As we begin 1998, God’s aim for us is that we be set on a two-railed train track in the direction of holiness and love and mission and heaven. The two rails of this train are prayer before the throne of God and meditation on the word of God. Some of you may remember the second page of our Mission Statement booklet, “The Spiritual Dynamic.” It says,
We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by treasuring all that God is, loving all whom he loves, praying for all his purposes, meditating on all his word, sustained by all his grace.
Praying before the throne of God and meditating on the word of God are like parallel rails that enable the train of our souls to stay on the track that leads to holiness and heaven. We need to renew our zeal for prayer and Bible mediation at the beginning of the year. Everything gets old and worn and weak without re-awakening and renewal and restoration. So during Prayer Week every year we rivet our attention on these great and precious things in order to rekindle our passion for prayer and the word.
Three Things to Learn from Psalm 119:18
This year the two messages that sandwich Prayer Week grow out of Psalm 119:18. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” This verse combines prayer and the word, and we need to see how, so that we can combine them this way in our lives and in our church. There are three things that we learn from this verse.
There are wonderful things in the word of God. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” The word “law” is “Torah” and means “instruction” or “teaching” in this psalm. There are wonderful things in God’s teaching to us. In fact, they are so wonderful that when you really see them, they change you profoundly and empower holiness and love and missions (2 Corinthians 3:18). Which is why reading and knowing and meditating on and memorizing the word of God is so crucial.
No one can see these wonderful things for what they really are without God’s supernatural help. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” If God does not open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the word. We are not naturally able to see spiritual beauty. When we read the Bible without the help of God, the glory of God in the teachings and events of the Bible is like the sun shining in the face of a blind man. Not that you can’t construe its surface meaning, but you can’t see the wonder, the beauty, the glory of it such that it wins your heart.
We must pray to God for supernatural illumination when we read the Bible. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” Since we are helpless in ourselves to see spiritual beauty and the wonder of God in the teachings and events of the Bible without God’s gracious illumination, we should ask him for it. “Open my eyes.”
A Three-Step Truth
Next week I plan to focus on the wonderful things in the word of God and practically how we get them into our head and heart. But today I focus on prayer. I want us to see this profound three-step truth: The word is crucial for living a Godward life that leads to heaven and has power and meaning on earth. We cannot even see what the word really is without God’s supernatural help. And therefore we need to be a people of daily prayer that God would do whatever he must do to get the wonders of the word into our hearts and into our lives.
Let’s take these three steps one at a time and see them confirmed and illustrated in other parts of the Bible.
1. The word is crucial to a life of holiness.
The first point is that seeing the word and knowing it and having it in us is crucial to living a life of holiness and love and power for the purposes of God.
“We cannot even see what the word really is without God’s supernatural help.”
Look back at verse 11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” How then are we to avoid sin in our lives? By treasuring the word of God in our hearts. Oh, how many people mess up their lives by not meditating on and loving and memorizing the word of God! Do you want to be holy, that is, do you want power to overcome sin and live a life of radical godliness and sacrificial love and utter devotion to the cause of Christ? Then get on the track. God has ordained a way to godliness and power: and it is the way of treasuring up the Bible in our hearts.
I say it to the old and I say it to the parents of the young. Meditate on and memorize and cherish the commandments and warnings and promises of God in the Scriptures. No, I do not say it is easy, especially when you are old. But most things worth doing are not easy. Making a fine piece of furniture, making a good poem, making a great piece of music, making a special meal or celebration — none of them is easy. But they are worth doing. Is not a good life worth doing?
Talitha is now two. She is beginning to learn Bible verses by heart. She is also learning the forms of prayer. Why? Why go to the trouble of taking time and effort to repeat over and over the Bible to her? Very simple — when she is a teenager I want her to be godly and pure and holy and loving and humble and kind and submissive and wise. And the Bible says, as plain as day, this comes by treasuring up the word of God in your heart. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.”
Jesus put it like this in his great prayer for us in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” “Sanctify” is a Biblical word for making a person holy or godly or loving or pure or virtuous or spiritually wise. And these things I want for myself and for my children and for you. So what then should we do this year? If we are sanctified by the truth, and the word of God is truth, what should we do?
If a doctor says, “You’re very sick and may die of your sickness, but if you will take this medicine, you will get well and live,” and you neglect to take the medicine — too busy, the pills are big and hard to swallow, just forgetful — you are going to stay sick and you may die. That’s the way it is with sin and spiritual immaturity. If you neglect what God tells you will sanctify you and make you mature and strong and holy, then you will not be mature and strong and holy. Reading, meditating on, memorizing, and cherishing the word of God is God’s appointed way of overcoming sin and becoming a strong, godly, mature, loving, wise person.
