Prayer, Perseverance and Pleasure 

Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in Your law.  Psalm 119:18

“I never knew all there was in the Bible until I spent those years in jail.  I was constantly finding new treasures.” — John Bunyan

INTRODUCTION:  What emperors and atheists have tried to do and failed, our own complacency may have succeeded in doing — stopped us from knowing the treasures found in God’s mind.  We are simply too comfortable in the “good life” of American prosperity.  We go to the Bible to get our devotional tid-bit for the day and thus we take care of our duty.  Then it is back to pursuing our joy in the things of this world.  That is why our God allows the disruption of a comfortable and satisfied existence.  He knows that we are too easily satisfied by the husks of this world and miss out on the hilarity of the other world.

John Bunyan found that out.  He was a preacher who was thrown into jail for preaching.  He was not ordained by the State Church so he was breaking the law by publicly preaching.  He was given the opportunity to agree to stop his preaching.  He refused the offer.  So, he spent the next twelve years in jail.  Someone might say, “How foolish!  You can’t preach in the jail anyway, just agree to be silent and at least you can witness with your life.”  But for Bunyan it was not a matter of pragmatics.  It was a matter of cherished principle.  He must declare the life-giving Gospel.  To be silent was to deny his calling and his passion.  But, like Job and Joseph and Jeremiah and John the Baptist, he found greater treasure in trouble than he found in tranquility.

When you are put aside and sit alone in your own special prison, the desires and the demands of life are simplified.  Only one thing is necessary.  We need to hear from God.  We desire to hear from God.  We have time to hear from God.  Billy Graham was once asked, “If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?”  He responded, “One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough.  I wish I had studied more and preached less.  People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing.  Donald Barnhouse once remarked that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years he would spend two of them studying and one preaching.  “I’m trying to make it up.”

All that is to say that the greatest joy and value to our lives is found in our pursuing the revelation of God revealed in His Book.  When we don’t recognize that, sometimes God has to set us aside deliberately.  That is what happened to Bunyan.  And because he refused to compromise in his conviction; and because he trusted God to be with him even in a darkened dungeon, he discovered treasure in God’s Word that he never would have found while preaching in public.  Consequently, God used Bunyan’s twelve years in prison to bless the world mightily in the second most read book in history, Pilgrim’s Progress.  Psalms are born in prison experiences.  That is what we will see in our next stanza of Psalm 119 that is labeled He

Our next stanza is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, he.  When he is positioned at the beginning of a verb it has a causative force.  So, you would read something like this:  “Cause me to learn;” “Cause me to understand;” “Cause me to  walk.”  Therefore, each of the lines becomes a petition or prayer to God for His help.  In this stanza we will see again the inseparable link between God’s Word and our prayers.  The psalmist will pick up the law and read and memorize and meditate but he needs the Spirit of God to open his eyes that he might see the wonderful things of God’s law.  So, verses 33-40 contain nine prayer requests from one who knows his joy cannot be realized without God’s illumination.  We need the same grace form our Lord.  So, before we start let us ask the Lord to reveal the wonders of His grace to us this day. 

33 Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end. 
34 Give me understanding, and I will keep your law
and obey it with all my heart. 
35 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. 
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared. 
39 Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good. 
40 How I long for your precepts!
Preserve my life in your righteousness. 
Psalm 119:33-40

EXPOSITION:  This passage will again remind us of the two tracks God has designed as the means to bring us joy in His presence and eternal pleasures at His right hand:  The Word and Prayer.  Psalm 119 is bathed in prayer.  Andrew Murray expressed it like this:

“Little of the Word with little prayer is death to the spiritual life.  Much of the Word with little prayer gives a sickly life.  Much prayer with little of the Word gives emotional life.  But a full measure of both the Word and prayer each day gives a healthy and powerful life.”

“Teach me”:  When our eyes are opened to the glory of God, we enter into an eternal school of discovery.  After a million years in heaven we will still be “Oh-ing!” and “awe-ing as we see and savor more and more of the infinite riches of our God.  Because His ways are not our ways we cannot understand them on our own.  In our flesh we are especially handicapped by darkened eyes and hardened hearts.  We are like kindergarten students attempting to learn calculus on our own.  The things of God are too wonderful and mysterious for our finite and sin darkened minds to grasp.  So with the psalmist we cry out for God to be our Teacher. 

It is His truth.  He wrote the manual.  He is the source, the force, and course of the law we love.  We are not left to ourselves to understand His decrees.  He comes to open our eyes and soften our hearts so that we not only understand His Word, we want His Word.  John speaks of God’s illuminating work in our minds and hearts when he writes: 

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27)
In our battle with sin, the world and the devil, His Spirit remains in us to teach us, but we must not be passive students.  We must remain in Him.  To make it to the “end,” God will give us the desire and power we need, but we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 3:12-13).  

“Give me understanding”:  Your mind matters.  God has ordained that the way to your heart is through the mind.  We worship God as we discover and understand more and more of His awesome attributes.  Some try to set the mind against the spirit of worship.  Theology is positioned as the enemy of worship experience.  That is so wrong!  Great theology leads to great doxology.  The more you understand the wonderful ways of God the more reasons you will have to enjoy and praise His glorious grace.  The same principle applies to faith.  The more we study God’s Word and understand His commands and promises the more our faith grows, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

In other words, there is never a time in the life of the Christian when he is not pursuing God’s truth with his mind.  To possess a lazy, satisfied, and undisciplined mind is sin against the glory of God.  If God is the great mind of the universe; if He invites us to come to Him where He might share that glory with us; if the Bible is the means whereby He reveals that glory; then to my thinking, it is a sin if we do not devote the rest of our days to the best use of our brains in the pursuit of that glory. 

