The Word: Desire of the Heart
The Word: Desire of the Heart
by William Klock
Last Sunday we looked verses 121-128 of the 119th Psalm. We saw David, in those verses, pleading for something greater than the law. Condemned by the law, he pleaded for a goodness, for a righteousness that was not his own. We saw him putting his faith in the coming Saviour. And yet we didn’t see him trusting in God for the purpose of getting something for his own personal benefit in return. He knew that salvation meant service: service to God, service to God’s kingdom, and service to God’s people. David knew that the purpose of the Church is not to seek God’s blessing, but to seek to bless God. And so, in verses 124 and 125, we saw David plead with his Saviour to make him a better servant:
Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!
What David describes is a life of worship. We too often get stuck in the trap of thinking of worship only in terms of what we come to church for on Sunday mornings. This is one aspect of worship, but the Scriptures teach us over and over that what we do here in terms of giving tithes and offerings, singing songs, and taking part in the Sacraments is worse than worthless if our lives aren’t lived in worship throughout the rest of the week. In fact, if the rest of our lives aren’t in line with what we do here, what we offer here becomes an abomination to God. The ancient Jews were condemned over and over for merely going through the externals or the motions of religion. They made all the right sacrifices, celebrated all the right festivals, said all the right prayers, and followed the rules, but then they went back to their homes and business oppressed the poor. They worked for injustice in their communities. They offered sacrifices that said, “I trust you, Lord,” but went through life really trusting in horses and chariots. And worse, after leaving God’s altar, they’d drop in next door at the temple of Baal and leave an offering for him—just to make sure their bases were covered.
Brothers and sisters, the offerings of worship that we give on Sunday mornings when we gather together are never made to placate God—as if we can make a deal with him to live for ourselves during the week and make up for it with a couple of hours of singing on Sunday morning or a few dollars in the plate. Our offerings here are never made to simply fulfil a duty. Our offerings here are never made in the hope of getting something in return. Because, friends, through Jesus Christ, God has already given us the ultimate gift in that while we were yet sinners—still his mortal enemies and guilty of cosmic treason against him, our Creator—he gave up the life of his Son that he might restore us to his fellowship and give us eternal life. There is nothing greater that God can give us than that which he has already given, and that amazingly gracious and merciful gift is what should fill our hearts with love and gratitude toward him. That gift should cause our hearts to overflow with a desire to give him glory and to live a life of service—a life of worship—for his benefit. Whatever things he may choose to bless or not bless us with don’t really matter in light of eternity. We simply seek to be the best servants we can be—to love and serve him, to love and serve his kingdom, and to love and serve each other out of gratitude for the life he has given us.
That love for God, that gratitude for his gift of life, and that desire to serve him is what motivated David’s passion for the Word. There is no other place where we can come to know God and there’s no other way to truly learn his ways and to become the best servants we can be. Maybe you’re not at David’s level of commitment or maturity in the faith yet, but think about these things. Think about what God has done for you. He loves you and he saved you—a hell-bound sinner and his enemy. Imagine yourself in David’s shoes: wanting to know your Saviour better and wanting to know how to serve him as best you can. And think about the times you’ve read the Scriptures and the Spirit has opened them up to you. We Christians don’t read them enough. Most Christians hardly read them at all. But I know that all of us have still had at least the occasional “ah-ha!” moment as the Spirit opens our eyes and we see God’s truth and, even if only for a moment, our hearts are drawn closer to God. We’ve all had moments in which we’ve seen the wonders of the Word. That’s where David was at when he wrote verse 129:
Your testimonies are wonderful…
The revelation of God that we have in the Scriptures is “wonderful”. It’s full of things to wonder at—things that amaze the heart and warm the soul and do even more amazing and warming the more we wonder or think on them. Consider that one of the names or descriptions that Isaiah 9:6, that famous messianic prophecy, ascribes to the Messiah—to Jesus—is “Wonderful”. The more you wonder at what he has done for us, the more you come to appreciate him. I can’t think a better example of this kind of wonder than what Charles Wesley expressed in his famous hymn And Can It Be:
And can it be that, I should gain
An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
All of God’s testimonies are filled with the same kind of amazing wonder as the Gospel itself. And for the man or woman who has been saved by the blood of Christ, the gratitude that wells up in our souls drives us to return God’s love and as we devote ourselves to him we devote ourselves to living out his wonderful testimonies. We have experienced his promises, and so we keep his precepts. David loved God’s testimonies and says in the second half of the verse:
therefore my soul keeps them.
