Feeling Our Need for God's Word

August 7, 2011 Series: Psalm 119 Scripture: Psalm 119:145-152 by Chris Strevel

145    KOPH. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep thy statutes. 
146    I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.
147    I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. 
148    Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word. 
149    Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O LORD, quicken me according to thy judgment. 
150    They draw nigh that follow after mischief: they are far from thy law. 
151    Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth.
152    Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.

Crying to the Lord (vv. 145-146,149)

It is remarkable that our hearts can be so cold toward our heavenly Father. His word is filled with pledges of his favor toward us, yet we are slow to call upon him and sluggish toward his warm invitations to us. Then, if trouble comes, we may be more stirred than usual to call upon him, but even then we do not receive nearly the benefit from him we could. We have grown muddle-headed by neglect of the means of grace and frustrated due to the bad circumstances facing us. Our thoughts are more upon ourselves and our wants than upon finding in him all our good and happiness. David shows us in this section what we shall look like if we feel our need for God and his word as we should. He is not speaking for himself alone, and his strong emotion is far more than religious enthusiasm. As one of the clearest types of our Savior to be found in the Old Testament, he speaks with the voice of our Lord Jesus as much as with his own. Who cannot hear the Lord’s own pleas in this section and even trace the sufferings of his earthly life, final agony in the garden, and utter humiliation on the cross? Our salvation, we learn here, must be nothing but a continual crying out to God for mercy, deliverance, help, and most of all for a heart that clings to his word in the midst of our many tests and sufferings as his children. This is one of the ABC’s of true piety: that however bitter our present circumstances, we do not cease crying out to God day and night, depending upon his lovingkindness, and desiring a heart to obey his word.

We shall never be led to cry in this fashion unless we are brought to feel two things: our need and our Father’s goodness. Too often, when adversity comes upon us, we immediately fall back upon our own reflections and resolutions. What we must do instead is to recognize that unless our heavenly Father assists us, we cannot move one foot in the right direction or persevere in the midst of our struggles. Such a sense of need, whether it arises from pressing material want, temptation, or the assaults of the wicked, is the fountain that springs forth into ardent cries to our God for grace and mercy in our time of need. But then, we must also be persuaded of his goodness and favor to us. In other words, we must believe the gospel. It is worthless to know there is a God in heaven unless we know that he is our Father and has bound himself to us in love and mercy. Then, we shall cry, but our cries shall be those of sons who know their Father’s ears are open and his hand ready to help us. This crying, which may strike our self-dependent hearts as a bit overdrawn or evidence of uncontrolled emotionalism, is the very essence of having God as our Savior. It is not simply for women, children, and men who have tried everything else but must finally have recourse to seeking God more fervently than usual. This was our Savior’s life. We regularly find him prostrate on the ground, crying to his Father. His cries were evidence of his sonship, that he trusted his Father and believed his Father’s promises. And he was heard in that he feared (Heb. 5:7). He cried to his Father because he stood in constant awe and unquenchable love toward him, was honest about his own weakness – so reduced was he because of his willingness to be made like unto us in order to taste every bitter drop of our sorrows and sufferings – and was confident in his Father’s help. Shall our lives be any different? He is our Head; we are his members. His life in us is not simply one of joy and peace, but joy and peace through crying to his Father and waiting for his help. Thus, if we are “in Christ,” we shall walk as he walked (1 John 2:6). He will teach us by his Spirit to look to God as our Father, cry to him when we are besieged and overwhelmed, and depend upon his wise and timely assistance in all our adversities.

