Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thoughts on Psalm 119:56

56 This has become mine,
Because I kept Your precepts.

If you’ve seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps you’ll remember the scene where they’re entering the prison, and Peter Quill sees a guard wearing his headphones and listening to his music. He jumps in and shouts at him, “Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede, 1973 - That song belongs to ME!

That’s what I hear when I read this verse in Psalm 119: this has become mine.

It’s not a Finding Nemo seagull saying “Mine! Mine!”
Nor is it a child grasping at a toy, selfishly crying “Mine!”

It’s Peter Quill yearning from his heart about something so precious to him - a gift from his mother.

And it’s the same with the Word of God. When our Father speaks a word to us - He gives us hope, comforts us, gives us a song, strengthens us with His name - it becomes what I could only describe in verse 49 as an “inside joke”.

It’s something so deeply personal and intimate, even though the Bible is there for millions to read, you can honestly say, “this has become mine!

I have shared a couple of these “mine” words that God has spoken to me in:
Verse 14 (Freedom from the fear of death - Hebrews 2:14-15)
Verse 15 (Go, sell the oil - 2 Kings 4:7)

And I have dozens more. One that is most precious to me is 1 Samuel 17:25. It was through this verse that God spoke very clearly to me about His will for my life.

From the time I met the Lord in November 2005 until early 2008, I had been praying for a wife. But then God asked me, in effect, “How do you know it’s My will for you to marry?”

I said, “You’re right. I don’t know that for sure.” And I was honest with the Lord. I said, “Lord, I want a wife. But I want Your will above what I want. If you want me to have a wife, good. If you want me to be single and serve you that way - then I know that Your will is the absolute best for my life. And that is what I ultimately want.

So I went into neutral, so to speak, and instead of asking for a wife presumptively, I started praying, “Lord, do You want me to have a wife?” I prayed this for several weeks. And I’ve discovered that it’s not uncommon for the Lord to answer me very quickly - though sometimes I am slow to hear. And fasting is one way to shut out distractions and really focus on the Lord and hear Him more clearly.

So on Saturday, March 8, 2008, I fasted from food. And I only had one question: “Lord, do you want me to have a wife? I just want a yes or no. If it’s a yes, I’ll wait for You for further instructions, and if it’s a no, then I’ll rejoice in Your will for my life.”

The next day at the Sunday evening service, I bumped into a man I knew from the prayer team at church. In the middle of our conversation, he suddenly got a very intense look on his face, and then said quite pointedly:

Ben, are you praying for a wife? You need to be praying for a wife. The Lord says He wants you to have a wife.

My eyes must have been as big as saucers. I was just fasting and praying about this yesterday!!!

I went home totally stoked. Amazed at how God speaks to us so clearly to answer our questions and give us direction. He gave me a prophetic word - and not from some whacko off the street, but from a man of God I know and trust.

Even then - and this is so important - I wasn’t satisfied. The Bible says, “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things… “ 1 Thess 5:20-21

So I went home thanking the Lord for His answer, then I asked Him to confirm it through His word.

And within a day or two, I came across 1 Samuel 17:25:

...and it shall be that the man who kills him [Goliath] the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel. 1 Sam 17:25

And when I read those words… “the king… will give him his daughter.” Something happened in my heart. I didn’t have to pray, “Lord, please give me a wife” any more, because I was already married! Faith had been birthed in my heart, and as the Word says, “Faith is… the evidence of things not seen.” Heb 11:1 I couldn’t see my wife - but I had evidence of her existence.

And what is so marvelous to me is how deeply the Lord spoke to my heart’s desire. I didn’t want a wife who was just a nice, church-going girl. I wanted a wife who had such a relationship with God that she was “the King’s daughter.”

It’s another story how the Lord brought Aries and I together. But it was all His doing. All of it was Him keeping His promise that He made to me in 1 Sam 17:25.

So, people may use this story in the Bible to make children’s books, or give 3 point illustrated sermons. They may debate the existence of giants. Or whatever else they may do. And it’s all well and good.

It doesn’t change the fact that 1 Samuel 17:25 is mine. God spoke it to me, and He fulfilled it in my life.

It does my heart good to reflect on these memories. I hope it does your heart good to read them, and to be encouraged that God wants to speak to you through the Word of God. And when He does, you’ll be able to say with me and with the psalmist:

“This has become mine.”

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Thoughts on Psalm 119:55

55 I remember Your name in the night, O Lord,
And I keep Your law.
I have shared in a previous verse (verse 14) about how I lived the first 26 years of my life as a slave to fear, and how God opened my eyes to the fact that Jesus died to free me (and you) from fear.

But that freedom didn’t happen automatically. It wasn’t as if the Holy Spirit said, “don’t be afraid,” and with a snap of the fingers I wasn’t afraid any more. Life in God rarely, if ever, seems to work that way.

Instead, what happened was that my eyes were opened to the things I was afraid of. That night in particular, I realized that I was afraid of 1) looking at my credit card statement, and 2) I was afraid of the dark.

So with this new revelation that I was no longer a slave to fear, I immediately got online and paid what I could for the credit card. It wasn’t the entire amount due, but I paid what I could.

