Monthly Archives: April 2014

Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds :)

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Last week

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This week. Hello world! What’s for dinner?

And new flowers – 20140424_101018

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New babies

Elisabeth Grace

Aww … Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m excitedly introducing a new blog today. From now on, I’ll be writing here – @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

If you’ve subscribed to Dimly Burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith. These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I  have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

 April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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“Helicopters” or “whirligigs”

These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding).  As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

“The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.

God Uses Broken Things

My family enjoys American Pickers – the History Channel show where viewers follow Mike & Frank’s treasure hunt across the country that takes them into junkyards, abandoned barns, and garages off the beaten path in search of memorabilia.

According to the American Pickers website, pickers are “modern archeologists” who “drag valuable relics out of obscurity and into our stores, museums and living rooms.” I like the show because Mike and Frank always uncover something that looks like a piece of junk to me but it’s a gem to them.

They get really excited over rusty and broken things because, despite outward appearances, they have an eye for value.

I’m thinking about broken things lately. And not only because the toaster oven wouldn’t warm up this morning or because the mechanic called to say that the lawn mower is beyond repair.  Although inconvenient, I wish these were the only broken things in my life. But no, honestly, there are things that can’t be tossed away in a junk pile and forgotten. Like deep disappointments, persistent weaknesses and fears, fractured friendships, and sorrow over sin and suffering this side of heaven.

A few years ago, as I was preparing a lesson on “jars of clay,” I first understood the significance of Gideon’s unusual weapons of warfare. Last night, as I read from the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I returned to this story:

Judges 7: 15 – 16 – (Gideon) returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

When you consider that Gideon’s 300 men were outnumbered 450 to 1 against the well-armed enemy camp, their torches, jars, and trumpets seem pretty useless.

Judges 7: 19 – 21 – Gideon and the men with him reached the edge of the camp … They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

God uses broken things.

Made of clay, the jars in the soldier’s hands smashed instantly at Gideon’s command. The frailty of the jars served their purpose – piercing the darkness with a blinding flame and surprising the enemy into retreat.*

2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7 – For God who said, “Light shall shine out of the darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

As Priscilla Shirer says, “The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness to be dispelled. Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.”*

What Gideon’s story tells me is that there is purpose in the pain of brokenness. There is a divine reason behind my disappointments. There is treasure in the midst of my troubles.

It is the surpassing greatness of the power of God.

Jars of clay, back in biblical times, were as common for storage as plastic containers are to us today. But when a clay jar became broken, it didn’t get tossed away. Instead it was turned into a lantern.

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Those times when you and I feel useless, weak, broken and beyond repair are the very times for the hope and the power of Christ to shine.

Last evening, as I was finishing my Gideon study for the day and thinking about all these things, I reached for a book by my bedside. The devotional Streams in the Desert has often soothed my thirsty soul. In the index, I searched for “brokenness,” and this is what I found:

(October 15) – “It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers broke the jars that were in their hands, which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone forth, bringing terror to the enemies. It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and supplied her means of support (2 Kings 4)….It was once Jesus took the “five loaves and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand… It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster jar of very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:7), destroying its future usefulness, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house. And it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear that His inner life was poured out like crystal clear water for thirsty sinners to drink and live….It is not until a beautiful kernel of corn is buried and broken in the earth that its inner heart sprouts and produces hundreds of seeds and kernels. And so it has always been – God uses broken things.”

Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

You and I may be broken, but our Heavenly Father has an eye for value. As jars of clay, our worth is not determined by our composition but by our contents.* May it be the blazing flame of Christ – with His hope, victory, strength, and glory.

Let it shine!

Resources:

* “Unusual Weapons” in Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, pages 121 – 125.

Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, devotion for October 15

American Pickers – http://www.history.com/shows/american-pickers/articles/what-is-picking

Hope Set Free

Easter Sunday must be the most positive day of the year on my Facebook & Twitter feeds. I love that. So many affirmations of hope, victory, and resurrection life (and a lot of spiffy family pics).

Of everything that made me smile or nod or rejoice, this tweet was my favorite:

 

The ridiculousness of confining God! The futility of boxing in the First and the Last!

Who would attempt that?

Oh.

Yeah.

Ouch.

Immediately I have 2 circumstances replay themselves out in my mind.

Yeah. that. and that.

So when a few men decided to ensure the confinement of the Creator of the universe, here’s what happened:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Matthew 27: 62-66).

As evidenced by archeology and references throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 38; Exodus 28; 1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 9; Esther 3 & 8, etc…), a seal was used to represent authority.

Seals were made of wax which was melted and impressed with an identifying mark, typically borne on a signet ring. Closed doors (or tombs) were often sealed to prevent the entrance of an unauthorized person. In the story of Daniel and the lions, the door of the den was secured with the king’s seal (Daniel 6:17).

