“Hear my voice in accordance with Your love; preserve my life, O LORD, according to Your laws.” -Psalm 119:149
Hear and preserve, according to Your law and love. The wonderful blessing of being God’s child is His willingness and delight to hear our prayers. Whether it be an incense of adoration, thanksgiving, repentance or petition, we have access to the throne of Grace at all times. Why would God acknowledge creatures of the dust? Because He loves us. Just as His wrath is great toward unrepentant sinners, so great is His love for those who come to Him in simple faith. The Lord is perfect in justice and in love. This is also why God preserves His people with everlasting life. In the Lord’s rich mercy He has not left us to ourselves, to endure eternal separation from Him. His law was perfectly fulfilled in the only One who could keep it, His Son. Jesus Christ exchanged His robe of righteousness for our sinful rags. I wear His righteousness now, as do all who know Christ as their Savior. Therefore, God will preserve our lives forever. The depth and beautiful mystery of law and love have met at the Mercy Seat, permanently and sufficiently satisfying the holy payment of sin.
“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises.” -Psalm 119:148
Verse 148 enhances verse 147, as the psalmist goes deeper, from prayer to meditation. Meditating on the promises of God is a wonderful counter-attack to the afflictions of darkness. Satan is the author of lies, the host of fear. Here is a helpful parallel of literal darkness to spiritual darkness. Both leave us vulnerable to enemy invasion. Our physical bodies need sleep and cannot go long without it. Yet in times of distress, sleep may mock the weary soul. Reciting Scripture, recalling God’s promises, can massage our troubled minds. Shining the light of truth expels the darkness to help us see. The terrors which grip our thoughts will begin to flee when we wield the sword of the Spirit against Satan’s attacks.
Believers thrown into a spiritual fog wait in expectation for God’s relief. His mercies are new each day, so while we wait, our time is best spent in prayer and meditation. Becoming familiar with God’s Word through meditation equips His saints so that they may pray God’s language back to Him. “Direct my footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over me” (v.133); “Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed” (v.116). The words of the psalmist are ours to claim as well. The Lord is faithful to keep His children spiritually alert to the devil’s schemes. He will not allow His children to be lulled into a defenseless stupor for long, neglecting our post. He has given us weapons and gifts to fight against our enemies, trusting Him with the victory outcome.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: Psalm 4; 130; Mark 14:32-42; John 1:4-9; Ephesians 5:8-17; 6:10-18
“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your Word.” -Psalm 119:147
The psalmist gets up before the rest of the house to commune with the Lord. It is here in the blue hour, without the coming day’s distractions, that we think most clearly with a heightened hunger for spiritual food. C.S. Lewis referred to this time as the “cream of the day”. Even before physical bread, it is good to have daily bread from God, nourishing our spirit. The psalmist likely did not sleep well either, as this octave indicates his distress. It is better to get up and seek an audience with the Lord than toss and turn in elusive sleep.
The writer is desperate, crying out for His Father’s help. Does God hear him? The best posture for a believer to be in is a state of neediness. What do you and I have to offer Him but our sin and need? It is here we are humbled, and dependent. Self-reliance and self-righteousness are a charade of smoke and mirrors. The only Hope we have and cling to are the promises of God. Jesus became the Living Hope for all who will trust in His saving grace. He continues to intercede for God’s people, as we are being made fit for Heaven. What great encouragement to the sons and daughters of God. We can cry out to Him because He sees our lives, He hears our prayers, and He loves you. Here is where saints rest. Christ the Living Word is our Help and Hope, in life and in death.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: Psalm 63; John 17:6-26; Hebrews 7:24-28
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” -C.S. Lewis
“I call out to You; save me and I will keep Your statutes.” -Psalm 119:146
Verses 145 and 146 are complimentary to one another. Charles Spurgeon famously compared Psalm 119 to a kaleidoscope, observing the different shades of meaning in each verse. He notes, “even when the color of the thought appears to be the same”, it is “charmingly varied from beginning to end”. Sometimes pleading just once does not leave our spirit at rest. Like a child requesting over and over, the one in need will petition before His Maker until an answer is given.