Here we find wonderful consolation in all our troubles. If we are to receive this, we must wrestle with God, like Jacob, who would not release the Angel of the Lord until he had blessed him (Gen. 32:26). We see that same fervency, that same “give him no rest” in David’s cries: “Hear me; save me; quicken me.” While our Father is never stingy with his help or blessing, he will have us be stirred to seek them. If we mutter our prayers half-heartedly or are distracted by a hundred other thoughts, does this show a heart that is truly touched with a sense of its need or the wonders of our Father’s kindness to us? Thus, to seek God with our whole heart is to bring all our heart and mind, desire and need, before him. We come thanking him for mercy received, with humble repentance for our many wrongs, and sincere professions of love and desire for him. This whole-hearted calling of the Lord might seem superfluous, for “all things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Yet, he will have his full knowledge of our need joined with our honest profession of need. We are in a relationship with him of love, desire, and honesty. He will have our soul as well as our words. It is pointless and faithless to “draw near to him with our lips but having hearts that are far from him” (Isa. 29:13). Thus, all right prayer and crying out to the Lord lays open our hearts to the Lord. We may have to confess great weakness and sin. This, too, is wholehearted seeking of the Lord. We may, like Peter, be in such straits as only to be able to cry out: “Lord, save me, I am drowning.” But if all our desire is to toward him, if we want him to come to our aid, him to hear us, him to save us, whether our prayers be long or short, we may be sure that our cries are pleasing to him and will be answered. For the chief benefit of crying out to the Lord in prayer lies in receiving God himself: in having him comfort us, hear our small and weak voice, and give himself to us in love and grace through Jesus Christ.
And do we not need for him to hear us. Think of what this means. We know that God does not hear unrepentant sinners (Isa. 59:2; John 9:31). If he hears us, it is because he is reconciled to us through his Son. It is because he does not see us in our filth but as his children well-clothed in our Savior’s righteousness and represented by his intercession. This is where all our confidence of being heard, saved, and quickened comes from: when we cast ourselves upon his mercy in Jesus Christ. If we do this, there is no possibility of his turning a deaf ear to us. This is the reason David cries: “Here my voice according to thy mercy.” As godly as he was, he depended upon God’s grace alone. There was no sense of self-worth in him, any belief that God owed him something, that God would hear and save him simply because he saw fit to utter a few sentences to the Lord, as if God ought to be content with receiving some trifling recognition. No, David saw himself as a sinner: Like Paul (1 Tim. 1:15), like each of the disciples before our Savior’s notice that one of them would betray him finds in himself abundant reason to ask: “Lord, is it I” (Matt. 26:22)? Thus, we must not only come to the Lord with a strong sense of our need of his help, but we must also come as humble suppliants for mercy. And glory of glories, that the God whom we have offended time without number, the God who needs nothing but possesses all things, to be assured of his love and that he will hear us, there is no greater comfort or answer to our cries than this. And this privilege and joy is ours if we hope in God’s mercy alone, if our main desire in prayer is to have fellowship with God. What every child of God wants in prayer is God himself: more than specific answers, more than needs met, enemies defeated, and trials diminished. What we want is to enjoy our God and Father to the satisfaction and delight of our souls. This blessing is ours as we cry to him and plead only his mercy in Jesus Christ. Now we can understand the reason our Savior instructs us to pray in his name. Bring nothing forward in prayer but his merits, his blood and righteousness. Hope for no other admittance to the throne-room of the God of the universe than through his advocacy. Then, heaven itself is open to us. Whatever our difficulties and distresses, however great our need, we may be sure that our Father himself will receive and hear us, save us, and quicken us by his love and grace.

It is so necessary for us to see that all this crying has one main purpose. David had many struggles and faced many enemies. He was an active man and required constant assistance from the Lord to fight wars, subdue kingdoms, and rule over the house God gave him. And what did David want? Why did David cry? Yes, he needed and wanted deliverance, help, and protection. But he wanted to keep God’s word. He felt his need of it. He knew that temptation and conflict tend to lessen our fervency in keeping God’s commandments. We grow distracted and weary. Thus, at the end of each of these heartfelt cries, David says: “Lord, I trust in your mercy alone; I know you will hear and save me. Do so that I may keep your statutes and testimonies. Do so that I may be quickened by your word and obey you more devotedly.” David’s main object in calling upon God was greater devotion to the service of God. Now, he was not a perfect man, and we ought not to conclude that he disdained a peaceful life any more than we do. But whether or not God defeated all his enemies at once and allowed him to live in peace, David was committed to keeping God’s word. He cried for God’s help so that he might obey him more fervently. Do not think that that the repetition of similar cries was artful or extravagant. It reflects the true desire of his soul. And was this not our Savior’s heart in all his earthly crying to his Father? After forty days of fasting and prayer at the outset of his earthly ministry, he responded to Satan’s temptations: “I live by God’s word; I will not test God’s word; I will worship God alone by keeping his commandments.” And in the garden, did he not say three times, in the midst of the most horrible anguish of body and soul, “Thy will be done.” This is right crying out to the Lord: “Lord, hear me in my troubles, and I will obey you; save me in my distress, and I shall obey you; quicken me in my sluggishness by your judgments.”

