Increasing Your Hunger and Longing for God's Word
Increasing Your Hunger and Longing for God’s Word (Psalm 119:33-40)
Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on November 2, 2008
About eleven years ago, I was at somewhat of a spiritual low. Although I’d grown up in a great Christian home, gone to good Christian schools, graduated from one of the best Christian colleges, and attending one of the greatest teaching churches anywhere, church and devotions were just a boring chore and duty.
- I would still try and read the Bible during the week, but it was joyless, passionless; it was more drudgery than delight
- I was struggling with several sins and had little to no appetite for God’s Word and God’s glory, and not surprisingly I had little to no desire to be more involved at church or in any kind of ministry.
- It was a struggle but I didn’t want it to be that way.
- I don’t remember exactly what the turning point was, but I remember praying over and over for God’s help to love Him and His Word more. I didn’t wait for the feelings to come first, I continued to try to obey what I knew God’s Word said, and as I prayed for my own spiritual state, my feelings and affections for God’s Word began to grow.
- At the same time, my wife and I began getting involved in a Bible study and began getting to know other Christians.
- I started reading good Christian books and began to develop a real appetite for Scripture. Before long, I just couldn’t get enough – I would spend most of my waking hours in Biblical study, I was addicted to God-centered books and expository studies, and at the same time I was soon asked to teach a lunch-hour Bible study at my work.
- We started getting more involved at church and with different mission trips, and I discovered how thrilling it could be to learn from God’s Word and to teach others what I was learning. It truly became a delight and passion.
- I was listening to tapes and the few good Christian radio programs, sometimes 10-20 or more sermons in a week. And soon even that wasn’t enough and I wanted to enroll in Seminary because there was nothing more I’d rather do than spend my entire life mining the riches of God’s Word.
- How did God transform me from a complacent pew-sitter who was just going through the motions? If you’re in the same boat today, if reading the Bible is a bore or at least a chore for you, and maybe has been for weeks or months or years, how can you get beyond that dullness or dryness or deadness? How can God’s Word become more of a delight than a duty? How can you increase your hunger and longing for God’s Word? Psalm 119 has much help for us.
Psalm 119:33-40 (NASB95) 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways.
38 Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You. 39 Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good. 40 Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.
As you know, this is a psalm all about God’s Word, with each verse referring to the Bible by one of many synonyms or titles (commandments, statutes, precepts, ways, ordinances, law, etc.). In verse 40, the “behold” draws attention to the statement “I long for Your precepts.” This is a psalm of loving and longing for Scripture
20 My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.
131 I opened my mouth wide and panted, For I longed for Your commandments.
174 I long for Your salvation, O Lord, And Your law is my delight.
How did this writer have such a delight and longing for Scripture? How can we? Our text today, vs. 33-40, reveals and models 3 ways our hunger and desire for God’s Word can be increased.
1. Reading God’s Word with Utter Dependence in Prayer, v. 33
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes
It’s been suggested that this phrase is the theme of the entire psalm. As he reads God’s Word he prays in utter dependence on God to teach him, again and again, or in the words of verse 18 to open his eyes to behold the wonderful things in God’s Word. His love and longing for Scripture was fueled by how he prayed.
John Owen wrote that this psalm recognizes ‘we are not able of ourselves to discern [the wonderful things in God’s Word] without divine aid and assistance; for the psalmist, who was wiser than the wisest of us, and who had so earnest a desire after these things, yet would not trust unto his own reason, wisdom, ability, and diligence, for the understanding of them, but betakes himself unto God by prayer, acknowledging therein that it is the especial work of God by his Spirit to enable us to understand his mind and will as revealed in the Scripture.’
So 10x in this psalm we read the phrase that he prays: “teach me”
12 Blessed are You, O Lord; Teach me Your statutes.
26 I have told of my ways, and You have answered me; Teach me Your statutes.
In the Hebrew, this utterly dependent prayer for teaching could be translated as “make me be taught” or “cause me to be taught.” It’s called a causative verb, and the first seven verses of this stanza use causative verbs as the first word in each verse, praying:
v. 37 “Teach me” – literally Make me / cause me to learn.
v. 34 “Give me understanding” - Cause me to understand.
v. 35 “Make me walk” (NIV direct me, ESV lead me)
v. 36 “Incline my heart” - Make my heart be inclined.
v. 37 “Turn away my eyes” - Cause my eyes to turn.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that God doesn’t make us do things, won’t cause us to love Him or follow Him or walk after Him, but He wants us to do that of our own volition and will, so that our love will be spontaneous and self-caused and therefore genuine. But the writer of this psalm trusted in God, not his own heart. If God didn’t cause these, they wouldn’t happen. The problem with “free will” of humans is that men freely and willfully choose sin by nature and are not inclined to good unless God’s will and God’s free grace first rescues us from ourselves.
