Posts Tagged ‘devotions’

Enjoy this final guest post by Craig Altrock. My thanks to him for encouraging and inspiring us!

This is my last post in this series on Psalm 119.  The temptation is to keep writing, to keep producing more words about the Word.  But therein lays a fundamental impulse Psalm 119 pushes against underestimating the nature and significance of words.


I was struck early on in my 119 day journey through this psalm by the writer’s preoccupation with God’s word.  It’s not just that he felt Scripture was important.  No, when he thought of Scripture it made his mouth water and his tongue pant.  And while I wish my own response to God were so visceral, it does raise the issue of why one would be so passionate for ink and paper.


With that in mind it strikes me that words are frequently and easily cheapened today:

  • Words exist everywhere!  Think of how many words you will come across today.  They flood your computer screen, they scream at you from your mobile device, they leer at you from the billboards, and they pull at you from your child’s school work.
  • Words are so often used with such little thought.  Ideally words are meant to capture ideas, to contain truth, and to give voice to emotion.  But draping the proper words over these realities can be a delicate and wearisome activity.  Because we lack the discipline to find the right word, we cast on our ideas the first word that comes to mind, like a worn out jacket from our closet. Subsequently our speech and writing is devalued because we’ve lost the restraint needed to hold our tongue or pen until the right words can be crafted. 


As we cheapen words it becomes too easy to disassociate what we say from who we are:

  • It doesn’t bother us to lie because the word (lie) didn’t’ mean that much to us anyway; it was just a word.  What we say doesn’t reflect who we are (so we think!).
  • We don’t express appreciation to another because we incorrectly assume our words are simply words. What we say doesn’t reflect who we are (so we think!).
  • We make promises we can’t keep because the promise was made with lips, not our full intention.  What we say doesn’t reflect who we are (so we think!).


But psalm 119 calls us back to the recognition that words are so intricately linked to the heart which gave them impulse and the lips from which they slipped that we can no sooner separate the two than we could the sun from its light.  The psalmist loved God’s word because he loved God.  The writer rightly believed that when God speaks He is sharing part of himself-truth, character, and heart.


I think it is for this reason the psalmist sought desperately for God’s word.  To know God’s word is to know God.  To speak Scripture out loud is to let the very character of God pass over your tongue.  To meditate on a verse is to invite God himself into the chair of the heart.   As the incarnation teaches us so many years later, to receive a Word from God was to receive God himself.


Let us not be guilty of worshiping a book.  However, by the same token let us also not be charged with treating Scripture as just a book.  May God’s word be for us like Lewis’ dusty wardrobe was for the Pevensie children –– a doorway to a realm where not only hope and wonder exist, but one where the Great Lion himself awaits our company.


“I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love…”

Psalm 119:48

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Be encouraged with this guest post from Craig Altrock, senior director of projects at Let’s Start Talking Ministry. 

What practices do you engage in regularly that connect you with God’s word?  This question floated to the surface as I explored Psalm 119 for 119 days.  On the one hand it’s true that a simple practice or discipline means nothing.  Pharisees consumed God’s word but somehow seemed to escape the nourishment it was meant to bring.  On the other hand, sometimes it is a discipline which fuels heart-felt passion for God.  I believe one of the reasons the psalmist had such a fire for God is that he engaged God’s word through a number of creative practices.


I noted these disciplines in a prior post, but I’ll list them again so we have them in front of us for this conversation.  Here are the practices the psalmist mentions concerning his engagement with Scripture:

  1. A regular ASSESSMENT of his own life in relation to the way of God.
  2. A VERBAL RESPONSE involving PRAISING God for his word, SINGING to God about his word, or actually RECITING out-loud God’s word.
  3. MEDITATION on God’s word.
  4. ASKING God to be the primary teacher of His word.
  5. REMINDING God about his word and asking him to act in accordance with it.
  6. PRACTICING the Daily Offices (conducting any and all of these other disciplines at set times of the day and night – even at midnight!).


Each of these topics is worthy of separate posts, but here are my thoughts about two of them.


The psalmist who writes Psalm 119 is verbally engaged with God’s word.   For example, while there may be a number of songs in his repertoire, he specifically mentions singing God’s own word; not singing about God’s word, but actually using God’s own word for lyrics (119:54, 172).  However, his recitations don’t stop with a song.  He intentionally and verbally speaks God’s word –“With my lips I recount all the words that come from your lips” (119:10).


In the days since I finished my 119 day experiment I’ve watched to see how often I, my Bible class, or even my church family actually spoke God’s word out-loud.  I didn’t keep any records of this informal survey but I was astounded at how infrequently Scripture floated off our tongues and across our lips.  We read it.  We heard it.  We even wrote it.  But speaking Scripture–that rarely happened.


