In the previous post, I magnified the definition and meaningful application of this repeated Biblical phrase. But I can’t get away from it. It haunts me. I hear in the stillness: “But are you living ‘according to My Word’…?”
It is always one thing to know a term, and another thing to apply it. In the same way the scriptures are said to be “eaten”, I am compelled to chew and digest this phrase a bit more. What does it really look like to think, speak, do, and live according to God’s Word? Am I doing well here, or am I missing opportunities? Or is it a mix of both?
In the last post, we saw Mary humbling herself before God in the face of a miracle which, at first, would actually work against all common sense and social convention until it was established. She said “yes” to God, but not for her own glory in this world. She would conceive and bear a child without ever having had sexual relations with any man—imagine what people would think! And not just any child! This child would be the Son of God, the Savior of the World. Who would believe that? But she said “yes” for the glory of God for all eternity. He was BIG, and she was small; she bowed humbly and innocently to that truth and just said, “Yes, Lord”.
There is this crisis point between the Word of God and human experience, between what God wants, and what we are normalized in this world to expect, want and need.
I have expectations in life, at least as it proceeds from one day to the next. I expect to be fed, to be relatively comfortable, to be accepted somewhere by at least some people, and so on. All our thoughts run 24/7 in the way of making plans, strategizing and navigating across or around obstacles, deflecting pain and loss, and grasping for whatever we believe will either make the pain go away, or that which will bring sensory happiness. We want to forget some things and remember others. We want to filter out some things and admit others. We want to believe some things and to disregard and deny others. It’s just human.
This phrase (“according to thy Word”, etc.), used plentifully throughout Psalm 119 especially, drives us to that crisis point where we decide who is on the throne of our heart; whether our own human desires or God’s Sovereign purpose will be treasured and obeyed at all cost.
We face a barrage of stimuli every day in the process of “dejunking” and sorting our true allegiances. We have internal stimuli such as our often-vague moods, our thoughts (which may or may not be language-oriented), our more pronounced emotions, our memories, our hopes and expectations. We have our own physiology that may be working well or may have deficiencies that alter or handicap or even debilitate us to some degree. We have ideas about God, called our “true beliefs”, that is the framework for all our decisions and this may be different than the verbal beliefs we outwardly espouse. Our behavior tells us what we truly believe.
Then we have the external influences: what we hear and see and feel in our environment. The weather, the amount of natural light that we receive, the people around us (whether they are nasty or nice, negligent or attentive, friend or foe). Some right now are in more dire crises with moral dilemmas and extreme consequences only a hair’s breadth away, suffering just or unjust imprisonment, or the sound of explosions or gathering storm clouds bringing death and destruction right now. There is a lot to respond to in each nanosecond of every minute of the day, and God does not discriminate against the seemingly menial daily experiences or the urgently immediate!
Every thought or mood or emotion is, according to the wisdom of Psalm 119, to be brought to the standard, or criterion, of God’s expressed word. EVERY. In the garden of Eden, Satan began the delusion by tempting Eve, “Did God really say….?” Jeremiah, in his very human Lamentations, poured out all the “incoming” that had him at the end of his rope. Jeremiah is a forgotten poster child for depression in the Bible and describes his very real and valid emotions vividly in verses 1-20. But then he breaks the downward spiral by counseling himself with the counsel of God:
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. …” (Lamentations 3:21-27, NIV).
Now, where did Jeremiah get this counsel that gave him so much hope? What was the “this” that he was able to call to mind? It sure wasn’t his own thoughts and feelings as expressed in vv1-20! It was the scripture he had memorized and lived by and taught to others (e.g.,Exodus 34:6; Ps 86:15; 147:3; 78:38-39; Isaiah 30:18), and quite possibly the words of Psalm 119 (v115)! Greater men than he had lain down their lives and accepted the truth of God’s Word by faith and had lived on and been found faithful by God and honored by him (e.g., Moses, David, Isaiah). The purposes of God had prevailed, and great good had been restored. Jeremiah remembered this on purpose and asked himself, “What has God already said and done about what I am experiencing?”
Jeremiah was in a crisis situation. It seems my own life drifts from one (seemingly) major crisis to another. What do these major (and minor) opportunities to display God’s design look like? Here are a few examples:
- the decision to be honest or kind in a conversation against one’s own natural thought or emotion,
- the decision to waste time or redeem it this minute by work and service,
- the decision to indulge one’s senses or to discipline them by restraint and replacement,
- the decision to put aside one’s own feelings and think of the feelings of others,
- the decision to identify one’s self as God’s love does or by the world’s categories,
- the decision to be vulnerable and open to others or to hide and remain anonymous and unheard,
- the decision to trust God with your singleness, marriage, or with the size of your family (loss or gain),
- the decision to pursue a dream or vision as you understand it or to let it go into God’s trust and plan,
- the decision to explore what it means to forgive and move on or to hold on to very real pain,
- the decision to speak or not speak, to whom and when and where and how and to what purpose,
- the decision to accept the job (or move) or refuse it and on what basis,
- the decision to put aside your own expectations and what is breaking your own heart in exchange for praying “what breaks God’s heart” instead.
