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]]

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OPENING THE DOOR TO PSALM 119, Part 2

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‘Aleph’ (vs.1-8).

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes, and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.”

Not many of us know Hebrew. Many Bibles, though, have labeled the stanzas of Psalm 119 in that ancient language. The first stanza is labeled ‘Aleph.’ Does it sound familiar? Think of our word alphabet. The Hebrew Aleph is our ‘A’ and Bet is our ‘B’. Alphabet is simply ‘The A’s and B’s of a language.’

It’s an interesting device the psalmist uses. It’s as if he is saying, ‘These are the a b c’s of living in close communion with God; this is the language we must learn if we want to be part of God’s original intention for creating us.’ But just read through those verses again. It doesn’t take a Hebrew scholar to see the incongruity and conflict that has escaped from the psalmist’s pen.

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless…Oh, that my ways were steadfast…!” he bemoans. The psalm-writer has begun to examine his own life and beliefs about God and with a shudder realizes he has fallen short of the glorious God-centred life he thought he could live. Perhaps he suddenly recognizes the two-edged sword of human free will: God has revealed His moral nature, but He gives humans the choice to discount Creator-dependent living in favour of their own freedom-seeking trial-and-error methods. To do so comes naturally to us, but also comes with a price. We bypass the blessing and success God designed our lives to produce.

We hear in the psalmist’s words his anxiety and apprehension. His best attempts to be true to God, to be morally consistent and steadfast in obedience have failed. He is a sinner with a sense of morality that won’t go away. He tries to reverse the negative influence of his choices by looking up at the moral benchmark where he sees hope shining. He sees blessing and an upright heart and an overall goodness of living that he wants. What he also discovers is an intersection of two distinct and diverging paths, a crossroads he faces every day. He seems to describe the paths as the Way of Blessing and the Path of Shame, roads he, like every human, consciously or unconsciously walks upon as a result of choices made. He hasn’t got the full picture, but he knows his own anxiety because his walk is inconsistent.

Centuries later, Jesus elaborated on the picture the psalmist was beginning to sketch. He described those paths and the dilemma of our struggling moral nature. “Enter through the narrow gate,” He advised, “for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13,14). Jesus clarified the psalmist’s and our dilemma by revealing that the situation is both worse and better than the psalmist had imagined.

Jesus expands the psalmist’s word shame into total destruction. A gram of rebellion against the Creator becomes a mushrooming cancer of self-destruction in the eternal realm Jesus foresaw. Yet Jesus also expands on the psalmist’s term blessing; he calls it life, an expansive, God-infused, flourishing and eternal life to which He will refer on many other occasions. He shows us something we know deep inside. The stakes are high; the rumours are true: the decisions we make in this life matter for eternity. Our moral nature intimates and necessitates it. We are more than tissue and bone; the One who made us calls us to prepare ourselves for our unseen future while we are still bound by that tissue and bone.

The trouble is that inhabiting bodies as we do, we are the most natural materialists and sensualists. We are drawn toward things that satisfy our senses—things we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. Many of those hankerings are good and are essential for our survival: food, clothing, shelter, loving relationships, and meaningful work are the basics of life. But some of those appetites damage us: harmful addictions, injurious relationships, and unethical work. We can make our own lists of those ones.

But the real danger is when we allow our senses (empiricism) to block our perception of God communicating to us through our spirit. Because we fail to literally see the two paths, our tendency, in practice, is to deny or at least ignore that they exist. Yet, recognizing this, there seems to be nothing more we can do than to cry out as the psalmist does, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast…!” Or is there?

(To be continued)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #28

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Island of God’s Goodness (Paraphrase of Psalm 142)

Help me, Father, by Your great mercy; attend to my call. I appeal to You because You are good, and because I know only You can help me. When my spirit grows faint within me and all my other supports fall away, then I begin to realize that only You understand what I am experiencing and are able to turn it into good for me.

