Psalm 119:33-40 (The Message) "GOD, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me - my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway! Give me a bent for your words of wisdom and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets; invigorate me on the pilgrim way. Affirm your promises to me - promises made to all who fear you. Deflect the harsh words of my critics - but what you say is always so good. See how hungry I am for your counsel, preserve my life through your righteous ways."
As a child, I learned a little verse that most can recite by heart: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Whoever came up with that?!? Sure, if you hurl stones at me, beat me with sticks or clubs, I am going to get pretty battered up physically, but words beat me up emotionally (on the inside). Words are powerful - they build up or tear down, motivate toward a right decision or hold us back from blindly moving ahead. They are instruments of praise at times, and can turn into shovels of criticism at others. As many times as I recited that little verse, those words just kept stinging and affecting my inner man more and more. Why? Because they are received in our mind - the warehouse of memory. They get tucked away on our "hard drive", to be brought back up on the screens of our mind repeatedly, just at the "click" of a button. I daresay we can remember the words of harshness spoken 20-40 years ago into our lives much easier than we can remember the words of praise. We have "stored them away" when we should have let them go - and they are there affecting us today, even when we don't realize it.
David had come to understand the power of words. Those spoken by his friends and his enemies alike greatly impacted his life. Yet, he turns to GOD (the unchangeable one, holy through and through) to ask for him to speak words deeply into his being. He cries out for God to deflect the harsh words spoken by those who have acted as critics of his life - words that were spoken without counting the cost of their affect, words tainted with hints of disapproval, or words just spoken without any thought, but with more impact than the speaker could ever imagine. Why do words have such an emotional impact on us? The impact is greatly influenced by the present state of our emotional well-being at the moment they are heard and interpreted by our brains. If we are feeling pretty good about ourselves, we tend to embrace the positive words and deflect some of the critical words a little easier. If we are "down" on ourselves at that moment, we will key-in on the criticisms spoken, and discount the kind words without even giving them a second thought. Our emotions act as buffers for what we will allow to penetrate us and sometimes those buffers are just not functioning well.
David starts this section of the Psalm with the request that God teach him lessons for living so that he can stay the course. Lessons for living - insight into what he is being told so that he can step out in obedient response to those lessons. Lessons are things we learn by study or experience, and they include the idea of an occasional rebuke to get us back on course. As I went through nursing school, I amassed all kinds of information about the human body, disease processes, and the impact of one clinical finding on how to look for others that lend to the making of a diagnosis. Until I was actually out in the clinical setting, I really had no opportunity to "practice" what I had learned. As I saw human suffering, I began to connect what had been learned - it became experience. Sometimes, I thought I had it all figured out - relying on only partial information to make a determination of the cause of the patient's symptoms. Then another more skilled clinician would lend an opinion based on their knowledge, experience and exposure to a similar "clinical presentation" as the present patient was exhibiting and they would be correct in their diagnosis. Their input (the things they taught in that moment) helped me to grow as a nurse - their instructions (tender rebukes to consider more than the immediately evident clinical picture) helped me to develop my skills and "store away" valuable knowledge to be recalled over and over again through the years.
Our exposure to God's Word cannot be under-estimated. As we come to God, day after day, exploring the truths set out for us on the pages of Scripture, we gradually are impacted by what is contained within. They give us instruction and bring balance to our experiences. Wouldn't it be tremendous to be able to "filter" every word we hear in our day through the "filter" of God's Word? Think about that - someone says harshly, "You'll never get it right!" and it gets "filtered" through God's Words, "In Christ, all things are possible." In turn, you embrace God's determination that you actually will get it right - it may take a few times of trying, but with him all things are possible!
If you are like me, you place "value" on the words of those around you - you "rate" them and assign a determination of importance to them. The more influential the person is in your life (like a teacher you admire, a parent, or your boss), the more you may "value" their words. The less significant the person is in your life (like a stranger, a chum from your exercise class, or a co-worker), the more you may be willing to "de-value" those same words. Yet, even some of the words of those most influential people in our lives need to be "de-valued" and conversely, there are some words of those less-influential persons that need to be "valued". We cannot accept or reject what is said just because of the person saying it! We must "filter" it through a reliable filter. The only reliable filter in our lives is the Word of God.
David had come to a place in his life that he wanted those "filters" to work to better him as an individual. Filtering out the bad stuff, retaining the good, and building upon the good until the right stuff was more evident in his life than the bad. As we incline our hearts toward God's "filters", we are transformed - our minds are renewed. The renewing affect of his Words creates a rejuvenation of our joy, peace, and hope. We are "spiritually bolstered" and able to move beyond the failures we may have experienced into the opportunities for successes with each new step.
Today, make a determination to "filter" what you hear through the Word of God. Take what you hear spoken to you by others to God, asking him if you should embrace it, reject it, or simply reflect on it to see what other truths it may open up for you. Gradually, the emotional "hard drive" will become less cluttered with the harsh, unkind, and untrue words we have embraced, and it will become filled with words that encourage, build us up, and keep us on course. If you have embraced words that need to be "filtered" through God's Words (words spoken in the distant past and rehearsed over-and-over again in your memory), ask God to begin the process of renewing your mind (removing those from your memory banks). Begin to tuck away what God says about you, the situations of your life - his promises. Then learn to rely on them as accurate truths that you can lean on as you walk through your day.