Close Enough To See His Face

We’ve been in Louisville for two months now! We are settling in to our new church and getting to know the dear ones who attend it. Louisville itself is no small town; it’s not even a comfortably mid-sized city. It’s big and busy and full of nooks and crannies of places to explore and live, which is why we have been temporarily living in an apartment until we discovered which “nook” we wanted to roost in.

About a month ago we began the process of looking for a house. On our first day out our realtor, Troy, who is also a dear brother in the Lord, carefully constructed the day’s tour. He had managed to pack in showings at 12 or so houses to the east and south of Louisville. Jack and I were full of anticipation at watching the Lord’s plan unfold. Maybe we would find a house! Maybe our 3 ½ years of temporary would soon be at an end!

When we got to Troy’s office he needed to make a few adjustments to our schedule because one or two of the houses we wanted to see had sold overnight. After a bit of a delay we got on the highway out to see the first house. We hadn’t been on the highway out of town more than a minute or two when the traffic slowed to a complete stop. And there we sat for the next 2½ hours, inching forward at a snail’s pace. We learned that 3 semi-trucks collided and the crash completely blocked the freeway. Our day’s plans were rapidly changing.

Normally, I might have been anxious or discouraged about the changes, yet I found myself rejoicing. Left to myself there was no way I would have been exulting, especially since I had feasted on anticipation all morning. Yet, the Lord had already kindly prepared my heart for the day’s events.

It all began when Psalm 89 greeted me during my quiet time that morning. In Psalm 89 the psalmist extols the Lord’s character and ways. In fact, he’s just downright exulting in the Lord’s power and goodness. The psalmist, Ethan, creates a picture of heaven and all the holy ones praising the Lord. He describes the scene in verses 14-15, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” Ethan describes the Lord’s throne being built upon righteousness and justice, which really just describes how the Lord reigns over His subjects—righteously and justly. Then the psalmist designates “lovingkindness” and “truth” as those who triumphantly announce our great King’s presence. What a grand and glorious picture of the Lord’s throne room!

That’s why the psalmist says in verse 15, “How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” Isn’t that the truth? We really are blessed when we know that lovingkindness and truth proceed from the Lord. And it’s even better when we live close enough to Him to experience that flood of His lovingkindness and truth. Yet, there’s more, for as we live closely to the Lord we will walk in the light of His countenance (verse 15). 

That’s the phrase caught my eye. It grabbed at my imagination and entered my heart. What does it mean to live in the light of the Lord’s countenance? How would my life be different today if I remembered I was living within reach of His smile?

Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance is just another way of saying that we live close enough to see His face—and conversely that He sees us. The idea is captured really well in Aaron’s blessing of the sons of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”

The idea of living in light of the Lord’s countenance carries with it His blessing. It also carries with it a sense of accountability. It’s basically like living in His throne room—and that’s where the accountability comes in. We’re called to live differently in the throne room so that when His face shines upon us in holiness we’re not ashamed.

That’s why when our day of looking at houses looked like it was going to rapidly derail, I had a unique opportunity to check my thoughts and my responses. Was I living with trust and hope in the fair light of God’s gaze? Or would my countenance reveal fear or discouragement or a complaining spirit?

The Scriptures remind us that when we live in the light of the Lord’s countenance, He helps our countenance. Psalms 42:11 and 43:5 say virtually the same thing, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” He helps our countenance! What a joyous thought! We don't have to live in the cellar of grumpiness or fear for the Lord will help us.  

The problem is that far too often we don’t avail ourselves of the Lord’s help, so that we end up resembling Cain more than is comfortable. Remember his story in Genesis 4:4-7? “And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Cain wasn’t keeping His eyes on the Lord and certainly didn’t seem concerned about living within the light of His gaze. Even after the Lord asked him, “Why has your countenance fallen?” Cain didn’t repent of his wrong attitudes. Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance means answering the question, “Why has your countenance fallen?” and then doing something about it. This requires recognizing what we’re really thinking about any given situation, repenting if necessary, and most certainly, asking the Lord’s help for trust and faith.

