We often pray for a variety of things. We’ll pray for a good job opportunity, healing in a health situation, or for wise guidance. A lot of times, we’ll even pray these requests for others. As important as these petitions are, they all have something in common—they are all external to ourselves. It’s easy to see our need for God with these matters, but what about those things inside us?
As the Psalmist closes out Psalm 119, he drives home several of the requests he’s already mentioned. For instance, consider verse 169 where he cries out, “Give me understanding according to Your word.” He prays, “Let my soul live that it may praise You” (v. 175a). He pleads, “Let Your ordinances help me” (v. 175b). These all deal with the need for spiritual growth, and the Psalmist is dependent on the Lord even in these matters.
The final verse, however, drives this point home in a unique way. The Psalmist says:
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176).
This verse appears somewhat puzzling. After all, it almost sounds as if the Psalmist sits back and passively waits for God to change him. That’s not what he’s saying, though. Rather, he is confessing his wrongdoing and acknowledging his need for God’s grace even in repentance. He knew he couldn’t fully be restored to a right relationship with the Lord by his own efforts. He had turned from sin, but he needed God to restore Him fully.
This may sound a little unusual, but David also acknowledged this truth in his prayer of confession after he committed adultery. Consider a few of the specific petitions he offers:
“Purify me with hyssop” (Psalm 51:7)
“Blot out all my iniquities” (v. 9)
“Create in me a clean heart” (v. 10)
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (v. 12)
With each of these requests, David depended on the Lord. Absolutely, David had already repented and confessed his sin (vv. 1-4). He earnestly desired a restored relationship with God, but David couldn’t bring that about on his own (v. 16). Thus, he begged the Lord to restore him.
Of course, we know the Lord restored David, and Psalm 119 points to an answer to the Psalmist’s prayer for spiritual growth. Remember, he prayed for “understanding” in verse 169. Just two verses later, he expresses a desire to offer praise “for You teach me Your statutes” (v. 171). God is in a covenant relationship with His people, and He’s going to finish what He started (Philippians 1:6). He’s never going to cast us out. He will grow us and conform us to Christ’s image, and while we strive to live out our sanctification, we must depend on God to accomplish His work.
All too often, we can believe growth will come if we only read the Bible more…if we only read another book…if we only go to another conference…if we only—fill in the blank. Are any of those activities wrong? No, not at all. Yet they are a false hope for true growth in Christ because relying only upon them is relying upon man’s efforts. As we strive to follow our Savior, we need God to do a work in us. We are dependent upon Him even for our spiritual growth, and as we look to Christ, God will conform us to the image of Jesus. He won’t leave His work half done. He will finish what He started and present us to His Son as part of Christ’s glorious bride.