“Everybody serves somebody.” So says Bob Dylan, arguably one of the greatest prophetic minds of today’s world. God’s Word calls us to total allegiance, but let’s not forget that ultimately, all of us serve someone—or something. To worship something is to devote your allegiance—the only question is whether this allegiance will yield delight or despair.
As we survey the scope of Psalm 119, we hear the psalmist describe the various ways that scriptural devotion yields immediate, positive results. Mind you, it would be naïve to suggest Scripture’s truest value is found in personal blessing. But as we grow closer to the heart of God, we naturally experience His radical goodness in the form of joy.
THE BENEFITS OF SCRIPTURE
The psalmist describes at least four specific benefits of Scripture.
- Liberation: When God is my master, “service is perfect freedom” (v. 96), and in verse 46, “liberty” is found in God’s precepts, not the absence of them. Verse 133 clarifies this by discussing the way God’s word breaks sin’s “dominion” as we learn to walk in step with God’s commands.
- Light: The psalm mentions “my feet” and “my path” (v. 105), highlighting the power of the Word to guide. In v. 130 this guidance is applies to the realm of the intellect, emphasizing a discerning power (cf. 34, 73, 125, 144, 169). The emphasis is that God’s wisdom is superior to the enlightenment of man.
- Life: This term becomes most prominent toward the psalm’s end—appear 5 times between verses 144-159. Kidner writes: “Sometimes the link between Scripture and the gift of life consists of a promise which the singer claims (25, 50, 107, 154); sometimes it is that the very keeping of God’s laws is restorative (37) and life-giving (93); since they turn one’s eyes and steps towards him.” (Kidner, Psalms, 2:421) Other phrases such as “revive me” (25) or “give me life” (149, 159) reflect this same idea.
- Stability: Verse 23 hints at a threatening instability—but Scripture fills an otherwise distracted mind. Verses 49-50 highlight the comfort and hope offered by God’s Word (cf. 76, 89-92, 95, 114-118, 165).
LIVING BY THE BOOK
But, you might ask, there are other ways of living outside the confines of the Bible. Our world is an endless spiritual marketplace. Surely we can simply draw from a variety of sources to find wisdom?
In 2008, yoga teacher Robyn Okrant undertook a project that would put this theory to the test. She spent the entire year doing everything Oprah Winfrey suggested. In 2011, her book—based on her experiences—was released.
In an interview with Forbes magazine, she comments:
[The experience] was incredibly draining, and it made me really sad. It made me sad to think of how many hours I’ve lost–even when I wasn’t doing the project–to blindly following advice and listening to what other people tell me I should be doing to create my own happiness. I wondered how many hours other women have lost in the course of their lives to that.
Contrast this experience with that of A.J. Jacobs, who chose to spend a year seeking to obey every command of the Bible. While culturally Jewish, Jacobs claims to be an agnostic regarding his spirituality. Yet when he published his book My Year of Living Biblically, he writes that the experience changed his view of the Bible:
It was an amazing, enlightening and life-changing year. It was a spiritual journey that moved from irreverence to reverence. You see, I grew up in a totally secular home. No religion at all. I’m officially Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the way the Olive Garden is Italian. Which is to say, not very. But in recent years, I decided I needed to see what I was missing. Was I neglecting something crucial to being human, like someone who goes through life without ever hearing Beethoven or falling in love? I dived into the Bible headfirst. And lo, it was awesome. I was surprised by how relevant much of the Bible’s ancient wisdom was to my 21st-century life. I was surprised by how baffled I was by other passages. I was surprised by how a lifelong agnostic like I am could find solace in prayer. I was surprised by how the Bible revealed my flaws and challenged me to be a better person. (from an article appearing in Relevant magazine http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/1454-my-biblical-year)
You may dismiss the Bible as a product of a primitive, superstitious era. Yet these experiences only testify to the timeless truth contained in its pages. Live life for yourself, and you will find only misery. Live life by the Book, and you will find electrifying joy.