May my cry come before you, O LORD;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise,
for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD,
and your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
~Psalm 119:169-176 (NIV)
The other day a friend and I were visiting and talking about getting in trouble in school. It’s funny, from K-4th and 7th-12th I never saw the inside of a principle’s office to be disciplined. Note the gap? Fifth and sixth grade were kind of an odd time. I chalk it up to the beginnings of adolescence. In those two years I learned some important lessons, most of them the hard way.
I learned that profanity isn’t worth it. I’ve only cursed at people twice in my life that I recall, and both were in the fifth & sixth grades. Both times were right in front of the teachers, both times ended in a school paddling (it was still the norm back then). I’ve only been in one real physical brawl. The class antagonist grabbed me by the belt loop to pull me back to his desk. I was carrying one of those Army surplus steel trash cans around the classroom at the time, so I turned around, raised it over my head and lowered it with boom onto his. He fell to the ground and like nothing happened I went on to the next desk to pick up the trash. He ended up jumping two or three desks and took me to the ground where we scuffled and choked each other until (a very angry) teacher could separate us. I learned that day physical violence probably wasn’t the best way to deal with things (though I’d have to be honest and admit that I think the other guy probably needed that trash can to the head to learn a “life lesson” as well).
I could list a ton of other examples. My parents could probably quadruple the list. I learned that life was better, that my freedom grew, that opportunities to do the things I wanted to do increased when I chose to curb my anger, hold my tongue, and respect my parents and teachers. I still made tons of mistakes, no doubt. I was still grounded at times, and still too sharp-tongued through my teen years, and I still had to sit on the stairs with my arm around my brothers and sisters because we’d been in yet another argument. But after I became a Christian and after I started looking at the trouble that disrespect, harsh words, and trash cans to peoples’ heads would bring, I started to see great value in doing the right thing. Again, I found greater freedom in the times that I made decisions to to what was right than I ever found in the moments of disobedience. I found that with obedience came trust, and with trust came freedom. I found that it wasn’t that my parents were trying to keep me from doing what I wanted, they were trying to help me see that there were simply better ways to get there.
Why do I bring all this up? Because we live in a time where freedom and obedience are seen as antithetical. Our culture honors rebellion and disdains respectfulness (just start saying “yes/no sir” and “yes/no ma’am” in many environments and just see what happens). The psalmist now closes this lengthy reflection voicing yet again that he has found in the commandments, laws, and precepts of God great hope, joy, and freedom. I know that so many would read these words and think the guy must have been hopped up on something. What else could explain so much love for commands for cryin’ out loud? My suspicion is that he’d observed what I began to see in my lengthy walk back down the hall from the principle’s office. That sinfulness brings hurt and pain…but self-control (a fruit of the Spirit!) can bring freedom…freedom from the fear of punishment, freedom from guilt…freedom to be and do better things than what might have been our gut reaction.
In the end, I believe that the motive behind the precepts and commands of God is not that He is trying to squash our fun, but that He is trying to prevent our self-destruction. If only we would stop and see the wisdom behind His words.