Help for the Straying Heart
The purest saint at the moment of his greatest strength is as weak as he was before his conversion. What has happened is that he has switched from his little human battery to the infinite power of God. He has quite literally exchanged weakness for strength, but the strength is not his; it flows into him from God, as long as he abides in Christ. — A. W. Tozer: The Incredible Christian, page 33)
INTRODUCTION: We are coming to the end of our awesome study of Psalm 119. We have come to know a man who loves God’s law because he loves God. The law of God is the place where the psalmist discovers wisdom that enables him to fight the enemies of his joy. In this study, we have come to understand the close bond that exists between the Word of God and prayer. They are the two tracks that keep us traveling in the right direction. God speaks through His Word and we respond in words of prayer. Thus, the Christian walk is a communion between friends. In this unbreakable relationship, the enemies, though they are great and numerous, are not sufficient to keep us from reaching our glorious goal. When we abide in Jesus Christ and His words abide in us, the Father will be glorified by making our lives fruitful (John 15:7).
There is a great difference between this stanza than the last. In the last stanza, the psalmist made bold affirmations. This week he shouts urgent cries for help. Like the psalmist, we may win great victories but we are always in danger of failing. We are a divided people. We want to do right, but there is another force at work in our heart. The apostle Paul says it like this:
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” Romans 7:21-24.
So, in this life we never can say the battle is over. We are constantly in need of God’s grace. Luther, in commenting on this passage wrote:
“This verse is extremely emotional and full of tears, for truly we are all thus going astray, so that we must pray to be visited, sought, and carried over by the most godly Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God blessed forever. Amen.”
Paul’s words capture Luther’s sentiments:
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25.
It is the Shepherd of our soul that seeks out His struggling sheep and brings them back safely into His fold. May the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, minister His grace to your soul through this final stanza of Psalm 119.
169 May my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
170 May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
171 May my lips overflow with praise,
for you teach me your decrees.
172 May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous.
173 May your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
176 I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
Verse 169: “May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word.” — Growing up in a minister’s home, working in the church all of my life, spending years in the seminary and in ministry for over forty years, has not lessened my need to grow in wisdom. In fact, the more I discover of God the less I feel I know. After reading the previous 21 stanzas you would think that by now the psalmist would be comfortable with what he knows about God. But, that is not the case. He still prays for understanding. He does not focus upon what he knows, but what he doesn’t.
God is an infinite storehouse of treasure waiting for discovery. Life is filled with mystery and confusion. We will never stay on the pathway of wisdom without a continuing passion to know Him. Attending church, doing devotions and memorizing Scriptures are not enough. We need God’s help in understanding His will and His ways. It is not until we understand God’s intent that we are able to make the right application of His truth. Serious thinking must be accompanied by prayer. So, like the psalmist we pray, “Give me understanding according to your word.” All genuine understanding of His truth comes from God. He is the Master teacher (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
Verse 170: May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. — The prayers of the psalmist continue. When we place our faith in Christ we are entering a war zone. There will be enemies that will come against us, seeking to destroy our faith. And, the greatest enemy we will face is within us. That sin nature is ever sneaking up on us to bring us down. We can see that the psalmist faced this earlier in Psalm 19:12-13:
“Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.”
Our nature is fallen in such a way that we can sin and not even be aware of it. In those cases we need God’s pardon. We live with a constant need of God’s mercy.
Then, there are the temptations that come to us and we are very aware of their presence. We feel a strong desire to give in. In that moment we hear the enemy question the goodness of God to deny us such a “normal” pleasure. The world jumps in and adds, “It is only natural to give in.” Then, our own sin nature whispers, “You can do it and God will always forgive you later.” That is why we need help. That is why we pray like the psalmist: “Keep me from willful sins. Don’t let them control me. Give me a heart that wants the eternal beauty of Jesus more than the passing pleasure of sin.”
Verse 171: May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. — I see two important principles here. The first may be missed. I speak of the importance of praise to the joy of our souls. We rightfully worship God because He is worthy of it. But it is more than that. Praising God and worshipping Him is the ultimate joy of our lives. We see this in Psalm 42. You will remember that the psalmist has been struggling with depression. He speaks to himself and says, “Why are you downcast oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Then, he gives himself this straight counsel: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.” The motivation to end his depression was the assurance that God would make sure that he would live to praise his Savior. Survival is not the issue. The completion of his joy in his Savior is.
