“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!”
Psalm 119:1-8 (NLT)
I see this progression from the Psalmist from “Others -> Us -> Me.” I am so tempted to speed through the Psalms; but when I pause, take my time, and allow the Lord to speak, I am blown away. Every. Single. Time.
“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.”
It seems to me, that the author of Psalm 119 has this admiration for individuals in his own life that reflect these Godly characteristics. There is this admiration and recognition of people whose hearts have been changed by the God of the Israelites. In the admiration and respect, there is also an acknowledgement of what it is behind this joyful obedience: the Law of the Lord. These individuals are adhering to the Word of God (the Torah at the time) and using that to mold and guide the direction of their lives.
After reading this passage, it caused me to reflect and think about the individuals in my life that have modeled lives of joyfulness, obedience, and integrity. They have sought and continue to seek the Lord with all of their heart and have their eyes fixed upon their Creator. It is humbling for me to think of those individuals. But, in that humility, there can also be discouragement that creeps in. I can look at people in their 50s, that model this lifestyle, and grow discouraged because I’m not there yet. “Why am I still so impatient? Why did I get angry so quickly when that person cut me off in their car? Why did I let that comment bother me so much?” These are just some of the thoughts that can ring through my head as a 24 year old man. But it is in those moments, when I’m tempted to be discouraged by where I am, that those individuals who I hold in high regard were once where I am. The Lord has placed them in my life to give me a long-term perspective. They have been placed in my life to guide me in my soon-to-be marriage. They are there to guide me in my day-to-day struggles. They are there to guide me when I start looking through health insurance plans. Instead of growing discouraged, my prayer is that I am encouraged by where the Lord has brought me and where he is taking me. The Psalmist and I would have been good friends, I’m sure. Maybe he was a 24 year old writing this?
After the Psalmist acknowledges the individuals that set the example in their community, he begins to include himself. He declares that “You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.” When I initially read this I thought: “He was probably thinking, ‘O shoot, this is how my life is supposed to look?! Well, dang, I’m in trouble then!'” But that’s the irony. As the author looked at Godly individuals, he became aware of his own sinfulness and brokenness. But, what he does with those thoughts will ultimately dictate how he responds.
“Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!”
Here he is. This is the sober self-assessment. Now, he had a choice leading up to this point. When he looked at the lives of those respected individuals, he could have easily been discouraged by the comparison game. Instead, there is a reality check that draws him into a realization of how this relationship with God works. There is initially a desire to obey the commands of God. And then there is a realization that he consistently falls short of those commands. But, his response is one of a process. There is this acknowledgement that the Psalmist has a deep desire to learn the regulations and live in a way that brings glory to God. And at the end of all of it, there is a call to God to not give up on him.
Now, when I read these last few verses, I am reminded of the humanity of this Psalmist. I can relate on so many levels. When I feel discouraged that I have fallen short, I have two choices. 1) I can sit in my guilt and shame and self-loathing. OR 2) I can allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ propel me into a deeper dependence on Jesus Christ. I can’t do it alone. Tim Keller sums up the Gospel in such a simple yet profound way: “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
I encourage you to take time to read this Psalm. Study it. Immerse yourself in it. Allow these words to shape and to mold your life. Remember, you are human. But it is in our humanity, and an acknowledgement that we are flawed sinful individuals, that the Lord is going to speak in so many profound ways. If you are reading this, my prayer is that you would see God’s word as the vessel through which he wants to speak to us and transform our lives.