As we saw in the previous post, Psalm 119 is a poem inspired by one man’s love for the law of God and his struggle to keep it. Scattered throughout this enormous prayer are pleas to God that he might teach him to follow his laws:
Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34-35)
Really? God has done all these things for me and my life is nowhere near the example that Jesus left for us. I’ve memorized the 10 Commandments, but do not keep them. I’ve read how Jesus loved his enemies, but I struggle to love my wife and kids. I fear people more than I fear God. I get paid to study and teach them, but I am reminded daily of my failures. That’s the problem. I know what I’m supposed to do. I just don’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have more to learn about what it means to love God and my neighbor. I get what the author is praying for, but what troubles me is that I don’t obey what I already know. It’s like what the Apostle Paul once described:
… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:17-18)
Fortunately Psalm 119 keeps going, for if it ended at that point, there would no hope for me. He showed me what do, I failed, end of story. But I kept reading and then I understood what I needed.
Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (Psalm 119:36-37)
Stu Batstone, who was one of my gospel mentors, compared my sin to a great white shark. Imagine you’ve gone swimming down at the Cape Cod National Seashore. You take in the sights: the sun reflecting off the waters, a colony of seals sunning themselves on the sand. Suddenly, you see a triangle moving towards you at an alarming speed. You’ve seen the reports on the six o’clock news, so you prepare yourself for a shark attack. Who in their right mind would stand their ground, grab the fin and attempt to turn the creature out to sea? It sounds crazy and yet this is how I try to fight sin.
The shark fin is the sin I can see. I’m selfish. I have a temper. I’m self-absorbed. I’m lustful. I know I shouldn’t do these things, but when I try to turn it, my strength fails me. Why? Because there is shark weighing hundreds of pounds attached to that fin lurking just under the surface. My problem is not that I occasionally do bad things. I have a heart that is diseased. It loves and desires all the wrong things. When the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to pray “your will be done,” I turn to heaven and pray “please do my will.”
Therefore, my problem goes deeper than a few bad habits that are visible above the surface that can be reformed with some good advice. We can stop ourselves from watching explicit movies, but can we stop lusting? We can learn to be generous with our money, but can we stop ourselves from putting our needs ahead of others? We can attend church on Sundays, but can we stop our hearts from being more excited by a touchdown than we are by the gospel? No. We need God to turn our hearts, for the shark is far bigger than we know.
The writer of Psalm119 understands this. He knows that he needs God to instruct him how to love other people, but he also realizes that he lacks the strength to turn the shark . So he prays, “turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish things.” In other words, God, I need you change the things that I love.
When we pray, let’s go deeper than worrying about what is above the surface. Let’s ask the difficult questions: What do we love more than God? What are the worthless things that have attached themselves to ours heart? Let’s confess these to God and pray that he will turn our hearts so that his love will capture our hearts and turn our actions towards Christ.