Psalm 119:81-88 Kaph A Prayer

When is this going to end Lord? When will you intervene on my behalf? If I am to keep your truth, I need your help. You are my only hope Lord. I have not forgotten you nor forsaken your word. But a trap waits for every step I take. The arrogant seek my humiliation.

~~~

A short prayer because this octave is one of lament. Many of the Psalms argue against my thesis, but I think those in deep distress don’t usually have time to compose poetic prayers of artistry. But I don’t want anyone to feel they are not getting the full value of their subscription: so a few extra notes.

Note how every verse alternates between condition and request.

Note the several couplets: longing soul and eyes (1,2); not forgetting or forsaking (83, 87); persecute me (84, 87); and “do not live” (85) with “give me life” (88). So every verse has a connection with one other verse, but it is not a rigid connection. That is to say, all of the requests do not match other requests; or conditions match other conditions. There is not chiasmus or inclusion. It is the art of the Psalms- the pattern is there, but it is not firm. It is a regular irregularity.

Psalm 119:73-80 Yodh A prayer

Lord you have surrounded me with people who fear you. My wife is your daughter. My children are your offspring. At work, there are brothers. In the assembly, you have made me an elder. They see me Lord. Do they rejoice at my faithfulness? Do they find your counsel in my answers? Don’t let me be ashamed by bringing dishonor to your name. Comfort me in your faithful love and give me joyful life in your word. May I focus in your rightness in all the wrongs I suffer and always teach me new things. Now and to the ages of ages.

Mortification of Sin Chapter 3

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Colossians 3:8

I am working through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin and trying to apply what he writes, follow his instruction, with regards to putting to death the sin of corrupting, filthy, and obscene talk. In chapter one I was reminded that all believers are about the business of mortifying the sinful flesh. If I am not killing sin, it will be killing me. In chapter 2 I was reminded that this is an every day battle. I must fight sin as long as it fights me- which is continually. I will not mortify sinful speech patterns making really good New Year’s Day. I will not put wicked speech to death be being extra diligent during lent. The fight against sin is daily.

Owen bases his book on Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Chapter 3 of Mortification is a brief exposition of “by the Spirit.” My fight against sin will only be effectual when it is carried out in and by the Spirit. For certain, there are things I must do. But victory will rely on the accomplishments of the Spirit, not on my own.

Much of false religion is built upon man trying to solve his sin problem in his own strength. Paul says as much in Colossians 2 16:23 and concludes that asceticism and severity to the body have an appearance of wisdom but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Man demonstrates his futility in two ways. He may try to use ways means for mortification never ordained by God or he may use the means ordained by God wrongly. In this way man usually confuses the stream for the fountain. Man will view praying, fasting, meditation etc. as the ends unto themselves. “If the fast so much, and pray so much, and keep their hours and times, the work is done.”  In these endeavors man simply tortures his physical body while doing nothing to put to death his sinful flesh.

Holiness does not come by checklist. Even when everything on the list is Scripture.

It is the Spirit who will change my stubborn, proud, rebellious, unbelieving heart. Only the Spirit can put out the fire of my tongue- a world of iniquity.

The Spirit will mortify the sins of my mouth in three ways. By causing my heart to abound in life-demonstrating grace. The Spirit will produce his fruit in my speech that will push out my words of sin. The same spring cannot put forth bitter water and sweet. Secondly, the Spirit will do this by really changing my heart- the source of my speech. The Spirit will consume and destroy my lusts by an almighty efficiency. He will do this finally, by bringing the cross of Christ into my heart. The Spirit will give me communion with Christ in his death: the death that put sin to death.

If the Spirit does the work, why does he tell me to do it? First, mortification is like every other work:   God’s. He works in us to will and do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). He does all our works (Is. 26:12): the work of faith (2 Thess. 1:11; Col. 2:12) and the work of prayer (Rom. 8:26; Zech. 12:10). Yet we are told to do the work. Second, because the Spirit is not going to work apart from us, or against us. The Spirit will not make me holy against my will. The Spirit is not going to bless the labors I don’t make. I am not going to stop using filthy language just because I want to or because I think it is a good idea. I have work to do.

But the Spirit gets the job done.

Psalm 119:49-56 Zayin An evening prayer

O Lord, night has come and all is yours. I am yours. No matter what has happened today, I am comforted by your life-giving promise. I am weary and my spirit would despair; but your rules remain faithful. I am comforted by the reality you say is true. Give rest Lord. Replace the anger at sinners with the joy of your Psalms. It is night Lord. Remember me in the morning. Speak and give me hope.

