the psalms: where we live

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4

Part of the reason I think the psalms are so valuable is they talk a lot about experience. And that after all is where we live. We have our highs and lows, where we usually live, and oftentimes they’re punctuated with doubts and fears, being troubled. Then there are those times of peace and rest, sometimes even a sense of a kind of exaltation and joy. Well-being. But we sooner than later normally fall back into our default mode, which is whatever that might be. Hopefully with an increasing intentional drawing near to God as we go on, but sometimes mired in the depths.

But that is in large part why the psalms are so valuable and invaluable to us. We do well to read a psalm or two daily. And it is good from time to time to go meditatively through all the psalms. A part of God’s help for us as we live in the limitations and difficulties of this present existence and life.

In and through Jesus.

back to “ordinary time”

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“Ordinary Time” is a liturgical term used for the western church calendar that is other than the special seasons such as Advent and Lent. Although there’s at least a bit more to it as to why this term was adopted for the church calendar, I like the concept of ordinary. So often we’re tied up in knots over this and that, then something else. And we just need to get back to what might seem irrelevant, even too often mundane. What’s next in Scripture? And go slowly from one thing to the next.

I know that has nothing to do with the exact reason for the use of this term, as it has to do with times not marked by special occasion. Yes, it’s wonderful to have the special seasons of Advent then Christmas and Christmas season as well as Lent and Easter along with Eastertide. We can and should benefit from such wonderful occasions which help us to focus on Christ and the good news in him. Similarly there are those special seasons in our lives in which we’re working on this and that, oftentimes for me in regard to anxiety and spiritual warfare. But by and by we have to just lay those things aside, and keep plodding along from what might seem ordinary in that we may find it rather unremarkable, and not that related to us. But that’s when we need to slow down all the more, because God will help us to see and receive what we truly need from every part of Scripture. Admittedly, some specific parts are challenging that way, such as in Leviticus, though if we step back and look at each part from the perspective of the whole, we might gain some better appreciation for it, as well as some connection to life in the present.

Crisis and trials and troubles do hit us, and we can call those extraordinary times in which God wants to do a most significant work. But even in ordinary time we can’t avoid trouble, and we do well to settle in for something more low key, realizing that while we do seek to tackle issues head on at times, by and large we again do well to settle into the mode of taking one thing after the other. Realizing that we need it all, everything God has to give us in Scripture which is actually related to and through the gospel. Such will help us even with reference to the problems we work at better negotiating. We need the entire picture, the whole context, to better understand each part. God is present to help us in this as we keep moving forward day after day, yes in ordinary time, in ordinary life. In and through Jesus.

stop!

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…

James 1:2

Sometimes, in fact I think oftentimes when we’re reading Scripture we need to slow down and even stop. Yes, I know it’s important to read Scripture in context, and really, all of it. And we need to keep doing so. But there are probably too many times when we don’t let something sink in well enough, so that it never takes root and makes the needed difference in our lives. I’m speaking of God’s truth, of God’s word and nothing less.

Just yesterday I was still submerged in something which had taken away what peace and joy I had, for days. I thought I needed to get back to the basics in the book the Lord seemed to tell me I need to be in: James. So I went back to this passage. And instead of proceeding like I normally do, through the entire passage and context, I dwelled for hours, really the rest of the day just on the words quoted above. And not long after I began to do this, it really began to sink into my heart. Yes, I’m to consider whatever trials I’m facing nothing but joy. Consider, yes, as it likely is not at all the experience. But a peace and joy began to settle in again.

I was well aware of the rest of the passage (click link above) and that’s good. But I needed for the health of my soul to settle into this one part. And hopefully that will make a difference the rest of my life. Whatever the trial, to seek to grow through it, perhaps do better, and certainly trust the Lord more.

So again let’s slow down as we read Scripture. Stopping more often in prayerful meditation. So that God and God’s word might get through to us much more. In and through Jesus.

the spiritual discipline (according to Dallas Willard) of Scripture memorization

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

Joshua 1:8

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

Going through one of Dallas Willard’s books in a small group I’m a part of, Willard lists some spiritual disciplines as they’re commonly called, and adds Scripture memorization as either the most important or his favorite of these disciplines. That sits well with me. I think we would all be better off in regularly practicing these disciplines, but I probably rarely practice most of them. I don’t have that book in front of me, but fasting and silence would be just two of them on most of the lists. You can see that I am not much in the practice of such myself, since I can’t even think of anymore of them at the moment.

But as far as I can remember, Scripture memorization is on no one’s list. Meditation of Scripture surely is, but not memorization. We think of memorization as boring and often mechanical and dead rote. But it surely is a necessary precursor to meditation, or at least can help us meditate, that is recite and consider the words of Scripture. There is the danger in memorization that when we have that down, we somehow think we have the passage down. And familiarity while not breeding contempt, might then make us think we don’t need to go over the passage right when it might be especially helpful.

I am working through the book of James this way, taking a paragraph or section if short (in my Bible) a day, getting memorization down as best I can. And I just keep doing that throughout the day, well that’s the goal. I’m not so good on weekends, so I need to shore that up. But I’m finding it helpful.

