Ink and Truth
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Ink and Truth

Psalm 119 — TULIP

Sin’s lure is very powerful and so real — no matter how long you’ve been a follower of Jesus or how remote a sin or temptation might seem, sin can maul you and rip you into pieces in no time. The longer I follow Jesus and the more I hear personal stories of people — sincere children of God who open up and share in tears out of painful agony and a heavy burden of guilt that is more real than any disease — I’ve learned to recognize sin’s lure and power and not take it lightly at all. Growing insensitivity toward sin is a dangerous sign — watch out! Jesus Himself was tempted! Who are we that we should take sin and its allurements lightly? O how weak, puny and utterly helpless we are before sin that lurks within us! And here comes help in Christ Jesus. Here comes Psalm 119.

Psalm 119 is the believer’s 911. It has a lot of prayers crafted specially for sinners like me — for the utterly depraved condition of my heart, eyes, mind and body. Having been acquainted with my heart’s potential for evil and lack of seriousness about spiritual realities, these prayers stuck a chord with me easily. I also noticed that there’s a beautiful sequence in which we may study, understand and pray these prayers. Here’s the TULIP of Psalm 119

(numbers mentioned in bracket without any reference are verses from Psalm 119)

First, I ask God to teach me. I plead with God to teach me His ways and laws (19,66,68,135). If we’re arrogant or prejudiced, we’ll never pray this prayer genuinely — we’ll learn only by stripes and suffering. If we’ll humble ourselves, recognize our ignorance of spiritual things and ask God to teach us, a huge step would have already been taken in our walk with the Lord.

Zac Poonen told in one of his sermons, “Even if you’re extremely intelligent in worldly subjects, when it comes to spiritual matters, confess that you are ‘zero’”. How true! The big problem is the we think we know it all. I must confess this is a big struggle for me. Especially when I write long posts like this, I’m tempted to somehow think that I know more. I’m still learning to ask God every day to teach me His ways.

Even if God teaches me, I need spiritual understanding to grasp the weight of His Truth. Plain logic and analytical studies won’t help, though they are a part of the process. As I said, we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re intelligent enough to understand and follow — how far we are from reality! Little do we realize that God must open the “eyes” of our hearts. Unless God opens my eyes, I’ll be blind (18). Jesus taught the Apostles for three years yet, they did not understand many things. They understood only after Jesus opened their hearts (Luke 24:45). We need to pray for understanding so that we might learn and keep God’s laws (27,34,66,124–125). Without understanding, learning and practicing God’s laws will become a burden, if not impossible. God does not call us to mindless obedience. He wants us to seek understanding.

Then, having understood, I must cultivate love for God’s Word. The Holy Spirit will help me but my will is largely involved. I must cultivate the desire that the Spirit plants in my heart. I’m amazed by David’s expression of love for God’s law (14,16,24,47) and how much he treasured God’s Word (14,72,162). I’m nowhere close! Love for this world has darkened my heart. God know how many times a day I think about my dream car or future wife while I should be treasuring God’s Word. I must love the Word of God, treasure it up in my heart (11) and guard it with the help of the Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14).

I follow it up with prayers for inclination of heart, eyes and all of my affections toward God, His Word and His ways (v35–37,133). Prayers to enable me to love and obey the Lord with all of heart, mind, soul and strength. I need to ask God for these because, by nature my old man does not have pleasure in these things — the sinful flesh works against my will to undo the work of God’s Word. God must work in me to enable me to genuinely desire Him and pray these prayers. Once I gain understanding and cultivate a desire for God’s Word, praying these prayers will become possible. And obedience to God will gradually become a reality.

Most importantly, I must persevere till the end. I must pursue God despite insults, trials or mockery (51,61,69,78,95,110,143,161) and continue in a strong commitment to follow God (11,44–45,59–60). God will help me if I’m seriously committed to obey Him. Talking about commitment, in modern Christendom I’ve noticed a dangerous trend where the role of the will is played down too much. I’ve seen tragic results. Worldly Christians without any seriousness — they think that God will do everything. This thinking is powerfully deceptive. We must read the Scriptures to discern how “God does everything” actually works and where our commitment comes in.

Jesus indeed said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But Jesus did not ask us to do nothing. He calls us to “give up” (Luke 14:33), “follow” (Matthew 4:19), “obey” (John 14:15), “believe” (John 14:1) and “be faithful” (Revelation 2:10).

In this Psalm, there is a wonderful balance — if only we’ll open our eyes to see. David prayers both kind of prayers.

  • He asks God to “incline his heart” (36) but also declares, “I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes” (112).
  • He prays, “Establish my steps… Let not iniquity have dominion over me” (133) but also says, “I have restrained my feet” (101).
  • He promises, “I will keep your law continually” (44) but also requests “Make me go in the path of your commandments” (35).

Search this Psalm and the entire Bible and you’ll find more! One of my favourites is in Paul’s letter to Philippians (2:13–13) where Paul exhorts to “work out” in accordance with what God works “in us”. Paul illustrates this truth wonderfully again in 1 Corinthians 3:5–9 where he portrays us as God’s co-workers but clarifies that it is God who takes the credit for the fruit of the work. This goes to say that while we affirm our hard work and choices, we do not steal any credit which is duly God’s.

We must learn to hold this precious truth in fine balance without swinging to extremes. I’m still learning to do this — and I think this learning will continue till I breathe my last. I’m stretching this point more than others because there’s a lot of misinformation, half-knowledge and misunderstanding in this area — and people find it easier to take sides and cherry-pick verses to support their “God will do everything” view. My sincere request is that you’ll examine my words for yourself in the light of God’s truth!

The role of godly friends (63), trials and afflictions (67) in the whole process are worth nothing. God causes us to go through pain so that the process of sanctification might be accomplished (71).

While I rejoice in the glories of God’s Word revealed in this Psalm, I was not happy with the way it ended. The last verse of this Psalm goes like this:

Psalms 119:176 ​​​​​​​​I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, ​​​​​​​for I do not forget your commandments. ​​​ [ESV]

This is sobering. David knew how fragile he was. Having given his all to seek God’s Word, he desperately longed for God’s guidance. I tremble and shun my self-confidence as I read these words. I simply cannot afford to be careless. I must cling to God desperately and daily pursue the Salvation that is more precious than life.

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Jim Moses

Follower of Christ and husband of Linda. Baby Isa is learning to call me ‘dadda’. I code for a living and love cycling, writing, driving, guitar & coffee! :D