Fallen humans are not as naturally free as they think they are, according to Jesus in John 8; all who sin are slaves to sin, and they’re not truly free, they need to truth to set them free, the Son to set them free to be truly free.
This writer wasn’t concerned with his free will being off limits to God’s intervention -- He knew divine intervention was his only hope. If God didn’t make him walk in the right way (v. 35) his tendency would be to go his own way. Does God’s causative grace mean we’re robots? No, it recognizes we’re rebellious at heart in need of changed hearts to be made willing to believe and read the Word. If God didn’t cause his heart to be inclined, it never would be (v. 36). If God didn’t open his eyes, they would still be closed (v. 18).
Even as believers we need to pray like this psalm if want to be like this psalmist and be growing in our desires for God’s Word.
In all there are 9 imperatives in 8 vs, which have been described as ‘as channels for passionate pleas, [which] spotlights the disciple’s acute awareness of his total dependence … the directional nature of the verbs and prepositions involved, identifies his consuming burden -- he is in desperate need of Divine guidance’
In honor of Reformation Sunday (and what Martin Luther did on Oct. 31, 1517) I think it’s appropriate to quote the words of Luther, as his theology and attitude was very similar to this psalm: ‘your first duty is to begin to pray, and to pray to this effect that if it please God to accomplish something for His glory—not for yours or any other person’s—He may very graciously grant you a true understanding of His words. For no master of the divine words exists except the Author of these words, as He says: “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). You must, therefore, completely despair of your own industry and ability and rely solely on the [illuminating Holy] Spirit.’ And he pointed to Psalm 119:34-37
34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law …
35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments …
36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies …
37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me …
Luther: ‘completely despair of your own [faculties], for by these you will not attain the goal … Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God, through His dear Son, graciously to grant you His Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.’
As one biographer summarized Luther’s view: ‘All our study is futile without the work of God overcoming our blindness and hardheartedness. Luther and Augustine were one on this central issue of the Reformation. At the heart of Luther’s theology was a total dependence on the freedom of God’s [all-powerful] grace rescuing powerless man from the bondage of the will. Concerning free will Luther said, “Man has in his own power a freedom of the will to do or not to do external works, regulated by law and punishment [genuine choices made within his nature, but he cannot just change his nature by mere willpower] … On the other hand, man cannot by his own power purify his heart and bring forth godly gifts, such as true repentance of sins, a true, as over against an artificial, fear of God, true faith, sincere love, chastity.…”
In other words, the will is “free” to move our action, but beneath the will there is a bondage that can only be overcome by the free grace of God. Luther saw this bondage of the will as the root issue in the fight with Rome and regarded this one book of his—The Bondage of the Will—as his “best theological book, and the only one in that class worthy of publication.” … the powerlessness of man before God, not the indulgence controversy or purgatory, was the central question of the Christian faith. Man is powerless to justify himself, powerless to sanctify himself, powerless to study as he ought ...
This is why prayer is the root of Luther’s approach to studying God’s Word. Prayer is the echo of the freedom and sufficiency of God in the heart of powerless man … [these prayers in Ps 119 are] how we study, so that God gets the glory and we get the grace.
It starts with first humbly recognizing our natural inability and #1 Reading Gods Word with Utter Dependence on God as v. 33 shows
#2 Heeding God’s Word with the Whole Person (v. 34-37a)
Another word for heeding would be obeying / keeping / observing
33 … And I shall observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it [NIV obey] with all my heart.
35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments …
Praying in utter dependence is not trusting by being passive and inactive; true faith and prayer mobilizes action. We trust and obey. It’s not enough to be readers of the Word, or as James says, hearers of the Word only, we must be doers of the Word. Praying is essential and recognizes God’s sovereignty, but our responsibility is equally balanced in this passage.
It’s like Philippians 2:12-13 which commands our responsibility to “Work … For it is God who is at work within you both to will and to work His good pleasure.”
