As a child, Psalm 119 was my least favorite Psalm. It was so long that my childhood impatience couldn't bear to sit still through a whole reading. Psalm 117 with its two short verses was fine, but the five pages of 119 was so over the top. Sure, the whole Psalm is excitement about God's word, but who gets so excited about God's law to go on and on about it for 176 verses? To my constrained Dutch-Calvinist upbringing it seemed like the psalmist needed to show some restraint! Why so much praise for God's word and his law?
Yet I have come to appreciate Psalm 119's enthusiasm over the years. God's instruction is quite awesome and worthy of all 176 verses and more besides. This appreciation is in part from seeing the beauty of the psalm as a Hebrew poem--in its original language, the first letter of each line of the psalm begins with the letters of the alphabet, section by section. By my appreciation goes beyond just this particular linguistic cleverness. I find myself sharing the psalmist's joy at God's word. Maybe this grownup appreciation flows from the joys and encouragement that I have found in its pages. Maybe it is having the life experience to recognize the importance the psalmist placed on God's word as our guide through life. Maybe it is having seen the failure of trusting in other guides that fall short of what God's word can accomplish. I have come to agree with the psalmist that God's word is a precious gift.
Finding delight in God's word is a bit easier when we recognize that not everyone has access to it; reading God's word is a gift. There are countries where God's word is not welcome, and others where it is simply not available to people to read in their native language. In some cultures the Bible is even outlawed. One of the guiding cries of the Reformation was sola scriptura. God's word alone carries the authoritative message of salvation. We don't need clergy to intervene for us, we have God's word within our homes and hearts to guide us on our faith journey. Scholarship and leadership certainly help guide God's people, but God speaks to each of us directly. It is a blessing that God has chosen to speak to us in this powerful way.
We would find it strange to give a gift and then have the recipient choose not to open it. It would negate the value of the gift to have it ignored. Imagine how the giver of the gift would feel to have their gift snubbed. God has given us this treasure, his very words, to encourage us day by day, yet we often fail to unwrap the gift. We have Bibles in our homes and gracing our shelves but we tend to forget to make the time to even open the gift. We miss out on the treasure of the gift because we can't find time to pick it up, free it from its wrappings, and discover the blessings it holds within.
We want the recipient of the gifts we give to find delight. The spiritual practice of lectio divina is a way of reading and praying the scriptures, resting in God's word and delighting in its truths. Rather than reading for study, we read to listen to God's Spirit, praying scriptures back to God. It begins with reading and then reading again with deeper reflection. From there the practice moves to resting in God's presence with contentment and letting your heart speak to God and listen for his answers. Delighting in God's word in this way offers us a reflective moment to just delight in our nearness to God through his word and find comfort in his embrace.
When we give gifts, we want them to be utilized for the purpose for which the gift was made. God intended his word to point us to him and invite us into his grand redemptive story. God's word is our guide for godly living. It's an owner's manual for being human in God's world. When we rest in God's word, we are properly centered for facing the challenges of life. If we don't use the gift, it's like putting new boots in the closet and wondering why our feet are cold and wet; we will find ourselves helplessly ill-equipped.
One of the greatest affirmations we can give the giver is to be so passionate about the gift that we want others to experience it as well. Birthday cakes, for example, are for sharing at birthday parties! Sharing a gift says the you recognize its value and desire that others would be caught up in your same excitement. When blessed by God's word, we won't wish to keep our spiritual learning and growth a secret, but will invite others to share our excitement. God has good news, and that is a gift worth sharing!
As my mother always prompted when someone gave me a gift, "What do you say?" Thanks is due to the giver of the gifts. As the Psalmist gushes with joy in Psalm 119 over the gift of God's word, it is fitting for us to offer thanks to God for the blessing of his instruction preserved through the generations. We can thank God for leaving us direction to follow and pointing us to salvation in Christ Jesus. Saying thanks is a natural response to such a gift!
May God guide you to open his word and find delight in his promises. May you rejoice with the psalmist: In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word (Psalm 119:14-16).
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema