Praying Desperately for Divine Enablement and Deeper Enjoyment in Scripture
Praying Desperately for Divine Enablement and Deeper Enjoyment in God’s Word
Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on October 5, 2008
17 Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me. 20 My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments.
22 Take away reproach and contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
24 Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.
October in church history
- Oct. 4th, 1535, 1st full English Bible published under William Tyndale – 90% of the KJV (and most of your Bible) from his labor
- October 6th of following year he was burned at the stake for that work
- October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day), a German Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to Wittenburg door
Martin Luther loved God’s Word passionately, and as I read Psalm 119 and I read of Luther’s life, there is much I think he had in common with the original writer of the passage before us today.
The context of our passage today reveals a writer who ‘had known persecution … he had suffered under the heavy or the ruthless hand of authority ... His faith had staggered under the load of it all (22). He had known pressure to give in and conform … The third section [119:17-24; our text today] seems to be particularly auto-biographical. The writer had known deprivation and fear for his life (17) the dryness of soul … when the world itself seems to lose its savor (18) under the stress of life. He had known loneliness and rejection (19) [and] the agony of seeming abandonment (20).’
Martin Luther is probably best known on his teaching in Romans, but Luther began his ministry teaching through the Psalms. It was while he was giving his lectures on the Psalms in 1518 that he would later point to as when he discovered the gospel. Romans gave him the Reformation theology but the Psalms gave him the audacious boldness and courage to take on the world. Psalm 119 in particular impacted him toward what would later be called the Reformation principle sola scriptura – Scripture alone, Scripture is sufficient for salvation and sanctification, as Psalm 119 teaches.
Luther loved the Psalms greatly, and Psalm 119 in particular. He called this chapter a miniature Bible within the Bible. Luther once said ‘he prized this psalm so highly, that he would not take the whole world in exchange for one leaf of it.’
In the Preface to his 1539 works, he wrote of Psalm 119 what sums up our passage, that the psalmist ‘always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments.’
When God opened his eyes to the wondrous things in God’s Word and to the gospel he wrote of that time: ‘I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great… ’
He said elsewhere: “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst.”
As we look at Psalm 119 again today, I hope we will find this as well, that as we draw and drink, our thirst will increase as we pray:
17 Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
Our outline will basically follow those words of our title today.
1. The Desperate Humility He Prays From
2. The Deeper Enjoyment He Prays For
3. The Divine Enablement He Prays By
Each of these themes we’ll see interwoven in vs. 17-24.
First, notice the Desperate Humility He Prays From
There is a desperation in v. 17 “Deal bountifully with Your servant that I may live” – I need your bountiful dealings to even live!
“The verb used here means to do, or show, or cause good … here it seems to be used in a general sense of doing good, or showing favor” [even bountifully or abundantly]. In its present contextual setting it therefore becomes an obvious plea for deliverance.’
Charles Spurgeon paraphrased the prayer in v. 17: ‘Let my wages be according to Your goodness and not according to my merit. Reward me according to Your liberality and not according to my service … If the Lord will only treat us as He treats the least of His servants, we will be deeply content … he throws himself on God’s grace and looks to the Lord and His great goodness for the great things he needs. He begs for heavy grace … Without abundant mercy, David could not live … Even life is a gift of divine bounty to such undeserving ones as we. Only the Lord can keep us alive, and it is mighty grace that preserves the life we have forfeited by sin … Spiritual life, without which natural life is mere existence, is also to be sought from the Lord’s bounty. It is the highest work of divine grace, and in it God’s bounty is gloriously displayed. The Lord’s servants cannot serve Him in their own strength. They cannot even live unless His grace abounds toward them.’
There’s not only a desperation or dependence in v. 17, there’s also a humility in this verse where he refers to himself as “Your servant” (also v. 23, again instead of “me” he says “Your servant”). This word in Hebrew has a wide range of meanings that can include “servant,” bond-servant/slave,” “slave,” “workman,” “worshipper.” Context determines the meaning. When the psalmist here identifies himself as the Lord’s “servant,” he indicates that he is submitting himself to the Lord’s sovereign lordship. It’s noteworthy that the Septuagint (Greek translation of OT) uses the word doulos.
