Shortcuts in the Psalms

9 01 2010

At the beginning of the year, I started as the new youth director at First United Methodist Church in Bossier.  I’m so excited–I’ve spent the past week planning and cleaning and meeting people and getting everything straight.  We also had our first Bible study on Wednesday night, and we focused on Psalm 119, which is an interesting bit of Scripture for a couple of reasons:

1. At 176 verses, it is the longest chapter of the entire Bible.

2. It’s also an acrostic.  Those 176 verses are broken down into 22 segments of 8 verses each.  In each segment, all of the verses begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the psalm progresses through the entire 22-letter alphabet. (Don’t go looking in your English Bibles for this phenomenon–that is something that is definitely lost in translation!)

3. The whole Psalm — all 176 verses — focuses on the Word of God.  As you read through the whole thing, you join the psalmist as he meditates, praises, obeys, and keeps the Word.  What a fitting introduction to our Bible study!

We did not read the whole thing on Wednesday but instead broke into groups, and each group was assigned one of the 8-verse segments.  As part of our “reporting back” to the big group, each small group had to share the one verse that summed up the entire passage.

It was a cool experience.  The one-verse fragments served as a summary of the entire psalm, and together they made an interesting psalm in and of themselves.  As I reflected on the lesson, I wondered: did I do the youth a disservice by not reading all of the 176 verses?  (I don’t think so) Was it more important to hear the words of Scripture, or to understand the big idea?  (Both)  Could you really boil the message of a psalm to a single verse? (Definitely something to try)

Then today, I came across Jon Acuff’s blog, Stuff Christians Like (a parody of Stuff White People Like).  This past week, he started a new series of the Psalms.  For 150 days, he will read a Psalm and post one thought on Twitter…in effect, boiling down the Psalm’s message to 140 characters or less.

I can’t wait to see what he does with Psalm 119!

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