I Delight in Your Decrees: A Personal Testimony
Psalm 119:9-18

“I think the Word of God teaches us more things concerning it….than has been generally believed, and that it exhibits many things concerning it, exceeding glorious and wonderful, than have been taken notice of.” Jonathon Edwards

I am writing a seminar and teaching it around the world to ask one question: Why does the Psalmist delight in God’s decrees? It is not the most important question that we can ask but I think it leads to the most important question we can ask. I say that because if we get it wrong here we get it wrong all the way down the line. There is something about delighting in God’s decrees that makes all the difference in the way we live and the way we minister. Too often the Church has turned to the Word out of duty rather than delight and the results have been disastrous. Not only has the Church become weak because of it. Something infinitely more tragic has happened: God has been dishonored because of it.


Let me explain what I mean by the first tragedy: The weakened Church; seeks to copy the world’s systems in order to grow. The weakened church depends upon psychology and humanist theories instead divine truth to heal hurting souls. The weakened church seeks to entertain the mind rather than challenge the mind with awesome thoughts of God. The weakened Church appeals to felt needs of men, instead of meeting the greatest need of mankind.

But I would say that the second tragedy is an infinitely greater tragedy than the first, although they are linked. Treating the Bible as if it is a duty to read it and study it and obey it dishonors the glory of God Himself. Let me try to explain what I mean. If brought my wife flowers tomorrow and she said to me “Oh dear they are so pretty. Why did you do this?” If I answer “It was my duty,” I am in trouble. Delight glorifies my wife like duty could never do. And, in the same way to go to the Bible out of duty rather than delight is to say that God is something other than the most glorious, awesome, life changing, life fulfilling, soul-satisfying Person in the universe. The reason the Psalmist will not neglect God’s Word is not because he has to, out of duty, but because he wants to out of joy. He finds from its reading and hearing and study and meditation and obedience to it, such revelation of God’s glory, that all other endeavors pale by comparison. That is why he will not neglect God’s Word.

That is why I resigned my pastorate of 14 years in the one of the most beautiful parts of the world to start a new faith venture….and I would add, it is no sacrifice! It is why Barb and I left Santa Barbara, to move to Nixa. We want to devote ourselves and the rest of our lives to discovering what the Psalmist has discovered in That Book, the Bible. That is why we have called it “Give Me That Book Foundation”. We take that from the following quote by John Wesley:

“I have thought I am a creature of the day, a passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit, coming from God, and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf; a few months hence and I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing- the way to heaven-how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].

We want to be homo unius libri. We have had the privilege of sharing what we are discovering in the wonderful life transforming truth that is found in God’s Book around the world. We have held seminars in South Africa, Kenya, Austria and most recently Zambia. I have scheduled trips to the Philippines, Argentina and am working on a trip to Cuba. Every where I go outside our country I find Pastors who are hungering for God’s Word. In Zambia I taught the seminar to several groups of Pastors. Then, I taught one on the campus of Lusaka University. In the audience I recognized a Pastor by the name of Bishop Zulu, who was in my seminar the day before. When there was a break I asked him what he was doing there. He said, “I would go to Livingstone tomorrow with you if I could.”

That response was motivated by a deep hunger for God’s Word. He came not because it was his duty to be there but because it was a passion. He is surrounded by death. AIDS is a pandemic. Half the country is under 16 of age. Duty won’t get it. He needs hope. He needs answers to life’s tuff questions.

I made friends with one Pastor, Justin, who lost two daughters, a baby, and his wife in a space of two years. No, duty will not get it. Coping won’t get it either. Feeling good about him self is a dead end street. Building up his self-esteem won’t do it either. God’s Word is the only power that will not only get him through grief but will put a song in his heart while he is flat on his back. Because only the Word of God reveals a God so glorious and so eternally blessed that even AIDS and Death cannot separate us from the pleasure and the joy that is found in seeing Him and savoring Him.

Let me tell you how I know that. I was raised in a Pastor’s home. Dad was an A/G pastor for 55 years before he passed away in 87. Dad loved to serve His God by serving people. He was simple and devoted to Jesus and showed it not only in the pulpit but in the parsonage. He was my hero. Mom was the student. Even at 96 she still reads every day. As recently as five years ago she was asking me questions about the OT that I couldn’t answer. She would say, “Well, you’re the Bible teacher with all the degrees. Why don’t you know the answer?”

