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God's Good Word & Your Heart | Psalm 119:25-32

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

God uses his good Word to...

1) Explain your heart (25-26).

2) Direct your heart (27).

3) Sustain your heart (28-29).

4) Change your heart (30-32).

God’s Good Word and Your Heart

Psalm 119:25-32

February 18, 2024

In his book, What’s Wrong with the World, GK Chesterton wrote that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” Indeed, embracing Christ and entering into the way of Christ, called Christianity, is not for the faint of heart. Consider these words from Jesus,

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:52-53).

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-27)

And that is just a few instances from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus depicts following him as difficult, akin to dying and giving up all other loves. 

But what makes anything difficult? Desire. Jacob worked 7 years for Rachel and they seemed but a few days because of his love for her. 7 years of labor seemed like nothing because he desired her so much. Waiting 7 years wasn’t hard; not having her as his wife was hard. 

Psalm 119 poses this problem of desire before us. In verse 25, we see that the Psalmist is clinging to the dust—that is, the things of this world and death. In Scripture, dust is an image of death, for from the dust of the earth man was made by God, and in death, to dust man returns (Genesis 3:19). By cleaving to the things of the world, the Psalmist knows that he is cleaving to death. Yet he also knows that God’s good word can lead to different desires, better desires that lead to life eternal. But his whole person is getting in the way of these promises of life. That’s what the terms “soul” and “heart” refer to throughout this psalm. In Scripture, the terms “soul” and “heart” refer to the inner man, all that you are. The soul doesn’t just refer to the immaterial part of you, though it is that; and the heart doesn’t just refer to an organ in your chest, though it is that. In scripture, heart and soul refer also to the center of your consciousness, will, and desires. It refers to you and your most “you.” 

If you do not recall, Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms. The main message of this Psalm is that God’s commands—his words, precepts, testimony, statutes, commandments, law, judgment, and all that he says—display his goodness and love; they provide what is needed for man. Psalm 119, like the other Psalms, is a poem. It contains 22 eight-stanza verses, which move through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first line in each stanza begins with its respective letter, meaning that verses 25-32 all begin with the letter Dalet in Hebrew. This device is meant to show that God’s words provide all that you need, and verses 25-32 do not deviate from this plan of showing us that our needs are provided by God’s good word. 

In Psalm 119:25-32, we see that God himself is the one who can change your desires. He does not do so through an instantaneous transformation. Rather, he uses his good word to explain, direct, sustain, and change your heart. Let me show you what I mean. 

God’s Good Word…

Explains Your Heart (25-26)

The psalmist lays out his main problem and where he needs help at the beginning of verse 25. His soul, the inner real man, is in the grip of death, but he knows that God’s word can give him life—this is what he cries out for. God’s word describes what good and true life is, and the Psalmist writes that he wants it. He believes the words of Psalm 16:11 that say, “You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. He knows this because, as he says in verse 26, when he told his ways to God, God explained him to himself. That is to say, the word made sense of his pains, his longings, and his desires. In gaining a deeper understanding of himself, this only led him to desire the word of God more. 

Have you ever experienced this? Someone or something is able to explain you to yourself? That someone or something knows things about you and you don’t know how? 

Jesus, the word made flesh, exhibits this incredible ability to know people in ways that shock the individual to whom he speaks. Consider the woman at the well—she runs away screaming that Jesus has told her everything about her—but not only has he told her about her past, but he even saw her true desires and the futility of her ways to actually get what she wanted by her worldly way of living. 

Or consider the rich man in Matthew 19. He came to Jesus, but Jesus was able to perceive his true need. He didn’t need direction, he needed to be exposed—explained even to himself that he was not actually good. 

Or consider Peter, saying that if he had to die with Jesus then he would, but Jesus looks at him and says that before the sun rises Peter will deny him 3 times. This seemed impossible to Peter, but Jesus knew him. 

“But Jesus is God in the flesh!” Yes, he is. While the Bible is not divine, it is the divine speech of God—“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16), and “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God knows you better than you know yourself, and in his word, he can explain you to yourself. 

Look Into the Word to See Your Own Heart

So look into the word. But you must keep looking, and there are many reasons why you may not look. 

“The Bible is hard,” you may say. But living in the dust of death is harder. You need to cultivate habits of holiness that put you in his word. You are being formed and explained by something. All human beings are interpreters and storytellers. You hunger to interpret your life and make a cohesive story out of it—and you should. But you are grabbing resources to help you interpret and tell this story. Pray to tell: what are these sources? Think back on this week: what did you invite into your life to shape the way you think? Facebook? TikTok? Movies? TV? 