In the two circumstances that popped into my mind, I remembered the words that came to me from  authorized people.  And I visually pictured them putting their seal upon the closed doors of my long-cherished dreams:

“Given your psychological history, I suggest that you not pursue the adoption application any further …”

“Given the fact that all hospital chaplains must be ordained, I suggest that you move to another denomination.”

My dreams have been entombed. I feel a bare inkling of what the disciples must have felt on that darkest Saturday.

What now?

What can I do? Where can I go?

Where is God?

Oh. That’s right. My doubt and disillusionment are imprinted upon that sealed tomb. Some person in authority has pressed all potential out of me and my deepest hopes. I have boxed God into reasoning that seems logical, realistic, explainable. And human.

It is finished.

And yet, I wonder …

Do you think the enemy of our souls breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus uttered those words on Good Friday?

It is finished.”

Any delight on his part was as short-lived as his demise is eternal.

Because “It is finished” means something entirely different in view of Sunday morning.

Scripture plainly tells us: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

On Resurrection Day, followers of the Risen Christ celebrate the most critical foundation of our faith: Our hope is not for this life only!

Hope. Security. Joy. Redemption. Freedom. Future.

Have only begun.

When Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He released our freedom to hope. The hope of Christ is so much more than wishful thinking. It is the deepest, most secure and settled reason for living – and living in view of eternity.  I long for my dreams to remain alive. But because Jesus lives, He releases in me a capacity to discover in Him more than I could ever desire, ask, or imagine.

And when Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He proved Himself to be the final authority. History tells us that many people were crucified. But Jesus died in such a way that even His opponents had to admit that His was a noble, even divine, death.

(They hadn’t seen anything yet!)

Glorious Day! One – only One – resurrected!

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

Jesus is the Authority. If He chooses, He can command these dreams of mine to be unsealed. Perhaps that’s not His plan. But I have entrusted Him with my very life and eternity; and if that faith is to be authentic, it must include every desire and dream of my heart while I wait in the here and now.

If God wants something to come to pass, it will be.

“The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken–who can change His plans? When His hand is raised, who can stop Him?” (Isaiah 14:27)

My doubt can’t stop Him.

My fear can’t stop Him.

The wisdom and reasoning of this world can’t stop Him.

The headaches and heartaches of Easter Monday can’t stop Him.

And if God chooses for something not to come to pass, that will be better.

As I remember these three days – Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday – I have everything I need to know. Jesus has demonstrated His love. He has proven His power. Everything that comes to pass – or not – in my life is consistent with these truths.

Friends, we are free to hope.

The sealed-off dreams can be trusted to the power of the unrestrained Savior.

Seeming dead-ends can be trusted to the One who defeated death.

The empty places of the heart can be filled with the promise of the empty tomb.

Lord Jesus, please impress upon my life what You will …  Seal in those desires in Me that reflect You and Your purest, most perfect plan for my life. Break loose those areas where I have been discouraged and defeated. Where I have boxed you in, I pray for a resurrection of faith in my heart. I thank You that You have sealed my soul for forever, and there is nothing that matters more. That’s the hope that gets me up on Monday morning. Please imprint eternity in my heart so that every motive, every longing, and every ambition would be aligned with Your Kingdom purposes.

Amen … Let it be.

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Beautiful words from Ann Voskamp on “The Truth You’ve Got to Know About After Easter:”

What’s been wearing death clothes in a life can get up and walk, what we’ve felt as wounds, by His wounds, are being healed, what’s being burnt to ashes will birth beauty. Ashes are always the papery birth announcement of beauty rising.

Us bound in that sin that’s always been, us with that heartbreak that just won’t take a break, us who feel locked up in these patterns and someone’s thrown away the key — we’re the people who’ve seen that the stone’s been rolled away.

We’re the Resurrection People who push back against the dark of impossible, because we’ve seen the impossible stone’s been pushed back against the dark. We’re the Resurrection People who walk in strong hope because we’ve seen the strong stones moved and Hope come right out to meet us and move us.

He is Risen indeed – because I want Him to be risen in me.”

Hope Wins

Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.

I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.

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As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.

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And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.

Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:

Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;

From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.

Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.

One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;

No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.

More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.

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She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.

My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Alternative Crucifiction Location

Photo credit – Wikimedia Commons

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Picture of the Place of the Skull. Taken by my Dad in 1983.

“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”

My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.

Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.

Only Jesus can receive an offering and deem it beautiful when others judge it as either too extravagant or too meager.

Only Jesus’ torn body could tear the veil.

Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.

Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.

One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers.  The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.

But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.

Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.

She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

Love is stronger than death.

Hope wins.

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This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”

The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/

 

 

 

 

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.