Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 16

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‘Nun’

Taking the ‘path of least resistance’—also known as the principle of least effort—is the brain’s natural impulse to choose the easiest route. Art Markman, cognitive scientist at the University of Texas, suggests that the path of least resistance is also a dead end to finding solutions to difficult problems. “Our memory drives us back to things tried and true” says Markman, even if those solutions no longer work for today’s problems. For instance, the ‘white lie’, used in the past to escape interpersonal consequences for seemingly ‘unimportant’ issues, becomes a major dead end to developing a long-term relationship like marriage. Markman suggests three solutions to combatting the principle of least effort: “expand the information you have in memory, re-frame the creative problem, and change your collaborators.”

The psalmist pens a lyrical yet strangely parallel message in ‘Nun’, his fourteenth stanza of Psalm 119.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. / I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. / I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. / Accept, O LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. / Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. / The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. / Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. / My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end” (Psalm 119:105-112).

The psalmist seems to apply Markman’s three points to the ancient yet common human dilemma of breaking out of the rut of life. Look carefully and we see the psalmist’s formula: Scripture as a directive resource, eternity-informed living, and God as collaborator.

Step One. The truest way to break out of our comfort zone and see the world and ourselves in a new way is to take God’s Word seriously. The psalmist recognizes God’s Word as the only light to truly reveal wise living, and he takes an oath to bind himself to it; he is fully cognizant of the restraint this will put on his future decisions, but he understands the principle of freedom-producing restrictions. A mindset of keeping God’s decrees—summed up by Jesus as firstly loving God wholeheartedly and secondly loving our fellow human beings as creations of God—expands the information in our memory as to be a powerful decision-making resource.

Step Two. Eternity-informed living is the most radical way to re-frame our problem. Earth as the stage wherein we access God’s mercy through Jesus’ sin-paying ransom for us is the most profound and far-reaching innovative thought to ever hit our species. The hope offered us not only sets our sights on a glorious afterlife, it gives us strengthening support in our present hardships.

Step Three. Make God our number one collaborator. God’s approach to human living is radically different than our natural bent. Read the gospels and see if the way Jesus lived and taught wasn’t counter-cultural to the nth degree. A commitment to listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture and through the life of Jesus will force us to consider things from a completely new perspective. Yet the psalmist recognizes God is not only the perfect collaborator; He is ultimately Master and Lord. Our autonomy must bow to His authority. Then and only then will we experience the strange oxymoron that dying to self produces full, flourishing life.

Bowing to the deep innate drive to satisfy self is nothing more than the path of least resistance, the principle of least effort. Bowing to the Almighty Creator resists that path. Obeying God’s Word, accepting Jesus’ authority, and inviting His Spirit to indwell us is the beautifully releasing restraint that guides us to be truly human for eternity. It’s a choice—a challenging, breath-taking, leap-of-faith choice—but it’s infinitely more satisfying than the old life. Come; join the resistance.

Photo Credit: Mr. Arif Solak [[File:Caglayan Waterfalls Honaz Denizli Turkey.jpg|thumb|Caglayan Waterfalls Honaz Denizli Turkey]]

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus; Day 6

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Father-Focus

For once the hecklers were absent. The air was clear and those seated on the slope of the mountain could see the Jordan River winding through the valley below. Dusty tracks between villages were nothing more than threads on the draping fabric of the faraway land.

“Be careful,” began Jesus as He turned His attention to a topic that was of great importance to His listeners. Perhaps He paused there to draw their attention from the distant view back to His words—words of deep importance. Perhaps the disciples began to anticipate His next words: Be careful… of the precipitous drop-offs here on the mountainside? Be careful… of thieves hidden among the clefts of the paths in solitary places? Be careful… of the Roman soldiers who might demand you carry their gear on their journey to the next town?

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). So begins a chapter whose theme must have kept every eye and ear glued to the speaker. In teaching His followers how to live authentic, relevant lives that please God, Jesus uses a term for God that would have been unusual, maybe even unthinkable in those days. He calls God “your Father.”

