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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Clinging to Dust

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

Reflection: Clinging to Dust
By Steven Dilla

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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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.

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Recognizing our True Position

Daniel 9.18-19
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

Psalm 118.21-22
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone

Reflection: Recognizing our True Position
By John Tillman

Daniel, despite his worldly comforts and esteem, had this in common with Jeremiah and Ezekiel—he felt deeply the shame and pain of his exile.

Though Daniel, in Babylon, moved in royal circles as Moses had in Egypt, Daniel was not an adopted son, as Moses was. He was not free, as Moses was, to escape to the desert. But, in this passage especially, we see that Daniel, like Moses did not identify himself with the wealth and privilege that surrounded him.

Daniel recognized his true position. He saw the reality that he was, in truth, a slave.

Daniel assimilated into the culture forced upon him but, as much as possible, refused to let it become part of his identity. One example of this is retaining the use of his Hebrew name, Daniel, rather than the name given by his captors, Belteshazzar.

Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets never, to our knowledge, met face to face. But in suffering, in struggle, in exile, in pain, and through their writings, they are intimately connected.

From Ezekiel’s writings we know that Daniel was, during his lifetime, considered one of the greatest and most righteous men in history, held up in comparison with Noah and Job.

In today’s reading we see Daniel, this great and righteous man, devoting himself to the study of the writings of Jeremiah, referring to them as the Word of God.

In the world, we find frustration, pain, rejection, exile, and shame. Even Daniel, the most famous, privileged, powerful, and revered of the prophets felt these things. Daniel found comfort, wisdom, inspiration, and community through studying the scriptures and prayer and fasting. In this, we can follow his example.

We can, with Daniel, recognize that our position in this world is that of slaves and exiles, but our redemptive destiny is to reign with the coming, rejected King of Kings.

Stone and King Rejected
Rejected stone.
Rejected king.
In our sins, alone,
Exile stings.

Rejected king.
Rejected stone.
Sins to you cling.
Your justice shown.

The world rejects us, Lord.
We rage.
The world attacks us, Lord.
We cry.
The world enslaves us, Lord.
We weep.
The world murders us, Lord.
We die.

Rejected as you were.
Attacked because of you.
Slandered as you were.
Murdered, we join you.

Rejected king.
Rejected stone.
We lose all things
To serve your throne.

Rejected stone.
Rejected king.
We are your own.
To you we sing.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
You have shown me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth. — Psalm 71.20

– 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 9 (Listen – 5:22)
Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)

Additional Reading
Read more about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation. Not Daniel, not Noah, not even Job.

Read More about Resisting in Faith
Daniel lived undefiled, resisted the whims of an evil government, and influenced the course of an empire through simple faith and regular practice of spiritual disciplines.

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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.

What to Expect when Suffering :: A Guided Prayer

Psalm 116.11
…in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: What to Expect when Suffering :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

When in suffering, we can at times be surprised by the emotions that are stirred. We can encounter deep sadness, anguish, and even rage.

Suffering comes in many forms and many intensities. But our response follows a predictable pattern. Hope, impatience, despair, rage, doubt, rejection, redemption, and praise are all a part of the template of prayer that the psalmists show us. There is comfort in acknowledging the emotional rollercoaster that is the the psalmists’ testimony.

Don’t be surprised or ashamed of the emotions that come in times of struggle and pain. With faith in God, we can move through cycles of emotions to the peace that God gives us in his presence.

Today we will follow a guided prayer with portions of Psalm 116 from today’s reading.

What to Expect When Suffering

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.

Oh God, in times of stress, despair, and struggle
We are overcome and need your comfort.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”

But the world frustrates us, teaching us that any degree of suffering is waste.

in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

You are the only trustworthy one, Lord,
But in our alarm, amidst fear and emotion
We sometimes call the wrong things lies

May we not reject community, simple kindness, praise, and loving words from those around us.
May we not reject being reminded that we are loved.

Instead we call the world a liar.
When they say a good life is pain-free
When they say pain proves God is not with us

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;

Rarely are our current sufferings deadly.
But, Oh God, even when they are…
You are with us now and in the hour of our death
We are precious to you at all times and in every outcome

And if the worst the world can imagine should happen to us
In our death, we simply enter your precious presence in “the courts of the house of the Lord.

May we not wait until death to experience the peace of walking in your courts.
Help us to live, bringing the reality of your courts, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– 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 8 (Listen – 4:39)
Psalm 116 (Listen – 1:34)

Additional Reading
Read more about When Suffering Lingers :: Readers’ Choice
Early rabbinic writings understood the bush to be a symbol of ancient Israel—persevering under the flame of Egypt’s brutality. Though we burn, we are not consumed. This is the mere beginning of God’s grace.

Read More about The Crucible of Suffering
In the midst of suffering—when we don’t sense any positive change in our circumstances—we can start to question God’s goodness and his love.

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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