I rejoice in following your statutes, as one rejoices in great riches...
O how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long...
Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed...
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises...
My heart trembles at your word. Psalm 119: 14, 97, 136, 148, 161
I have picked these five verses pretty much at random from Psalm 119. Does anything about them particularly strike you?
The main thing that strikes me is the sheer passion this man has for God and his word. He “rejoices” in God’s word “as one rejoices in great riches”. He “meditates all day long” on it. He weeps uncontrollably because it is not honoured. He stays awake at night, not because he can’t sleep, but so that he can meditate on God’s promises. He finds God’s word so powerful and penetrating that his heart “trembles” at it.
Yes, whatever poetic license there may be here, there’s no doubt about the basic fact: God matters to this man!
The second thing that strikes me (look out, confession coming up) is how little I can identify with him. There’s no point mincing words; even after fifty years as a Christian I couldn’t claim even a hundredth part of this man’s love of God. And that makes me feel bad.
Is that something you find too?
Of course God is important to me. He changed my life for ever when I was a teenager, and he has been with me ever since. And of course his word matters to me - except, of course, those times when I find it really difficult and perhaps (confession again!) even rather boring.
But this kind of red-hot passion, this yearning, this rejoicing, this longing, this agonising - er, sorry, no.
And it gets even worse when I turn to the gospels and read the words of Jesus about “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength...” That is, as they say, a big ask. I just end up feeling completely inadequate, a failure, a spiritual wimp, if you like.
Well, don’t worry, I’m not writing this today as an embarrassing exercise in soul-baring; I’m writing it because I suspect I’m far from alone in feeling this way. I want to share a couple of reflections as I, and perhaps you too, put to ourselves the question “Why am I such a luke-warm Christian?”
The first and most obvious reason is that there are so many other ingredients in my life, whether work or leisure or everyday duties, that God just gets squeezed out. Stay awake all night meditating on God’s word? - you cannot be serious! I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. There are responsibilities to attend to. There are children to look after. (And, let’s be honest, there’s a big football match on television.)
I don’t know an easy answer to this. Surely God understands that we have other things we need to do, also that we need times of relaxation and enjoyment? Yes, I’m sure that’s true. (In fact, you almost wonder if the man who wrote the psalm may have been in danger of blowing a fuse because of his single-minded intensity.)
But while we shouldn’t “beat ourselves up” too much, equally let’s not be too easy on ourselves. It can only be good to do some honest heart-searching from time to time to see if we have pushed God to the sidelines. Even things good in themselves can become an idol...
The second reason is perhaps a little more excusable, though it may not apply to you as it does to me. I became a Christian as a fifteen-year-old, and though my family background wasn’t a Christian one I had a happy and loving home and plenty of good opportunities in early life. Result: though I have no doubt that I was a pretty unpleasant, arrogant and self-centred youngster, I never got deeply into “bad ways”. So when my conversion happened it was quite low-key and undramatic. And that is very much how my Christian life has developed over all the years: no great highs like the psalmist’s, but not many lows either.
I sometimes wonder: would I today have a deeper love of God if he had rescued me from a life of drink or drugs or violence or crime or promiscuity? Or if, like Paul, I had been a militant anti-Christian? (Does Luke 7:47 help here?)
I don’t know, and obviously there can be no turning the clock back - nor would I want to if I could, of course. So it’s no excuse; but just possibly it’s a crumb of comfort.
Perhaps the best that people like me can do is simply to come before God quietly every day and ask him to help us to love him more, to know him better and to walk with him more closely. Indeed, there is a wonderful hymn by that deeply troubled poet William Cowper which we could very well make our own...
Lord, it is my chief complaint / That my love is weak and faint. /Yet I love thee and adore; /O for grace to love thee more. Amen. Amen!