When it came time to go to school it was decided that I would attend Evangel University. There I took up the studies in history and education. I was not a very good student. But while there, men like Bernard Bresson, Coach Ralph Dodge, Dr. Richard Ullibarri, Dr. Jack Carmichael and Elsie Elmendorf moved me toward becoming a student who loved the truth found in Jesus. I remember receiving a letter from Elsie Elmendorf just before she died that was a scorching indictment of my lack of discipline and laziness. She called upon me to honor Jesus with me life. Although I never had a chance to thank her I never forgot her words.

Well, I eventually made my way into full time ministry after teaching and coaching for about seven years. Eventually I would be the senior Pastor in two wonderful congregations in SD and SB California. All that time I carried with me a passion to know truth and to learn more. Being brought up in the church and seeing my parents loving the Word and having the gifts of a teacher, I thought I should go to seminary if I were to be able to really be a good Pastor.

So, I entered a Midwestern seminary. It wasn’t long before my Sunday School understanding of the Bible was shaken to the core. My OT professor announced to the class not long after we began, that the OT Pentateuch was not written by Moses but by a committee called JEPD; that is was not really God speaking to men but men talking about God. For many days I wondered how could this be? Were my parents and profs sincere but sincerely wrong?

But then I would leave my OT class and go into my NT class. There my Prof, who had just as many prestigious degrees as my OT prof actually wept when he would exegete the words of Jesus in John. Not because they were man’s words but words of God that touched his heart as well as his head. I never forgot that.

But my biggest struggles came when I entered the pastoral care classes. There, when preparing to deal with the emotional problems that we would face in the lives of our congregations, we would put down the truth recorded in the Bible and we would pick up the theories that came from unbelieving founders of the various schools of psychology. That pattern was maintained not only in my Masters program but also through out my Doctoral program at a well known seminary known for its evangelical history.

One of the favorite methodologies of counseling taught by my profs went something like this: 1] We were never to tell anyone what to do. 2] It was assumed that every one had within them the resources to come up with their own right answers. 3] We were there only to give support and to reflect back to them and to help them get in touch with their own feelings. So, we should say, “Uh huh; go on; how do you feel about that; uh, uh” etc.

But that was not the way my dad counseled people. He would say, “Repent, you sinner, or you will pay the price and it won’t be good. Then he would say, “Thus saieth the Lord!” In other words, it was not the person’s feelings that were important but what God said in His Word. It was not about the relationship between the counselee and the counselor that mattered, but the relationship between the counselee and a Holy God who is righteous in all he does.

Well, I must say that I found that method rather easy to master. I got straight “A”s in those courses. I did so well that my three profs came to me and told me that they thought I had what it took to be a good psychologist and they had decided to sponsor me to the U. of Chicago if I desired to do so. At first I was flattered and thought about it. But then I heard a still small voice inside saying, “They think that to really help people who are troubled in their soul you must know psychology. That is not true.”

I did not accept their genuine and well meaning offer but I never forgot what was behind their offer. As I continued my studies I found that to be a consistent pattern. In class we seldom open our Bibles except in the Bible courses. When we moved to the growing of the church and the healing of the souls we went to the wisdom of the world. I think it culminated for me in one of my doctoral classes that was designed to show us how to grow the church through marketing principles used in business. After listening for two days to a very qualified professional business man explain to 50 pastors grow the church through marketing principles I felt I could hold back no longer. I raised my hand and asked him if I could ask a question. He said go ahead.

I said, “Prof, I am wondering what the apostle Paul would be saying right now to what we are learning. If I understand his approach in growing the church in Corinth it had two ingredients: 1] His message was Jesus Christ and Him crucified; 2] His method was preaching. That is all. Now, before he could answer the question a pastor sitting three persons to my right said, “Professor, can I answer that?” The prof said, “Sure.”

