Day 3: May 5, 2018: The Word of God Guards our Way
Psalm 119:9: How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
If you are anything like me, you look back on your teenage years with some regret. I was raised by loving Christian parents who brought me up “in the training and instruction of the Lord.” My home church was filled with genuine followers of Jesus who were both good examples and encouraging voices to me and the other young people in the congregation. Yet, despite these incredible blessings, I most certainly did not keep my way pure as a young man. Instead, I aimlessly, and yet intentionally, wandered into all kinds of sinful habits. Only when I was on the verge of adulthood, at the age of nineteen, did I begin to turn my way back to the Lord. That change-of-direction occurred because God really got my attention through a very special young lady who was later to become my wife.
It is worth considering, why does the Psalmist specifically address himself to “young men” (and by extension young women) in this verse? The great reformer John Calvin gave two answers to this question in his commentary on Psalm 119. First, Calvin observed, youth “puts men where two ways meet, and renders it imperative for them to select the course of life which they mean to follow.” That is, youth is the time when people make the decisions which will shape the rest of their lives. If a young person does not carefully consider the direction of his or her life and does not intentionally choose to follow the Lord Jesus, the course of their life can be set on a path which will lead only further and further away from God. In Calvin’s words as we mature we “become hardened” in our “vicious practices.” It is therefore essential for young people to begin guarding their way according to God’s word before these vicious practices set in and take hold.
Second, Calvin saw how great the temptations of youth are, and how vulnerable young people are to them. He wrote that “the carnal propensities” are “very powerful in youth” and that they require a “double restraint.” How strongly our desires and emotions grow, and even rage within us, in our teenage years! How appealing the enticements of the world appear! Yet, when we are young, our faculties of reasoning and decision making are not well developed enough to give us the strength to resist these temptations. It is therefore essential for young people to begin finding in God’s word the powerful resources for saying “no” to sin and “yes” to Christ’s way.
What then of the application of this verse to those of us who have passed from youth into adulthood (perhaps long ago)? Does this verse have less relevance for us than for teenagers? By no means.
To begin with, no matter what age we are, we can place ourselves in a position of humility before the Lord. We can receive the Lord’s word to us with the openness, eagerness, and teachability of youth.
Second, we can recognize that we never outgrow our need to guard our way according to God’s word. If the years of youth are when change is easier and formative decisions are made, then the years of experience are when change is more challenging and decisions even more complex. If young people need the power and truth of God’s word to guide them, then how much more do we adults need the power and truth of God’s word to enlighten and transform us? Our need for God does not lessen as we mature. Rather, that sense of dependence and gratitude by which we cling to Him grows only deeper.
How then do we guard our way according to the word of the Lord? The basic idea of the verb translated “guard” in this verse is “to exercise great care over.” To guard our way of life then is to use the word of God to exercise great care over what we desire, what we plan, how we think, what we say, and why and how we act. It is to use the word of God to exercise great care over the goals we set and the habits we develop. In order to use God’s word to guard our way we must diligently read, study, meditate, and act upon it.
This kind of intentional and comprehensive submission of our lives to God’s word will produce in us the purity that is freedom from evil. When Isaiah called the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repentance he used the word translated ‘pure’ in our verse: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:16-17). How can a person of any age keep his or her way “clean” from evil? We can use the word of God to exercise great care over all that we are and do.
Take time now to ask God to help you guard your way according to his word. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, thank you for the power and truth of your word. I want to walk in purity before you, but I cannot do it on my own. Help me to use your word to exercise great care over what I think, what I say, and what I do. Lord, by your Spirit, make my way of life clean from all evil. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”