Incline My Heart: Prayers from Psalm 119

by Shelby Turner

When I was young, I often sang a hymn that included these words: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light onto my path.” Each time I come across these words in Scripture, my memory is jogged and in my memories, I hear that familiar tune sung by a group of elementary kids in a small Sunday school classroom decorated with colorful pictures of Bible characters. I’m thankful for the foundation that simple song laid in me to love God’s Word. Scripture has illuminated my steps many times. And over the years, my love for the psalm from which these song lyrics came has only grown.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and is written as an acrostic poem. There are twenty-two stanzas, one for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza celebrates the law, the Torah, the statutes, and commandments the Lord had given to Israel. Psalm 119 is one big celebration of rules.

I should probably stop and mention here that God’s rules are not the focal point of Christianity. In the Old Testament, God gave the Law to His people and asked them to follow it perfectly. But He also provided a means to pay for their mistakes by offering sacrifices to Him at the tabernacle. When Jesus arrived, He changed everything (Romans 8:3). He offered Himself as the once for all sacrifice for sin. He fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17). And anyone who believes in Jesus and receives His forgiveness for their sins is no longer under the rule of the Law but is under the grace of Jesus (Romans 6:14).

But even those who have salvation in Christ are called to follow the ways of God. Christians do not have a free pass to live however they want because they have been forgiven. On the contrary, once we have committed our lives to Christ, we are committed to spending our lives loving and serving Him. This includes studying and obeying all of Scripture. So, Psalm 119 is just as valuable and important to us today as it was to the psalmist who wrote it.

Recently when I read this Psalm, something stuck out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. And it was a sweet balm to my weary soul. I sometimes feel weary when trying to walk in the ways of God. I feel weary when I realize I lost my temper….again. I feel weary when I notice unforgiveness and bitterness have taken root in my soul. I feel weary when I ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit to spend time in God’s word and instead scroll Instagram. My waywardness makes me weary.

And while I know that God does not condemn me for my wrongs, I also deeply desire to grow in Christ’s likeness and see these wrongs rooted out of my heart. And you know what? If I had to guess, I would say the author of Psalm 119 experienced a similar struggle. Within this psalm, I found ten beautiful prayers pleading with God to help increase affection for the rules and ways of God. Each of these precious prayers made my soul burst within. Though the psalmist loved God’s ways, they needed His help to walk in them. And oh, how I need this too. 

Listen to these beautiful pleas for help from the Lord:

Teach me your statutes. — Psalm 119:12 

Open my eyes so that I may contemplate

wondrous things from your instruction. — Psalm 119:18

Help me understand

the meaning of your precepts

so that I can meditate on your wonders. — Psalm 119:27

Help me stay on the path of your commands,

for I take pleasure in it. — Psalm 119:35

Turn my eyes

from looking at what is worthless;

give me life in your ways. — Psalm 119:37

Teach me good judgment and discernment,

for I rely on your commands. — Psalm 119:66

I am severely afflicted;

Lord, give me life according to your word. — Psalm 119:107

Deal with your servant based on your faithful love;

teach me your statutes. — Psalm 119:125

I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord.

I will obey your statutes. — Psalm 119:145

May your hand be ready to help me,

for I have chosen your precepts. — Psalm 119:173

Teach me. Open my eyes. Help me. Turn my eyes. Be ready to help me. The honesty, humility, and vulnerability in these prayers are refreshing. God’s ways are high and holy, and we cannot keep them in our own strength. We need divine help. And God knows this. 

What a graciously loving God we serve. He sent us the Law to show that we needed a Savior. God sent us a Savior, Jesus, to show His love for us. He gave us His rules for living so that we could glorify Him on the earth. And He sends us help through His word and His Spirit to keep the rules He has given. God’s rules do not crush us; they draw us closer to Him. And these prayers in Psalm 119 are a beautiful illustration of this! 

How do you feel about the rules God has given us through His word? Do you find rest and solace in the prayers above? What do you think God’s response to these prayers would be? Let us know in the comments. 

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