Love, Obedience and Trials
“You are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws. I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts. The earth is filled with your love, O Lord; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:57-64).
I admire people who have grace, speed and coordination. I am not one of those people—I am “athletically-challenged.” During college I took a leadership course, which I enjoyed up until the day the professor told us we would be doing a ropes course as a team-building event—and participation was mandatory.
I prayed for a 24-hour stomach virus to strike me that day.
God didn’t answer that prayer.
I prayed for rain and hail. God didn’t answer that prayer either. The day of the obstacle course dawned bright and beautiful. I knew I was doomed.
The day proved to be a good lesson in trust. As it turned out, the people running the ropes course knew what they were doing. I survived without any broken bones, but with a few chips and cracks in my pride.
One obstacle was a particular surprise. We were supposed to walk across a rope tied between two trees using only the guide rope tied above our heads as balance. It looked easy, so I hopped up and started across—and fell. Three, four times I tried and fell. My classmates kept encouraging me, but I just couldn’t seem to make it more than a few steps without my feet flying one way and the rest of me toppling in the opposite direction. I gave up and let the others go ahead of me. I watched what they did. Everyone fell at least once, but in time we all began to see a pattern emerge, a way of holding on to the top rope and pushing against the bottom rope that kept the body in balance. Finally, I tried again, following the steps I saw the others use and I made it across—first try!
The writer of Psalm 119 repeatedly mentions his love for God’s law. The question comes to mind: Why? What is it about God’s law that causes him to feel so passionately? I think it has to do with the same lesson I learned at the ropes course. When you and I rely on our own flawed judgment, we fall. Over and over again we land on our faces. We have two options at this point. We can keep on failing and scraping ourselves raw against the trials of life, or we can look for another answer. The psalmist found the answer in God’s Word.
He says, “I have considered my ways…” (I’ve reexamined my plans and they’re just not working) “…and have turned my steps to your statutes” (I’ve decided to follow God’s plan of action instead). The result? A life of peace regardless of the obstacles and persecution he faced: “At midnight I rise to give you thanks” (v. 62).
One of the most beautiful aspects of God’s plan is that He doesn’t leave us alone to muddle through the chaos of life. Verse 63 says, “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.” God puts us in a family of believers who will encourage and challenge us along the way. During the ropes course, I never would have made it without the help of my classmates. There were times when we literally carried one another through. This is a perfect illustration of how you and I work together in the Body of Christ. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses; all of us go through times in life when we need help. All of us go through times when we need a good push to get us up on our feet and moving. None of us can work through the trials of life on our own—we were never intended to! It is not weakness to admit our need for help, it is God’s plan. In His wisdom, God gives us brothers and sisters together with His Holy Spirit to help us along the way.
The psalmist continues this passage: “The earth is filled with your love, O Lord; teach me your decrees” (v. 64). When we obey God and give up our own plans, we see a pattern begin to emerge in the world around us. The more we learn about God, the more we understand His desires for our lives and the more we see His imprint on the world around us. While there is sin in the world that causes terrible things to happen, it does not have the final say! Satan is not the winner! Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When we choose to follow God’s ways, we choose to follow the One who wrote the manual to overcoming life’s obstacles. Who better to follow?
First John 5:3-5 says: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Repeatedly, the writer of Psalm 119 talks about obedience to God’s law. Only a deep love for God compels us to obey Him in truth. Note: Obedience out of love for God, heart-obedience, is neither ritualistic nor a to-do list. That form of “obedience” is both legalistic and self-centered (I can do this!). Heart-obedience is passionate and it increases our capacity for loving God, His Word, and the family of believers. As we struggle through trials in the power of the Holy Spirit, obeying in love and actively leaning on the Body of Christ, we are given the victory to overcome the worst that life can throw at us.
What are some of the obstacles that life throws in our way?
What is your natural reaction to trials and difficulties? (Be honest!)
List the action phrases the Psalmist uses to describe how he handles the trials he’s facing? (I count eight.)
The Psalmist says, “I am a friend to all who fear you…” Strongs’ Concordance defines the word friend used here, chaber, as “companions, fellows, knit together.” This is not a word for passing acquaintances he greets casually on a typical Sabbath at Temple on his way out the door. He is speaking of fellow believers, heart-brothers and sisters. Do you feel that way about those you worship together with at church on a Sunday? What stops us from opening our hearts to our fellow believers and seeking a chaber kind of friendship?
Read 1 John 5:1–5. Who are the children of God?
According to these verses in 1 John, how do we love those who fear God?
How do we love God according to verse 3?
What promise are we given as children of God (vs. 4-5)? How does this give you hope?
Questions for personal reflection: What challenges are you facing now? Do you believe that God is big enough to handle the situation—not just head-knowledge, but deep in your heart? Do you believe in Him enough to trust in His Word and follow His leading in true heart-obedience?