Devotions In Psalms

Champion of the Simplehearted

Psalm 116.

The Lords protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me (v. 6).

The ancient testimony sounds thoroughly up-to-date, Lord. I heard similar affirmations of Your mercy in our worship services yesterday morning. Simple folks, "overcome by trouble and sorrow," called upon You and found anew that You are "gracious and righteous" and "full of compassion."

I can add my voice to theirs. You saved me from deep physical trouble. Apart from Your healing touch my preaching ministry would have ended over fifty years ago.

You saved me from deep financial trouble on several occasions. In answer to prayer You provided ways and means for me to pay my debts and feed my family.

You saved me from deep spiritual trouble. I cried to You and You "heard my voice." You forgave my sins and changed my life. You "freed me from my chains" and "I am your servant." In Your service I have found freedom and fulfillment.

For all Your "goodness to me," I will praise You in private devotions and in public worship, as did the ancient psalmist. I will call upon Your name--"the Lord"--mentioned16 times in this brief psalm. My gratitude will be expressed in obedience and in praise.

Short and Sweet

Psalm 117.

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever (vv. 1-2).

How brief! Lord, I can understand why many scholars regard this psalm as detached from another, most likely from Psalm 116. Nevertheless, it stands alone without wobbling.

How broad! It extends a call to all nations to praise You. And why not? You are Lord of all nations, the Creator and Redeemer of mankind. And all nations have benefited from Your covenant with Israel. Through Your chosen people You gave Christ and the Bible to the whole world. Your covenant with Abraham terminated upon "all the families of the earth." For Your universal love You are due universal praise.

How beautiful! The psalm is from "us" to You. It focuses upon Your love, Your fidelity to covenant promises, Your activities as the deliverer of Your people. It is pure praise, free from the self-consciousness or the self-congratulation of those who respond to the call to worship.

Sandwiched between the two occurrences of "Praise the Lord" is a great host, a great love, and a great span of time. May my praises endure forever even as Your loyal love endures forever!

Thanksgiving Procession

Psalm 118.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (vv. 1, 29).

Lord, this post-war thanksgiving, led by the king as he and the people proceed to the temple to celebrate their victory, seems to suit me in my spiritual warfare.

My pastor summons me, each recurring Sunday, to give thanks for Your eternal goodness. I think of the church doors as "gates of righteousness," for in the sanctuary the gospel of Jesus Christ, the revelation of Your righteousness, is proclaimed.

Approaching those doors, I can truly say that You are "my strength," "my song," and "my salvation." You save from death and lead to triumph though enemies surround like a swarm of angry bees. Your "right hand" brings deliverance to my imperiled soul. My trust is not in "man" or in "princes" but in You.

Each time I enter those doors to give You thanks is proof of fresh triumphs. Each Sunday is truly "the day the Lord has made."

Lord, the New Testament uses of this psalm remind me that in the death and resurrection of Christ You have provided the righteousness I appropriate and celebrate. Your light has shined in Him. He is "the capstone" of Your people, the church. He came and is coming in Your name to "save us" and "grant us success." Amen!


The Secret of Blessing

Psalm 119:1-8

Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart (v. 2).

They are blessed who seek You with all their hearts and who obey You in all their situations.

Your fellowship is the source of blessedness, and that fellowship is hinged upon obedience. If I walk in the light I have fellowship with You. Your word provides that light. When Your commands are rejected Your promises are annulled, and gross darkness results.

"You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed." Half-hearted loyalty is not enough. Picking and choosing between Your precepts, like a diner at a cafeteria, is a form of disobedience. You will settle for nothing less than complete obedience to Your whole law.

Your law for Israel was given through Moses. Your "torah" for the Church was given through Christ and the apostles. It is this law that tests the reality of my faith and love.

To live obediently I must have a steadfast heart. That requires an inner cleansing and strengthening that only Your Holy Spirit can effect. Fill me with Your Spirit and I will walk in Your ways. I want to be among the "blessed."