In the Psalms, the phrase “Your servant” involves the following:
- Dependence upon God and His Word to preserve him from sin (Psalm 19:11–13).
- Redeemed by the Lord (Psalm 19:14).
- Dependence upon God to deliver him from danger, disaster, and death (Psalms 27:9; 31:16; 69:17; 86:2; 119:84, 122, 176; 143:12).
- Trust in the Lord (Psalm 86:2).
- Dependence upon the Lord for grace, gladness, good, and forgiveness, strength, mercy, hope, and loyal love (119:49, 124).
- Freed from bondage by the Lord (Psalm 116:16).
- Being taught by the Lord through His Word (119:124, 125, 135)
When I pray, do I use language like “Lord, please be good or gracious to Your servant”? Do our prayers often refer to ourselves as “Your servant / Your slave?” If not, why don’t we? The Scriptural prayers, especially from the OT, have it all over the place. The NT writers called themselves slaves. But when I look at my own prayer life patterns, I have to confess I haven’t really prayed much like this psalm in my life. I want that to change for me, and for you. That would be a great habit for us to get into, to speak of ourselves as “servant / slave” in prayer. And as we open His Word to study, we should say like young Samuel, “speak Lord, for your servant hears.”
Is it maybe pride that prevents us from referring to ourselves with such lowly language? If so, look at verse 21, we need to be ready for the rebuke of God, because v. 21 says God rebukes the arrogant.
You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments
We can all think of people we know who are arrogant, and how distasteful their pride is to us, but our pride is even more offensive to God. In this context, one of the ways our pride manifests itself is when we don’t see our great need for the Bible like this man did. Do we think we are so much more spiritual than this man, that we don’t need to pray and plead with God like he does in vv. 17-18?
When we go through our days without the Bible and without prayer, we are communicating our prideful self-sufficiency to God. This is very convicting to me, because anytime I go through my day without relying on God, even doing things for God without depending on His power through prayer and His Word, I am being proud. Verse 21 says God rebukes the proud. Other verses say he is opposed to the proud. It’s an abomination to God, Proverbs says.
We are utterly dependent undeserving unworthy lowly servants of the Most High God, in great need of His great bountiful dealings with us if we will even live, much less keep His Word. If we don’t pray this way, maybe we need to pray first of all that God would help us to see ourselves as we really are, as verse 17 pleads with God
17 Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.
God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble who pray like this.
J. C. Philpot, 19th century Particular Baptist minister: ‘Can the Lord deal any way but bountifully with his servants? Why has he made you his servants? Why did he strike the chains of former servitude off your hands? Why did he bring you out of the service of sin, the world, Satan, and self? Why did he ever make himself precious to your heart, win your affections, and enable you to give yourselves wholly unto him? That he might cast you off? … Oh, can our heart ever indulge thoughts so derogatory to sovereign grace? Was it not because the Lord had bounty in his heart towards you, that he first turned your heart towards himself? Was it not because the Lord had purposes of love towards you, that he first led your feet into his paths? Was it not because God first loved you, that he gave his Son to die for you? Now if he has taught you, led you, upheld you, kept you, all this time, is it to cast you off now—to let you sink at last? He cannot do so, will not do so. Those whom he loves, he loves to the end; the good work which he has begun, he will accomplish, and bring to final perfection; and therefore all the Lord's acts are acts of bounty.’
This posture of humility and dependence upon the bounty of God marked Luther till the day he died. His last recorded words: “Wir sein Bettler. Hoc est verum.” “We are beggars. This is true.” God is free—utterly free—in his grace. And we are beggars—pray-ers. That is how we live, that is how we die, and that is how we study, so that God gets the glory and we get the grace.
