On my knees with the Psalms

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
    who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
    and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
    but follow his ways. (Psalm 119:1-3)

I never prayed the Psalms when I was not a Christian. I never even read them. And, truth be told, for a few years after my baptism, I did not pray the Psalms or read the Bible in a regular way.

You can live your life without the Psalms. In lots of churches, you can be a good member — even a valued one — without spending much time at all in the scriptures. I know. That was me.

But I’ve come to this place where I can’t comprehend how I can love God without reading and praying the Word. And I can’t figure out how to read the Word and not be confronted squarely by the law.

Outside the church, this is no big deal. Again, I lived that life. But I find it distressing that inside the church we appear to adopt the stance toward the Bible that it is more or less an optional part of our relationship with God. Yes, it has some wisdom and some divine flashes of inspiration in its pages, but there is a lot of of human chaff that needs to be sorted out, too. Indeed, sorting out the chaff seems to be the primary work of some of our best minds.

I’m not arguing for some sort of divine dictation here. I can read. I don’t need scholars to point out that the Bible in various places speaks with different styles, emphasizes different things, disagrees with itself, and tells the same story in different ways. I figured that out before I ever picked up a commentary.

So, I’m not counting generations in the Bible to figure out the day the Earth was created. But I am wondering how we — as Christians — benefit from approaching the Bible with an attitude of suspicion and skepticism. I’m wondering how it is that we can read the Bible as Christians always with a “yes, but” on our lips. It just seems like a contradiction to the Psalms, which I’m told by good authority are the greatest teachers of prayer that we have.

We don’t have to be naive about the Bible. But do we have to be suspicious and cynical about it? Do we have to squeeze it through the strainer of our contemporary theological, political, and economic commitments before we will receive it as God’s word to us? Does it honor God or help us to work out our salvation to do so?

It does not feel like it does to me. It feels like I could have read the Bible that way before my baptism. Indeed, if I read the Bible at all back then, that is how I read it.

I want to read the Bible from the starting place that Psalms do: On my knees. I want to receive it with reverence as a precious gift to the church and to me. I want to read it with a critical eye and with all the tools human reason can give me, but I want to use those tools to help me see what God wants me to see not to pulverize the word to make it easy to sort through and analyze its component parts. And I want to read it knowing full well that it is going to clash with what by nature feels right or desirable to me. My resistance to the Word is not a sign of its deficiency but my rebellion.

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
    that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
    and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
    for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:33-35, NIV)

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3 thoughts on “On my knees with the Psalms

  1. I love this. Thank you, John.
    Psalm 119 is my favorite chapter in the Bible and responsible in large part for turning my hard, cynical, disbelieving heart around. Psalm 119 taught me to love every word of God and to depend on it for my very life.
    For the past 2 years I have been teaching my church and those I counsel the method I used when reading it: Reading 3 stanzas a day for 6 days, 4 stanzas on the 7th, which gets you through the chapter in one week. We do this every week, for a full year (or always). When reading I pray through each verse, and those passages which do not apply to me today I pray and ask God to make this real in my life. It’s amazing the transformation that takes place, and the joy one knows when a few months in you read a passage that was not you last month but, praise be to God, is you today.

    I believe in this so much that I’ve put it on our church website. Here is the link if you don’t mind me sharing it: http://www.mtviewdayton.com/psalm-119.html

    God’s word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path!

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