The Word in the Heart

Psalm 119:9-16.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (v. 11).

When I read these words, Lord, I recall an outline I saw over 50 years ago. I no longer know the source or the author, but the simple outline was "filed" in my memory and now is retrieved. It ran like this: (1) A good place for the Bible is in the hand; (2) A better place for the Bible is in the head; (3) The best place for the Bible is in the heart. I thank You, Lord, that I have kept Your word like this across the years.

The only effective deterrent to sin is Your word in my heart. This is more than simply memorizing scripture. It is depositing Your teachings at the control center of my life, there to inform and direct my decisions and actions.

"By living according to your word" an old man as well as "a young man" keeps his way pure. To read (v. 13) and reflect (v. 15) upon Your word is to be armed against the assaults of the devil--as Jesus so clearly demonstrated in His temptations.

Your word is a means, not an end. Seeking You "with all my heart" is the reason for my engagement with Your word. You are the end, the goal, to which Your word leads. Thus Your word produces joy to those who "will not neglect" it. "Teach me your decrees."

 A Prayer for Sight

Psalm 119:17-24.

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (v. 18).

Lord, a sense of urgency pervades the gimel strophe of this acrostic psalm. The writer was being slandered and persecuted, hounded toward death as a despised alien in this world.

He reacts wisely. He chooses "Your statutes" as his "counselors." He will learn how to act and react in troubled times by meditating upon Your word. He will not trust the world's maxims or his own impulses, but "will obey your word," for which his soul "is consumed with longing."

Only You, who spoke the word, can adequately teach the word. Illumination is Your work, as was inspiration. Scripture, being God-breathed, must be God-taught. Therefore he prays to be gifted with sight--and insight--as he reflects upon Your teachings.

Lord, I too am "a stranger" in this world. My citizenship is in heaven. Your word is my road map home. By it I must be guided each mile of the way, each day of the journey. Those who oppose me would also deceive me. Situations of trouble could confuse and frighten me. I need guidance, courage, and strength. These are furnished through Your word. Illumine me and "I will live."

The Chosen Way

Psalm 119:25-32.

I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws (v. 30).

Each person, Lord, must choose his way. The "wisdom literature" of Scripture recognizes two ways--"the way of the righteous" and "the way of the wicked." "The way of the righteous" is "the way of truth." The only real life, the only authentic life, is found in pursuit of Your will as revealed in Your word.

"According to your word" life can be renewed and strengthened. When felled by circumstances (v. 25) and wearied by sorrow (v. 28), I can only pray. But You will answer--to instruct me, to strengthen me, to uphold me--making Your word the instrument of Your grace (v. 29).

Lord, "You have set my heart free" from sin, and "I have set my heart on your laws" for guidance. "I run in the path of your commands," sometimes pursued by enemies, sometimes tempted by sidetracks, but always beckoned forward by what awaits at the end of the path--an eternal home with You.

I do not ask for an easier or shorter way. I pray, instead, for strength to run with perseverance, my eyes fixed upon Jesus, "the author and perfecter" of my faith.

My way has been chosen, my heart has been set. Where will that way lead today? I don't know, but I know who will travel the road with me.

Decrees, Direction, Delight

Psalm 119:33-40.

Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees…. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight (vv. 33, 35).

Three things get my attention in this passage, Lord--decrees, direction, and delight.

The psalmist knew Your decrees. He doesn't pray to be taught them, but to be taught to follow them. His concern is for the personal and practical application of Your word to his daily life. And that is my concern today, Lord. I know what You have said. It is before me as a written word. I need to know how it applies in given situations.

For this knowledge the psalmist does not trust his own wisdom. He prays for Your direction in the path You have commanded. And that, too, is my prayer. I need You daily, hourly, even moment by moment, as my Guide for life's journey. I am too easily deceived, too easily confused, to follow the trail. Your Spirit must be a voice within saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

To follow Your decrees was not drudgery but delight to the psalmist. In Your commands he found his freedom, not a galling bondage. That, too, has been my experience, Lord. My happiest days resulted, not from having my way but from doing Your will. Let it be so forever!