A second practice woven through this psalm is what many call the Daily Office.  For those of us who think “liturgy” sounds like a Hungarian dessert, this simply means praying at set times of the day (and often with the same set of prayers).  At one point the psalmist mentions praising God seven times a day (119:164), which evidently even involved waking at midnight (119:62).  I actually tried this for a while.  I set my phone to signal me at set times of the day so I would pray (to be honest, that midnight appointment slipped of my schedule pretty quickly!).


Can reciting Scripture out loud become dry?  Certainly.  Can praying at set times feel forced? Sure.  However, you have to wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the person who practiced these kinds of disciplines also confessed “I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands (119:131).

A group of us at my church organized a public reading of Scripture on Good Friday this year.  For almost an hour and a half a number of us shared in the out-loud reading of Matthew’s account of the Passion Week.  We worried people would get bored.  We fretted that we’d lose focus.  However, the #1 comment we heard afterwards was, “That was powerful.”


I wonder what kinds of thoughts and feelings you might experience if you picked one of these two disciplines and experimented with them this week.  Set your phone’s alarm to go off at 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. At those hours this week stop and pray.  Or, pick a text like the Sermon on the Mount, find a quite place, and read a little of it out loud each day.  Post your reactions so we can learn together!


“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word”

Psalm 119:147

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This is the third in a series of guest posts by my friend and co-worker Craig Altrock. Craig and his wife Leslee have been active with LST  for 20 years now! 

 We are driven to act in accordance with the heartbeat of Scripture only in as much as we are led to THINK the right way about Scripture.  This became convincingly clear to me as I huddled around Psalm 119 for 119 days recently.   Like the luminous outline of a city at night, the importance of right thinking frames the psalm.  And, like the soil nourishing a plant, it is a way of thinking about Scripture that energizes this psalmist’s great love for God.


As I noted in my last post, here are six beliefs about Scripture which fuel the psalmist’s passion for it:

  1. It is a PATH toward joyful living, not a roadblock to your desires.
  2. It is a LIGHT to illuminate your way.
  3. It is a DOOR to freedom, not a sentence of imprisonment.
  4. It is a COMPANION that guides us toward heart-felt passion for God.
  5. It is a REFLECTION of God’s character.
  6. It is NOURISHMENT to sustain the journey.


While it’s tempting to spend a post on each one of these, I’ll pick just two.


The Path— Scripture for this psalmist is not simply an instruction manual on how one is made right with God, as though that act were somehow unconnected to the rest of the way we live.  For many people Scripture is the place we turn when we have “spiritual” questions. It’s the shelf on which we find the ingredients for knowing God better.  It’s the pantry where we keep all things related to “my spiritual life.”


But, when you conjure up images connected to the word path you get a different idea altogether.  When you are bombarded with daily advice on how you should live, Scripture silences those voices and provides the one true way of living. Scripture isn’t just a rest stop, it’s the road!  It isn’t just a road sign, it’s the entire map! Scripture is meant to guide us into healthy, joyful, fruitful ways of engaging each other and God – the road-surface of life!


The Door— This image isn’t actually used in Psalm 119, but it comes closest to what I think is one of the most significant ways of thinking in the psalm –freedom.  It is to the detriment of countless numbers of would-be disciples that they have somehow come to understand Scripture as something which confines us.  For too many, the pages of Scripture morph all too quickly into the bars of a cell.  Their belief is that all the fun is “out there” so why would I want to get trapped in the confines of God’s law?


But not so the psalmist.  I love 119:32, 45;  “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free…I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.


Freedom is not something we discover the farther we remove ourselves from Scripture.  Instead it is an experience we uncover as more and more of our life comes into alignment with God’s way.


Well, there’s so much more to say.  However, better than my trying to capture the right words to communicate these critical thoughts is YOU planting these seeds in your mind and letting the Spirit nourish them through prayer and meditation.


Which image speaks most powerfully to you?  Which one seems harder to connect with?  Pick one this week to mediate on and let us know what God does in you through that exercise.


“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Psalm 119:130

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This is the second in a series of four guest posts by my friend and co-worker Craig Altrock. He and his family are currently in Rwanda on an LST mission trip. 


From October of last year until April of this year, I spent 119 days journeying through one psalm – Psalm 119.  Now, if you count up the number of days in those months you’ll get much more than 119 days.  I didn’t say I spent 119 days in a row!  However, it was my goal to spend a day for every verse in the Psalm.  And, over the course of those 7 months I met that goal.


One thing that becomes crystal clear if you stay in Psalm 119 long enough is that this writer has, to put it mildly, a passion for God’s word.  He delights in God’s word, he is consumed with longing for it, and he puts his hope in it.  Scripture is what he thinks about, it gets him up at night, and it’s what he sings about.  In fact, if we were honest, this writer is probably one of those guys that would make us feel slightly awkward if we invited him over for dinner.  His passion for God’s law is so all-consuming that our own concern for the Bible might dim in the light of his enthusiasm.


