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Lessons from Psalm 78: A Test Becomes a Process

By Michael Roop

This blog is part three in a three-part series on Psalm 78:70-72.

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. Psalm 78:70-72

Integrity (tōm) is a high bar. To be the same person in all circumstances, regardless the appraisal of others, is a test you and I fail constantly. Since it plays such a central role in God’s plan for our lives, the question becomes, how can you and I become people of integrity? How can we come to a place where our being and doing match one another, even and especially when no one is watching?

Unwittingly, we have probably all turned to sheer force of will as the answer to that question. That’s what you do with a problem, right? You fix it. And so we have begun seasons and days and hours with the goal to be tōm, to match our doing with our being at all moments. But at the end of the day, an honest assessment of our efforts leaves us mostly ashamed, let down, exhausted by the roller coaster of seasonal success and inevitable failure.

Enter the Great Invitation. To people who have come to the end of their religious rope, who are wrung out by unsuccessful attempts to better themselves, Jesus makes this beautiful offer: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Turns out the pathway to the integral life is in the yoke with Jesus. Only at His side, doing the ins and outs of life alongside the Master, can we learn what it means to be men and women of integrity. We experience that yoke through the spiritual disciples: Bible mediation, prayer, corporate worship, fasting, generosity, solitude, and the like. By direct effort, we open ourselves up to the formation of tōm in our hearts, something we can never accomplish on our own.

And this is all possible because Jesus passed the test on our behalf. One of the earliest occurrences of the word tōm is in Exodus 12, when God commands that an acceptable Passover lamb must be “without blemish” (tōm). From there, God constantly reminds Israel that only tōm sacrifices will be acceptable to Him. For this reason, no human can atone for their own life, or the life of another (Psalm 49:7); no human being is tōm.

But there is good news: a once-for-all tōm sacrifice has been made in our place. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14)! Atonement has been made for our sins, and tōm is no longer a test we fail, but a goal we pursue in the yoke with Jesus.

If we want to be a people who, like David, steward our influence for the glory of God, we must enter the yoke with Jesus and pursue becoming the right kind of person. The tōm life is available to us now in the easy yoke with the gentle and lowly Master. Will you step in?
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