“Teach Me, Lord:” A Prayer for God’s Word to Do Its Work
January 12, 2014
I have been using some kind of “read through the Bible in a year” plan for longer than I can remember.
I’ve read through the Bible chronologically (like we’re doing this year); I’ve used the Navigator “Book-at-a-time” plan and I’ve used the Navigator 4-daily reading plan (two OT and two NT each day); I’ve used M’Cheyne’s plan which takes the reader through the OT once and NT and Psalms twice; I’ve read just the OT and just the NT. And all that reading is in addition to the regular daily and weekly study I do for sermons and messages. So I’ve read the Bible a few times.
And all through those readings, there is still a daily temptation to forget what has been read. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne warned his church members, there is a danger of formality when we read Scripture:
We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form. The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed rule may, in some minds, be to create this skeleton religion. This is to be the peculiar sin of the last days – “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
But he also warns that there is a danger of carelessness when we read the Bible:
Few tremble at the Word of God. Few, in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, saying – “Our soul loatheth this light bread;” and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Take heed lest that word be true of you…
In an effort to encourage my own soul about the centrality and purpose of the Word of God, a few years ago I began an effort to preach through Psalm 119 — preaching one of the 22 sections at the beginning of each year. This series is a means of reminding us of the importance of the Word of God and even more, it is a reminder of what the Word can do in us.
You may remember that this psalm is the longest chapter in the Bible — 176 verses. And it also unique in that it is an extended acrostic. So the 176 verses are divided into 22 8-verse sections — one section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And within each section, each line begins with that letter of the alphabet, as a means to help the hearers remember and memorize the psalm (that’s why many of your Bibles have words you may not know between each of these sections — those are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet).
So just who is this psalmist? We don’t know. But we do know much about his situation from what he writes in these 176 verses: he is a young man who is being “derided, oppressed, persecuted, and that by those who despise the divine word” (apostasy is all around him). In fact, his own Israelite government is hostile to true faith in the covenant God, Yahweh (vv. 23, 46, 161). “He is lying in bonds (v. 61, cf. v. 83), expecting death (v. 109), and recognises in his affliction…God’s…humbling, and in the midst of it God’s word is his comfort and his wisdom, but he also yearns for help, and earnestly prays for it. The whole Psalm is a prayer for stedfastness in the midst of an ungodly, degenerate race, and in the midst of great trouble, which is heightened by the pain he feels at the prevailing apostasy, and a prayer for ultimate deliverance…” [Keil & Delitzsch, 243-4.]
The Psalmist expresses his response to the Word of God in many ways — delight, joy, gratitude, praise, longing for, treasuring, trusting, and keeping. But in this section, the theme is humility and submission; humility permeates this section. And that the writer is humble before the Lord means further that he is dependent on God and the Word. He wants God’s Word to change him — the very thing the Word of God is given to us to do.
One more thing you need to know about this particular section — each of the first seven verses (vv. 33-39) begins with a verb that is a “causative” — i.e., it means, “cause me to…” So even though the rest of this psalm contains many requests, this particular section particularly reads as a prayer to God — “Would you please do this in me through Your Word?”
So the prayer of the psalmist serves as an appropriate template for us to pray as we open the Scriptures for ourselves as well.
If we desire change from God’s Word, He will cause it.
Ask Him to do His Word’s work in you.
Here are eight requests from the psalmist to the Lord for the Word of God to do its work in him:
- Teach Me Your Statutes (v. 33)
- Make Me Understand Your Law (v. 34)
- Make Me Live Your Commands (v. 35)
- Bend My Heart to Your Will (v. 36)
- Keep My Eyes from Being Attracted by Vanity (v. 37)
- Make Me Realize Your Promises (v. 38)
- Keep Me From Shamefulness (v. 39)
- Give Me Life Through Your Righteousness (v. 40)