Psalm 119

New Year’s Resolutions: Some Guidance from Psalm 119:59

Many Americans have welcomed 2022 by making New Year’s Resolutions. “A new year resolution,” according to one dictionary, “is a commitment that an individual makes to one or more personal goals, projects, or the reforming of a habit. This lifestyle change is generally interpreted as advantageous, and it’s done to improve [a person’s] wellbeing.”1 According to a recent study by Statista,2 the 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions are as follows (which I’ll list in reverse order):

  • #10: Cut down on alcohol (15%)
  • #9: Quit smoking (19%)
  • #8: Reduce stress on the job (20%)
  • #7: Improve job performance (23%)
  • #6: Spend less time on social media (24%) [relatively new]
  • #5: Live more economically (30%)
  • #4: Lose weight (31%) [Top on some lists]
  • #3: Spend more time with family/friends (34%) [big since COVID]
  • #2: Eat healthier (42%)
  • #1: Exercise more (44%)

If you search the Internet for “10 most popular,” you’ll find some variation. But there’s one thing all the lists have in common: they all leave God out of the picture! To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with reducing stress, getting our finances in order, and doing things that promote good health. But Jesus told his followers, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). In other words, Christ is calling us to keep our priorities straight.

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Simil Justus et Peccator: Saints Are Still Sinners (Part 2)

Detail from Saint Peter Penitent, Gerard van Honthorst (1592 - 1656)

Read Part 1.

An Urgent Petition: “seek your servant”

Basically, this is a prayer for spiritual restoration. The psalmist has strayed from the “paths of righteousness,” and he cries out for the Great Shepherd to rescue him. He wants forgiveness, and he wants to know again the joy of his salvation. As he makes his petition he’s conscious of at two realities:

He Needs Grace

He’s pleads for God’s gracious intervention: “seek your servant.” He not only acknowledges his wayward heart, but he confesses his own inability to do anything about it (cf. 33-37). Taken together, the psalmist’s confession and petition are very similar to a prayer of Saint Augustine: “Lord, to sin I am able. But I am not able to return.” This is the prayer of a man who puts no confidence in the flesh but whose trust is in the Lord.

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Simil Justus et Peccator: Saints Are Still Sinners (Part 1)

Detail from Saint Peter Penitent, Gerard van Honthorst (1592 - 1656)

Christian biographies are a great means of edification and godliness. And yet, their benefits aren’t free from dangers. One danger that comes to mind is that of developing an unrealistic view of the Christian life. Often, Christian biographers maximize the virtues and minimize the faults of the saints. The picture they paint has too rosy a hue. We can partly understand this. Obviously, we want to view Christians in the best light. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt. We want to showcase their faithfulness to God. But we can come away with the idea that genuine Christians rarely, if ever, commit sin. This perspective begins to affect the way we view ourselves and one another.

Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t make that mistake. While it does extol the virtues of the saints, it also exposes their sins. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter were all great men of God. And their godly lives are worthy of imitation. However, the Bible doesn’t hesitate to present the other side of the story as well. Though it portrays these men as eminent saints, it also portrays them as sinners. Perhaps nowhere is this reality stated more concisely than in the last verse of Psalm 119, which reads,

I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments (119:176 ESV1).

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8 Elements Common to Answered Prayers

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

Eos fell in love with the mortal man, Tithonus, and asked Zeus to make him immortal. Zeus granted the request—with a catch. Eos forgot to specify her request as wanting eternal youth for her beau. So Tithonus did live forever but kept aging until he was so old that he couldn’t move or think and just lay still, babbling in dementia forever.

Another character, Chiron, learned from Eos’s mistake and asked for eternal youth and immortality, but forgot to include in his request immunity from pain. He was shot with a poisoned arrow that couldn’t kill him, so he endured the perpetual agony of dying without escape in death.

On another occasion, Midas was granted his wish to be able to turn whatever he touched into pure gold, and Midas immediately went to work creating a vast treasure of golden objects. But then he became hungry and sat down to eat. His food grew rigid and his drink hardened into golden ice. Midas realized he was starving to death and also that he would never embrace his wife or daughter again.

The fictitious gods of the Greek pantheon were unbelievably capricious and vindictive. The true and living God of the Bible is the exact opposite.

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Don't Be a Fake

Psalm 119 is a beautiful text about God’s word. It begins with the psalmist tells us the only people in this world who are blessed are those “whose way is blameless,” (Ps 119:1). Of course, nobody is actually blameless in the sense of being “perfect,” and the psalmist knew that, too. He means that people are blessed “who walk in the law of the Lord,” (Ps 119:1). That is, you’re blessed if you do what His word says.

This is simple to understand. We get it. But God wants more than blind, rote conformity. Dead externalism is a waste of time; if you’re just “going through the motions,” then don’t bother. Read Malachi 1 or Isaiah 1, and see for yourself! The psalmist knows that, too. It’s why he clarified (Ps 119:2-3):

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!

God doesn’t want fake conformity. He wants people who not only keep his testimonies, but do it for the right reasons; “who seek him with their whole heart,” (Ps 119:2). When you think about your Christian life, think about your motivations for doing what you do. Why do you go to church? Why do you serve? Why do you give? Why do you do anything? Do you want to seek God with your whole heart? Or is this whole thing more of a routine, a mindless exercise you engage in while you think of other things?

The psalmist wants to do what God says; it’s what motivates him! He wrote (Ps 119:4-6):

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