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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 119:105–112       

Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
   to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
   give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
   and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
   but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
   but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
   they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
   forever, to the end. (NRSV)

As a professional musician, I am always excited when I get the opportunity to plan a performance event completely from scratch. Any songs or works, any instruments, any collaborators . . . But at some point the total freedom and lack of direction becomes overwhelming. Until I give myself parameters and structure to work within, it’s almost impossible to choose what to do or whom to involve. Indeed, the most effective and creative performances I’ve put on have often been the ones for which I’ve built the strictest boundaries during the planning process.

I see the same as an educator. While my students sometimes think they crave total freedom—in schedule, repertoire choices, curriculum decisions—I have so often seen them thrive when they’re asked to try things they wouldn’t choose on their own. Their academic, personal, and artistic growth takes leaps and bounds as they process how to take on these challenges within the given structure. Carefully chosen guidelines (allowing a certain amount of flexibility for them to work within) give them opportunities for creative problem-solving and measureable progress.

The psalmist in this passage finds a similar gratefulness for the moral law given by God. In the ultimate wide-open arena of choices and personal progress—living life—loving, wise structure and guidelines help us to be our best selves. As a loving parent and teacher, God gives direction. The spirit of God’s law is to see us thrive, not to drag us down; to help us and those around us, not to harm us. Thank God for that.

Loving and structure-giving God, thank you for the care you show through guidelines, even when I don’t think I want them. Help me to find joy and comfort in your lessons. Truly guide my feet and direct my path. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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