There are wonderful things to be seen in the word of God that will transform you deeply if you really see them and treasure them in you.
2. We cannot see without God’s help.
The second point in the text is that we are not able to see these wonderful things in the word for what they really are without God’s supernatural help.
“The way to godliness and power is by treasuring up the Bible in our hearts.”
The reason is that we are fallen and corrupt and dead in sin and therefore blind and ignorant and hard. Paul described us like this in Ephesians 4:18 — we are “darkened in [our] understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in [us], because of the hardness of [our] heart.”
Here’s the way Moses wrote about this problem in Deuteronomy 29:2–4, “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt . . . those great signs and wonders [i.e., “wonderful things”]. Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.’” Notice: you have seen . . . but you cannot see without God’s supernatural work.
That is our plight. We are guilty and corrupt and hard and ignorant and blind without the awakening, enlivening, softening, humbling, purifying, enlightening work of God in our lives. We will never see the beauty of spiritual reality without God’s illumination. We will never see the wonder and glory of what the word teaches without God’s opening the eyes of our hearts and giving us a spiritual sense of these things.
The point of teaching this and knowing this is to make us desperate for God and hungry for God, and to set us to pleading and crying out to God for his help in reading the Bible.
(On Point 2 see also: Matthew 16:17; 11:4; and Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians 2:14–16; John 3:6–8; Romans 8:5–8.)
3. We need to pray for God to help us see.
Which leads to the last point: if knowing and treasuring the truth of God’s word is crucial to being holy and loving and mature and heaven-bound, and if we by nature cannot see the wonders of God’s word and feel the attraction of its glory, then we are in a desperate condition and need to pray for God to help us see. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.”
“Prayer is essential because it is the key to unlocking the power of the word in our lives.”
In other words, prayer is essential to Christian living, because it is the key to unlocking the power of the word in our lives. The glory of the word is like the shining of the sun in the face of blind man unless God opens our eyes to that glory. And if we don’t see the glory, we won’t be changed (2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:17), and if we are not changed, we are not Christians.
In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays this way. He says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling . . .” In other words, “I’ve taught you these things and you have received them with your external senses, but unless you perceive the glory of them with your spiritual sense (“the eyes of your heart”) you will not be changed. (See also Ephesians 3:14–19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). Now, these are Christians he is writing to, which shows that we need to go on praying until we get to heaven for spiritual eyes to see.
Seven Kinds of Prayer to Soak our Bible Reading
But since our text is Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law,” we should let this psalmist show us how he prays more generally about his reading of the word of God. So let me close with a little tour of Psalm 119, and show you seven kinds of prayer with which you can soak your Bible reading this year.
We should pray . . .
That God would teach us his word. Psalm 119:12: “Teach me Your statutes.” (See also verses 33, 64b, 66, 68b, 135). True learning of God’s word is only possible if God himself becomes the teacher in and through all other means of teaching.
That God would not hide his word from us. Psalm 119:19: “Do not hide Your commandments from me.” The Bible warns of the dreadful chastisement or judgment of the word of God being taken from us (Amos 8:11, see also verse 43).
That God would make us understand his word. Psalm 119:27: “Make me understand the way of Your precepts” (verses 34, 73b, 144b, 169). Here we ask God to cause us to understand — to do whatever he needs to do to get us to understand his word.
That God would incline our hearts to his word. Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to [dishonest] gain.” The great problem with us is not primarily our reason, but our will — we are disinclined by nature to read and meditate and memorize the word. So we must pray for God to incline our wills.
That God would give us life to keep his word. Psalm 119:88: “Revive me according to your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of your mouth.” He is aware that we need life and energy to give ourselves to the word and its obedience. So he asks God for this basic need. (See also verse 154b)
That God would establish our steps in his word. Psalm 119:133: “Establish my footsteps in your word.” We are dependent on the Lord not only for understanding and life, but for the performance of the word. That it would be established in our lives. We cannot do this on our own.
That God would seek us when we go astray from his word. Psalm 119:176: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant.” It is remarkable that this godly man ends his psalm with a confession of sin and the need for God to come after him and bring him back. This too we must pray again and again.
The Word, Our Treasure
I conclude that as we enter 1998 and long to be holy and loving and radically committed to God’s purpose in the city and the nations, we must be people who treasure the word in our hearts, but more — people who know our desperate condition apart from God and that he has appointed prayer as the way that our eyes will be opened to see wonder in the word and so be changed. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.”
How earnest was he in these kinds of prayers? How earnest should we be? One answer is given in Psalm 119:147, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for your words.” He gets up early! This is the top priority. Would you make it that?