Psalm 119:65-72 — The Nature of Goodness

Psalm 119:65-72

65 Do good to your servant
according to your word, Lord.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Lessons

Throughout the course of our lives, we hear a lot about trying to be good. We are taught the importance of good habits and good manners. We reward our children for good behavior. Entire religions rely on an ability to be good or to attain goodness. Even people without faith claim, though they worship no one in particular, they are still generally a “good” person and, if there is a God, surely he will take notice.

But, as Christians, we reject the notion that our inherently sinful nature is capable of goodness. Rather, we rely entirely on God’s goodness. 

So what is the nature of this goodness that only God can provide?

65. God’s goodness is a promise. God’s goodness is not a fickle emotion. God’s very nature is good and His goodness is His promise to us when we submit our lives to him (as a “servant”).

66. The foundation of goodness is faith. Too often we pursue knowledge and wisdom in an effort to establish belief. But that is not faith. Belief in God — our faith — is the foundation of knowledge and good judgment (which we sometimes call “wisdom”). We must first believe God’s Word is truth and then we will grow in knowledge and wisdom.

67. God’s goodness leads us to obedience. When we choose to sin, we stray from God’s Word. In fact, it is our human nature to do so. But it is by the goodness of the Holy Spirit that are we able to obey it.

68. We learn that God’s nature — and His will — is good by studying Scripture.  This verse tell us quite plainly that God is good. And everything God does or allows is good. When life’s circumstances seem to contradict this truth — in times of hurt, hardship, disease, loss, persecution, and in all of life’s trials — we sometimes tend to abandon God’s Word and instead try to make sense of our suffering on our own. But we will only see God’s goodness — and His good will for us — when we dig deep into His Word and choose to learn from Him.

69. What goodness is not. Those whose hearts are hard toward God and refuse to acknowledge their need for Him (this is true “arrogance”) will mock me, pressure me, aim to hurt me, and try to steal, kill and destroy my beliefs, my will, and my reputation. But even in the face of what goodness is not, I am only able to be strong and remain faithful when my heart is focused on God’s Word.

70.  Goodness delights in God, not man. The result of arrogance is a callous and unfeeling heart. Conversely, those who follow Jesus remain sensitive to sin, to pain, and to suffering — and also to joy, to love, and to peace — by finding our delight in God’s Word, rather than the approval of people.

71. Goodness is being thankful for affliction because it points us to Jesus. What happens when you are looking at something very small — something that is hard to see? You lean closer to it. Why? Because the closer you are to something, the larger it appears.  So, when we are “afflicted” (sick, struggling, or suffering in any way), and it might be hard to “see” Jesus in the midst of our circumstances, we ought to lean closer into the Scriptures. The closer we lean to Jesus, the larger He appears in our lives.

It is in these hardest times of life that we seek God with all our heart because we’ve been driven to a point when we are no longer able to answer or provide for ourselves. And as a result, it is these hardest times when we experience God’s goodness and faithfulness and kindness and gentleness in the most profound way. This is why we can be thankful not just in times of affliction, but for affliction itself, and “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). This is true grace.

72. God’s Law is good. God’s law — and our inability to keep it perfectly as His holiness demands that we do — points us to our need for Jesus (Romans 3:20). And because we are continually pointed by Scripture to God’s goodness as the basis of knowledge and wisdom; of obedience and faithfulness; of gratitude and grace — because of this, God’s Law is more precious to us than any material possession we could ever own.

Applications 

65. Have I fully submitted every area of my life and will and heart to God? Am I seeking out God’s Word and willingly making changes in my heart and life according to His Word?

66. Do I truly believe God’s promises for me? Am I seeking knowledge and wisdom of myself to justify my belief … or do I believe first and therefore, am growing in knowledge and wisdom of God?