Now notice there’s not only a desperate humility this psalm prays from, but #2, notice the deeper enjoyment he prays for
When v. 17 asks for bountiful or abundant kindness that he might live, many believe the original language goes beyond physical life to abundant life in view, the life Jesus came to give more abundantly, “a fullness of life in [God’s] favour” (BDB, p. 311) … a qualitative relationship with the Bestower of all such blessings … speaking of life that is worthy of the name … eg., Pss. 16:11”
Psalm 16:11 (NASB95) 11 You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
Is it o.k. to pray for deeper enjoyment, fuller joy? Or is it wrong?
Jesus said: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24)
The Psalms often pray for God’s grace for our joy: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (90:14)
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (85:6)
Restore to me the joy of your salvation … (51:12)
119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of your law.
There are wonderful, thrilling, joy-producing truths in God’s Word and verse 18 prays that God will grant greater eyesight for and enjoyment in God’s Word. There’s nothing wrong with wanting joy or happiness or delight – there is something wrong with sinfully seeking it outside of God and His Word. On the other hand, it would be sin for us to not delight in or rejoice in God and His Word because we are commanded to by God in His Word.
Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself in the Lord.
Philippians 4:4: Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, Rejoice!
1 Peter 2:2: Long for the pure milk of the Word.
Proverbs 2 tells us to treasure it, value / pursue it more than riches
God doesn’t want joyless, heartless, emotion-less, religion like the Pharisees. Our stanza today begins and ends with this note of joy:
24 Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.
These Scriptures he delights in as most beloved friends, in fact he describes them as “counselors” – literally “they are men of my counsel” – they are my most trusted friends I receive counsel from.
In contrast to the rulers of verse 23, who talk together for evil purposes, to slander the innocent, the believer can interact with godly counselors in these pages for good purposes! What a joyful privilege it is to have as your personal counselors and advisors, guys like David, and Daniel, and Isaiah, and Solomon, and Moses, and Abraham, and in NT times, we could add Paul, and James, and John, and Peter! Men who lived their lives applying God’s truth, men who walked with Jesus personally, and whose writings were inspired by God as perfect and sufficient for what we need to know and live! Why turn to secularists, therapists, shrinks, psychologists, psychiatrists, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, when we have the wisdom from the Great Physician Himself, for all spiritual issues, in this Book?!
97 O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts.
… 103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Enjoyment in, delight in God’s law is what sustained him in trials:
143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me, Yet Your commandments are my delight.
92 If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.
Verse 98 mentioned enemies, and so does our main text today:
21 You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments. 22 Take away reproach and contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies. 23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
The writer of Psalm 119 may not have been finding a lot of natural happiness in the earth. In fact, in v. 19 he describes himself as “a stranger in the earth.” He feels out of place like an outsider, an alien, a foreigner – he doesn’t quite fit in with the world and its values. He’s in the world, but not of the world. So verse 19 pleads with God not to take His Word from him, because that’s where all his hope and joy is, without this book life would be truly miserable
As one older writer said, “Take away our Bible and you take away our Sun.” Or to paraphrase one Puritan writer, “You can take away everything precious from me, but don’t take away my Bible.” If you’re going to take something away, v. 22 says, take away from me reproach and contempt, because I just want to keep Your Word.
“Take away” or “remove from me” (v. 22) is the word often used of rolling or turning of a big stone. Joshua 5:9 uses the same words
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
Notably, the context of Joshua 5 is the obedience of that generation in contrast to the prior sinful generation that died in the wilderness.
Using the same verb, the psalmist is imploring the Lord here to roll away from upon him the heavy weights or stones of reproach and contempt. Like Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress who has the massive weight taken off his back, or like David in Psalm 32.
There is great intensity in this request in Psalm 119:22 “Roll away from me” these enormous burdens! He is praying for the joy and happiness found when liberated and freed from such weights.
