164 Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments.
The image that came to mind at this verse from this morning’s psalm, (Psalm 119 in praise of the Law), was a scene from a reality TV show featuring agents selling real estate in different American cities. This particular episode featured an agent who was a young husband and father and a Muslim. Throughout his day, whether at home with his baby or meeting clients for showings or in the office for paper work, and at specific times, he stopped to pray. He traveled and worked with a prayer rug. During an interview for the show he was asked if he were in the middle of a deal, would he forsake the deal to stop at the right time to pray? He said yes. He had to pray at certain times every day of his life. In his tradition, the praying is mandated.
Hmm. Ok. But, I wondered, by whom is this mandated? To my way of thinking, the agent had simply adopted a discipline he had been taught or decided was essential for life, but not one ordained by God. This is ‘added’ law. In church language, adiaphora, loosely defined here as something that is not a bad thing, but the action is also not an ordained thing and there are no consequences to him or his life from God should he not stop at certain times and pray. This is personal piety. This is not a must do thing – but a should do thing or a choice thing.
It is interesting to pause and think about the disciplines we choose to adopt as doctrine – as should things. The ‘shoulds’ of my life – do they bring me peace or do they keep me agitated – as expectations, do. And not just in how I live day to day with intention, what practices and disciplines do I need to keep myself healthy mentally and physically and spiritually? And I’m thinking about shoulds in relationships, too. How I love. How many ‘shoulds‘ invade the way I think of relationship with others and with God? ‘Shoulds‘ distance us from the intent – miring us in the small print and details, as Dan Piraror’s strip, Bizarro, illustrates here.
The verse that prompted these thoughts this morning comes from the longest psalm in the Psalter and one I for too long strongly disliked. I used to skim over sometimes in the morning if it were part of the day’s readings. It lauded the law too much for my own taste, bordering on idolization. It was jam-packed with ‘shoulds‘ and black and white thinking.
But gratefully the Lord gave me some time to think differently on the psalm and his law – and the mandate to keep it. It has begun to not just sink in but also become ingrained in the way intended. I see more clearly that all the things God ordains for us , including the law, are for our own good.
That he hasn’t ordained a specific prayer discipline is also clear.
I am thankful for the word the Lord brought to me – to you? – this morning to take inventory of the ‘shoulds‘ I have allowed to dictate some of my daily routines and my interactions with others.