Making It a Habit
- Describe different approaches to studying the Bible
- Identify, appreciate, and be motivated to try different methods of Bible study and reflection
- Make a plan to read the Bible regularly, and commit to the plan
Not only is Psalm 119 the longest psalm, it's the longest chapter in the Bible. At first glance, it doesn't seem all that inspiring. The constant drumbeat of repetitious phrases about loving God's law and obeying his statutes can wear us down.
Yet on a closer look, Psalm 119 has a lot to offer, both in terms of its literary value and its message. As literature, it's a masterpiece of form and beauty. It's an acrostic with an eight-verse section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, each line within a section begins with that same Hebrew letter. And like all Hebrew poetry, each line is echoed by a second line that expresses the same thought in different words. (And you thought a sonnet is a difficult form!)
Even more amazing is that within this tight form there is much beauty and truth. The psalm is mostly about God's law---the first five books of the Bible where we find God's law embedded in the story of his covenant love for Israel. So loving the law isn't just loving certain precepts. Rather, loving God's law is loving God's Word, which for us is the story of the whole Bible. When we read, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long" (v. 97), we are saying, "Oh, how I love your Word. I meditate on it every day."
The writer of Psalm 119 mentions several habits that can serve as good practices for our relationship to the Bible.
"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (v. 11). One way to hide God's Word in our hearts is to know it and memorize it. When we looked at Jesus' temptations last session we saw how he handled each temptation with a verse from Scripture. How can we get through life without having the guiding truths of the Scripture on our hearts? In a world of Googling, I fear too many Christians are losing that "by heart" knowledge of the Bible.
"I meditate on it all day long" (v. 97). Meditating on the Word is like chewing on it, turning it over and over in your mind and heart. Meditation is not letting it rest on the surface of the heart, but letting it enter deep inside so it becomes a theme, a driving thought. One wonderful way of meditating on the Word is the ancient practice of lectio divina (yes, you can Google it).
"Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path. . . . I will follow your righteous laws*" (vv. 105-106). We can honor God's Word all we want, but it all comes down to this: obeying it and allowing it to shape our lives. To paraphrase Jesus, "Not everyone who says to me 'I love my Bible' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21) .
"I have strayed like a lost sheep" (v. 176). It's striking that the last verse of Psalm 119 is an admission that we do stray from God's Word, and fail to read it, meditate on it, and fail to obey it. The last word is that in God's Word we find a merciful God who seeks his lost sheep and brings them back. Throughout the psalm, the psalmist admits failure and sin, but always with a trust in God's redeeming love. This is the most wonderfully attractive aspect of the Bible--- it's the story of grace.
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