67. Am I regularly confessing sin so I am able to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to His leading?

68. Am I trying to figure out God’s good will on my own or by studying and learning God’s own Word?

69. In what areas of my heart am I harboring an arrogant heart by refusing to submit that part of my life to God’s Word? How do I respond when others who reject God’s Word come against me? What will be my answer? Will I turn to myself or turn to Scripture?

70. Is my delight in God’s Word or in pleasing other people?

71. Am I able to be thankful, not just in times of affliction, but for the affliction when it comes against me because it drives me deeper into Scripture and closer to Jesus?

72. What evidence is there in my life that Scripture is more precious to me than anything else? If there is no evidence — or little evidence — what do I need to do to change that?

Prayer

O Lord, thank you for Your Goodness. And thank you for showing me your good nature in Scripture. Thank you that your GOOD plan is that I pursue YOU and then I grow in knowledge, wisdom, obedience, faithfulness, gratitude and grace — rather than trying to achieve those things on my own in an effort to find You.

God, You are good. And You do good things.

Please help me to keep a heart that is sensitive to sin and arrogance, that I might always find my delight in Your Word.

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Psalm 119:1-8 – Obedience

Psalm 119:1-8 (NIV)

א Aleph

1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
3 they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Lessons

  1. No one but Jesus is able to be blameless or walk perfectly according to the laws of the Lord. Therefore, the laws of the Lord are meant to show us our “blame” — our inadequacies. Scripture shows us our need for Jesus. When we have Jesus, God sees him when he sees us, and therefore, on Judgement Day, we too will be found blameless, and be blessed.
  2. We become more like Jesus (we are “blessed”) when we obey (actions) and desire him (seek with our heart). Both actions and attitude matter. We must have both. Both are active, not passive. To seek something is to look tirelessly for it.
  3. God gives us the roadmap of his ways in Scripture. His way is not hidden. He shows us his ways we are to follow.
  4. Our obedience must be full. We cannot pick and choose. We cannot partially obey.
  5. We need to desire to be obedient and pray and ask for his help to be obedient.
  6. When we compare ourselves to Scripture (and only to Scripture), we should be convicted of where we fall short.
  7. As we learn more of Scripture, we learn to worship. We cannot worship God apart from following Scripture.
  8. Obeying Scripture requires a decision and commitment … and it requires prayer.

Applications

  1. How is this passage today showing me my need for Jesus?
  2. Am I being obedient to Scripture? Am I seeking God? Do I desire Him? How? What’s the evidence? What does it “look like” (practically) for me to seek God?
  3. Am I following God’s way? Where am I not?
  4. Where am I only being obedient half-way? (Or not at all?) What do I need to fully surrender to HIS way?
  5. Do I pray and ask for help to be obedient? Do I desire to be obedient?
  6. What plumb line of righteousness other than Scripture am I tempted to compare myself to? Am I looking to Scripture to convict and correct?
  7. When I find my worship lacking, do I look to Scripture?
  8. Have I made a commitment to obey Scripture and ask God to help me to keep it? Am I trying to be obedient on my own strength?

Key Thoughts Today

  • Obey Him
  • Seek Him
  • Hear Him (Scripture)
  • Worship Him
  • Pray to Him

Prayer

Lord, help me to seek you with my whole heart and to desire to be obedient to your Word. Please help me to look only to Scripture for conviction and correction. Where I am weak, you are strong. Please help me — moment by moment — to obey your word and walk in your ways.

And Mary Responded …

Given the recent calendar page turn into Advent, I’ve been pondering Mary lately and what she must have been thinking as she faced an eternity-changing event in her life.

Consider Mary’s circumstances: She was a young girl (likely between the ages of 12-14), “ready” for marriage and betrothed to a man from her tiny village of Nazareth.

Betrothal in ancient Israel was much more significant than our modern (and Gentile) version of “engagement” and included a 9-12 month waiting period where the couple was legally married, but had not yet consummated the marriage.  If the bride became pregnant by another man or was found to not be a virgin during this period of “sanctification”, then she could be divorced or stoned to death.  If she was allowed to live, then most certainly, she and her family would be socially and spiritually outcast.

