Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:37
This is a prayer that occasionally catches my eye, and I pray will now permanently capture my heart. It deserves far more than an occasional glance. This prayer gets to the root sin issues of my heart, of mankind’s hearts, and shows the way to be free.
Consider this prayer with me, and may it become the heartbeat of our prayers.
Let’s begin with the word “worthless.” According to Strong’s this word can mean emptiness or vanity (Strongs. H7723). It can be translated as “falsehood” or “lies” (Psalm 12:2). The Psalmist is asking God to turn his eyes from looking at things that are empty, deceptive, or false. When we think about it, lies are empty. They have no backing. The one who trusts in a lie will be sorely disappointed. No matter how strongly one believes a lie, the lie will prove to be empty.
The Psalmist understands his natural tendency to look at worthless things. He is already looking at worthless things. The eye of his heart is looking to emptiness, vanity, and lies. That is the natural tendency of his heart. It is also the natural tendency of our hearts. Mankind naturally finds hope in lies. This is an elementary part of our sinful nature. This is exactly what happened to our first parents, Adam and Eve. They believed the lies of Satan and rejected God’s truth (Genesis 2-3). We are blinded by the father of lies from birth (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4). It is only by the work of God’s grace that we are brought to life and can look to Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Even after we are turned to Jesus Christ, we have a constant temptation to look to lies rather than the truth. We are surrounded by lies. The media, social media, advertising, our families, our neighbors, and our own hearts are full of lies. We are constantly tempted and naturally inclined to look at and believe those lies. That is what happens every time we sin. We believe the lies of our hearts that sin brings satisfaction and fulfillment, but in reality it brings death (James 1:13-15).
What are some of the worthless things we are inclined to look to and believe:
- Political leaders and parties are the answer to our needs.
- Finances are our security and answers to our needs (consider Psalm 119:36).
- That we are able to work in our own strength.
- That sex, power, friendships, food, etc. are the source of ultimate fulfillment.
- That we are good.
- That we are our own saviors.
This list could continue for a very long time. Every sin and wrong idea about God that we believe is an empty deception. However, I will close this list with one that is an easy trap for Christians to fall into…
- That we can transform ourselves in godliness.
That is a lie that the Psalmist does not fall for in this Psalm. He, like us all, no doubt fell into that lie in his life, but here he has rejected that lie by God’s grace.
Just as the Psalmist understands his natural tendency to look at empty lies, he also understands his need for Divine intervention. He needs the Lord to intervene. He does not say, “I am now turning from empty lies to find life in my own ways.” He also doesn’t say, “I am now turning from empty lies to find life in God’s ways.” He can’t turn his sinful heart from the lies, and his own way would bring death. Instead, he prays, “You, Lord, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things! You, Lord, give me life in Your ways.”
There is a need for God to interrupt the Psalmist’s gaze at emptiness and to cause Him to turn. The word “turn” has the idea of a “crossover.” It is used to speak of crossing over the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2, 11). There is a crossing from one side to another. There is a switch of sides. The Psalmist is praying for God to turn his eyes from empty lies to God’s ways.
Hear the Psalmist’s cry, “Lord, cross me over from empty deception to Your ways. Cross me over to You from vain lies. I cannot switch to Your ways on my own! Transform the eyes of my heart to recognize the deception I am looking at and to see it as an evil, ugly, worthless lie. Then, Lord, switch my heart-eyes to gaze on Your beauty!”
Turn my eyes to Your ways. I would say by context, we are speaking of a turn to God’s Word. In Psalm 119:36 the Psalmist asks the Lord to incline (bend) his heart to the Lord’s testimonies and not to selfish gain. The Psalmist desires his heart to be directed toward the Lord’s testimonies, to His Word. He knows that only God can do that work. So, He goes to the Lord and begs the Lord to turn his heart.
However, we must look at the motive behind this. The Psalmist is not turning to the testimonies of God and God’s ways as an end in itself. He does not just want to know information. He does not just want to know what is good and right to do. He desires to know the One who is good and right. His desire is to come to the testimonies of God to come to God. He desires to know God.
The Bible is not a book that is an end in itself. It is God’s Word. It is God’s message about Himself. It is God’s message about who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do. It is God’s message about God. He has given us that message for us to know Him. The central purpose of God’s ways is to point us to the Way, the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:26-27, 44-45). The whole of Scripture points us to the Lord Jesus Christ who is God come as a man to die in our place for our sins, who has risen again, who has returned to the Father, who is reigning at the Father’s right hand, and who is coming again. The way of the Word is the means through which we come to the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). So, the Psalmist asks the Lord to supernaturally intervene and turn his eyes from the empty lies that he is naturally prone to believe. He asks the Lord to give him life in His ways, because the Lord’s Word is the way to the Lord. The Lord Jesus is eternal life (1 John 1:2).
Lest we make the mistake of making this a character study of just looking at what the Psalmist is doing, I must remind us that our natural tendency and need for supernatural intervention is the same. We are prone to look at empty deceit. We are drawn away by our own sinful desires to believe these lies and live for them. We are in absolute need of Jesus Christ to turn our hearts from the lies we so easily embrace. We need Jesus to turn our hearts to Himself through His Word.
So, Lord Jesus, we ask that You make us aware of our need for You. Continually remind our sinful hearts that we cannot transform ourselves. Lord, by Your Spirit, cross us over from looking at and believing the empty lies we are so naturally prone to believe. We ask that You turn us to Your Word as the means of gazing on Your beauty in worship. In this, King Jesus, may You receive all glory for Your transforming work. Amen.
Note: This is an edited version of a devotional prepared for First Baptist Church of Ticonderoga, NY prior to our annual business meeting.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.