It is not enough therefore to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel why the Scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of the Scripture, every man to his own sores . . . So now the Scripture is a light and shows us the true way, both what to do and what to hope.
- William Tyndale, A Prologue Showing the Use of the Scripture [From the Tyndale Old Testament, 1531]
Living a godly life is anything but easy, even in more certain times. But the times are anything but certain. Often, when pressed hard enough, the devoted life - the life of faith - is the first thing that suffers. At times it is abandoned altogether. The result is a life out of center, out of plumb, a life isolated, adrift at some distance from God. Whether that distance is great or small, it is a life void of peace.
Not very long ago I found myself in this condition.
Is there medication? Yes, there is.
Psalm 119 has 176 verses, divided into 22 sections according to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has 8 verses. My thought was this: I will read one section a day, eight verses a day for the next 22 days. That was it. That was my strategy. Doesn’t sound like much does it? Other than the eight verses a day, and speaking them loud enough to hear myself, there was no rule.
It was not an exercise. It was not a Bible study. I was certainly not gathering material for another book. It was survival. And I advanced upon the Word with the kind of violence Scripture seems to condone and encourage. All the good medicines of the Word were loosed and activated in my behalf. It has a warm and charitable heart.
The result? My first love became my first love again. The change was, and is, irrevocable. I somehow knew that. There was no bridge to cross back over, no horror to relive, no private screening of some past violation.
Reading Scripture is not always about understanding what you read. It is a living exchange, and like any successful relationship it demands submission and mutual regard, the warm mechanics of good dialogue. It is never one-sided. You must engage at close range. And you must leave some part of yourself open to scrutiny.
Scripture has a way of plundering those depths we tend to either protect or evade, particularly in its attempt to stake a claim there. The more you engage with the Word of God, the more you will come to know what is genuine about yourself. For many of us, this is an unsettling proposition. Risk is frightening, and too often we are comfortable enough with the little knowledge we have of ourselves. We have learned how to live agreeably with the counterfeit, with the imaginary, and the superficial. But the nature of Scripture gives us little choice. And you hardly have to take my word for it.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12
I did not realize at the time just how invasive the Word is, how deep the penetration, how thorough the meddling and how unrelenting it can be when a territorial dispute is involved. 119 allows a continuous circular kind of feeding. Similar phrases and thoughts return again and again in a revolving cycle—a parallel structure that repeats a single thought in a variety of ways, each one directing back to the Word of God.
119 is a perfect psalm for regaining spiritual equilibrium. And a quiet heart. Whether you actually are adrift or if you seek some deeper penetration into the spiritual life, the following strategy can help.
1. Read 8 verses of Psalm 119 a day for twenty-two days. On Day 1, read only the first stanza, 119:1-8. On Day 2, read the second stanza, 119:9-16. Repeat this procedure every day for the entire twenty-two-day period, until all 176 verses are read.
Do not skip a day. Consistency and routine are important. Ultimately, you are establishing a rule. This means you will learn new habits and unlearn others. Do not think. Do not consider. Just say the words.
2. Read the verses out loud. It is important for you to say the words out loud. Do not read them quietly to yourself. Listen to what you are saying. The Word of God is a creative force. When God created heaven and earth, he did not simply have the image in his mind. He did not think them into being. He spoke creation into existence. He spoke order and refinement into chaos. Only then did creation respond. It was important for God to speak the words. In that same creative spirit, it is just as important for you to speak the eight verses out loud every day. You are an active participant.