Text: Psalm 119:9-16
Today is our “Rally Day!” We are kicking of a new season of classes and programs to help you grow in your Christian faith and knowledge. We do this every year and I appreciate the opportunity to start fresh with new commitments to growing in God’s Word. I have been in church all my life and have studied the Bible in college and seminary and I always learn something new in every class or gathering. God’s Word is living like that, always engaging us freshly if we come to it with open ears, hearts, and mind.
Today we are going to look at one part of Psalm 119, which is the longest Psalm and one entirely devoted to the goodness and importance of God’s Word in scripture. It’s divided into groups of eight verses according to the Hebrew alphabet and we are going to be in the second section, marked by the letter Bet, which corresponds to our letter ‘B’. In fact, every line in this second stanza of eight verses starts with the letter Bet/B. But that’s just to help young Jewish readers memorize it. What’s important is the content. And the heart of this B-stanza is that storing up God’s Word helps keep us on the right path; it helps keep us from sinning. As the hymn says, we are prone to wander; but God’s Word is a guiding light that keeps our way true.
So that is a fitting theme as we celebrate a “Rally Day” and re-commit to a year of studying and growing in God’s Word. It is not just for the sake of knowledge, but to help us live right and experience the blessing of following Jesus and obeying God.
Staying on Track (vv.9-12)
I’m going to divide our text into two parts and call the first part, vv. 9-12, “Staying on Track.” The focus of this stanza is here… that if we store up God’s Word it will keep us on the right path. Each verse offers slightly different language for this.
Obey (v.9) – “How can a young person keep their way pure? By keeping it according to your word.”
Verse 9 asks and answers a question about living in God’s Will. The way is the choices we make and the actions we take. And keeping it according to God’s Word is obedience. I am faced with a choice to lie or tell the truth about another person and God’s Word says not to bear false witness. So I choose to tell the truth. That’s setting my feet on God’s path. That is living according to God’s Word. Sure there are situations where it is hard to figure out how to apply God’s word for that situation. But in the great majority of situations, when I stray from the path, it’s not for that reason, but because I’ve chosen to set aside what I know to be God’s best. How do we stay on track in life? We obey God’s Word in scripture!
Seek (v.10) – “With all my heart I have sought you; do not let me wander from your commandments.”
Verse 10 describes the active choice behind that obedience: seeking God through His Word. If I’m trying to get by with something I will most likely not be seeking God. Obedience isn’t accidental; it comes from seeking God and His will. Seeking God’s Word and will means taking time to study and read and digest and act. It’s a conscious commitment.
Treasure (v.11) – “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.”
If seeking is behind obedience, then verse 11 describes what is behind seeking. We only seek that which we value, that which we treasure. We seek something because we think it is worth seeking. If we believe and can ascribe this kind of value to God’s Word and will, the seeking and the obedience will follow.
Love (v.12) – “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.”
And behind treasuring God’s word is worship and relationship. In a word, it’s love (of God). To call God blessed (and mean it) is to believe that God is God. It is this faith and love that forms us into people that treasure, seek, and obey God’s will and Word.
Is the order backwards then? Must we come to believe and love God before we can treasure, seek, and obey His Word? I don’t think so. It’s like asking if one must be in shape in order to work out. It works both ways. Working out gets you in shape. Being in shape allows for a greater workout. Choosing obedience to God’s Word does flow out of love, treasuring, and seeking God. But it also forms those things in us. Think of it as a spiral with each part strengthening the others. Jump in anywhere!
Approaching Scripture (vv.13-16)
The first four verses are about staying on track through a cultivated love of God and the Word. The next four verses (vv. 13-16) offer four ways to cultivate that love.
Share (v.13) – “With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of your mouth.”
Verse 13 describes the Psalmist sharing the word. We talk about what we love; we talk about what we believe. Sharing God’s Word with others helps deepen and cultivate our trust in and love for God’s Word.
Rejoice (v.14) – “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches.”
Tied to the idea of treasuring in v. 11, this verse describes rejoicing (celebrating, finding joy) in God’s Word in the same kind of way we might with wealth. God’s Word is even more to be treasured!
Meditate (v.15) – “I will meditate on your precepts and regard your ways.”
I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word ‘meditate’, but here it means to ponder, to dwell on the teaching of scripture. I sometimes like to read a verse or two out loud, then write it out by hand, the slowly pray through it to try to understand all the shades of meaning and intent behind the words. Sometimes there are songs that will help you remember scripture. Really anything that helps you recall and ‘hear’ scripture throughout the day is a great example of meditating. The use of ‘regard’ in the second part of the verse is also a helpful word. When you regard something, you notice and give focused attention to it. The opposite of regard is ignore or dismiss. This verse describes an intentional focus on and attentiveness to scripture.