The psalmist cries out to God again, looking for rescue from his enemies. As we will see later in this octave, the wicked are all around him. He asks for deliverance and in response, to live obediently before the Lord. This isn’t a bargaining tool with God, for the psalmist already operates out of His grace. The writer is simply requesting more grace to carry him through affliction so he can continue persevering in faith. If you and I are asking for the Father’s grace in our time of need, we must first spend time with Him, learning His ways, if we are ever to have peace which passes understanding. God allows His children to experience trials so that we might rely on Him and not ourselves. Sometimes afflictions force us to look nowhere but up. This is what C.S. Lewis described as a “severe mercy”. When we come to the end of ourselves our prayers create depth and persistence in our fellowship with God. Perseverance in faith and prayer become the principle. It is here we see how precious His deliverance can be.
A flame of grace is what I ask of Thee
to carry me over the coals of affliction;
and if I should be burned
let it consume that which is not lovely.
Refine my faith even if it hurts,
but let me never take my eyes off
my loving Father.
He is teaching me to walk.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
“I call with all my heart; answer me, O LORD, and I will obey Your decrees.” -Psalm 119:145
This verse begins a new octave. In these eight verses the psalmist is looking for God’s presence and aid. He calls out, or cries out, with urgency and fervor to have the Lord bless him. This is what wrestling in prayer looks like. Have you ever prayed with your face in the ground, engaging not only your lips but your whole being in earnest longing? Did you know prayers like this from the heart are received by God our Father as sweet incense? And when words fail us, even the groaning of His saints is heard as the Spirit helps through intercession. What a gracious and compassionate Lord! He hears, He sees, He knows exactly every detail of your life. Prayer demonstrates our faith that there is a God, and that He is willing and able to act. It may not be as we expect, but the Lord is always at work on behalf of His people for His Glory and our good (Romans 8:28). Here we rest in taking the long view of God’s eternal plan, rather than remain short-sighted with temporal solutions. God’s plans are always better than we could ever imagine.
As the psalmist cries out in need, he also longs to obey the Lord in all of life. The holy desires of his heart search for God’s guidance to direct him, then walk in it. Whether the psalmist realizes it or not, he is doing exactly what God commands by drawing near to Him. This is what the Lord has called all people to do while we live in the Era of Grace. A fervent desire to draw near to God grows the more we meditate on what He has already taught us in the Scriptures. Who is He? Draw near to God by observing His creativity and majesty in creation. See His heart of compassion and mercy through Jesus His Son. Meditate on His character and promises through the written Word. This is what living in the center of God’s will looks like. This is where we begin to know the God of the Universe. May “the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
“Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live.” -Psalm 119:144
The psalmist begins and ends this octave with declaring God’s ways to be right. The Lord is righteous and just in His dealings with us. This is how we know we can trust what God promises in His Word and commands us to obey. God will never give us bad advice. He will never fail you. In our finite wisdom we may not understand His plan, but can still be confident He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). We may even make sinful choices and have to bear the consequences, which is why God has specifically given us the Scriptures to obey. He wants the best for His sons and daughters. What is for our good? Himself. It is when we look at the Law, see His holiness and our inability to keep it. We then realize our need for a perfect sacrifice and mediator to stand in our place. We need a Savior. God’s eternal Word leads us to Christ who gives you and me life forever through His shed blood. There is no other way.
The second part of this verse reveals what the psalmist already understands. He cries out for more understanding because the writer knows that abiding in fellowship with the Lord leads to life everlasting. The psalmist isn’t asking for more head knowledge but for heart understanding which comes from belief. The Christian faith is a knowing. The writer of Hebrews describes faith this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). Believers wait in expectation of what God has promised, as we live in the “already and not yet” era of grace.
