Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
(Psalm 119:33-40 ESV)
There is a revelation here for anyone who wants to hear it. Most Christians read the words of this Psalm and think it says, “Teach me your statutes (read: law), and I will keep them to the end. Give me your law and I’ll observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in your commandments (read: law) and **sigh** I’ll delight in it.
The second half of the passage becomes impossible if we read the first half that way. We become nothing better than a dog on a very short leash. Jama and I recently moved into a new house in a suburban setting after having lived for three years on a large piece of property in the country. Our 90 pound yellow lab mix named Truman had a perimeter fence at the old house. Even with all that freedom, he still managed to “find” three porcupines. Now we take walks. He doesn’t mind the leash, but I do have to pull at him sometimes to get him to come away from an interesting bush or light pole. He also tries to pull away from me whenever there is another dog nearby. I am the law, and he has no choice but to submit. Even so, it is a struggle for both of us.
What the Psalmist is trying to tell us though, is that the law is like the perimeter fence, not like the leash. He says, “Teach me the way of your statutes.” The law is around me. It is not constantly restraining me. If I learn the way of the statutes of God, I’m learning the heart of God. When I exercise understanding, I don’t really need to have the law pull me back at every point. I begin to know the general outline of the law, and I don’t test the perimeter.
Now the second half becomes something other than God pulling me away from my heart’s desire at every turn. My dog Truman doesn’t have any understanding. It is really better for him to be on a leash. He’ll go after the first porcupine he can find, every time. But if I exercise understanding the pornographies of life (what the Supreme Court once called “without redeeming social value”), the porcupines can still be out there. I just know where the perimeter fence is, and I learn that it is delightful not to test the fence.
Only when I exercise understanding can God confirm his promises to me. Only then will I understand that his rules – the perimeter – are good. If I exercise understanding often enough, I’ll actually begin to long for it. My exercise program since moving to Wethersfield has consisted of actually taking two walks a day with my pack leader. But get this: I’ve been doing that for about three weeks now, and I’m starting to eye my bicycle again. A little exercise can lead to a love of exercise.
This month has been so hit-and-miss where my time in God’s Word is concerned. You’ve noticed The Morning Watch has been infrequent, at best. The move and my new ministry really made hash out of my schedule. I’ve been really missing the exercise. Now is the time to get back to it, so I can always say, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation day and night.”