Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 15

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‘Mem’

Comparison provides context. In Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver observes “a royal personage inspiring awe among the tiny Lilliputians because he was taller than his brethren by the breadth of a human fingernail.” In this case, the character Gulliver—of gigantic proportions compared to his miniature captors—sees from his perspective the diminutive physical differences that constitute ‘royalty’ by Lilliputian standards as nothing compared to his own human size.

In the same way, the writer of Psalm 119 uses comparison in this thirteenth stanza labeled ‘Mem’. He uses it to help him register the impact of knowing the boundless, enduring existence of God (especially as extolled in the previous stanza, ‘Lamedh’) in contrast to ignorance of God.

‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. / Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. / I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. / I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. / I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. / I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. / How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! / I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:97-104).

Did you hear the comparisons: ‘wiser than’, ‘more insight than’, ‘more understanding than’ and ‘sweeter than’? Let’s look a little closer. God’s message to humanity—His word recorded as Scripture and the person of Jesus communicated throughout those Scriptures—is of vastly greater significance than the difference between Gulliver and his Lilliputian governors. The psalmist observes that God’s Word and presence gives him a wisdom advantage not only over his enemies, but also over the wisest of his teachers and leaders. The gospel message of God’s love for humanity has transformed him from the inside out. God’s presence has moved his choices toward an unimagined wholesomeness and given him a greater appetite for virtue than for the sweetest things this world can offer. How is it this change has happened?

An even more ancient writer than the psalmist put it this way. “I kept thinking, ‘Experience will tell. The longer you live, the wiser you become.’ But I see I was wrong—it’s God’s Spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty One, that makes wise human insight possible’ (Job 32:7,8).

God’s Spirit, the breath of the Almighty One, in us? Impossible as it seems, that is the psalmist’s prayer and the gospel message in a nutshell. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That is the outcome of Christ’s work: His dying to ransom us from our perishing, His resurrection to lay the foundation for our eternal life, His ascension to the heavenly throne of glory, and His indwelling in us to enable us to experience the glory of true humanness as God intended it.

In some ways the psalmist’s comparison only lifts the edge of the page to a whole new story for us. There is really no comparison between the best of what the world can scrape together and the life Jesus offers. It’s not a new, improved and better life. It’s a whole new way of living. So cast off the feeble ties with which this Lilliputian world is trying to hold you down. Rise to a life filled to the fullness of God Himself. Know the One who is Wisdom Himself.

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GOD’S LIFEWORK: Part 2

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Light of the World (John 9:5-7)

Have you ever noticed your circadian rhythm? (No, that’s not got anything to do with your toe-tapping tendencies). Circadian rhythm is all about the cycles of day and night. Regardless of our work and leisure activities, our bodies respond to a roughly 24-hour schedule. Do you know why that is? It’s because of the sun. Apparently our brain picks up sunlight that enters in through our eyes; it then releases chemicals that set us up for the circadian rhythm we generally experience. Not so the blind. Their eyes not only fail to convey images to the brain, but also to transmit light there. The result? Some blind people find they are not synchronized to the usual 24-hour rhythm of life. They are always a little off this world’s schedule.

It’s interesting that as Jesus approaches the blind man of John 9 (see “God’s Lifework: Part 1), he speaks directly to that man’s need. He describes circadian rhythms and then confides, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

“What is light?” the blind man must be thinking. “How is light relevant to me?”

I’m wondering if we sometimes think that about Jesus. How is he relevant to me? How is what He is offering connected to what I really need? How is He able to affect my relational problems, my responsibilities, my character flaws, my physical ailments, my doubts? Jesus’ answer always gets to the root of our problems. He knows how we tick; He created us for Heaven’s sake. And it just may be that we are praying prayers that are actually superficial. Our prayers may only be scratching the surface of a much deeper, foundational need that we can’t yet see.