So, it is under these legal, social and spiritual circumstances that the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will become divinely pregnant and will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Surely, Mary knew full well the dangers and heartache that awaited her.  Had it been me, I’m certain I would have wondered: “Could this really be for my good?”

But, in fact, that’s not how Mary responded.  Instead, Scripture records Mary’s response in a passage known as The Magnificat and I think there are some lessons for us in it:

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:46-55, NLT

First, the text tells us Mary’s “soul praises” and her “spirit rejoices”. From this, and because Gabriel told Mary the Spirit of the Lord would come to her, we know Mary was fully united with the Holy Spirit and thus, it is by the Holy Spirit that she is able to praise God in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

Second, Mary calls herself the Lord’s “servant”.  She was fully submitted to God as her Lord. You may have heard the phrase, “You can’t say ‘No, Lord'”, meaning that God is either Lord of your life and you are submitted to His leading, or He is not. There is no in-between.

Third, even though her social, legal and even physical well being were threatened (or could have been), Mary proclaims that God has done great things for her.  Mary is fully confident in God’s sovereignty, even though she is facing difficult circumstances and can’t see the future for how they will turn out.

Fourth, in vv 51-55, Mary reflects on God’s character revealed throughout Israel’s history. In so doing, Mary leans on her version of “Scripture” for encouragement — and she is fully believing God is faithful to keep his promises.

From these lessons, we can ask the same questions of our ourselves:

  1. Am I fully united with the Holy Spirit? Is there anything hindering my relationship with the Lord this Advent? An attitude to confess? A habit to quit? A sin to turn away from? A relationship to reconcile?
  2. Am I fully surrendered to God’s leading?  Is God truly Lord over my life?  Am I willing  to praise God with my mouth, but not willing to accept His teaching and direction when it’s different from what I want?
  3. Am I fully confident in God’s sovereignty — regardless of my current circumstances — even though I can’t see the future?
  4. Do I fully believe God is faithful to keep his promises?  Am I regularly leaning into Scripture for evidence and encouragement of God’s character and promises?

I love the verb that opens this passage in the NLT, “Mary responded” (emphasis mine). Many translations use the phrase, “And Mary said …”.  But this verb “responded” suggests to me that Mary did not just preach herself a sermon and keep the knowledge in her head. No. Mary responded in her mind, in her spirit, and with her actions.  She purposed in her heart to believe God, trust in Him and live out her faith accordingly.

How are you responding to God this Advent season?

Persecution: Luke 23:28-46 and John 19:26-30

In addition to the physical torture Jesus endured during His trials and execution, Jesus faced those who mocked him, lied about him, mischaracterized his ministry, and aimed to destroy his reputation.  And not just by anyone, but by His own people.  Pilate was ready to set him free when the crowd shouted for the release of Barrabas and the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Romans may have carried out the sentence, but it was the Jewish people – Jesus’ own – who sentenced Him to it.

We know that throughout Jesus’ ministry, He taught us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and persevere persecution.  But there is a degree of pain that is unique when we are persecuted by “our own people” – those who once claimed to have loved us – a family member, a spouse, a close friend, a church member, or a spiritual leader – that makes it particularly difficult to endure.

Adding to our hurt, we might feel emotionally or spiritually paralyzed because no matter how “right” we think we are, nor how sure we are that we sit in “Truth,” we can’t break through to the inner chambers of the other person’s heart.  Where there was once a warm, vibrant, loving relationship is now overtaken by cold, hard apathy at best, and intentional, focused aggression at worst.  As such, the knowledge that there truly is nothing we can do increases the paralyzing, panicky, anxious sensation in the pit of our stomach.  How, then, ought we respond? Is there godly “action” we can take when we are being persecuted by those whom we love, who once claimed to have loved us?

