Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 9

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Part 9: ‘Zayin’

“Endurance,” explains Glaswegian minister William Barclay, “is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” Perhaps this thought is what lies at the foundation of the psalmist’s next stanza of Psalm 119. ‘Zayin’—or seventh Hebrew letter—is the ‘z’-sounding letter that is also a word meaning weapon or sword and food/nourishment. The psalmist seems to have used this letter to explore suffering as a theme for these eight zayin-headed verses. It’s a stanza of the paradoxical, though. In the face of suffering, of enduring mockery, of indignation against the apparent mastery of evil over good we hear of hope, of comfort and even of a song.

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. / My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. / The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. / I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. / Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. / Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. / In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. / This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (verses 49-56).

Suffering becoming glory. It’s an enigma, a puzzle, and a conundrum. It goes against our intuition. We want to avoid pain and heartbreak, not endure through it to reach some distant joy. Yet there it is, both the sword and nourishment contained in Zayin, are laid out for us to help us triumph over our common dilemma. How can the psalmist—not to mention we—access this great paradoxical prescription so that he and we can weather the deepest difficulties of life with the confidence that God will preserve us?

The key is Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand” (sections of Isaiah 53).

Jesus stepped into the deepest crevasse of suffering known to humankind—the chaos of bearing God’s just wrath against humanity’s rebellion. We want a just God. Here He is, and here Jesus is made to die an exponential death for your rebellion and mine, times the billions who have and ever will live on this planet. But Jesus is God in flesh and so the sword, though it caused untold suffering for Him, could not extinguish His being.

That is the message of Easter. “He is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus’ body broken like crisp bread, and His blood draining from His wounds like spilled wine, become for us the nourishment after the suffering. Trusting in the work of Jesus to solve our troublesome dilemma is what the Spirit of God infused into the psalmist’s pen so many years ago.

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, helped two of His distraught and discouraged followers see that all of Scripture is about this amazing plan of rescue God devised for humanity. “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

There it is again: suffering then glory. Jesus, in His larger than life way, takes the greatest suffering so that we may be infused with His life and become able to bear our portion of this earth’s trouble. But the suffering is only a bothersome interlude—it has no lasting grip on us just as it had no ultimate hold on Christ. The hope of glory to come that God has promised was on the tip of the psalmist’s pen and is ours for the asking too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, sensing the end of his life was at hand, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).

Suffering’s grip is weak compared to the comfort of the Father’s hand. Let’s step into that great loving hand today, and as the lyrics of a current song say, “Just be held.”

(Photo Credit: By James Emery from Douglasville, United States – Bread and Wine (Cracker and Juice)_2048, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35135837)

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WHO IS JESUS? #12

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Promised Blessing.

Looking out at the religious figures that surrounded Him now, Jesus saw livid faces. He saw irritation and annoyance, indignance and outrage. His claims about Himself had been more than they could take; He had called Himself everything from Light of the World, to Out of this World. His claims had not enamoured Him to these men whose religious dictatorship of the community had not before been questioned.

They were an obstinate and thickheaded group. They simply could not understand Jesus because they would not understand Him. Referring to God as His Father had gotten Jesus nowhere—perhaps it was too abstract a concept for them—so He returns to the subject of Abraham. Earlier they had crowed, “Abraham is our father,” and Jesus now uses that notion to reveal His next claim about Himself

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day,” announces Jesus; “he saw it and was glad.” His opponents were incredulous.

“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

The air was thick with their incredulity and cynical skepticism.

Jesus had gone further than hard hearts could follow. He was explaining the motivation that had inspired Abraham’s life from the time he left his idolatrous roots in Mesopotamia, the ‘cradle of civilization,’ was a promise. More than a promise, it was a covenant made by Yahweh to the then-named Abram. It was a covenant promising that Abraham would become a great nation quite separate from civilization, as it was then known, a covenant whose purpose was to bless all peoples on earth—eternally. The covenant had come with the stipulation that Abraham leave his own country, people group, and father’s household and go to the land God Himself would show him (Genesis 12:1-3).

The author of Hebrews comments on the kind of faith required to follow a promise like that. He lists Abraham as one of several historical characters whose lives revolved around that kind of faith, who “considered Him (God) faithful who had made the promise.”

“All these people,” writes Hebrew’s unknown author, “were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:11,13-16).

Jesus is saying, ‘I am the personification of that promise. I am the Object of Abraham’s faith; I am the One that embedded in Abraham’s heart the joy of knowing Yahweh’s covenant would one day be realized; I am the One whose task is to bless every people group on this planet; I am the Promised Blessing; I am.’

To this very claim each of us must personally respond. The mark of a response that is authentic and truly receptive of everything offered in God’s covenant is that it will be accompanied by two things: it will be focused on Jesus, and it will be attended by an inner joy.

“Therefore,” Hebrews continues, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1,2).

So today we have this before us: we have Jesus and we have joy. These are the anchor points of the covenant God made so many millennia ago in which He even then intended us to be included. Jesus is the Promised Blessing. Let’s embrace Him today and be blessed.