“I’m afraid of what I will find,” you may say. In other words, “I won’t like what I see.” This is partially true. When you rightly see yourself in God’s word, you will see your sin. Pride and real engagement with the word of God do not go well together. Real engagement with God’s word shatters pride because it shows you who you really are. So the proud like to avoid it—which means we all like to avoid it. But Scripture does not just shatter your pride and leave you low—it anchors you in Christ. Pride is believing that existence is about you; Scripture shatters your pride but then leads you to delight in Christ, the one for whom existence is all about. If we are resolute in our pride, then we think Scripture simply makes us low and leaves us in the depths (but that is to continue to focus on yourself). The focus of Scripture is not you, it is Christ. So if you stay in God’s word you are not left low, you are raised up. 

So look into God’s good word, see your sin, but also see hope in Christ. This is what the psalmist does when, in his lowness, he calls out “Give me life according to your word” Scripture promises life and it is full and abundant life in Christ. 

Directs Your Heart (27)

But understanding Scripture is not easy. This is not a pre-teen novel that you can consume and plumb the depths of in 15 minutes. Get this: the depths of the mystery and wonder of Scripture have not been exhausted even though people have been reading, preaching, discussing, and writing on the content of Scripture for THOUSANDS of years. Even as we begin to see ourselves and understand ourselves through reading God’s word, we need him to give us understanding in order to go deeper in his word. This is what the psalmist cries for in verse 27, “Make me understand the way of your precepts.” He is looking for the path that he should walk—“the way” in which God’s word directs him to go. This isn’t looking in Scripture to answer the question, “Should I marry this person or that person?” “Should I be an engineer or a salesman?” But the word does offer an understanding of how you are to live in a way that glorifies God and thus satisfies your heart—because you were made to find your joy in living for his glory. 

Two Notes on Listening for Direction

This means two things for us.

First, Scripture is not a personal academic endeavor. When you read Scripture you hear the voice of God. Do you want his voice in your life? Then listen, but prayerfully listen. Acknowledge your shortcomings in understanding and cry out for his direction. This direction won’t oppose the word—if it does, that’s a key that it isn’t his direction. It is either indigestion or your indiscretion, but surely it isn’t something that can be attributed to his inspiration. 

Second, getting understanding is not something that leads us away from God and his word, but something that leads us into deeper enjoyment of God and his word. What does the Psalmist say he will do once he has this understanding? “I will meditate on your wondrous works.” In short, you receive direction on how to commune with God during all of your life, living before him wondering of his great works in Christ Jesus for you as you work, spend time with family, rest, and all else. 

So you should listen. When you read the Bible, ask God to give you understanding and direction through what you read. This is a time of communion. 

Sustains Your Heart (28-29)

In steeping yourself in God’s word, there are two major, potentially devastating, hurdles to overcome. But you yourself cannot overcome them. You need God to sustain you. These are the hurdles of sorrow and sin.

The Hurdle of Sorrow

The Psalmist cries out in verse 28 that his soul is melting away because of sorrow. The troubles of life are heavy on him. The idea of melting is that the sorrow is so intense that he feels like he is being undone. Have you ever felt that way? Sadness so intense that you feel as if you are coming apart at your seams? Dread so real that you cannot sleep and you feel like you will disappear like a vapor on a warm day? And some well-meaning soul, maybe me, says to you, “Have you spent time in with the Lord in word and prayer? And that question seems like a slap in the face because right now it feels like you are struggling just to breathe. If that is you, then your cry needs to be like the Psalmists cry, “Strengthen me according to your word!” In his word, God promises strength to those who belong to him. Listen to these promises

Psalm 18:1, “I love you, O LORD, my strength…,” verse 32, “The God who equipped me with strength…,” verse 39, “For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me.” 

Psalm 28: 7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped.” Verse 8, “The LORD is the strength of his people."

To be strong in the Lord doesn’t mean that you suddenly feel like you are strong and indestructible. You don’t turn into Hercules or Superman in your ability to lift up things. You still feel weak, but he provides the necessary strength for you to endure. You still feel needy, but he provides everything that you need. One of our problems is not that we lack provision or strength; we lack humility. We want to be strong by ourselves. We want to provide by ourselves. And we want to do this because we are hungry for our own glory. But such a pursuit leads to death, so why would God give that to you? You do not have this glory and you cannot have this glory—you just aren’t that great! But God and he promises to sustain you. He does not grow weary and his provision does not dry up. 

