THE LONGINGS OF THE HEART. I NEED TO LONG TO WALK THE WAY OF THE LORD (vv. 5-8)
It is worth noticing that verses 1-3 are the only significant section of the psalm that are not addressed directly to the LORD. In verse 4 the singer begins to respond to the truth if verses 1-3. And from here to verse 176 he stays in prayer. Apart from the occasional aside (such as v.115) all the rest is ‘You LORD’. He moves from doctrine to prayer; we need to do the same.
And especially we need to encourage those of us who are ‘professionals’ in Christian leadership to make a habit of this transition. Some years ago John Stott used to give a word of exhortation to Langham scholars, pastors from majority world countries who came here to study theology and usually to work for doctorate. At the start of the studies he would say to them ‘There is a real danger that a scholar may return home after three of four years an academic success but a spiritual failure a ‘doctor’ (qualified to teach) but no longer a ‘disciple’; possessing a new degree and a new title but no new vision, power or holiness. He used to quote the German theologian and Pastor Helmut Thielicke who warned against ‘the worst and most widespread ministers’ disease, to turn from speaking to God in the second person to merely speaking about him in the third person. This psalm encourages us all to move from the third person (vv.1-3) to the second person (vv.4-176) from the truth to adoration, from doctrine to prayer.
And it is a passionate prayer. We need to feel the urgency in verses 5-8. He longs not to be put to shame (v.6), an important theme in the psalm (cf. vv. 31,46,78,80). He hopes that on the last day he will not be exposed as a fraud, as one who professed the name of God but did not have his nature, as a child of promise by name but a child of slavery by nature (Galatians 4). He knows that only if the Lord answers his call and changes his heart will this be possible, and he will not be put to shame. Only then will he be vindicated by his redeemer, justified by his judge, acknowledge by the Son of Man and seem to be a son or daughter of God. Only then will he not be ashamed. Only then, as Calvin says, will we have no regrets. And he knows that for this to be he must look resolutely ahead with his eyes fixed on walking the way of God’s commandments. He longs for this.
You can only praise from an upright heart (v.7),that is a heart without hypocrisy when he learns God’s righteous judgements. Learning in this psalm is always practical. He does not just need to learn what the commandments are; he needs to learn to do them, to keep them by the grace and help of the God who answers his prayer. Only when he gets that help will he be able to keep the statutes (v.8a). And so he praised desperately for it, ‘Do not forsake me deeply!’ ‘I understand (v.4) that you have commanded a heartfelt deep keeping of your word; and I understand that unless you give me a heart to do that you must deeply forsake me. There are only two ways to walk, the way of deep Law-keeping and the way of deep God-forsakenness. And he trembles at that thought. ‘He trembles lest should be left to himself (Spurgeon)
Verses 5 – 8 are real challenge for us to sing. We need to learn to echo this deep longing for holiness. For myself, I think I have sometimes been so concerned to avoid the shallow error of perfectionist teaching (which teaches that perfect holiness is attainable as an achievement in this age), that I have sometimes failed to preach to myself the urgent need and longing for holiness. We need first to understand the truth of verse 4, that only deep holiness of heart will bring blessing. And we then need to avoid the shallow response of cheap grace which says, ‘This is a very high standard and frankly it’s a bit too tough. And so I shall just thank God that Jesus get the standard form me so that I no longer need to.’ This is not true. We need to sing verse 5 in a fuzzy world and complacent church.: ‘O that they may be firmly fixed, my ways in keeping your statutes!’ ‘Lord make me like that.’
But how? How is this possible? That is the subject of the next section. (v.9-16)
(The next section and indeed the whole of this wonderful Psalm centred on God’s Word are available in ‘Bible Delight’ by Christopher Ash and published by Christian Focus – highly recommended!)