Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways. Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You. Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your ordinances are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me through Your righteousness. Psalms 119:33-40 NASB
Last week we started down a specific path to learn about petitionary prayer—or prayers of request. We looked at several elements related to these prayers, including identifying the object of faith within those prayers (i.e., faith in the gift vs. the giver).
We also looked at the form and observed that Scripture communicates two distinct patterns. C.S. Lewis referred to these patterns as A and B patterns of prayer.
The “A” pattern are prayers which look like Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane, the “not my will but thy will” kind of prayers. Meanwhile, “B” pattern prayers those contingent solely on the faith of the individual. These are requests which God already approves of, all we have to do is ask (“in faith, without doubting” e.g., James 1:5-6).
Today, we’ll look again at each of David’s requests within this section of Psalm 119. This time we’ll try to determine whether they constitute pattern A or pattern B. But, we’re not just looking at these verses and determining their pattern to no end, or by how we feel.
In his book “Tactics,” Greg Koukl wrote:
“There is a difference between an opinion and an argument. An opinion is just a point of view. An argument, by contrast, is a point of view supported by reasons.”
So as we look through these requests, we’re going to uncover several reasons for maintaining the point of view presented.
As for the end, for us, it’s to gain a more robust understanding of prayer. I think we all want to learn better how to pray. I just hope that we realize we need to be taught. If even Jesus’s disciples—who lived with and observed him day by day—needed to be taught to pray, how much more do we need this lesson?
“Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end.” – Psalms 119:33 NASB
Notice the prayer (teach me), and then David’s promise (and I shall observe). Our focus is the prayer. The question we’re asking is when we petition God to “teach us,” do we also need to pray, “thy will be done.” Or, is this prayer a standing promise, and all God requires is for us to ask Him (in faith of course)?
In other words, is this pattern A or pattern B and how do we know for sure? Well, let’s look to some other verses for help.
“He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.” – Psalms 25:9
Psalm 25 provides a snapshot into the character of God. He is a just God, leading the humble in His ways. But, He is also a teacher to them. The reason God leads and teaches the humble is found elsewhere in Scripture when He said that He rejects the proud.
This is a consistent picture of God’s character throughout the Bible. God is gracious to those who humble themselves, those who ask, seek, and knock. In other words, God is gracious to those who recognize that life is found in Christ alone.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” – Psalms 32:8
Again God is an instructor, teacher, and counselor. This is who He is. I also love the fact that God promises to do all these things with His eye upon us. This is not like the evil-eyed teacher in school glaring at you during a test. No, this is a Father lovingly watching his son or daughter so that he might help in their time of need.God is an instructor, teacher, and counselor. He is not the evil-eyed teacher in school glaring at you during a test. He is a Father lovingly watching his son or daughter so that he might help in their time of need. Click To Tweet
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
A key part of our trust (faith) is the humility not to lean to our own understanding, believing instead that God is going to teach us—that He will always make our paths straight. A good teacher engages their student, gains their student’s trust. Within this learning dynamic the pair moves forward together, the teacher making straight paths for the student to walk in.
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:5-6
According to James, God has already promised to give us wisdom. James said that God gives generously and without reproach. Why does God give in this way? Because generosity is his character.
NOTE: The conditions—or prerequisites—for these free gifts are faith, trust, and humility. We cannot conflate these things as being some kind of work (spiritual or otherwise) that earns wisdom from God. Rather, they are a confession that God’s work alone is what we rely on. God’s wisdom alone is what we seek.
So, should we ask God to teach us adding, “if it’s your will, Lord.” Or should we pray for God to teach us, knowing that if we will humble ourselves and trust in Him alone that He will instruct us? Which pattern is this? It’s the latter, right. This is a “B” pattern prayer.
Verse 34 really is the same and for the exact same reasons.
“Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart.” – Psalms 119:34 NASB
I’m sure you can see the progression that’s happening throughout these verses. Teach me Lord so I may observe (v. 33). Give me understanding so I can do it with all my heart (v. 34). It is always God’s will to teach and give understanding. The reason behind this willingness is that it’s also always God’s will for us to love Him with all our heart.
“And (Jesus) said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment.’” – Matthew 22:37-38
Would God really make this the “great and foremost” command but not be willing to teach us or give us understanding? Again these are “B” pattern prayers. Let’s go on to verse 35.
“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.” – Psalms 119:35 NASB
Does the wording within this verse mean that David is asking God to override his will, to “make him” walk? Not at all. God isn’t a Divine peddler of love potions. He doesn’t magically override our will and force us to run after him. To pray for him to do so is to naively deny our own God-given responsibility. We are creatures with a free will (a will gifted to us by our Creator) and He expects us to use it for His glory.God isn't a Divine peddler of love potions. He doesn't magically override our will and force us to run after him. To pray for him to do so is to naively deny our own God-given responsibility. Click To Tweet
I like the ESV’s rendering for this verse, which says, “Lead me in the path.” Okay now this is a viewpoint that we can support with reasoning.
In John 10 Jesus shows Himself to be our leader, as He is the shepherd and we the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” – John 10:11
And, the great 23rd Psalm shows us how and where He is leading us.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” – Psalms 23:1-3
Here, we have the perfect picture of loving comfort and protection. Not tyrannical and arbitrary force but loving guidance, nudging, spurring, even correcting. We are led without “want” if we choose to trust in our Shepherd.
He is leading us to peace and green pastures, and beside quiet waters. These are all just images of rest or peace, the kind of peace God promises to keep us in if we will stay our mind on Him (Isaiah 26:3).
God’s plan all along was to restore us (revival language) in paths of righteousness for His glory!
So is verse 35 an A or B pattern prayer? Let me ask it another way, is David saying “lead me Lord, if it’s Your will? Or does he already know that it’s God’s will and is therefore calling out in faith? Again, this is pattern B. God’s will is to always lead us.Psalm 23 is the perfect picture of loving comfort and protection. Not tyrannical & arbitrary force but loving guidance, nudging, spurring, even correcting. We are led without “want” if we choose to trust in our Shepherd. Click To Tweet
Tomorrow, we will pick up with verse 36 and continue with our examination of “A” and “B” pattern prayers. Until then, how does your understanding of God as your shepherd change or inform your approach to prayer? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.