Life is Hard.  God is Good.

“By faith the believer triumphs over the world’s enticements:  he sees that all that is in the world, suited to gratify the desires of the flesh or the eye, is not only to be avoided as sinful, but as incompatible with his best pleasures.” — John Newton

INTRODUCTION:  The apostle Paul described his life like this, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).  In the service of Jesus he never knew when or where the next blow would hit.  But nothing could steal his joy.  Problems only came to deepen his joy in Christ.  His love for Jesus and his passion to know Him and make Him known was the controlling pleasure of his life.  That is the background for John Newton’s remarks above.  When you follow Jesus, what you get far outweighs what you lose.  The desires of the flesh are to be avoided because they are sin.  But the desires of the spirit are the real motivation for holiness.  Sin is to be avoided because sin is incompatible with our best pleasures.  That is why Jesus said, “If any one would come after me let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23-25).  Sure there is denial of self.  Sure there is the picking up of the cross.  But the reward is that we get Jesus.  Losing the self for His sake means we find our true selves. 

The Psalmist is in the midst of battle.  He is battling for righteousness and justice.  But instead of getting praise and rewards from men he is being attacked by arrogant oppressors.  His endurance is dependent not on his grit but God’s grace.  So, this Psalm is not only a testimony to his endurance but a cry for help.  May we also be encouraged as we see in this passage that life is hard, but God is good. 

121 I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors. 
122 Ensure your servant’s well-being;
let not the arrogant oppress me. 
123 My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise. 
124 Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees. 
125 I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes. 
126 It is time for you to act, O LORD;
your law is being broken. 
127 Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
128 and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path. 
Psalm 119:121-128


Verse 121:  Reaction to the righteous — If we are committed to following our Master into battle we should not be surprised that we should receive the same opposition that He received.  “Remember the words I spoke to you:  ‘No servant is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).  Criticism, accusations, and persecution will follow the faithful servant of Jesus.  The godly missionary, Henry Martyn, was very discouraged from the criticism he was receiving, so he went to John Newton for help.  In his diary he recorded the counsel of his wise, elderly mentor: 

“When I spoke of the opposition that I should be likely to meet with, he said, he supposed Satan would not love me for what I was about to do.  The old man prayed afterwards with sweet simplicity.”

The moment we set out to honor Christ with our lives we can expect the same kind of reaction.  Satan won’t love you for what you are doing.  But, God will not leave us to our oppressors.  His name is upon our hearts.  His glory is wrapped up in our victory.  He will answer our cry for help.  Count on it. 

Verse 122:  Safety for servants — When we are God’s children we are safe.  If there is any doubt we need only to think of what God has done on our behalf.  The apostle Paul says it like this:  “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).  If our God would give the best gift, His precious Son, won’t He give us all of the other lesser things that we need to be victorious?  The question anticipates a positive response:  “Of course He will.”  John Newton, the slave trader, the one who lived a terrible despicable life, knew what it was to receive God’s grace.  Here is how he expressed the same confidence that Paul expressed: 

“Through many dangers, toils and threats we have already come.  His grace has brought us safe thus far, His grace will take us home.”

When we fully appreciate what God has done on our behalf in Jesus Christ, we can be assured that He will “ensure his servants well being.” 

Verse 123:  Hope for the harried — The great challenge for the pressured saint is pressure stretched out.  If the pressure were momentary and quickly over, discipleship would be easy.  The Psalmist knows God has promised deliverance, but when will it happen.  He needs hope to carry him until God delivers him.  Where will that hope be found?  Here is Paul’s answer:  “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  It is the Scriptures that give us the hope we need to endure.  They are alive with the presence and power of God.  The storms may come and the wind may blow but a house built upon the Word of God will stand (Matthew 7:24-25).

Verse 124:  Love and Law — The consistent testimony of the Psalmist is that the law of God is his delight.  A quick reading of Psalm 19:7-11 would reveal why.  It revives the soul, gives wisdom to the simple, joy to the soul, light to the eyes, purity to the soul and certainty to the mind.  Because God loves us He teaches us His ways.  That man refuses to walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful.  His delight is in the law of God and in it he meditates day and night.  In the cold of winter or the heat of summer he will be prosperous for his roots go down deep into the law of God.  No wonder he loves God’s law. 

Verse 125:  Darkness and discernment — The God of grace had the slave trader, John Newton, in His sights.  He was in a violent storm that threatened to take his life.  In the midst of the storm he received a glimmer of hope.  It seemed as if God had intervened in his favor, bringing a break in the weather.  He tried to pray, but he had no faith.  He sought out a Bible and came upon Luke 11:13: 

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He reasoned,

“If this book is true, the promise in this passage must be true likewise.  I have need of that very Spirit, by which the whole was written, in order to understand it aright.  He has engaged here to give that Spirit to those who ask:  I must therefore pray for it; and, if it be of God, He will make good on His own word.”

Even in his darkened condition, John Newton knew that he needed the help of the Author of Scripture to give him the discernment to understand and respond to the truth found in God’s Word.  The psalmist has discovered that same need.  We need the same help.  If we ask that our eyes would be opened so that we might see the wonderful things in God’s Law (Psalm 119:18), He will answer.  The light will shine and we will see and understand and rejoice in the awesome truth God speaks to our hearts. 

Verse 126:  Tiredness and timeliness — When our passion is to spread the fame of the name of Christ, you can be assured that He will see to it that we are successful.  He is good and He is great.  We may be weary and stretched to the limit, but our faith in God gives us the strength to go on with joy.  Again, John Newton describes the man of faith:
… his faith upholds him under all trials, by assuring him that every dispensation is under the direction of his Lord; that chastisements are token of His love; that the season, measure, and continuance of his sufferings, are appointed by Infinite Wisdom, and designed to work for his everlasting good; and that grace and strength shall be afforded, according to his day.

Verse 127:  Guidance and gold — What is the great antiseptic for infection of false and heretical teaching?  How can we prepare ourselves so that we will not be deceived and deluded by our shrewd and scheming enemy?  Fill your mind and heart with truth.  Here is how John Newton described his strategy for defeating heresy: 

“My principal method for defeating heresy is by establishing truth.  One proposes to fill a bushel with tares:  now, if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defy his attempts.”
That is the deal.  Love God’s truth so much that you devour it and stuff yourself so full with the wheat of God’s truth that there is no room left for the tares of the devil’s heresy. 

Verse 128:  Right precepts and wrong paths — When God is at work in our hearts He gives us a new appetite.  When our eyes are open and we see the glory of God in the face of Christ, we want Him more than anything else.  Jesus satisfies our soul.  Jesus electrifies our mind.  His precepts point us to joy in His presence and pleasures at His right hand forever more (Psalm 16:11).  We must never forget that everything that happens here is preparation for what we will enjoy there.  Jesus’ prayer of intercession puts all of our trials and troubles in perspective.  “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).  May we never forget the joy that is ours in Christ.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Life is hard.  But, God is good.