There’s also great intensity in his longing for God’s Word in verse 20 – look at it, it says his soul breaks or is crushed at its intense desire and longing for Scripture. Do we have that desire?
Jonathan Edwards, Resolution # 64. Resolved, When I find these “groanings which cannot be uttered,” of which the apostle speaks, and those “ breathings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and Aug. 10, 1723.
Notice that the last two verses of this stanza have the same key words as the last two verses of the prior stanza from last week:
15 I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. 16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.
23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes. 24 Your testimonies also are my delight …
In verses 15-16 he writes it in future tense, as something he pledges to do. Now verses 23-24 (which may have been written later) he writes in present tense. When you commit to and pray for delighting yourself in Scripture and meditating on it, and seeking to apply it like this writer, God delights in granting delight. Augustine prayed to God: “Command what you will, and grant what you command.” We are expected by God to delight in Him and His Word, but what God expects, He alone enables. We cannot produce what God requires with unaided human will-power. God’s sovereign supernatural grace and provision must produce this joy.
Again we see the connection between meditation and delight:
77 May Your compassion come to me that I may live, For Your law is my delight. 78 May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts.
The key to our meditating abiding in God’s Word is our delighting in God’s Word. And if we don’t delight in or enjoy it as we should, we need to confess that to God and pray with God for it.
This leads us to our final point, which is connected to the Deeper Enjoyment he prays for … #3 The Divine Enablement he prays by
This brings us back to verse 18 where he desperately prays:
Open my eyes, that I might behold wonderful things from Your law
This is a prayer for illumination, enlightening, enabling grace. This is how godly men in the past prayed, including the Apostle Paul:
Ephesians 1:18-19 (NASB95) 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
Paul prays that our eyes be enlightened or opened, so that we will know, so that we will behold the glory that is there, the riches that are there, the wondrous surpassing greatness of God’s power.
The clear implication is that even believers can read the Word and hear the Word but will miss out on and be blind to its full wonder:
- without God’s enabling grace
- without God’s enlightening grace
- without God’s enjoyment-producing grace
- without God’s eye-opening grace
Remember that Paul knew what it was to be literally blind (as he was for 3 days) and then he knew what it was for the scales to come off so he could see. He understood this metaphor well.
The spiritually blind cannot see the Lord, follow the Lord, or glorify the Lord, until the Lord chooses to give sight to their eyes. This is illustrated in the gospels for literal blindness as well.
Luke 18:35-43 (NASB95) 35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Our Lord delights those who come like beggars asking Him in faith for sight and merciful healing from hopeless conditions. God’s Spirit must take blinders away from our eyes, removing them by / in Christ
2 Corinthians 3:14-18 (NASB95) 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away …
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
There is an initial eye-opening operation by God at regeneration for all believers, but the Scriptures also speak of ongoing illumination for transformation. Beholding God’s glory leads to our becoming more like Him. God’s Word is a mirror that reflects God’s glory, and even those of us who have spiritual eyes opened to see and ears to hear, we still need God’s continual enabling illuminating grace, lest we become hardened again or let sin or slothfulness veil our vision.
The prayer-less are powerless. So v 18 begins: Open my eyes
We are not only utterly dependent on divine enablement to have our eyes opened, but even for the desires to have our eyes opened, and the desires to see more wonderful things in God’s Word. We need our eyes opened to even sense our need to have our eyes opened more. Our great need is to feel our great need. We need to long for more longing in our hearts, and pray earnestly for more!
Our plight has been described this way: ‘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 … 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 heavenbound, 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." 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.’
This Hebrew verb in Psalm 119:18 for “open” has the idea of “disclose, make known, show, reveal,” etc. When combined with … “my eyes,” there is an undergirding metaphor of uncovering or unveiling [for] perception … ‘to uncover’ something which otherwise is normally concealed. Thus it means ‘to open’ the eyes – to see an angel … or wonderful things in the law (Ps 119:18)
Numbers 22:20-34 (NASB95) 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground … 34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me … [then he obeyed and turned back]
Here in Ps 119:18 the writer is praying for supernatural insight, illumination to what he cannot see or receive by his natural eyes.
