Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Psalm 119 Project

From October 2010 to May 2012, I did two consecutive Bible Studies on the book of Romans. Even in my oft halfhearted and fuzzy-minded attempts at study, it was amazing after twice through the book to begin to feel like I understood what the Apostle Paul was saying and even, sometimes, why he was saying it.

In the midst of the early chapters, as Paul is masterfully disassembling every human attempt at self-justification, a phrase would rattle around in my mind: "I love the law."

Unfortunately, this love is not the real thing: it is a dark, self-serving imitation of love. I love the law in the way Paul was condemning love of the law. I love the law because I pick and choose what I want to keep and then I mistakenly believe that I am a law-keeper. I love the law because, once I believe that I have kept it, I can then see it as a way to control God, much like the prodigal son's older brother. I love the law because, if I am keeping it, I can look down on those who are not.

You can see how a four-year-old could poke all sorts of holes in my self-justifications, and Paul does a pretty good job of it himself throughout the first half of the book ... you really have nothing left by the time he's done, which leaves you acutely aware of your need for a True Law-Keeper.

As Law-Keeper, Christ not only keeps the law for himself and on our behalf, he can also say with a pure heart, "I love the law." It's not self-serving; it's not self-justifying; it's simply loving the law because the law is an expression of God's perfection, of the beauty of his holiness.

Love of the law in this way makes me think of Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. Have you ever marveled at the way the psalmist says, "The law of the Lord ... [revives] the soul"? or "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law"?

That second one sprang to mind a few days ago as I was reading a blog post about CS Lewis' and John Piper's views of Christian joy. As the blogger says, the "language of hedonism is everywhere" in the Bible, even, I might add, in passages about the law. What a gift to truly see God's law not as a way to manipulate God or as a burden that God has placed upon us, but as an expression of God's love for us, and law-keeping as an expression of our love for him. And since I'm always processing things in light of my kids, I can't imagine many things that would be better for their long-term well-being than to grow up truly believing this.

But you cannot commend what you do not cherish. And so, I have determined to devote the month of June to Psalm 119. The longest chapter in the Bible by far, it is a sustained meditation, both deliberate and exulting, on the law of God. I can think of no better tutor in loving God's law than God himself, whose perfections that law displays.

Psalm 119 is a bit daunting: 176 verses, broken up into 22 stanzas. Talk of commands and precepts couched in poetic language, compounded by Hebraic poetic devices and structure and the fact that Scripture is always deep enough for an elephant to bathe in. But June has 30 days and I'm giving myself a head start; maybe if I just try to meditate on one stanza a day, I can get through it and even have some days to spare. For added accountability, I'll try to post a few thoughts here for each stanza, and therein comprises the Psalm 119 project.

Here we go!

Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Addie said...

That second stanza plays a key role in most of my prayers. Sometimes it's all I manage to pray.

Melodee Skiles said...

I love this idea and I'm excited to hear your meditations on this wonderful psalm!