Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Perceptions are not always reality

Psalm 119:49-56 (NIV) "Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life. The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law. I remember, LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them. Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night, LORD, I remember your name, that I may keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts."

David describes a situation of dealing with the disappointment of everyday life for us in this passage that we often struggle with ourselves. It is the situation of seeing those who do not follow the Lord, those who have not made any commitment of their life to the service of our heavenly Father, living anyway they please and seeming to prosper in all they do. All the while, we may face ups-and-downs, dealing with things we find difficult and perhaps even a little unfair. In turn, we want to cry out like our psalmist, "Hey, God, when I see these guys living high and enjoying life at every turn, it gets my goat!" David was an ordinary guy, dealing with ordinary stuff, just like us. He had totally human responses to those things he encountered, and he was not afraid to open up before God with those things he just did not understand. He did this because he knew God would help him to see beyond the momentary successes of the hear-and-now into the eternal reward awaiting each of God's servants.

I don't think he was off-base in observing that the wicked seem to prosper at every turn. Just look around you for half a minute today and you will make all kinds of similar observations. The airwaves, tabloids, newspapers, and other forms of media are filled with all kinds of reminders of just how "well" the wicked seem to be doing in society today. Crimes are committed and it seems like those involved can get off without any real penalty if they are shrewd enough to cover their tracks well, or to hire the best attorneys money can buy. Men and women cheat on their spouses, breaking up homes, leaving catastrophe in their wake, then go on to make a new life for themselves seemingly oblivious to the destruction they have caused. The list goes on - you can add your own observations - but it all comes down to the same observation as David made - they seem to do well despite their heart motivation!

The key to really coming to an understanding of what David was telling us in this passage is that they "seem" to be doing well in spite of their heart motivation. It is that temporary illusion of happiness they seem to exude that we key-in on and come to the conclusion that they are "successfully prospering". Yet, in deeper examination of their heart (something only God can really do), there is no true contentment, no anchoring assurances, and no lasting hope.

David calls on God to "right" his focus - helping him to "perceive" correctly. The process of perception is based on experience. What we experience in life causes us to perceive (take in, through the power of observation) through a "lens" that filters our observations so that we interpret them a certain way. Perception is more than being able to make cognitive decisions about something or someone. It is a process of filtering what we see, hear, and feel through these past life experiences we have stored away in our memory banks. David knows the power of our memories - that is why he asked God to deal with his past memories earlier in this Psalm. Remember - the key to understanding this lengthy Psalm is to understand that one section builds upon the other.

Like David, we want to have "correct" filters by which we interpret life. We want to ensure that our perceptions are based on fact, not appearances. Therefore, like David, we need to remember what we can "hang our hat on". David aptly writes: "Your promise preserves my life," and again, "I remember, LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them." He has learned to "filter" his perceptions through the Word of God. The Word is consistent, never changing. It stands as a guide for our perception - righting our inaccurate perceptions and confirming those that line up with the Word.

David has learned to meditate on the Word - getting it deep into the core of his being - allowing it to direct his every step. Yep, he still fell into temptation and sin on occasion, but he had the Word of God to consistently fall back on to "right him" when he fell. When I use the term "meditate", I am a little cautious because it has come to mean some pretty weird things these days. I am not referring to the process of an "out of body" experience, or an "opening up" of our minds to just any force of the spirit world that happens to want to get into our minds at that moment. I am speaking of focusing our thoughts on God's Word, rehearsing it, pondering deeply its meaning, and drawing hope and meaning for our lives from it. To ponder something is to consider or examine it attentively or deliberately - it is not a mindless process, but an active engagement of our processes of thought into what God reveals in the passage we are reading / considering that day. There is a definite focusing of the thoughts on God's revelation of truth. As we meditate upon God's truths, they get a foothold into our thought life (the beginning of all action, the place of all judgment). In turn, we learn to "filter" life's observations through more accurate and reliable filters than our own life experiences.

The purpose of a filter is to separate out any matter that does not belong, or that would affect the outflow. Let us put on the "filter" of the Word of God daily so that our "outflow" is obedience. David says that the outcome of remembering God's Word and meditating on it day and night is that he is obedient. I daresay, that is probably the outcome we all want in our daily Christian walk - God helping us to live more obediently. Learning to run our perceptions through reliable filters will helps us to interpret them with a greater degree of accuracy, knowing exactly what God wants us do on a more consistent basis, and anchoring us securely. Let's learn to ponder well the things revealed in God's Word!