Grace for Living

This morning my family read Psalm 119 as the assigned passage in our all-church reading schedule, and I was reminded of the challenge of trying to keep your mind focused through the entire length of 176 verses. This is especially difficult when you’re reading it with 4 kids between 5 and 10 years of age while the 6 month old makes faces and adorable sounds the entire time! The constant thread running through the chapter is the law of God, and as we read we hear the psalmist praising the goodness of God’s law, the blessedness of those who love it and keep it, and its value over against that of gold and precious jewels. We also read of the psalmist’s commitment to honor and keep God’s law, and it is possible to get the idea that he was a man of extraordinary spiritual mettle who was able to do what you and I find impossible: to love God supremely and obey him perfectly.

But one of the stanzas of Psalm 119 caught my eye as we were reading it today and helps us to keep the entire poem in perspective. Beginning in v.33 the psalmist asks God’s help in understanding and obeying his law, and his words provide us with helpful insights into how we may live out our commitment to the Lord in spite of our sin nature and human weakness.

  • Teach me (v.33) – He begins this stanza with the request for divine instruction. You cannot do the will of God if you do not first know the will of God, and you cannot know God’s will apart from his self-revelation in the Scriptures.

  • Give me understanding (v.34) – Beyond simple instruction in the divine will, the psalmist expresses his need for discernment in order to do God’s will. You must not only know what God’s will is, you must have the wisdom to discern the right way to go.

  • Make me walk (v.35) – As he considers his own heart, the psalmist asks God to guide him down the path of truth. Because your feet are prone to follow the leading of your own heart, they must be directed by divine power in the way of his commandments.

  • Incline my heart (v.36)The problem with the psalmist’s feet wandering down the wrong path is really a problem of his heart. You cannot love God as you ought to because of your sinful heart, so God must instill in you a longing desire to hear and obey his word.

  • Turn away my eyes…and revive me (v.37) – Not only is the psalmist’s heart stubborn, it is constantly attracted to worthless things. You cannot please God or remain pure in heart unless he sets a new principle within to reject that which is empty and false and to embrace that which is life-giving and good.

  • Establish…to Your servant (v.38) – The psalmist prays now for God to give him certainty concerning the reliability of his word. You cannot will yourself into believing what God has said, but must be convinced by God’s Holy Spirit that his word is trustworthy.

  • Turn away my reproach (v.39) – It is as an unworthy sinner that the psalmist prays for God’s grace. The shame and disgrace of sin become all the more apparent when you see the absolute faithfulness of God in his word, and nothing but divine grace can overcome your deserved reproach.

  • Revive me (v.40) – The psalmist closes the stanza with a plea for God to keep his promise and send deliverance. There is nothing in you which should inspire confidence, but God’s life-giving power is based on his righteousness rather than on your worthiness.

As much as the psalmist expresses love for God and his word, he recognizes his own inability to trust what Scripture says or to follow through on his own commitment to obey. But rather than throwing his hands up in disgust or his head down in despair, he prays for God’s mercy and grace to transform him from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from carelessness to deliberate obedience, from stubborn selfishness to willing cooperation, from worldly distraction to life-giving truth, from skepticism to faith, from dishonor to dignity, and from the fear of measuring up to confidence in God’s honor. Are you struggling to measure up to what you know is right? Instead of just trying harder to make yourself pleasing to God, why don’t you start praying with the psalmist for the Lord change you from the inside out?

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