And then I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and turned out the light.

Like David, who ran toward the giant when everyone else ran away, for the first time, I decided to face my fears instead of run away from them.

And there in that pitch-black bathroom, a real battle began. A spiritual battle.

The most horrible thoughts I have ever had began to flood my mind. Images appeared - entire scenes where I would make myself a fool in front of people I love and admire. I would have terrible thoughts of being rejected by others. Thoughts of horrible things happening to me and my loved ones. On and on they went.

And every time a thought popped into my head, or a scene played in my imagination, I would say one of two things:
Since I have flesh and blood, Jesus shared in my humanity so that by His death He would destroy the one who had power of death, that is the devil, and free me who all my life was subject to slavery to the fear of death (see Heb 2:14-15)
Or else I would simply say:
I reject those thoughts in the name of Jesus!

For the Scripture says:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 2 Cor 10:4-5 KJV

I don’t know if I was in the darkness for 30 minutes or 5 hours - but I decided that I was not going to be afraid of the dark any longer! Jesus died to set me free from that fear! But after some period of time - something changed.

I literally felt something change - like a straightjacket had been ripped off of me. And I knew it was a spirit of fear that was being kicked out of my life.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7

And I wish I could say that the battle was instantly over. It went on for weeks and months- and every time I had evil, fearful thoughts, I would simply call on the name of Jesus.

The battle was even taken into my sleep, where I would have nightmares of being chased, or of falling, or being attacked in some way.

But what amazed me, was how even in my dreams - every single time - I would instinctively cry out, “Jesus!!”

Sometimes the dreams would be so bad that my mouth would be closed and I couldn’t say Jesus’ name. And in such cases I would wake up from the nightmare saying aloud, “Jesus! Jesus!”

And I must say that the name of Jesus has been my salvation, my deliverance from fear. Even in my dreams. Therefore I sing with the psalmist:

I remember Your name in the night, O Lord

A couple closing comments:
I remember the first time that I lay down in bed, and when I closed my eyes, there were no horrible images there. It had been many months since that first night. But they were just gone, and my mind was clear. The devil does not have infinite resources. He will flee when we resist him.

Those fears and things still come at me from time to time, and I still resist them. It is much fewer and far between - but almost as if the devil just comes and knocks on my door to see if I’ll answer; to see if I’ll respond in fear. But when he does come knocking, I just let Jesus answer the door!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thoughts on Psalm 119:54

54 Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.

If there is a verse in the Bible that summarizes my life’s calling, I don’t know of a better one.

From the time I was about 13 to 16, I played trombone in the church choir. I didn’t have any relationship with the Lord, but I loved music, and I went to church, so it fit. And I now know that God spoke to me during that period - though I didn’t know it at the time.

I remember exactly where I was standing in the church. We had just played some music from one of the psalms - and if I had to describe the style, I would say it mostly resembled a Gregorian Chant. And I remember these words coming into my mind:

Someone should take these words and make new songs out of them. Modern songs with music that people today would enjoy.

And that was it. It seemed like just a fleeting thought that came and went.

Fast-forward 10 years, at age 26 I had a radical, life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time I understood by revelation two key truths: 1) that Jesus is alive; He loves me, has forgiven me, has a plan for my life and wants to have a relationship with me, and 2) that the Bible is in fact the Word of God and the primary (though not the only) way that God speaks to us today.

Several months later, as I began to better understand the value of the Bible in my life, I began to pray, “Lord, please help me to fall in love with your Word.

And, as often happens, the Lord answered me, not with a warm and fuzzy feeling toward the Bible - but He pointed me in a direction, and that direction was Psalm 119: the longest chapter in the Bible, dedicated to expressing how wonderful God’s Word is.

Written as an acrostic poem/song, I somehow understood that God wrote Psalm 119 in such a way that it was meant to be memorized - even by small children. In other words, it’s the ABC song of the Bible. And with that, I purposed in my heart to memorize it.

So I began doing what I call “brute-force” memorization. Reciting a verse at a time, writing the verse over and over, etc. I even made an app on the computer that would check me if I typed it out incorrectly. This went on for a couple of months, and I got about 40 verses in.

Then, as they say, I began to stagger under the load. I’d try to remember verse 41, and I’d lose verse 1. I was starting to lose words - “was it precepts, or statutes, or testimonies?”

But then came another memorable moment. I was sitting in my car outside of a Target, and I was mulling over the verses in my mind. And, the best way I can describe it is, it just bubbled up out of me.

I began singing: “Blessed are…. the undefiled in the way… who walk in the law of the Lord…

I thought to myself, “Wow… that sounds good!” So I rushed home, grabbed my guitar, and in a few minutes I had hashed out a rough version of the first stanza of Psalm 119.

And over the course of the following two years, little by little, I wrote a verse here and a verse there - until I had set the entirety of Psalm 119 to music. And in the process, memorized the entire Psalm (with a fraction of the perceived effort it takes to do brute-force memorization), and most importantly grew in my love for the Word of God.

And so I say, like the psalmist, and I hope you can too, while listening to these songs I’ve written:

Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.