This is what he said. I am not lying. He turned to me and said, “No man can be saved until he is self actualized.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I knew where he was coming from. I took the courses. Abraham Maslow believed that man’s problems were due to unmet needs. He proposed a system that was meant to show how men could reach the goal of life, self actualization. To reach that level each of the lower needs must be met. 1. Physical; 2. Safety; 3. Love; 4] Esteem; 5; and Self-actualization.

The problem with this system was that one could not go to the next level until the lower one was met. Thus, in this Pastor’s mind, a person starving in the Sudan could not be saved; and a child on the streets of Lusaka, fighting to stay alive every day, could not be saved; etc. And, Maslow actually postulated at one time, that only 1% of all men reached that highest level. He also disavowed the system before he died.

Now I share that with you to show you how the theories of the world had pushed aside the principles of God’s Word and a confidence in its power in the life of this Pastor. In fact, not one other pastor in that room expressed even the slightest discomfort at this man’s comment. What I have found is that in the various hot topics that have come and gone in the area of counseling the church is about five-ten years behind the world in bringing it into the church. In other words, we bring it into the church after the world has discarded the theory and moved on to its next one. [Problems: Hurts of the past needing psychotherapy; to chemicals in the brain; to the newest, flow of blood to the lobes of the brain, SPECT].

My point is not to say that we cannot learn from genuine scientific exploration of hard science, but why are we so quick as the people of God to follow after theories that in fact, go against and take away from the life changing, hope giving, marriage fortifying; children building, joy giving Word of God? Where is Christ glorified in that? I am not saying that there are not real problems that need careful and prayerful counseling by experienced God fearing, God entranced counselors. I am not saying to someone who is struggling with depression, “You shouldn’t be that way. Go home. Pray. See me in the morning.” I am saying that God’s Word, applied to the area of your life where the fight rages is sufficient for all your struggles. Some may say: “That is simplistic.” I would respond, “Simple, yes, but it is not simplistic.” Jesus says, build your life on my words by knowing and obeying my words and when the storms of life come you will stand, for the glory of God and the joy of your soul.

Let me give you my personal testimony to validate what I have just said. A few years ago I was moved to start memorizing scripture. Now, I had memorized scripture before but most of my memorized scripture came form hearing scriptures over and over again. But I was being drawn to do a systematic memorization of scriptures in a daily discipline. So I began memorizing Psalm 27. At the same time, I began to sense that I was going to go through a time of testing and struggle.

I did. First it was a vague sense that something was wrong in my church. It was not growing in numbers. That was a lack of joy. One family, who was known as missionaries to our congregation seemed to love sports rather than serving God. I wrote a letter to the father warning them about their condition and he got mad at me. Then their daughter got pregnant and without us knowing about it or being counseled with they allowed her to have an abortion. When I found out I was devastated along with me staff. Other things happened that I took personal responsibility for.

We had some philosophical differences with key people. We were going through a long building program which turned up the tension. Then, I went through a series of physical problems. Some had serious implications and others were just nagging. I kept wondering if I had reached bottom or if there were more to come. Then it came. Someone very dear me and close to me announced to me that they walking away from the Lord and going into a tragic and deluded way of living. I was devastated. It shook me to the core. I grieved. The nights were especially painful. I wanted to run. I couldn’t. I still had to lead and preach.

It went on for a while. I was locked in hand to hand combat for my faith and my joy. I knew first hand what Paul meant when he talked about the fiery darts of the enemy. He was no longer roaming and looking for someone to devour. He had locked in on me. Thoughts of condemnation, failure, hope gone, God has deserted and forgotten, filled my mind. The staff knew that I was struggling but didn’t know how to handle me. It became tense around the office.

But what carried me, what defeated the enemy, was not words that built up my self esteem; not words that blamed others for my struggle; not medications to ease the pain. No what carried me through that struggle were the very words of God I had memorized before the darkness fell: Psalm 27. 

I went away for a six week sabbatical to write and to try and fight my way through this battle. A friend provided an RV down at Branson so I went there to write and pray. Because I was writing on the power of God’s Word I decided to memorize Psalm 19 in the morning and meditate on it; and then read psalm 119 in the evening. I discovered that although the Psalmist was writing about the Word of God, it was always punctuated by prayers. I discovered Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your Law.” So, I prayed that. The Bible was my duty too. I prayed that the Psalmist would open my eyes so that it was a delight to open and see.

