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Psalm 119:1-18 - In The Way of His Word

Pursuing Habits of Grace: The Spiritual Disciplines in the Christian's Life  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:48
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We hear God's voice when we commit to journeying through His Word

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Introduction

How many times have you been the middle of a crowded room (there aren’t as many opportunities to be in crowds these days, but work with me here)… You’re in a crowded, noisy place, and suddenly your phone rings with an important call that you’ve been waiting for. What do you do? You walk out of the room, out of the crowd and get to a quiet place where you can hear the call, don’t you?
Folks, this has been one of the noisiest weeks in living memory in our nation, hasn’t it? There are loud and clamorous voices everywhere, demanding attention, demanding they get their way, insisting that they be heard and obeyed. And all of these voices are intent on drowning out the one Voice that really matters—the Voice of God Himself.
Beloved, if you ever needed to hear the Voice of God, it is now, isn’t it? If you ever needed to get away from the noise and tumult and frenzied panic of a nation Hell-bent on ripping itself apart, it’s now. So I want to invite you this morning to step away from the shouting and fighting and accusations and panic of these days. Come away and place yourself in the way of God’s voice by walking through His Word. Because the promise that we have from Him is that
We hear God’s voice when we COMMIT to JOURNEYING in His Word
As we are considering the place of the spiritual disciplines—the “habits of grace”—in the Christian’s life, we have seen that God’s grace is far beyond the reach of any of our skill or techniques: We cannot coerce or manipulate Him into being more gracious to us. And we also have seen that God is pleased to use regular channels by which He pours out His grace into our lives; there are regular paths along which He is pleased to meet us to minister to us and bring us blessing and growth and fellowship with Him. And this morning we come to consider the path by which we hear God’s Voice—the written Word of God.
As we noted a couple of weeks back, if you want to hear God speak to you today, if you want to know what He wants you to do and you want to have His guidance and encouragement and correction, you must place yourself in this Book. This Book is the way that you come to know the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the way that you come to hear the Gospel Word of God in the Good News of salvation in Jesus. And what I aim to do this morning is to show you—from God’s Word—why you should commit to journeying through God’s Word, and how you can pursue that lifelong journey.
The passage that we are considering today from the Book of Psalms is part of the single largest chapter in the Bible—Psalm 119 is even longer than some whole books of the Bible!—and it all has to do with celebrating God’s good gift of His Law (His Word) as the perfect guide for life. It is an “acrostic” Psalm, meaning that it has twenty-two sections of eight verses, each verse starting with the letter in the Hebrew alphabet it is arranged under. And every verse of the Psalm contains at least one synonym for God’s Word—you can see it in the first few verses of the passage:
Psalm 119:1–7 ESV
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.
The psalmist says that the obedience to God’s Word he aims for is characterized by walking in His Word. To walk means to conduct your life in a way that lines up with what God’s Word says, to arrange not only your actions, but your priorities and desires and goals and intentions with God’s instructions:
Psalm 119:1–3 ESV
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!
In fact, let’s think about developing habits of grace in God’s Word as a walk—a journey that we undertake. A number of years ago our niece Lauren flew down to Georgia to attend a friend’s wedding. And her plan was, after the wedding, to walk back to Pennsylvania across the Appalachian Trail—about 1067 miles! Now clearly you have to have a very careful plan laid out when you are facing a journey that long and challenging—and in fact Lauren trained and planned for a long time before she set out on her journey. If we are going to commit to journeying through God’s Word so that we may hear His Voice, we need a plan as well.
The first step in the journey through God’s Word, clearly, is that we must

