Psalm 119:34 New International Version (NIV)
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
The best kind of obedience, the sustained, enthusiastic, passionate obedience that loves to “run in the path of God’s commands”, as it says elsewhere in Psalm 119, flows out of understanding. Understanding in this context is the enlightened perspective that acknowledges that the fear of the Lord and obedience to His commandments, judgements and precepts bring us the true life and flourishing that we all long for.
If I want healthy, life-giving relationships, I need to learn to love my neighbor as myself. If I want true economic peace and security, I have to quit making money a god and learn to seek the real God and His kingdom first, trusting Him to meet my needs and to guide my financial life. If I want a life of deep and abiding satisfaction, I have to let go of the manic pursuit of instant gratification.
To use one of Jesus’ word pictures, if I want to stay on the narrow road that leads to life, I need to be convinced down in my gut, down in my socks, that it really DOES lead to life. Conversely, if I want to keep my feet out of the broad road that leads to destruction, I need to be convinced, down in my bones, that it really WILL lead to my death.
That’s the kind of understanding, I think, that the psalmist was getting at. I think it’s way deeper than intellectual comprehension. You can have it nailed down perfectly in your mind that saturated fats aren’t good for you, but that probably won’t be enough when you’re confronted with a fresh, hot cheeseburger. Understanding says, “yeah, the cheeseburger looks and smells great but I’ll feel better at 4 pm if I go with the soup and salad”.
So this kind of deep understanding is tied closely to the tension between instant and delayed gratification- letting go of immediate and apparent pleasure now for the sake of truer, deeper and more lasting pleasures later on. As the Apostle put it in Romans 8:6, To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
The flesh is that whiny, lustful, self-absorbed child within us (Freud called him “his majesty the baby”) that can’t see beyond the immediate hunger, thirst and discomfort.
He needs to grow up.
He needs discipline.
He needs understanding.
The satisfaction he longs for is truly available, but only by walking in faith. It’s a paradox: to truly come alive, His Majesty the Baby must first be put to death.