In Galatians 2:20 Paul says “The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God” but in the same verse he says “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” Which is it? The answer is yes/both
His philosophy wasn’t “let go and let God” – a better slogan is “get going and trust God”
In the grammar of v. 34ff, the purpose of these requests he prays for is that he may obey. Verse 34 prays for more understanding not for the sake of mere information, but for the sake of application, obeying or heeding God’s Word with the whole person.
I say “the whole person” because verses 34-37 unfold that way:
MIND - 34 Give me understanding
FEET - 35 Make me walk in the path
HEART - 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies
EYES - 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity
MIND – Our mind is important because we can’t apply what we don’t know. And we won’t pray the prayer of verse 34 if we don’t know what we don’t know. There’s really two types of people: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know that they don’t know.
One of the things I learned in Seminary quickly is how much I have to learn. You don’t learn so much, as you learn that you know so little, and need to constantly be learning more, and you learn how to learn, cultivating your mind and understanding.
The mind is important, because the greatest commandment, according to Jesus, includes loving the Lord with all our mind (as well as the heart, soul, strength; another way to communicate the whole person). We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2) .
FEET – one commentator explains verse 35 as meaning literally “Cause me to march (i.e., lead me) … in the pathway of Your commandments” [i.e.,] “a course or manner of life” with stress upon “men’s conduct or inward life-purpose.” In its present context, “the ‘path of thy commandments’ … is the conduct characterized by obedience to the revealed divine will.”
We need God’s Word before our feet to guide our paths. That’s why the very familiar verse 105 of this psalm says “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”
Verse 35 has the third Hebrew word (nathiv) employed in Psalm 119 for the concept of “way” or “path.” It refers to a visible path due to either a wake behind something in water (Job 41:24) or to the fact that it was a well-worn path (Job 18:10; Jer 6:16, “ancient paths”).
The word “path” is ‘from a root verb meaning “to tread” and therefore means “the trodden way,” not a new direction. In other words, it is a path because of the many who have gone before us. Hebert Lockyer speaks of “an accustomed trail, plain with the track of all the pious pilgrim’s feet of past times.” Jeremiah 6:16 was a verse that meant so much to the Puritans and others who have followed in their path: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it.
[On this note James Boice adds]: ‘We live in an age of constant innovations. Everything old is thought to be bad, and what is good is new. Even old are sold by giving them a new twist or look: “The New Ford Taurus” or “New Improved Efferdent.” We tend to think this way too, because of our cultural environment. The psalm reminds us that the Lord’s way is not a new or novel way but rather the old established way in which the people of God have walked from the very beginning of his dealings with the race.
In terms of the Christian life we are not innovators; we are imitators. We want to be like those who have gone before us and walk as they have walked. We want to be like Abraham and Moses and David and the apostle Paul and the Reformers and the Puritans and the giants of our own time. But we also remember that this is a narrow path and there are only a few who walk in it (Mt 7:13-14)’
HEART – In v. 36 he prays for the inclination of his heart toward God’s Word and away from improper gain or covetousness. Jay Adams translates the prayer as ‘bow my heart,’ explaining that ‘the heart may be full of ambition and covetousness. It needs to be broken of this willfulness and bow before the commandments of the Scripture that teach against gaining money unjustly … the concept of bowing is important in this context. One cannot serve two masters: God and Mammon (literally, one’s “pile” [of money]). It is a matter of worship, as Paul said, “Covetousness … is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Will you bow to the Word (in effect, by this, bowing to God) or to money?’
EYES – In verse 37 he similarly prays that God would turn his eyes away from vanity, literally “Make my eyes pass by from looking at what is worthless.” A great prayer along this line is Psalm 101:3 “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” It’s not only wicked things he doesn’t want to put in front of him, but even worthless things. I can’t help but think of TV in regards to this.
Isaiah 33:15 describes the godly man as one who “shuts his eyes from looking upon evil.” Our eyes are so important that Jesus said of those who lust or sin because of their eyes that it would be better for them to have an eye gouged out, a graphic statement about the seriousness of sin with our eyes, and how seriously we must take sin and how seriously we must spiritually fight it. The removal of cable TV or blocking your Internet or not going to places where your eyes might stumble is not too radical in light of Christ’s words – if our eye causes us to sin, we must take strong measures. We need to fix our eyes on the things of the Word, which are lasting, rather than the things of this world which are passing away. Again, it’s not only wickedness in view, but worthlessness.