The Hurdle of Sin

Not only does he sustain in sorrow, but he also sustains in sin, look at verse 29…”Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!” When you come to Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are made into a new creation, but there is still indwelling sin. And the fight against sin is not something that you do in your own strength. It is Christ in you. 

Consider Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Take a moment to dwell on those words. You can only work out what God has placed in you. You can work because he is at work; you can will because his desire and will are at work in you."

What the psalmist is communicating here is what we need to do: He asks God to keep him from looking into and believing lies BY giving him instruction for life in his words. He is asking the Lord to do two things that are complimentary and must go together: “Help me put off the old and put on the new.” 

Here’s the upshot of all of this: you can’t overcome sin and sorrow on your own. You need the Lord and he gives himself to you in a real way through his word. Going to his word in order to address your weakness and your sin is trusting his strength and his grace. 

So trust him to sustain you by looking at his word and listening to his instruction.

Changes Your Heart (30-32)

In the climax of this section, we see that the Psalmist has made a decision. And this is the decision that everyone must make. Verse 30, “I have chosen the way of faithfulness.” How does he make this choice? By setting God’s rules before his eyes. The way that he chooses faithfulness is by making God’s rules the map for his life. This is reiterated in verse 31. Instead of clinging to dust, as he was in verse 25, now he clings to the LORD’s testimonies. He is clinging so tightly to God’s commands as his way of life, that he now holds nothing else. This is why he says in the second half of verse 31, “Let me not be put to shame.” Put differently, he is saying, “I cling to your words and nothing else, so if they fail me, I will be ruined.” Like a man jumping out of an airplane trusts his parachute with his life, so this man is now trusting God’s word with his eternal soul. That’s biblical faith: relying on nothing else. 

Have you done this? Have you thrown out all of the backup plans? Are you relying on Jesus in such a way that if he fails you, your response would be “I am ruined!” 

Even though the Psalmist is sure of God, he is not sure of himself. He knows that God is able, but he also knows that by himself, he isn’t. Simply having faith does nothing for him if God does nothing with his faith. This is expressed in verse 32, when the Psalmist says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.” He is saying that God’s commandments are good, but he still recognizes his weakness in obeying them. So he cries out for God to enlarge his heart—which is a way of asking God to give him a greater desire for God himself and an understanding of God’s ways. It is only by this work on the heart that his desires, his will, can change and thus transform what was hard—something he had to walk in—into something easy—something he can run in. 

Our Problem

You share the same problem with the Psalmist. The problem we have is our hearts. It is not the goodness of God that is a problem; it is not the goodness of his commands that is a problem. It is our own twisted hearts, desires, and motivations. Imagine a tight rope 100 feet off the ground. On the other side, riches that are beyond compare. You are told that if you can touch the treasure, it is yours. But you look at the tightrope and are filled with fear and dread. How can you get across this? If only that tightrope could become a boardwalk! 

Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ then God can change your heart and change his commands from seeming like a burden to being a joy. I am not saying you will be perfect, but I am saying that you will be changed. This is the promise of the New Covenant that comes in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are forgiven, but the law is also written on our hearts—meaning that our hearts are being conformed to his very word; our desires are being changed to conform to his very word—our desires our being conformed to his desires. 

Here’s what this means for you: if you do not know Christ, you need to come to him, confess your sins, and trust in him alone for salvation. This means looking at Jesus as he is and receiving him as Lord.

If you are in Christ, then you need to plead with him to conform your heart to his. You are completely forgiven in Christ, and that happens in a moment, but you are also being transformed in Christ, and that will take your whole life and, ultimately, resurrection into a glorified body. 

To Whom Will You Give Your Heart? 

I began with Chesterton, so let me check off CS Lewis as I close. In his essay The Weight of Glory, Lewis addresses the claim that our desires are too strong and thus keep us from God. He posits that the exact opposite by writing,

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

How about you? Are you too easily pleased with sin that you are missing out on the glorious joy of communion with God in his word? Are you too easily pleased by idleness and entertainment to grasp the breathtaking promises of Scripture upon which you can build your eternal life? 

The problem is not the Bible and the problem is not Christ. It is your heart—it is your very self. So give yourself to him in faith, maybe for the first time or anew today. He will change you and transform you as you commune with him in his word. 


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