Right after graduating from college, I lived in Mumbai, India, for 18 months. Before moving (literally) halfway around the world, a 90 mile radius defined the sum total of my life experience. Absolutely everything was different: the food, the smell of the streets, the clothes I wore, the methods of transportation, the language. I found myself clinging to the rituals and traditions I brought with me to give some stability and order in my life. I read and reread the three books that fit in my suitcase; I drank a cup of hot tea at the same time every evening; I wore a cross every day that my closest friend gave the day I left.
I was surprised, however, that I became obsessed with my Bible and following a daily devotional. When we graduated from high school, my church gave seniors a small volume titled, “A Prayer for Servants and Other Ministers”. In it was a daily prayer, a suggested hymn, a list of scripture reading for each day of the year, and a few paragraphs each week taken from writings by mystics, saints, theologians and pastors. In a place where all of my senses were bombarded with new experiences 24 hours a day, the few minutes each morning I retreated in my room or sat in the quiet of a dimly lit chapel and read my Bible and prayed through the pattern in that devotional saved me.
The hostel where I lived was across the street from a Muslim masjid, or house of prayer. Five times a day, their loudspeaker crackled to life as one of the leaders began to sing a call to prayer. The Muslim women who lived next door to me would pause whatever they were doing, unroll their prayer mats, and pause to pray. Their experience at first made me uncomfortable when we were together; what was I supposed to do while they were praying? After a few weeks it dawned on me—I should pray, too! I could take prayer out of my quiet and private room and into the dining hall, the classroom, the bus, the cafe—wherever I was when the call to prayer sounded was not just a call to prayer for my Muslim friends, but also a call to prayer for me. In this time of confusion, loneliness, and upheaval, the words of Scripture and the reminder of God’s presence gave me an anchor and guide.
Psalm 119 is a special song-poem that uplifts and extols God’s laws. It’s one of the longest chapters in the Psalms—179 verses! The poem is written with the alphabet. Every eight lines begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, starting with the first letter and going to the last. It’s a highly detailed and very structured song to the wonders and virtues of learning, following and delighting in God’s laws.
To our modern ears, spending that much time to tell others how exciting it is to keep and follow a list of rules seems ludicrous. Few of us are eager to model our lives on these verses: “I rejoice in the content of your laws as if I were rejoicing over great wealth. I will think about your precepts and examine all your paths. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget what you have said” (Psalm 119:14-16).
I found new meaning in the idea of rejoicing in God’s laws and delighting in God’s statues, however, when my life was completely disrupted. The stories in Scripture and God’s teaching came alive when I didn’t have relationships, cultural assumptions, and instant access to entertainment and distraction readily available. I was able to read the Bible for the first time slowly and completely. I lingered over the confusing parts, questioned the tough stories, read aloud the words of Jesus, and memorized verses that gave me courage and hope. I could see the breadth of God’s story unfolding—the laws and guidance in scripture came alive as I prayed. During a time of disorder and uncertainty, God’s steady, consistent, loving presence began to reveal itself. That season of complete dependence on God was sustained by the gift of God’s “precepts and paths” and deepened whenever I prayed, simply by telling God what was on my heart. I learned that my relationship with God could grow, not just in my room when I read the Bible and prayed alone but all over the city, anytime the static-filled speakers called me to prayer.
Are you experiencing a time of crisis, doubt or disorder in your life? Does God seem far away? Do you have a longing that you are struggling to fill? Commit a full week to reading the Bible and praying. Create a pattern that works for you—in private and with others—and see how “delighting in God’s statutes” can bring order, peace and hope to your life.