“Has God created us rational beings, and shall we deny our humanity which he has given us?  Has God spoken to us, and shall we not listen to his words?  Has God renewed our minds through Christ, and shall we not think with it?  Is God going to judge us by his Word, and shall we not be wise and build our house upon this rock?” — John Stott

“Direct me in your path”:  The focus of the psalmist’s request is upon the practical side of living.  He talks of receiving directions as he walks the “path” of life.  The “path” or the “walk” refers to the everyday decisions and directions we take.  Pursuing God does not keep us locked up in ivory towers.  It sends us out into the streets.  The wisdom of God is designed to be lived out on the freeways and in the factories.  There is not an area of our lives that does not have the potential for glorifying or denying the beauty of God.  So, Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). 

I don’t know how you eat a meal at MacDonald’s for the glory of God, but Paul says we can and should.  It should happen in every area of our lives.  It will take God directing us.  It will take us thinking and meditating and praying.  But God will direct us.  He loves His glory more than we do.  So, wherever our path takes us, we seek His direction.  Because we want to know the joy of seeing more and more of His grace rest upon our lives, we ask for direction. 

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.  Jeremiah 6:16

“Turn my heart toward”:  We need help not only to see God’s glory; we need help to want God’s glory.  The devil sees God’s glory but he does not love God’s glory.  The whole world sees God’s glory in creation and turns from Him to worship things created by Him.  So, we need more than our eyes opened.  We need a new heart.  Even after we become Christians the tug of our hearts is still toward “selfish gain.” 

It is the first time in this stanza that the psalmist mentioned the negative alternative.  The struggle is real.  The decisions are clear.  “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  You cannot promote your self and die to yourself at the same time.  It is a matter of the heart.  Which do you want more?  We need the work of God to change our hearts so that we want God and His glory more than we want the things of this world.  That is why we pray.  That is why we hide His Word in our hearts. 

“Turn my eyes away”:  There never was a time where we have been subjected to greater visual temptation to sin than now.  Television, cable, satellite, video, and phones bring glitzy sexual perversions into our living rooms.  TV adds use sex to sell everything from tooth-paste to floor wax.  Decency, modesty and subtlety have been discarded as old fashioned and puritan.  There was a time when men had to go downtown to a sleazy place to view sexual perversion.  Now, they can expose themselves to this alluring and deadly vice in the privacy of their computer space.  It makes no difference if we are in the theater or on the job, our eyes are being assaulted by sin.  The more we are exposed to it the less offensive it seems.  So, we who love the glory of Christ, who know the power of sin, who know the weakness of our flesh, cry out to God:  “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” 

“Preserve my life”:  Two times in this stanza the psalmist prays for God to preserve his life.  In this line he recognizes his very life depends upon God’s “rule.”  What a thrill to know that God is my light and salvation; that He is the strength of my life.  We need not fear.  We need not be afraid  (Psalm 27:1-2).  I am immortal until my God decides that my opportunity to enjoy Him and glorify Him on earth is ended and my timeless opportunity to glorify Him and enjoy Him in heaven is begun. 

“Fulfill your promise”:  Some translations have “promise” here.  Some have “word.”  The reason they differ in their choice is that the Hebrew word ‘mra’ means “to say.”  The psalmist knows that if he is to complete the journey, he is going to have to live according to what God has said.  Jesus put it this way:  “It is written:  ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’“ (Matthew 4:4). Our lives are changed and preserved and glorified by God’s word.  Our hope lies in God’s promises.  The enemy is defeated by God’s truth.  That is why knowing and devouring the written word is so crucial to our winning the battle against the devil’s temptations. 

The psalmist gives us another reason for us to have confidence.  Because we are God’s children, His glory is attached to our welfare.  So, he prays for God to honor His promise in order that His name might be feared.  We need not argue for answered prayer on the basis of our value.  We make our requests with confidence because of His commitment to His own value.  “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” Psalm 50:15.

“Take away the disgrace”:  Commentators differ on the focus of this petition.  Does he fear disgrace because he has failed God?  Or, does he fear disgrace because of his failure to follow God’s laws in the sight of unbelievers.  I think it is both.  The laws of God are good.  They reflect a good God.  He prays for help so that he can keep God’s laws and bring glory before the eyes of God and the eyes of God’s critics.  In other words, his joy is found in bringing honor to his God.  May we have the same goal. 

“Preserve my life”:  Finally, he ends with another call for God to preserve his life.  Again, the weight of his confidence rests upon the character of God.  All that we are and all that we hope to be rests upon the righteousness of God.  We never go wrong in our prayers when we base them upon the goodness and the greatness of God.  In order for us to increase our faith God promises to answer our prayers, we must increase our knowledge of God.  Here is how George Mueller expressed it: 

“No one ever knew Jehovah without being able to exercise faith in Him.  It is when God is not known that difficulty comes.  The great point is therefore to acquaint our selves with God; to know God for ourselves as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.”

May your joy continue to grow as you continue to pursue God and His glory Psalm 119