Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 23

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‘Sin and Shin’

The Vulcan hand salute is well known by Star Trek lovers. What few might know, though, is that Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock) borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish priestly blessing, a blessing he had seen as a child performed in an orthodox synagogue. The blessing shapes both hands to represent the Hebrew letter Sin/Shin representing the initiating letter of God’s name, El Shaddai—Almighty God. It recognizes God’s omnipresence and His genius for affecting the lives of people.

“Always, everywhere, God is present,” observes A.W. Tozer, “and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” How does El Shaddai, the Almighty God, affect people’s lives—your life and mine? How does He discover Himself to each one? These are the questions the psalmist explores as he pens the stanza he entitles with the Hebrew letter ‘Sin and Shin’,

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. / I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. / I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. / Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. / Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. / I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. / I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. / I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you”(Psalm 119:161-168).

Worldly regimes, observes the psalmist, tend to be fundamentally opposed to faith. Eventually, all ideologies—even those founded on rights and freedoms—degenerate into special, privileged interest groups using government power for opportunistic reasons. The God-centred worldview and practice of believers becomes abhorrent to worldly regimes, whose laws, bemoans the psalmist, “persecute me without cause.”

Yet something unexpected occurs within the man or woman of faith, something that has happened throughout history, regardless of the believer’s age, race, sex, or socioeconomic status when faced with persecution for their faith. They stand and rejoice in the Promise of God.

For one thing, God’s intentions for people are not to persecute them but to bring them good. God doesn’t rule by external pressure but by internally transforming people who joyfully submit to Him. His plans are to give us hope and an eternal future. This, says the psalmist, is the source of the believer’s joy. Persecution takes on as much importance as a tiresome insect.

For another thing, a relationship with God is based on reality, on deep, enduring truths, rather than on the falsehood, corruption, folly and situational ethics to which earthly rulers fall prey. God is the author of truly righteous laws because He made us and understands the core of our being.

More than that, God’s law is a law that produces in its adherents a deep, penetrating peace because it brings people into alignment with God’s ways—that which C.S. Lewis terms, ‘the grain of the universe.’ “Nothing,” insists the psalmist, “can make th(ose who love God’s law) stumble.” “Nothing,” concurs the Apostle Paul, “shall separate us from the love of God.”

How does a person access this uncommon relationship with God? By pursuing human law, by depending on personal rights, freedoms and identity? No. The psalmist says he waits; he follows, he obeys, and he loves everything about God. His confidence is not in his own devotion; it is in God’s devotion to him. God creates, God initiates the human-divine relationship, God loves, and God provides the salvation believers all come to recognize we need.

Which brings us always back to Jesus Christ, God-fully-contained-in-a-man, the One who personifies the “law” about which the psalmist cannot stop praising. Hearts that tremble before Jesus, who rejoice in Him, who love the core truth of Him and take Him as their sure salvation are hearts fully at peace. Come to Him and find the peace that breathes, “…all my ways are known to you.”

 

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #20

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Prayer in the Night (A Paraphrase of Psalm 134)

Here in the middle of my night, LORD, I come to You. In the midst of my disappointment and confusion, my hurt and regret, there is yet a place where I praise You. My thoughts turn to You in Your Sovereign majesty and know that You are making all things right, even now when all is dark and I am at my weakest.

Your presence is all too easily obscured by the chaos of my world, LORD. The rebellions, the distortions of truth, the profanities and the threats I hear around me hide You. Make Your presence known to me now in this quiet hour; let me hear Your whisper reminding me that even when all seems wrong You are worthy to be praised.

I lift my hands in surrender and honour toward You. I am on my knees knowing this posture must reflect my heart or You will remain hidden here in this dark and dying world. And then suddenly, this quiet sanctuary in the dead of night opens for me a greater sense of the eternal life and light that is central to Your Being.

LORD, Maker of heaven and earth, of daytime and nighttime, bless Your people who find themselves in the midst of nighttime worship. Bless us with an awareness of Your presence. Comfort us with Your peace. Bring the light of dawn so that our praise may fill the morning sky. Complete in us the work You designed our worship of You to produce. We praise You.

(Photo Credit: By Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1638a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51533658)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #19

Prayer for Unity (A Paraphrase of Psalm 133)

How good and pleasant it is, LORD, when our families live in a state of unity and peace. You, as our Heavenly Father, know the value of that among Your children, LORD. We’re called to love You and to extend that love to others. Yet on our own it is so difficult to do.

We quarrel and grasp and gossip when we ought to use our words and actions to bring health and healing to those around us. We forget our common hope, our shared faith, and our bond of peace through which Your Spirit makes us a family.

May Your Spirit enable us to live lives obedient to Your goal of unity until finally in Heaven that will be complete and perfect. Like oil poured on the head of old Israel’s priests and kings is our anointing to this end. Like fresh dew falling on valley fields and grassy mountain slopes is Your blessing on this pursuit.

We joyfully anticipate our eternal home with You, Father, where our lives will be blessed in unity with one another and with You. May we find that blessing here in our lives today too, and may that unity bring You glory, Father of Hope and Prince of Peace.

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, #11

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Prayer Concerning Security (Paraphrasing Psalm 125)

There are so many good reasons to trust You, Lord—here’s one of them: When we trust You, we, Your people, become like an unshakable holy mountain, not just today or tomorrow, but for eternity. And You, Lord, are like a whole range of mountains surrounding us, girding us up, protecting us by the sheer volume of Your granite-like presence. The Alps, Himalayas and Rocky Mountains are like sinking sand compared to the security of trusting in You!

You move to transform the hearts of those who trust You, like mountains whose cores are becoming solid gem: where we were wicked, You make us righteous; where we were evildoers, You, Lord, make us doers of good; crooked and wayward, we become upright in heart by Your life-changing Spirit.

What could be more secure than knowing Your trustworthy character and presence—like granite—filling us, lifting us up, making mountains from the quicksand and molehills of our lives—enabling us to endure into eternity?

We stand in awe of Your great transforming, all-encompassing protection of lives sustained by You. Increase the number of those who find this security and peace, LORD. We trust in You.

(Photo Credit:[[File:Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit.jpg|thumb|Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit]])

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #8

A Prayer Anticipating Worship (Paraphrasing Psalm 122)

There is something big happening, LORD, and we’re so happy to be part of it. You’ve called us to be a body of worshipers of You, the One true and sovereign God. Our corporate feet stand on the doorstep of Your house, yearning to praise You the way You designed us to, longing to see You in all Your glory.

We’re a tribe, LORD; we’re a people, a family held together by Your grace, mercy, love, and redemption. It’s fitting that we should also be drawn together by worship of You, O complete One.

We joyfully long for the new Jerusalem, the spiritual home You are creating for Your family, LORD. Those who love You will finally and eternally be reunited with You and with each other. Those who have trusted in You will be secure. Peace will rule within its domain because of You, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

Brothers and sisters in Your family will finally be at home with the Father of our souls—that is peace and prosperity. We worship You.

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?