Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Breathing God's Word


Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
                        give me understanding according to your word!
            Let my plea come before you;
                        deliver me according to your word.
            My lips will pour forth praise,
                        for you teach me your statutes.
            My tongue will sing of your word,
                        for all your commandments are right.
            Let your hand be ready to help me,
                        for I have chosen your precepts.
            I long for your salvation, O LORD,
                        and your law is my delight.
            Let my soul live and praise you,
                        and let your rules help me.
            I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
                        for I do not forget your commandments.
 (Psalm 119:169-176 ESV)

I hope you won’t think I’m tinkering with the Scriptures, but I just noticed something about Psalm 119.  I have long known that the Psalm is an Acrostic Psalm, that is, every stanza is titled with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  It is also said that every verse mentions God’s word, his law, his judgments, etc, except one verse (and I’ve forgotten which of the 176 verses that one is).   But look at what happens if you take the “reply” lines out of one of the stanzas of the Psalm:

Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
            Let my plea come before you.
            My lips will pour forth praise [and]
            My tongue will sing of your word.
            Let your hand be ready to help me [for]
            I long for your salvation, O LORD.
            Let my soul live and praise you [for]
            I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant.

This is the prayer of the Psalmist.  In the same way Psalm 136 bears the repeated response “his steadfast love endures forever,” Psalm 119 seems to use the repeated “breathing” in and out of love for God’s ways to amplify his prayer. 

This particular stanza is the one that ends the whole poem.  I always liked the psalm, but taking the reply lines out makes the heart-cry of the Psalmist sing.   I “get” him now.  The first four lines are four ways he approaches God: a cry (a shout), a plea (a bowing down and a moan), praise (spoken), and song (sung).  The second four lines are the content of those prayers.  He asks God for physical rescue or (let your hand be ready to help me), and for spiritual rescue (let my soul live).  

The times I have cried out to God like this have always been times of great stress or anguish of soul.  After all he has written, as fervently as he has prayed, the only thing he can really conclude is that he doesn’t know how to seek God.  God must seek him.   When the pressure is really on, there are times I feel all the theology goes right out of my head and there is very little I “know,” except that I know God.  And it is at those times I am especially aware that I did not seek him.  He sought and found me. 

But that’s all pretty subjective.  At those times when I’m burdened in my soul it isn’t the knowledge of God I’m likely to forget, it is the objective – his Word – that goes with the trash.   And the Psalmist knows this in spades.  Look at what happens when we look at the reply lines only:

            Give me understanding according to your word!
            Deliver me according to your word.
            [for you] Teach me your statutes.
            [for] All your commandments are right.
            [for] I have chosen your precepts.
            [and] Your law is my delight.
            [and] Let your rules help me.
            [for] I do not forget your commandments.

That’s why I called it “breathing.”  With every breath I take I need to remind myself to remember his word. 

Years ago, when was in college, I memorized Philippians and 1 John.  I still have the little verse cards I made up so I could carve these letters up into small enough chunks to stuff into my head.   All these years, every time I go for a long walk alone, I still wrestle with spending part of the time reviewing those letters.  It isn’t that I don’t want to remember God’s word.  But there are so many other things that are a delight to me, especially walking in nature.  I become easily distracted.  Call it Attention Deficit Disorder if you like.  I think I’m pretty normal, though.  That’s why the Psalmist needs to remind himself as he does.

So breathe IN God’s Word today and your need of it!  Then breathe OUT your cries to God, your pleas, your praises, and your songs to him.  It will keep your life in balance like nothing else can.

Jon

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