No doubt, the blind man in this narrative had been praying for sight. If only he could see, life would be O.K. But Jesus offers him something incredibly greater: He offers Himself, the Light of the World. Physically speaking, if the man had the full capacity of sight, but there was no light (no sun, no firelight, no light anywhere), his sight would be useless. Jesus is revealing a truth to this man regarding his spiritual need. He needs something Jesus can give that is of far greater value than physical sight. He needs the Light of God’s love and truth, of forgiveness and of hope. His prayer for opened eyes will be answered by giving him an open heart first if he will accept it.

With this offer, the light of insight pierces the blind man’s soul. The silence is broken by the earthy sound of Jesus spitting onto the dirt. The blind man hears a scraping, a rubbing of fingers, a scratching about down in the dust. Then Jesus’ hand is back on his shoulder and he feels something sludgy plastered onto his eyelids. It smells like mud.

“Go, wash…” commands Jesus.

And we’re told the man went and washed, perhaps with the help of a friend or family member. Or maybe he knew how to shuffle his way to the pool, hands feeling the stone walls that led there. We’re told he “came home seeing”. We’re not told of the exhilaration he felt as the mud washed away a lifetime of blindness. We’re not privy to the sense of gratitude he felt for the One who gave him a deeper sight. But we know Jesus is a man of His word. He has become light to the blind man.

Has he become light to us? What do our prayers sound like? Is it possible we are asking for too little? Has the Light of the World got something even greater for our needs than what we can envision? If we listen to what He is saying, His light will pierce the deepest places of our souls. The time for darkness is over.

 

DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #9

VISION

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Some people find vision daunting. Remember Charles Templeton, former evangelist, and coworker with Billy Graham? He lost his faith as a result of a disturbing vision. Interviewing Templeton for his book, The Case for Faith, Author Lee Strobel explains, “(Templeton’s) retreat from faith began with that Life magazine photo of the African mother holding her child who had died because of a simple lack of rain.” Because of this and other observed tragedies, Templeton concluded, “there cannot be a loving God”. His vision caused his faith to disintegrate.

Like Templeton, Daniel found vision daunting too. Yet vision was the very foundation of his prayer life. Esteemed highly by God for his emphasis on setting his mind to understand God’s ways, Daniel was rewarded with a formidable vision of Christ and of the future. Listen to how Daniel describes it.

“I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision…so I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless.” And later, “I said to the one standing before me, ‘I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless…my strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.’” As a result of his request, a heavenly messenger strengthened Daniel with words imbuing strength and peace. The vision became manageable, not only to Daniel, but also to generations of believers who have appreciated the prophetic revelations transcribed by Daniel.

What is the difference? Why did vision sidetrack Templeton’s faith but reinforce Daniel’s? Perhaps the answer is found in the comment made by the seraphic messenger in Daniel 10:12. He observed that Daniel’s prayers were heard as a result of him humbling himself before God. Vision plus prayerful humility equals expanding faith. Vision paired with arrogance results in diminishing faith.

How do we make this truth applicable for our prayer lives? Firstly, as we enter into prayer with the Almighty One, we need humility; we must realize that there are some things we will never understand about Him. Sometimes he will reveal things to us through His Word or His Spirit that we can understand, but sometimes we will be daunted. We might be overcome with anguish, feel like our strength is being sapped, and lose our breath. His ways are not always our ways. Submit to that truth. He will reveal what is necessary as He sees fit. Trust Him for that.

Secondly, prayer-sustaining vision is granted to those who set their minds to gain understanding. It may not be so much a vision of heavenly messengers as of God’s planet earth project, God’s kingdom coming among mankind. To gain insight into God’s ways takes deliberate choice. It takes effort, spiritual effort, mental effort and physical effort. It takes Scripture-focused prayer, meditation on what God has said in order to dialogue appropriately with Him. The resulting worldview of honouring God becomes the foundation of our vision.

And finally, visionary prayers must be powered by divine strength. It is unthinkable that we could muster the drive, the passion, the energy to lever God into action. It must go the other way around. It is God’s Spirit who indwells and energizes the praying man, woman and child enabling them to envision His heart for the world.

With humility, with effort, and with the Spirit’s empowerment our vision for God’s presence becomes integral to a maturing prayer life. Rather than disintegrating, our faith will be given the opportunity for amazing growth. Any takers?