‘Verse 37 occurs in Pilgrim’s Progress at a familiar point in the narrative when Christian and Faithful come to Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial City. Here all the merchandise of the world is for sale, but those who are on their way to the Celestial City do not fit in with these people, and when they are asked to stop and buy, they put their hands to their ears and run away crying, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity,” and look toward heaven to show where the business of their lives is … It is the Christian’s only wise response to the allurements of the world.’
On verse 37 Charles Bridges points out that ‘we must watch as well as pray. For as watchfulness without prayer is presumption, so prayer without watchfulness is self-delusion. To pray that "our eyes" may be "turned from vanity," without "making a covenant with our eyes" (Job 31:1), that they should not behold it, is like "taking fire in our bosoms," and expecting "not to be burnt" (Prov 6:27-28), because we have prayed that we might not be burnt. If we pray not to be "led into temptation," we must "watch that we enter not into it." (Comp. Matt 6:13; with 26:41.) The sincerity of our prayer will be proved by the watchfully avoiding the circumstances and occasions of temptation. The fear of sin will manifest itself by a fear of temptation to sin.’
‘Outlook determines outcome. Abraham looked for the heavenly city and ended well; Lot looked at Sodom and ended badly (Gen. 13; Heb. 11:8–16). What the heart loves and desires, the eyes will see (101:2–6; Num. 15:37–41; Jer. 22:17). To have one eye on the world and the other on the Word is to be double-minded, and God does not bless double-minded people (Jas 1:5–8).’ 
God blesses #1 Reading His Word in Utter Dependence (v. 33)
#2 Heeding His Word with the Whole Person (v. 34-37a)
#3 Pleading for More Life and Longing for the Word (37b-40)
v. 33-34 RENEW MY MIND
v. 35 REDIRECT MY STEPS
v. 36 REINVIGORATE MY HEART
v. 37 REFOCUS MY EYES
rest of text REVIVE MY LIFE
37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways …
40 Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.
I like the ESV translation “give me life.” His longing in verse 40 is also coupled with a prayer for life spiritually, more life, restored life, revived spiritual life. Those who long for God’s Word long for more and they pray for God’s life-giving reviving grace repeatedly.
In the middle of the two prayers for revival, we see his twofold fear. Verse 38 describes how he fears God and verse 39 speaks of how he fears reproach. He fear sin’s reproach and dreads its effect on his life and his fear of the LORD makes him reverence God’s Word more and pray more for God’s Word to be established in his life and produce more effects of godly fear in his life.
So how can we have more of a longing for God’s Word like the first half of verse 40 prays for? We need to pray like the rest of the verse and the rest of this psalm. And as we see in this last section, we need to be turning from sin.
v. 39 prays for God to turn away the reproach he dreaded
v. 36 prays for God to turn his heart away from sin
NKJV footnote says “incline” = cause me to long for. If we want to long for God’s Word we need to pray that God would cause our heart to long for God’s Word. Verse 35 mentioned his delight; we need to pray that God would grant us more delight in His Word.
Verse 37 prays for God to turn away his eyes from sinful vanity.
Notice the direction of this request in the language. The first half of the verse asks God to turn away my eyes, and the 2nd half of the verse asks for God’s ways to revive him. True repentance is not only turning away, it is following God’s ways, and that’s what we see in this prayer. If you’re a true Christian, you have turned away from your sin to the Savior, and you’re now walking the narrow way of Christ, following Him. As a believer this is not a one-time turning only, turning now is to be a way of life. And because we are still sinful human beings, we need to continually pray this way.
Verse 37 prays for God to take away distraction and give direction. Or in different words, the cure for vanity is vitality in God’s ways.
Verse 40 closes the section by summarizing the preceding prayers
40 Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.
Revived hearts do not see Bible reading as a bore or something they have to do. It’s a gracious gift they long for and get to read. Look at his longing in verse 29 “graciously grant me thy law”
“Grant me” is the same verb in Gen 33:5 where Jacob uses it in describing how God had graciously given him children. My wife Jaime and I just had that wonderful experience this past week as God graciously granted us another child, such a joy, such a gift. That’s the same way the writer of this psalm felt about God’s law.
Is this how we think of God’s law, as a gracious gift given by our Loving Father? We need to pray not only for God to graciously grant us His law, but to graciously grant us more of a love and longing for His Word like this Psalm speaks of, inclining our hearts to more longing for it. Revive us, O Lord, in Your Word!