We noticed he used this term in the previous chapter—He had said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He had also taught His astonished followers to “Love your enemies…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

Had they heard Him right? Did Jesus call God their heavenly Father? This kind of informal, unceremonious terminology was not commonly used of God. Yet the earth had not opened up and swallowed the man who used it. In fact, it somehow brought God closer, hearing Him referred to as heavenly Father. Some remembered the one hundred and third psalm saying, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”

Now Jesus continues using the term Father and its pronouns twenty times in the next thirty-four verses (You really ought to read Matthew chapter six to get the full impact of it). He is warming to his subject and the ears and hearts of His listeners are burning. Jesus is teaching them that life is about pursuing a close relationship with the unseen Father; it’s not about external show. It’s not about the power that comes through prestige, wealth, or fashion. It’s about the interior life that God designed to be eternally expanding with the sort of rewards only an all-knowing compassionate heavenly Father can give. Jesus explains the family rules:

Stop trumpeting your charitable giving—the world needs public praise because they haven’t a heavenly Father to reward them like you do. The Father sees the good you do in secret. Trust Him to settle accounts in His time.

Stop trying to look holier-than-thou in front of others; a humble attitude of seeking forgiveness from others and from your Father will get you more in the long run.

Stop surrounding yourselves with the treasures of this world—property that will ultimately be taken from you. The Father is your greatest treasure—valuing Him above all else will keep your heart safe.

Stop fretting about your lot in life. Instead, set your vision on your Father’s plans for you to be people of good character. Your hope ought to be trained on the heavenly home the Father is making available for you.

Jesus’ focus on the Father is a message for each of us, every day—including today. He even sketches out a prayer for us to incorporate into our daily routines. It starts, “Our Father in heaven…” Remember it? The point is, we must think on the Father. Bringing Him into our thoughts will change our outlook on life.

Do we really want to take advantage of God’s fatherhood in our lives? We need to spend some time, as Jesus calls it “in secret” with the Father. Voice a prayer. Read a Psalm. Think about how He wants us to respond to life’s challenges. Ask Him to make Himself present in our lives. When we contemplate, ruminate and meditate on our heavenly Father, we are living in the present as God designed us to. Isn’t that right, Father?

 (Photo Credit: “Gorakh hill lonely tree” by Shahrukhphotoart – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG#/media/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG)

PRAYER IN THE NIGHT

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Richard Turere used to be plagued by lions. Living in the savanna of Kenya, the thirteen year old has been responsible for the safety of his father’s cattle for more than half his young life. And lions were causing him grief. The Maasai boy knew he had to do something, if he wanted peace. Through a series of trial and error experiments Turere discovered something: small solar-powered electric lights, set up in series to flash separately, simulating movement, fool lions into thinking an armed man is guarding the cattle all night. The lions got the message; they no longer bother Turere or his father’s cattle. Even his neighbours recognize a good idea when they see one, and have asked him to set up lights like he has.

Turere has something to teach us. Not about lions and flashing lights, but about the enemy in our lives. Our enemy is subtler than the great Kenyan cats, but we are losing sleep over issues in our lives too. We are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about a variety of stressors in our lives.

We cannot do it all. We cannot protect ourselves from every danger in this life. Perhaps we have tried other options available. We’ve tried independence – doing it our way – but we’ve suffered the trial and error casualties that come with it. We’ve tried making our own gods – education, wealth, fitness, prestige – somehow life’s dangers are no respecters of these. We’ve tried using our own strength, but we are like children in the dark African night, and we know the odds aren’t good.

The best thing we can do is a sort of non-action. It is giving up all the striving and manipulating efforts that have gotten us nowhere and tapping into the Light of the World. It is admitting that He, God, is the only one who can watch over us day and night. We can’t do it ourselves. We only wear ourselves out trying. So instead, we pray through our fears and troubles, our worries that the enemy will take something precious from us. Calling out to God, our prayers are like beacons linked in series, flashing a message through the night: God is greater than our enemy, and the enemy knows it. Listen to what some of the psalmists had to say about night prayer:

“Blessed is the man…(whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1,2).

“By day the LORD directs His love. At night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8.)

“On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands…” (Psalm 77:2).

Et cetera. I could go on. You see the connection. The point is that prayer is strategic communication. It harnesses the power of the Almighty to guard our souls, and it is the only thing that will do it. So, meditate on His Words, sing to Him, remember His presence with you, seek Him and stretch out untiring hands to Him. It’s all prayer. And it’s the only way to get a good night’s rest, because it’s a jungle out there.

