Sunday, January 3, 2016

"Lighting the Path Ahead" (Psalm 119:105-112)

Life is full of decisions! We’ve all made some good ones, and we’ve all made some bad ones. Those bad decisions … why were they bad? We might have just suited ourselves! We might have had insufficient information. We might have acted too hastily. We might have ignored something or someone that we should have taken into account. Maybe we should have discussed it more.

The Bible teaches, specifically in Proverbs 3:5, that we should NOT solely rely on our own understanding; suggesting that decisions based only on our own insight, mental processes and limited knowledge, are far from fool-proof. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. For it is only God who sees and knows the complete big picture of life happening around us. And it is God alone who ultimately knows what is best for each of us.

So, the better decisions would be made with some Divine help. Which brings us to Psalm 119, specifically verses 105-112. Decisions are usually about how we will act in the context of upcoming events. Will we do this or not? Will we do this, or alternatively, do that? Will we go here or go there? What guides us? Psalm 119 verse 105 says: Your [i.e. God’s] Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. To go forward without the lamp shining, would be like using that puzzling piece of equipment without reading the instruction manual, or like trying to put together that jigsaw puzzle without referring to the picture on the box … who knows how that will turn out!

How can we define God’s Word? Perhaps best is God’s revelation to us (collectively)! When this psalm was written, the ‘Torah’ would have been in view, i.e. the first five books of the Old Testament. These days we would sense that there are another 61 authentic inspired books for us to refer to. Within these vast books there is a variety of types of literature: from the historical to the poetic to the prophetic, from evangelical gospels to occasional letters; all from inspired human minds and hearts placed in the service of God.

When we get to John’s Gospel, there is the Greek word ‘Logos’, which means: the self-communication of God (to the Hebrew mind), and the rational principle of all reality (to the Greek mind). This is translated “Word”, and then identified in a person … Jesus. This fits with how I identified Jesus last week … as the ‘person on which the whole of life turns’. The ultimate revelation of God is Jesus, and we not only have the opportunity of a relationship with Jesus, but we also have the inspired works of the Bible (Gospels, Paul’s letters, even OT prophets) that speak all about Jesus. So here is decision-making help par excellence!

When we say we are referring to God’s Word, this probably should mean that we are referring to the testimony of the Bible and how that is seen in the life and ministry of Jesus. Then the following verses of Psalm 119 put more flesh on these bones.

I first note the expression of need in verse 107 – “I am severely afflicted”. Then the sense of fragility in verse 109 – “I hold my life in my hand continually”. Each day, by the actions we take or fail to take, we have the power to destabilise our own lives! WE ARE TINKLING WITH THE FABRIC OF OUR LIVES EVERY DAY!! Then if that is not threatening enough, we have a sense of opposition (or even malice) in verse 110 – “The wicked have laid a snare [or trap] for me”.

Then I note some other features of the mindset of the psalmist … positive mindsets: an openness to God in verse 108, and testimony to a deeply personal and life-giving experience (in God’s Word) in verse 111. It is through God’s Word (the self-revelation of God) that we truly come to know God exactly the way God is.

And then, there is a determination and commitment expressed in verse 106 that would hold us in good stead and help us be consistent. To “swear an oath” was a serious thing, often taken publicly and with witnesses. It would be like a covenant, say like marriage vows; this is a publicly stated commitment to God (which should not be broken). The psalmist says, “I have sworn an oath … and then gone back on it”!!?! NO! “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it [in my everyday decision-making]”. There are similar sentiments/covenants expressed in verses 109b, 110b and 112. Indeed this verse 112 has that determination to “perform” in the best way possible, according to God’s Word, all the way!

God has given each of us FREEWILL to decide … not only whether we will accept God’s gift of grace, but also in what ways we will use this gift. To properly reflect on and implement God’s Word, means that we use this FREEDOM wisely (and that our use of this freedom will only be good for the other people around us). God’s Word gives us ethical parameters. God’s Word can guide us through effectively carrying out the activities of the day. The mind inspired by God’s Word can solve many a problem within human community. As we are well attuned, God’s Word will point out dangers, and enlighten us to opportunities. The alternative is to fall down into the pits of our own digging!

A thorough understanding of God’s Word leads to a life that represents God in the world. We can grow into thinking the way God thinks, and respond as Jesus would respond. Michael Wilcock, in his commentary, wrote that we have here in these verses … “a resolve to outface [our] challenges”! Through attention to God’s Word (remembering this hinges around Jesus) we can actually thrive and flourish!! The more we delve into God’s Word (i.e. the Bible as it points to Jesus), the more likely it is our decisions will be good ones!

So it is … that we need light to head down the sometimes dark passages. We are NOT talking about single texts (out of context) addressing particular issues, so much as talking about the sum of the available revelation addressing all aspects of our lives! Occasional and reactive reading will not be as effective as consistent and deeply thoughtful study. Can the words on the page address the life situations flashing through our mind? We should be expectant that we will meet God in our reading, and willing to respond to whatever we learn. Group reading for many will be more life-changing than individual reading, because often this brings a greater accountability to action. Reflective bible study can lead to healthy interactive community living. The small voice of God’s Spirit can teach and reveal all sorts of crucial insights, as we give due attention.

The “lamp” referred to in verse 105 would be something like a small oil lamp which gave just enough light so that a person could find their footing down a dark passage (and thus wouldn’t miss their way). So this “lamp” will shine on our present circumstances, allowing us to take one step at a time towards our best destination. We don’t rush ahead of where the light is shining. If we leave our “lamp” behind or turn it off mid-journey, then who knows where we will finish up!

Sometimes we don’t need to know our destination – it might be too much to get our head fully around, we just need to know the next right step. The trickiness of decision-making is well expressed in another proverb: “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Because life is often so volatile and full of changing circumstances, we need to be light on our feet, effectively adjusting, deftly following that small glimmer of light before us, to make sure we stay on track with God.

We are so well resourced. First we have the Bible. Then we have so many books and commentaries written helping us to understand the historical background and the original languages of the Bible. Then we have Jesus, God’s ultimate Word, who not only explains the intent of the Bible, but lives it out in all integrity. We have prayer to help us engage with God’s Word. Then we have each other, and the wealth of how our life experiences interact with the Bible’s themes and teachings, leading to even more resources through which we can sense guidance.

May this be a great year of following the light and walking in God’s ways. May we all experience following Jesus into great opportunities of serving and blessing others. Together, may we have great influence for good in the communities around where we live. May people come to know Jesus, receive his salvation, and begin to experience life in all it fullness. Amen!

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