When my brother was a senior in high school, he got mononucleosis. During basketball season. And he was the starting point guard. One night when mom and dad were gone and I was supposed to be in bed, I heard loud talking in the living room. I tip-toed down the hall and put my ear to the door. My brother was praying, or rather, having it out with God. I’d never heard anything like that before. I was on holy ground. It was whole-hearted praying.
In this passage of Psalm 119, I feel the same way — like I’m eaves-dropping on David as he pours out his urgent pleas. Let’s put our ear to the door and listen to a man of God pray from his heart.
With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes.
David didn’t ease into this part of his long song. He was desperate for God’s help and got straight to the point. Sometimes I pray (i.e. I read off my list of people to pray for while trying not to get distracted by the squirrels outside my window) and sometimes I PRAY (i.e. I get on my knees, put my head down, and cry actual tears while focusing on my great need and my great God). Desperation tends to make whole-hearted pray-ers out of us. We pray most honest prayers when we’re unconcerned about using highfalutin language, when we don’t measure the quantity of words used, and even when we aren’t worried about theology or doctrine. God hears our whole-hearted cries.
I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.
David cried out. Again. Once is rarely enough. It sounds a little like he’s playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with God. You answer me, I’ll keep Your statutes; You save me, I’ll observe Your testimonies. But David wasn’t trying to cash in on his obedience. The longing of his heart was to keep God’s word and walk in His ways. David needed rescue in order to continue serving God with his utmost.
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
We’ve seen how David prayed in verse 145 and what he prayed for in verse 146. Now we get a glimpse into when he prayed. It seems David was a morning person. “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice.” (Ps. 5:3) “In the morning I will sing of your love.” (Ps. 59:16) In his time of trouble, he didn’t veer from his habit of early morning prayer. As Christopher Ash points out, “Real Christian experience is not occasional forays into the world of prayer”, but a life shaped by daily, consistent conversation with God.
David’s hope found its anchor in God’s promises, not in his own desires. He wasn’t straining to hear a “new revelation” from God. Instead, he stuck with the promises and pled for their fulfillment.
“How important it is to be clear on what He has and has not promised. How many Christians make shipwreck when suffering comes because they think God has broken a promise He never made in the first place. ‘It has shaken my faith,’ they say. But so often the faith that is shaken is a faith that God has promised me what I would like Him to have promised me. We must learn the promises, that we may plead the promises. We must study the promises, that they may shape our longings.” (Christopher Ash)
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
This verse reveals how long David prayed — through the night. He cried out three times, and then, stayed awake all night meditating on God’s promise. That statement is surprising. My experience is to cry out three (or twenty) times and then stay awake all night fretting, worrying and stressing. What a waste of a sleepless night! David didn’t deny his problems, but he chose to meditate on His promises. All night long.
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
Why do toddlers cry out for “mama” and “dada” when they wake up in the night? The sound of a little one’s distressed voice brings a loving parent to the rescue. David was confident that his cry would activate that “hesed” love (“steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, loyal love; a long-suffering love that extends to the undeserving and even intervenes on their behalf”) that God was famous for.
Loving-kindness is one of the sweetest words in our language. Kindness has much in it that is most precious, but lovingkindness is doubly dear; it is the cream of kindness. (Spurgeon)
The cream of kindness. Come on. So good.
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law.
I’m not sure we really understand the concept of true persecution. Unlike trouble we bring on ourselves, or inconveniences and irritations, biblical persecution “encompasses all the pressures that afflict the believer because he/she is a believer”. (Christopher Ash) And it always has evil intent, because of the great distance the persecutors are from God’s law. Make no mistake, the devil does draw near to attack believers. David felt the wickedness closing in.
But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.
Yay!! My favorite word in the Bible! Evil was near, but God was nearer. All believers are in a “state of nearness” to the Lord based on the Covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai and then signed, sealed and delivered by Jesus on the cross. According to Thomas Manton, “in addition to this ‘state of nearness,’ there are ‘special acts of nearness.'” By this he means that, in our experience, God is nearer to us at certain times than at others. Or perhaps there are times when we are just more aware of His nearness, His favor, His peace.
It’s worth noting that the word “near” in verse 150 is “qarab” which means “to approach for an unknown purpose” and the word “near” in verse 151 is “qarob” which means “to be approached by kindred, ally or neighbor”. Like a good neighbor…..God is there.
Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.
Many times in his life, David experienced the “special acts of nearness”. There is a sweetness in growing older because His testimonies keep testifying to us over time. Confidence grows as we put the promises to the test. Although it is true that we are surrounded by evil in the world, there is a “truer truth” — God is near. And we find that truth by having regular times of nearness to God in the Word.
Things I know for sure from this passage:
- Desperate cries for help are an acceptable form of prayer.
- There is something special about establishing morning prayer times.
- I chose what to meditate on; worry is meditation on the negative.
- Nothing can separate me from the nearness of God.
- God’s love is rich and sweet and rises up when I am still.