WONDERFUL THINGS FROM YOUR WORD" (Psalm 119:18)
Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
Our Desperate Need for God's Illumination
The three points we saw in this verse last week were: 1) there are wonderful things in the Word of God; 2) no one can see these wonderful things for what they really are without God's supernatural help; and 3) therefore we must pray to God for supernatural illumination when we read the Bible.
So the stress last week was on prayer and our desperate need for God's supernatural illumination to see spiritual things - to see God's glory and beauty and excellence. You can see many things when you come to the Word without God's opening the eyes of your heart. You can see words and grammatical constructions. You can see logical connections. You can see historical facts. You can see an author's rational intention. You can see some human emotions. None of that requires that God open your eyes in a special spiritual way.
But what you cannot see is the spiritual beauty of God and his Son and their work in the world. You cannot see that God is infinitely desirable above all things. A blind person cannot see the sun, though he can know many facts about the sun and pass a test in astronomy with a score higher than a person who can see the sun. Knowing about and knowing by sight are not the same. Knowing that honey is sweet and tasting honey are not the same.
Let me read again Paul's fullest description of our condition apart from God's special, saving illumination. In Ephesians 4:17b-18 Paul mentions five terrible traits of the human condition that necessitate divine intervention if we are to see spiritual reality. He says that the gentiles (in other words, the ordinary world of men among the nations, apart from grace) live "in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart." Reading backwards we can say that there is in all of us, apart from the mighty grace of God, a hardness of heart that leads to ignorance that leads to alienation from God that leads to darkness that leads to futility of knowledge and life.
So last week's point was: if there is any hope of our seeing wonderful things in the Word of God, we will have to have a divine, supernatural capacity given to us by God that we do not have by nature. And therefore we must pray for it - "Open my eyes." And if we would stay alive in God and be real and authentic and intense in our love for him, we must be desperate to have this enabling every day. So pray, pray, pray. Read Psalm 119 and see how many times he prays for divine help in knowing God and his ways.
Beholding is Becoming
But today I have a different point to make. But before I say what that is, let me make sure you realize why this is important. It's important because being changed into the likeness of Jesus happens by seeing the beauty and worth and excellence of God and his Son and their words and ways. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Beholding is becoming.
This is the only Christian way to change behavior so that it honors God. We change because we have seen a superior beauty and worth and excellence. If you look into the face of Christ and then look into Sports Illustrated or Glamour and are not moved by the superior beauty and worth and excellence and desirability of Christ, then you are still hard and blind and futile in your thinking. You need to cry out, "Open my eyes to see wonderful things out of your Word!" And your life will show it. Where your treasure is - your desire, your delight, your beauty - there will your heart be also - and your evenings and your Saturdays and your money. We are changed by seeing the glory of God in the Word of God. If God is not more glorious to you and more compelling to you than the luster and glory of the world, you haven't seen him. 3 John 11 says, "The one who does evil has not seen God" (see also 1 John 3:6).
So all this is important because all true life-change that honors God and has a spiritual worth to it comes from seeing the glory of God, not from making religious lists of behaviors and trying to copy them.
God Reveals Christ's Beauty Through His Word
Today's point from the text is this: God shows the beauty and excellence of Christ only to those who look into the Word of God. This is why true spiritual change comes from reading and pondering and memorizing the Bible. It's not because you learn rules to obey. It's because that is the place the Lord reveals the beauty and excellence of Christ.
Let me put a sharper point on this. Suppose you heard last week's message that we must see the glory of God to be changed, but we can't see it because of our deadness and hardness and blindness, and that we must therefore pray for God to make alive and soften and open our eyes. And suppose that you conclude: Well, then, I must devote myself to prayer and not to study or reading or memorizing the Bible because mere human seeing and reasoning can't see what needs to be seen. That would be a terrible conclusion to draw from what I said and from this text.
The point is: God opens the eyes of the blind to see the glory of God in his Word when they are looking at the Word. Suppose you wanted to see the glory of the Grand Canyon, but were blind. And suppose God said to you, Call on me and come and pray to me and I will open your eyes to see the glory of the Grand Canyon. Would you move from Arizona to Florida to pray? Or would you use every muscle and sense God gave you to get to the Grand Canyon and set your eyes toward what God had promised? My point is: he will not show you the glory of the Grand Canyon if you insist on living by the Everglades, no matter how much you pray.
Let me say it another way. God has ordained that the eye-opening work of his Spirit always be combined with the mind-informing work of his Word. His aim is that we see the glory of His Son (and be changed). So he opens our eyes when we are looking at the Son - not at soaps or sales. The work of the Spirit and the work of the Word always go together in God's way of true spiritual self- revelation. The Spirit's work is to show the glory and beauty and value of what the mind sees in the Word.
We must not make the mistake of thinking that what we need from God's Spirit is some new information. We already have a thousand times more information about God in the Bible than we can fathom or enjoy. What we need is to see with the eyes of our hearts! Any addition of information by the Spirit to what we can see of Christ in the Word would not make us one ounce more spiritual, or pleasing to God.
Suppose the Spirit revealed to you the new information that your barren friend was going to get pregnant. You tell her this, and when it happens, you and she are blown away with excitement at the miracle of prophecy and pregnancy. What have you gained spiritually? Nothing, unless you turn to the Word and see - with the eyes of the heart - the glory and the beauty of the Christ portrayed in the Bible - Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen to save sinners and to glorify God who has thus blessed you. Religious excitement in the presence of miracles is a natural thing and has no necessary spiritual or supernatural dimension. The gifts of the Spirit are precious, but infinitely more important is the eye-opening illumination of the Holy Spirit so that we see the glory of Christ in the Word.
