Preparing for Worship: Placement of Psalm 119

In a three-part series on approaching Psalm 119, I’ve considered the composition of the Psalm. The way it navigates through the alphabet indicates the totally sufficiency found for God’s people in the Word. And I have considered the kinds of words the Psalm ties together to describe the Scriptures, denoting its absolute truth predicated on the authority of God.

Another feature to note about Psalm 119 is its placement in the psalter—and how that placement teaches a practice of preparing for worship through the Word. As I understand it, the book of Psalms was compiled with an inspired editor; it is organized into books and has a true introduction and also an intentional flow.

Recalling the First Psalm

Psalm 119 recalls the first Psalm—the introduction to the psalter. Read Psalm 1:1-2 and Psalm 119:1 together:

“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on His law he meditates day and night.”

Ps. 1:1-2

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!”

Ps. 119:1

Psalm 119 expounds upon a purpose statement Psalm 1 gives of living according to the law of God. In this sense, the content of Psalm 119 can be overlaid across every Psalm. As writers are crying out for God in their suffering, worshiping Him, declaring who He is, singing His praise, and petitioning for His help—every hope, joy, comfort, and help proclaimed comes back to this basis of submission to and dependence upon the Scriptures. Psalm 119 follows after Psalm 1, amplifying this introduction.  

Preparatory for Worship

Dr. Peter Lillbach teaches that Psalm 119’s placement especially has significance for the Psalms following it. Psalm 120 starts the “Songs of Ascent.” Three times per year, the Israelites would worship at the temple. These Songs of Ascent were sung on the way up Mount Zion. Psalm 119, the Psalm about God’s Word, can be viewed as the preparatory foundation leading to these times of scheduled worship.

Scripture holds promises to believe in and be encouraged by; it also holds instructions for conviction and conformity to God’s ways and thought as we seek to think His thoughts after Him and to obey. Our status as God’s true children, by grace, can never change, like the Word never changes. Having that confidence in God’s grace provides strength and perspective for heeding our warnings in Scripture and adjusting as needed. Psalm 66:17-18 teaches that if a person is unwilling to forsake and fight sin, God does not hear his or her worship.

I cried to Him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue. 

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.”

Ps. 66:17-18

Carefully Kept, as with Tender Plants

Yet, Psalm 119 teaches that those who keep His testimonies—who cherish them and collect them closely as treasures—are blessed in the worship of God.

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
who seek Him with their whole heart,”

Ps. 119:2

While keeping in the Word as a receiver of God’s great grace and, thus, a humble learner, the human spirit is continually realigned to rejoice in the truth and hate what is false. Paul Bayne writes of the word “keep” in Psalm 119:2, “The word here used signifieth such a careful custody as that is wherewith we use to keep tender plants” (quoted by Charles Spurgeon). This tending work of preparation for worship lasts all of earthly life. That can be a discouraging truth, yes. On this earth, I will never be all I desire to be. But it is also a joy-filled message. For there is always more truth to learn and more of God to know, love, and honor. Carefully growing, watering, and feeding the heart and mind in such a way that His testimonies, precepts, ways, commandments, and Word thrive within is certainly worthy of a blessed lifetime of effort and humble, needy submission. 

preparing-for-worship-psalm-119

When walking in purity—opposing known sin, striving to hate all that God hates, and love all He loves—goodness, joy, and blessing ensue. It seems to follow from Psalm 66:17-18 that on this path, worshipers are heard by the Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1). And, best of all, God is extolled in all of His purity, holiness, and truth. For through submitting to the Word, His people acknowledge how important these characteristics and values are to Him—the Alpha and Omega who has spoken in law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, way, and word. 

“I will praise You with an upright heart,
when I learn Your righteous rules.”

Ps. 119:7


For the Good News: Beth, Missionary in South Africa

beth-missionary-south-africa

Beth is a TEAM missionary serving in South Africa with her husband, Ben, and their three young children.

Lianna: Share with us how what you are involved with helps the lost hear the proclamation of good news.

Beth: Our family is involved in theological education and discipleship in South Africa. The faithful work of church planters for many decades has resulted in a robust passion for Jesus, but there is a lack of biblical understanding and theological competence, and as a result, much syncretism. We are so excited about the potential of Africa for the spreading of gospel and are thankful to be a part in preparing South Africans for faithful gospel witness in their own contexts. It is our privilege and passion to teach God's Word and come alongside national students in their pursuit of deeper faith. We see this ministry as one of multiplication, that as students are transformed by a deeper knowledge of God's Word and faithfully take it out into their contexts, as a result, their families, their communities, and their nation will also be transformed by God. 

