Getting beyond a few favorite verses from Psalm 119 is a matter of spending some time with the poem and asking some inductive questions. We learned something about the author in the last article. The author was a seeker, who meditated on God’s instructions, and stored it up in his heart. He had strayed from God but returned. He was younger and probably not in the elder class of society. And most importantly, we learn that the psalm comes out of a situation of distress.* These difficulties are the circumstances of the psalm, and we learn something about the author and about praying from examining his petitions to God.
The psalmist asks for understanding.
- Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18, ESV)
- Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (Psalm 119:66, ESV)
- Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73, ESV)
We can’t grow in our understanding without searching God’s word, but God may answer this prayer by means of providence: teachers, books, articles, and conversations that help us. I’ve had people come out of a lesson and say I needed that. God may answer this with our sanctification so that we are more sensitive to God’s instructions as we mature.
The psalmist asks for help in living God’s instructions.
- Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Psalm 119:5, ESV)
- Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:133, ESV)
- Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37, ESV)
The psalmist asks to be a good example.
- Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Psalm 119:79-80, ESV)
We are an example to someone, whether we like it or not. We’ve had professional athletes protest that they are not role models, and many of them shouldn’t be. However, the psalmist wants to be a good example, so that looking at his life would lead someone to know God’s instructions and the character of God.
The psalmist asks to be delivered out of his troubles.
We looked at the psalmist’s sufferings and trials last week. It is difficult to be detailed about them given space, but they are a major theme within Psalm 119.
- Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me. My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. (Psalm 119:122-123, ESV)
- According to your justice give me life… 119:149
- Look on my affliction and deliver me… 119:153
Deliver me 119:153
I’ve learned to pray by praying, but I’ve also learned to pray by listening to and reading the prayers of others. I’ve learned something about what to pray for as I listen to the petitions of Psalm 119.