Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 25. (MsgB)
Keep up your reputation, God; Forgive my bad life; It’s been a very bad life.
My question: What are God-worshipers like? Your answer: Arrows aimed at God’s bull’s-eye.
As I see it, there are two basic approaches to living a God-centered life.
The first (and most popular) approach in most pious circles is to live a life of sin-management. Sin, as we all know, is not a good thing. It produces in us, as King David states here in Psalm 25, a “bad life… a very bad life.” So a good sin-manager knows that in order to please a God who hates sin, we need to do our very best to keep sin at bay, lest we fall to temptation, and sadly, have to bother our forgiving God once again with our dirty laundry.
For my friends in the Catholic church, who have had at least an additional 1,400 years to study such things, they’ve come up with a well-defined list of sins for those who want to work hard at sin-management. As I understand it, here’s the basic premise. First there are two kinds of sin: Venial and Mortal. Venial sins are those kind of human errors found in all of our lives; ones that are relatively minor. Things like telling little white lies, forgetting to be kind, yelling at your kids, etc. Then, on the other hand, there are Mortal sins that are so grievous in nature that it is believed they destroy a life of grace and charity, thus creating the threat of eternal damnation. These seven Mortal Sins are sometimes called Cardinal or Deadly Sins, or Capital Vices. Here’s the official list: Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony.
Now, please understand here. I’m not picking on the Catholics alone. As a Protestant, we have our own sin management lists as well. Visit any Protestant church in America on any given Sunday morning, and without a doubt, you’ll be given very good advice on how we must live lives where we keep a careful watch over our sin, battling it so it won’t destroy our lives. I mean, what contemporary Protestant list of sins would be complete without giving mention to some of the biggies like adultery, fornication, homosexuality, witchcraft, murder and drunkenness? And let’s not stop there! A quick search on-line found several informative websites written by well-known Protestant pastors that warn me of at least 65 more specific sins that are found in the New Testament!
So now, let’s look at a second option, which in my humble opinion, is a much more reasonable approach to living a God-centered life. This second option begins and ends by re-establishing the original Hebrew definition of the word ‘sin’. Fortunately, here in Psalm 25, verse 12, Eugene Peterson, in his Message Bible, touches on this important word. ‘Sin’, you see, as defined in the original Hebrew language, simply means ‘missing the mark’. It’s a word best defined for us when associated with archery. In archery, success means the archer has achieved his or her goal when the arrow splits the bull’s eye on the target ring. As you can imagine, hitting the bull’s eye from 50 yards away using a bow and arrow is not an easy thing for any amateur to do. It’s only after much practice and ‘hands-on’ help from a master archer that most of us would be able to even hit the target ring, let alone the bull’s-eye in the middle of that ring! So when the Bible speaks of everyone on earth as being a sinner, it’s actually saying that each of us, when left to our own devices, is a flat-out awful archer. In truth, you and I ‘miss the mark’ hundreds of times each day, missing not only the bull’s-eye, but the target ring as well!
So, for those of us who want to avoid the tedious life of sin-management, we must begin by admitting that the only true saint is the one who can hit the bull’s-eye every time he or she takes a shot. And as I see it, Scripture is very clear on this. There is only one Master Archer. It was, and still is, Jesus of Nazareth, who is the only skilled archer on the planet who hits the bull’s eye every time He draws back His arrow.
What’s my point, you ask?
Psalm 25 says it well. A godly man or woman, one who worships God with his or her whole heart, soul and mind, will never be one who hits the bull’s-eye with every shot he or she takes! No. Jesus is the only one who can claim that prize. And for us, who desire to be faithful God-followers, our goal should never be to live some unattainable dream life where all of our sin will be managed and/or contained. Heaven forbid. But like any good novice archer, our commission is this: Stand next to the Master Archer, keeping our eye on the target as He directs us. With every shot we take, we don’t despise ourselves when we miss. We simply draw another arrow out of our quiver, concentrate even more on the prize of the bull’s eye, listen carefully to the Master Archer, and shoot again.
As I see it, this biblical approach to my sin (i.e. ‘missing or hitting the mark’), as compared to sin-management, has proven much more productive over the years. In truth, I now find myself spending much less time trying to manage my sin for Jesus and much more passionate about hitting the target ring with every shot I take. No condemnation. No hopeless despair. No bemoaning the fact that there are times my arrow strays far from the target. Just a deepening relationship with the Master Archer who has promised to stand with me with every arrow I launch into the air. And with His guidance and good counsel, I’m finding that I’m hitting the target ring more times than not!
Am I a master archer (i.e. a saint) yet?
No. Never will be.
Do I hit the bull’s eye very often?
No. But I am finding that as I keep my eyes on my Mentor and do as He does, my skills at ‘hitting the mark’ are getting better with every arrow I shoot.
Sorry, I gotta run. Time for some more archery practice.
My prayer: Thank You, God, that You’ve never called me to a life of sin management, but a life-long archery class, taught exclusively by the Master Archer. Empower me, Holy Spirit, to learn quickly and improve my shots. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What might my Christian life look like if I spent more time learning how to ‘hit the mark’ instead of managing my sin? How might I spend more time today learning from the Master Archer and less time trying to avoid sin?
So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?
Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Sustainable Faith-Heartland network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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