Faithfulness Is Rooted in a Prayerful Devotion to God’s Word

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9 How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. 11 I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes. 13 With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. 14 I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

(Psalm 119:9–16 NRSV)

Key Observation: Faithfulness is rooted in a prayerful devotion to God’s Word.

The Lord shapes us with his Word when we open ourselves fully to its instruction. Psalm 119 is more than simply a call to read Scripture. It is a prayer of Scripture, for Scripture, and about Scripture. As we read portions of Psalm 119 this week (and I encourage you to read through it in its entirety), we find the psalmist not merely providing us with instructions, but also extending praise and petitions to the Lord. Thus, the psalm mixes many of the genres that we’ve encountered already in the Psalter. Psalm 119 is both a Torah psalm and a prayer for the Lord’s help. The Lord’s instruction is God’s answer to our prayers. We’ll explore this function by looking at the second half of the introduction to Psalm 119 (vv. 9–16).

First, Psalm 119 is a prayer of Scripture. It teaches us to pray for transformation. As a prayer of Scripture, this psalm gives us words to voice our desire for faithfulness and our intention to listen earnestly to the Lord. The psalmist reflects on the central role of the Lord’s law (torah) as instruction. Verse 9 begins with a principle: a person can remain faithful and pure by actively guarding themselves with the help of God’s Word. Verses 10–16 are all first-person affirmations of the psalmist’s intention to listen attentively and live out God’s teaching. These words give voice to the Bible-centered life that the Psalms instruct us to live (cf. Psalms 1 and 19).

But the message of Psalm 119 is not simply a call for us to make a dogged attempt to practice faithfulness out of our own strength. Psalm 119 is also a prayer for Scripture. In other words, it is a prayer for God’s revelation and for the abundant life that Scripture describes. A consistent prayer throughout Psalm 119 is for the Lord to instruct the psalmist. We see this in verse 12: “Teach me your statutes.” But such requests are found in almost every stanza (vv. 18, 25–27, 33–39, 64, 66, 73, 124–125, 144, and 169). In the stanzas without a request for instruction, there is typically a petition for God’s salvation, blessing, love, or mercy rooted in Scripture (vv. 41, 76–77, 88, 94, 107, 116, 124, 132–134, 146, 149, 153–154, 156, 159, 170, and 175–176). Thus, there is a thread of lament that runs through the psalm. It teaches us how to pray for God’s Word and God’s salvation as a way of life.

Finally, Psalm 119 is a prayer about Scripture. It provides a rich vocabulary by which to reflect on the power of God’s Word and to respond in faithfulness, praise, and thanksgiving to the Lord. Verses 9–16 reflect these themes, using language that describes a holistic response with an attitude of openness. Notice the “heart” language in verses 10–11. The psalmist is touched to the core of his being. He responds by treasuring (v. 11) and delighting (vv. 14 and 16) in God’s Word (cf. Psalm 1:2). There is also a constant abiding. The psalmist “declares all the ordinances” (v. 13) and “meditates on [God’s] precepts” (v. 15). The Word indeed shapes the psalmist’s thoughts and actions.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How does Psalm 119 serve as a prayer that instructs us?
  2. How does Scripture shape your thoughts and actions?

Are you interested in learning more about the Psalms? Consider taking a deep dive into the book with a dynamic teacher, Brian Russell. The book of Psalms is often quoted and clichéd, but much less often contextualized. When we understand the Psalter relative to the circumstances in which it was written, we find a rich resource for God’s people. Through these prayers, God both speaks to us and models how we might speak back to Him. At its core, the book of Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. We have three separate Bible studies & videos on the book of Psalms. Get the books and accompanying videos in our store here.

In these pages you’ll:

  • Discover how the psalms of the Bible can translate to your daily life
  • Allow the psalms to help you find words to express yourself to God when you are unsure of how to pray
  • Learn the historical context in which the psalms were written, adding to their richness

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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