A story might help to illustrate: few weeks ago, my husband and I were asked by fellow colleagues to tag along a few afternoons one week as the Children's Ministries class was putting a five-day club at a local school. They needed extra people to assess how the students led the children in memorizing verses, in Bible stories, and games. We loved being a part, seeing the children reciting Bible verses, and the students sharing about the power God has to change hearts. My husband and I both felt this was a great example of our vision for this ministry: seeing these students, personally impacted by God's Word, sharing the gospel with 150 children - praise God!  

L: In addition to the very significant area of financial support, what are some of the most helpful ways you have been supported by the church?

B: From early on in our process to pursue working internationally, we understood that the Great Commission is for the whole church, and it is essential that any effective ministry be rooted in and flowing out of the body of Christ. To that end, we don't see people who are committed to financially supporting us or praying for us as doing us a favor, but rather, fully participating in the Great Commission, and an extension of this ministry in which we are involved. We are all in this together—the spreading of the Gospel, the making of disciples, the teaching and discipling—and while our part is to go, we could not do it without those who have sent us. 

We have the best partners. It is an amazing encouragement to us to see who the Lord has brought forward to participate in this ministry with us, and we are constantly aware of and thankful for the privilege of working together in the gospel with so many faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. A few of the other ways that we have been helpfully supported by the church are regular Skype meetings with our pastor, personal emails and notes of encouragement, packages with Christmas and birthday gifts for our kids, and reminders from those who are faithfully praying. It is hard to articulate just how much these extra measures of support mean to us, how they strengthen, encourage, and equip us for the work in which we are involved. 

We literally could not do this work without the body. 

L: What have you learned about the power of prayer?

B: Since being here, I've been realizing just how anemic my own prayer life has been, and it's been a good challenge to be more committed in prayer. I truly desire to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). There is a tangible spiritual darkness here, and forces of evil at work that are unfamiliar to us. 

A couple of months ago, an African friend confided in me about some issues she was having with her preteen daughter. One day, she even ran away from home and wasn't found for a long while. This friend indicated that her family believed it was her deceased father's spirit which was the cause of these issues and was planning to take my friend's daughter to a local sangoma (witch doctor). In that moment, I asked God what I was to say in response to this—my years of theological training hadn't exactly prepped me for this type of situation. He simply told me to pray for her, so I told my friend that I would pray for her daughter. The next week, when I saw my friend again, she said, "you won't believe it, but my daughter's issues have gone away, and I think it's because you said you would pray!" 

It's fair to say that I was personally amazed as well, and challenged that in my simple act of faithfulness to pray, God is faithful and powerful to answer, to overcome all sorts of evil. Which, as we know, he will do completely in the end. 

L: For those who sense a calling to be missionaries, what wisdom would you share about how to prepare? 

B: From a biblical perspective, our calling is simply to love and follow Jesus, whatever our current station in life. Beyond that, if God has burdened your heart for involvement in a particular ministry, here are a few thoughts from our experience.  

  1. Talk to your church. it is important that they see you as suited for the ministry in which you are interested. Does the church validate your gifting, your desire to serve? 
  2. Get proper training. If you were to be involved in supportive medical missions, you'd need some sort of appropriate training. Likewise, consider the ministry and invest the time and resources to be well-trained.
  3. Consider the practical elements. Be informed—take a vision trip if you discern that to be wise, evaluate schooling options for kids, consider how you would respond to the culture/weather/location you are thinking of committing to. 
  4. Pray. God, in his power and sovereignty, can open and close any door. Align your heart to his Word.
  5. Be obedient. There are times when I have felt like I didn't want to be overseas, but I was willing to go. And to give this willingness as my sacrifice to God, and let him take me wherever in the world he intended, for his glory, whatever the cost—this is a sweet treasure. 

But ultimately, we recognize that God will provide for all of our needs, and may often lead us to situations where life is not particularly comfortable, safe, or glorious. He does not need us to accomplish his kingdom purposes, but graciously allows us to be involved. As we simply seek to be faithful day in and day out, he will be glorified. And that's all that ultimately matters. Soli deo gloria.

Longing for His Rules: Words of Psalm 119

The “Mount Everest” of the psalter, a “rolling prairie without bound,” and a “continent of sacred thought”—are all ways Psalm 119 has been described. Through this three-part series, we are examining aspects of this Psalm that attest to its magnificent nature. Last week, we began by examining its poetic composition.