We have the same need as David. We must be persuaded that he knows our soul in adversity and hears our cries (Ps. 31:7). This is the source of all our confidence and courage in serving him, fighting temptation, and seeking his eternal kingdom. We need for him to save us. Every one of our enemies is too strong for us. It is pointless to pretend otherwise. They are tenacious in their hatred; our goodness is like the morning dew (Hos. 6:4). Sin and temptation quickly overwhelm us unless we are supported by his omnipotence. We need for him to quicken us, for we are often sound asleep when it comes to the most basic duties of Christian discipleship. When we feel our need as we should, we shall cry as David did. And as we cry, our desire must be to enjoy the Lord. This is prayer’s chief consolation: to receive him as our very life. Then, whatever he calls us to do, we may be certain of his presence and assistance. When he hears us, how should we thank him? What must be the ultimate motivation of our cries? Greater obedience. Yes, our praise must not be silent but fervent and continual (Ps. 30:12). We must also yield ourselves more fully to the keeping of his commandments. Our lives must be a “living sacrifice,” which in the light of his mercy, is not only reasonable but also the joy of our hearts (Rom. 12:1). He comes to our aid that we may love him more deeply for his goodness and devote ourselves to his pleasure.

Morning and Evening (vv. 147-148)

Crying is not convenient; neither are trials. Being Christ’s disciples is never a textbook affair, with easy answers to infallibly diagnosed “problems.” Too much of our Christian experience is misspent on trying to “fix” things. Often, the Lord does not intend to remove a burden or ease a hard circumstance. Mostly, he wants us crying to him, seeking him with constancy and fervency. Again, we see this exemplified in the life of our Savior. He did not have his tidy “quiet time” every morning and conclude the day with a nice devotional reading. We witness his habit of seeking the Lord through the night or in a prolonged season of seeking his Father’s help. Sometimes this is recorded after a very busy day, in which he did not retire to sleep but to prayer (Mark 1:21-35; Luke 6:12-16). Christian discipleship is warfare against the flesh, the world, and the devil. Admittedly, the Lord gives seasons of reprieve, but how thankful and humbled we should be that these do not last indefinitely, else we would quickly settle into dangerous slumbers. Thus, we here witness David’s great struggles in crying to the Lord. It is likely that seasons of great hardship were upon him as he wrote these words. Perhaps his enemies were pressing upon him, or he found obedience more difficult, or the Lord was simply testing him. But here we find David, like his greater Son, up before the sun, “preventing the dawn” by his cries. These were not hopeless, for it was God’s promises that prompted his early seeking. True faith, when tested, shows itself primarily in that it clings to God’s word with greater intensity in trials and temptations. Then, he did not retire as he might like to have done; he felt the need to remain awake and meditate upon God’s promises. He did not stay up to watch a play, cut up with friends or seek escape through mindless frivolities; delight in God’s word prevented sleep. His soul felt its need of evening supplies of light and truth – to settle his spirit, to prepare him for the duties of the day following, so that his “reigns might instruct him in the night seasons” (Ps. 16:7).

Now, of course David needed sleep, as we do. He is not setting forth here his daily practice, as if he made it on three hours of sleep a night. Desire is his main point. He felt his need of God’s word to strengthen him and God’s fellowship in prayer to sustain him. He did not say: “O well, I’ll try again tomorrow.” No, as his sins troubled him, his enemies assailed him, and his zeal for God consumed him, his prayers and meditation on God’s word became more fervent, constant, even incessant. This was not perfunctory but spontaneous, need-prompted, desire-induced. His practice of seeking the Lord early and late reminds us that God alone can sustain us in our warfare. This is the reason the Lord must “hear our voice in the morning” (Ps. 5:3). We simply cannot serve him faithfully unless he upholds us by his power. Whether this means you pray for an hour in the morning, or two, or thirty minutes, the point is that all right prayer is prompted by a sense of need and sincere desire for God to be your helper and guide throughout the day. You have many duties to perform, a calling to fulfill, enemies to face, and faith for which to contend. You have not sufficient strength or wisdom in yourself. You must call upon God. And retiring at the day’s end, what is your final companion, your last thoughts? Is it to be entertained? This is pride. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10). We must be careful here, for the Lord would not have us depreciate his grace that strives mightily in us (Col. 1:29). Yet, there is a deep humility in us if we are God’s true servants that says: “Lord, I have often failed you today; I need more light and strength; I would serve you more faithfully tomorrow than I have today.” This is the spirit that leads us to seek God’s word at each day’s end.