I. READ through His Word (Ps. 119:1-7)

We have the amazing privilege—almost unheard-of in past ages of the Church—of having our very own copy of the Scriptures to read, and the ability to read it. But all too often we resolve to spend more time reading the Bible—maybe even setting up one of those “Read Through The Bible in A Year” plans—and after a few weeks we “get behind” and get discouraged and give up.
So what is going on here? How can we guard against that kind of discouragement as we seek to instill “habits of grace” in Bible reading? The first thing we need to affirm is that it really is important that we do read through the entire Bible—we really do want to
Read for DISTANCE (Ps. 119:6, 13)
the psalmist says as much in verse 6:
Psalm 119:6 ESV
6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
And again in verse 13, he says
Psalm 119:13 ESV
13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
We do want to read and be familiar with this whole Book, don’t we? Paul tells Timothy that
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
So we want to know all of it—we want to read everything that’s in here. Now, when you look at the whole sweep of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation, it looks a little intimidating. Like a hiker leaving Springer Mountain Georgia on the Appalachian Trail and feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of getting to Baxter Peak, Maine! And I think that this is part of the reason so many people get discouraged with reading through the entire Bible—it just feels like there’s too much ground to cover!
But consider this: The total time that it takes to read the entire Bible is about seventy hours—roughly the same amount of time the average American spends in front of the TV in a month! And many books of the Bible can be read in only minutes—when I was studying for this sermon I sat down and timed myself reading the Book of Ephesians, and it took just under ten minutes.
Now, one of the first things that you’ll encounter when you are “reading for distance” is that you will come across verses that “stop you in your tracks” in one way or another—you don’t understand them, or they strike you as particularly powerful or applicable. That’s good, and that’s what you want to have in your Bible reading—but instead of stopping and lingering over them, keep a notepad or journal close at hand and write down the chapter and verse so that you can come back to it later. All too often when we are reading the Bible we feel like we have to sift through every word, every clause, every participle in order to “get everything”. And there is a time and place for that (which we’ll talk about in a moment). But there is also a great deal of insight and wisdom to be found when we “read for distance” and can see the whole argument of a book or chapter take shape. So train yourself to “read for distance”.
And just to get very practical here for a moment—I recommend that you don’t try to do your regular Bible reading with your phone or on a computer. There’s nothing wrong with reading the Bible on an electronic device, but it’s a whole lot easier to get distracted when you’re reading on a screen and a phone call or text message or social media post is just a finger-flick away. So get yourself a physical Bible, and just read. A chapter today, half a chapter tomorrow, two chapters on Saturday afternoon… Think less about the destination of “having read through the entire Bible”, and focus more about the journey you are on to hear God’s voice.
Now, on any good hike, there will be parts of the trail when you can make good time—you can cover a lot of ground, the path is easy and level. But then there are times when the path becomes steeper and more challenging, when you need more skill in order to be able to navigate the trail. And the same is true in Bible reading as well—what do you do when you get to those verses (or passages, or chapters) that completely throw you for a loop, and you have NO idea how to navigate them? This brings us to the other way that we are called to read God’s Word. We not only read for distance—moving along, covering ground—but we also are called to
Study for DEPTH (Ps. 119:7, 12)
There are times in your Bible reading when you will have to develop new skills, gain new expertise in navigating the journey. The Psalmist indicates this when he writes
Psalm 119:7 ESV
7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.
and
Psalm 119:12 ESV
12 Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells his student Timothy,
2 Timothy 2:7 ESV
7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
There are times in your Bible reading when you have to stop and think over what it says—to really “dig in” to understand what you are reading. Your commitment to journeying through God’s Word means that you have to be ready to study. Don’t just get to a difficult passage and skip over it because you have to hurry and get all your “steps” in—coming to those difficult, strenuous, hard-to-understand passages are part of how you hear God’s voice in your Bible reading. And more often than not, those times of studying and digging in and unpacking a verse are the places where you find real treasure. As John Piper says, "Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds!” (Future Grace).
So when you come to one of those difficult passages, that’s the time to dig in and study more deeply. And there are a lot of good resources that you can use to study God’s Word for depth—from a good study Bible to online tools and resources—you can even text your pastor with questions! (Believe me, nothing makes a pastor happier than to hear that his people are reading the Bible on their own throughout the week!) So keep a notebook handy when you are reading for distance so that you can write down questions that come to you as you read, and then go back and “dig in” with the help of the study tools you have. (And another tip—don’t try to “read for distance” with a Study Bible—the notes and charts and diagrams are fantastic for deeper study, but that’s like carrying your whole tool chest with you on a hike!) But whether you are reading for distance or studying for depth, make it your aim to read through God’s Word so that you are putting yourself in the way of His Voice—pray in the words of the psalmist:
Psalm 119:18 ESV
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
We hear God’s voice when we read through His Word, and in verses 15-16 of our text we see that we hear God’s voice when we

