Psalm 119 is a beautiful call to discover an ever-deepening life with God— a life of grace based mutuality with God, a life that is flourishing and thriving. I like the couplets created by the author of this song: teach and I will observe; give me understanding that I may keep; lead me that I may delight; turn me that I may not live for selfish gain. The down-to-earth work of God is teaching, leading, turning. God is one who graces our everyday living with invitations to know, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, if we turn to God there is hope, there is healing, there is love, and there is rest.
There is also an expressed depth of yearning on God’s part that we would know the fullness of life that can be found in God. I find verse 37 especially pivotal: “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.” Vanities come in all sorts of forms, both sacred and secular. They are enticing places to which we are tempted to go to get our sense of value, whether it is by the whiteness of our teeth or the accolades of our church. And yet somehow the teeth are never white enough (as seen by the increasingly white glow of our newscasters’ mouths), and the accolades are always fleeting. The Psalm sings a song of promise that if I turn to God with all of me— all my life, passions, dreams, dreads— I will find a God who embraces me and delights over me, offering a song of love that is unwavering. This is a song that continues when the teeth are yellowed and the accolades are no more.
When I experience my “with God” life wanting, I find upon reflection it is often because I have been “looking at vanities,” leaning into places of competitiveness, selfish gain, comparisons, failings, and the dread of being deemed insignificant. Perhaps the root of all of those is fear. And fear is never a good place in which to live or from which to make decisions. Half the battle in living differently is the ability to name those mixed up and messed up desires and perspectives before God. In the brutally honest confession of the unreasonable mess that can rise up in me I find release from all the pettiness and insecurities that can peck at my sense of myself, God, and others. God can help me “turn” my face toward God’s face anew. I love that this prayer is an acknowledgement that even the turning of my eyes or heart can only be done by God’s power at work in me. By God’s grace my eyes are turned to the one who calls me beloved, who never forgets me, who is steadfast in love, who sees me, and who calls me to rest.
Throughout the Old Testament the invitation of God to his people is to know God as their refuge and rest. Fear always presents itself when the people of God find themselves at a crossroads or a major obstacle. They must decide: “Will we trust in God’s promises and live out a commitment to being a people of God? Or will we lean on other kings and kingdoms, powers and financial gain for safety?” Over and over again God calls us to know that those kings and kingdoms may provide temporary relief from our fears, but nothing compared to the life we can have in and with our God. Finding our security outside of God comes with the complexity of offering our worship, our very soul, to that which will never satisfy. It is “in God’s righteousness” (as in right relationship through Jesus Christ with God, ourselves, and others) we are given life. In God’s wholeness and holiness we are called from striving to rest. It is in God’s rested presence we are called into a deep breathing contentment.
I have had in my life the gift of an earthly father who was deeply faithful and loving. I remember sitting on his lap at the end of the day while he read his newspaper. I would breathe in his scent and hear the beat of his heart. I knew his love and joy at sharing life and stillness together. These days, most of the time, my Dad does not know me, but that love is still largely palpable in the air when we share breathing space. When giving him a back rub (his love language) he will say; “You spoil me” and “I love you.” When leaving him during my last visit, I kissed his forehead and assured him I would be back. He said, “Good, don’t forget me.” Never would I or could I forget.
We can sometimes read Psalm 119 like a “to do”: I will keep, I will observe, I will…. but the couplets don’t begin with the “I wills.” By the work of God, that is grace in our lives. This is where we get the fruit of shared life with God messed up. We get frustrated with the failure of our own “I will” strength to have a rich life with God. This Psalm reminds us we are invited to a shared life with God, a common air that we breathe, a quiet rest from which the walking, talking, being and doing arises.
My relationship with my Dad does not begin with obedience; it began with his great love, and was nurtured in those silent shared breaths of life. And now that we move toward the end of his life, this shared love is not found in the doing or achieving or building. The shared life is our faces turned toward one another in love. The shared life is the gift of proximity being able to cut through his confusion even for a moment when I say, “I see you and I love you and I will not forget you.”
How much greater is God’s love and promise that we are always remembered, always cherished. How much more life does God have to give us if we would be still enough to allow God to turn our face toward God, and breathing in and breathing out we find rest. What gifts of righteousness (right relations with God, ourselves, and others) might we know if life is lived out from this place of rest?
So our prayer is that God would “teach, give understanding, lead, turn, confirm,” that we might discover this ever deepening life of mutuality that is flourishing and thriving. This abundant life found in Christ, in the community of the saints, for the sake of others.