Studying for Joy: A Forgotten Discipline
Psalm 111:2 - "Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them." I have been thinking about this verse a lot of recent. It motivates me and encourages me as a student of the Lord. Studying is a hobby of mind, as well as reading and collecting good books, so a Scripture like this ready ammunition against those who demean the labor of study and hard thinking. But what can we learn from this verse?
First, studying is one of the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Praising, praying, and pushing back our plates to fast are all basic disciplines but we rarely talk about this one, the discipline of study. Studying takes time. Studying requires effort. Studying requires patience. It is more than reading. It is doubtless related to seeking solitude and meditation but it goes beyond that. It involves an intentional seeking out, investigation, process of discovery, and the capture of one's effort by pen, paper, keyboard, or computer.
Second, this discipline is engaged in by those who delight in the works of the LORD. There is a sense of inevitability here, like the moth drawn to the flame, or to give a more life-affirming metaphor, a deer drawn to a stream. We see here that the "upright" (vs. 1) are those who delight in God's work. And because they delight in God's works they are pulled into contemplation, reflection, and deep thinking on what God has accomplished, revealed, and spoken. This impulse to study is not driven by duty or demand but by delight. Delight is the greatest motivator in the world. People do what they enjoy. What kind of people are the upright? Those who enjoy thinking upon the things of God.
Of course, studying is not easy. We are talking about disciplines but drudgery is not a necessary component of discipline. Some use verses such as Ecclesiastes 12:12, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh," in reference to study of the Scriptures but it does not apply here. Ecclesiastes is a book which poetically and proverbially lays out the futility of man-centered thinking. In that context, the kind of study implied in Ecclesiastes is from a man-centered view of the universe that is "vanity of vanities." Just think of the piles of books in the stacks of your nearby public university and imagine being stuck there forever looking for answers from the great learned men of the ages-Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Spinoza, and all the rest with their lineage of interpreters-and never able to arrive at coherent answers. Yes, that is futility! Those books will wear you out, but the Book will give you life. University studies may exhaust you, but those who wait upon the Lord receive strength (Isaiah 40:31).
Third, the focus of study is on the works of the LORD. It is the great works of the Lord that the upright delight in, not the exercise of study itself. Study for the sake of study for the sake of personal smarts is not the goal here, that kind of study is the kind that leads to weariness of the flesh! The works of the Lord is a broad term encompassing all that God has done from the awesomeness of His creative power, to His mighty acts of deliverance and judgment, the giving of His law, and His inspired words through the prophets. This is all of reality under God and God-filled. The upright see the universe as a stage for the drama of God's plan. This allows the believer to stake a claim on everything and study it before God with God in clear view but giving each subject its own due. However, we must not lose sight here that the centerpiece of this study is God Himself and all His works. There is an implied circle of delight here: God reveals Himself in His works, the upright delight in them and study them, God reveals more of Himself, the upright study and find delight, and forever this will continue... As Lewis ended the Chronicles of Narnia with the words, "...and every chapter was better than the last!"