Remember the word unto thy servant,
Upon which thou hast caused me to hope (Psa 119.49).
Many people pray for many things without any rational justification for it. They seem to think that it is just God’s job to give them whatever they want, because that is just the way God is. To them He is their personal genie in the bottle, with the exception that they don’t have to stop with three wishes. If they think at all about why God should grant their requests, most likely they would insist that they have been pretty good—not perfect, mind you, but good enough that God owes it to them. We might call this “Santa Claus theology,” and it dishonors God and grossly flatters its adherents. God is not a genie or Santa Clause. He does not owe sinners anything except condemnation and punishment. If people who think otherwise ask God for things and then receive them, it is only to harden them in their sins if they are among the reprobate, or to lead them to repentance, if they are one of His elect.
So speaking biblically, why should God answer anyone’s prayers? On what grounds can we appeal to Him without offending His perfect holiness? Scripture offers many answers to these questions, but our text tonight sets forth three basic ones. The psalmist appeals along three lines: relationship, promise, and gift.
HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU
The writer is self-described as “thy servant,” a servant of the Lord God of Israel. The Hebrew noun means the slave of a master and the subject of a king. In a religious context it means worshipers of God, those who believe Him and faithfully do His will. The OT uses it of good angels and of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Job, David, Hezekiah—all famous for their dedication to God. The Lord had chosen them, redeemed them, and entered into the bonds of covenantal love with them. They were separate from the world and consecrated to divine service. They were God’s dutiful slaves and loyal subjects.
Indeed, David is the one who made the petition of our text as the human author of Psalm 119. David had a long track record of faith and obedience to God, from being a loyal son to Jesse shepherding his father’s sheep, to being a fearless warrior slaying the giant Goliath in zeal for God’s honor, to being a godly king leading all Israel back to the pure worship of God. Now David could say in truth with a clear conscience to the Lord, “I am Thy servant. I own Thee as my Master and Lord and King.”
With this relationship in place, there is nothing more reasonable than that such a man should make his petition to God. Would the God who saved David, called David into holy service, and gave him all the needed inclination and wisdom and might to carry out that service, now have a cold heart toward one of His loyal sons and servants? It is unthinkable!
Immediately the carnal heart jumps from the reality of this relationship to the conclusion that God did owe David answers to his prayers, but that is not so. David realized, like all saints, that even a perfect life of service to God is non-meritorious for those who were born in sin and deserved His wrath. Serving God is our privilege and gift, besides our duty. “When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17.10). God never owes us any thanks because we cannot possibly add anything to Him that He didn’t already have! He does not need our help (Psa 50.12).
What then is the significance for prayer of this relationship with God that only real Christians have? It is that God has already owned us and shown us great kindness. He has made us not only His servants, but His friends, and His adopted sons. Will not our Master, our Friend, and our Father be pleased to hear us when we call upon Him? How could anyone, while still a rebel against God, an enemy of God, and a child of the devil, dare to ask God for favors? See Ezek 14.1-3; 20.31. The only proper prayer request from an unbeliever is, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18.13)!
But those in a saving relationship with God, who have submitted to His Lordship and are living in obedience to His commands, are invited to let their requests in everything be made known unto God by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (Phil 4.6). Our heavenly Father will surely give the Holy Spirit and every other blessing to His dear children who ask (Luke 11.13). This is a benefit of the relationship we have with Him.
HIS PROMISE TO YOU
“Remember the word to thy servant,” David prayed. As in most all the verses of Psalm 119, he refers to Scripture. “The word” is “the word You spoke,” that is, God’s Word.
It should seem a theological curiosity that this godly man calls upon God to remember anything. Does not the Omniscient know all things? Certainly! Could He possibly have forgotten what He said? No, of course not. Then how can David call upon God to remember His Word?
This is a figure of speech addressing God as if He were human, with the full realization that He is not. The psalmist was not enjoying the full extent and the consummation of all the promises God had made to him. It was as if God had forgotten about His promises, and David is reminding Him of them, with a desire to receive their blessings. When God would finally grant David’s petition, it would be as if God remembered what He had promised.
For good and wise reasons, God gives grace to His saints gradually through this life. This tends more to His glory and their ultimate good. The Lord wants to be petitioned by His people for the very things He has already promised us. God promised to restore Israel after her Babylonian exile, and assured Him that He would certainly do this, and then He said to the remnant through His prophet Ezekiel, “I will yet be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock” (Ezek 36.37; cf. 36.33-35).
While this is counter-intuitive to us, the Lord wants us to ask for all the things, and only for the things, that He has already promised us. Then, on the basis of His Word, we can expect a favorable answer. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5.14-15). There is no possible blessing that has been left outside the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor 1.20).
So besides the spiritual relationship Christian believers have with God, we also can expect Him to grant our petitions because we only ask for things He has already promised to give. And His Word of promise to have mercy on truly humbled sinners through Christ, that is, the gospel, is the very reason why they may and should ask Him for mercy.
HIS GIFT OF HOPE IN YOU
“Upon which thou hast caused me to hope.” David “reminds” God not only of His promise, but also of His gift of hope now found in David’s soul.
Real faith (believing God now) and hope (believing God for the future) are not inherent virtues we have as believers, but the evidences of God’s working in our hearts by His Word and Spirit. “To you it is given in the behalf of Christ . . . to believe on him” (Phil 1.29). When we were without Christ, outside the true church, strangers from the covenants of promise, and without God in the world, we had no hope, but now in Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2.12-13), and have been granted hope through the Word (Rom 15.4).
Now the very presence of this hope in our hearts, our faith in “future grace” (Piper), is another powerful reason to believe that God will answer our prayers! Can anyone possibly imagine that God would fill His children with hope, only to dash our hopes to the ground and leave us disappointed? What kind of earthly father would promise and persuade his toddler son or daughter a trip to Disney World without any intention to make good on it? Only a cruel, deceitful, wicked father! Our God is not that way at all!
Hope in the promise will keep the head from aching and the heart from breaking. It will keep both head and heart from sinking and drowning. Hope exercised upon the promise brings heaven down to the heart. The promises are the ladder by which hope gets up to heaven. Hope in the promise will not only keep life and soul together, but will also keep the soul and glory together. Hope in the promise will support distressed souls. Hope in the promise will settle perplexed souls. Hope in the promise will comfort dejected souls. Hope in the promise will bring back wandering souls. Hope in the promise will confirm staggering souls. Hope in the promise will save undone souls. The promise is the same to hope as hope is to the soul. The promise is the anchor of hope as hope is the anchor of the soul. Look, what a mother’s breasts are to the child, and oil is to the lamp, so are the promises to hope. Hope lives and thrives as it feeds upon the promises, as it embraces the promises. The promises are the candies of heaven, upon which hope lives. And every degree of hope brings a degree of joy into the soul, which makes it cry out, Heaven, heaven!
So, why should God answer the Christian’s prayers? We are His servants. We only ask what He promised. And He Himself has caused us to hope for the answers. That’s why! He “will not say thee nay.”
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