At the same time, I also find it a bit challenging on a certain level. I mean after all, why worry about getting a sentence down, particularly when it’s a bit oddly worded, or whether or not that’s the case? But I also find that it becomes my focus aside from other things and focuses I have to have throughout the day. And for me, this can become life altering. And at this point I’m trying to get James into my mind, heart, life, bones.

An easy in a way, but also challenging practice for us to keep working at day after day. In and through Jesus.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.

don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

self-care

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:30-31

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

Mark 7:24

These two incidents in Mark’s gospel account were unsuccessful attempts by Jesus to withdraw and rest with his disciples, even perhaps by himself, as we see in the second instance. Surely this was a practice, something he had his disciples do with him on a regular basis interspersed between all the activity in their full days.

Self-care has never been high on my list of things I actually cared about. At least not explicitly, in my thinking, though really most of us do it to some degree automatically, somewhat like moving your finger off something that’s too hot.

I am finding for myself that self-care actually is helping me come around and get my bearings in ways I previously haven’t.

Self-care doesn’t mean self-indulgence or laziness. Taking care of oneself physically and spiritually, of course mentally and socially in that mix as well. The physical part can be underrated. We surely see something of that in the two passages above. We as humans are physical. You can’t disconnect that part from who we are. That affects everything else. If I don’t get enough sleep, then I’ll likely suffer the consequences later on, being dog tired at work, or irritable, not feeling good, whatever. So we have to take care of ourselves. Eating well, also.

And it definitely means taking care of myself spiritually. I want to do so in communion and participation with others of God’s people. We miss church meeting now, though we’ve met outdoors with our small group, socially distanced in the warm breezy summer air. And seeking to shore up on the basics: Scripture reading and meditation, and prayer.

Self-care has its place. Otherwise it’s replaced with all kinds of things which may not be good. Better to get back to square one and see this as nothing less than a responsibility.

Jesus was fully human, so needed it himself. How much more do we? God will help us; Jesus understand fully, and will help us.

In and through Jesus.

reaching out to the Lord’s commands

I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:48

I love the idea here of reaching out to God’s commands out of love for them. When you read Psalm 119 as a whole, it’s a mix between a commitment to full obedience and the realization that the psalmist falls short. And you can find dependence on God and God’s mercy and grace in it.

How do we reach out to God’s commands? I think we as followers of Jesus should start with Jesus’s commands and go from there. We have to go to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and a good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. We have to be committed to meditation on them, to get them into our heart and bones, to aspire to them, and to begin to live them out.

There has to be the passion present that this indeed is what we want to do. We have to be wannabes before those things can take root and become a part of who we truly are. The above line suggests that we reach out so that we might meditate. We have to be aware of God’s will for us before we can begin to live in that will.

For us now in and through Jesus.

 

returning again and again to the source

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, 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

My default practice is to turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. Since I believe Scripture is God’s word written, I keep returning to it again and again throughout the day, to gain whatever it is that God wants to give me. It’s not like I do this very well. There are all kinds of variations in it. I might go real slow for a while, then pick up speed and keep moving through, whether anything seems to be getting through to me or not, then slow down again. As I stay at it, sooner usually than later it seems like God might somehow be getting through to me. I’ll begin to pick up a better perspective than I have.

God’s word is our lamp for life, but we’re also to be intent in being shaped and transformed, our lives directed by it. Oftentimes to be honest, I really feel at a loss, maybe hurt over this or that, or tired of whatever, at a loss. So I just keep going back to Scripture, and I find help, but help in God’s way, not my own. Going through Scripture slowly gives one the opportunity to pause and reflect and pray. Or simply realize how we don’t get it. That has value too. An important part of what Scripture is intended to do: help us turn to God, hopefully seek him, and find his will. Indeed turning to God’s word can be our way of turning to God. And find our lives more and more shaped by that. In and through Jesus.

in the air of the word

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 opens up the book of Psalms on the blessedness of those who meditate on God’s written word. Contrast is set with the wicked. It does seem the division is between “the righteous” and “sinners.” But actually what contrast there is seems more between the one who meditates on God’s word as opposed to the wicked. And since this is one book, the hymnbook of Israel, we would do well to consider the usage of this word in the Psalms (“wicked” and other forms of that word in the NIV).

The one who meditates on God’s law/word is not at home with sinners in the sense of participation with them in their way of life. And this would be especially true of those who are wicked, who while they might be drawn in by the goodness of one who is righteous, nevertheless still engage in wicked deeds.  Or at least scoff at the thought of righteousness, and of God’s law. This reminds me of Jesus’s words not to cast your pearls to pigs.

Jesus did welcome sinners, and ate and drank with them. But he certainly had no part with evil, in fact, those who sat with him either found themselves quite uncomfortable and out of place (I think of Pharisees), or were drawn in to be made whole (tax collectors and sinners).

This psalm speaks of the air in which we live and breathe in contrast to others. And the result. A basic we must first get hold of before we can help others. In and through Jesus.