The next day, I was struggling again. I was feeling like a heavy weight was upon me and had thoughts of defeat and felt deep pain. Then I read Isaiah 40:25-41. The words hit me right at the depths of my being: “Why do say o Jacob; why do you complain o Israel? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God; the creator of all things. He does not grow tired or weary and His understanding no man can fathom.” God was speaking to me from his Word.

He was still sovereign. He was in control. He had not messed up nor had he left me to tend with more important business. Although he did not cause all that had happened, it was part of His glorious plan. Although the problems were not to be solved in one glorious ephiphany, he was doing this for my good and His glory.

So, I had to “wait for the Lord; be strong, and wait for the Lord.” He was doing something in me that I had no way of knowing. Moses struggled with depression; so did David; so did Elijah; so did Paul; and so did Jesus. I discovered by experience what I knew by study that it is not the dark feelings that matter. It is the unchanging truth of God’s Word. There we take our stand. There we do battle. There we fend off the lies of the enemy and turn them around for his defeat.

After all, if Jesus who could command the demons to shut up and depart but would defeat the enemy by saying “It is written,” so should I. Jesus won the battle in his dessert by memorizing and meditating upon every word that proceeded from the mouth of God. So should we. I tell you friends, our failures in our churches and our marriages and in our families and in our emotions are robbing us of our joy, not because the Word of God is not powerful, but because we do not have it in our hearts. We have not memorized so it is in our heads so that our hearts can rest upon it in the night.

Now, let me close by telling you why I think the Word of God is so important. First, all of life is about the glory of God. God loves His glory. He chose Israel to proclaim His glory. He sent His Son to declare His glory. He chose the Church to declare the praises of His glory. He chose you and redeemed you so that you could join all creation and the Church and men from every tribe and nation to sing praises to His glory. Whatever we do should be for his glory. All that He does is for His glory.

The Westminster Confession asks the question: “What is the chief end of man?” It answers, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” John Piper has tweaked that answer a little and I think he is right. He says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” When men enjoy God He is glorified. When men turn from the glory of God to worship creation, tragic consequences take place. Sin is loving the things of this world more than we love the God who gave them to us.

How are we turned away from such a disappointing and deadly tragedy? God speaks. He speaks through His Word. He opens the blind eyes and softens hardened hearts so that they not only see the glory of God but they savor it…by His speaking. We not only discover His word we devour it. He is the Bread of Life. He is the Fountain of joy. We taste and see that the Lord is good.

Here is how I see it happening. God communicates Himself and His truth to our understanding. But it does not end there. He not only enables us to see and know him, he by the Spirit enables us to love Him. The Spirit opens our eyes so that we can see not just a God who demands perfect righteousness but a God who is attractive and glorious in splendor. We not only see him we love him.

That is what holiness is. We are so attracted to him we want him and his words more than great riches. He is the Pearl of great price. Sure it means we deny ourselves but we gain our very soul. But it doesn’t end there. He not only reveals himself to our understanding and move us to love Him with all our heart, he becomes our joy. He becomes our pleasure.

When I am in the dark, when I am being stripped of all that I hold dear outside of Him, my faith is shaken. The enemy rushes in to devour my faith and my joy. But, because I have found delight in God’s Word; because I meditate upon it day and night; there is a deep joy in God that circumstances; failures; grief and even death cannot destroy. I become like the Psalmist in 63:3: “Because your love is better than life my lips will glorify you.” How can David Livingstone spend forty years in Africa, so sick with dysentery and malaria that he has to be carried from one place to another? And then, returning to speak at Cambridge before all those students would say, “I never sacrificed a thing.” His love is better than life.

When we memorize God Word; when we hide it and treasure it in our hearts; we come to see and savor God’s glory. It gets us through the darkest hour. God is glorified when we are suffering and in great pain and we still hold on. We say “though he slay me yet will I trust him.” Or we say with Joseph, “You meant it for evil. God meant it for good.” Or with Paul, “What shall we say to these things, if God before us who can be against us. He who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not, along with Him give us all things?

I tell you, God’s Word is sufficient. Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. We need to pick up God’s Word again and pray: “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.”