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January 4, 1998
John Piper
Bethlehem Baptist


Open My Eyes That I May See
Psalms 119:17-24

Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word. 18 Open
my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law. 19 I am a stranger
in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me. 20 My soul is crushed
with longing After Your ordinances at all times. 21 You rebuke the arrogant, the
cursed, Who wander from Your commandments. 22 Take away reproach and
contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies. 23 Even though princes sit
and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes. 24 Your
testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.

Parallel Rails for the Track of Our Souls

As we begin 1998, God's aim for us is that we be set on a two-railed train track in
the direction of holiness and love and mission and heaven. The two rails of this
train are prayer before the throne of God and meditation on the Word of God.
Some of you may remember the second page of our Mission Statement booklet,
"The Spiritual Dynamic." It says,

We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of His glory through our
Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom he loves, praying for all his purposes, meditating on all his word,
sustained by all his grace.

Praying before the throne of God and meditating on the Word of God are like
parallel rails that enable the train of our souls to stay on the track that leads to
holiness and heaven. We need to renew our zeal for prayer and Bible mediation at
the beginning of the year. Everything gets old and worn and weak without re-
awakening and renewal and restoration. So during Prayer Week every year we
rivet our attention on these great and precious things in order to rekindle our
passion for prayer and the Word.

Three Things to Learn from Psalm 119:18

This year the two messages that sandwich Prayer Week grow out of Psalm
119:18. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." This
verse combines prayer and the Word, and we need to see how, so that we can
combine them this way in our lives and in our church. There are three things that
we learn from this verse.

One is that there are wonderful things in the Word of God. "Open my eyes, that
I may behold wonderful things from Your law." The word "law" is "Torah" and
means "instruction" or "teaching" in this psalm. There are wonderful things in
God's teaching to us. In fact, they are so wonderful that when you really see
them, they change you profoundly and empower holiness and love and missions
(2 Corinthians 3:18). Which is why reading and knowing and meditating on and
memorizing the Word of God is so crucial.

The second thing we learn from this verse is that no one can see these
wonderful things for what they really are without God's supernatural help. "Open
my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." If God does not
open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the Word. We are not naturally
able to see spiritual beauty. When we read the Bible without the help of God,
the glory of God in the teachings and events of the Bible is like the sun shining
in the face of a blind man. Not that you can't construe its surface meaning, but
you can't see the wonder, the beauty, the glory of it such that it wins your heart.

Which leads to the third thing we learn from this verse, namely, that we must
pray to God for supernatural illumination when we read the Bible. "Open my
eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." Since we are helpless
in ourselves to see spiritual beauty and the wonder of God in the teachings and
events of the Bible without God's gracious illumination, we should ask him for it.
"Open my eyes."

A Three-Step Truth

Next week I plan to focus on the wonderful things in the Word of God and
practically how we get them into our head and heart. But today I focus on prayer. I
want us to see this profound three-step truth: The Word is crucial for living a
Godward life that leads to heaven and has power and meaning on earth. We
cannot even see what the Word really is without God's supernatural help. And
therefore we need to be a people of daily prayer that God would do whatever he
must do to get the wonders of the Word into our hearts and into our lives.

Let's take these three steps one at a time and see them confirmed and illustrated
in other parts of the Bible.

1. The Word is crucial to a life of holiness

The first point is that seeing the Word and knowing it and having it in us is crucial
to living a life of holiness and love and power for the purposes of God.

Look back at verse 11, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin
against you." How then are we to avoid sin in our lives? By treasuring the Word of
God in our hearts. O how many people mess up their lives by not meditating on
and loving and memorizing the Word of God! Do you want to be holy, that is, do
you want power to overcome sin and live a life of radical godliness and sacrificial
love and utter devotion to the cause of Christ? Then get on the track. God has
ordained a way to godliness and power: and it is the way of treasuring up the
Bible in our hearts.

I say it to the old and I say it to the parents of the young. Meditate on and
memorize and cherish the commandments and warnings and promises of God in
the Scriptures. No, I do not say it is easy, especially when you are old. But most
things worth doing are not easy. Making a fine piece of furniture, making a good
poem, making a great piece of music, making a special meal or celebration - none
of them is easy. But they are worth doing. Is not a good life worth doing?

Talitha is now two. She is beginning to learn Bible verses by heart. She is also
learning the forms of prayer. Why? Why go to the trouble of taking time and effort
to repeat over and over the Bible to her? Very simple - when she is a teenager I
want her to be godly and pure and holy and loving and humble and kind and
submissive and wise. And the Bible says, as plain as day, this comes by
treasuring up the Word of God in your heart. "Your word I have treasured in my
heart, that I may not sin against you."

Jesus put it like this in his great prayer for us in John 17:17, "Sanctify them in the
truth; Your word is truth." "Sanctify" is a Biblical word for making a person holy or
godly or loving or pure or virtuous or spiritually wise. And these things I want for
myself and for my children and for you. So what then should we do this year? If
we are sanctified by the truth, and the Word of God is truth, what should we do?