Psalm 119:41-48 Waw Thoughts

119:41-48 has an A-B-A’ grammatical-structural pattern. The first and last three verses are united by the ideas of speaking and love. The middle 2 verses repeat a predominant theme of 119: keeping and walking. What is striking to me in this octave is the devotion to God’s word. Phrases like “sought your precepts” (45) and “delight in your commandments” (47) are certainly not unique. But the phrase “I trust in your word” (42) is unique.

This is the only time this word for trust appears in Psalm 119. Of the 46 times the word appears in the Psalter, this is the only place where trust is in God’s word and not in YHWH himself (or one of his attributes- 13:5; 33:21; 52:8).  The next verse declares “my hope is in your rules.” This word for hope appears 6 times in 119 and it is always directed toward God’s word. Except for 130:5, the rest of the Psalter’s 13 uses of hope are all directed toward YHWH himself or an attribute of his. Finally, the Psalm closes with a promise to “lift up my hands toward your holy commandments” (48). Worship directed not to God, or toward his sanctuary, but toward his commandments.

Frankly, I have trouble forming a prayer for this octave because this is not where I am at- at least not currently. I see three motions of the heart and body that are normally (almost exclusively) directed to YHWH himself everywhere else in the Psalms. Here the trust, hope, and lifting of hands, is directed to his words. I’m just not there. Do I need to see Scripture as another attribute of God? It is anachronistic, but this seems like bibliolatry to me.

Perhaps, in time, I will be able to return to this portion.

Psalm 119:25-32 Daleth A prayer

When my soul is dry and dying; when I am weak from weeping- according to your word give strength, give life. You know my ways and you know that when they are mine they are false. So teach me. Teach me your law and statutes. Make me understand your way, choose your way, run in your way. O Lord I cling to your truth. Make me love it.

The Mortification of Sin chapter 2

John Owen begins chapter 2 of The Mortification of Sin with the oft quoted phrase, “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” The idea is taken from Colossians 3 and Romans 8. Those passages both teach that one’s position in Christ as dead to sin does not free him from the duty of putting sin to death. While I am focusing on applying Mortification to my speech, I must realize the devotion do battling the indwelling power of sin must last all my days.

I will always have to battle against sin because it is still dwelling in me and will dwell in me as long as I am in this world. I will never be perfect in this life. There may be days, weeks, and months, where I never utter a single swear word. Sin will still be in me. If not the sin that leads me to swear, than other sin will eagerly substitute.

But that is not all! Sin is not merely dwelling in me, content to sit at ease. Sin is active within me “laboring to forth the deeds of the flesh.” Whether or not I am fighting against the sin of wicked speech, it is fighting against me.

Owen’s third point is that sin “aims always at the utmost.” If sin is let alone, “it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.” This seems to be at odds with another popular treatment of sin and temptation- C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. There, the novice demon is reminded to not seek some great and heinous downfall of the one he tempts. The Prince of Darkness is more than happy to fill hell with “good” people. Experience too, seems to offer a rebuttal to this point. The vast majority of humanity has neither the inclination nor the means to mortify sin and very few men are as bad as they could be. Am I really going to murder someone just because I say a profanity at the person going 10 mph below the speed limit? According to Jesus, the idea is not that far-fetched (cf. Matt. 5:21-22). My inability to control my tongue is a lack of self-control. Proverbs and James have plenty to say about this. So Owen’s point is not a scare tactic ready-made for fire-and-brimstone evangelists.

To ignore the battle against sin is to ignore the great gift of salvation: the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to believers to kill sin (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit yearns to fight against my sinful flesh. If I habitually ignore God’s good gift, I have no reason to expect any other gifts from Him.

If I am not at work in putting a profane mouth to death, I will become “earthly, carnal, cold, wrathful, complying with the men…and things of the world.” In a word, I will die.

If I am going to put sinful speech to death, it must be a daily endeavor. I am called to perfect holiness (2 Cor. 7:1), grow in grace (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18), and be renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

To not give attention to the daily mortification of sin puts me in grave danger. If I am not growing in righteousness, I am growing in sin and prone to become blind to the truth I was cleansed from my sins. To not give attention to the daily mortification of sin puts those around me in grave danger.  My lack of holiness will become their standard of morality and they will comfort themselves with false assurances of security since they are just as good as me. If I do not demonstrate the saving righteousness of Christ, my own righteousness will lead to condemnation for those around me.

I began the journey of mortifying some of my sinful speech patterns. This chapter really brought home to me that I need to give attention to this every day. It can’t just be a “general attitude.” I can’t just fight against sin when it is convenient, or when I have nothing else to do. If I am going to put the sin of profane speech to death, I must be given over to the fight. Daily.