I’ve recently been getting most of my nourishment from Psalm 119, although I’ve had a few tastes of the Beatitudes as well. I can’t quite seem to make myself move on from verses 25-40, the section under Daleth, the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its rich food, its truth, its raw transparency, and its hope just keep me there, savoring it. And it’s clear that I need the particular nutrients therein. I haven’t had my fill.
I am a lover of music, and one of the most powerful things to me is singing worshipful songs to God – substantive, theologically rich, meaningful songs. God made us in His image, creative beings, artistic beings, and we respond to art. He made us to respond to music, and when music points us to Christ, it is fulfilling its highest purpose. In the words of John Newton:
Now may the Lord reveal his face,
And teach our stammering tongues,
To make His sovereign, reigning grace
The subject of our songs.
No sweeter subject can invite a sinner’s heart to sing
Or more display the glorious right of our exalted King!
And that’s part of why the Psalms are so powerful. What I love about them is that, more than any other book in the Bible, they are a collection of man’s experiences and interactions with God, man’s emotions toward God. I can identify with these Psalms, these songs, more than almost any other part of the scriptures. In the Psalms, we see man’s ecstasy in God, we see his adoration of God, we see his fears, doubts, frustrations. We see admission of guilt, lackluster love, apathy, dull-heartedness. We see the cry for rescue in those times. We connect with what we read; we find our voice in the very Word of God. What a beautiful gift of grace that He gives us!
My soul clings to dust; give me life according to your word!
When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Behold I long for your precepts; In your righteousness give me life!
– Psalm 119:25-40
I read, and I agree: my soul clings to dust. And like the psalmist, I have experienced the truth that confession to God does not fall on deaf ears. I see how I fall short, so desperately short of what He calls me to, and my response is the same as that of the psalmist. My hope is the same as that of the psalmist.
In the verses that follow, notice the juxtaposition of two important biblical truths: 1) We are utterly dependent on God to change the condition of our heart, and 2) Rather than sit idly by, waxing fatalistic in our worldview, we are to desperately cry out to God to change our heart! In other words, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
The psalmist cries for God to put false ways far from him! Interrupt my current course of life! Enact your power over my will! Meanwhile, just as he’s acknowledged the need for God to do this, he states that “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.”
“I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” (emphasis mine) Yes! Exactly! I read this and I know that it is pure Gospel truth! I will run in the way of his commandments when, and only when, he enlarges my heart! Some translations read “set my heart free!” And yes, does one’s heart not often find itself entangled? In sin? In the cares of the world? In civilian pursuits? But God does the freeing, the enlarging. And then, when our heart has the capacity for higher things, greater, more fulfilling, eternally glorious things, we will run – yes, run – in the way of His commandments!
Proclamations of intent to follow God with his whole heart are followed by yet another plea for God to “incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain; turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life in your ways.) The carefully chosen words of each line leave me unable to ignore or miss God’s sovereignty and my responsibility. It is at once comforting and invigorating. I am led to rest at Jesus’ merciful feet, and yet I am not allowed the slightest room to passively bemoan my less-than-stellar devotion to God, wishing he’d flip a switch or something, turning me into the christian I should be.
This beautiful song, God-inspired in the heart of a believer in antiquity, has certainly been food for me. I pray that as I feast on it, I will be transformed by the renewing of my mind. And, however slowly, the nutrients in Psalm 119:25-40 are doing just that.