Sunday, October 21, 2007

Boundaries for a Spiritual Life

Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear. Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good. Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness." --Psalm 119:33-40
Occasionally we see people wearing bright orange vests, standing on or near the roads that we travel. In their hands are poles, also striped in bright orange, some of which are on tripods surrounded by cones of orange, and special devices they look through. What are they doing? Are they looking for something that has been lost? No, they are surveying property for a project of some kind - highway reconstruction or construction, a new housing development, or a new business. They are looking for boundaries. They are attempting to determine where one property line ends and another begins.

Some in the church world today feel like they need a set of guidelines or rules to show people how to live a Christian life. They compile them into a book that is called a manual. It’s a list of things that a Christian can or can’t do in order to be a part of the church. They add to what God has laid out for the church. These types of rules lead many to confusion. The Word of God does not need any help!

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: --Revelation 22:18

Paul had the same problem with the Church of his day.

Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religions busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances- knife-happy circumcises, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry , filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it- even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eight day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devote adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law book. The very credentials these people are waving around as some-thing special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash-along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant- dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ-God’s righteousness. --From Philippians 3, The Message.

How do you experience God’s ways in life? How do we identify and stay within the boundaries of life that God has put in place? By man’s law or by the word of God? The Psalmist says by God’s word.

Teach me, O Lord to follow every one of your principles. Give me understanding and I will obey your law; I will put it into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found. --Psalm 119:33

We learn to live within the boundaries of God’s way when we... follow God’s principles.

Understand and obey God’s law by putting it wholeheartedly into practice. Walk along the path of God’s commands.

An interesting definition of follow is "to engage in as a way of life." And if we use this definition of follow then what the Psalmist is saying in these verses is, "I want to engage in your way of life, God. I want to do what I need to do to live life your way." To follow someone or something implies loyalty to that someone or something.

For example, what would you say two explosives experts are loyal to when their motto is: "If you see us running, you had better catch up?" What are they loyal to? Living!

The way of engagement (the way of loyalty?) for the Psalmist is through following not just a few, but every one of God’s principles. Now, what are principles? What does it mean to follow principles?

Someone has written that when a man says he approves of something in principle, it means that he hasn’t the slightest intention of putting it into practice. Is this what principles means in this verse? I think not!

Keeping in mind the first part of the verse-- "Teach me, O Lord" --the Psalmist is describing more of what we would call ethics or "the code of conduct or behavior governing an individual or a group." The Israelite code of conduct was the Law given to Moses by God for the Israelites to follow. And God gave it for two specific reasons:

  1. To help the Israelites live for Him among people who believed in many gods.
  2. It was the first step in God’s plan of salvation for all humanity.

It is this code of conduct that the writer willingly desires to follow.

When you look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 what is the first commandment? "Do not worship any other gods besides me." The first part of the Israelite code of conduct is therefore one of loyalty and obedience to only one God.

In the New Testament Jesus says the same thing for the New Testament Christian!

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. --I John 2:3-6

But the Psalmist indicates that he desires to follow, to be loyal to, all ten, not just some, of the Commandments. In fact he desires to follow, to be loyal to all, not a portion, but to all of the Law given to Moses by God!

It is all of these principles; this entire code of conduct, the Psalmist seeks to follow. He is passionate about the whole guidance and help of God not just a portion of it. He wants God to teach him everyone one of them.

We learn to live within the boundaries of God’s way when we... pray for understanding .

Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. --Psalm 119:34

God expected some things from them if they were to be His people. The only way that the Psalmist could live this kind of life was with the direction and help of God. In this verse the Psalmist speaks of understanding as an action of obedience.

One way we engage in this action of obedience is in learning. When we learn we move from being exposed to information, to understanding the meaning of that information, and then to putting that information and it’s meaning into practice. Learning to follow God and live within His boundaries requires this same approach to learning.

Some may understand some things in the Word more so than others but the important thing is that each learn and grow spiritual from learning what each is learning about God.

The Psalmist moves beyond being taught the principles, the code of conduct, to understanding that code of conduct and then putting into wholehearted practice in the form of obeying it, of doing what the Law says to do.

Now what is the Law? Here is an excellent definition: "the revelation of the divine will set forth in the word.." The Law of which the Psalmist speaks is God revealing His will, His way of life, to the Israelites. And it is this law, this way of life, this code of conduct that the Psalmist wants to obey and "put into practice with all my heart." For us today, the Bible is the written revelation of the divine will for us. It contains the Christian code of conduct. How well do we understand it?

What grabs me as I read this verse is the passion, the enthusiasm for God’s way. The Psalmist does not look at the Law as something to be feared but something that gives life, that gives direction, gives hope to him and those around him. It is the heart cry of a person who wants God to live in the lives of those he cares about.

In verse 35, the image is one of a person who is under someone’s orders like a recruit or an athlete in training.

Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. --Psalm 119:35

The commands given in these situations are directives that are for the purpose of developing certain skills and abilities as well as attitudes of respect and obedience.

Those here today who have served in the military understand what I am saying. Those of us who have participated in organized athletics understand this as well. In fact the words commandment and commands are very closely related terms aren’t they? They can both mean "orders."

We learn to live within the boundaries of God’s way when we... willingly obey.

In our scripture passage for today, we have a person who says to God, "Help me to walk your way. Help me to walk the right direction, the right path that your directives, your way requires." It is not a forced obedience. It is a willing obedience. God honors and blesses our willing obedience. He wants us to follow Him willingly and joyfully.

Why is the Psalmist this way? "...for that is where my happiness is found." The Psalmist speaks of a relationship, a faith in which there is joy and happiness not boredom or drudgery. How does this compare with our societal view of happiness?

Happiness is often defined as "no limits, no boundaries. I am happy when I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it."

Happiness is found on the path of God’s commands. A narrower way. But, is it really? So how do we experience God’s ways in life? How do we live joyfully and contentedly within His boundaries?

Three key words from this passage give us directions: follow, obey, and walk.

We learn to live within the boundaries of God’s way when we...

  • ...follow every one of God’s principles.
  • ...understand and obey God’s law by putting it wholeheartedly into practice.
  • ...walk joyfully along the path of God’s commands.

What are you, as God’s person, following these days? Do you follow what you understand in Bible? Do you understand, as God’s person, what it means and are you willing to walk along the path of God’s directives for you life? We have the capacity to be just about anything. The question is who or what is shaping our lives? It is us or is it God?

If we choose to live life within the boundaries of God then it means that God must shape us. And He will shape us and our lives as we follow Him, obey Him, and walk with Him.

I believe that God has so much that He wants to give us. More than we can imagine! I believe that the riches of Christ, that the word speaks of, are beyond our wildest dreams. And I also believe that some of them are for us now, in this life. But, they require us to surrender and live within the boundaries of God.

"That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." --Ephesians 3:16-20

C.P. Jones wrote the words to a song that is my heart-cry:

Deeper, deeper, in the love of Jesus daily let me go;
Higher. Higher in the school of wisdom, More of grace to know.
Deeper, deeper! Blessed Holy Spirit, Take me deeper still,
Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus and His perfect will.

Oh, deeper yet, I pray and higher every day, and wiser, blessed Lord, In thy precious, holy word.

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