Beginning of Righteousness

Psalm 119.147
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.

Reflection: Beginning of Righteousness
The Park Forum

It is tempting when we read, in an English Bible, “the sum of your word” to picture a mathematical or financial metaphor. But the Hebrew word for sum—rosh—is more often translated with the English word beginning. To be fair, Bible translation is as much art as it is linguistics. Yet the significance of this word was not lost on ancient readers.

The psalmist, who wants his message to culminate with “every one of your righteous rules endures forever,” starts with, “the beginning of your word is truth.” The Babylonian Talmud observes:

The beginning but not the end? But [by] what comes at the end of your word—the truth of the beginning of your word is understood.

Could this be what Jesus was thinking of when Luke records:

[Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

The beginning is understood through the end.

If Christianity were merely about the imitation of Christ, the Hebrew Scriptures would have no meaning. Yet the heart of the Christian faith flows from relationship with Christ—and building intimacy begins in the words Jesus says introduce the divine to the world.

Spiritual maturity grows the immature curiosity of, “what would Jesus do?” to, “how will Christ live through what I chose to do?” This question presupposes freedom in Christ and demands intimacy to answer. And so the Psalmist cries:

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Here lies the Psalmist’s hope that, “everyone of your righteous rules endures forever.” The Talmud remarks:

Wherever the language, ‘command,’ is used, the sole purpose is to encourage obedience both at that time and for all generations.

The joy for God’s word expressed in Psalm 119 is found in the Psalmist’s faith in God’s goodness as expressed in his word. He is no longer cynical to commands because he has tasted the righteousness of God.

*For Talmud references, see b. Qidd. 1:7, II.9.B and 1:7, I.3.J.

Prayer: A Reading
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, he gave the this answer, “The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, ‘Look, it is here! Look, it is there!’ For look, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17.20-21

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 5-6 (Listen – 3:44)
Psalm 119.145-176 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
Imagine hanging our hopes on a great leader, only to watch him or her fall near the end of the race. Most of us don’t have to imagine it. It has happened.

Read More about The Kiss of Righteousness and Peace :: Guided Prayer
When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But before that happens there is confession and justice, mercy and redemption.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

We Confess :: Worldwide Prayer

Psalm 119.132
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.

From John:
The gospel is better served by time spent confessing our own sins than time spent accusing the world of theirs. When we call others to confession, we ought to be inviting them to join us, not sending them somewhere we’ve never been.

Reflection: We Confess :: Worldwide Prayer
A prayer of confession from Australia

Oh Lord Christ,

We are painfully aware of our need for confession.

We confess that
We share humankind’s inclination to sin.

We confess that
Like Peter, we have been reluctant to accept your gift of grace when you have knelt before us with basin and towel.

We confess that
Like the disciples in the Garden, we have failed to watch and pray.

We confess that
Like Pilate, we have vacillated between arrogance and fear, and sometimes washed our hands of our responsibilities.

We confess that
Like the Scribes and the Pharisees, we have believed that our religion was more important than following you.

We confess that
Like the Roman soldiers, we have thoughtlessly and cruelly added to your suffering and pain.

We confess that
Like Judas, we have betrayed you for 30 pieces of silver.

We confess that
Like Peter we have denied you when close to the fire.

We confess that
Like the disciples, we have forsaken you and fled.

We confess that
Like Mary, we have failed to recognize your divine presence.

We confess that
Like Thomas, we have insisted on proof.

And it was for our sins, you suffered, bled, and died.

Have mercy on us, oh God. Deliver us from our sin. Forgive us when we fail to take up a cross daily and follow.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to his hands. Anyone who believes in the Son had eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: God’s retribution hangs over him.” — John 3.35-36

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 3-4 (Listen – 3:53)
Psalm 119.121-144 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about Confession Destroys Denial
Nothing destroys denial except confession. Nothing repairs the damage of denial except repentance.

Read More about Emptiness Filled by Love :: Worldwide Prayer
There is joy and love to fill us, when we are emptied by confession…Our arms are too short to grasp what we need. But Christ is the arm of the Lord, bared before the nations—never too short to save.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Light for the Next Step

Psalm 119.105
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Reflection: Light for the Next Step
By John Tillman

I’ve found the promises of light bulb companies to be some of the most blatant marketing falsehoods I’ve ever experienced.

In the past nine years living in the same house, I’ve replaced multiple CFL bulbs that claimed they would last over 10 years. Then I replaced those with LEDs claiming to last 13. Recently, I’ve replaced those with, slightly more honest LED bulbs that only claim to last 9 years. The truth will come out—or burn out, in this case.

The ease with which we access artificial light in our modern world makes it difficult for us to understand the world in which this Psalm was written. A lamp for our feet seems redundant when every space is illuminated. We will feel cheated by this verse if we mistake the light it promises for a prophetic career map.

According to the psalmist, God’s word isn’t a spotlight for our ego-centric quest. It isn’t automobile high beams enabling us to speed through the dark toward the future. God’s word, most of the time, provides one-step-at-a-time light. A lamp for our feet forces us to engage with where we are, not look only at distant destinations.

Serving in India, Amy Carmichael wrote about her experience of learning about this popular verse in a very practical way.

Once when I was climbing at night in the forest before there was a made path, I learned what the word meant, Psalm 119.105: “They word is a lantern to my path”. I had a lantern and had to hold it very low or I should certainly have slipped on those rough rocks. We don’t walk spiritually by electric light but by a hand lantern. And a lantern only shows the next step—not several ahead.

All the lights we trust in other than God’s Word, will one day fail.
The brightest lights we know and can design can’t show us what God’s Word can.
God’s Word is the light we need for everyday living.
Walking daily in this Word, meditating on it, breathing it in and out, making it a part of our thoughts and our prayers, charges an inner light of the Holy Spirit that we can trust to give us the next step. Carmichael explains:

If the next step is clear, then the one thing to do is to take it. Don’t pledge your Lord or yourself about the steps beyond. You don’t see them yet.