James Boice writes that this prayer in Psalm 119 ‘has to do with removing a veil, or covering. Here it does not mean that the Word itself is covered, as if it were somehow unclear. The Bible is perfectly clear. That is what we mean when we speak of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. There is nothing dull about [the Bible]; rather, the dullness is in us. Therefore, what we need is the removing of the veil from our eyes so we can see those “wonderful things” that are in the Bible.
Howard Carter was the world-renowned Egyptologist who discovered the marvelous gold artifacts of the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922. When he exposed the steps leading down to the burial chamber, Carter summoned Lord Carnarvon, the expedition’s sponsor, to be present when the tomb was opened. The two men made their way to the tomb and had the workmen push back the last covering to the door of entrance chamber.
Lord Carnarvon asked impatiently [now that the covering was opened or pulled aside, like Psalm 119:18 speaks of], “Do you see anything?”
“Yes, wonderful things,” was Carter’s memorable answer.
And wonderful they were! The most lavish, most beautiful objects ever found in any ancient tomb. Still they were pale compared to the far more wonderful things to be found in Scripture by anyone when God opens his or her spiritually blind eyes to perceive them. These treasures are wonderful in themselves, wonderful because their source is in God, wonderful because of what they do in us and for us, and wonderfull because they are everlasting when everything else we know is rapidly passing away.
Jesus opened the eyes of the two Emmaus disciples to see how he had to sufer and then enter into his glory. Afterward they testified, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
It is important that God open our eyes, but that is not the whole story. While he was praying, the psalmist was also doing his part, which he describes in verse 20 and following as “longing … (v. 20), “meditating …” (v. 23), and “delight[ing] in [God’s] statutes (v. 24) … if we want to see wonderful things in the Scriptures, it is not enough for us merely to ask God to open our eyes that we might see them. We must also study the Bible carefully. The Holy Spirit is given not to make our study unnecessary but to make it effective.’
As we read, we must plead for the Spirit’s illuminating grace
- like taking blinders away from our natural eyes so we can see what we never would with our physical perception
- It’s like putting on glasses for our spiritual short-sightedness to help us not miss what’s right in front of us, what we naturally miss
- Like putting on 3D glasses to see what we could not without, in living color, instead of a blurry screen or black and white
- Like looking around your house at night on a very dark evening compared to putting on night vision goggles where all of a sudden you can see far more; life, heat, what’s truly there
- Like swimming underwater and opening your eyes and you can make out a few things, but when you put on a face mask and snorkel, all of a sudden you see wonders and depths and beauty in that coral reef in Hawaii that you could have never made out if you weren’t given the mask to see
May God help us to pray more, even to pray for more desperation and humility, to pray for deeper enjoyment and delight in Scripture so that we might meditate on it more, and pray for more divine enablement, pleading with God “Open my eyes, that I might behold wonderful things from Your Law”
 E. M. Blaiklock, The Bible & I (Minneapolis: Bethan House, 1983), p. 91.
 John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1961), p. xvii.
 As cited by Charles Bridges, Psalm 119, Banner of Truth, p. xiii.
 John Piper. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy : God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, Ill. : Crossway Books, 2000, p. 76.
 Luther, M. (1960). Luther's Works, Vol. 34 : Career of the Reformer IV (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, p. 336.
 Plass, What Luther Says, vol. 1, p. 67.
 George Zemek, The Word of God in the Child of God, 101.
 Spurgeon, C., & Clarke, R. H. (1999). Beside still waters : Words of comfort for the soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, p. 102.
 J. C. Philpot, Through Baca’s Vale, p. 272-73.
 H. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, p. 324.
 Piper, 106. .
 Zemek, 102; citing Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 424.
 Theological Wordbook of the OT, 1:160-61.
 Boice, Psalms, 3:986-7.