Theme: The Importance of Prayer
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we learn how prayer and Bible study work together to increase our faith.
Scripture: Psalm 119:145-152
We are coming near the end of Psalm 119, so it is not surprising that the danger that has threatened the psalmist all along should emerge again strongly, though not for the final time. It has to do with his relentless enemies. The presence of these enemies has been alluded to earlier.1 But verses 145-152 seem to concentrate on this reality: “I call out to you; save me” (v. 146); “I rise before dawn and cry for help” (v. 147); “Those who devise wicked schemes are near” (v. 150).
What is to be done in the face of their cruel threats and machinations? We know the answer. The writer turns to God in prayer, praying with an open Bible before him, as it were. His Bible reminds him that although “those who devise wicked schemes are near” (v. 150), God is also “near” (v. 151). And that makes all the difference! Derek Kidner writes, “The threat is not glossed over, it is put in perspective by a bigger fact.”2
Yet these verses are not really about the psalmist’s enemies, as bad as they were. They are about the writer’s prayer life and how he had learned to use God’s Word in prayer. Charles Haddon Spurgeon suggested an eight-part outline for this section, one point for each of its eight verses: 1) How David prayed (v. 145); 2) What he prayed for (v. 146); 3) When he prayed (v. 147); 4) How long he prayed (v. 148); 5) What he pleaded (v. 149); 6) What happened (v. 150); 7) How he was rescued (v. 151); and 8) What was his witness to the whole matter (v. 152).3 I want to handle the stanza by a four-part outline, rather than eight. But Spurgeon’s points alert us to how much can be learned about prayer from these verses.
The first thing we can learn is that prayer should be deeply earnest. The psalmist’s were, and it is this that drove him to God’s Word. The fact that he was driven to the Bible again and again is expressed in almost every verse of this section. But his fervency in prayer emerges most clearly in the first two verses, which say that he is calling to God to answer him and save him, and that he is doing this “with all [his] heart.”
In the Hebrew text, as well as in English, the petitions “answer me” and “save me” are short, staccato utterances, which are appropriate for one who is in trouble and earnestly seeking help. In different circumstances a person might pray leisurely with carefully thought-out petitions. He might even compose a prayer. Most of the psalms are carefully composed petitions. But not when one is in trouble! When one is in trouble one prays earnestly, seriously, desperately. And even if one is not in trouble, earnestness in prayer is an important prayer element.
Let me give two instructive examples from the New Testament. We will look at the first one today, and the second one in tomorrow’s study.
First, we think of Peter when he was sinking in the Sea of Galilee. His prayer to Jesus was identical to that of the psalmist. Jesus had been teaching on the Gentile side of Galilee, and when he had finished his teaching and had fed the crowds, he sent his disciples in a boat ahead of him to the other side of the lake while he remained behind in the hills overlooking the lake to pray. On the lake, the boat ran into stormy weather, and while the disciples were working hard to bring it to safety Jesus came to them walking on the water. They were afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost. But when Jesus called out, “Take courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid,” Peter realized that it was Jesus and asked Jesus if he could come to him on the water.
“Come,” Jesus said.
The story continues, “Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matt. 14:29, 30). And Jesus did! Jesus reached out his hand immediately, caught Peter and brought him back to the boat in safety.
That is what we can do and what we can experience. When we cry to Jesus to save us, we find that he is not far away and that he is ready to answer us and save us immediately. It is when our prayers are most earnest and we are most desperate that we are most immediately heard.
1Notably in verses 23, 51, 61, 69, 70, 78, 84-87, 95, 98, 110, 115, 121, 122, 134 and 139.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1975), p. 428.
3Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 401.
How do we know this portion of the psalm deals with the psalmist’s enemies?
What perspective does the psalmist bring to the situation?
Identify the characteristic of the psalmist’s prayer that is evident in the first two verses.
How is Peter’s prayer like the prayer of the psalmist?
Reflection: What has caused you to pray as Peter did? How did God respond? And if you are still waiting for God’s response, what does he want you to do while you wait upon him?
Application: Use the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 as a model for your prayer. Pray through each verse and commit it to memory.