by Brad Beals
A few weeks ago I wrote a devotional on Psalm 119 and how it provides stability and clarity in a world that seems to be shifting and out of focus. I’ve been going to it regularly ever since. And yesterday, I saw this tweet from John Piper:
“Make me understand the way of your precepts.” Psalm 119:27
Let this sink in.
God has access to the processes of our thinking such that, in response to prayer, he causes new and right thoughts to happen in our mind that accord with the deepest meaning of his word.
So I’ve been thinking about Ps 119 even more.
Of the psalm’s 176 verses, 176 of them mention God’s word. Some verses even mention it twice. You might be tempted to think, well, isn’t that like reading one of those long genealogies from the Old Testament? Read a little, get the idea, and jump ahead to the good stuff?
No. It’s not like that for at least two reasons. One, David is an excellent poet, and the psalm does not read repetitively at all. It’s dynamic. (btw, don’t skip the genealogies. It’s all good stuff). Two, it’s not like that because each reference to God’s word (and David uses lots of synonyms) is paired to something else, and that’s where it gets interesting.
There’s promise of blessing. All 22 sections contain something like what we read in verse 77: “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.”
There’s affliction. It’s sprinkled throughout, but the KAPH section (verses 81-88) is made up almost entirely of examples of affliction against David paired with David’s hope in God’s word. Like this: “For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.” (v.83).
There’s cursing of God’s enemies. “You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain.” Notice here the mention of God’s word is in the negative. His enemies do not seek it (v.155) or do not keep it (v.158).
And then there’s what Piper tweeted out on Friday: God’s willingness to make us understand. I’ll echo JP here: Let this sink in! The Holy Spirit, writing through the inspired King David, is telling us that God himself will change the way we think. And verse 27 is not an isolated example. In a highly scientific survey, which I conducted with my large-print ESV and a number two pencil, I counted 25 examples of David asking God to teach him, open his eyes, enlarge his heart, or give him understanding into God’s word, according to God’s word, of the way of God’s word, and along the path of God’s word.
And I probably missed some. Now back to the tweet: Notice, Piper says that God helps us grow and change our thinking “in response to prayer.” These verbs – teach, make, open, give – are all imperatives. David is requesting that God do these things, and so must we. Like David, we must pray. And what an encouragement that is! In all of our lack of (and desire for) wisdom and clarity in a world that is offering anything but, God says that he can and will teach us if we will only ask. So in Psalm 119, God not only points us to the sufficiency of His word, He also promises to help our little brains understand it.
Lord, give us thirsty souls like David’s. Give us all that you promise in this amazing psalm: your word, a desire for it, and understanding. Amen!