by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
Right now, there is a lot of conversation happening around freedom and the rightness of rules that have been put in place. While I will admit that I find some of the arguments of the present day to be rather cyclical and often unkind, I do think that it is good to examine which laws/regulations that have been put in place are good and which are not.
For example, a mask mandate is a good rule. It is a simple way for a person to think of their neighbors as well as protect themselves in the midst of pandemic. On the flip side, I am staunchly against the death penalty. As a believer in the God who desires to redeem and heal any and all, I cannot support any decision that says a human being is beyond redemption.
While it is good to use discernment while wading through human made regulations, God's laws are always, always good. Let's explore.
This theme has popped up a lot in my prayer book recently (The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle) and it got me thinking more deeply about God's laws. Despite what I might affirm, do I truly believe that they are good? Even more: do I truly follow them?
Psalm 119 is a real doozy. It is the longest chapter in the Bible, a Hebrew acrostic, and sings the praises of God’s statutes. This week, I was drawn to Psalm 119:9-16. It reads:
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word. (NIV)
I simultaneously love and am deeply challenged by this pericope. As per my normal processing pattern, three things assembled in my mind.
1. How to keep it together? Live closely to the Word.
When verse one speaks about the path of purity, I don’t think it is necessarily talking about rings that say "True Love Waits". I interpret this as more of a reference to a life of righteousness, a walk of discipleship that is honoring to God. And how are we to achieve this? By clinging tightly to that which God has laid out for us. I remember my Arabic teaching telling me that language was "simple, but not easy", and the same applies here. To stay on good, healthy paths, we need only cling to what the Lord has spoken, but it is not always easy to try to fall in line within those parameters. We can not pick and choose what works best, we must take it on its own terms. Thankfully, we have a merciful Father, a mediator in the Son, and a helper in the Spirit. We aren't going at this alone, but we must make every effort to stay near. When that is in line, our peace is promised and all else will fall into place.
2. Make it a part of me, Lord.
Here we also see that avoiding sin and moving from brokenness comes from tucking the word safely into ourselves. Let's be honest, there are times when all of us have stepped off of the straight and narrow and given in to our baser impulses. But how different would our lives look if we were to safely stow the decrees of the Lord into our inner beings? What if they were not hindrances that live outside of us, but a presence that has been written into our very personalities? I have often asked for God to tattoo my heart-- I want the Spirit to make the truths of God so much a part of me that I cannot deny them. I want them to be the essence of who I am. I want all worldly instincts to be painted over by grace and love and holy relationship. I'm not there yet by any means, but the Psalmist claims to have hidden the word in their heart so that they might be kept from sinning against the one that loves them most. If following close to God's laws enables that, then I will continue on that journey.
3. Freedom In Obedience
As a young person in the West, I am well acquainted with the belief that rules are constraints. We want to live freely without consequence and only accept accountability when it suits us. For the Psalmist, however, God's statutes are an absolute treasure. They are not something to be dodged or dreaded, but embraced. I am convinced that this is because they are entirely for our good and His glory. Do we always agree with or understand them? Maybe not. But the way that the Lord has ordered the world, the truths that He has spoken and the love that He has demonstrated, is all in line with His vision for us. When we realize this, we thirst for His design. We trust that He knows what He's doing. We should not dread the act of following in His footsteps because it is only there that we find true, rich, and ongoing existence. When we follow in the paths laid out in His infinite wisdom and care which is far above us, rules cease to be constraints and instead become gracious gifts that bring life. Following them ushers in true freedom.
Let me be clear: I am not promoting legalism. We are human and we will mess up and faith is not about following any given number of steps to achieve a goal. Moreover, the Law as was laid out in the Old Testament has been fulfilled in Jesus. This is not about doing x,y, and z to make God happy.
Rather, I am positing the idea that we, like the Psalmist, should celebrate the guidance God has given us and trust that it is the line where we should attempt to walk. The Lord's promises give us a framework for moving through the world as best we can. The Spirit travels with us, the Father waits for us, the Son has shown us where to place our feet.
In the end, ask yourself: Do I love the Lord's laws? Do I delight in His decrees?
In the end, ask God: Please hide Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
And keep going.
Cross-Posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"