Relating to God's Word

Psalm 119:41-48.

I delight in your commandments because I love them (v. 47).

Lord, this psalmist stood in a relationship to Your word that I desire for my own life.

He loved Your word (vv. 47-48). He did not find Your word dull and boring or harsh and enslaving. It was a delight to his heart. And why not? It is the word of a loving God. Your "unfailing love" underlies "your promise" of "your salvation." Having discovered that liberating salvation, to walk in Your precepts is to "walk about in freedom." What's not to love?

He trusted Your word: "I trust in your word," he affirms in the face of a taunting foe and the threat of death. Your "word of truth" is solid ground for "my hope." Those who trust it "will not be put to shame." You keep Your word, fulfilling its promises in love. So much that I read and hear cannot be trusted, Lord, from the labels on cans to the speeches of rulers; but I can trust Your word completely. It is my security amid false dealing.

He obeyed Your word. "I will always obey your law." Indeed, obedience is the proof of love and trust. Your Living Word said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching" (John 13:15, 23).

Increase my love, O Lord, that I may trust You firmly and obey You fully.

God's Promise My Comfort

Psalm 119:49-56.

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life (v. 50).

The psalmist does not specify the cause and nature of his sufferings. He does not identify the promise that afforded him comfort. I like that, Lord, for I can borrow his testimony, whatever causes my pain and whatever portion of Your word brings my comfort.

Your promises are so many and so varied that one is always appropriate and effective in each incident of trouble and sorrow. "In the night," when pain and grief are always magnified, Your words sustain and cheer. They become "the theme of my song."

You do not promise exemption from sorrow, and those who preach otherwise are charlatans. Indeed, You have bluntly told Your people to expect trouble in this world. You do promise to sustain in trouble and to deliver from it.

Such promises are sufficient to brace the soul and nerve the fighter. When "the arrogant mock" and "the wicked" oppress, You enable Your people to trust and obey.

Sometimes my suffering has been physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes spiritual, but always some promise from Your word has addressed the need and has comforted my heart. For this I praise You today.

My Promise, Your Promise

Psalm 119:57-64.

I have promised to obey your words…. Be gracious to me according to your promise (vv. 57, 58).

Lord, my promise of obedience can only be fulfilled through Your promise of grace. I can stand, speak, and serve only as You sustain and strengthen. My promise, therefore, leads straight to prayer. I seek You "with all my heart," and You respond in that love which fills the earth.

The psalmist offers some valuable clues for victorious living, Lord.

One clue is devotional--implied Scripture reading and stated prayer. To "obey your words" I must learn them and consult You.

Another clue is prompt obedience: "I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands" (v. 60). To delay obedience is to strengthen temptation and weaken resolve.

Still another clue is thanksgiving: "At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws" (v. 62). Expressed gratitude for Your word increases my interest in learning Your word as a guide for my life.

A final clue is peer-group support: "I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts" (v. 63). Lord, friends who share my love for You and my loyalty to Your word are a constant source of encouragement.

These helps enable me to identify "my steps" with "your statutes." May I use them daily!

Learning through Affliction

Psalm 119:65-72

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (v. 71).

Lord, like the psalmist I have sometimes learned in adversity the lessons I missed when life was serene.

"You are good, and what you do is good." Affliction is one form of Your goodness. You allow me to suffer as a means to moral and spiritual education. The temporary affliction has helped to safeguard me against permanent destruction. I thank You for allowing the trouble that brought me close to You.

The prayer, "Do good to your servant," can have surprising answers. Love can serve a tender purpose while wearing a rough garb. I learned during illness what I neglected while healthy. I can say with the psalmist, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word."

Whatever produces that result, Lord, is a testimony to Your kindness. So far from calling Your love into question, affliction affirms that unfailing love. So teach me to hear and obey, even at the tuition of affliction. But help me to be a fast learner, Lord, that such lessons may be infrequent.

