The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 16, 2020
“Happy are those…who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees.”
Uplifted in heart and soul are those who live under the authority of God’s word – who study it and let it shape who they are and what they do. They are the blessed ones who enjoy gladness of heart and satisfaction of soul.
Thus, we’d do well to pray the words of this Psalm: “O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” For a lifestyle of obedience will give us a thousand reasons to praise and thank the Lord.
So what is our part in developing that lifestyle and thereby increasing our happiness? Let us consider three aspects of the contribution we are wise to make:
First, we can choose to acknowledge the divine authority behind the Bible and its law. We can hold on to the faith that its commandments come from God Himself.
One Sunday a first-grade girl was sitting next to her mother in worship. She looked over and noticed the open Bible lying on her lap. She studied it and asked, “Did God really write that?” “Yes,” her mother whispered back. The girl studied the Bible some more and then said in amazement, “Wow! God really has neat handwriting!”
It was good she realized that God is the ultimate author of Bible. It’ll be better still when she realizes that God wrote its commandments for our benefit and she submits to their authority for her conduct.
We become the happy ones who walk in the law of the Lord as we recognize that all those Do’s and Don’t’s are expressions of God’s love. The law of the Lord is like the manufacturer’s instruction manual in the glove compartment of our cars. Just as the manual tells us the Do’s and Don’t’s for maximizing the enjoyment of our car, so the Bible tells us the Do’s and Don’t’s for maximizing the enjoyment of our lives.
We act wisely when we choose to live under the authority of God’s word. Second, we act wisely when we own up to how much we need its guidance.
There is an old analogy of how we mere mortals come to understand who God is and what His will is. We are like blind people trying to understand an elephant by their sense of touch. One feels the side of the animal and thinks of it like a wall. Another grabs the elephant’s ear and thinks of it like a big fan. A third touches the tail and thinks of it like a rope. On it goes, each coming to understand some part of the elephant without any coming to understand the full complexity and glory of the animal.
The benefit of the analogy is that it keeps us humble and prevents us from jumping to conclusions about how well we know God. It drives home the point that none of us knows God in His entirety; we all are like blind folks feeling our way in the dark. While we can know God truly, we cannot know God completely. Fair enough!
There are, however, two problems with the analogy, as Kevin DeYoung notes in his book Taking God at His Word. First, the analogy only makes sense if someone has come to know, pretty close to completely, what the elephant is in all its complexity and glory. How could someone do that?
The second flaw with the analogy is that it rules out the paradigm-shattering possibility that the elephant is a talking elephant who communicates to us, in language we can understand, facts about its nature and its possible interaction with us, facts we could never come to know on our own. What if, for example, it tells us that its fan-like part is its ear by which it hears our cries and knows our needs, that its tube-like part is its trunk by which it could grab and carry our burdens, and that on the inside it has a big heart that inclines it to help us as much as we will let it? If the elephant said all that, would we be humble or foolish to take note only of what we can know by our own means?
God has put in us reason, conscience and a spiritual capacity to take in something of who He is. By such we can learn some truths about His power, character and intentions toward us; but by those truths we can only begin to appreciate how great, good and worthy of our trust He is. Moreover, there are tremendously life-enhancing things we could never figure out or find out on our own. We can only learn them by listening to Him.
We act wisely when 1) we submit to God’s word and 2) own up to how much we need it. Third, we act wisely when we are actively engaged in seeking to be uplifted by it.
In his book on the Bible, entitled Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson spoke of his experience of long-distance running. He was competing in 10K races every month and a marathon once a year. He was so caught up in the athletic endeavor that he was subscribing to, and devouring the content of, three running magazines.
When, however, he pulled a muscle and couldn’t run for a couple of months, those magazines just piled up around the house – unopened. Yet, the moment he resumed running, he started studying them again cover to cover. It came to him that he only ate up their articles when he was actively engaged in the running life. He devoured those magazines to uplift his running life; and if there was no running in his life, there was nothing to uplift.
In the same way, if we are not actively engaged in seeking the uplifting that comes from walking with God, studying His law and steadfastly following guidance won’t hold our interest long. Only a commitment to know God better and to fulfill His will more will make us hungry to take in, and take to heart, His – and, given how happy His law can make us, the very practice of doing that will re-energize and strengthen that commitment anew.
Harriet Tubman, born as a slave and reborn as a devoted follower of Jesus, dedicated her life to rescuing hundreds out of human bondage before and during the Civil War. She endangered herself over and over again to free people she could easily have ignored.
What gave her such courage and Christ-like love, such active audacity in doing good and opposing evil? She steadfastly immersed herself in God’s word and devoted her life to fulfilling God’s commandments. She spent all her free “mind time” studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture. She used Bible verses in forming her prayers; and, as she told her biographer, “I prayed all the time.” Her ongoing conversation with God uplifted her soul and gave her the soul power to carry out her heroic, self-sacrificial work of love. Her walking in the law of the Lord both made her good and made her happy – and, even in the hardest and most harrowing moments of liberating the enslaved, she radiated a happiness that shined with God’s bright, warm light.
“Happy are those…who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees.” Let us pray.