Another characteristic of Psalm 119 is its reoccurring use of words that hold different shades of meaning to describe Scripture. Dr. Peter Lillback teaches that you can tell what is important to a culture by the number of words it has to describe the same phenomenon; as an example, the Finnish culture has fifty words that essentially mean “snow.” The Psalmist here uses repetitive language to communicate significant truths about Scripture itself. They are “near synonyms” according to D.A. Carson that are carefully employed to convey nuance of meaning.

An Exquisite Collection of Words

Below are some of the words found in this Psalm, along with their meanings from the ESV Study Bible, D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Dr. Peter Lillback’s sermon, and Lawrence O. Richards’ The Bible Reader’s Companion. The Hebrew transliteration follows the English word in parentheses:

law (torah)
- instruction (ESV Study Bible, Carson)
- moral standards (Lillback)
- the whole body of Scripture’s teaching as found in Moses’ writings (Lawrence)

testimonies (‘edot)
- what God solemnly testifies to be his will (ESV Study Bible)
- God’s bold action of bearing “witness” or “testimony” to the truth and against all that is false (Carson)

precepts (piqqudim)
- what God has appointed to be done (ESV study Bible)
- connected with God’s superintending oversight, as of one who cares for the details of His charge (Carson)
- moral principles applied to life (Lillback)

statutes (khuqqim; khuqqot)
- what the divine Lawgiver has laid down (ESV Study Bible)
- the binding force of Scripture (Carson)
- legal positions (Lillback)

commandments (mitswot)
- what God has commanded (ESV Study Bible)
- clear, definite directives issued by God (Lawrence)
- predicated on God’s authority to tell His creatures what to do (Carson)
- obligations God places on man to obey (Lillback)

rules (mishpatim)
- what the divine Judge has ruled to be right (ESV Study Bible)
- the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge (Carson)

word (’imrah; dabar)
- what God has spoken (ESV Study Bible)
- a revelation, but also specifically the Ten Commandments God gave Israel through Moses (Lawrence)
- the most comprehensive term (Carson)
- God speaking (Lillback)

way (derek)
- a metaphor for the way of life believers are to live (Lawrence)
- what we are to walk in/ live out (Lillback) 

If you were to tell another person what the Bible is and why you read it, what would you say and what language would you use? Here, the Bible teaches us how to talk about the Bible—how to approach it, and how to understand it. According to Psalm 119, 

Scripture
is God’s spoken, revealed Word; 
is absolute truth based upon His authority;
places set, God-given obligations, laws, rules upon our lives that are binding and legal; 
is produced for us in accordance with God’s holy, moral will;
and is definitive and clear regarding how we are to walk.

For 22 stanzas, Scripture is spoken of as inerrant, absolute truth to know, believe, and obey. Is that what you and I find praiseworthy about the Scriptures? The Psalmist does—over and over. The Psalmist delights in the law, commandments, rules, etc. of the one true God.

In all the ways I do not yet delight in the law of God, I have some thinking and praying to do about why—and about what extra-biblical notions I have perhaps attached to my faith or, perhaps, what partial truths about Scripture I have used to overshadow this kind of language, thought, and praise.

Legal Nature of the Psalm and Salvation

Perhaps our society’s ethic can be described by the phrase, “anything goes as long as you don’t hurt someone else.” But God has absolute moral standards for His people that do not change with the times, as we see in this Psalm.

So, as believers, we have legal justification before God through faith in Christ who fulfills the law. We are saved not by our own works, but by His. As His people, we can see that the obligations of God so matter Him and sin so entirely unacceptable to Him that the death of His Son was required to justify us. Law-breakers are saved, making us lovers of the law-Giver for who He is. This includes loving all of His righteous and holy commands, rules, and ways.

Reading Psalm 119's descriptors of Scripture straightens me, sharpens me, and conforms me. They remind me of what Paul writes in Romans, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). As Psalm 119 concludes in verse 176, we who believe sorrowfully do sin: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” By God’s grace, we who have been given the gift of faith don’t forget who God is to us through His Word—we don’t forget the price Jesus paid, and we don’t forget who He is because we have the Spirit is within us.

Through Christ I can recognize that the righteousness in my life is all owed to Him—without whom I would still be lost. I praise Him for His righteousness and for the Word as it is and as I so need—and because of Christ, want—it to be: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, emphasis mine).

How Can We Look Away?