(PHoto Credit: By Till Krech from Berlin, Germany – ghost shipUploaded by perumalism, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28664411)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #23

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Prayer of Repentance and Return to Loyalty to God (Paraphrase of Psalm 137)

Hard as it is to bear, LORD, it is a good thing when we finally realize the bondage to sin we’re in. Only when we compare it to the freedom of life in Christ can we see the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Like finding ourselves captive to terrorists and required to entertain our tormentors with songs of joy, is the realization of the trouble sin has brought us.

As we begin to see there is no true joy in godless living, we are struck by waves of homesickness for your kingdom, LORD; we long for the joy of Your presence, Father. We’re in a foreign land and the songs we thought we could sing stick to the roof of our mouths.

May I never forget to bring You into every nuance of my day, Father. My highest joys come from living in close communion with You. Protect me from falling back into the clutches of sin.

Help me burn those bridges, LORD. Make haste to destroy the influence of evil, the source of so much sorrow in the lives of the proud and the wounded. You are our only hope.

(Photo Credit:Cell 18 of old city jail in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; By Tomas Castelazo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6634393

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #18

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Prayer of Consecration (A Paraphrase of Psalm 132)

O God, I’m using the devotion of Your servant David as a pattern for my own life. His heart’s desire was for You, O Mighty One of Heaven, that You would have a dwelling-place on earth. It would be a place where You could be worshiped for all of Your splendor, where You would abide, where reminders of Your might would be housed. Your priests would be clothed in righteousness and Your saints would sing for joy.

Here I am discovering Your plan to fulfill David’s dream through people like me. You want my spirit to be Your dwelling place, my body to be Your holy temple. Your righteousness washes me and then clothes me so I may serve You in holiness. Your splendor and power is meant to flow through me in love and mercy toward others. How can this be?

Because of Your great sacrifice, Jesus, I am able to be part of this amazing and glorious plan. You are the King of Kings for whom David’s throne was prepared. You are the High Priest who makes my life a holy temple

So I consecrate myself to You again today, LORD, to be Your dwelling place. My body, heart and soul are in it. My life is a room cleansed by Your forgiving love, ransomed by Your death and dedicated for holy and eternal use by Your death-defying resurrection. My life belongs to You now. It is Your handiwork from start to finish. Be the Master of it, LORD. Reign here, rule forever here; be the rest I long for.

I’m looking to You, LORD, for every need to be met: my hunger with Your bread of life, my vulnerability with Your compassionate salvation, my deepest yearnings with rightful worship of You.

Jesus, help me stay true as I daily consecrate myself to participating with You in Your purposes for this life of mine and this world in which I live. Dwell in me and with me and through me. Help me to abide in You and with You and through You. You are the Anointed One—the Crowned One who rules my heart.

(Photo Credit: Eastern Wall of Jerusalem, By Yaakov Shoham – Own work (own picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1894985)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #12

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Prayer of Joy (Paraphrase of Psalm 126)

Lord, when I think of how You rescued me from my own foolishness, I feel like a freed captive. I was mindlessly intent on achieving my own goals and didn’t notice the hole into which I had dug myself. It became a prison with walls of selfishness, hurt, bitterness and pride before I began to recognize my yearning for home, my longing for the clean fresh air of release.

One call of Your Name brought You here. You broke down the walls, lifted me up, and brought me out of my dark place. I looked around and found You had set me among a family—brothers and sisters rescued just like I had been.

It fills my mouth with laughter and my tongue with songs of joy to think of it. Not only do I partake in Your blessing in the corporate sense with the body of believers, but Your blessing, the good You bring, is directed to me individually too. It really fills me with the deepest joy.

It’s like irrigation spreading across fields, making everything it touches green. It’s like harvest time in those fields—the land You love—the hard work is all worth it to You. Even my tears become songs of joy under the influence of Your blessing.

Not that all is rosy now. There are still the temptations—but now I know You are with me and offer me an escape.

There are still the hurts—but now Your love and comfort heal me in ways I never knew before.

And there are still the questions—but now I trust You will one day answer every one of them for me.

So no matter how hard, how heavy or how daunting the day’s events seem to be, I’m going to envision it all as seed to sow in a land You irrigate. The harvest is Yours, God. Its abundance is Yours and I’m filled with joy at the thought of it. You do all things well.

(Photo Credit: By Herry Lawford – originally posted to Flickr as Harvest, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11269097)

The Strength of Prayer; Psalm 21

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Genghis Khan knew the power of numbers. Machiavelli knew the influence of cunning duplicity, Nietzsche, the ideal of uber-man. And yet, each of them succumbed to death—the great power-destroyer and equalizer. Their influence flourished briefly, but each was eventually replaced by another power-seeking protégé. If one believed that the great minds of this earth would be able to create a perfect society, the evidence would be disheartening.

If we want to find power, if we want to know the source of strength to live our lives to the fullest possible degree, there is only One who has the faculty for that. God.

