Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 22

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‘Resh.’

If there is one thing God has communicated to us humans, it is that we matter. The most relevant piece of information we will ever be able to grasp is that you and I are immeasurably loved and valued by Him.

“(Our) shared core hunger,” writes Tony Schwartz in an article for the New York Times, “is for value…We each want desperately to matter, to feel a sense of worthiness.” It’s what he calls ‘The enduring hunt for personal value’. James Gilligan, who authored “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic” after studying human violence for over 40 years, began to observe “the frequency with which I received the same answer when I asked prisoners…why they assaulted…someone. Time after time they would reply, ‘Because he disrespected me’.”

As the psalmist moves into the third-to-last stanza of the interminable one hundred and nineteenth psalm, his singular petition is that God—who has embedded an element of His own worth into each person—will express the ultimate act of valuing human life: to preserve it indefinitely.

“…Preserve my life according to your promise,” the psalmist appeals. “…Preserve my life according to your laws,” he adds, and “…Preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love.” What does he mean by promise, laws, and love as the mechanisms of preserving life—the psalmist’s life, or yours and mine for that matter?

Firstly, the promise the psalmist references goes back ages to the time of Abraham. Abraham was God’s handpicked individual to begin a nation and race of people to whom and through whom God would speak. At God’s chosen time some 1500 years later, when strange prophecies like a virgin birth came together with others in fulfillment, Jesus was born from that race. The promise made to Abraham was, in short, “You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The promise of blessing was fulfilled not at Jesus’ birth, but at His death and resurrection, because with that moral ransom paid, Jesus made the eternal preservation of human life available to every person on this planet. That was the promise. That is what is available to each of us who have accepted Jesus as our ‘ransom-payer’; we will find eternal life with Jesus on the other side of this life. That is how the promise preserves lives.

Secondly, the laws the psalmist references go back fewer ages to the time of Moses. Moses was God’s handpicked individual to lead the nation that Abraham had fathered into the Promised Land. On that journey, Moses was also given the daunting task of teaching the nation that God is a God of integrity, and that He can only be in relationship with people who respect God’s authority to require that integrity to be developed in them. The laws were commands God clarified through Moses, commands like: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not covet.” Those two commands alone were enough to make it pretty clear that every human on planet earth was incapable of obeying God completely. That was fine because it turns out that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). Consciousness of sin leads us to do one of two things: rebel further against God and make a grab for complete freedom from God’s presence, or submit to God in humble repentance, accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, and access to His presence for eternity. That is how the laws both condemn and preserve lives.

And finally, the psalmist references the LORD’s love which covers both the span of eternity and of creation, of which this planet is a mere blip in time. God, who is three persons in one—Father, Spirit, and Son—exists in a unity described by perfect love. He is completely fulfilled in the expressions of love that bind the Trinity unsparingly, perfectly, and completely together. Yet somehow—in the greatest mystery of the ages—as God created the universe, He made humankind the pinnacle of His loving creative expression. To be in loving relationship with Him was the purpose God embedded into every man, woman and child. We are created in such a way that our greatest joy and fulfillment comes only through loving Him in return.

The psalmist was right. The promise, the laws, and God’s love, are the essential components of God’s great gift to us: the preservation of our lives for eternity. He values us immeasurably. He wants us to be in continuing existence with Him—in future bodies created to last forever—long after these present shadows of bodies have ceased to be preserved. So dig out a Bible. Begin again to pour through its pages and find out how God valuing our person is tied to His intention to preserve us for eternity. Come to this sanctuary of preservation.

 

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DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #8

FASTING

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“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Extreme. Daniel sounds extreme in his practice of prayer. While many people pray, maybe even most people petition God in a crisis, who still fasts? — (Not to mention dressing in sackcloth and ashes). What is fasting and why would anyone choose such an extreme accompaniment to prayer?