Where does this heightened passion for God and His word originate?  In short, the psalmist thought about God’s word in ways we might not normally think, and he practiced Word-centered disciplines that might not be normal for us.  I’ll simply list these here in this post, and then dig a little more deeply into them in future postings.


[Before you read the following you might stop and consider how you would answer these two questions:

  • “What words or images guide your own understanding of what Scripture is and how it functions?”
  • “What disciplines do I practice regularly that connect me to God’s word?”

I think in many cases you will find the answers the psalmist gives to these questions differ from our own in both intensity and form.]


Beliefs about Scripture that fuel this psalmist’s passion for it:

  1. It is a PATH toward joyful living, not a roadblock to your desires.
  2. It is a LIGHT to illuminate your way.
  3. It is a DOOR to freedom, not a sentence of imprisonment.
  4. It is a COMPANION that guides us toward heart-felt passion for God.
  5. It is a REFLECTION of God’s character.
  6. It is NOURISHMENT to sustain the journey.


This is what the psalmist believes about God’s word.  Scripture for him is not a static recounting of historical events.  Nor is it simply a collection of moral standards.  It is something much, much more.


However, thoughts about God’s word are not the only thing heightening the psalmist’s passion for Scripture.  He’s taken to doing something things about it as well.


Disciplines the psalmist practices in relation to Scripture that ignite his zeal for it.

  1. A regular ASSESSMENT of his own life in relation to the way of God.
  2. A VERBAL RESPONSE involving PRAISING God for his word, SINGING to God about his word, or actually RECITING out-loud God’s word.
  3. MEDITATION on God’s word.
  4. ASKING God to be the primary teacher of His word.
  5. REMINDING God about his word and asking him to act in accordance with it.
  6. PRACTICING the Daily Offices (conducting any and all of these other disciplines at set times of the day and night – even at midnight!).


What do you think about God’s word?  What images and metaphors guide your thinking?  Would anything change for you this week if you adopted a few of the images above and mediated on their implication for your walk with God?


Similarly, what disciplines are you practicing that are word-oriented?  Would anything change for you if you adopted one or two of the practices above for a week?


My bet is that, like me, if you shift your focus and perhaps even some of your practice to mirror that of the psalmist, your own passion for God and his word might find renewed vigor.  I pray that it is so! In my next post we’ll dive a bit deeper into some of these thoughts and practices.


“Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.”

Psalm 119:2

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This is the first of four guests posts by my friend and co-worker Craig Altrock.  He’s a man of God, and I know you will be blessed by his series on Psalm 119.  I will be back after his series finishes.

I recently completed a 119 day journey through Psalm 119.  I say that not so much to wow you, but simply to say that I finished what was for me a pretty serious commitment.

If you’re like me, spending 119 days on anything is significant.  Our schedules run so full these days that most of us are fighting just to scratch out a few moments of quiet every few days of the week.  I didn’t do a lot of thought on the front end of this exercise, and it definitely wasn’t the product of long and extensive planning.  I just felt prompted to camp out in this psalm for a season, so I did.

It might not surprise you that I came away with a few observations after this journey.  So, as a guest contributor to this blog I thought it might be helpful, to at least some of you, for me to share some of these musings prompted by Psalm 119.  I’ll stay pretty general with this post and then get more specific in future ones.

Two insights I gained from camping out on one piece of Scripture for an extended season:

  1. There are levels of spiritual understanding and experience you only gain from consuming God’s word slowly and deliberately.  For many of us, Scripture reading is something akin to a visit to the drive through window of a fast food restaurant.  We may do it regularly, but we accomplish it as quickly as possible– chew, swallow, slurp, done.   But to truly stop and savor the word– this is an altogether different experience.  The psalmist says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (119:103).  As with fine food, there are certain flavors, textures, and nuances that we only experience when we slow down enough to actually taste the word we are consuming.  This moves us past the reading of Scripture strictly for information and into the realm of reading for formation.
  1. Soaking in one piece of Scripture teaches us the value of engaging God’s word in creative ways.  One of the plain hard truths about camping out this long on one psalm is that if you don’t get creative with your approach, you might get bored!  There are only so many times you can read the same piece of Scripture.  So, while I did in fact read through the 176 verses of this psalm many, many times, I was eventually pushed to read it in other ways.  For example, while I’ve not done much before in terms of Scripture memorization, I found great joy in memorizing pieces of this psalm.  While I’ve not used Scripture to form the words of my prayers much in the past, I discovered new vitality in allowing pieces of this psalm to voice my response to God.  Though I don’t journal as much as I’d like, I uncovered wonderful insights from writing my own version of this psalm, one stanza at a time.

Well, you may not want to commit to 119 days on one piece of Scripture, but I bet you could take one week and pledge to read the same passage every day that week.  If you do that this week, I’d love to hear what YOU learn!

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord”

Psalm 119:1

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