II. MEDITATE on His Word (Ps. 119:15-16)

Psalm 119:15–16 ESV
15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Now, the word “meditation” is a loaded one in the English language, isn’t it? We commonly associate the act of meditation with “clearing your mind” or “emptying your mind”, or something similar. But the word translated “meditate” here in Psalm 119 is also used to describe Isaac in Genesis, when he “went out in the field to meditate” one evening and saw the caravan coming with his fiancee Rebekah (Gen. 24:63). The root meaning of the Hebrew word means to “mutter” or “think out loud”, “talk to yourself”—the idea is not to empty your mind, but rather the opposite—to
FILL your mind (cp. Ps. 19:14)
with God’s Word. The psalmist says “I will meditate on your precepts”—I will “talk through them”, “think out loud”. In Psalm 19 meditation is linked with words:
Psalm 19:14 ESV
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Sometimes this happens as a result of your study for depth—you ponder it and turn it over and over in your mind, you “talk to yourself” about what it means. God says something very similar in Joshua 1:8, telling the people not to let the Book of the Law depart from their mouth, but that they must meditate on it day and night—you are not only to fill your mind with God’s Word, but
CHEW on His Word (Joshua 1:8)
One of the English words we use to describe thinking long and carefully about something is the word ruminate—derived from the process where a cow (a ruminant) chews her cud—she takes in grass as she’s grazing, and then later on brings that grass back up and chews it up. In the same way, this is how we are to take in God’s Word—we read for distance, cover as much ground as we can, and then come back and chew over the Word that we’ve read, filling our minds with it, talking to ourselves about it, extracting all the spiritual nutrients we can. And this leads us directly to the next way that we commit to journeying through God’s Word—because filling our minds with God’s Word means that we must

