Utter Dependence in Obedience and Worship: A Meditation on Psalm 119:33-40

“Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end” (Psalm 119:33).

In Hebrew, the letter he (pronounced “hay”) can be added to the front of a verb to speak of causation.  This is foreign to English, but it works something like this.  Take the verb “return”.  Add he and it becomes “bring back” (lit. “cause to return”).  Similarly, adding he to the verb “pass over” makes it “turn away” (lit. “cause to pass over”), which begins verses 37 and 39.  All the verses in this stanza begin with he, as indicated by the heading; many of them refer to causation–a feature the psalmist uses to stress our utter dependence upon God for obedience and worship.

With regard to obedience, consider these requests for causation:

“Direct me, O Jehovah, [regarding] the way of Your statutes, so that I will observe it to the end” (v. 33).
“Cause me to understand, so that I will observe You direction,–so that I will keep it with all [my] heart” (v. 34).
“Cause me to step in the pathway of Your commandments; because in it I take pleasure” (v. 35).
“Stretch out my heart to Your testimonies, and not to extorted-gain” (v. 36; note: no he added on “stretch”).

In each line, the psalmist asks God to cause him to obey.  For some in the church, this language may seem scandalous, as if man has no free-will.  It certainly was to Pelagius, a fourth-century British monk, who reacted sharply to Augustine’s prayer, “Command what You will, and give what You command.”  To Pelagius, it made no sense for God to command something that in ourselves we had no power to obey.  Augustine, in response, emphasized man’s absolute need for grace in order to obey.  We have a will, but it must be freed by God in order to obey.  This need for grace ultimately became the official doctrine of the church at the time of the Reformation.

Please note: The psalmist already delights in the commandments of God (v. 35).  In view is not the disloyal heart of an unbeliever, but the divided heart of a believer.  It is the language of Psalm 86:11, which says, “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”  It is the agony of the apostle Paul, who confessed to “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” but bemoaned “another law in my [bodily] members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).  In other words, it is the heart-cry of every Christian to obey God, but he finds his flesh too weak in himself to obey God as he should–“to the end” and “with all [his] heart” (vv. 33, 34); therefore, he asks God to give what He has commanded, and God does it through the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-4, 13-15).

Is this your heart-cry, to have grace sufficient for lasting and full obedience? If not, could it be that deep down, you do not delight in the law of God?  In other words, you are not yet born again.  If so, you need to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior from your sin, in order to be born again (John 1:12-13).  If, however, your heart-cry is to obey, and to obey to the end and with all your heart, ask God specifically for His causing-grace in Christ through the Spirit: “Orient me!  Enlighten me!  Cause me to walk in Your paths, and extend my heart to Your testimonies!”  These are prayers that God loves to hear and loves to answer, for they are in accordance with His will (cf. 1 John 5:14-15).

Then, having sought out causing-grace for obedience, you are ready for causing-grace in worship:

“Cause my eyes to pass over from seeing vanity [i.e. idols]; in You way, make me alive” (v. 37).
“Bring into effect Your saying for the benefit of Your servant, which [saying] is for the fear of You” (v. 38).

To fear God, and not to regard idols–cause me to worship! Please note: If you are struggling with obedience, you will not worship God as you ought.  It is only when our heart is undivided in obedience that our life is ready for worship.  Christian, has this not been your experience? How drab and dull have been your devotions and Sunday worship, when your heart has been hankering after the idols of this world!  Is it not time for full obedience and personal revival?

Do not delay.  The ending of this psalm puts worship in the context of danger–the danger of idolatry on the one hand, and the dangers of slander (“reproach”) on the other.  Both exert pressures on your allegiance to God, and both threaten to take away your life.  “Behold,” the psalmist ends, “I long for Your precepts!  In Your righteousness, make me alive!” (v. 40).  May obedience, worship, and revival–“Make me alive!”–be your heart-cry today!


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