If you’re just getting started with us here at Eden’s Mirror, we’ve been exploring the idea of finding life in God’s Word. This is part 3 in this Words of Life series. I encourage you to go back to part one and part two first before plunging in here.
“I wouldn’t put to death what I believed was keeping me alive.” Jackie Hill Perry
Jackie Hill Perry isn’t your typical Bible teacher. Her bold, daring countenance conveys a commitment to work against the status quo. And her life story demonstrates just that.
She recently released a book describing her journey of coming to God, and it isn’t what you’d expect from a book entitled Gay Girl, Good God. With the culture wars surrounding homosexuality, one might have thought she’d be writing a treatise. But instead, it is a poetic testimony of God’s good grace in her life, in her journey of repentance. And true to form, this isn’t just about recovering from sexual brokenness. It is about learning repentance and fighting sin. She recounts how she wouldn’t put to death her old approach to finding life unless she truly believed that the old approach no longer “kept her alive”. It is a simple yet profound insight – what do you think is really keeping you alive in this moment?
Last time we talked, I challenged you to consider how much you believe God’s Word is intended to be a source of life for you. For just like Jackie, you won’t put to death what you believe is keeping you alive. But I don’t want you to take my word for it – I want you to become convinced by God Himself.
So we are going to take some time together exploring what He has to say about His Word. This post is going to be packed full of Scripture and I challenge you to be intentional to slow down, to really read what He says, and read it until it becomes His Words and not my own.
A Cry For Help
We’ve probably all seen it in the movies – the stranded survivor’s desperate cry for help. And while we may not have physically experienced that kind of desperation in every-day circumstances in our civilized Western society, we certainly have uttered a similar prayer in the quiet of our own homes as our hearts whirl under the day-to-day griefs and pressures that threaten to undo us. Each of us knows, deep down, what its like to feel like our soul is coming apart, even if its not something we talk about every day.
It is no different than the human authors of Scripture. Listen to the Psalmist in these excerpts from Psalm 119:
My soul clings to the dust…
I call to you; save me…
My eyes long for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’
How long must I endure?
I am severely afflicted…
Plead my cause and redeem me;
Let my cry come before you; let my plea come before you; Let your hand be ready to help me.
These snippets from this glorious poem that we know is set apart to exalt God’s Word reveal a desperation we deep down are all too familiar with. And yet to whom do we turn in our most desperate moments? I know for me the answer is far too often something other than God and His Word. But that’s okay, because even this very Psalmist ends the entire Psalm with this prayer: I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant.
The author of this Psalm is clearly familiar with suffering, familiar with longing for relief and for life. His word for it is generally “affliction”, and the central message for us could be summed up in this verse: My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.
Eleven times the Psalmist says, “give me life” (vs. 25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159). Eleven times the Psalmist cries out in desperation for life and expects it to come not according to his standards, but according to God’s Word. Eleven times the Psalmist acknowledges that life doesn’t come from inside himself, or in his friends, or in his circumstances, but in God, and in accordance with what God says. There is an expectation for this man, that if he wants to have life, he must have it in association with the Words of God.
But in what way does the Psalmist expect God’s Word to give him life?
In verse 50, the Psalmist says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” He says later, in verse 81, My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. So God’s Word has promises that give the Psalmist comfort and hope.
This is the essence of the description of God’s Word in Psalm 19:7-8:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…
God’s Word gives hope, revives the soul, rejoices the heart, enlightens our perspective.
That is also why Paul says in Romans 12:2 that in order to not be conformed to this world, we must “renew our minds”. A change in perspective can give us strength to endure our circumstances.
What might this look like? I remember hearing a story as a child living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire of a hiker attempting to summit the tallest mountain in the region, Mt. Washington. It’s not a particularly high mountain – just topping over 6,000 feet (nothing compared to the 14,000 feet summits I conquered in Colorado as a college student!). Nevertheless, it is notorious for hosting some of the most unpredictable weather in the region. Rain, snow, or hail will daily surprise the hiker on a sunny day.
In this case, a woman had been attempting to reach the top in the midst of a dreadful storm. Deep fog hugged the summit, hiding it from view for miles around. The woman perished, just a few hundred feet from shelter at the top.
The tragedy is unspeakable. Had she only known how little distance she had to reach safety, would she have given up? Likely not. Perspective has the power to give life!
…But Now I Keep Your Word
But Psalm 119 shows us another way that God’s Word gives us life.
Listen to Psalm 119:67 and 71, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word…It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues.”
At the center of the Psalmist’s dependence on God’s Word is not just an understanding but a doing, a “keeping of God’s Words”. He says in verse 88, In your steadfast love, give me life, that I might keep the testimonies of your mouth.”
It reminds me of the warning of James, in James 1:22-25: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Now I’m going to be honest, when I hear this verse, its easy for me to land on the “doing part” and think, I just need to memorize all the commandments of Scripture and do them. While there is some truth to that, Scripture is not just a long list of commandments. God’s imperatives always come out of indicatives.
In Exodus 15:26, the Lord gives a rule to His people Israel, after they failed their first test of faith in the wilderness, when the water they drank was bitter: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statues, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD your healer.” If I could summarize this rule, it would be that God wants His people to listen, and then do. If we were to follow this story through to the end, we would see that God’s expectation is that it is in the hearing of His word, that His people should be empowered to do it.
But this isn’t just a “hearing” with their ears. For if you are at all familiar with Israel’s story in the Old Testament, then you know that more times than not, they are condemned as having “heard but not understood” (see Isaiah 6:9).
No, truly listening to God’s Word has to do with believing that what He says is true. That is why in Hebrews 4:2, the author explains that God’s people, Israel, heard the good news too, but it “did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”
Just like Jackie Hill Perry, we will not put a sin to death if we do not believe that sin actually kills us. But how will we believe this if we do not hear it first? “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14).
Your Word is a Light
That is why the Psalmist says, in Psalm 119: 9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word.” And later in verse 11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
It is why he floods Psalm 119 with the request that God “teach me your statutes…teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…graciously teach me your law….teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments….teach me your statues.” It is why he says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
He learns God’s Ways through God’s Words, and he finds life when he does God’s Word but he cannot obey God’s Words without hearing God’s Word and being first convinced that there is another way to live life.
Easier Said Than Done
Yes, yes it is easier said than done. That’s why this isn’t all I have to say on the subject. Sometimes we need help figuring out how to actually put something into practice. And I intend to do just that in the posts to follow.
But before we can do that, we must ask ourselves once more: Am I convinced yet that God wants me to find life by His Words? That His Words intend to give comfort, to revive, to enlighten me, strengthen me, empower me, fulfill and satisfy me?
Much ink has been spilled on this subject, and to be sure, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here. But if God hasn’t started to convince you yet through what I’ve shared here, I encourage you to explore the following passages for yourself, and then come back and check in here when next time we explore how to find life in God’s Word.
Just A Few Passages For Further Exploration on God’s Word:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
1 Peter 2:2
A Few Great Articles on God’s Word As Life:
1) Psalm 119: The Life-Giving Power of the Word.
A Couple Books on the Subject:
Women of the Word, by Jen Wilkin
Words of Life, by Timothy Ward