Here we find a very practical reason for the demise of true piety in the West. It may seem very simple, but failure here is more responsible for our weakness than all of Satan’s attacks, which could be resisted and thwarted if we but organized our lives more biblically. It is this: we stay up late and stagger out the door in the morning. The needs of the soul, as we see here, is normally the only reason we should stay up to such an hour that prevents us from rising early to call upon the Lord. And if we remain awake later, how do we use the time? Is it to memorize and meditate upon God’s word or to distract and weaken our souls by frivolity and entertainment? How can we pursue “godliness with contentment” if faith is not fed and strengthened by calling upon God regularly and fervently, if we are too tired by our distractedness to give ourselves to prayer and meditation upon his word? This is not a matter of “quiet time” but survival. The kingdom of our Lord Jesus is on the line here, at least our enjoyment and pursuit of it in our own times. Our families are at stake, for all the wonderful paradigms and pursuits in the world are wholly impotent to bring spiritual life and vitality if parents are not organizing the time God allots to seek him with their whole heart? It is not a lack of time that prevents this practice, but a failure to realize our great need for God’s help, distraction, and icy hearts. To say that “I do not have sufficient time for this kind of life” is to call God’s wisdom and providence into question. Remember, the Holy Spirit is not saying, “Forego sleep every day;” he is saying, “Seek the Lord every day; feast upon his word every day; you need the Lord at all times.” O, may the Lord renew our desire for him, our delight in him! This is the heart of all true piety and earnestness in seeking of him. Then, when our need presses us more severely than at other times, when perplexity, temptation, and suffering come upon us, our first thought will not be: “How can I get out of this; I do not want to think about it; let me escape from my troubles for a little while; I deserve a little entertainment.” It will be to seek the Lord – sometimes, without worrying about what time it is, or how much sleep I will lose. No, I need the Lord. Only he can help me. If my Savior, after a hard day’s word, prayed into the night, if facing a difficult day he rose early to pray, can I be strong in the Lord in any other way than “praying without ceasing” and “crying to him with my whole heart?” “Father, my need is great; I will not let you go until you bless me.” Trusting in our Savior’s sacrifice and intercession, we may be sure that he will.

That He May Be Near Us (vv. 150-151)

There is a certain biblical drama associated with our life as Christ’s disciples. It is not the artificial drama of pretending we are more important than we are, exaggerating our accomplishments, or drawing the attention of others to our activities as if they are worthy of their praise or patronage. There is a real drama, however, the playing out of our Savior’s great conquest. In this we have a part, though not the main part, as we would sometimes like to think. Pertaining to ourselves, we must ever be thinking: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And yet, as united to our Lord Jesus and bound to his kingdom and cause, his enemies will hounds us because they cannot touch him. And Satan is always laying traps for the godly, as is the world, for it likes nothing better than for our Lord’s disciples to have a hard go of it, to be tripped up, even to deceive them into playing a part for the other side. Thus, we shall sometimes find that “they draw nigh who follow after mischief.” Let it never be said, however, that we sought them out, listened to their schemes, or walked in the counsel of the ungodly. If in our own lusts and worldliness we edge closer to sin, it is a shame to us. We shall surely suffer for our folly. “The curse causeless does not come” (Prov. 26:2). We must remember that the ungodly are far from God’s law. In the context of David’s crying, the mischief devised by the wicked is completely opposed to seeking the Lord, meditating upon his word, and being quickened by his Spirit unto godliness.