Delight (v.16) – “I shall delight in your statutes, I shall not forget your word.”
This verse not only returns to the idea of finding joy in God’s Word, but also REMEMBERING it. Whether that’s scripture memory or learning songs or taking time throughout the day to recall what you might have read in the morning, this is a good reminder of how to cultivate love for something that is important to you.
Some Practical Steps
So this stanza from Psalm 119 reminds us of the importance of God’s Word, particularly for guiding and directing our lives. It offers some ways to cultivate love for and obedience to that Word. Let me offer five specific Good Shepherd ways you can do this.
Sunday School – It is Rally Day, after all! Sunday school is a wonderful and convenient way to study God’s Word in more depth than you get in a worship service. In fact, the worship service isn’t really designed to teach you God’s Word. It’s main focus is on worship of God, though we do orient all of the service around God’s Word. But Sunday school is the same time and the same building. And we have wonderful teachers. It’s a perfect time to study God’s Word with some of the church family. For adults we try to offer one biblical study class and one topical application class. For youth and children we offer age-appropriate classes and try to import the core teachings as well as a love for scripture.
Bible Study – In some ways Bible study is very similar to Sunday school. But it happens throughout the week in a variety of contexts and formats. We have women’s and men’s studies taught by GSPC leaders as well as some where we plug into larger community studies. One of the benefits of Bible study is the opportunity often to go even more in-depth than Sunday school, often with some daily reading, praying, or reflection. Much like exercise, study of the Bible is best done throughout the week, not just in once a week doses. And unlike exercise, our spirits don’t become weaker with age, but can continue learning and responding to God’s Word throughout our lives! Some Bible studies are more like a classroom and some are more discussion-based. Some are very relational and small; others are larger with break-out groups. If you’d like to know more about the options available through Good Shepherd, please talk to me or to Cindy Dolinger, who is our Christian Education elder. All of our studies are getting started in the next week or two, so this is a perfect time to commit to one!
Dinner Church – Dinner Church is something we do every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month here in the Expansion Area. We sit at inter-generational tables of eight. Dinner is potluck (but keep it simple and easy!) and we have a simple order of worship that we follow each time. It centers around one verse of scripture and is joined with conversation and visiting and some simple prayers we read together. It reminds me of the idealized picture of a “family dinner” that so few of us are able to experience any more. But it’s church family! Young and old share about their week, we enjoy time together, and we leave with the name of someone at the table to pray for until we meet again. It is from 6-7pm and is such a special time together!
Personal Devotion – All of these methods of storing up God’s word are communal – they involve others. And that’s a good thing. We find encouragement by interacting with others. We also often learn more and correct our own errors or weird interpretations by studying with others and with a trusted teacher or author. But it’s also important to study God’s Word individually. There is no one format for this, but many people find it helpful to set aside a time each morning or evening to read a passage, reflect on it, and pray. There are an infinite number of variations on that, but that’s a good basic pattern to follow. I’d encourage reading in paragraphs or in the sections that are often bounded with headers in the Bible. Doing that provides context which helps guard against mis-reading a single verse. But it also is short. Meditate on the passage. Ponder the words; ponder the intent; ponder the application. It’s not unlike what I’ve done this morning. It would have taken you all of 30 seconds to read these eight verses. But you could have come up with something similar by taking time to consider each verse for a moment. I also like to pray scripture. After I’ve read and pondered, I like to pray using the words before me. So, for example, I might pray verse 9: “Lord, I want to keep my way pure. Help me live and make decisions according to your Word.” Or can take the form of confessional prayer. In verse 10, “Lord, I have NOT sought you with all my heart. Help me do that! Don’t let me wander. Remind me of your commandments.” See what I mean?
This Psalm says that God’s Word keeps us in line with and in tune with God’s path – God’s will and way for us. The Psalm also models some ways to cultivate regard for God’s Word. As we start a new season together as Church, I invite and challenge you to choose a Sunday school class, sign up for a Bible study, try out Dinner Church, commit to personal devotion. It may sound like a lot; but it quickly becomes a treasured part of the rhythm of life, like exercise or stopping for morning Starbucks or watching your favorite TV show… and infinitely more valuable and life-giving than any of those things!
God invites you to store up His Word and to store it up for His good purpose in your life. Amen!