His soul kept them. The Word is full of things to wonder at, but if you keep it all in your head, it won’t do you any good in serving God. David took it into his soul. He let it change and mould him and he let the Word guide his whole being
He goes on in verse 130:
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Unfolding—or literally, simply the opening—of the Scriptures gives light. John Gill commented that all he had to do was open his Bible to the first two pages and one could read from the Creation to the Fall and God’s promise of redemption and see right there man’s problem and man’s help. Just open the cover and the first two pages will give you understanding. St. Paul warned the Corinthians that man’s wisdom is foolishness in the kingdom of God. It was the Serpent who tempted Eve with wisdom, but as Paul told Timothy: “You have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). God’s Word is our light, not only for our path, but for our hearts and minds. It imparts understanding—wisdom—to the simple—to the foolish. There’s divine power in the Scriptures, because they not only give us light, but they give us the eyes to see that light.
It’s amazing what God’s Word does, but what’s even more amazing is that in light of its wonders, so many Christians pay so little attention to it. Our Bibles collect dust rather than shaping and transforming our lives. I’ve noted before that polls tell us that only about 10% of Christians really study their Bibles. We lack a hunger for the Word. We’re indifferent. We don’t make time for it in our daily lives. We complain when its exposition makes us late for Sunday dinner. And yet look at how David expresses his desire for it in verse 131:
I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
David was a hunter and he illustrates his hunger for the Word by likening it to a deer or a stag in the chase. The deer is tired. He’s dehydrated. He’s running a race with a hunter and he can’t stop. His tongue lolls out as he pants. The deer needs water to survive, but he can’t stop for it. He’s desperate. And so David as he runs through his life. Here’s a man who had a passion for the Word of God, who read it, studied it, memorised it, and meditated on it. He was steeped in the Word, and yet as he went through his daily life, he still found himself desperately panting—longing—for more. I find this passage very condemning and I expect most of you are like me. When life gets busy, our tendency is to ignore the Word. And yet I always remember a quote from Martin Luther. Someone once asked him how he found time for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures when his life was so busy and hectic, not to mention in danger. And Luther simply told this man that he made the time—and more importantly, that the busier and more hectic life became, the more time he committed to prayer and Scripture study. Luther was like David. Life was hard and left him panting, but he knew that the solution wasn’t simply to throw himself into more business, but to gird himself up and to renew himself in the Word. I think David’s reaction is the opposite of what ours typically is. In the midst of life, what did he long for? He says: more of God’s commandments. Friends, it’s the commandments of God that tell us what to do in life. Remember that our life is devoted to the service of God out of gratitude for his grace and mercy. When life distracts us from God, we need the Word to point us back to him—to remind us of our priorities. The more life throws at us, the more we need God’s commandments.
