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From the Pastors at Joy

Savoring Psalm 119 in 2017

Preaching on Psalm 119 this past week was a very rich experience for me. By God’s grace, studying the Scriptures in preparing to preach is something I deeply enjoy. But I can recall few times where I have been more moved and impacted personally by the text I am studying than I was this past week while exploring Psalm 119 in its entirety.

If you had asked me two weeks ago what Psalm 119 was about, I would have likely said that it was a celebration of God’s Word. But having read it and re-read it, from start to finish, several times last week, I would now say that Psalm 119 is an illustration of what a life devoted to God looks like. Surely that includes the Word of God, but it is much more. Witnessing the psalmist’s devotion expressed in adoring God’s character, openly sharing his weaknesses and struggles, asking God for help, expressing his hopes and desires and commitments, all worked in my soul to produce in me a greater longing to go deep with God in my own life.

As Sunday came and went, and it’s now time to move on to another text for this Sunday, I found myself not ready to see Psalm 119 go. As a way of staying in the pathway of blessing that God poured out on me last week, I am sensing His leading to commit Psalm 119 to memory.

I do not memorize Scripture because I have such a strong faith, such a close walk with God, and such a sharp memory. I memorize because I am so profoundly aware of how weak and desperate I am apart from His grace, how terribly forgetful I can be, and because I am so frightened of how my soul might flounder if I don’t keep His Word near to me at all times, not just during morning devotions. The writer of Psalm 119 became a good friend to me last week, and I want to know him – and more importantly, His great and awesome God – more closely in 2017. So I am going to do my best to hide it in my heart in this new year.

And I’d love for you to join me. Would you prayerfully consider memorizing all 176 verses of Psalm 119 this year? That may seem impossible to you, but I am confident that you can get more out of your mind than you realize. If you’d like to join me but have no idea how to start, I’d love to help you. Awhile back I wrote up a blog post detailing some practical strategies for committing long chunks of Scripture to memory. See if the material there provides some help as you get going.

For those who are still reading, here’s a bit more on how I am seeking to do this. As I mentioned on Sunday, the Psalm is composed of twenty-two stanzas, one for each of the letters of the Hebrews alphabet. Each stanza has eight verses. I have found in the past that memorizing poetry is more difficult for me than memorizing an epistle (like Hebrews or Colossians), so I am giving myself two weeks two memorize each stanza. That’s roughly a verse every other day. The verses are fairly short, so I think this is manageable for me. You may want to set a pace that is slower or faster, but that is how I plan to work through it.

Even if you don’t memorize, perhaps your soul would be strengthened by devoting some time to extended meditation on the Psalm. Again, if you give two weeks to prayerfully reflecting on each 8-verse stanza, God might be very pleased to work in you a deeper love for and trust in Him, as we see so vividly depicted in the life of the writer of this great Psalm. If you need a little guidance in how to meditate, I would propose that for each section you ponder (perhaps with a pen and journal) three things:

Adoration – what in this section did you learn about God, for which you can praise or thank Him?

Confession – what in this section did you learn about yourself, for which you need to repent?

Aspiration – what in this section did you learn about life, that you could aspire to, ask for, or act on?

Spend some time praying along these lines for each stanza. Commit to worshiping God through His Word in 2017, and dependently beg Him to work through your efforts to know and honor Him.

If you plan to take me up on this invitation (either to memorize or meditate), please let me know. I’d be thrilled to hear how God is meeting you in Psalm 119. Maybe we can even form a group to meet together twice a month, to talk and pray about what God is showing us. As important as it is to commune with God through His Word and prayer, fellowshipping with His people is also a way in which He molds us more into His image.

May God bless you in 2017 and beyond, to be a diligent hearer of God’s Word, as well as a disciplined doer of it (James 1:22-25).