Purity

“How can a young person stay pure? 
By obeying your word. 
I have hidden your word in my heart, 
that I might not sin against you. 
Open my eyes to see 
the wonderful truths in your instructions.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:9, 11, 18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now here’s a young person desiring to live a life without fault in God’s eyes. He wasn’t just saying that – you can tell he was really serious in his question. And the next line shows that he knows the answer – by obeying God’s Word. So that’s it – problem solved and life sorted. But hang on a minute! God’s Word starts with Genesis and ends with Revelation – how can I ever get my mind around all that, what it means, and how to apply it in my thoughts and actions, so that my life is sinless and pure. An impossible ask, I think you will agree. It’s a relief to know that God doesn’t expect that of us. Through Jesus, He shows us a better way. 

But verse 11 is key. We need to read the Bible regularly. Because then the life-words will spring out of the pages straight into our hearts, and there they will reside waiting for the Holy Spirit to bring them to our remembrance when we need them. But transitioning from an impure to pure life-state is not an instant process. If only it was. It takes a lifetime and more besides. God’s grace is amazing though. Like a parent with a toddler, God takes our hands and leads us step by step. Hear the gentle whispers, “Not that way” or “This way is better”. Remember the words read from the Scriptures, bringing us wisdom, keeping us on the right paths. Yes, we will from time to time stumble over the boulders and hurdles in our way, leaving us sprawling in the mud of our sins. But our loving Heavenly Father won’t leave us there. He picks us up, dusts us off, wipes away the tears of hurt and frustration, and that gentle whisper again – “My way is better”. If we listen to Him and let Him. So we pray with the Psalmist, “Open our eyes to see”. Amen.

The ‘Gods’

God presides in the great assembly; 
     He renders judgment among the ‘gods’: 
‘How long will you defend the unjust 
     and show partiality to the wicked? 
‘The “gods” know nothing, they understand nothing. 
They walk about in darkness; 
     all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, 
     for all the nations are Your inheritance.”
Psalms‬ ‭82:1-2, 5, 8‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is a strange Psalm, short but open to different interpretations. But a linguistic, theological and academic study, though interesting, is unhelpful for the punters like us living on Planet Earth. What was in the mind of the Psalmist, Asaph, when he wrote this?

Reading it I get the picture of our Heavenly Father dispensing judgement in true righteousness and purity, against the tendency of human traits to practice partiality and to favour injustice. The reference in the NIV to ‘gods’ could mean the involvement of angelic beings or prominent human figures from long ago, or be a more topical reference to demagogic leaders pursuing a popularity ticket. But however we choose to define the meaning of ‘gods’, the object of their unfairness and partiality impacts those who are least able to defend themselves in the world they find themselves. As Christians we have a responsibility to adhere to God’s laws and dispense His righteousness in the communities and societies in which we live. And this will mean a counter-cultural emphasis in the way we treat the least able members of our societies. 

The Psalmist ends his short dissertation with an appeal for God to judge the earth. That is not a reference to the inert substance on which we stand, but to the peoples who stand on it with us. One day everyone will face judgement. A weary Asaph wanted it to happen quickly. He wanted God to “rise up”, to wake up and be God in His capacity as the ultimate Judge. And in the process purifying His inheritance, the nations. It has been said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. To this I will add a third this morning – judgement. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives. A sobering thought that should help us in the ways we view those who live around us. But not from a position of fearfulness, but one of faith in the righteousness of our Heavenly Father, as we, His people, call on His grace and mercy.

Troops and Walls

“To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, 
to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, 
to the pure You show Yourself pure, 
but to the devious You show Yourself shrewd. 
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. 
With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
‭Psalms‬ ‭18:25-29‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Verses 25 and 26 of Psalm 18, at first sight, seem a bit difficult to understand. What was the psalmist, David, getting at? He used words such as “faithful”, “blameless”, and “pure”. Was he perhaps implying that the qualities he lists have to be in our characters before we can see them in God, even though they are a part of His nature? Perhaps a faithless person wouldn’t see a faithful God because they wouldn’t understand what being faithful was all about. An impure person wouldn’t understand the purity of our Heavenly Father. But is God “shrewd”? Perhaps that is how He appears to someone with devious qualities, whether He is or not. The Psalmist goes on to explain that the quality of humility leads to salvation, unlike that for the proud, the haughty. A sentiment exemplified by Jesus, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” 

David continued with positive statements about the impact God had, and continued to have, on his life. Reading the Psalms written by David, you can see that he had many dark moments but here he is declaring that God had turned around his depression into a condition of lightness. In addition, God had empowered David to take on seemingly impossible tasks, in battle for example. Think about the Goliath episode. David’s logic as explained to King Saul, was breathtakingly simple, as we can read in 1 Samuel 17:36-37, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Almost as an aside, David didn’t appear before Goliath with a slingshot, never having used one before. As a shepherd, he spent hours perfecting the art of projecting a stone with a sling, and he probably set himself up a target and persevered, aiming and hitting, until he had the confidence in his ability. And when a lion or bear appeared on the scene a well-aimed stone would soon discourage them. So when Goliath stood before him, he forensically looked for a chink in the armour, found it above Goliath’s eyes and clinically proceeded to despatch him with a single small stone. But. A big but. David knew that he could do nothing on his own account. He needed God in his life to lead and guide and help him achieve what he had to do. David slung the stone. God helped it to the target. David built up his faith in God in the sheepfolds, on the open hills, in the pastures, as he protected a flock of sheep from predators. And that faith stood him in good stead as he took on the battles in war-torn Palestine. He knew that with his little ability and God’s limitless resources, he could have the confidence to take on tasks that would frighten most of his peers.

To be able to trust God for whatever life throws at us, equipping us for the battles ahead, takes two steps. Firstly, like David, we must develop the skills needed for our lives. Getting an education, learning a trade, practising playing a guitar, and so on, all the time keeping our eyes on our calling, focusing on our vocation. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman, but Jesus taught him how to use those skills to be a “fisher of men”. Sometimes we will perhaps get discouraged, thinking that our simple skill can’t be of any use to God. But God has a way of turning our little into great things for Him. Secondly, we need to spend time with our Heavenly Father. By being diligent in Bible reading and prayer, communicating and building a relationship with Him, testing our faith as we go, we learn to trust Him more and more. A toddler doesn’t leap out of the cradle one day saying that he is going to walk. There are some interim challenges he faces on the way, through crawling, sitting, and getting knocks and bumps, before the big day when he stands. And then he makes the first wobbly steps. Faith doesn’t appear overnight – it takes diligence and perseverance through the knocks and bumps as we grow. 

So back to today’s verses. He keeps our lamps burning, if we let Him. And that wall in front of us, or that Goliath in the office – they are not as big a problem as the enemy would have us think. That mountain might just turn out to be a molehill. Because God is on our side.