There’s a story of a bunch of corporate executives who were gathered for an annual company meeting at their headquarters. They spent all week listening to other high-powered businessmen telling them how to be high-powered businessmen. By the end of the week they were gung-ho to throw themselves back into the world of big business. On Friday afternoon their CEO scheduled a final meeting. They all sat in their chairs as another man in a suit walked in carrying a jar. He put the jar on the podium, pulled out a box from under the table and removed several large rocks from it. He put them in the jar and held it up for everyone to see and asked them if the jar was full. They all agreed that the rocks filled the jar. The man then removed a bag of gravel from the box and dumped it into the jar. He shook the jar and banged it on the podium and they all watched as the gravel filtered down and filled in the spaces between the rocks. He held it up and asked, “Now, is the jar full?” Again, they agreed that it was. Next he pulled out a bag of sand and poured it in, shaking and banging the jar until the sand filled every conceivable space between the rocks and the gravel. He held it up again and asked if it was full. A few of the men were smart enough to keep quiet. Sure enough, next the man picked up a pitcher of water from the table and poured the whole thing into the jar. The water filled it up. He held the jar up and said, “Now it’s full.” But then he asked them, “What does this mean for you?” And after a moment of silence one man stood up and said, “Our lives are like the jar. There’s always more space—more time—and we need to pack as much into our lives as we can if we’re going to be successful.” Everyone pretty much agreed that was the point. But the man put the jar down and said, “No. That’s not it. We all know that our time is going to be consumed. The jar is always going to end up completely full. The important thing is that as the jar fills, you need to put the most important things in first, because if the sand or the grave or the water go in first, there won’t be any room for the big things. His intent was to remind them that things like family needed to be put in first—time allocated to them so that the small things wouldn’t crowd them out. But brothers and sisters, David reminds us that the very first thing that needs to go into the jar is a commitment to the Word of God. I guarantee—and you all know from experience—that if you don’t make time for God, he’s going to be crowded out by the small stuff. Put him in first and let everything else—even your family—fit around him. The busier you are and the more life throws at you, the more you need God and the more you need God’s Word.
And again, compare your attitude toward life to David’s. Is your hunger for the world and the things it offers? Or is your hunger for God, for his kingdom, for loving him and for loving your brothers and sisters? At the root of our problem is, I’m convinced, an unhealthy view of ourselves. We think we’re pretty good. Sure, we’re sinners, but we’re not really all that bad. We need God’s salvation, but not really all that much. We can almost make it on our own. That’s how we think about it: “I’m not really that bad.” And so when it comes to the salvation offered in Christ—the blood of the Son of God—we admit we need it, but since we don’t really think we need it that much, we don’t place the value on it that we should. Somehow we really don’t think we’re all that deserving of hell. Maybe we think that somehow, well, we might go to hell without Jesus, but because we’re not that bad, we’d end up in some part of hell that isn’t really that bad either. Maybe the problem is that we’ve never really considered just what it is that we’ve been saved from. Hell is little more than a myth to a lot of people and we have such an unbalanced focus on the love and mercy of God, that we forget the wrath that he will show to sinners. Friends, David knew precisely from what he had been redeemed. We might not think we’re that bad, but David had a truly realistic picture of himself. He could imagine the most disgusting and putrefying thing in creation and he knew that he was worse and lower than that thing—because even the most disgusting thing in creation is simply doing and being what God created it to do and to be. We, men and women, on the other hand rejected him, rejected what he made us to be, turned our backs on his fellowship and chose to be his enemies. Without Christ we are truly, as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous sermon, “sinners in the hand of an angry God”—a God who is justly angry because his holiness cannot and never will tolerate unholiness. David knew what he was. He knew what he deserved. And having experienced the amazing grace of God, his mouth panted for the commandments of God because God’s amazing grace worked in his heart amazing gratitude and love.
David longed for God’s instructions and now he makes four specific prayers in verses 132 to 135. First:
Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.
David knew that his God was merciful and so he prays for God to look on him. Consider that all we have to do is to look to God and we will find redemption and everlasting life. Imagine what happens when God looks to us! In the Word David had the record of God dealing graciously with his people—with those who were in covenant with him, so he prays. Turn to me and show me your grace the same way I’ve read about you showing grace to the men and women I’ve read about. Turn to me the way you turned to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua; graciously save me as you have saved all those who call on your name; guide me in your paths as you guided them.
Knowing his own frailty and his own fickleness, he prays in verse 133:
Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Brothers and sisters, in Christ sin no longer has dominion over us, and yet so often we run back to our old master. God’s path lies before us, the light of his Word marks a clear path for us in the darkness, and yet we deliberately choose to run off into the darkness to find our old master. And when we find him we bow down before him, we ask him for direction, and we who have been freed by the blood of Christ willingly submit ourselves to sin once again. We need to pray with David: “Keep my steps steady. Keep me on the path. Do not let me return to the dominion of sin.” St. Paul tells us that we are to be living sacrifices, but the problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to want to run from the altar. Brothers and sisters, two things keep us on the altar: First, our gratitude to God for the grace he has shown us moves our hearts to his faithful service, and, second, his grace at work in our hearts as it removes the desire for sin—and yet in both cases, it is ultimately the Word that offers the grace and the Word that convicts of us our sins and directs us in the paths of righteousness.
