Law and Prayer, a meditation on Psalm 119

Most prayer books include regular readings of Jesus’ Greatest Commandment to love God and love neighbor. This command has been a regular part of personal and corporate prayer and worship for centuries throughout the history of the Church. But, modern concepts of prayer ask us – why include this command (or any “law”) in a prayer book? What does meditation on the Law, the commands of God, have to do with prayer?

To answer that question I turned to Psalm 119, one of the most robust passages on the goodness of the Law in the Bible. Since Psalm 119 is also a prayer, in that it is addressed to God, I thought it would be an ideal spot to find the answer.

From Psalm 119, we learn that meditating on the commands of God in prayer…

  • Leads us to plead for personal holiness (5-6, 10-11, 18, 29, 133)
  • ….especially, perseverance in holiness (33-37, 112)
  • Leads us to ask for mercy (8, 132, 176)
  • Causes us to rejoice and delight in God (12-16, 171-172) and His law (23)
  • Leads us to ask for understanding (27, 66, 169) in order to deepen our meditation
  • Causes us to be bold and confident in our obedience, especially in the face of evil men (30-32, 84-88, 109)
  • Causes us to look longingly for salvation (41, 81, 174)
  • Leads us to rejoice in God’s freedom (45)
  • Helps us receive comfort (52)
  • Causes us to thank God that He Himself is our portion (57)
  • Reminds us of the goodness of God (68, 137)
  • Puts our suffering in context (71, 75)
  • Reminds us of what is truly valuable (72)
  • Reminds us of God’s faithfulness to all generations (89-91, 152)
  • Makes us wise beyond our years (98-100, 104)
  • Increases our zeal and love (113, 119, 126-128, 139)
  • Helps us put our hope in the right spot (114)
  • Builds within us a fear of the Lord (12)
  • Helps us as we call for justice (153-154)

It can be tempting to view commands and relationship in opposition. Since we value (rightly) a “relationship with God” so highly we can sometimes downplay the importance of meditating on God’s commands, especially in prayer. For the Psalmist, however, it is clear that his love for the law and his love for God were nearly inseparable. I am thankful both to the Psalmist, and to the historical tradition of the Church, for balancing my own understanding in this regard.