This past Sunday, the pastor challenged us to read and mediate on Psalm 119 in preparation for this week’s worship service. After reading through it (and, yes, it is long), I decided to show some of my work and share a post or two on what is speaking to me.
While I was in college, I took a required class in business writing. The class was a mix of students from many disciplines and majors. The purpose of this class was to teach us to communicate in business settings. (Yes, I took this class in the days before wide usage of e-mail)
In one particular project, I worked with a group on a memo project. The three of us turned in the same memos for the same project. Yet, when the grades came back, the other two students had an “A” and I was awarded a “B.”
Read more…When I asked the professor for an explanation, his response was that my writing was more developed than the others in my group. Therefore, more was expected of me.
It seemed like, for the entire semester, that every time I did more work, the bar kept sliding further and further out.
At the end of the semester, I walked away with a “B” Nothing that I did seemed to be able to move past this “standard” that was set for me. I simply could not make an “A” and I felt thoroughly frustrated.
Ever felt that frustration? That was just a college class for me, but I’ve felt that feeling in other life situations. It’s that feeling that, no matter what, I can’t live up to this standard or expectation. It’s knowing that in this situation, I can’t be what is expected of me.
And, honestly, sometimes, I feel that way in my relationship with God. It’s the sliding bar of perfection that’s always out of reach.
That feeling was my first reaction when I read the opening verses of Psalm 119. It’s an impossible standard to meet. Here’s how it all begins:
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. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. (Psalm 119:1-4, NIV)
I read that and I think, “Ouch!” Blameless people are the ones who walk in God’s word. Blameless people keep God’s word in their heart and they don’t do wrong. Blameless people fully blame God’s law. I’m certainly not blameless.
“Blameless” is an interesting word in Scripture. The Hebrew word translated into “blameless” also means “unblemished.” It’s often used in a very specific reference: Animals that were sacrificed to atone for sin were to be “without blemish” or “blameless.” Do you feel blameless?
Let’s take a test to determine whether we are “blameless.”
- Have you ever fallen in your walk with God?
- Have you ever broken one of God’s laws?
- Have you ever sinned?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions than you are not blameless. At this point, I’m going to assume that everyone with the exception of Jesus is not “blameless.”
I admit it. “Blameless” is not the story of my life. I’ve sinned, hurt those who love me, fallen and failed more times than I care to remember. I’ve battled doubt and anxiety. That’s why that first verse hurts. I know that I’m not there — it’s an impossible standard to reach. How can I ever be “blameless?”
Fortunately for me, and for everyone else who fails to be blameless, that’s exactly the point. The writer of this Psalm has reminded us of the impossible standard. On my own, on your own, it outside of the realm of possibility for us to reach the place where we are blameless.
And if this Psalm ended at verse 4, this would be a terrible image, a hopeless image.
That’s why there’s verse 5.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
In other words, I know I’m not blameless, I know that I sin, I know that I have failed, but I wish I was steadfast. Do you see the hope there? “Oh, that my ways were…” If only I could do this. If only I could be blameless.
6 Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
Have you ever been in church and heard the pastor say something in a sermon and you’re wondering whether everyone else knows that you did that or you are doing it? Ever felt like everyone is secretly pointing at you? Have you ever read the Bible and thought it was speaking directly to you or your mistake? Then, welcome to shame.
Shame is the distance between where we are in our sins and mistakes and where God wants us to be. That gap of shame creates in us a series of feelings, thoughts and emotions. Shame can keep us wallowing in our own feelings or it can help to convict and convince our hearts that God wants the best for us, that forgiveness is possible and that restoration can be achieved.
So what is the answer to this? How do you move past shame and move toward this image of what it means to follow God and God’s law? The answer comes in the next verse:
7 I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
The Psalmist gives us a two-part action to address our shame. First, we praise and worship God. Significant spiritual change has to be born out of worship. In worship, we are “giving” all that we are to God. In worship, we are “serving” the God who loves us, forgives us and redeems us.
As we are praising and worshiping God, we become open to learning God’s law. In other words, worshipping God gives us a teachable spirit. So, if you want to know more of God’s law, you have to be deliberate in worshipping, especially in the toughest of times.
And there are two more steps in the next verse.
8 I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.
That’s the next step, right? You can’t obey what you don’t know. So, by praising God, you become open to learning God’s Law. And, when you learn God’s law (Scripture), you are able to obey it. And all of that leads to knowing that God’s big enough to handle what you are in, God’s big enough to handle your sin, God’s big enough to pick you up when you fall, etc. In other words, when you praise God, learn God’s Law and obey God’s law, you realize that you don’t have to be blameless because God’s blameless.
In other words, the process is:
- Praise & Worship (Surrender)
- Learn God’s Law (Study)
- Obey God’s Law (Application)
- Experience God (Presence)
The impossible standard for us to achieve becomes possible in the love, grace and forgiveness of God.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s some great, life-changing, foundation-shaking news.
ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it. You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.