There are probably many times that you have read the Bible and it has seemed lifeless. You know the spiritual reason for this – the Bible isn’t lifeless; you are. It’s not the Bible that is the problem; it’s me. The Bible remains God’s Word and the Spirit speaks through it whatever I am feeling. To change the picture, the sun shines each day, whether I can see or not. Someone who is blind may never have seen the sun, but that person’s lack of sight does not mean the sun is not still shining. The problem is with their eyesight.
But knowing that is not always helpful from a spiritual point of view. Ok, the Bible feels dead and the problem is with me, but now what? I can’t just summon up the will to bring the text to life again. True. That’s where this prayer comes in useful: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
This prayer begins with us recognising that we need God’s help to see what is beautiful in his word and asking him to show us, and there are several ways in which this needs to happen. First, our attention needs to turn from the other things that distract us. We all know how hard it is to see how good something is if we have something else in view. For instance, the benefits of a healthy diet are hard to appreciate if you have been brought up on junk food. In spiritual terms we are taken up with junk which seems more exciting and pleasurable, so to start with we need God to take our minds off that. “Open my eyes…” to the emptiness of the things that captivate me at present and help me put them aside.
Secondly, more than just showing how bad something is, we often need someone to explain how good the alternative really is. In our ignorance we often fail to understand the alternative’s real qualities. A few years ago my wife and I were visiting friends in Chicago so we took the opportunity to visit the Art Institute of Chicago where, among other things, we stumbled on an exhibition of Matisse’s work. We wandered around that section of the gallery for 10 or 15 minutes, rather unimpressed, before heading off to other rooms. But six months later we watched a programme about Matisse and saw his work in a new light. Matisse’s style was explained and we began to understand something of its beauty. We both remarked that we could have done with that information in Chicago. We might have appreciated the exhibition more.
We have to admit that this is frequently our problem with the Scriptures. We fail to grasp how beautiful, wonderful, powerful, or glorious the Scriptures are. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that they are just words on a page, dead letters from dead writers. We are dazzled by the visual wizardry of our age and all it offers on our small screens, so remain unimpressed when presented with an ancient book. We need to see that it speaks with God’s voice and thus appreciate its beauty. It will challenge us, rebuke us, occasionally terrify us. It will comfort, strengthen, revitalise and sustain. It will guide, give wisdom, teach and instruct. And it will thrill, delight and bless us with God himself.
When the psalmist writes about God’s word he is utterly persuaded of the beauty of God’s word. The whole of Psalm 119 is taken up with the joys of knowing God in his word. The psalmist uses 176 verses to describe that word – statutes, commands, laws, ways, decrees, precepts – alongside speaking of his delight in living by that word. So he talks about discovering God’s strength in affliction because God’s law was his delight (v92), meditating on God’s law all day long (v97), finding God’s words sweeter than honey (v103), claiming that God’s statutes are the “joy of my heart” (v111). He sums it up: “I love your commands more than gold.” (v127)
These are the words of a man who has seen beyond the distractions and diversions. Looking past the dust that blinds us he has found the diamonds. And all this is because he prayed “Open my eyes…” Lord, open mine, too.