As I was going through the Psalms not too long ago, I started making up nick-names for ones that I particularly liked so that I could remember which was which. The numbers just weren’t sticking with me in a distinguishing fashion. One of the easy ones was Psalm 101, because the content kind of fit with the number. 101. It’s the classic number for your basic entry-level college course. The kind of foundational course you have to take (and pass) before you can go on to the deeper stuff.
It’s fitting. Psalm 101 is a list of “I will” and “I will not” statements. Commitments. Resolutions. They’re basic. They’re foundational. They even seem kind of obvious, but that doesn’t make them easy. They’re the kind of things you want to do, you mean to do, but you forget to do, or don’t really want to do in the moment. They’re the kinds of things you have to choose as a lifestyle, ahead of time—just like you have to choose to live a life of character and integrity. None of these things happen by accident. They’re also the kinds of things (like any 101 course) that have to be in place before you can move on to the deeper things. I call it the Psalm of Resolve (though I might change that to Manifesto…I kind of like that word.).
Here it is…listen to the resolve of the writer:
I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
2 I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
3 I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
4 A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.
5 Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly
I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not endure.
6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.
7 No one who practices deceit
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.
8 Morning by morning I will destroy
all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all the evildoers
from the city of the Lord.
I was discussing this Psalm with a group of high schoolers this morning at church. I asked them to each chose two resolutions that really stood out to them. Here are some of things we discussed:
- It’s really convicting to read “I will not set anything before my eyes that is worthless.” We can get pretty good at staying away from things that are “bad”, but we often think that things that are “neutral” are okay. If it’s not bad, then it’s fine, right? But David commits to more than staying clear of the bad. He commits to making good use of his eyes and his time and he chooses to stay away from anything that has no worth. He is choosing a steady “diet” of things are healthy for his heart and mind. No “empty calories”, if you will. What would it look like if we challenged ourselves to do that, even for a week or 30 days? How much would we have to cut out of our lives if we really chose to cut out the worthless stuff?
- So many times it’s hard to keep the bad stuff from sticking. These kids are in the throes of high school, in a very transitional, formative period in life, surrounded by people who have fallen away, or never come to Christ in the first place. It’s hard for me to keep the bad stuff that I’m surrounded by from affecting me and rubbing off on me… but I’m older and my character is, hopefully, a bit more set. If I thought that verse was challenging to me, then multiply it times a million for the students I was talking to. Multiply it times two million for the kids who are anxious to “fit in” but who still want to follow Christ. This is something that requires an act of the will, a strong resolve.
- David chooses to think about the way that is blameless. He’s doing more than just thinking good thoughts here. He’s dedicating his time and his thoughts to the way that is blameless. Did you know Jesus’ followers were called followers of “the way” far more often than they were called Christians in the Bible? And that Jesus, Himself, is called The Way, the Truth and the Life? David makes a resolve to think about God and God’s way. I don’t know about anyone else, but I confess – sometimes I find that I do the right thing externally, but internally, in my mind, I am still thinking about the wrong thing. Really, it’s this horrible act of passive aggressive rebellion. I’m that spoiled brat saying, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.” I obey most the way, but reserve this tiny “harmless” space inside my head to hold on to one little piece of the thing. David’s not doing that. He’s not choosing to hold some secret space in his mind for just a few “harmless” thoughts about the wrong way – He is making a commitment that His mind will be focused on God’s way. Disciplined to think on it. Filled with it.
- “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house.” This means behind closed doors. When no one is looking. Integrity as a lifestyle, not just when there’s an audience.
- “A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.” This is hard for anyone…but teenagers…today? Tough. Especially when our culture makes perversion a laughing matter, the basis for the majority of our humor and comedy. As for knowing nothing of evil – I don’t think David’s writing that he will be “clueless” or naïve. In fact, he can’t be naïve when he makes such commitment (later in the Psalm) to do away with evil things in the kingdom. His “knowing” here feels more like an experiential knowing – the kind of knowing you get when you’re intimately acquainted with something. David doesn’t commit to being naïve; he commits to being pure. I wonder if we really made this commitment in our own lives and if we asked God to show us how we should apply it, just what might He point out to us? What perversion might we be callous to, excusing it as humor? What things might we need to stop watching (or doing), because they are acquainting us with evil a little too intimately? And just in case you, like me, are only thinking of “big” evil things, notice how David writes about slander…”Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly, I will destroy”…based on that, I’m pretty sure David would have a more encompassing definition for evil than I do, one that would probably hold me and you, both, in contempt.