In the past, Daniel has been conscious of the spiritual benefits of physical self-restraint rather than self-indulgence. Remember the teenaged Daniel and his three Jewish friends’ diet change back in their early captivity? Their rejection of decadence had borne good results. But this fasting is something completely other than that. It’s not just simplicity. It’s moving from temperate to extreme. Daniel senses that he’s at an unparalleled crossroad, that exceptional situations call for uncommon measures. He is intentional in preparing himself to petition God; he chooses to fast.

It takes intention to fast; who simply forgets to satisfy hunger? Perhaps fasting enables us to see the unseen, to enter into the realm of spirit too easily obscured by daily routine. Fasting replaces the sensation of satiety with an awareness of need. It exchanges pleasure for an aching hunger. It’s not surprising that a synonym for pleasure is diversion. When we experience self-indulgence we divert ourselves from our primary function as spiritual beings communing with God. But when we temporarily set aside the pleasure of the feast, we lead ourselves back into our principal functionality, our raison d’être. It has been said that there is no feast without a fast.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship comments, “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”

It’s an oxymoron: to truly live we must die to self, yet if we fast long enough, we will end life. So it must be intentional: neither dull the spirit nor kill the body.

I bring up this topic of fasting for two reasons: Firstly, Daniel models it in his life of prayer, so it is inevitable we must study it. We must observe the facts and come to a livable conclusion. We must, like responsible jury members, ask whether there is any reason, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to ignore it. Secondly, I want to hear from the Body of Christ on this topic. Something in my spirit has been nudging me to find out what my brothers and sisters are practicing regarding fasting, that I, in my self-indulgent westernization have conveniently omitted. Perhaps, in the anonymity afforded by blogging I might entice some feedback on the topic. (I promise to think neither better nor worse of you if you tell me your experience regarding fasting). Tell me: How do you fast?

 

MORE THOUGHTS FROM HEBREWS ELEVEN

THE POWER OF WORDS

Hebrews 11:3

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“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Do you remember using ‘invisible ink’ as a child? Your mother may have shown you how to squeeze a lemon, then carefully paint a message with its juice onto course absorbent paper. You could barely see what you were writing, and the brush strokes were always thicker than you hoped they would be, but it was exciting. You imagined intrigue and mystery. Your friend, or brother, or sister was to read the invisible message by placing it in the oven or over a hot element briefly, when, surprise! The message began to be revealed as the juice-letters browned.

Words coming from the mouth of God are a bit like that. They have the power to make the invisible visible. They make what was not become what is. This is the concept of God’s creativity: He makes out of nothing. He speaks and creates.

His object-making comes from word-speaking. It is important to understand this concept because it describes God’s unique position within what we might call the realm of reality. He is the source of all resources. Everything visible has its source in Him. People may reassemble, replicate, and redesign, only God can speak to create.

The 21st millennium invention of ‘3D printing’ is more replicative than creative. 3D solid objects are made by digitally scanning what is to be replicated. Layers of plastic resin are built up until a functional object is created. It’s new. It’s improved. But it’s not creative. Something is not actually made from nothing.

This aptitude of God to speak and thus make is far more relevant to our lives than lemon juice messages or 3D printers. Committing ourselves to read His written Word, the Bible, creates spiritual life in us, where before there was chaos. In addition, we are called to become people who pray.

Prayer seems, in some astonishing way, to be endowed with a vestige of similar creative power. God living, breathing, speaking into our lives, speaks through us as we return prayer to Him. His creative power flows through us like rushing water through an unbarred conduit to effect creative change.

In prayers of worship, we begin to see the unseen. The invisible character of God is revealed to our inner being and we are changed.

In prayers of confession, we begin to understand our own appalling condition apart from God. Light shines on our darkness revealing what was hidden.

In prayers of thanksgiving, we are enabled to observe blessing. Our eyes are opened to see God’s loving-kindness where before we only, selfishly, saw inconvenience.

And in prayers of petition we speak God’s power into the lives of loved ones. We do not control the creative process. We submit to God’s hand, but our prayers enable us to participate with Him in the making of something out of nothing.

As we go forward on our journey with Him who is invisible, let us submit ourselves to His creative processes. He speaks, we pray. Imagine what might become visible!