How shall the young secure their hearts? Throughout my life I have sung lyrics by Isaac Watts that ask that question. Watts drew his inspiration from Psalm 119:9-16, the second division of that psalm’s 176 verse anthology of prayer. Concern for the moral direction of youth remains as relevant today as in the 1700s when Watt wrote his lyrics and as when the psalmist penned his words centuries before the birth of Jesus.
As in the rest of Psalm 119 (You may read my post introducing the psalm and its first section by clicking here), a steady repetition sounds throughout verses 9-16. Synonyms for torah or “law” recur throughout the Psalm. In this section there is a synonym for law in every verse: word (vv 9,11), commands (v 10), decrees (vv 12,16), laws (v 13), statutes (v14), and precepts (v 15). This repetition stresses the importance of God’s written revealed will for the psalmist, as the opening verse illustrates:
“How can a young person stay on the part of purity? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9).
As he prays through the remaining verses, the psalmist reveals his strategy for employing the “law” as his guide for deciding how to act. But first he confesses his wholehearted allegiance to God, while admitting he needs more than desire to follow God faithfully:
“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands” (Psalm 119:10).
Just wanting to please God does not guarantee that we will achieve that goal any more than a baseball player wanting to hit thirty home runs in a season means that he will do so. While it does increase the likelihood (It’s easer to achieve a goal if you actually want to reach it.), actions must follow. To secure the heart, a young person should read the Bible enough that it becomes part of him or her. He or she should speak it to themselves or to others to reinforce the message to themselves. They should contemplate and weigh carefully what God is teaching them in what they read. The challenge is approaching these actions with an attitude of joy rather than regarding “Bible study” as a boring burden. The psalmist expresses his own practice of this strategy in these words:
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, LORD, teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:11-16).
How shall the young secure their hearts? First, read the Bible, God’s revealed message for humanity. I first read through the entire Bible when I was twelve years old, as part of a challenge from my Bible class teacher at church. I still begin my day by reading the Bible today, following a schedule designed to help me finish it in a year. Second, internalize that message. Make it part of yourself by reading it out loud and memorizing it. Third, understand the message. Reflect on what you have read and how it might apply to your own attitudes or actions. Meditate on what the messages means for you. Fourth, learn by listening. Let God teach you. Pride and distractions (peer pressure, conflicting advice, hormonal drives) may urge you to chart a different course, but choose to walk in the path that God has laid out. Fifth, enjoy life as you begin to realize the benefits of living in harmony with your Creator’s intent.
Surrounding this strategy is practicing what the psalmist himself is doing. As you study, whether you are young or old, pray. As you encounter moments of decision in life, pray. As you seek to live for God with all your heart, pray. Remember always the message of these verses. Desire to follow God with all your heart, pray for his guidance, but ground your obedience in the instruction that he has already given, the Bible.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version of 2011.
God of revelation and of joy, you created us with purpose and, having completed your task, saw that it was very good. As we seek to live in harmony with your purpose, open our eyes and our hearts to what you have already taught us. Fill our hearts with joy when we recognize the answer to questions that have frustrated or even tormented us. Equip us to recognize distractions or false answers that will send us down paths that will harm us. May we grow in self-discipline and maturity, but may we always retain a sense of joy as we meditate on your word and as we contemplate this world that you have created. In Jesus’ name, amen.