Saturday, June 01, 2013

You (and Your Statutes) are My Delight (Psalm 119:17-24)

Do good to your servant, and I will live;
I will obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed
and who stray from your commands.
Remove from me scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rules sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:17-24

This stanza strikes me as particularly appropriate for our current cultural context in the United States. Just this last week, Mark Dever published a blog post entitled "How to Survive a Cultural Crisis." It's excellent; if you haven't already read it, please be sure to do so.

Dever begins by commenting, "America's views on family, love, sexuality generally, tolerance, God, and so much more seems to be pushing in directions that put Bible-believing Christians on the defensive. It's easy to feel like we've become the new 'moral outlaws,' to use Al Mohler's phrase. Standing up for historic Christian principles will increasingly get you in trouble socially and maybe economically, perhaps one day also criminally."

Yet in this passage from Psalm 119, we are reminded that this is not a unique experience for American Christians. How remarkable that even someone whose words are eternally recorded in Scripture can speak of people around him with "scorn and contempt" toward God's law, and "rulers [who] sit together and slander me." Around him are the "arrogant ... who stray from your commands." A "Christian America" (or one that has, for the most part, honored a Judeo-Christian ethic for the last few centuries) has lulled us into what Mark Dever calls out as "utopian assumptions;" on the other hand, verse 19 reminds us, "I am a stranger on earth" -- our values and priority structures should be strange to the world.

These eight verses can then be read as both a promise from God and a commitment by us. God calls us here, "Keep your eyes on me; keep obeying my Word; make my statutes your delight and your counselors ... and you will live." So, our call is to search God's word and pray, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." May it not just be our duty, but also our delight, to study the Word and to obey. Even -- especially -- in a world that views us with "scorn and contempt;" the only way we or our kids will not succumb to the pressures of persecution (in whatever form that may arise) is because our greatest delight is centered on God.

Do I really believe that there are "wonderful things in [God's] law"? Can I truly say, "Your statutes are my delight?" Is it not a fact that delight in God and his Word as the best (only) way to combat any form of temptation -- so that we will eschew what we perceive as "good" for what is truly the highest Good?

"My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times..." This just after the statement that "I am a stranger on the earth" makes me think of a famous CS Lewis quote: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Even the disordered longings of this world show that we were all made with eternity written on our hearts. Let's recognize all of our longings for what they are, center our hearts on the Word - especially as we experience some decidedly anti-God things in this world - and seek all of our delight in God now, which will only increase our delight in God for the ever after.

Let us close by quietly humming to ourselves Martin Luther's fantastic kingdom-orienting hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God."

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle. 

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him. 

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.

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