"Do good..." "You are good..." "It was good for me to be afflicted..." Thank You, Lord.

No Blame, No Shame

Psalm 119:73-80.

May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame (v. 80).

The psalmist knew, Lord, that only the blameless could be shameless. Only those with a good conscience toward You can live unashamed. Some arrogant sinners pretend to feel no shame for their wrongdoing, but that is bluff and bravado. Even those who brazen things out before men will hang their heads before You. You have a witness in our inner lives that can be shoved aside, but cannot be forced to lie or maintain silence.

Nothing is more self-debilitating than shame. I know. To know that one has sinned against You, damaging himself and hurting others, creates a self-contempt and sense of failure that are deeply unbearable. Men deal with shame by true repentance or by false and angry denial.

The psalmist recognizes that Your word, not the world's opinion, determines right and wrong. One can be blameless in the eyes of people but remain condemned and shame filled before Your uncompromising truth. "Nobody really cares," or "everybody does it," will not eliminate blame or shame when one stands before You.

Lord, I make the psalmist's prayer my own today. Keep me from shame by keeping me from blame.

Save My Life!

Psalm 119:81-88.

Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth (v. 88).

The psalmist was fighting hard and hurting bad. He was persecuted without cause by arrogant and godless men. He was exhausted and useless, like "a wineskin in the smoke"--blackened, shriveled, and sere. His only hope was Your salvation and comfort, which seemed unaccountably delayed. And so he prayed with evident urgency and desperation, "Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth."

Lord, how often have You heard that? "Just get me out of this trouble and I'll be Your faithful and obedient servant." You've heard it from countless soldiers in battle, and business men facing bankruptcy, and sick persons facing death. You have certainly heard it from me--more than once.

Lord, Your love is amazing in its depth and duration. You rescue Your servants from one threatening situation after another--even from those occasioned by our own folly or rebellion. You deal patiently and kindly with us until we can sincerely say, "Whether or not You preserve my life, I will obey Your precepts."

I praise You for Your unfailing love today.

Eternal Word, Eternal Life

Psalm 119:89-96.

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens…. If your law had not been my delight I would have perished in my affliction (vv. 89, 92).

Your eternal word, Lord, is the ground of my eternal life. "Firm in the heavens" and enduring on the earth, it reached my heart and changed my ways. It invited me into a fellowship with You where I experienced forgiveness, rebirth, peace, and joy. That fellowship remains unbroken and will last forever. The imperishable word instruments imperishable life.

The psalmist was kept from dying because he delighted in Your law. Premature death was the threat he faced. In the fuller and clearer light of the New Testament, I know that death itself cannot separate the believer from Your love revealed in Jesus Christ. I am an old man, living with shortened steps and measured breath. Close brushes with death have left me unafraid. I am firmly persuaded that life on earth will be completed in heaven. I will live in You, with You and for You forever.

"All things serve you" in nature, compelled to that service by Your enduring laws. I serve You by grace, freed for that service by Your eternal word, in which I trust, by which I live. I praise You for its promises and precepts.

True Wisdom

Psalm 119:97-104.

Your commands make me wiser than my enemies.… I have more insight than all my teachers…. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts (vv. 98,99,100).

At first glance, Lord, these words sound like the egotistical boasting of some college sophomore. But if "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Prov. 9:10), the psalmist is right, even humbly right. You were his teacher (v. 102) and torah was his curriculum. His moral education kept his feet from wrong paths and prompted obedience to Your word.

The test of wisdom is practical. True wisdom involves avoidance of evil and adherence to good. It measures success by a right and happy relationship with You, not by titles and dollars. The genius who does not live by Your word is a brain-waster, for sin is self-destructive.

I've had teachers whose heads were crammed with information, but whose lives were moral disasters. They lacked the one thing needful to distinguish a highly trained animal from an authentic human being--daily attention to Your word, daily obedience to Your will. By Your word are people saved from sin. By Your word will people be judged at last. To ignore Your word is stupid and suicidal. Help me to be neither.