Look at this valuable Word and consider the thoughtfulness the Psalmist took to describe it in exquisite, righteous, holy detail. Awakened to this invaluable Word of truth, how can we look away from it, from Him?

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
Psalm 119:20

True truth is foreign to naturally double-minded, wicked-hearted man. Is it not magnificent to behold? Awe-inspiring? Worship-producing? It is unlike anything else we can hold and see in this world. God has spoken. In what He has spoken—our pure delight. 

Longing for his rules, Psalm 119. Image of the Grand Canyon.

Next week, we’ll discuss Psalm 119’s placement in the psalter. 


For the Good News: Asia and Church Planting in Chicagoland

Jesus Christ came from God the Father in love—died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and made appearances—that instead of being condemned to eternal hell we can be redeemed and forgiven new creations who forever worship God. Romans 10:14-15 teaches, of sharing this good news with those who don’t yet know it, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” In this interview series, “For the Good News,” we’re priviledged to feature missionaries and stateside church planters who have been sent for the lost to hear the gospel. For all of the interviews this series, click here


for-the-good-news-asia

Asia Ashwill was born in Communist Poland and came to America with her family at age 11. She graduated from University of Arizona with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. After working for Hewlett-Packard for 5 years, she ‘retired’ to start a family. She and her husband, Cabot, have four children. Asia has homeschooled for the last 20 years, while helping her husband start businesses in CA and AZ and finish seminary. Their family planted LifeSpring Community Church in 2010 and in 2015 Cabot began a church planting network, ReachChicago, in the Chicago area. ReachChicago has planted 3 churches in the last year and 4 more interns are being trained in 2017. Asia is developing a support and discipleship track for the women of ReachChicago

Lianna: Share with us how being sent as church planters helps the lost hear the proclamation of good news.

Asia: We planted LifeSpring in an area that had very weak evangelical presence, for the purpose of proclaiming the good news to the lost. Since that time, we have seen God bring people who needed to be restored to Him. They have been discipled, and have grown in their faith and love of others. These families and individuals who have grown and matured spiritually are now being commissioned and send out to different parts of the state, nation, and the world with the purpose of making the name of Jesus known to those who are lost and perishing.  Since planting our church almost 7 years ago, my husband has formed a partnership with other EFCA churches in the greater Chicago area, called ReachChicago, to train and equip new church planters. We have planned three churches and will start training four new interns in the fall. I am helping to disciple and encourage the planter’s wives.

L: In addition to the very significant area of financial support, what are some of the most helpful ways you have been supported by the church? 

A: One of the most significant ways that my husband has been supported in church planting was through the greater "church," through the church planting director in our district. His friendship to my husband, wisdom, and guidance were invaluable especially during the early difficult days of church planting. Sadly, there was not much support for me as a church planting wife. Currently, I'm in the process of developing a discipleship and support group for the wives of the new church planting interns, and God has graciously provided me with a few mature Christian women to support and help me with that effort. 

L: What have you learned about the power of prayer?

A: As we have prayed, I have seen God work powerfully in my life and in the life of our church. We haven’t always known what is best to pray for, but God always knows what is best. I have seen Him orchestrate events and move hearts in ways that I did not expect or even know to pray for. He has helped us to develop a team, reconcile broken relationships, and give us comfort in areas that still need restoration. God always brings the church the right people at the right time, sometimes for a short season and sometimes for the long haul—people who are uniquely gifted and suited for the task of building God's church in that season.

L: For those who sense a calling to be church planters, what wisdom would you share about how to prepare?

A: Church planting is hard work; it can be exhausting. It is also exciting and exhilarating because planters have the opportunity to participate with God in changing lives and growing His kingdom. The one thing we did not realize is that as you make a difference in expending the kingdom of God, the enemy will do all he can to oppose your efforts. That often manifests itself as a personal attack on you and your family. At every significant spiritual breakthrough for the church, our family—especially our kids—would be attacked. We had experienced times of personal darkness and heaviness. After recognizing spiritual attacks for what they were, our family was able to fight temptations through the power of Christ and we saw God use those times to purify our hearts and desires. He has carried us on wings like eagles.

If I was to write an advertisement for a church planter, I might say something like this:

"Do you love people? Are you adventurous and not afraid to fail or try new things? Are you willing to work hard and lay it all out for Jesus? Can you gather and set a vision for a group of people? Can you handle criticism, resolve conflict in a healthy way, and not be easily discouraged? Then you should pray, asking God if He has fashioned you uniquely for the amazing, challenging and rewarding work of church planting."