In our series looking at living according to God’s ways, we looked at four verses from Psalm 119 which can guide our prayers in 2024, as the psalmist prayed for God:

  1. to preserve his life according to God’s word (Ps 119:25, 28, 107)
  2. to strengthen him according to God’s word (Ps 119:28)
  3. to do good to him according to God’s word (Ps 119:65)
  4. to direct his footsteps according to God’s word (Ps 119:133)

All of us need these things if we are to live under God’s blessing. Ps 67 makes it plain that God is the God who blesses us; Jesus taught us that we are to come to God honestly and ask for all we need in life, promising that all who ask will receive (see Matt 7:7-11).

To be preserved is not to be kept like a jam or pickled like onions to keep us going! To preserve means to keep alive; in some versions of the Bible, these verses are translated ‘quicken’ to convey the idea of the word, ‘to revive, keep alive, nourish, preserve, save, be whole.’ The psalmist recognises that God is the source of life. Life comes from Him; He gives us the breath to breathe, and we are sustained by His powerful word. (Heb 1:3) The psalmist has known adversity (‘I have suffered much’) and what it is to feel desperate (‘I am laid low in the dust’), but he also knows that God is breathing life into him and therefore he has hope. He knows that there is more to life than ‘worthless things’, than material things which don’t last. He longs for eternal truths and comfort, something which will last or endure. All of us need purpose and eternal truth in our lives.

All of us need strength too! To be strengthened according to God’s word means we receive strength from God. Joel says, ‘Let the weakling say, “I am strong!”’ (Joel 3:10) This is not simply wishful thinking or positive speaking, but it is a case of aligning ourselves with God’s word rather than our own feelings. We have to speak out His word over and above how we feel. The psalmist admits to the sorrow he feels, but looks to God for strength. The weakling says ‘I am strong’ not because of his own strength, but because of God’s, and this is what we too must learn to do. God will never ask us to do more than He will give us the strength to do, and so we can be confident that He will strengthen us according to His word. (Phil 4:13, Isaiah 35:3-4)

God’s goodness is at the heart of our faith (see Ps 119:68), therefore we pray, ‘Do good to me according to Your word.’ (Ps 119:65) We may not always understand God’s goodness when difficulties and trials come our way, but the life of Joseph reminds us that God is always working for good even in those times (see Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28). We have a good God who does not withhold good things from His children: ‘Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ (Ps 37:4)

The final blessing the psalmist asks for is direction: ‘Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.’ (Ps 119:133) Life is so much better when we are going God’s way! Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6), and we need God’s direction and guidance in our lives. It’s the only way to avoid pitfalls, snares and keep going in the right direction. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13); Ps 23:3 says, ‘He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.’

Learning to be led by the Spirit is not always easy (see Rom 8:14, John 10), but just as we have to trust a map or a SatNav to lead us to our destinations, so we must trust God to lead and direct us, opening the right doors for us and closing those which would not be good for us. (Rev 3:7) Our destination is to be conformed into the image of Christ, to be shaped into His image. (Rom 8:29) Everything which happens to us in life is designed to help us reach this goal.