If a doctor says, "You're very sick and may die of your sickness, but if you will
take this medicine, you will get well and live," and you neglect to take the
medicine - too busy, the pills are big and hard to swallow, just forgetful - you are
going to stay sick and you may die. That's the way it is with sin and spiritual
immaturity. If you neglect what God tells you will sanctify you and make you
mature and strong and holy, then you will not be mature and strong and holy.
Reading, and meditating on and memorizing and cherishing the Word of God is
God's appointed way of overcoming sin and becoming a strong, godly, mature,
loving, wise person.

There are wonderful things to be seen in the Word of God that will transform you
deeply if you really see them and treasure them in you.

2. We cannot see without God's help

The second point in the text is that we are not able to see these wonderful things
in the Word for what they really are without God's supernatural help.

The reason is that we are fallen and corrupt and dead in sin and therefore blind
and ignorant and hard. Paul described us like this in Ephesians 4:18 - we are
"darkened in [our] understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the
ignorance that is in [us], because of the hardness of [our] heart."

Here's the way Moses wrote about this problem in Deuteronomy 29:2-4, "And
Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, 'You have seen all that the LORD
did before your eyes in the land of Egypt . . . those great signs and wonders [i.e.,
"wonderful things"]. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know,
nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.'" Notice: you have seen . . . but you cannot see
without God's supernatural work.

That is our plight. We are guilty and corrupt and hard and ignorant and blind
without the awakening, enlivening, softening, humbling, purifying, enlightening
work of God in our lives. We will never see the beauty of spiritual reality without
God's illumination. We will never see the wonder and glory of what the Word
teaches without God's opening the eyes of our hearts and giving us a spiritual
sense of these things.

The point of teaching this and knowing this is to make us desperate for God and
hungry for God, and to set us to pleading and crying out to God for his help in
reading the Bible.

(On Point 2 see also: Matthew 16:17 with 11:4; and Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians
2:14-16; John 3:6-8; Romans 8:5-8.)

3. We need to pray for God to help us see

Which leads to the last point: if knowing and treasuring the truth of God's Word is
crucial to being holy and loving and mature and heavenbound, and if we by nature
cannot see the wonders of God's Word and feel the attraction of its glory, then we
are in a desperate condition and need to pray for God to help us see. "Open my
eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law."

In other words, prayer is essential to Christian living, because it is the key to
unlocking the power of the Word in our lives. The glory of the Word is like the
shining of the sun in the face of blind man unless God opens our eyes to that
glory. And if we don't see the glory, we won't be changed (2 Corinthians 3:18;
John 17:17), and if we are not changed, we are not Christians.

In Ephesians 1:18 Paul prays this way. He says, "I pray that the eyes of your
heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling . .
." In other words, "I've taught you these things and you have received them with
your external senses, but unless you perceive the glory of them with your spiritual
sense ("the eyes of your heart") you will not be changed. (See also Ephesians
3:14-19; Colossians 1:9 with 3:16). Now these are Christians he is writing to,
which shows that we need to go on praying until we get to heaven for spiritual
eyes to see.

Seven Kinds of Prayer to Soak our Bible Reading

But since our text is Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful
things from Your law," we should let this psalmist show us how he prays more
generally about his reading of the Word of God. So let me close with a little tour of
Psalm 119, and show you seven kinds of prayer with which you can soak your
Bible reading this year.

We should pray . . .

That God would teach us his Word. Psalm 119:12b, "Teach me Your statutes."
(See also verses 33, 64b, 66, 68b, 135). True learning of God's Word is only
possible if God himself becomes the teacher in and through all other means of
teaching.

That God would not hide his Word from us. Psalm 119:19b, "Do not hide Your
commandments from me." The Bible warns of the dreadful chastisement or
judgment of the Word of God being taken from us (Amos 8:11). (See also verse
43).

That God would make us understand his Word. Psalm 119:27, "Make me
understand the way of Your precepts" (verses 34, 73b, 144b, 169). Here we ask
God to cause us to understand - to do whatever he needs to do to get us to
understand his Word.

That God would incline our hearts to his Word. Psalm 119:36, "Incline my heart to
Your testimonies and not to [dishonest] gain." The great problem with us is not
primarily our reason, but our will - we are disinclined by nature to read and
meditate and memorize the Word. So we must pray for God to incline our wills.

That God would give us life to keep his Word. Psalm 119:88, "Revive me
according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your
mouth." He is aware that we need life and energy to give ourselves to the Word
and its obedience. So he asks God for this basic need. (See also verse 154b)

That God would establish our steps in his Word. Psalm 119:133, "Establish my
footsteps in Your word." We are dependent on the Lord not only for understanding
and life, but for the performance of the Word. That it would be established in our
lives. We cannot do this on our own.

That God would seek us when we go astray from his Word. Psalm 119:176, "I
have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant." It is remarkable that this
godly man ends his psalm with a confession of sin and the need for God to come
after him and bring him back. This too we must pray again and again.

The Word, our Treasure

I conclude that as we enter 1998 and long to be holy and loving and radically
committed to God's purpose in the city and the nations, we must be people who
treasure the Word in our hearts, but more - people who know our desperate
condition apart from God and that he has appointed prayer as the way that our
eyes will be opened to see wonder in the Word and so be changed. "Open my
eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law. "

How earnest was he in these kinds of prayers? How earnest should we be? One
answer is given in Psalm 119:147, "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for
Your words." He gets up early! This is top priority. Would you make it that?

Copyright John Piper