In verse 134 he prays:
Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.
He prays for relief from the sins of other men so that he can devote himself to following God’s precepts. David knew what we’ve all experienced and that’s that when we’re pressed into hard and difficult places by the sins of others, our gut instinct is too often to lash back in ungodly ways. Consider all the people who were out to get David. Think of Saul. David hadn’t done any wrong to Saul, and yet Saul, in his jealousy, wanted David dead. Imagine the temptation David felt when he caught Saul unawares in the cave in Engedi or that night when he and Ahimelech sneaked into Saul’s tent at night. Ahimelech wanted to murder Saul in his sleep. Imagine the temptation David was under to once and for all be rid of his mortal enemy. By the grace of God he overcame his temptation, but imagine the struggle to do what he knew was right. Better, he thought, that he never be placed in the place of temptation to begin with! And so he prays for deliverance from the source of temptation. How often do we pray that? How often do we ask God to deliver us from the source of temptation? There’s no guarantee he will. After all, God often leaves us in those places, because as we learn to be obedient we form new habits of obedience, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to pray for deliverance from them. David so wanted to please God, to be his servant, and to live in obedience, that he prayed God would remove the temptation.
Finally, in verse 135 he sums it up:
Make your face shine upon your servant…
“Look on me with your favour, O God!” is David’s prayer. We pray that kind of thing often. We want God’s blessing and favour. But look at what David considered that blessing and favour to be. He goes on:
…and teach me your statutes.
He didn’t ask God for favour in terms of more power or more health or more wealth. He didn’t ask for a better job, a nicer house, more toys, a new car. No. He asks for God’s favour, but he considered that favour to be greater light—that he might better know God’s statutes—his Word—so that he could be a better servant. In fact, when David does pray for himself—as when he prays for relief from his enemies—the only reason he asks for that relief is so that he can better serve God. What a difference from our “gimme, gimme, gimme” prayers! But friends, this is the perspective that a heart has when it understands its own sinfulness and when it understands the greatness of God’s love, grace, and mercy. David’s perspective was so clear that he not only mourned his own sins, but he mourned the sins of those people around him. Look at verse 136:
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
David understood just how offensive the sins of those around him were to the holy God whom he not only loved and adored, but whom he had committed to serve in holiness. Consider how this fits into his whole perspective. He’s not mourning so much because others have sinned against him, but because they’ve sinned against a holy God. David’s wasn’t concerned with himself so much as he was concerned and sadden that those around him were offending the holiness of God.
Brothers and sisters, this is the perspective that we need to cultivate in our hearts and minds. We need to think on the wonders of the Gospel and the wonders of the whole of God’s Word. We need to study that Word and know it, and as we come to know it better, as we come to know our God better through, it we’ll better understand his holiness. That also means that we’ll see just how sinful our sins are—just how filthy and rotten to the core we are without Christ, but that’s one of the wonders of the Word, because the better we understand our rottenness, the better we’ll understand the grace of God and the more we’ll appreciate the sacrifice he made for us when he gave up his Son for our redemption. And friends, ultimately the better we understand his love and grace and the costliness of that sacrifice, the more our hearts will be moved to gratitude and our lives will be tuned and turned to holiness, the more we’ll desire and love the precepts and commandments of God, and the greater our passion will be for the understanding and instruction that he gives us in his Word.
Please pray with me: Lord, we prayed earlier in our collect that you would grant to us, your people, the grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and that with pure hearts and minds we would follow you. We ask that again, but Father, we also ask that you would give us the grace to pour ourselves into your Word and to build in each of our hearts a passion to know you and your ways better. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.