20 My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.
The word “longing” is an intense hunger, or ‘emotional attachment to something [producing] a wanting or desiring of an object’
In the Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards we find words very similar to this psalm which actually reference this psalm after his conversion:
‘I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, where with my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the psalmist, Ps. 119 … My soul breaketh for the longing it hath. …
My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceedingly different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what then I had no more notion of, than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colours. They were of a more inward, pure, soul-animating, and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul-satisfying and life-giving good there is in them.’
Turn in closing to 1 Peter 2. Peter tells us that this strong and intense longing for God’s Word is not just something that was nice for the psalmist (“good for him”) this longing is actually commanded of all believers.
1 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB95) 1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation
Just like our psalm, verse 1 requires turning from sin if we will be growing, being disciplined in the Word while fighting the sinful desires that suck the spiritual life out of godly desires.
Also both presuppose one who has experienced salvation. But I can’t presuppose all of you are believers here. Examine yourselves to see if you’re in the faith. You can’t have this intense longing for Scripture for the right reasons as a non-believer. But if you do have a deep and strong hunger for the Bible because you want to grow, know God, love Him and others more, that’s one of the signs that you’ve been regenerated / born again by God. This kind of desire and growth is not something you can cook up on your own (interestingly “grow” in 2:2 is passive, i.e. “be caused to grow”). It’s part of God transforming your desires from the inside out.
If you haven’t experienced this transforming grace yet, I pray you will turn from your sins today and turn to the Savior in faith. You don’t just need your heart inclined, you need to pray for a new heart that will cause you to walk in the Lord’s ways instead of walking in the way that seems right to a man, but its end is death and eternal punishment in the lake of fire. Plead for God’s mercy, surrender with your whole person to Christ and His Lordship.
If you do already love the Lord and His Word, but need revival and rekindled longings for Him and His Word, plead with God for it. It’s only natural for a baby to cry out for the only thing that will satisfy them. Peter says in the same way babies desire milk, you must desire the Word.” Right while I was writing this part of my notes this week Jaime handed me a visual illustration of this as I got to feed our newborn son. We’re supposed to continually long for the Word with the same intensity that Adam longs for his milk.
You’re supposed to go to the Bible like a baby goes to the bottle. The verb “long for” is a powerful desire, the strongest possible craving. In the Greek OT that Peter and his readers would have used, this is the same word translated in Ps 42:1 “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.” This is a breathless, panting, a passionate earnest hunger and desire. We need to read, heed (obey), and plead for more longing for God and His Word.
My dear Lord, I can but tell Thee that Thou knowest I long for nothing but Thyself, nothing but holiness, nothing but union with Thy will. Thou hast given me these desires, and thou alone canst give me the thing desired. My soul longs for communion with Thee, for mortification of indwelling corruption, especially spiritual pride. How precious it is to have a tender sense and clear apprehension of the mystery of godliness, of true holiness! What a blessedness to be like Thee as much as it is possible for a creature to be like its creator! Lord, give me more of Thy likeness; enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness; engage me to live more for Thee. Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences, and when I feel at ease after sweet communings, teach me it is far too little I know and do. Blessed Lord, let me climb up near to Thee, and love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with Thee, and pant for deliverance from the body of sin, for my heart is wandering and lifeless, and my soul mourns to think it should ever lose sight of its beloved. Wrap my life in divine love, and keep me ever desiring Thee, always humble and resigned to Thy will, more fixed on Thyself, that I may be more fitted for doing and-suffering.
 John Owen, “The Causes, Ways, and Means of Understanding the Mind of God as Revealed in His Word, with Assurance Therein,” The Works of John Owen, Vol. 4, p. 129, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Penn.
 Geroge Zemek, The Word of God in the Child of God, 134
 Plass, What Luther Says, vol. 1, p. 77.
 Luther’s Works, vol. 3, p. 1359.
 John Piper. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy : God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Originally published: Wheaton, Ill. : Crossway Books, 2000. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, p. 106; citing Luther’s Works, 40:301, and Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, p. 167.
 Zemek, 137.
 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, 3:994.
 Jay Adams, Counsel from Psalm 119, p. 31-32.
 Boice, 3:994
 Charles Bridges, Psalm 119, 90.
 Wiersbe, Warren. Be Exultant. Colorado Springs, Colo., 2004: Cook Communications Ministries, p. 113.
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (DBLH 9289). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Jonathan Edwards. The Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards (13). Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group.
 “Longings After God,” Valley of Vision.