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The Longest Psalm Part 2!

July 4, 2013

Psalm 119 Part 2
Read Psalm 119: 81 – 88
Last Sunday and this we are taking on that giant among Bible chapters. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. We started to look at this last week and saw that there is a lot more to this song than meets the eye. There is much more to it than its obvious length.
We saw that for the anonymous author this was a work of art. An epic song written with painstaking precision and insatiable passion for its subject matter – the word of God. This was the writer’s absolute obsession. He loved it, he rejoiced in it, he wondered at it, he shared it.
And when he wrote the Psalm he gave it the treatment. 176 verses. 22 equal sections of eight phrases each, each phrase in each section beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It must have taken him ages.
Perhaps we came away from that with the distinct impression that we didn’t think we could relate to someone like this. Maybe he’s just a bit over the top. Too good to be true. Some of you I know have taken the opportunity to read a bit more of Psalm 119 during the week. We have a man who gets up early to seek God. In the night he meditates. It’s not entirely clear whether he meditates because he can’t sleep or if he can’t sleep because he wants to meditate. Presumably he must sleep sometimes. Makes you wonder what he dreams about!
In his waking hours he reads the bible, meditates on it, talks about it to anyone and everyone – kings included. And of course in his spare time he writes about it in Psalm 119.
In the opening verses of the chapter he describes those who walk according to the law of God. They “do no wrong”. I have difficulty relating to people who do no wrong. Do they exist? Is the Psalmist claiming to be one? No he ain’t. Thankfully he makes it pretty clear that he is not the finished article.
So last week, as with all mini-series, we left ourselves with some cliff-hanger questions.
All this Bible Study – is it just an academic exercise?
What about when I am living the wrong way?
What about when I am facing the pressures and struggles of everyday living? Can all this be relevant then?
Thankfully the writer of Psalm 119 is not immune to these problems. And they run as a thread through his song, never far away. Rooted in real life.

Failure:

From the beginning of the Psalm to the very end, he lets us know that he knows what it is to fail to live up to what God wants of us. As early as verse 5 he cries “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees. Then I would not be put to shame. And in verse 176 he concludes “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant for I have forgotten your commands”.
I don’t know about you but I find a huge gap far too often between what I believe and how I behave. I will stand here this morning and say quite honestly that I do believe in the word of God. I believe in its truth. I proclaim its power to transform lives. I dislike it when Christians try to pick the verses of this book apart to make an interpretation that suits them better.
But then there’s the little matter of living it out, and I am just so good at not practicing what I preach however well intentioned. I think I was talking about this recently particularly in relation to the difficulty of living as a Christian in the work place. Someone challenged me that I seemed to be saying that what I believed was good in theory but not in practice. That is definitely not what I meant. I want the things I believe to shape the way I live more and more.
But if any of us are in the slightest bit honest they will admit that they fail. To quote an early U2 song “I want to get up, when I wake up, but when I wake up, I fall down”. And as we reminded ourselves at Tuesday church this past week, when we fail we have everything in common with every hero of the faith we read of in the Bible. We all mess up.
What does he do when he fails? Does he give up? Well no – not at all. He refocuses. Again on Tuesday we thought about how David had made a lot of strange decisions which had put his family and his nation at risk. The challenge then was the need to refocus. David did that, won a victory and recovered family and followers. It was when he decided to forget his own wisdom and to listen to the words of God.
The Psalmist does the same. As we said last week he is constantly making a choice that he WILL obey, he will make a commitment to the word of God, and his response after his early admission of failure is in verse 7 & 8 to say “I will praise you with an upright heart…I will obey your decrees”.
It’s a great reminder to us all. In his first letter, as some of heard at Spring Harvest, John is adamant that none of us can say he or she is without sin. We all fall short, but there is always a new start. 1 john 1:9 reminds us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive…” There are no other conditions or qualifications. This does not only relate to certain categories of wrongdoing. We can start again. To live as a Christian is a battle, but it was a battle that the Psalmist was determined to win. So it was back to the word of God. Time to refocus.

Sadness:

The Psalmist knew what it was to be wrong, but he also knew what it was to be down. “My soul is weary with sorrow” he says in verse 28. I am laid low in the dust (25). He was not immune to the sorrows and emotions of real life. Sometimes it hurt. Perhaps you might want to call him simplistic, but the Psalmist seems to have only one answer to every ill. The word of God. He remembers God’s promises “preserve my life according to your word”(25). “Strengthen me according to your word”(28). Lord you have said it in your word, and no matter how I feel I believe your promises. If Paul could talk to the Psalmist he might have said “In all things God works for the good of those who love him”.

Business:

But sometimes it’s just the business of life that crowds God out. The loudness of life that drowns out his voice. The stuff we surround ourselves with that becomes our comfort and our reason for being.

