Fourteenth Letter of the Hebrew AlephBeth
Your word is a lamp to my feet,
a light for my path.
The Torah as a lamp is not of much use when the sun is out, the sky is clear, the clouds have rolled away, and the brightness of the day fills my eyes. It still has its uses, but not as a lamp. Ah, but when dusk comes, and the stars do not come out, and the wind picks up, the chill sets in, and darkness prevails - then the Torah has its use as a lamp. When the heart is dark, when the soul has lost its light, and it needs to know which way to go; when it can't rely on its own common sense of direction, then the Torah as a lamp is the perfect tool. There is so much that is uncertain to me about the Scriptures themselves, and thus any theology derived from them; yet I choose to believe that the Word is a trustworthy lamp. Because I choose to follow it, it will direct my feet along the path of wisdom and life. I don't have to understand it all, but I do need to trust it...even if it is mixed with some doubts.
I have firmly sworn
to keep Your just rules.
Ha, if only I had that much integrity and character. It's not that I'm in favor of keeping unjust rules, but to firmly swear to keeping all of the LORD's just rules...well that seems so definitive. Where is the wiggle room? But if I'm not vowing to keep God's way, whose way am I upholding? Anything else is tainted and corrupted. So what keeps me from knowing God's rules and vowing to abide by them?
I am very much afflicted;
O LORD, preserve me in accordance with Your word.
This ought to be my prayer every morning. Pastoral life, lately for me, has been a crucible of affliction. I suppose it is an affliction of the mind, the anxious uncertainty of not knowing how a decision is going to play out. I want so much to succeed as a pastor, but I won't settle in my mind what "success" looks like. I want so much to see lives changed, but then I don't seem to know how to go about contributing towards that, since it doesn't seem to be happening much around my church. Where are the conversions? Where are the baptisms? Where is the life-turn-around? Where is the radical committment? The absence afflicts my soul and faith. Am I a failure? Am I in the wrong profession? Did I misread my calling? Do I still believe? The doubts are so treacherous and overwhelming, yet the teachings of my Lord preserve me. Jesus, I believe; help me in my unbelief.
Accept, O LORD, my freewill offerings;
teach me Your rules.
There is much I am thankful for, much that I thank you for; when I open up my soul to you in praise, continue to illuminate my mind about your Way.
Though my life is always in danger,
I do not neglect Your teaching.
Fear can have a crippling effect; my life is not in danger of death everyday - unlike our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Sudan, India, Pakistan and other sites around the world. I don't fear death, but I do fear failure, and sometimes in a weird way I fear success. My life is in danger of succumbing to fear; yet I continue to read and study and apply Your teaching to my life. May my fear for You overcome my fear of me.
Though the wicked have set a trap for me,
I have not strayed from Your precepts.
Always there is the temptations to buy into the materialistic, secular, deterministic values of our culture. There are those that pump out the fumes of this pollution that they may sway and confuse, that they may distort truth and lead astray. Don't let me buy into lies, but help me to join those millions who seek the truth. May those who desire truth find the Way. I have tried to not stray from Your precpts, though I am full of doubts of what others have articulated as our teaching.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage;
they are my heart's delight.
May this come to be true for me. May there be a day when the Torah, the Writings, the Prophets, the Gospels, The Epistles are my heart's delight. Now, for me, they are a challenge to understand, a locked up mystery box of truth; may there be a day when they are a delight to me and not a text of doubt.
I am resolved to follow Your laws
to the utmost forever.
Deep down, this is the way it is for me; as a doubter, as one who is unstable in my ways, as one who seeks wisdom and doesn't seem to get it, I am still resolved to follow. Someday the doubts may drift away, someday wisdom will take its place. In the meantime, I'll keep my resolve, even if it is by a thread; I will follow Your Way.