I sometimes pray for God to become more real and lovely to me. What I mean by this is a desire to behold Him as my greatest treasure. I am asking for His grace to increase my faith in what I profess. Like the father in the Gospel of Mark, who asks Jesus to heal his demon possessed son, he cries out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:14-24). There is everything right in praying this ourselves when doubts creep in or we begin to go through the motions in outward legalism. Jesus’ response toward the father is compassion. He healed his son when He didn’t have to. God looks on His sons and daughters with a Father’s heart of compassion. What grieves you grieves Him. Jesus understands our temptations and the hardness of life. He knows what it means to be weary. He sees your God given desire to know Him deeply, relationally. I believe anything asked according to God’s will is honored. Yet before requesting to grow deeper, it is helpful to first examine our hearts. Do I obey what I already understand? Start here and ask God’s Spirit to continue His good work in you. The Lord has promised He would, so little by little, we become more like His Son, Jesus.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: Isaiah 35:3-8; John 17:3; Philippians 1:6
“Trouble and distress have come upon me, but Your commands are my delight.” -Psalm 119:143
When I was a teenager, my depression was the darkest and most prolonged period I have ever known. The Psalms were especially comforting because emotions run high and low here. It showed me that God is not put off by feelings, they just need to align with His truth. What do I know about God to be true even when it doesn’t feel true? Looking back on that time, I remember the season as bittersweet. Depression is bitter, but I found God’s Word to be sweet. I was able to delight in my constant Friend in the midst of sorrow. On this particular verse Matthew Henry comments, “There are delights, variety of delights, in the word of God, which the saints have often the sweetest enjoyment of when they are in trouble and anguish.”
Those who endure trials, weaknesses or temptations might be disregarded by others. But I believe it is here in the valley that our faith is refined. A desert bloom is a wonder because something beautiful emerges under harsh conditions. Faith which perseveres in spite of the troubles of life is precious to our Father. He sees His children and has compassion on them. When our distresses threaten to overwhelm us, go to the greatness of God. Through His Word, He will tend to you as a Shepherd. He will gently lead His beloved children. You and I cannot fully understand the purpose in suffering, so here is where our faith must rest. We learn to trust our Father’s perfect sovereignty, power, goodness, wisdom and love, and that He is all of those things toward you personally. Dear Christian, whatever happens on your pilgrim journey will seem as feathers in light of the eternal weight of glory we will enjoy one day.
“Your righteousness is everlasting and Your law is true.” -Psalm 119:142
When Jesus was brought on trial before going to the cross, Pilate questioned Him. The governor couldn’t understand the religious leaders’ hatred toward Jesus, and tried to get to the bottom of it. Jesus confirms He is a King, but not of this world. He came for this reason- to testify to the truth. Jesus is Truth, who came to man, yet many did not accept Jesus’ message when Truth stared them in the face. Post modernists like Pilate still ask, “What is truth?”
I remember reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in college. Several students were assigned a literary critical theory for interpreting the text. Based on which approach we had, determined how the student viewed the passage. I was given Deconstruction. Deconstruction is a dismantling of a text to prove there are many meanings, with the belief that meaning like language, evolves and cannot be a fixed structure. With multiple ways to read a singular passage, they can even be in contradiction of one another, rather than a cohesive narrative. It is the complete opposite of what I believe the Scriptures to be. This approach (like other literary criticisms) props up relativism over absolutes. All of it is complete nonsense, but a tool nonetheless used to drive us away from Truth. Affirming God’s Word as absolute truth is fundamental, but how Scripture is interpreted is also essential.
What I have found helpful when reading the Bible is first considering the author’s intent. Specifically, I believe the Holy Spirit inspired each man to write what is now the canonized Scriptures. Therefore, I know the complete Word of God to be trustworthy and true. Good questions to ask when reading the book of Isaiah for example would be, “Who is the author? Who is he writing to? Why did he write this book? What was happening in the writer’s world, personally and/or publicly? How was this message received by the original audience? Why is this important to read today? There are also phrases and places in the Bible which I am not familiar with because they are not common today, but were an integral part of their culture. Keeping a good commentary is helpful for understanding those idioms and ancient cities, which for modern day ears are lost in translation.
Another great question to consider when studying the Bible is “who is God in this passage?” Even in books like Esther where His Name is not mentioned, the reader sees God at work saving His people. When we read any portion of Scripture, examining the character of God and His promises allows us to see His heart. The whole reason our Lord has given us the written Word is to reveal Himself. Ultimately God redeemed His children through the Living Word, Jesus Christ, for His Glory and our eternal good.
