Spiritual Disciplines and Psalm 119

Psalm 119 Part 4 (verse 121-152

Before you click away, don’t be scared, turned off, or apprehensive of the words “spiritual discipline”! It’s a shorthand term for something like “the practices and habits that, when performed in love for God, move our hearts and minds to such a place that God can change us.” You can see why “spiritual disciplines” is easier. Psalm 119 has, implicitly and explicitly, four of these practices running through the text. If continually done, these practices and habits can put us in a place to live the best kind of life, the kind of life God wants us to live. 

Prayer

First, the psalm itself is a prayer. The psalmist is constantly calling on God. God is the “you” in the psalm. “You have ordained your precepts” and “By keeping it according to your word” are both ascribing worth and prestige to God. He is the God who gives precepts. He is the God who gives his word. The ground of every discipline is prayer, speaking to God and allowing space for him to speak back. In verse 147 this is the most clearly said. “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words.” The psalmist speaks and is ready to listen. The psalmist has cultivated a prayer life in God as he opens the pages of the Torah and begins to read. 

Bible Reading

Second, an extremely important spiritual discipline is Bible reading. While we should be open to hearing God’s voice in a miraculous vision from heaven, in speaking in tongues, and in prophecy (all which may have a place in the Christian life), the most common and most sure way to hear the words of God is to open a Bible and start reading. What an amazing gift it is that we can do this on computers, tablets, and in our homes. The psalmist would have to wait to go find a scroll in the temple to be able to read or hear the words of the Lord. The psalmist delights in the commandments of God. (See verse 47) Twice in two verses (47-48) he says that he LOVES the commandments of God. How can we love a book we never read? The psalmist knew that the only way to ground his life in truth was in God’s words. “Your Law is truth.”(142) He also knows that it’s not just a truth “out there” that we assent to and merely know, but truth that we can live by. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”(105) Do you read the word of God to know truth and to know how to live truly?

The third and fourth discipline is also founded on this one. Simply reading God’s word is necessary to be able to spend more time with it. 

Biblical Meditation

And spending time with God’s word is the way to define “Biblical meditation.” Meditation has grown in popularity in the west in the past few years. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Yoga, meditation is quieting the inner voice so that enlightenment and oneness may connect you to everything else. (At least, that is the claim of these philosophies and beliefs.) In these practices, one wants to detach and empty oneself from the world. In modern, western meditation, self-emptying is a part, but so that one can fill up with visions of the future they would like to make manifest, or they speak words of affirmation over themselves. You focus, but the focus is on you. 

In Biblical meditation, you engage your mental faculties on God. You pour over his words. You take words into your mind, but so that they can travel the 18 inches from you brain to your heart. “I will delight in Your commandments, which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on Your statutes.” (47-48) The psalmist loves God’s word, so he wants to allow them to rumble and roll around in his head and heart. Meditation is allowing the words to tumble in your mind. To read with love is different than to read to understand. When I read a love letter from my wife, I don’t parse every word to make sure I have the proper tense of the verb. But I do mull over the words in different ways. Each turn of phrase leaves a sweet taste in my mouth as I sound them out. When we were apart before we got married, every “I miss you” text felt like a dagger. And the same is true for the words of the Torah. We mull them over and feel the pain when we are no longer with the Father who loves us and the God who made us. The psalmist in his delight of God meditates. “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” (15-16) It seems the psalmist reads early in the day so that the words can be there all day long. “How I love Your Law! It is my meditation all the day.” (97) And meditating on God’s word, focusing on his words to the exclusion of everything else, is both facilitated by and facilitates the final discipline. 

Bible Memorization

How many verses of scripture do you know? 

Did you know that by 10-13, most Jewish boys were expected to memorize the Torah?

Someone said recently “Well, they memorized their whole Bible!” And I said “Yes, but it was shorter!” 

But, I don’t have the Bible memorized, not even an entire book. I do have sections down, many verses memorized. But I could always learn more. 

Meditation helps memorization and vice versa. When we read a verse in the morning and spend time thinking about it, and allow it to be the focus of our thoughts through the day, then we will have an easier time memorizing. If we memorize verses, then we will be able to have then stick in our heads. 

The psalmist clearly did this. “I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You.”(11) The psalmist treasured up the words of God in his heart, meaning they were not just known but acted out. BUT, to be acted out, they must be known, memorized. In the midst of temptation the psalmist wasn’t fumbling around for a Bible, or a scroll. “The snares of the wicked have surrounded me, but I have not forgotten Your Law.” (61) The way of life was know to them. He understood that it was vital to memorize God’s law. It was life or death! “My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your Law.” (109) He knew that following the words of God was because God was the one who gave him life through his birth (73) and the one who gave him new life every day. (93)

Brothers and sisters, 

May you connect with God through prayer in a new and powerful way today,

May you hear his voice as you read his words, in this and every book of the Bible, 

May you hold his words in your mind, 

And as you have them memorized, may they transform your heart. 

And may God bless you this day and every day. 

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 31-32 and Psalm 119:121-152

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