Youth is the age of passion. So, when Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” I’m left wondering if it’s an intentionally ironic question. Because the assumed answer is, “He can’t.”
Youth is an amazing time in our lives. It’s filled with deep emotions, ever increasing physical strength and beauty, and growing and inquisitive minds. Youths see what is wrong with the world and are willing to dive headlong into complex situations, certain they’re the ones who can and will bring about workable resolutions. This combination of idealism, passion, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for a cause makes youth potent. And dangerous.
Their zeal is what makes them zealots, easily recruited to violent causes. Youthful soldiers have willingly died on far too many battlefields.
But when there is no cause to pour themselves into, youths pour themselves into … themselves. If not focused on something significant, their intense passion is released simply in passion — sex, drinking, fast cars, sports, and other diversions.
So, when Psalm 119 answers its purity question, it does so with something equal to the passion of youth: It answers with God.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
The passion of youth can be sublimated into something bigger and better than the typical self-centered expressions, and God’s Word provides that something bigger and better.
Many readers see Psalm 119 as a random collection of proverbs focused on celebrating the importance of the Scriptures. But scholars such as Geoffrey Grogan see each of the eight-verse sections as units, held together by single themes and not just by each verse starting with the same Hebrew letter. Agreeing with Grogan and others, I see the section starting with the Hebrew letter beth (or B, pronounced like “bait”) as flowing out of its initial question: How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
So, it’s not surprising to see Psalm 119:10 following on the heels of verse 9 with these words:
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
Passion is engaged. The entire heart is given a single focus. Unlike the divided heart of Psalm 86:11, the entirety of the psalmist’s heart seeks God. And yet there’s a recognition of moral weakness. He sees his ability to stray and asks for help. He prays, “I’m heading in one direction right now — toward you, God! — help me to stay the course and not get distracted, deviating to follow after what my peers are chasing.”
So, how is this going to happen?
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
God’s words cease to be an external path to be followed and possibly strayed from and become interior. They find residence in the psalmist’s heart. The center of his passions becomes the dwelling place of God’s word.
With God’s words internalized, the psalmist turns to worship, a fitting response to being filled with God and his words. Poetry and song which make up much of our worship and always have are language on fire, passion words.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
Praise and teaching go hand-in-hand. It’s no accident our worship services are often equal parts of song and sermon. The devoted life must become the deep life. The youthful heart is paired with a youthful mind and will not be satisfied with happy-clappy songs. It wants to chew on something of substance.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
Part of learning is speaking. And when he speaks, the psalmist counts and recounts all of God’s laws. He doesn’t want to miss out on a single one.
The least-quoted part of the Great Commission is its third part: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Again, we have everything.
To miss out on one of God’s words is to miss out on God. These are his words, not ours. We hang on every word, for he is the one and only true celebrity in our lives. He is our love. His words are our life.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
These words, coming as commandments and laws, are no great downer. They are God’s words to us. He is our great treasure, our wealth. And this life he’s opened up for us is the rich life, the joyful life. Our hearts are filled with laughter because of the joy of knowing and following him.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
The meditating heart is the deep heart. And God takes me deeper as well. I am drawn into the thoughtful, considerate life. This is no shallow, unthinking observance. This is a long obedience where the interplay between outward action and inward reflection never stops.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Having experienced the goodness of what God has decreed, the psalmist knows that neglecting God’s word would be foolish. To skip his word would be to miss out on the delight of his life.
Joy, delight, play: these are the things that continually call for the youthful heart.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By experiencing true happiness, the lasting joy and delight in hearing God speak and responding to him passionately with heart and mind and every square inch of our lives.
Questions for reflection:
What passions pull you away from God?
What purposeful passions has knowing and following God set on fire in you?
Is worship just an observance for you or does it unite heart and mind through praise and teaching to make you into a passionate follower of Jesus?
I’m tired of this American pursuit of happiness that leads me nowhere and leaves me with nothing. God my King, take the passions of my heart and give them a purpose big enough to be worth devoting my life to. I hang on your every word. Amen.