I can’t make it up as I go. I can’t know what God says unless I READ what God says. Others write or speak about the Bible, God or Jesus/the Gospel and these can be helpful; but can we even discern the true quality of these “teachers” without bringing them, too, in line with the criterion of God’s actual Word? Satan rarely deludes us in big displays of untruth, but insinuates much of his falsehoods into the context of respectability like a teaspoon of strychnine into the cookie dough.
I am trying, but I am far from having it down right. Applying what I know of God’s Word doesn’t feel good much of the time at first. It is often misunderstood by those outside until it has had its full result. My experience of applying God’s Word challenges my own understanding and refines it. I learn and grow when I see God’s word in action, because by accepting God’s viewpoint I begin to see the value and blessing on the other side of obedience. This is a non-stop calibrating process!
The very clear words of my Father should speaks louder to me than my urge to do what seems easiest and most pleasurable. At that point, I am faced with the decision as to whom I will serve: myself or God. It’s that simple, but not easy at all. God has promised that His Word, if we are doing the work of “input”, will come to mind when we need it, just like it did for Jeremiah (John 14:26). I will hear a principle or a paraphrased (or memorized) passage of scripture that gives the balance to the decision before me. If I am out of the habit of listening for those gentle prompts, and if I have not done the work of “inputting” scripture into my knowledge and memory banks, then I will miss God’s guidance and I will “go astray” as the psalmist confesses in Teth (TETH, Psalm 119:67). Thankfully, the psalmist found restoration and a better discipline ahead. So can I (1 John 1:9).
Choosing to live “according to God’s Word” means looking at any idea or situation from God’s lens instead of my own feelings or self-reasoning. What is really at stake here? What does God think about this? What has He said that brings comfort? What has God said here that brings discipline to my thoughts and emotions (not just the other party’s)? What has God said here and what has God done already, that applies to this situation and redeems it? These crises of application changes the entire outlook of my situation.
So how am I doing? I’m doing better. Refocusing on Psalm 119 is helping. As humans, we can expect to respond to the discipline of God like an amoeba when pricked with a probe—by negative instinct to shrink back and to pull away. Obeying God brought devastating sorrow to Jeremiah and social misunderstanding and shame to Mary. Obedience cost Christ more than we can fathom (Philippians 2:5-11), I can expect no less. But God has called me to rise above human instinct and and respond to Him in faith, which always “brings good” (TETH, Psalm 119:66, 68, 71-72). That is not to say that I disregard human emotions and thought, but that I am learning to place God’s way as higher than mine, and like Jeremiah, Mary, and our Risen Christ, I shall (and do) receive the blessing.
For now, my prayer is to be like the young, unmarried virgin Mary when she bowed before the angel of God and confessed,
“I am the LORD’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
Pray with me? Lord Jesus, visible expression of all that comes from the heart, mind and will of God, Son of God and Truest Man, I can think of no other way to pray to you now, but to pray Mary’s prayer. Even now, LORD, search my wayward heart and keep drawing me toward the criteron of Your Word. I know it will hurt my pride, but it will also heal it. Discipline me and teach me in the way I should be, and I will walk in it. Keep curbing my selfish and rebellious inclinations and use me as Your servant. May your Word to me be fulfilled, for Your glory and purpose. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
LYRICS: “Not My Will But Thine”, by Keith Lancaster; from Set Me Free album (1993), by Acappella (The Acappella Company).
Jesus prayed in the garden and poured out His heart for me There has been no love shown by mortal as in dark Gethsemane He could have chosen not to suffer treatment of the cruelest kind But the lips of my pure Savior uttered, "Not my will but thine..." Let me tell you what he went through You know he really didn't have to He could have easily just walked away Then he said, "Not my will but Thine...." And they took him and they beat him and they mocked him and teased him The people kept a crying "We gotta crucify him!" Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Yet He said, "Not my will but Thine..." Jesus died on Calvary, he died oh! (Jesus prayed in the Garden, He prayed-o "Not thy will but Thine...") Some were laughin', some were cryin', some were happy at His dyin', I don't see, I can't see how could this ever be? Poor Jesus! as he hung on the tree, He said, "Not my will but Thine..." SCRIPTURAL REFERENCE: "Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39)