“O LORD,” addresses the psalmist, “the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give!” The psalmist was King David, the ancient Hebrew regent, and the king he refers to is himself. He was a man of faith and he knew the source of his victories in protecting the land under his care. What he may not have known clearly was his prophetic voice. He may not have sensed that his words would also describe a descendent of his that would arise a millennium later as the promised Messiah and Saviour of his own soul. Not only that, but this Psalm would also describe people like us throughout the ages who, too, have faith in God’s compassionate power on our behalf.

David observes the strength of God that comes to those who call on Him, who pray for help and hope and victory in the chaos of their everyday lives. We can insert our names into the spaces of Psalm 21:

Firstly, “You (God) have granted (us) the desire of (our) heart and have not withheld the request of (our) lips.” People of faith have this in common: we desire God first and foremost above all else. The desire of our heart is not power itself, but the One who is all-powerful. We have no designs on being uber-men ourselves, but of coming under the watch care of Christ, the God-Man. God grant that this desire will rise higher in our hearts.

Secondly, “You (God) welcomed (us) with rich blessing and placed a crown of pure gold on (our) head.” The welcome we receive when we accept God’s gift of forgiveness, is the welcome He extends to us to enter into His family. God, the King of kings, calls Himself our Father and we His sons and daughters. Pure gold crowns speak of how He now views us—as pure and spotless as His only begotten Son Jesus. No regrets haunt us.

Thirdly, “(We) asked you (God) for life, and You gave it to (us)—length of days, for ever and ever.” Death has no victory over those of us who have placed ourselves in the hands of the One who overcame death by His own sacrifice on the cross. Eternity is ours.

Fourthly, “Through the victories you (God) gave, (our) glory is great; you (God) have bestowed on (us) splendor and majesty.” What greater glory than being indwelt and empowered to become like Christ in character? God is merciful and gracious.

Fifthly, “Surely you (God) have granted (us) eternal blessings and made (us) glad with the joy of your presence.” God’s presence is the greatest strength and blessing we could ever know. Experiencing His close communion with us every moment, in every situation, accessed through prayer—aloud and in silence—is eternal blessing and joy.

For (we) trust in the LORD; through the unfailing love of the Most High (we) will not be shaken.” His power comes to us in the form of unfailing love. Imagine that. Genghis Khan, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche missed it. It was at their disposal but they failed to take advantage of the simple strength of prayer. But we trust in the LORD. Our grand designs are not to be gods but to simply be God’s.

Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might.”

Amen.

ROMANS 15

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Insults vs. Blessing:

Floggings received: Five times the forty-lashes-minus-one the culture of the day allowed. Beatings: three with rods; stoned: once. Shipwrecks experienced: one, including a day and night in the open sea. Dangers faced: rivers, bandits, countrymen, foreigners, urban settings, rural settings, false friends, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, lack of shelter and lack of clothing. The list goes on. These are the difficulties described by a follower of Christ who wrote extensively to other followers in the early years of the fledgling church. And it is the same person who writes of the crossroads of insult versus blessing.

Is the emphasis on all the insults believers can expect to suffer for following Jesus as Lord of their lives? There have been plenty of insults. There will be more. Many will lose their livelihoods, their liberties and their lives for the sake of Christ. But instead, the chapter is chalk full of expressions of blessing.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,” Paul blesses, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God gives. He gives endurance and encouragement through difficult times. He does not leave us lost and alone as we face the challenges that come our way in life through following Him.

He gives a spirit of unity among His people so that we have a family of supportive brothers and sisters, unified in purpose and devoted to love and acceptance of one another.

And He gives us the ability to live in a way that glorifies Him – He empowers us to rise above the hopelessness and failings of our lives that characterized us before we met Him.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,” the Apostle Paul continues, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God gives joy; as we choose to follow His principles of selfless obedience to Him we find the strivings of our old ways empty and hollow shadows in comparison with His joy.

God gives peace; we still experience challenges in this life, but there is a difference now. We have the overwhelming sense of God working all things out for the good for those who love Him. We know the difficulties in life are being used by God to make us more like Jesus. Our lives are not in danger of being wasted, but in the process of being recreated.

And God gives hope, overflowing hope welling up within us by the presence of His Spirit and pouring out to those around us.

“The God of peace be with you all,” he finishes.

God gives Himself. He promises to never leave nor forsake those who turn their lives over to Him. He is ever-present, closer than a brother, deeper than our hearts or minds can imagine, and fuller than we can contain. He is with us.

While God is busy giving into our lives, we are not merely passive bystanders. Look back at both verses of blessing. God blesses as we do something. What is it?

“…as you follow Christ” and “…as you trust in him.”

Those who long to be borne on the path of blessing must recognize that there is a crossroads of decision to be made. We must decide to follow Christ. We must choose to trust in Him every step of the way. There will still be difficulties in life – in fact, we may become the brunt of insults heaped upon us by a world that hates Jesus Christ. But as we follow Him and entrust ourselves to His infinite care, we will be blessed by enough endurance, encouragement, unity, joy, peace, and hope to carry the day. His presence with us ensures that.

That’s the path of blessing. Are you on it?