OPENING THE DOOR TO PSALM 119, Part 3

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‘Aleph’ cont’d.

How can we move ourselves onto the path of life and blessing when our natural tendencies draw us toward things that damage and destroy that option? This is the question the psalmist explores in this first stanza of his psalm. In his deepest, truest self he wants to be “steadfast in obeying (God’s) decrees” but knows from experience he is incapable. There is always that part of him that messes up, that unpredictably thinks, speaks and acts in defiance of God’s ways.

Here, in Aleph, the psalmist begins to answer this question in a theme that will fill 176 verses—an answer that for himself and his listeners becomes the seed of the greatest answer available to humanity. The key to the door of blessing, to the path of not only a flourishing life but one that fulfills everything God created it to entail, is immersing oneself in God.

Seeking and immersing ourselves in a god…isn’t this a bit too reminiscent of the religions of the world, the attempts of humans to seek something greater than themselves, and by focused desiring attempt to find meaning in life? Is it, then, all about our efforts, regardless of the specific god we have in mind?

No. The psalmist is very clear to highlight Whom he means. He shows the “LORD”—Yahweh, the Great ‘I AM’—is the locus of it all. People, he says, who “seek him with all their heart” are those who will find life and blessing. What the psalmist doesn’t fully know yet is that God is a greater seeker than we are. God originated the seeking by creating a world that, though it would go afoul of His moral laws by the abuse of its freedoms, would also be the womb out of which a rescuer would come.

Words like the “law of the LORD”, “his ways…decrees (and)…commands” referenced in the psalm are principally and at their core, descriptors of the One who embodies that moral law, the fully God and fully human solution to our problem, the eternally existent One born into humanity: Jesus Christ.

“In the beginning was the Word,” explains the Apostle John in the opening lines of his gospel account of the life of Jesus, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5).

There it is. “In him was life.” John will also later quote Jesus as calling Himself not only “the life” but also “the way”, “the truth”, “”the door”, “the vine” and many other metaphors to help us see that it is He of whom the psalmist speaks as the source of blessing.

So God first seeks, but then we seek too. This is the foundation of the solution to the problem the psalmist mulls over. A blessed life is one wrapped in relationship with God. Knowing the Father as our loving provider, Jesus as our redeemer and friend, and His Spirit as our internally-abiding comforter and confidante is the beginning and end of what the psalmist is trying to convey. God does, but we also do. God provides moral strength, but we must avail ourselves of it. God reveals His will for our thoughts, speech and behaviour, but we must obey it. God expresses His majesty in His creation but we must choose to recognize it and worship Him within it.

It’s a learning process. We don’s always respond as we should, even if we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus. The psalmist admits it is a process of “learn(ing) your righteous laws.” But God is patient, and everything in Him is encouraging us to learn and to seek Him, because when it comes to God, “everyone…who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8).

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A SEEKER’S STORY, Part 1

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Strange Analogy (John 3:1-8)

Two men sat in the dark, one small oil lamp casting upward shadows on their faces. The one had arrived secretively, a dark robe draping his face to avoid recognition. He felt the piercing eyes of the other probing deep into his soul.

“The miracles you do…” began the visitor, “…Rabbi, you must be a teacher who has come from God.” His voice trailed away in confusion.

The rabbi looked searchingly at his nighttime guest. He knew more of this man Nicodemus than the man knew of himself.

“Do you want to know the truth?” Jesus began. “You cannot truly understand the thoughts and ways of God unless you allow yourself to be born all over again.” He let the truth of the strange analogy sink into the consciousness of his shadowy friend.

“Impossible!” Nicodemas exploded in exasperation, refusing to open his mind to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words. “How could I, an old man, re-enter my mother’s womb and be born a second time?”

I’m sure Jesus smiled. His visitor was a well-educated man; he was easily capable of thinking abstract existential thoughts. But here, when the moment of truth would require him to fully relinquish his mindset of superiority, he balked. His pride recoiled at the idea of giving up everything he had painstakingly worked for – the honour of being a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council and Israel’s teacher – to start anew as a baby would.

This is perhaps the biggest stumbling block in coming to Jesus. The phrase ‘born again’ is an analogy relevant to every one of us, but it irks us. It means that we bring nothing to the table but our will. It requires us to be completely submissive to God’s Spirit in anticipation of a gift we cannot provide ourselves: spiritual life. This life cannot be accessed by meditation, karma, good works or good luck. We cannot enter into it through the natural processes of physical life or physical death.

It is God’s Spirit that gives birth to our spirit.

As we take a moment to consider this thought we will likely have one of three responses:

We will be thankful – a great sense of gratitude will fill our hearts and minds as we acknowledge that, yes, we have accessed that gift; we have a new life and we are growing daily to be more like Jesus by God’s grace.

Or we will be resentful – we will reject the idea that we need an external source of life, one that comes with a set of guidelines for how we must live it.

Or we will be resolute – we will realize that today, here and now, is the moment offered us by the Sovereign loving God to bow our will and receive that new life. It is our birth day.

Nicodemus’ reaction, I believe, was beginning to transition from the second to the third response. It’s hard to hear the nuance of emphasis when the words are only in print. But I think I hear a softening, an opening of the heart, a willingness to believe. Do you?

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. His longing for authentic relevant relationship with God was beginning to rise stronger than his long-nurtured pride. Born again; it was a strange analogy, but it rung true.

 

(Photo Credit: “”Diyo” oil lamp” by Sam Shrestha – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%22Diyo%22_oil_lamp.jpg#mediaviewer/File:%22Diyo%22_oil_lamp.jpg)