Thursday, June 20, 2019

Repentance Leads Us to a God-Pleasing Life: Psalm 118

Once we are awakened to our sinful way of life, we turn to repentance and begin a process towards a righteous God-pleasing life. This path is described by the prophet and king David in verses 25- 32 of Psalm 118: awakening, transition, and a God-pleasing life.

An awakening: 
The following three verses call us to become aware of our fallen nature and the realization that we need to change our way of life.
My soul hath cleaved unto the earth; quicken me according to Thy word.My ways have I declared, and Thou hast heard me; teach me Thy statutes.Make me to understand the way of Thy statutes, and I will ponder on the wonder of thy works. (Psalm 118 vs 25-27)
David is describing a person who has just become aware of their sinfulness and now desires to change, to repent. When he writes, “cleaved to the earth,“ he means that our soul has become enslaved by our body and all its passions. It is common for our soul to become like this because our body is made from earth and will return to it. An undisciplined soul will cleave to the body and become directed by the body’s demands instead of Spirit which is the natural stance for the soul.

Saint Theophan says,
The mystery of our life is concealed in the union of soul and body, and our soul unwittingly clings to earth and the earthly, partly because it is our temporary abode, partly because our body is of the earth.
When one awakens to this state and becomes aware that he is living by the inclinations of the body instead of God, he senses a loss of meaning. He realizes that what is of this earth is temporary and feels humiliation of the soul. God becomes real and he starts to pray that God will help him reverse this condition.  He then rereads Scripture, ponders it’s meaning in a personal way, and realize that he must turn to Christ’s way as found in His word. This is a natural two step process. First, a sudden realization that we have placed our faith in earthly things when we know that they are all temporary. Second, a force is aroused in us to seek help to change and seek what is heavenly, eternal.

Saint Theophan says,
For that reason, he prays to God for life-giving strength. This is the second step towards the door of repentance, which is opening. Grace comes and rouses; the one awakened realizes the meagerness of his condition.
A Transition: 
The next two verses are about a transition where we seek strength and mercy that can lead to a God-pleasing life.
My Soul hath slumbered from despondency, strengthen me with thy words.Remove me from the way of unrighteousness, and with Thy law have mercy on me. (Verses 28-29)
Once we set out on the path to overcome our “earth cleaving” way of life for a God-pleasing one, we find we face many struggles. We seek the word of God to chase away despondency. We call out to the Lord to remove us from our prior way of life. We strive to distance ourselves from or prior selves, but find we are still filled with sinful tendencies. We seek His mercy.

Saint Theophan says we call out to God in this way:
Show mercy on me by the granting of Thy law, pull out of my heart unrighteous impulses, and in their place write, inscribe, instill Thy law, that it may penetrate my whole being, be in control of the activities of all my powers, take possession of all the outcomes of my life and my actions...
A God-pleasing life: 
The next three verses are about when we arrive at a God-pleasing life.
I have chosen the way of truth, and Thy judgments have I not forgotten.I have cleaved to Thy testimonies, O Lord; put me not to shame.The way of Thy commandments have I run, when Thou didst enlarge my heart. (Verses 30-32)
Persevering in our struggles we find that we can live the way of truth. The Lord filled us with His grace and enlarges our heart so it is filled with His love and testimonies. We find that the obstacles to living a God-pleasing life have been removed. 

Saint Theophan writes:
What, then, is the way of truth for us? Life conforming to the Gospel in the spirit of the Christian Faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth and the way. Follow the footsteps of the Lord Christ, and you will be walking in the way of truth.
We don’t want to lose what we have gained so we call out for Him not to put us to shame when the day of judgment comes. In this state we are aware of the purity of those we will find in heaven and hope we are also pure so we will not be ashamed at what they find in us. We have certain hope that our path to our salvation will be successful,

Saint Theophan says,
The hope that He Who began in us the work of our salvation will bring it to an end and lead us successfully through all the unsteadiness of life to the gates of death and through them to unashamed settlement among those glorified is conceived at the very beginning of one’s turning to God. Together with the labors of coming closer to God, it grows and relies mainly on the recognition that on our part everything which is in our power has been put to work.
Our heart is enlarged by His grace. It becomes pure, filled with grace and delights in righteousness.

Saint Theophan again,
The grace of the Spirit fills a pure heart; with it, love flows into the heart, as witnessed by a complete, willing, joyful, and lively fulfillment of all the commandments. On Him who has reached this state, the comforting promise is fulfilled: “We will come unto him, and make Our abode with Him (Jan 14:23).”
He says that this arrival to living a God-pleasing life is only the beginning of the real race. We must now live without deviating from how God directs us according to divine Providence.

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 63-87.

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