Let’s turn our attention to the topic of petitionary prayer. Although there are other forms of prayer within the Scripture, in this post, we’re going to focus solely on prayers of request to God.
As we move along, we’ll look at several elements related to these prayers, including faith and form.
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
Patterns of Prayer
Scripture seems to communicate two “patterns” of petitionary prayer.
- The first are those prayers which look more like Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane, the “not my will but thy will” kind of prayers.
- The second are those prayers whose objects are already guaranteed by God. Prayers which seem contingent solely upon the faith of the individual. In other words, these are things God already approves of, and all we have to do is ask. (Examples of this are found in James 1:5-8; Matthew 21:20-21; John 14:12-15 & 1 John 5:15.)
These two patterns present unique challenges for the Church, and we will explore those challenges.Scripture seems to communicate two “patterns” of petitionary prayer. What are they and how do they work? #prayer Click To Tweet
Deep Dive into Scripture
In verse 33, David wanted God to teach him the way of His statutes. But don’t miss this; David did not say, “teach me your statutes.” Instead, David asked God to teach him the way of those statutes. David was looking for the very way of life these statutes were meant to produce. His son Solomon sought to discover this same way in Ecclesiastes when he talked about life’s “conclusion,” or it’s purpose. “This is life’s all, to fear the Lord and keep His commands…” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
In verse 34, David asked for understanding. It appears as though this level of understanding was to propel David past mere observance of the law into keeping God’s statutes with or from his whole heart.
These two verses are clearly connected in that learning the way of God’s statutes requires understanding, and understanding is going to move the heart. As Christians, we want to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and in order to do this, we (like David) need Godly understanding.As Christians, we want to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and in order to do this, we (like David) need Godly understanding. Click To Tweet
In verse 35, we see a petition for training. This is one of those “God ordaining David’s steps” kind of moments. I’ve taught on this related proverb many times; “Man makes his plans, but God ordains his steps,” There are two things that I always want you to remember here:
- First, man making his plans does not mean God is somehow hostage to our individual whims. The plans we make are always subject to God’s approval (see Proverbs 3:6 and 16:3).
- Second, as far as training goes, a more accurate rendering of this verse could read, “Man makes his plans, but God teaches him how to walk.”
Similar language to Psalm 119:35 is found in Habakkuk 3:19, “The Lord GOD is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet and makes me walk on my high places.” The idea of “making one walk” is not to be seen as some sort of divine puppet master dancing us across the stage of life. It is not puppetry. It is enablement, empowerment.The idea of God helping us walk is not to be seen as some sort of divine puppet master dancing us across the stage of life. It is not puppetry. It is enablement, empowerment. Click To Tweet
With the right understanding of this phrase, the only question remaining is, how does God make us walk? How does He empower us? Not surprising, the answer is the same as it was for David—we are enabled to walk by growing in understanding (Proverbs 4:7).
We’ve all seen a parent leading their child around a room by the child’s hands lifted “heavenward.” This is such a great image of what is truly going on, and it’s exactly how God trains us to walk. Psalms 37:23-24 captures this image perfectly,
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.”
Moving to Psalm 119:36, we come across a two-fold request. David wanted his heart inclined toward God’s testimonies and not toward dishonest gain. What does this mean? David was petitioning God for contentment. (To study this idea more in-depth, I suggest reading and meditating on Hebrews 13:5-6.)
In Ezekiel 33 (vs.30-33), we see that dishonest or unjust gain was a sign of a hypocritical people. (David clearly didn’t want to be that.) Ezekiel’s hearers were hypocrites because they said they followed God, while actually choosing the way of sin. They knew what was right and still chose wrong. They were not content in God’s ways.
This is hiding behind the mask of supposed faith. This is the nominal Christianity of today. This is the same issue Jesus had with the Pharisees in Matthew 23. It’s also the issue Jesus’ brother James dealt with even among Christians in James 4:3.
So back to David’s initial request, he wanted a heart inclined toward God and away from dishonest gain; David sought contentment.
This brings us to verse 37. Both the NKJV and the ESV help us in translation by showing that David needed his eyes turned from what he called “worthless things.” Other translations use the word vanity, and though it is an accurate word, it gives us the wrong idea, at least in our day and age. We seldom use vanity to mean worthless things. (E.g. taking the Lord’s name in vain.)
Let’s look at an example of what vanity and worthless things are, how they work together, and what David is communicating. The second of the ten commandments is to not take the name of God in vain. Most people put this into the category of “don’t say God’s name as a curse word.” Of course this is included in the idea because doing so is throwing the Lord’s name around flippantly, treating it as a worthless thing.
But, make no mistake though. Treating God’s name as a worthless thing is a much larger issue. It is claiming the name of Jesus and not allowing him to change your life.
Doing this is treating the name of Jesus as a worthless thing. You’re walking around saying, “Hey, I’m a Christian. I have spiritual benefits. I get to go to heaven when I die.” But, you don’t look like Christ.
This is repulsive to God. The Israelite people claimed his name and walked in hypocrisy, Christians do the same today. This is the epitome of taking something in vain and treating it as worthless.Make no mistake. Treating God's name as a worthless thing is a much larger issue. It is claiming the name of Jesus and not allowing him to change your life. Click To Tweet
So, what is the antidote to pursuing “worthless things?” In short, it is to pursue God, to pursue that which is good and lovely and pure. As we learned last week, this is the path of true revival. Seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness. To sell all one’s possessions to gain that pearl of great price. David’s petition to turn away from worthless things should truly be the prayer of today’s Church.
Verse 38, David wants God to establish His promises to him. The result? Reverence for God. See, established—unshakeable—fulfilled promises will always produce reverence. This is what makes people worship! This is yet another reason why we should sing God’s word, sing of the promises God keeps.
Moving on to verse 39, we see David’s cry for God to take away his reproach. There are two things I’d like to touch on here:
- First, David admitted his dread (or fear) concerning reproach. I think we can all say it’s dreadful when we face condemnation. But it’s reassuring to me that someone of David’s caliber expressed these same fears. And it’s even more reassuring that in Christ Jesus there is therefore now no condemnation.
- Second, the KJV and NKJV provide us with a more accurate picture of the reproach David faced. The wording in the second half reads, “For Your judgments are good.” If the good judgments of God are the answer to David’s disgrace, then we can confidently say David’s reproach was from men, not God. In turn, David understood that the best council was God’s good judgments, not man’s criticism.
Finally, in verse 40, David petitioned God to “revive” him through righteousness. We dealt with this idea in great detail last week, and I encourage you to check out that message if you haven’t already. That wraps up our deep dive into the passage. In the next post, we will delve into the patterns of petitionary prayer. What is guaranteed? What is up to God’s will? What hinges on our faith? Don’t miss it.
Do you have an example of a time you treated God’s name in vain? Comment below or email me at email@example.com.