III. MEMORIZE His Word (Ps. 119:11)

Verse 11 of Psalm 119:
Psalm 119:11 ESV
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
When you are muttering over a verse and chewing on it and turning it over and over in your mind, it’s the most natural thing in the world to memorize it, isn’t it? I think a lot of the struggle people have with memorizing Bible verses comes from trying to memorize a “cold” verse—one that hasn’t already warmed their heart, that hasn’t already “gotten under their skin” because of their study. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t seek to memorize verses you are unfamiliar with—but it just stands to reason that you are going to have an easier time remembering a verse that you’ve dug into for study!
The psalmist declares here in verse 11 one of the great benefits of committing God’s Word to memory—when you have God’s Word in your heart, it helps you fight sin. When you memorize the Scripture, you
Give your MIND a RESET (cp. Colossians 3:2)
Memorizing Scripture enables you to step out of the noisy tumult of our country’s perpetual screaming match—it allows you to get your mind off of the sinful and rebellious voices of this world and set your mind on God’s voice. As we read in Colossians 3:2
Colossians 3:2 ESV
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
And what better way to do that than by taking those verses that you have chewed on and studied with you through your day? Think about this for a minute: Have you ever talked to someone and knew exactly what they had for lunch? Their breath smells like what they’ve been chewing on, right? Christian, that is why you memorize the Bible—so that the words that come out of your mouth have the aroma of God’s Words to everyone that hears! Your mind, your thought processes won’t be governed by the world’s envy and strife and bitterness and contention, but by God’s own words. Memorizing God’s Word will give your mind a reset, and it will
Give you the MIND of CHRIST (1 Corinthians 2:14, 16)
1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV
16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
When you hide God’s Word in your heart through memorization of the verses that you have chewed on and studied and muttered over, it will cause your mind and heart over time to become more like Jesus—more of His compassion, more of His love, more of His humility and grace and joy. And when you are hiding God’s Word in your heart along with your brothers and sisters in Christ, then all of you are growing up into the same mind together, as Paul says in Philippians 2:2
Philippians 2:2 ESV
2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
So along with your plain reading Bible and your Study Bible and your notebook, have some index cards that you can write down a verse or passage that you want to memorize. Put it on your bathroom mirror or on your refrigerator where you will see it every day. Or take a picture of the verse and use it as your phone’s background or lockscreen or your computer wallpaper so that you see it every time you look at your screen. Find a way to keep that verse before your eyes so that you can chew on it and let the aroma of the mind of Christ flow through your life to others, so that you can hear God’s voice through His Word wherever you go and whatever you do, keeping you from stumbling into sin and keeping your mind focused on Him.
Now, make no mistake—there are a lot of “Bible scholars” out there who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who have spent decades studying and unpacking and researching and learning the Bible—people who have memorized more Bible verses in the course of their studies than most people ever will—but they have hearts of stone cold rebellion against God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus confronted the religious leaders who had made whole careers out of knowing the Scriptures backwards and forwards. He said to them,
John 5:39–40 ESV
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Don’t think that you can gain eternal life, that you can get in right with God because you read the Bible every day and have an impressive theological library and have a Greek lexicon at home—the Devil knows more Bible verses than you ever will, and his eternity will be spent in Hell, alongside everyone else who thought that a head full of Bible verses could substitute for a heart transformed by faith in Jesus Christ!
Towards the end of the Gospel of Luke we read the story of two disciples of Jesus who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day Jesus was resurrected. As they were walking, Jesus Himself joined them, but they didn’t recognize Him at first. They told Him about how Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but that His body had gone missing, and they didn’t know what to make of it. Jesus answered them in verses 25-27 of Luke 24:
Luke 24:25–27 ESV
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
All of this Book is about Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins He offers through His death and resurrection. But apart from His work in your life, you can’t see it. That’s the warning we see in 1 Corinthians 2:14
1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
No amount of Bible reading or study or memorization will do ANYTHING for your spiritual condition if GOD HIMSELF has not changed your HEART
If you’re here today and the Bible is nothing more to you than a fascinating ancient document of a major world religion, then you will never truly understand what it means to read the Bible. There is no treasure in this book for you, only condemnation. There is no promise of eternal life, no comforting words of freedom from guilt and shame. All there is for you is a warning—you deserve the unending, terrifying wrath of an infinitely offended God because of your hard-hearted, stone-cold rebellion against Him.
But along with that warning is a promise—a promise that when you come in repentance for your sin, when you turn away from your rebellion against God and quit holding Him at arm’s length and come to Him for forgiveness, He will receive you! His Word promises you today, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Jesus says
John 6:40 ESV
40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
You can have that assurance today—you can go from seeing this Book as an interesting historical document that is foundational to the formation of Western Civilization as we know it, and begin to see it as the living and active Word of God Himself to you! You can have the same experience of this Book that the disciples did in Luke 24—you can have Jesus Christ Himself open this Book to you to reveal Himself to you on every page! And just as they said to themselves afterwards,
Luke 24:32 ESV
32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
In the same way, you can have your heart lit with the flame of love and passion and joy and courage in God! When you commit to walking through His Word by reading, studying, meditating on and memorizing the Scriptures, Jesus will do the same for you that He did for those disciples! He will open the Scriptures to you so that you can see Him there, so that you can warm yourself by the fire of meditation on Him, so that you can hear His voice in your ear and have His mind in you! So take up this Book and read it, believe the promises written here for your salvation! Be transformed by this Word so that as this world is trying to burn itself down around you you will burn with the shining light of the Good News of salvation for everyone who calls on the Name of your Savior, Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Here are some recommended resources to help you in your journey through God’s Word:
STUDY BIBLES - These Bibles include charts, graphs and articles to help you “dig in” to the Scriptures:
ESV Study Bible, Crossway Publishers
Reformation Study Bible, Reformation Trust Publishers
MacArthur Study Bible, Harper Collins Publishers
MOBILE BIBLE APPS - Here are some trustworthy online and electronic resources for Bible study (a link to these resources is found at the bottom of the bbcsykesville website):
Faithlife Study Bible (iOS / Google Play)
Logos Bible Software (iOS / Google Play)
Bible Memory: Remember Me (iOS /Google Play)
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