It is not new information that we need; it is new eyes to see what has been revealed to us in God's Word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your Word!
Don't Pray and Drift
Let me draw out some implications of this.
The first is that when you pray for eyes to see, you must not shift your mind into neutral. Don't assume that the indispensability of prayer means the dispensability of focused thought on the word of God. When you pray to see the glory of Christ, don't drift or coast mentally. Don't just wait, doing nothing. This is a huge mistake, and comes from Eastern spirituality, not the Bible. What is unique about Christianity is that it is historical and particular. Jesus lived in a time and place. God's design is to open your eyes to see the spiritual beauty and value of this particular man just as he is revealed in the Word. If we pray to see it, but mentally drift away from it, then we will not see it. So don't pray and drift.
1. Pray and Read
Read the Word! What a privilege! And what an obligation! And what a potential for seeing God! Look at Ephesians 3:3b-4. Paul writes, "By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." When you read! God willed that the greatest mysteries of life be revealed through reading.
Then compare chapter 1:18 where Paul says, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling." So Ephesians 3:4 says that the mystery is known by reading. And Ephesians 1:18 says that for us to know what we need to know, God must open our eyes in answer to prayer. Yes, we must pray. Yes, we are blind without God's help. But the point this week is: we must read.
"When you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." Praying cannot replace reading. Praying may turn reading into seeing. But if we don't read, we will not see. The Holy Spirit is sent to glorify Jesus, and the glory of Jesus is portrayed in the Word. Read. Rejoice that you can read.
2. Pray and Study
2 Timothy 2:15: "Be diligent (or: "study" KJV) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of truth." God gave us a book about himself not so that we might read in any old careless way we wished. Paul says, "Be diligent to . . . accurately handle the Word of truth." That means work at the Word if you want the most from it.
The pendulum swings back and forth. Some say pray and pray and don't lean on the unspiritual, human work of study. Others say, study and study because God is not going to tell you the meaning of a word in prayer. But the Bible will not have anything to do with this dichotomy. We must study and accurately handle the Word of God, and we must pray or we will not see in the Word the one thing needful, the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).
Benjamin Warfield, a great studier of the Bible, wrote in 1911, "Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. 'What!' is the appropriate response, 'than ten hours over your books, on your knees?'" ("The Religious Life of Theological Students," in Mark Noll, ed., The Princeton Theology, [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983], p. 263). This captures the Biblical spirit. Yes, we must pray. We will not see wonderful things out of God's Word if he doesn't open our eyes. But praying cannot replace studying, because Paul says, "Be diligent - study - to handle the Word accurately."
3. Pray and Ransack
Our approach to the Bible should be like a miser in the gold rush, or a fiancée who has lost her engagement ring somewhere in the house. She ransacks the house. That is the way we seek for God in the Bible.
Proverbs 2:1-6 says,
My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, 2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; 3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Receive, treasure, be attentive, incline your heart, cry out, lift your voice, seek as for silver, search as for hidden treasures. This is ransacking the Bible for all that it is worth. If there are hidden treasures, act like it. If there is silver, act like it. By all means pray (as verse 3 says) but don't substitute prayer for ransacking. God ordains to give to those who seek with all their heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
4. Pray and Think
Consider 2 Timothy 2:7. The NASB has "Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." Literally it is, "Think about (noei) what I say." Does this mean that understanding Paul's teaching is simply a human, natural enterprise of thinking? No. The end of the verse says, "The Lord will give you understanding." It is not you who can see it on your own. Spiritual apprehension is a gift of God.
But God has ordained to give the gift of supernatural light through thinking. "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." So by all means pray and ask God to give you the light you need. But don't replace thinking with praying. Think and pray. Pray and think. This is the way God has set it up. A historical Christ. A book of preservation and revelation. All of that says: read and study and ransack and think. But all is in vain without prayer. Both-and, not either-or.
5. Pray and Speak
God means for the written Word to become the spoken word in preaching and in the mutual exhortation and rebuke and warning and encouragement and counsel of his people. Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within [or among] you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another . . ." The Word of Christ to us becomes our word to each other.
I preach. This is God's will for his Word to be heralded afresh over and over. And you speak to each other the Word of God. This is one of the fundamental reasons for small groups in the church - to make the Word of God to us into the Word of God through us. Speak it to each other.
Does this mean that we can do away with prayer in those moments - that we can somehow open the eyes of the heart to see wonderful things out of God's Word because we are speaking it with conviction or persuasive argument or creative turns of phrase? That's not what Paul teaches. In that same book (Colossians 1:9-10) he prays - prays! - "We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . increasing in the knowledge of God."
If knowing God and having spiritual wisdom and understanding were automatic when the Word of Christ dwells richly among us, then Paul would not need to pray earnestly for God to give it to us.
The Word and Prayer Together
So we have seen over and over: Prayer is indispensable if we would see the glory of God in the Word of God. But we have also seen that reading and study and ransacking and thinking and speaking the Word is also necessary. God has ordained that the eye-opening work of his Spirit always be combined with the mind-informing work of his Word. His aim is that we see the glory of God and that we reflect the glory of God. And so he opens our eyes when we are looking at the glory of God in the Word.
Read, study, ransack, think, speak, listen - and pray, "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your Word."
(For further reflection, see Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 2 Kings 6:17; Matthew 16:17; 11:2-6; 11:27.)
Copyright 1998 John Piper