 

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

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To live in our twenty-first century Western society requires one main skill: multitasking. Schedules rule. Our minds spin with things to do, things to remember, people to see, places to go. Even our leisure times are fraught with scheduling activities reflecting each family member’s varying interests. Our lives resemble a one-man band busking on a crowded city street.

In contrast, I love the Psalmist’s single-minded focus expressed in this verse. His focus is on “one thing”. Not, ‘the first thing’ or ‘one of many things’; just one thing. He asks just one thing of the LORD. Only one thing will meet his deepest yearning need. He has pared away all superficial wants and mined to the core of his human condition. He has one driving ambition.

He describes this one thing with three verbs. He wants to dwell, to gaze and to seek. He wants to participate fully in absorbing himself with his Creator. He wants to live with Him, look unflinchingly at Him, and worship Him.

How does the Psalmist envision this dwelling, gazing, seeking activity to occur? Prayer. The Psalmist instinctively knows that prayer is his avenue to participating in the God-life, to relating ‘face to face’ in the spiritual sense with his Lord.

He prays, “Hear my voice when I call, O LORD…My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.”

What a call to action this is for us who say we love God, or, for that matter, for us who say we want to live life to the fullest. This is the greatest frontier we can ever explore, to probe the infinite reaches of the person of God. I’m thinking this is why we have been given the opportunity of everlasting life. The task will take an eternity and longer. It also demands the full extent of our focus and energy, to earnestly seek Him. Anything less than single-minded undivided attention will ultimately disappoint both God and us. There is no multitasking when it comes to worshiping the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Let’s put into perspective our purpose here on planet earth. Everything is about one thing. Our attention must be focused, our loyalty unalloyed, our heart undivided. It’s all about God, and we’re invited to be part of the experience. So let’s give a try today at focusing on God. Let’s think about Him throughout the day, talk to Him as often as we think of Him, and when we find ourselves distracted, shake off the inclination to multitask.  Let’s incorporate prayer INTO today’s events rather than segregating prayer from them. This is single-mindedness. This is wholeness.

 

Psalm 15:5b Be and Do

Verse 5b  “He who does these things will never be shaken”.

We’ve come to the conclusion of the Psalm, the prayer.  It’s a call to action.  It’s a promise.  It’s a challenge.  The prayer has been a fathoming of the Sovereign, holy God whose core descriptor is His absolute existence. He is; and we have become aware of it.  A high view and fear of Him is the fitting response.  We have benefited from His attributes: become blameless by Christ’s Blamelessness, are enabled to speak truth and love others by His Truth and Love, embrace integrity through His Wholeness.  Now it is time to “go and do likewise”.  Enough root-bound pondering; it is time to move into action or “be shaken”.

Soren Kierkegaard observes, “Christianity understands what it is to act and what it is to keep love incessantly occupied in action”.  It takes faith to act, to be motivated by our beliefs to behave on the basis of those beliefs.  Everything we understand God to be, we must be and do to others.  He is Love – we must love others.  He is Just – we must be just to others.  He forgives – we must forgive others.  He is not asking us to be automatons:  every day, every moment, we have the choice to be and do as He is and does.  But that choice is the fulcrum on which our faith rests.  The only alternative is to “be shaken”.

Shakenness is the condition of grave danger to the soul.  It is quicksand.  It is being “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  It is a building whose foundation is sand when a great wind arises.  This is not a threat by some great cosmic dictator.  This is the reality of the universe of cause and effect; if we know a thing needs doing, we must do it.

“God”, said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”  This causality is seen in our inward prayer, and it is seen in our outward life of action.  This is Psalm 15.  Our communion with God is the energy behind our life of love, truth and integrity.  Let us embrace this causality with everything we are and have.  Let us be and do.

LORD, your holy hill is both far away and very near.
Yet, it is not the hill I want and need, after all, but only You.
High and lofty One, fill me with Your Spirit.
Help me see you in and behind everything I am and do.
Dwell with me that I may dwell with You.
 

