The psalms are the language that God has given the church to pray, to sing, to speak his language back to him. Each Sunday, we have one psalm as a centerpiece of our worship time together at WIts' End. During this series of reflections on the Lectionary Psalms we will hear from people in our community as they think and pray through the upcoming psalm for that week.
This week's reflection is brought to us by Shannon Stauffer, a Troublemaker and an unfailingly honest voice in our community. The reflection this week will be on Psalm 119:33-40.
Decrees. Instructions. Commands. Within the first three verses this passage, it is clear that we are in the realm of The Law. Immediately, I am struck with an overwhelming sense of defeat: I cannot keep the law no matter how hard I try (and trust me, I've tried!) So, why bother? It feels like a lie to proclaim with the psalmist, "Teach me your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end." I'm telling you right now: it's not going to happen. Might as well give up now.
But, as I sit with the psalm, and with my sense of despair, and with my frustration that I actually volunteered for this struggle, I find a different proclamation come from my lips, "Spirit, come! Bring life to this passage so that I may see it anew."
So, I sit. And I observe. And I pray some more. And I begin to realize that the psalm is full of pleas not so different from my own. The psalmist writes, "Give me understanding… Make me walk…Give me eagerness…Turn my eyes…Reassure me…Help me…Renew my life…" The psalmist's proclamations about the goodness of the law are not from a lofty position of being self-righteous enough to keep the law, but from a recognition that the God of the Law is a good God. Because the God of the Law is good, the psalmist can boldly ask for help in the midst of his failure to keep the law. If the psalmist can, so can I.
I begin to reflect on the goodness of God and the psalm begins to take on a new meaning for me. I am reminded that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment and embodiment of the law; that he is righteous enough to keep the law and that his obedience opens doors for me. What if I replace the words "decrees, commands, instructions" with the word, the living God, in the person of Jesus.
"Teach me your word, o Lord; I will follow him to the end."
That seems more possible to me than keeping decrees. Hope stirs. If I read the psalm as a plea to help me better know Jesus and to help me understand how to live my life through the life that he lived, then I can truly proclaim along side of the psalmist that I long to obey, because it is true that I long to know Christ and to love him with my whole heart.
But something else happens as well when I read the psalm through my desire to know Christ. I find freedom from the despair cast upon me by the law. Not because the law doesn't apply anymore or because my faith somehow makes me strong enough to keep it, but because Jesus kept it for me. Instead of me! In my place. I do not have to struggle to try to keep it anymore. I only have to labor to know more of this God-man, labor to let him indwell me and labor to believe that my faith in him lived out in my life counts as the righteousness I could never produce on my own.
My only response to this truth is worship. And my guess is, that as I labor to live in Christ, his righteousness will bleed into my life in such as way that I will learn to naturally keep his decrees, instructions, and commandments out of love and devotion rather than compulsion or forced obedience.
I will be free.
May it be so!