Our friend spoke openly about these struggles too. “Turn my heart towards your statutes, and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes from worthless things”(36,37). The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver or gold”(72).

It is so easy to fill our lives with stuff. So easy to be so busy. Sometimes that’s just the way life is. Not many of us have the luxury of working 9 – 5 these days. More and more is expected of us. Particularly in tough economic times, it is about putting in the extra time to make things work. So it’s all very well for the song writer to sit around all day meditating on the Bible. Some of us have got work to do. How does this work in daily life. Again it seems to be about refocusing – that word again.

Maybe we start our day with great plans but then it all kicks off and when we look back at the day it has not gone to plan. Where was God in it all? To paraphrase you might ask how does all this Psalm 119 stuff work when I’m busier than I’ve been for years, my colleague is off for the week and I’m having to do his work as well, I’m trying to run a department, and even working 10 or 11 hours a day I’m still not keeping up. Oh and my mother and mother in law are not well either. Well funny you should ask that because that pretty much sums up my week, not to mention preparing a sermon on Psalm 119! And I get the impression some of your weeks have been like that too.

So how do we find focus? Perhaps some days we just need to repeat the prayer of General Lord Astley (not to be confused with Rick Astley) who before the Battle of Edge Hill in 1642 prayed “O Lord, you know how busy I must be today. If I forget you, do not forget me”.

I try to at least start the day with the word of God. Sometimes its something lengthy, but more often than that it may be something like Carl Beech’s the Manual, with just a verse or 2 and a quick blokey comment. I guess Word for Today fits a similar slot without the prayers about fast cars and steak dinners. Hopefully some of it will stick, but I am often disappointed it doesn’t so I need to keep topping up.

We talked last week about how we’ve got it easy. When some people in the world don’t even know what it the Bible looks like, I can carry 560 versions in 327 languages on my phone. That if course is grossly unfair, but it does seem to me that if you have that capability at your disposal, make the most of it. I do try to get out at lunch time if only for 10 mins or so to refocus again. I don’t know what people think when they see me on the Hoe or at Sutton Harbour glued to my phone. Well for a start I’m reading the Bible (Psalms at the moment), secondly I’m going through the daily prayer list, and then there’s twitter.

Twitter has grown on me, and again I find it can be worth taking a look. Most of the people I follow tend to be Christians and I find that serves a purpose. Our friend Nicky Gumbel often has a neat quote, maybe it’s just a Bible verse that is quoted by someone. When I came home from Spring harvest this year I came home with a bit of a Gerard Kelly and Tim Vine obsession. Gerard is often a good read, having invented Twitturgies. In fact Bev and I usually read one in the morning. I think my favourite so far:

When troubles
tumble in
on dismal days
remember this:
it’s not the end of the world
and if it was
it would matter
even less.

Or maybe the tweet links to something a little longer.

I even try to use passwords on my computer that remind me of Bible verses. On one level this probably makes me sound a bit balmy!

Perhaps it sounds a bit trivial, but I think it just gives that opportunity to hear God in the busyness of the day.


Human opposition:

As we were reminded last week, some of our experiences are certainly trivial compared to some of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. The Psalmist knew something about human opposition too.

“The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law”(51)

“The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes”(95)

“Many are the foes that persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes”(157)

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word”(161)

His one and only answer again, the word of God!

We talked last week about the Chinese Christian Brother Yun, whose first prayer was “Lord give me a Bible. Amen”. As we said there is a cost to following Jesus in China. And Yun was imprisoned for his Christian faith. But tortured in unspeakable ways and starving in appalling conditions, Yun found a strength that baffled his captors.

His strength was in the word of God. “I thought of the words from 1 Peter 2:23 “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate, when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”

“I also meditated on the promise of Jesus “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.””

And there are so many other examples during that time. It can only be that like the psalmist, Yun could say “I have hidden your word in my heart”. That discipline bore fruit in the darkest of times as Yun showed Christ-likeness to his torturers. Now for him this was no theoretical academic exercise. This was his life.

Suffering:
As we read earlier, the Psalmist knew what it was to suffer too.
“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life”(50)
He knows what it is to feel that God is not listening “How long must your servant wait?(84)
In his troubles he finds delight, hope, salvation, comfort, unfailing love.
We all know that to follow Jesus offers us no immunity from the sorrows that life brings. In the my darkest of times there has always been that sense that I might feel abandoned, but this is worth hanging on to. Ultimately whatever anyone can do to me, no matter what I experience – God cannot and will not let me down.
Even Job in all his agony somehow found the focus to proclaim “ I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
There are no easy answers in life, but the writer of song 119 challenges us to believe that the answers are found in the Word of God. Ultimately in the Word who came and lived among us. Only in him can any answers be found.
Let the word of God become our delight. Let us keep it central to all we do.
As we ended last week “Lord, open my eyes, that I may see wonderful things in your law”. Wonderful life transforming things.
AMEN

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