- While we’re on the subject – David writes pretty harshly about slander – making a false statement about someone that damages their reputation. Slander applies specifically to the spoken word, but in stone tablet and papyrus days, writing wasn’t easily done, so libel wasn’t much of an issue. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say libel is intended…so just anything written or spoken or implied or tweeted or texted or posted in anyway…that is false and damaging to a person’s reputation – assume all of that is included and that if you’d been in David’s time doing that stuff, he’d be committed to destroying you. And I’m thinking since he took out Goliath and a lion, slanderers should be scared. One of the boys was pretty hung up (dare I say, excited?) about this. I’m not sure that David was writing this while he was the ruling king, but I suspect, at the very least, he wrote it feeling a sense of responsibility for God’s people. So, I challenged them to realize just how seriously David wrote about lies that defame character, no matter how they are communicated– because GOD feels so seriously about it. So David commits to doing all he can do to stop people from doing that in his kingdom. What is your “kingdom” and what can you do to help put an end to slander/libel, etc.? Because it’s EVERYwhere…especially now that technology, through its distance and anonymity, has given us what appears to be a get-out-of-jail-free card. We are so much quicker to do something damaging when we can hide at a distance and not face the consequences. And before you start on the speck in your neighbor’s eye…have you done/said/posted… anything yourself which not true, not done in love, and damaging to someone else’s reputation? If so, how can you fix it? And how can you be sure to keep yourself off David’s hit-list in the future?
- One of the ones that stood out because it seemed a little unnecessary at first was verse 6: “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.” Doesn’t it seem obvious that the good people, the faithful and blameless should be the ones you have around you? Why does David write this as a resolution? As if he needs witnesses to help keep him honest to it? Probably for the same reason that the faithful and the blameless rarely make good reality TV shows. Because unless they are living very unusual lives (like have a gazillion kids, live off the land as if they are in the 1800’s, or are wealthy rednecks with extreme beards and…well, let’s face it, Duck Dynasty is just its own phenomenon, never to repeated, I’m sure) – so unless you’re really unordinary or extraordinary, the faithful and the blameless are not generally that exciting. They can even be a little boring. They do what’s right, which means they don’t create a lot of unnecessary drama. Ever notice how many nice girls date bad boys? I’m sure this is a gross oversimplification, but part of it, I’m sure, is that they are more “exciting”. David resolves not to be impressed with the thrill seekers, the drama queens, the dare devils. He won’t follow the slick, the athletic, the brilliant, the wealthy… He commits that the things of this world won’t be the things that he values. He chooses instead to value the things which God values. He commits to doing life with the faithful and to let those who are blameless minister to him, help him, serve him. Who are the people who you honor? Who are the people who you turn to when you need advice or help? Why? Did you choose them because they are faithful and blameless, or did you choose them based on some other merit?
As we talked through these things, the students helped me see something important I hadn’t seen before. We all want to say that we will be better about these things, but will power isn’t always enough. This was pre-pentecost, so the Holy Spirit wasn’t yet sent to be the Helper, (which we do have now, so that’s fantastic news!), but I don’t actually think David relies entirely on his strength of will to accomplish his manifesto. I think David sets something in place first which makes the rest of this resolution much more do-able.
David starts his Psalm with a resolve about worship. I think that’s a key detail. David’s first commitment is to live a life of worship. It is from this place of worship, this lifestyle of putting God first, of making much of God, of continually remembering how BIG God is and how little he is, that everything else flows. Thinking about the way that is blameless, having integrity at home, staying away from stuff that’s worthless, making sure evil doesn’t stick to you, keeping perversity far away, loving the things God loves, and hating the things God hates – it’s all so much easier when your heart is full of the beauty and majesty of the Lord. When your heart is full of who God is, you don’t really want anything less than that. The other stuff just isn’t quite as appealing. Sin is a separation from God. The closer you are to God, the less sin can be there. Sin pulls you away from God. Worship brings you closer to God. It puts you in His presence. David’s first and most important resolve is to work hard to stay in God’s presence through worship.
I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
So this week, we resolved as a group to work on resolve #1. We committed to take time daily to worship. Not as a by-product, “I’m getting ready and have Christian music on in the background”, but as a focused effort of concentrated worship – where God gets the primal seat in our affection and attention for a period of time each day. I have to wonder just how different my life would really be if I did truly live in and from a state of worship? I’m praying I get a taste this week…and while I’m praying for myself, I’ll be praying you do too.
For another post on Psalm 101, and another perspective, try: When Affections Grow Cold