God’s Word is a beautiful and merciful gift He has given us. In it, He has told us His Son Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Gospel. When we speak of what is true, it must begin with Christ. Not only is our Lord the Truth, but He is Eternal Truth. Creation will wear out under the curse, but God’s Word stands forever. This is our comfort and hope. In a world hell bent on rejecting the God of Truth, Christians have a duty to rightly interpret Scripture, then contend for the faith in what we know to be true. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixedly upright.” If God Himself proclaims His whole counsel to be truth, then this leaves no wiggle room for leaving hard passages out. It is either all true, or none of it is. Jesus is the Rock on which believers stand. He is the Living Word, eternally righteous and true.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: John 1:1-14; 18:28-38; John 14:6; Isaiah 40:6-8; Jude 1-25
“Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget Your precepts.” -Psalm 119:141
The psalmist is despised by others for taking God’s commands seriously. I remember an acquaintance one time referring to a mutual friend of ours as a “super Christian”. I knew what she meant, however, I don’t believe there are super Christians and regular ones. I think there are obedient believers and disobedient believers. It doesn’t mean they live lives of habitual sin, but they aren’t forsaking everything else to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-26). We all have blind spots of disobedience which the Lord will mercifully show His children in time. In general, we do what we want, motivated by what we love- comfort, recognition, popularity, money, etc. God’s grace to grow us in spiritual maturity takes a lifetime. But as the power of the Holy Spirit changes the desires of a Christian, it comes down to one thing: Obedience. Do we trust God’s known character and revealed promises in Scripture enough to obey His commands? Do you love His authority over you?
Praise God for His grace toward every repentant sinner. The difference between a Christian and the lost is forgiveness. Only through the blood of Christ are you and I forgiven. It is when we acknowledge our sin and need of a Savior that we become truly free. Yet being a Christian does not mean a life of ease or “your best life now”. Jesus said if the world hated Him, they will hate His followers too. The psalmist experienced this. Yet our Lord gave us His example for enduring persecution, even to death. Do not be surprised when fiery trials come upon you and people reject you because you follow Jesus. It is part of what it means to learn obedience through suffering for His sake. What tastes bitter now will one day be sweet.
Trouble and distress will come but God is our everlasting comfort. He is the Anchor for the drowning and will not let you go. His hold on you is firm. God is more compassionate toward His own than a loving mother is to her child. He is faithful to guide us in His righteous way, so that we become more like His Son. This world is our sanctifier, Heaven our glory and Home.
Grace upon grace,
Growing deeper: Hebrews 5:8; Matthew 10:16-42; John 15:18-16:4; Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 4:12-19
“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and Your servant loves them.” -Psalm 119:140
The things that we love shape who we are. Love means time invested. Whether the object of your love occupies your thoughts, words or actions, it is your energy and time being used. What we love will become evident to others as well. Can you imagine a young lady newly engaged and telling no one about it? No, she would share her excitement with family, friends and possibly, not so casually, blurt it out to the cashier ringing up her groceries too.
The New King James translation of this verse reads, “Your Word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it.” I like this translation better because it underscores the beauty of Scripture in a succinct way. Matthew Henry describes the purity of God’s Word as linked to His holiness and the power of the written Word to change us. He writes,
“Our love to the word of God is then an evidence of our love to God when we love it for the sake of its purity, because it bears the image of God’s holiness and is designed to make us partakers of His holiness. It commands purity, and as it is itself refined from all corrupt mixture, so if we receive it in the light and love of it, it will refine us from the dross of worldliness and fleshly-mindedness.”
It is a marvelous grace the seed of love God has planted in the hearts of His children. We can not love Him anymore than we can raise the dead, had God not loved us first. He has drawn us to Himself in loving-kindness, calling us by name. So now the Greatest Love Story unfolds with a new chapter which includes your story. It is better than any rags to riches tale Hollywood dreams up. The Lord has wooed every one of His people to Himself. Imperfect as our love is, God is patient and unconditional in His perfect love toward us. How can you and I get to know this God of love? This Holy One who stooped down to take notice of you and me, even giving us life eternal? We grow deeper in love with our Heavenly Father by reading His personal love letter, the Bible.
God’s eternal Word is pure and holy, telling us how we were dead and without hope. But God. God in His rich mercy, made us alive with Jesus Christ. Is this what you love? Is the Lord God your greatest treasure? May the Father loosen our lips to speak of our love for Him, and soften our hearts into a posture of worship.