“Let the Word Dwell in you Richly…” (On reading the psalms)

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Whenever I read from the book of Psalms I’m struck afresh with the realization that this was the prayer-book of Jesus. The early church read the psalms that way too, seeing Christ in every line, and seeing their own experiences in the struggles and triumphs of the ancient writers.

They read it as the word of Christ. And so Paul instructed them, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col 2:16)

That’s where we are too, isn’t it? The psalms take us higher, to new levels of praise, and deeper, into the experience of Jesus himself. They inspire our worship,  but also comfort us in times of discouragement and doubt.

And this is a strategy for living. Christian Living Means Living on the Word of God. ” It has been written, Man shall not live and be upheld and sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 AMP)

Day by day, the written Word of God in the Bible is the means of our relation to Christ. We fellowship with Christ by knowing him in the written Word. We talk to him on the basis of what we know of him from the written Word. We hear him speak to us through what he has shown us of his character and purpose in the written Word. Moment by moment, our walk with Jesus is sustained and shaped by the Word of God.

That’s why it’s so helpful to memorize whole chunks of it.

When I was still quite little, Bible memorization was a big part of the regular Sunday School lesson-plan. Do you remember the rather quaintly named “Sword-Drill”? We raced each other to find verses in the Bible and then read them out in unison. I learnt the “Roman Way of Salvation,” which was a way of showing someone the Gospel of Christ by leading them through memorized verses in the book of Romans.

I recall attending the Church of the Nazarene in Leeds UK where, though the pastor was blind, he would preach from memory, effortlessly recalling whole chapters at one go. It was very impressive.

But the point of all this -as that pastor knew very well- is not to amaze your friends with a clever feat of memory but to allow the word of God to stabilise you, to shape your mind and emotions, to “dwell in you richly,” so that you become like a strong tree planted by streams of water that brings forth fruit. Your leaf won’t wither in the drought and you will be productive in your life for Christ. The alternative is to be fragile and easily deceived and easily paralyzed by trouble and stuck in many mediocre ruts. As Psalm 1 puts it: Our delight is in the Word of the Lord, and on this Word we meditate day and night.

The psalms form a case in point. They are prayers, and are to be read as such, in the presence of God, quietly and thoughtfully, in a God-ward direction.

But there’s something more: there’s a  powerful moment in Jeremiah 1. The young would-be prophet is being led into his life-calling through dramatic encounters with his God. God gives him a mental picture then asks him what he sees. He’s being trained in obedience and insight. But in verse 12, God commends Jeremiah’s reply, saying, “You have seen well, for I am alert and active, watching over My word to perform it.”

He’s watching this whole activity, ready to join in!

We read and pray, and look and listen. We read the psalms as praise to him or confessions to him or questions to him or pleas to him. God is always listening to his own Word in our mouths or in our minds and watching what we do with it. He cares what we do with it because he actively watches over it to bring it to pass.

Even our daily Bible reading has a prophetic edge!

It’s the adventure of living day by day with God. As John Osteen used to say: “This is my Bible: I am what it says I am; I have what it says I have; I can do what it says I can do…”

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