God gave us a book that we all believe is from Him, so doesn’t that mean we ought to really know what it says?
I remember holding the Bible with both hands when I said this to myself. I was in my late teens.
So through the years I studied, I memorized, and I learned a lot.
It was in my mid-thirties that my intensive study through the Psalms began. Of course, I already knew the Psalms and had memorized many of them, but the thought of digging deeper and finding important truths excited me.
I took copious notes. If this was God’s message to me, then you’d better believe that with all the determination I could muster, I was going to understand it.
I wanted the Word of God to be my greatest delight. So I kept getting up early and studying, studying. Learning, learning. And even glad to be learning.
Honestly, though, it never crossed my mind to ask God to open my understanding. He had given me a brain, and that’s what I was using. After all, didn’t somebody say that I shouldn’t ask God to do for me what He had already given me the ability to do for myself?
There I was, as the tree with deep roots in Psalm 1 (kind of sliding past Psalm 2), trusting God in my bed in Psalms 3 and 4 and 6, acknowledging God’s greatness in Psalms 8 and 9.
I took to heart God’s description of the righteous person in Psalm 15.
I set the Lord at my right hand in Psalm 16.
I fell in love with Psalm 18, which showed the Lord as my Rescuer.
I dug into learning about the statutes and commandments and ordinances of the Lord in Psalm 19.
I rejoiced in His help in distress in Psalm 20, and I reveled in His blessings in Psalm 21. It was great.
Then I came to Psalm 22.
I knew something was wrong as I approached this psalm — I could feel it in my innermost being.
I wasn’t excited about reading it. And I knew why. I had to face the truth.
It was because this psalm wasn’t about me.
A Crossroads in Bible Study
All the other psalms — well, almost all of them anyway — seemed to have been mostly about me, but Psalm 22, as many Christians know, is so plainly all about Jesus. There was no way I could be so sacrilegious as to think that it was about me in any way.
And for that reason, I didn’t want to read it.
I didn’t want to read it because it wasn’t about me.
There it was. That was the stark truth.
When I realized it, I was aghast at myself. In humility I went to God and laid it all out before Him. I repented of my selfishness and asked Him to make Psalm 22 come alive for me.
I wrote next to Psalm 22 in my wide-margin Bible:
12-2-93: Yesterday I was struggling with the fact that I don’t appreciate a psalm as much when it’s applied to Jesus instead of me, and what selfishness and immaturity that fact revealed in me. Now I am faced with a psalm that can’t possibly be appreciated properly unless it is applied to Jesus. God, grant me the grace to rejoice in the truth of your Holy Word.
To look at it now, it seems ridiculous not to appreciate a passage about Jesus. But in almost twenty years of earnest Bible studies, this was one of the very first times, if not the first time, I asked God to open my eyes to the beauty and truth of his Word.
It was one of the first times, if not the first time, that I acknowledged the inability of my own soul to accomplish the good work God wanted for me.
And though I didn’t understand it at the time (since the Holy Spirit wasn’t a popular topic of conversation in my circles), I was asking the Holy Spirit to open the Scriptures for me.
Fifteen years later, reading Andrew Murray’s book The Believer’s New Covenant, I read something along the lines of “Who do you think you are to suppose you can ever understand the word of God in your own strength?”
At that time, I trembled in remembering this crossroads in my life, at Psalm 22.
It was a crossroads, because the Lord answered that prayer.
Gazing at Jesus
Though I wrote phrases like “example for me” altogether too much through the first part of Psalm 22, by the time I was a third of the way into it, I began to see Jesus Christ.
What happened to me over the course of those two weeks — studying sounds far too academic. Meditating on the Scriptures? Pondering the Scriptures? Soaking in the Scriptures?
But really the point isn’t what I did with the Scriptures. It’s what God did in me through them, as He held them up as a magnifying glass to see the Lord Jesus Christ more and more clearly.
Psalm 22 opened to me like Aladdin’s cave, filled with jewels. I came to tears again and again at the beauty and grace and outpouring of love I saw in my Savior.
Now, for perhaps the first time, something resonated deeply within me. It went beyond seeing Him as simply my great Example.
Psalm 22, the psalm of our Savior suffering and crying out on the cross, came alive for me in those two weeks. I was there. I saw Him. I wept over His reproach. I saw Him in his suffering and His glory in a way I had never seen Him before, a way that profoundly changed me. I was most literally laid flat before Him.
Through the years leading up to this epiphany, I had thought of the Bible in a number of different metaphorical terms. A friend had told me that too many Christians read it as if they’re looking for a Daily Vitamin Pill. When I began reading for actual understanding, I thought of it as my Map from God, giving directions to Him. I thought of it as my greatest Treasure.
But this experience with Psalm 22 began the process of removing the written Word from my heart’s pedestal and placing the Living Word there instead.
“One of the great reasons that so many Christians never come out of the Old Covenant—never even know that they are in it and have to come out of it—is that there is so much head knowledge, without the power of the Spirit in the heart being waited for.” ~Andrew Murray, The Believer’s New Covenant
I began to see Him more clearly as the ultimate Sacrifice, His sweat poured out, His blood poured out.
As the ultimate Victor, singing the praise of God in the great congregation.
As the ultimate Feast of His meek ones, the all-satisfying Living Bread.
As the Great Accomplisher of the greatest Work.
It is Finished.
And then finally I came to understand that yes indeed this psalm did refer to me.
Now I See
The Lord said, through David in verse 25, “In the midst of the great congregation I will praise you.” I was there, in that great congregation.
The Lord said, through David in verse 27, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.”
I was part of one of the families far out on the edges of the earth. I was one of the ones who turned to Him. I saw myself in my proper place, small, in a huge congregation, lifting my hands to an unimaginably great and glorious overcoming Lord.
Jesus said, “They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
He. Has. Done. It.
It. Is. Finished.
I was one of the “people yet unborn” then, now alive. His righteousness was proclaimed to me. It was finished for me, for all of us in that great congregation.
If I had continued studying in my previous style, these are all truths that I could have grasped intellectually.
But in his mercy, the Lord had held up a mirror to my face, “Acknowledge your self-centeredness.” Then, as I did, He pointed me to the solution that was Himself.
Because of that self-exposure, that crying out to Him, and His lavish answers, the truths of this psalm hit home in a far deeper way than they ever could have before.
Psalm 22 hit me as true, not just in my intellect, but in my experience.
I saw the exalted Living Word that the written Word is given to us to exalt. For me, this was a beginning — a beginning of truly seeing.
God, grant me the grace to rejoice in the truth of your holy Word, I had prayed.
I was talking about the Bible. But what I saw was Jesus. I saw right through the magnifying glass of the written Word to behold the beauty of the exalted Living Word, the one ever so worthy of exaltation.
May my heart ever resound with unending praise to the Savior, the one to whom this Magnifying Glass points like the focusing of a laser beam. He is the one who alone is worthy of all blessing and honor and praise and glory and power.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His Name together!
This is an edited version of an article that was published on the Desiring God website in 2015 and for some reason is still there.