The second issue is the importance of worshipping God rightly. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), Korah (Numbers 16:1-35) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16-21) found that out the hard way. All were severely disciplined for worshipping God in their own way. In John 4:24, Jesus gave this definitive statement: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Rituals and forms will never be pleasing to our God. It is the spirit of our heart and our faith in Him that matters to God. But, right worship is more than a sincere heart and an adoring spirit. It is worshipping God in truth. In other words, God’s decrees must shape and give form to our praises. So, it is not enough to say, “I just worship Jesus.” Which Jesus do you worship? God demands that our worship be in conformity to the truth of the Jesus revealed in the Bible, not our ideas about Him. The more we study the Jesus of the Bible, the more reasons we have to rejoice in our praises of Him. Here is how A. W. Tozer expressed it:
“Faith is simply the bringing of our minds into accord with the truth. It is adjusting our expectations to the promises of God in complete assurance that the God of the whole earth cannot lie.”
Verse 172: May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. — Music and singing are natural ways to express and celebrate that which gladdens the heart. That is why singing is one of the unique characteristics of Christianity. No other religion can duplicate the joyful singing that is at the center of the Church’s worship. What makes our singing so profound and exciting? It is founded on life-giving, soul-satisfying truth found in God’s Word. Psalm 100:1-3 says it like this:
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
The psalmist prays that his singing will never get away from being based upon God’s Word. What makes great singing is not great musicians, a contemporary style or a happy beat. It is singing that springs from a people who have discovered a Shepherd that made them and cares for them. God’s commands are righteous and are designed to keep us in the pastures of God’s pleasures. If you love God’s Word and seek to obey His commands, you will have plenty of reasons to sing joyful songs.
Verse 173: May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. — We are reminded again by the psalmist of our need of God’s strength. We can choose His precepts but it is strength that enables us to obey them. The driver on the highway is safe, not when he reads the signs but when he follows them. So it is with Scriptures. To live an effective life that is prosperous in all situations, we must not only know God’s laws but do them. So, we ask God, in our weakness, to use His hand to enable us to do what He has commanded. It is a joint mission. We work out what He has worked in. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” Philippians 2:12-13. Without Him we can do nothing!
Verse 174: I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. — It could be said that all religion is based upon affections. What we long for or what we desire is what we will ultimately worship. Christians long for the salvation that comes from the God of Scriptures for we have seen His glory, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). His grace, His gift of eternal life to us who are rebels; His truth, that which sets us free to know and love Him, captures our heart. The more we see of Christ in His law the more we want to know. It is His salvation that satisfies our hearts. We learn that in the law of God. As we read His Word, Christ speaks and our hearts find the satisfaction we were made to enjoy.
Verse 175: Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. — Stand up and take your place among the army of God and you will discover a determined and cunning enemy. It is war. It is a series of battles. Compromise will lessen the pressure. Satan will not bother the man or woman who has quit fighting. But the cost of quitting will be a life of peaceful boredom. Winston Churchill once said something like this: “There is nothing more invigorating than being shot at and missed.” For the Christian the excitement comes from God’s faithfulness in the midst of battle. We can play it safe, we can stay with the comfortable crowd who never know the agony of battle nor the joy of victory. We can avoid the risk, but we will never be able to say with Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Verse 176: I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. — This final verse of Psalm 119 is a confession of our tendency to stray from the care of our Shepherd. Yet, the awesome thing it acknowledges is that our Shepherd does not give up on us. He continues to pursue the straying sheep. David wrote in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” He does not speak of a God who merely trails behind us, but of a God who actively “pursues” His straying sheep with His grace. He will see to it that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Songwriter Richard Mant expressed it like this:
Though like a sheep estranged I stray,
Yet have I not renounced thy way.
Thine hand extend; thine own reclaim;
Grant me to live, and praise thy name.
So, we end our study with praise to a God who will not let us go. He seeks the one sheep and rejoices when He finds it. We have this assurance that nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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