Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction.
It all started with me wanting to learn how to pray. I was lost in depression and sin, and I felt like my life was falling apart. I knew that, on my own, I could not handle all that was happening to me, and so I sought the Lord in prayer. Somewhere I had read that reading the Psalms would help me learn how to pray, how to use the language of David and others to speak to God, and so that is where I started. There in the Psalms I found beautifully honest prayers addressed to God at various points in those men’s lives. The Psalmists would be rejoicing one time and wallowing in self-pity the next, calling for blessings upon friends and calling for curses upon enemies. David’s heart was poured out in songs like Psalms 13, 51, 103, and others, while Moses, Asaph, Solomon, and the sons of Korah each had their say, too. I read and read, eventually deciding that if I was going to read the Psalms, I might as well read the rest of the Bible, too. It took me most of a year to read it all through, and then I came back to the Psalms again, and then the Prophets and then the Epistles, and back to the Pentateuch, and then… Well, you get the idea.
During that time of trying to learn how to pray by reading the Bible, I also started attending church again for the first time in thirty years. As I heard God’s Word expounded, I found myself convicted, corrected, and educated. I came to love the Word of God even more, and I found myself digging deeper and wanting to know more. My late wife–who was then my fiancée–was following behind me as I read and studied. She asked me question after question, and I did my best to teach her as I was being taught.
14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Of course, reading God’s Word ourselves is just the beginning. I started by seeking to learn to pray, and then I sought out other people who prayed that way. And that led me to seeking a teacher, and that itself brought me to teaching others. But how could I have learned unless someone had been sent, unless a preacher had come to me who himself delighted in God’s Word? I am learning the Bible not just because I read it, but because I have good mentors, good preachers bringing me “glad tidings of good things.” And the more I read and learn, the more the Word of God becomes ingrained in my heart and mind and soul. Now, even as I am learning, I am a teacher of the Word. And it all started with me wanting to learn how to pray.
In the course of reading and studying God’s Word, I have found that my prayer language has grown. Yes, I DID learn how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is still a great model, and I am not alone in praying other short and yet heartfelt prayers for God to act quickly to keep us from harm. But my prayer language has become the language of David and Paul, the words of Peter and James and Moses, the verses of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Word of God has become the word with which I address the Him. And I find that as His Word has become my own, then I am better able to LIVE His Word. By knowing the law, statutes, commandments, judgments, and testimonies of God, I keep and am kept by them. And more than that, I see how He continues to keep me out of the miry pit into which I had once descended. God has blessed me so richly through His Word and through the gospel by which I am saved!
In today’s verse from Psalms 119, the Psalmist–whom scholars believe was the prophet and scribe Ezra–reflects on what might have happened if he had not delighted in God’s Word, if he had not sought to know and live by God’s law. Every time I read this verse, I cannot help but reflect on my own life, and how lost I once was before I sought the Lord in prayer. I know that, unless I came to delight in God’s law, I really WOULD have “perished in my affliction,” that my downward spiral would have served no one but Satan. Unless I had sought to learn from His Word, I might have been lost to God forever. Yes, I know that only God really knows whether or not I would have come to Him later in life, but I DO know that those early days of me reading the Psalms were a tipping point in my life, a moment when I might have fallen backward into darkness or forged ahead into God’s light. But because I read David’s words and found I delighted to read them, I was NOT lost. Only God’s Word got me heading in the right direction.
There is a saying that is attributed to Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers: “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” Knowing from whence I have come and how delighting in the gospel of Christ has brought me to repentance and belief, I can see how I am indeed a “saint” with a past, and how I was once a sinner with a future. I might never have become a believer, might never have embraced that sinner’s future of peace with God, unless I had delighted in the law of God. I certainly would have perished in my sin.
But I DO delight in God’s Word, and that has made all the difference.
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Saul of Tarsis: now THERE is a saint with a past! Saul delighted in the laws of men, sought favor and blessing by adhering to strict codes of conduct and the teachings of the Pharisees. Then Jesus Christ appeared to Saul on one of his many trips to root out those who opposed the religion of men. After that day, Saul was changed, and he no longer delighted in the laws of men but only in the law of God in Christ. (Acts 9:1-22) He became known as Paul, and his letters laid the foundation for our understanding of the gospel–and he was undoubtedly the greatest evangelist ever. Paul was saved from perishing in his affliction by delighting in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even though Paul admitted to not being perfect, I am not even so perfected even as he was. But I do delight in God’s Word, and I keep it because it is sweet to me. I find that just as I delight in the words of someone I love, I also delight in God’s Word because I love Him. My love for God becomes a desire for His Word, and that Word then draws me away from the sin in which I might otherwise perish. I press onward toward the goal by staying in God’s Word, by keeping it in my heart so that, even when I cannot think of the words to say, the Spirit urges me to speak with the Word that I know and love. (Romans 8:28)
1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
Let us seek God with our whole heart! Let us delight in His Word and in His law–not because they bring us to righteousness but because in the righteousness of Christ we find we love His Word more and more. We are saved by grace through faith, and we have that faith because someone spoke to us the Word of God. Let us therefore delight in the Bible, love what it says and seek to know more of it. And let our lives, our hearts, our relationships, and, yes, even our language be transformed by the Word of God.
169 Let my cry come before You, O LORD;
Give me understanding according to Your word.
170 Let my supplication come before You;
Deliver me according to Your word.
171 My lips shall utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.
172 My tongue shall speak of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.
173 Let Your hand become my help,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
174 I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise You;
And let Your judgments help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
Seek Your servant,
For I do not forget Your commandments.