This devotional is about Psalm 119:1-40.
People have a hard time with rules—even ones they agree with—because rules are incapable of changing human desires. Our hearts long for the freedom to do what we want; we are deceived and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can sin without consequences. We tend to see God’s laws, then, not as lights to illumine our choices so that we know right from wrong, truth from error, or wisdom from folly; rather, we perceive God’s laws as fences that would seek to restrict our freedom to run.
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 had come to think just the opposite way about God’s law. In verse 32 he wrote, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.”
This lengthy Psalm is an acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. The subject of this poem is God’s law; someone once called it a “love letter to God’s law,” and that is a good description.
Nobody in our culture writes 26 poetic verses—one for each letter of our alphabet—extolling the virtues of federal law but some inspired Psalmist did that with God’s law.
What made the difference between the writer of this Psalm and the vast number of Israelites who worshipped idols and disregarded God’s laws and its promised blessings?
The answer is a changed heart. The Psalmist who wrote these lines had experienced the new birth we call salvation. He had received regeneration—the gift of spiritual life to someone who is spiritually dead. One result of that regeneration was a changed attitude toward God’s word. Instead of experiencing God’s commands as fences that restrict freedom, the believer now sees God’s laws as a flat, smooth footpath that provides moral and spiritual guidance. He can “run in the path of your commands” like a child runs across the backyard—free, happy, and secure.
He could do that because “you have broadened my understanding” (v. 32b; see also verse 45). This is what God’s grace does; it teaches us to understand that God’s word is a blessing to be treasured, loved, and most importantly obeyed. A believer receives and obeys God’s word with joy because it frees him from the bondage of sin and its consequences.
It also holds out the promise that, if the believer does what God says to do, there will be rewards. Those rewards may be in eternity rather than this life, but they are guaranteed because God promised them.
That’s faith—obey first to experience blessings later.
This is not to say that the Psalmist never struggled with the sin nature any more. In verse 29, he begged the Lord to keep him “from deceitful ways.” In verses 36-37 he asked the Lord to turn his heart and his eyes away from sin and toward God’s word.
Your struggles with obedience are proof that God has not completed his work of salvation. Salvation is a fact if you’re in Christ. It is certain because it is based on God’s promises. But it won’t be completed until we are with Christ. Until then, we need God’s word to guide us and we need to ask the Lord continually to give us the desire to obey his word as he changes us within by its power.
Some of you have been reading God’s word more faithfully than you ever have before this year. Keep showing up each day to read with me; much truth still awaits. But let’s be sure to do what the word tells us to do so that we can grow in our faith and be liberated to follow the Lord.