The Lighted Pathway

Psalm 119:105-112.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (v. 105).

Walk we must, Lord, but whether we walk in light or in darkness is our choice. The psalmist's life was filled with daring and danger. It involved suffering and death-threats. Only sure-footed travel could escape the snares and reach "the very end" of the way. The light of Your word made possible that sure-footed travel.

Lord, I have chosen the "paths of righteousness" that lead to "the house of the Lord forever." You guide me in those paths. Indeed, Your Son, my Savior, pioneered these paths. I track Him to find You. But I learn of Him only through Your word. Your written word, bearing witness to Your incarnate Word, illumines my pathway.

Walking in the light does not remove the snares or eliminate the suffering. Conflict and wounds are inescapable for the servants, as they were for the Master. But light makes the snares visible, the suffering bearable, as I press toward the goal. And in spite of snares and suffering, the lighted pathway is a joyful journey.

I cannot choose for others, even my children, but "My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end." The end cannot be far off at my age, but the journey remains a grand adventure.

One Track Mind

Psalm 119:113-120.

I hate double-minded men, but I love your law (v. 113).

The implication is plain, Lord. Devotion to Your word produces a single-minded person. I have become such a person. In the best sense of the phrase I have a "one track mind."

You are the defense of the single-minded: "You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word." In danger, my hope lies not in arms or arguments, but in Your promises, for they mediate Your presence. When You are with me all hell cannot defeat me. Evildoers are compelled to grant me space to learn and do Your revealed will.

You are the deliverer of the single-minded: "Uphold me and I will be delivered; I will always have regard for your decrees." Your precepts and promises sustain me when the enemy assails. My hope is "in your word," not in my strength or wisdom. Satan scampered when Jesus rebuked him with Your words. That same strategy is available to me. You speak my rescue.

You are the destiny of the single-minded. The wicked will be discarded "like dross." Those who rejected You will become Your rejects. Those who love Your word and live by Your word are headed home to be with You forever. I intend to be among them always. I like the company, the journey, and the goal.

Love Instructs

Psalm 119:121-128.

Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees (v. 124).

Lord, no man in his right mind would want You to deal with him on any basis but love. All have sinned and justice would consign all to damnation. You can be just and justify the ungodly only because "Christ died for our sins"—Your love's provision for atonement.

Love instructs. "Teach me," prays the psalmist, and Your textbook is the Bible. There, as You illumine its truths, Your people learn how to live in a context of oppression.

Love teaches trust. When "the arrogant oppress," Your people trust in Your promise of deliverance. They don't muddle through trouble relying on their own small wisdom and strength. They look to You for salvation, continuing to pray when rescue seems delayed. "Ensure your servant's well- being" is the cry of trusting souls.

Love teaches values. It teaches us to "love your commands more than gold" and to "hate every wrong path." The trusting soul seeks the definition of good and evil in Your word, not in the maxims and customs of culture.

Lord, no one needs Your instruction more than I do. Love me and teach me, for "I am your servant."

Light for the Simple

Psalm 119:129-136.

The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (v. 130).

The "simple," as I understand it, Lord, are the artless folks who make no pretense to self-sufficiency. They know that Your mercy and guidance provides their hope of living effectively in this chaotic world. They discover Your mercy and obtain Your guidance by giving Your words entrance into their lives. I am one of them.

I thirst for Your word. Like the psalmist, I "pant" for it as a pursued animal pants for water. It is my life and strength. Here I am, a seventy-five year old man, a retired person, and I spend the hours that begin and close my days in prayerful study of Scripture. It is my food and drink.

I triumph through Your word. Sin cannot "rule over me" as long as You "direct my footsteps according to your word." I overcome the world as I obey Your word. Like the psalmist, I am grieved when "your law is not obeyed," and the disobedient will not be my companions or counselors. This day I open anew my heart to Your word. Let it enter and illumine, and I will believe and obey. The confusion and clamor of human words that fill the air daily will not deceive or destroy me when I am guided by Your word.

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