12 February 2012
WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU FEEL ALIVE?
(Wait for responses)
For some it is the cold wind at their face at they wind their way down the ski slope. Or Bungee jumping or parachuting -- that moment before they pull the rip chord For some it is a jump into the ocean. For some it is the recognition that comes with giving a speech at a big convention. For others it is baking cookies with a child. Still for others it’s knowing that they’re helping someone who really needs help.
WHAT IS IT THAT REALLY SUCKS THE LIFE OUT OF YOU?
(Wait for responses)
Commuting -- day after day? Demanding spouse? Whiny children? Too much chaos? Too much order? That is, people who insist on organizing everything -- and in their own way. Unreasonable job demands? The sense that you’re stuck and going nowhere -- fast?
Life vs. death... Joy vs. suffering.
Of course, the psalmist is comparing and contrasting the two extremes -- specifically as it relates to his own experiences. And remember, his point in all of this is to celebrate the gift of God’s message -- the fact that God communicates. That God cares so much that he has not left him in the dark.
Let’s walk through this verse by verse -- starting at vs. 73.
“Your hands have made me and set me in place. Help me understand so I can learn your commandments.”That is, God’s commandments are the owner’s manual for life -- my life.
There is are two kinds of people -- those who read the instruction books and those who go to great lengths to avoid reading the instructions.
The psalmist says “I’m the kind of person who wants the instruction manual -- and I want to understand it. You might say I’m a bit fanatical about it -- I want to understand all the details and the nuances -- everything that’s in there.” That’s the overall message of Psalm 119 -- starting at vs. 74 --
“Then those who honor you will see me and be gladThat is, I’ll join the ranks of those who honor God with their lives -- and that will make their day. They’ll be glad because they see that I’m trusting in God’s promises -- that I am waiting on God -- assuming that he will do what he has said he’d do.
because I have waited for your promise.”
“LORD,” vs. 75 -- and here is the contrast.
"LORD, I know that your rules are right and that you rightly made me suffer."“Woe,” says the modern reader. “God makes people suffer? I thought he was trying to alleviate the suffering of his people.”
This semester I am teaching an online class in world religions for Pacific Islands University. And this past week I wrote an introduction to the section on Buddhism -- so this is fresh on my mind.
In the Buddhist worldview everything is about suffering -- the concept of suffering is pivotal.
Gautama (the Buddha) said that "Existence is dukkha" -- or "suffering" -- or the dissatisfaction of life -- the things which suck life out of us.
So, whenever someone with a Buddhist background is discussing Jesus they always seem to come back to this idea of suffering -- much to the confusion of people who have grown up in the West. Making everything about suffering is morbid and depressing. “Why are you so fixated on the issue of suffering?”
But they want to know what Jesus has to say about suffering. What is causing the suffering which they experience? What do they have to do to alleviate their suffering?
And the psalmist recognizes the reality of suffering but without giving it the central place in the discussion.
For him, he sees his suffering as discipline. For him, suffering was like a time-out session -- something from God, that God used to get his attention.
And there are times when God instigates a suffering of sorts to discipline us and develop us. And while he does not want us to suffer, he uses suffering to move us toward maturity. At Times we need to suffer in order to move forward.
There are, and this is a bit of a bunny trail... There are other times, though, when suffering just comes our way because we live in a messed up world.
There are times when the suffering you’re enduring has nothing to do with you. It is not your fault. God is not necessarily trying to punish you or get your attention... It’s not even really about you. You are a relatively innocent bystander in an embattled world. That’s a possibility.
But nothing is wasted with God and he will gladly redeem that suffering and use it toward your long-term benefit. But it’s not that God has this big plan to make you or anyone else suffer.
In the psalmist’s case, though, the suffering he describes is disciplinary in nature. Apparently he acted contrary to God’s desires and it muddled up his life even more -- “I know that your rules are right and that you rightly made me suffer.”
The things which can really suck life from us are sometimes of our own doing. We do stupid things -- at least I do stupid things. We go off in our own direction and without much concern other than for our own desires and wants -- “needs” -- personal agendas. We’ve let self-absorption take over.
