault, 1894 – Mother with Child]])

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #15

Prayer of Perseverance (A Paraphrase of Psalm 129)

From its infancy, Jesus, the body of Your believers has faced opposition. From the first to the twenty-first century—for two thousand long years—we have known the antipathy of Satan’s power deceiving the cultures around us, but Your people have persevered.

The regimes of Iran and Iraq, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, North Korea, South Asia, and even North America have sought to destroy Your people, Lord. But the LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed: You have not allowed our suffering to gain any ultimate victory over us.

In Your justice You have freed every one of us from the various grasps oppression attempts. Some of us You miraculously remove from difficulty—responding to the prayers of Your people and rescuing by Your mighty hand.

To some of us You give the grace of endurance; lessons learned in captivity or under the tyranny of the faithless have been the testing-ground for developing Christ-like character.

And some of Your beloved ones You allow to experience death at the hands of ruthless persecutors. Yet we all know Your presence more powerfully than fear. Your faithfulness shines brightest in our darkest moments.

Your blessing is for those who persevere. Lord, help me honour Your greatness by joining the throng of the faithful, of whom it will be said, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you; we bless you in the name of the LORD.”

[Photo Credits: By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Typhoon in Hong Kong. Mcyjerry~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=267320

By NASA/Tim Kopra [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #5

World Prayer (A paraphrase of Psalm 117)

(Hey world! Let’s stop all the spinning and think about what really matters in these lives we’ve been given. Let’s shake off the blinders that hide from us the core truth of our existence, the reality that God…loves…us!

How much? He loves us with a vast, all-knowing, never-ending limitless love that is aimed at our eternal good. Take a long, slow draught of that news. There is no love on earth that comes anywhere near approaching this God-love. It is feather-light, sea-deep and mountain-solid.

Is it fickle, like human love? Not one bit. The faithfulness of the LORD endures forever—not only forever in a time-based sense, but eternal in depth and scope and height of majestic wonder.)

Your inexhaustible love and faithfulness, O God, is our greatest comfort and we thank You. That You will never leave us is beyond our wildest dreams and we praise You. You’ve inscribed it on our hearts, tattooed it on our souls, and imprinted it on our minds. We exalt You and sing Your praises. Give us an eternity in which to do it!

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #3

Praising the Unseen God (A Paraphrase of Psalm 115)

Taking my eyes off myself, God, and looking to You alone is where my hope is secure. Why? Because of Your love and faithfulness toward those who fear and honour You.

How strange that we doubt Your existence because You are unseen. What should we expect? That You would submit to our demands, You who rule the universe and beyond?

When we have a perspective of doubt, we show that we prefer a god we make ourselves—one that justifies the way we want to live, that condones our grasping, grabbing, selfish lifestyles. That perspective is just a façade for empty, impotent and temporal intentions. People who create gods for themselves end up becoming like them: deaf, blind, mute and paralyzed to attaining what You, God, designed them to experience.

Help those who honour and fear You, God, to continue to entrust themselves to Your help and protection. You know each of us inside out. You remember our frailties and will bless us with the kind of blessings we each need most. You bless those who fear You, whether we are young or old, obscure or well-known—all alike are blessed.

One way You bless us is by making Your family increase: we increase in love for You, faith in You, fear of You; we increase in character traits like Christ and in power to accomplish Your will; we increase in compassion for others—something often beyond us.

Continue to bless us, Lord–Maker of heaven and earth–so that we are enabled to realize Your great plans for us. We inhabit the earth but You invite us to share the heavens with You.

So the contrast becomes quite clear, God, between those who reject You and those who honour and fear You. The former gradually shrink and fade away like a dead leaf, fallen and blown away. But those who extol Your wonders expand for eternity in worshipful awe.

(Photo Credits: By Uroš Novina from Semič, Slovenia – Maple leaf in summer, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50029518;  [[File:Fern Unfurling – geograph.org.uk – 160963.jpg|thumb|Fern Unfurling – geograph.org.uk – 160963]];  By Karlostachys – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31299697)