The Scriptures talk about a sad countenance in Job 9:27; a proud countenance in Psalm 10:4; and an angry one in Proverbs 25:23. That’s just a sampling of the sins of our hearts that are revealed in some way.  Paul understood this truth when he said in Galatians 5:19 that the “deeds of the flesh are evident.” We might try to hide our sinful thoughts and deeds away in the recesses of our hearts, but like ducks in the water, they always bob back up to the surface. 

Understanding all that made Psalm 89:15 all the more impactful on that day of house hunting, when everything seemed to be unraveling in God’s perfect and sovereign plan. In fact, praying through Psalm 89:15 allowed me to rejoice in the same way as the psalmist in the very next verse, “In Your name they rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness they are exalted.” Instead of feeling thwarted, I felt protected by the Lord’s new plan for our day.

O Lord, may we live and breathe this prayer, that we would walk in the light of Your countenance (Psalm 89:15) because You are the God who helps our countenance (Psalm 43:5).

The Many Benefits of Biblical Meditation

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)

“My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” (Psalm 119:148)

With such Scriptures as the ones above staring us in the face we know biblical meditation must be important. But what was it really? The Bible speaks frequently about meditating on the Scriptures, but phrases like “It is my meditation all the day” can be pretty intimidating. The idea of thinking about something all day long seems impossible. It makes you wonder if regular people can learn to meditate on God’s Word or does that only belong to the realm of great thinkers and spiritual giants?

What does it mean to meditate on the Scriptures?

Biblical meditation involves thinking. Most of us comprehend that much of biblical meditation, but a good understanding of it can remain pretty elusive. For some reason, whenever I think of meditation I get a mental picture of Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” with the ring, his “Precious.” Gollum is definitely not my favorite character, but the way he prizes that ring provides a good illustration of what it means to meditate upon the Scriptures. Gollum gazed at that ring from every angle; no detail about it escaped his notice. Every facet of it was studied and delighted in. That’s biblical meditation. It’s mentally examining some Scripture from every angle so that no part of it is left undiscovered.

Meditation actually reveals how much we value the Scriptures. The simple act of looking at and thinking on God’s Word prizing God’s Word tells us, tells others, and most importantly, tells God, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)

Meditation, at its most basic level, is simply thinking on a specific verse or section of Scripture, yet it can also include thinking on aspects of God’s character, a specific doctrine, even the works of God. It’s also worth noting that meditation is not studying, though you can meditate upon what you are studying—and it’s wise to do so! Study and memorizing Scripture lead to meditation, yet it’s what meditation leads to that is the real jewel here.

The benefits of meditating on the Scriptures.

Meditating helps us overcome sin and the temptation to sin. Psalm 119:11 plainly says that this is so, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” There’s a clear connection between loving God’s Word and overcoming sin. Don’t you think that’s because when we love someone there’s no way we want to grieve or ruin our loved one? Sin hurts our relationship with the Lord and grieves His Holy Spirit—all the more reason to meditate upon God’s Word.

I think Psalm 4:4 gives us a workable plan in combatting sin in our lives, whether it’s one specific sin we’re targeting or sinfulness in general. It says, “Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still (Psalm 4:4).” Tremble and do not sin reveals our heart response to sin. This is a holy fear and an abhorrence to sin again, as well as a commitment to not sin further. Then we’re told meditate in your heart upon your bed. We’re told to find a quiet place and think on the Scriptures, on the Lord, on His ways, His character; we’re not to meditate on our sin. We often have this backward and end up obsessing over our sin and never getting to the place of thinking on the Word itself. Then Psalm 4:4 tells us be still. As you pray through the Scriptures and focus your heart on the One who can help you overcome your sin, be still. Trust the Lord to “complete the work He began in you” (Philippians 1:6).

We have the example of godly greats who meditated on the Scriptures. David and Asaph both talk about meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 27:4; 63:6; 119:15). The Apostle Paul doesn’t specifically use the word “meditate” but he does describe the practice in 1 Timothy 4:15 when he tells Timothy to be “absorbed” in the Scriptures. When he tells us to dwell upon the Word in Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:16 he is telling us to meditate on God’s Word. The author of Hebrews tells us to “consider” Jesus in Hebrews 3:1 and 12:3. In both places we’re told to dwell on and think on Jesus’ example. 