But God in his love disciplines us -- at times even sending pain and suffering into our lives to get our attention. And it’s not because he is trying to get back at us. This kind of thing doesn’t flow from his insecurity but from his love and compassion.
If you are a parent, you know that it takes more work and energy to discipline a child than to let them do their own thing. Discipline is an act of love. And it is wearing to give so much attention to a child who doesn’t appreciate it -- and possibly who will never come to appreciate it.
But the psalmist is saying, “I really do appreciate it.” I am now eager to hear your life-giving word. I want to leave behind all those things which suck the life out of me. I want -- I need -- your word -- your message -- your instructions. Vs. 76 --
Please let your faithful love comfort me, according to what you’ve said to your servant. Let your compassion come to me so I can live again, because your Instruction is my joy!
- The people around me might be life-suckers. But your instruction is my joy.
- My spouse might be a pain in the you know what. But your instruction is my joy.
- My arrogant boss may be giving me a hard time -- day in and day out. And I want to scream. But your instruction is my joy.
- The system maybe abusing me -- discriminating against my kind. But your instruction is my joy!
- And my so-called friends may be missing in action. But your instruction is my joy.
- I may feel alone and abandoned. But your instruction is my joy!
- God, your word is life-giving. Your instruction is my joy!
“But let the arrogant be ashamed because they oppressed me with lies— meanwhile, I will be contemplating your precepts!”
- I’m unphased. The oppression and the oppressors have no power over me because YOUR INSTRUCTION IS MY JOY!
- I’m not looking to them for validation. I’m not looking for the world to acknowledge my existence and value. My identity is in you, God, AND YOUR INSTRUCTION IS MY JOY!
It would be nice, though, and I’d sure appreciate it, God, if you could surround me with some people who actually get it.
I’ve had enough of those other bozos. They’re nothing but trouble anyway.
Vs. 79 -- Let the people who honor you come back to me; let those who know your precepts return to me.
That’s not too much to ask, God, is it? I need to have some other like-minded people in my life. But most of all,
80 -- Let my heart be blameless in your statutes so that I am not put to shame.
I want my heart -- my desires and actions to line up with your agenda for me and the world. And once that happens I can avoid the humiliation and shame -- the suffering that comes with failure.
Once that happens I know that I’m going to be living -- really living -- full of joy -- in spite of all the non-sense that life throws at me.
God, it all comes back to being in your word and your word being in me. You see, God and his word are inseparable. What he says flows out of who he is and to fully appreciate God you have to heed and care to what he is saying.
God, your instruction is my joy. Your word is my life. In John 10 -- the same gospel where Jesus is described as the living word of God, he says, “I have come to give life.”
Of course, the paradox is that he laid down his life as the means by which he gave life. And when we embrace his death and his resurrection -- accept him and decide to follow him -- we are deciding to follow his word -- to enter into the life he gives.
When we ignore his word we end up with all kinds of extra trouble.
You know, there really is much about life that seems to take the wind out of our sails. The Buddha overstated the case -- and he was certainly mistaken on a lot of other levels, too. But he was right in that he recognized that we all have to deal with suffering.
Buddha said that we do that by detaching ourselves from any kind of desire. But the psalmist says the opposite. He contends that it is through desire that we find joy. That is, through desire for God and his word we find joy for our war torn lives.
So, if the psalmist were to answer the questions I asked at the beginning, I’m pretty sure he would say that the thing which sucks life out of him is the suffering that comes from ignoring God’s word.
But the thing which really makes him feel alive is God’s word -- his message -- his directions -- his precepts -- his instruction.
“Your instruction is my joy.”
So, here is the final question -- if desire for God’s word is the source of a joy-filled life and detachment from God’s word leads to pain -- HOW IS IT THAT WE STILL END UP GIVING IN SO EASILY TO THE THINGS WHICH SUCK LIFE FROM US?
(Wait for input)
“Your instruction is my joy.” And that’s the good news!!!