Psalm 15: 4b, 5a Integrity

Psalm 15:4b,5a  “…who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.””.

 

Title page of the irst edition of the Bay Psal...

Title page of the irst edition of the Bay Psalm Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This phrase is about integrity.  My dictionary says that integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” and/or “the state of being whole and undivided”.  The former are the daily battles, the latter is the war.  I see them as battles and a war because I know myself so well. My natural bent is so self-focused.  It’s a real battle some days to be whole and principled. Each example, (oath-keeping, money-lending, and bribe-resisting) describes moral principles that are put to the test, usually when I am at my weakest.  I’m fine keeping my promises when the sun is shining.  But what about the “even when it hurts” times?  Can I still love and forgive when that person hurt me so badly? Am I so willing to lend my resources when there is nothing in it for me, not even a little publicity?  Do I resist the temptation to treat certain others with a little more equality than everyone else because it benefits me in some way?

 

Integrity really only describes God, the completely whole one.  Yet, unless I am described by this trait, says the Psalmist, I cannot hope to dwell in the LORD’s sanctuary, to live on His holy hill. It’s an unhappy quandary.  Unlike many, I just cannot see myself as good enough to meet this high standard.  Do you? Have we really the integrity to keep every promise, lend every last penny, and refuse every temptation to favouritism?

 

Once again, we must rely on the Source of all good to transpose into our souls the resources needed to meet God’s standards.  He who makes us blameless by His Blamelessness, enables us to speak truth because He is Truth and enables us to love our neighbours because He is Love, does something about our need for integrity.

 

In another Psalm, David asks (on behalf of us), “give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name”  (Psalm 86:11).  God’s answer?  He says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone…” (Ezekiel 11:19).  There it is: Integrity for the asking.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but it will put wholeness back into a heart fractured and hardened by selfishness.  God ‘s soft-heartedness (often referred to as ‘compassion’) is transposed into our hearts as we allow Him to work His great task of re-creation.

 

LORD, great:
Oath-keeper,
Resource-lender,
Lover of all.
None of these am I, and so,
In desperate sense of need I come
To Your great throne, true sanctuary, holy hill
On bended knees.
Restore my heart, soul, mind and strength
To wholly be as Yours,
My fractured, stoney, hardened heart
Made new.
So off and out I go, now whole,
To keep my oaths,
Lend what I have,
Love everyone
Through You.

 

 

Psalm 15:4 Fear God — Shun Evil

 Verse 4: “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD”

 We come to a screeching halt.   If we read the first half of this verse with any sense of the overall picture of Christ as our role model for neighbour-love, we are brought to an abrupt stop.  This segment of the Psalm is decidedly the most difficult, on the surface, to apprehend.  Despise another creature made in the image of God?  Hate one’s neighbor?  Surely these are not Christian thoughts. Our scrutiny for treasure from this segment of the Psalm comes to a complete standstill; we must seek God’s face, presence and wisdom if we are to proceed.

Jesus, God incarnate (Word made flesh!), modeled this oxymoron; he commanded, “love your enemies” while also instructing “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”  How can this be?

Perhaps the answer lies in the segment of our Psalm that follows the ‘despise a vile man’ part: “those who fear the LORD”.  Fear the LORD.  The fear of God is the essential orientation of a person who is in right relationship with God.  We accept His sovereignty (the right to rule), His justice (the right to set standards), and His power (the wherewithal to act); we align our own attitudes and actions to please Him, in response to His great love for us.  When all this is in order, perhaps the vile man we must despise the most is our own depraved self, gone awry in arrogant and selfish autonomy.  Perhaps only by despising this self can we reject the lie of Satan that tells us we can be god.  Perhaps our awe filled fear of God is what is required to truly love ourselves and others in the new way—God’s way.

In the book of Job, God is overheard describing his servant Job as “a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  He summarizes, “There is no one on earth like him;” –high praise from an all-knowing God.

I’m thinking the fear of God is something I need to prioritize in my life.  I need to relentlessly pursue an ever-higher view of Him as I live my life in the grass roots of this earth.  I must shun all that tempts me to consider anything less than complete submission to God and His holy ways.  This is where the life of His Spirit in me is so essential.  Becoming a sanctuary-dweller is no small thing.