But there is something else we must remember. The Lord is near. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. If we find mischief approaching us, even if it is due to our own willfulness or foolishness, we must call upon him to help us. And as mischief cannot endure the “everlasting burning” of the presence of God (Isa. 33:14), we are safe when we draw near to him. And all his commandments are truth. This is our protection from mischief. The more closely we walk with the Lord, the greater shall be our protection from sin. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91:1). And what is this secret place but God’s word and covenant (Ps. 25:14). To abide in God’s truth is to dwell in a place of security and safety. Thus, as we make it our practice to call upon the Lord and meditate upon his word, we have every expectation that he himself will cover us with his shadow. His shadow, his protection, is the doom of the wicked. When we see evil approaching – and who does not sense that the world is always a “crooked and perverse generation” dedicated to the destruction of the righteous and the overthrow of God’s law? – we must run to God’s word. We must be hiding it in our hearts against the evil day of strong temptation. It may come, if you are a young man, in the form of a very attractive and winsome young woman that would lead you away from submission to your parents and into a world of sensuality. If you are a businessman, it may come in the form of tempting dishonesty or on a business trip when you are away from your wife and children. It may be, for our Savior warned us of wolves, a young, exciting pastor or teacher who is just close enough to the truth to win you over but far enough to shipwreck your faith. What is your protection? God’s word. His word is truth. It is the only truth by which all other claims of truth must be tested. If you will give yourself to calling upon God and meditating upon his word, you will be preserved from the mischief of those who draw near to you. Remember, the world has one malicious desire: to lead you away from steadfast devotion to Jesus Christ. Finding a direct assault too obvious, it usually falls back upon deception, masking its true intentions, even pretending to be truth.  But when Christ’s word dwells in us, he dwells in us (John 15:1-8; Col. 3:16). And he knows all the masks mischief wears. Commit your life to him, and he will ward off the danger, expose the lies, and defend your from harm. He is the good Shepherd. His truth is the only shield that quenches all Satan’s fiery missiles. This also explains the reason we are such easy prey for mischief of various forms when we are not crying after God and meditating upon his word. Here we have him offering his own life-giving presence to us, but if we do not avail ourselves of such a privilege, we cannot fault him for our falling.

As Our Sure Foundation (v. 152)

Do we doubt this? Many in the visible church apparently do, for God’s word is increasingly neglected in favor of silly trifles and circus worship. The godly should not doubt the sufficiency of God’s word for a moment. The very Bible we possess existed long before this world did. Now this is an odd claim, to be sure, but I refer not to the printed copies of the Bible we possess. What is the Bible but the written word of God? It is the revelation of his character and will, holiness and goodness, love and mercy? These are as eternal as God is. If we build our lives upon that word, we are secure upon a foundation that is older than earth itself. We are built upon the living God himself. And has that word ever failed anyone who built their lives and established all their happiness and security in it? Go down the list: Abraham, Noah, Samuel, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah. Many were against them. Their circumstances were against them. They prevailed. Why? In the face of tremendous obstacles facing them, fierce opposition, and seemingly impossible promises, they believed God’s word. They were persuaded that “he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). They refused to walk by what they saw with their eyes. Like our Savior, they confessed: “Mine ears thou has opened” (Ps. 40:6). They believe God, and it was imputed to them for righteousness. Yes, the storms of trouble came in various forms, very personal suffering at times. But God’s word simply cannot be overthrown. It is the very voice of God. It is his life and strength to us, his vigor and power, his wisdom and magnificence. Let the whole world be united in opposition to God’s word. Let them ridicule its historical and scientific claims. Let them deny its morality necessary, its atonement relevant, its piety important. Watch the whole world sink into degradation and ruin. We are seeing this in the West before our eyes. There is no other foundation than that which is laid in Christ Jesus, the living, eternal Word incarnate (1 Cor. 3:11).Thus, we must come to God’s word and build all our hope and life upon it. If we do, we cannot fail. Lions cannot eat us. Fires cannot burn us. Floods cannot drown us. Migration cannot thwart us. Ropes cannot hold us. You will say, of course, that these things do not usually happen, and many of God’s people have suffered greatly. Ah, yes, but “thus an entrance was made for them into God’s eternal kingdom” (2 Pet. 1:11). God has established his word forever. None who build upon it will ever be disappointed. We love the glorious stories of deliverance, but are the stories of martyrdom and suffering any less glorious? Is not faith that looks the jaws of death in the face, turns the other cheek to its tormentor, and sings praise to God while the fires burn the body just as glorious? What kind of faith is this that even horrible pain and suffering cannot overcome? It is faith that is built upon God’s eternal word. And we have just as much need of God’s word as any of the ancients, for “they without us shall not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:40). We are part of their story; they are the opening chapters of ours. It is God’s story of blessing all those who hope in his word to be immovable and to shine forever in his kingdom. Build upon any other foundation, pursue any other kind of life, and the storms of providence, of temptation, and judgment shall sweep you away into the garbage pile of those who denied their need of God’s word, believed a lie, and lived a lie. But let us receive the love of this precious truth into our own souls. It will bring us to God and his shining city, where we shall hear his voice with our own ears and know whom we have believed to the everlasting joy of our souls.