Contemplative Life

Psalm 119 and (My) Spiritual Formation

Psalm 119, I know, – the largest Psalm, 176 verses, 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, an acrostic, arranged by the Hebrew alphabet, and, and, and – daunting in many ways. At least, that is how I often came to Psalm 119.  More recently though, Psalm 119 has become the doorway through which I come into God’s presence.

Many days my routine begins with brewing a cup of coffee. I grab my Bible and settle into an armchair.  This is where Psalm 119 comes in. I like to move through the 176 verses, taking a stanza each morning.  The verses help me focus and draw me into a conversation with God.

The verses of Psalm 119 have a paired structure – a call and response, a truth and a desire, a truth and a deeper truth, for example.  The pairings bring focus to my thoughts, making me more settled, as progressing through the 8 verses of the stanza shifts my sight from me to God. I like to read through the stanza first and then more slowly, pausing to consider what the pairing is expressing.  Just why the two thoughts were placed together is not often clear to me by just reading.  Lingering over a verse helps in understanding but almost always leads me to prayer.  Let me explain.

Verses 33-40, the stanza He is one has become a favorite. The pairings of these verses begin with a request to the Lord (Teach me, Give me understanding, Direct me, Turn my heart, Turn my eyes, Fulfill your promises, Take away my disgrace) followed by the reason for the request. And the reason is often to live more faithfully. I linger over the verses.

Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart (V. 34).

There is a need for understanding to be able to keep and obey God’s law. Verse 34 causes me to pray for understanding and wisdom.  I do have a desire to keep God’s ways though “with all my heart” seems an unreachably high standard for me.  I ask because I know I cannot. I recognize that I do not and have not, which leads me to confession and repentance. On to the next verse…

The stanza He (verses 33-40) concludes with verse 40 expressing a desire of the heart but turns to the Lord for its answer (emphasis mine):

How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life (V. 40).

A stanza only takes a few moments.  Still, its 8 verses move my thoughts to be about God rather than myself.  They prompt me to and in prayer. Moving through a stanza of Psalm 119 often opens a door for me to the presence of God.

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