Daily spiritual disciplines keep oil in your lamp so that you may follow the steps of the bridegroom when he calls.

Prayer: The Greeting
Restore us O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 2 (Listen – 3:48)
Psalm 119.97-120 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Good of Christ
Remember the parable of the foolish virgins: they were not harlots or profane, but “virgins.” They were not persecutors, blasphemers, or malicious, but “foolish”—supine, careless, negligent: they had lamps in their hands, but no oil in their hearts.

Read More about In the Wealth of a Dying World
The ineffable source from which this lamp borrows its light is the Light which shines in darkness, but the darkness cannot comprehend it.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Clinging to Dust

Psalm 119.25
My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!

Reflection: Clinging to Dust
The Park Forum

As a parent I feel a near-moral responsibility to upgrade my phone every year. I use my tiny computer (which occasionally receives a call) primarily to capture so many moments of our children’s growth and life—and how can I properly archive something of such magnitude with an outdated camera?

My family means so much to me, and I feel these memories—riding bikes, going to the philharmonic, bagels in the East Village, hiking the Rockies—slipping away, even as they happen. I realize this is one of the signs of my own idolatry. I’m clinging to dust.

The biblical image of dust is not meant to diminish the joys of our world—the power of love’s embrace, the pleasure of food, or the depth of nature. Instead it is meant to show us these glories in light of an infinite God. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explains:

When people or when a generation live merely for finite ends, life becomes a whirlpool, meaninglessness, and either a despairing arrogance or a despairing anguish. There must be weight—just as the clock or the clock’s works need a heavy weight in order to run properly and the ship needs ballast. Christianity furnishes this weight, this regulating weight, by making it every individual’s life-meaning.

Christianity puts eternity at stake. Into the middle of all these finite goals Christianity introduces weight, and this weight is intended to regulate temporal life, both its good days and its bad days. And because the weight has vanished—the clock cannot run, the ship steers wildly—human life is a whirlpool.

What I’m really searching for cannot be found in the glow of a screen. Truth be told, it cannot even be given in systematic theology. Psalm 119 draws our attention here—the psalmist loves God’s word because it is God’s—through it he finds the intimacy, fulfillment, and transcendence for which we all long.

The invitation is not to let go of dust, but to find something more worthy to cling to. So we join with Kierkegaard in praying:

Oh God, forgive me for seeking excitement and enjoyment in the allurements of the world which are never truly satisfying. If like the prodigal son, I have gone in search of the wonders of the transient world, forgive me, and receive me back again into your encircling arms of love.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 11 (Listen – 8:13)
Psalm 119.25-48 (Listen – 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 12 (Listen – 2:40) Psalm 119.49-72 (Listen – 15:14)
Hosea 1 (Listen – 2:08) Psalm 119.73-96 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Internet as Babel
When you are worshiping them, idols don’t seem religious. They seem immensely practical. Technology hasn’t tricked us any more than wooden and gold idols tricked the ancients. We deceive ourselves.

Read More about Economics and Faith
Trying to solve humankind’s problems through dust is a smokescreen to hide our true actions of substituting God with ourselves.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

Occupation of Meditation

Psalm 119.23-24
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Reflection: Occupation of Meditation
By John Tillman

In a letter to a frustrated friend, Amy Carmichael wrote:

Did you notice the words ‘occupied in Thy statues’ in Psalm 119.23 (Prayer Book Version)? It is a beautiful word. I have nothing to do today but to please Thee.

That is true of you, for this weariness is part of life, bonds that are allowed to be. But I do hope for health and ask for it. He knows what He is doing. ‘Jesus himself knew what He would do.’ (John 6.5-6) There will be a lovely ending to this story of frustration, something worth all it has cost.

The word Carmichael refers to as “occupied in” is translated “meditate on” in most modern translations. Siyach carries an additional meaning beyond pondering or thinking. It also implies telling, speaking, and producing thoughts and words. As Carmichael implies, meditation is more than just privately “thinking” about God’s word. It is occupation—something that implies action.

Prayer and meditation are real for Christians not only because our relationship with God is real, but because the results of true prayer are tangible actions on our part, empowered by God to make a difference in our world.

This is illustrated in the biblical story Carmichael references. In John, Jesus is asking Phillip how to feed a large crowd. Feeding the crowd is impossible for Phillip. It is even impossible for the united power of the disciples working together. But it is Christ’s will that they act in faith—doing what little they can do. Christ accepts our ineffectual actions when accompanied by effectual faith. He then miraculously works his power through us to change the world.

In the Psalm, the writer is being slandered and attacked by rulers, representatives of government and this world’s systems of power. The psalmist’s response of meditation is not one of plugging one’s ears with God’s Word so as to retreat from the world. It is that of filling one’s mind, and then one’s mouth with God’s Word—speaking that truth to the powers of the world.

Whatever our earthly frustrations, and whatever the tactics of the powerful princes and rulers who would slander or attack us, our source of strength is not human wisdom. Only meditation on and occupation with God’s Word can bring us peace in our frustrations, and give us power to oppose evil and help the suffering in this world.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. — Psalm 43.3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 10 (Listen – 3:19)
Psalm 119.1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

Additional Reading
Read more about A Discipline for the Anxious
The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God…in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.

Read More about Meditation in Spiritual Rhythm :: Throwback Thursday
Meditation is not new age, but old. However, in the modern age, it has often been forgotten on the shelf as many Christians and Christian leaders followed our culture into frenetic clamor instead of leading our culture from a place of peace and rest.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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