The practice called Dwelling in the Word is a wonderful way of drawing close to God. In this edition of Pathways, we look at how the writer of a psalm found his faith sustained by reading scripture.
The Old Testament reveals how life is enriched by meditating on scripture. Surprisingly, this includes meditating on laws laid down in the first five books of the Bible. The law might sound like something to be avoided at all costs, but the writer of Psalm 119 says, “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.” He feels like a lottery winner. He has found the scriptures a guide to a better life; a gateway to the presence of God, in which he can rejoice. In contrast, the Pharisees followed the law only as a set of rules. When read as rules, it gave ever-diminishing returns.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Old Testament yields such delight. It was the only bit of the Bible that Jesus had. When he summed up what it was all about, he said it was about loving God and loving your neighbour.
Jesus gives us a vitally important way of understanding how the Bible transforms us. In John 5 he reveals where the Jewish leaders were going wrong in their way of reading scripture:
“You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5: 39-40
When we study the Bible it should always be to come to Christ and find life. Without that desire we are sometimes left with empty words which diminish us rather than giving us life.
Of course, we are only human. We don’t always want to be open to Christ. Like the psalmist, we acknowledge that we fail:
“Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (verse 5)
Yet he doesn’t give up. He prays, learns, obeys, rejoices, meditates, and remembers. He is not half-hearted. This is a crucial factor; the Bible emphasises that ‘double-mindedness’ gets us nowhere. How can it? Either we are opening ourselves to Christ or we are closing the door.
We must be persistent. We are like the new driver, finding a different way of going forward. There will be some false starts.
Sometimes we are perplexed by what we read in the Bible. It might not seem to be about love at all. We need to interpret ‘difficult’ passages in the light of scripture as a whole. We need to develop wisdom and understanding. We need God’s help, and also the insights that others can give us.
The last lines of the extract from Psalm 119 are:
“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”
When we start reading the Bible, we can ask God to help us see things which naturally we are blind to. We have been blinded by the particular distortions of truth in our times. A change of heart can only come with Christ’s help.¶