It’s a way to show love to the Lord and also increase our love for Him and His Word. Aren’t you always looking for tangible ways to show your love for the Lord? I know I am! I also want to know that the ways I’m showing love to the Lord are actually pleasing to Him, rather than just being pleasing to me. Psalm 19:14 gives us encouragement that our very thoughts can please the Lord. Amazing! “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” God loves it when His children have tender hearts toward Him (Deuteronomy 5:29).

Meditating helps us memorize Scripture. The simple act of meditating on God’s Word helps us memorize it. This is true of everyone—no matter how young or old or how foggy our brain—eventually the things we’re thinking about will stick in our brains. Memorizing veers off from meditating when we begin to review what we’ve committed to memory and then seek to recite the Scriptures faithfully. Meditating isn’t necessarily trying to do that, but meditating and memorizing are certainly kissing cousins, and where one is you’ll soon find the other. 

Meditating helps us pray biblically. If you spend any time at all dwelling on God’s Word, you know that soon you find yourself praying over those very Scriptures. This is absolutely my favorite way to pray. Praying through Bible passages emboldens my prayers, keeps my mind engaged and full of faith. The Lord remains foremost in my thoughts when I’m pleading His Word back to Him. Moving between meditation and prayer naturally invigorates our prayer time.

Meditating helps us grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Lord Himself. If you’ve ever prayed that you would “know the Lord, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, desiring to be conformed to His death” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, then meditating on the Scriptures is the means to get there. The Scriptures reveal God to us; the Word describes His character and His ways; the Bible retraces His steps and helps us trust Him as we walk toward heaven. The Word moves us past our imaginations or feelings into the realm of truth and fact.

That’s why the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 3:1-3, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.” When we consider Jesus, according to this text, we think about His roles of Apostle and High Priest; His faithfulness and the degree that He carried that out, and we consider how worthy He is of glory, and more!

Two easy ways to meditate on the Scriptures

The most natural way to meditate upon the Scriptures comes through memorization. There’s nothing like reviewing a section of scripture over and over again to get you thinking about every aspect of it. The mental slowing down that takes place in memorization is crucial in meditation. Sometimes our poor brains are a bit lazy and not used to thinking, but if you persevere in this, asking the Lord for His help, you will make progress.

Another very easy way for me to meditate on the Scriptures comes when I pray through a specific passage or verse. As I look at portions of the verse and pray through it, my mind is engaged rather than wandering. Praying through the Scriptures is a tremendous way to lift your prayer time out of the mundane. Praying through the prayers of the Bible is a great place to start, but that doesn’t have to be the only place you go in the Bible to pray. Any passage, understood properly in its context, can be the kneeling bench for your prayer time. I particularly love to pray through passages where God’s character is on display. Those passages may lead me to praise and thanks or may prompt me to plead that He would minister to His children according to His character (i.e. His goodness, faithfulness, righteousness). When we pray like this we can say like the psalmist, “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds (Psalm 77:12).”

“Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the LORD (Psalm 104:34).”

The Encouragement and Power of the Word for Your Prayer Life

Steve Lawson preached a most memorable sermon on 7 qualities of the Word of God at the 2015 Inerrancy Summit. Take the time to listen to his sermon; you will be so encouraged! His sermon outline was basically a quick exposition of the texts below explaining how the Word is described in the Bible. Since then I have been praying through the outline and scripture texts for different situations and people on my prayer list. I have found it faith-building and soul-strengthening to pray through these scriptures as I bring my requests to the Lord. I hope you'll be encouraged too!

As you pray consider the Word and its ability to work on a heart:

  • It is a sword. Hebrews 4:12-13:  12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
  • It is a mirror. James 1:23-24:  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
  • It is a seed. 1 Peter 1:23:  23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
  • It is milk. 1 Peter 2:2:  2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
  • It is a lamp. Psalm 119:105:  105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
  • It is a fire. Jeremiah 23:29:  29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
  • It is a hammer. Jeremiah 23:29:  29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?