From the vicarage – Sept 2015

Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end. Psalm 119:33

This little verse occurs in the longest chapter in the bible, Psalm 119 (which has 176 verses). It has been on my mind all summer as the Lord brings it back to me again and again.

I’ve found that there are many levels at which this one line works in our lives. First, it establishes God as teacher, we are the pupils. Christian believers acknowledge this.

Second, it establishes God as our authority. God gives us his decrees, principles, laws and commands, and expects us to learn them so we can follow them. This is very hard for us to do, because it is completely counter cultural in our secular society where everything we do is self-justified. In our culture we often say, “I did this because…” and we make up our own reason as seems best to us. But Christian believers are those who make God the teacher who has authority. We are to put into practice what he teaches us to do.

Third, God expects us to learn about living for him. We are to learn his ways, follow his paths, keep his commands, obey his law and be guided by his decrees. Christian believers are to learn from God the teacher about what pleases him, and by living to please him, we learn to find God’s blessings (Deuteronmony 28:1-6).

Fourth, we never stop learning. “I will follow it to the end.” In other words, our learning begins at birth and ends at death. The psalm writer is writing as an adult, keen to learn and apply the wisdom of God.

Fifth, and last, the verse gives us a new perspective on what life is for. What if our life is for learning God’s decrees? What if every situation we face as individual Christians and as a local church which is part of a denomination, which in turn is connected to the worldwide church, is given to us by God for us to learn God’s decrees? What if the knowledge we gain of living to please God starts now and is carried on into eternity, through faith in Christ as Saviour?

This completely changes the way we view our life and situations. Difficult situations are no longer problems to solved but experiences to learn through. Of course, we need to be clear about two types of learning. First, there is theological knowledge, the stuff we learn from the bible, books, courses and college. We are to learn God’s decrees from his word, this is good theology. If we ignore God’s decrees, we develop bad theology.

Second, we learn to apply God’s decrees in our lives through the situations that we face. Whether our situations are joyful or sad, easy or difficult, painless or deeply wounding, they are all ways in which the God who loves us gives us ways to learn his decrees by following them to the end. If we don’t learn learn God decrees we can’t apply them.

This verse has helped me in lots of ways. I am helped to keep learning God’s decrees, not as religious habit or duty but for the joy of learning from God. I am helped to face situations as a way of learning and growing by applying or following God’s decrees. And I am helped to see that what has happened in the past, happy or sad, has all been from the Lord’s hand as his way of teaching me his decrees. I pray that this may also be of help to you.

With love, Neil

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