You see the snares hidden in my path—traps waiting to trip me up, sea storms threatening to capsize, capture and destroy me. Some appear at first glance to hold fortunes, illicit treasures mine for the taking, yet they will be nothing but trouble if I turn toward them. They are all opiates, tranquilizers that remove me from the reality of Your goodness. The evil one is willing to destroy my faith by overt attacks or by subtle temptations—whatever means are within his control to imprison me.

But with You, Father, I have discovered a true path, a refuge and a rescue, freedom for my soul. With You I am freed from the prison of fears and inconsistencies, rebellions and selfishness, these dreadful enemies of mine.

Your connection with me fulfills my deepest yearning—my need for an island of goodness. It’s an oasis of love and compassion where You offer me the deepest of relationships for my good.

So here I come again, desperately in need of Your protection. Give me safe passage to Your Island of Goodness where all that pursues me is blocked from entering. Here I am safe. I am freed to praise Your Name.

I praise You, God of goodness, who does good to me and to all that come willingly to Your island. You surround us with Your faithfulness and grace for eternity.

(Photo Credit: By en:User:Mwanner – en:Image:Small Island in Lower Saranac Lake.jpg (photographer: en:User:Mwanner), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4703476)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #25

Prayer Exploring God’s Transforming Presence (Paraphrase of Psalm 139)

Nothing about me is hidden from You, God. You know my actions, my thoughts and my mind, my goals and intentions better than I know them myself.

You are a hedge around all sides of me; Your hand rests over me. Your presence pervades my being and my doing. Is there any situation, I ask myself, where Your Spirit will leave me?

On the bright days when I feel on top of the world, I’m convinced of and thankful for Your presence. I’m beginning to sense Your presence just as much on the dark days—the dull, or disappointing, or terribly painful moments when I’m at the end of myself. Your loving, guiding, comforting hand never leaves me. It is knowing Your presence that turns my darkest night into brightest daylight.

I get the sense You’ve been intimately involved in my life right from the start, LORD; from the time I was nothing more than a few tiny cells embedded in my mother’s womb, on into eternity, You’ve known all my days. As I’ve become more aware of Your true and noble presence, Lord, I’m more aware of my own proud and selfish tendencies. I am my own worst enemy! Like a mercenary army, this bent of mine to think and do evil will destroy me unless You do all in Your power to change me.

So I’m opening myself to Your human-transformation project, God: the costly-to-Yourself cleansing of forgiveness, the birthing of a new Spirit-led nature in me, and the vesting of my person with a blamelessness that comes straight from Jesus. Search me to the depths of my heart and soul. Replace my anxieties with the peace of Your presence, and my offensiveness with the goodness of Your presence. Change me back into the image of Yourself You designed me to embody, and lead me in the way everlasting

(Photo Credit: MeghanBustardphotography)

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, #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

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#1: Desert Prayer (A Paraphrase of Isaiah 35)

God Almighty; Father of Hope, Spirit of Life, Son of Truth; Come into our desert places. Like a summer rain, flash flood the barren reaches of our souls. We are parched; You are glorious. When your healing truth fills the fissures of our hardened hearts, lives like soil soften; Your Word germinates and sprouts. Like a crocus we burst into bloom; our souls rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

We of feeble hands and shaking knees arise; fearful hearts are made courageous, blindness healed, deaf ears unstopped. We the lame leap like deer for joy. O gladness filling feet, ears, eyes and hearts! The mute will shout for joy as You, God, come to us.

Our hearts like desert sands—unlivable places—dusty, hot and dry have been burdened with the enemy’s lies. Come Living Water, gushing spring. Quench our thirst with Truth—Your deep, deep love for us. So grass and reeds and papyrus begin to grow, lush signs of life sprouting from places we thought not only barren but cursed. Our jackal-like fears are gone now; the ferocious beasts that haunted our souls are driven away by the light of Your Truth and Love.

We are like travelers who have finally found our way—Your Way of Holiness. O lift us up to journey upon the highway that leads to You. We are redeemed! Ransomed! Crowned and singing, we joyfully tread Your Way, creatures made new.

(Photo Credit: [[File:Spry Canyon (8119659047).jpg|thumb|Spry Canyon (8119659047)]])