We fully acknowledge that Jesus’ purpose for dying on the cross was to take on our death – the punishment of our sins – and thereby, secure our salvation by His grace.  And Jesus’ death on the cross also reminds us that He endured infinitely greater suffering than we ever will – and that every relationship in the Lord will be fully restored in the New Jerusalem.  But, from the cross, Jesus also provided us with just the action plan we need on this side of heaven when, as Christians, we, too, are persecuted by “our own.”

And, as I would expect, Jesus gives us a solution that requires us to look only inside our own hearts – and not at the hearts of those who aim to hurt us.  From His place on the bloody tree, Jesus spoke seven times.  It is in these seven statements where Jesus gives us an action plan for how we are to respond when we, too, are persecuted by our own.  The result is complete release and total freedom, even amid ongoing persecution.

“Do not cry for me; cry for yourselves and for your children…If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)

Spoken just prior to being lifted onto the cross, Jesus urges the women who mourn for Him to instead call out to God for His mercy to be on those who persecute Him.

I will not cry for me and indulge in self-pity, but I will “cry” (get on my face and cry out to God) for His mercy to be on those who persecute me – and for others whose lives are impacted by my persecutors.  Lord have mercy.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus goes before The Father to ask forgiveness for all those who are in the midst of crucifying Him.  He doesn’t wait until after the Resurrection to forgive them.  He doesn’t expect the crucifixion to stop because of His act of forgiveness.  (In fact, His enduring the crucifixion is the very act of forgiveness.)  He doesn’t wait for those who persecute Him to be sorry or to ask for forgiveness.  His forgiveness is between Him and The Father.  He gives it freely and He gives it first.

Jesus’ forgiveness is perfect and complete, and therefore, it can be once-given.  Mine is not.  If I have to repeatedly go before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay.  If I have to go daily before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay.  Any un-forgiveness in my heart toward those who persecute me will inhibit my relationship with the Father.  And if that means I have to daily take it before Him, admit my imperfect forgiveness, and ask for His help to make it complete, He will make it perfect for me.

(To the repentant criminal): “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:40-43)

Jesus continues His ministry, even during His crucifixion.  He never strays off message.  He is not distracted by His own pain and suffering.

I will not allow Satan to distract me from completing my ministry every day – whether at home, in a secular workplace, or a Christian organization – even amid ongoing persecution.  I will repent of my own sin, daily claiming the promise of salvation for me, which will, in and of itself, give me all I need to then lead others to the Lord.

(To His mother and to John): “Dear Woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

Even in the midst of his own suffering, Jesus leaves no business unfinished nor any relationship uncared for.

Setting aside my personal pain, I will finish every task The Lord puts before me to my fullest ability and make sure every relationship is well cared for. 

“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Jesus did not need something to drink.  He asks to taste the vinegar just prior to giving up His Spirit.  Rather than asking for the drink as the means of physical refreshment, I wonder if He is simply choosing to continue to engage with those who persecute Him, continue to show His love for them, even though that means willingly accepting their bitterness and ugly-tasting offering.

I will continue to engage with those who persecute me, willingly accepting their bitterness because to shut off the relationship with them means to shut down my testimony of God’s love for them. 

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus FINISHED His part in God’s plan for our salvation.  He couldn’t go halfway and ask God to just take away the rest.  He had to finish the task completely in order for God’s plan to be complete.  Because Jesus finished, His is not only an example for us to follow, but a promise for us to claim of a final END to our persecution when we reach heaven.

I will finish my part completely.  I will complete whatever task I have.  But, I will also claim that Jesus FINISHED death (physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual death), and therefore, we have the promise that eternal suffering, persecution and condemnation are NOT for those who are in Christ Jesus.

“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Upon finishing His task, Jesus commits His spirit unto God the Father.  He is completely surrendered to the will of the Father.

I commit my life and my work into the Father’s hands because I belong to Him alone.  I live to glorify and please Him, not those who persecute me.  My life is not in their hands; rather, I place my life into His hands, completely surrendered to a loving Father whom I trust.