“Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise, then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word” (Psalm 119:41 ESV).
The twenty-two sections of the Bible’s longest prayer, Psalm 119, each may function as prayers independently. Since the beginning of the year, I have meditated on this majestic prayer and have taught to the church where I preach how the psalmist’s words may inspire us to pray with greater faith. The sixth section begins with the words above. The psalmist prays that he will experience God’s steadfast love, or mercy, that he will know salvation. His prayer begins with an affirmation that rests on the assurance that God is true to his word, and that God cares. His assurance may rest in a revelation by God of his own character to Moses founded in Exodus 34:6-7. God’s words there echo throughout the pages of the Old Testament, appearing in prayers like this one, in protests by Jonah, who wishes God wasn’t so predictable in his mercy to people the prophet doesn’t want to forgive, and in calls for repentance by God through the prophet Joel. God describes himself to Moses in this way,
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV).
The psalmist knows the law of the Lord, and persistently seeks to obey them. He finds delight in and loves God’s commandments (verse 47). He confesses as he prays that his obedience will blossom into courage with the arrival of God’s steadfast love and the experience of God’s power to save and to forgive. This courage will enable him to speak confidently before kings without fear of being put to shame. When I read this prayer, I think of God’s mission for Saul (AKA Paul) to speak before kings. Saul, even when a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion, had been, like the psalmist, confident in his obedience to God’s commands. The revelation of God’s saving love through Jesus empowered Paul to preach confidently to kings.
The psalmist prays for confidence in God’s love and saving power. He grounds his prayer in obedience to God’s commands (verse 43). He trusts God’s word (verse 42). His prayer demonstrates a believer’s appreciation of his active, obedient response being critical to full understanding of God’s power to forgive. He meditates on God’s statutes, and he prays with awareness that God’s commands themselves reflect God’s perseverance in loving his people. His prayer reveals how God’s revelation of himself in his word inspires us to faithful obedience as we realize how much we need his grace.
O God, you are merciful and gracious. You abound in mercy and faithfulness. Your grace amazes us and inspires us to sing. Lord, we pray that we may know your love even as we remember your justice. May our meditation on your word and your will revealed within it ignite our faith and generate courage that will draw others to faith in you. In Jesus’ name, amen.