You, like I, may have experienced times when your world fell apart. How did you pray? At times, I found it hard to pray at all. I have learned that such times require prayer, that we talk to God when all seems lost, but that we also continue listening to him.
Prayers of faith during desperate situations move from acknowledgement of terror or loss to gratitude or praise for God’s deliverance. The fourth prayer of Psalm 119’s twenty-two prayers features such progression. The prayer begins with acknowledgement of a dire plight and a petition for God to show the way to deliverance through instruction:
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. I gave an account of my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:25-28).
The psalmist describes himself as “laid low in the dust,” having been knocked off his feet by events in his life. His sorrow and openness to accountability suggest that his own choices and actions produced his condition. They also imply that he has repented and confessed his sin to God. God has answered him and now he realizes his need to understand better God’s will for his life. In this Psalm that employs eight synonyms for God’s revealed will, this prayer’s repetitive emphasis on the word, decrees, precepts, law, and commands of God drives home the psalmist’s increasing understanding that he needs to know and obey God’s instructions. He prays first that God will preserve his life, then after revealing that God has answered, him prays that God will “cause him to understand the way” and will strengthen him “according to [his] word.” Underlying these “calls for fire” for God to take action are his admission of his need for God’s help: “I am laid low” and” my soul is weary with sorrow.”
The second half of this prayer unveils the psalmist’s progressive spiritual growth in response to God’s answers to his previous prayers. He makes another call for fire request that God will turn him away from lying and acting deceitfully, then requests also that God will show him grace while training him and protecting him from shame:
“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I hold fast to your statutes, LORD; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands for you have broadened my understanding” (Psalm 119:29-32).
The psalmist’s concluding verses reveal that the psalmist has made a deliberate choice to obey God. He will follow God’s commands as set forth in his revealed message and he “will run in the path of [God’s] commands.” His prayer demonstrates confession as a foundation for prayer, assessing accurately one’s situation and environment helps in determining what course of action adheres most closely to keeping in step with the God’s Spirit and his commands. Our prayers also should include admission of our own faults and awareness of how God has acted in our lives. The prayer’s final clause is saturated with gratitude: “You have broadened my understanding.” God had shown him that he had other options than remaining prostrate in the dust. Like this psalmist, let’s always acknowledge what God has done to change our lives.
- Bible Quotations are from the New International Version 2011
God, we suffer when we ignore or violate principles and commands that you have revealed in your word so that we may see more clearly the path we are to choose to walk. In our stubborn pride, we resist your guidance. How we see ourselves blinds us to your assessment and direction. Reach out to help us arise from where we have fallen. Keep protecting us from our own incompetence as we follow the way you have set out. Thank you for the lessons you have already taught us and the gifts you have graciously given us. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.