“Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in Your law.” Psalm 119:18
“My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:81
“Even today I live every moment with the Bible. It is my constant companion. As a believer for fifty-six years, I have tested God’s Word and found it true. In more than five decades I have not encountered one situation in which I have not been able to turn to God’s Word for comfort, wisdom, guidance, joy and blessing. At eighty years of age, I would rather have the Bible on my shelf and in my heart than any other book written in history because it contains the message of God. It is a love letter to me and to all other human beings who are created in His image. Not only have I been transformed and enriched through reading the Bible, but I have also seen it change the lives of multitudes of people.” — Bill Bright. (This testimony is taken from the book he was writing when he died, “Discover the Book God Wrote,” page 3.)
Introduction: When I lived in California we would go without rain for most of the year. But then in December or January, a weather pattern would often develop which would bring in several storms that would inundate our desert ground with moving water. Just about the time one storm would leave we would look at the weather map and see another storm waiting to hit the shore, with a series of storms lined up behind. It looked like the planes that line up at LAX on Thanksgiving. Sometimes we wondered if the storms would ever end.
That is the kind of experience the psalmist is going through. He is not just being hit by one wave but a series of waves that are coming at him from every direction. He has been persecuted (verse 84), pits have been dug to catch him unaware, and some of his enemies are even trying to wipe him from the earth (verse 87). It has become so dark that he may be even tempted to focus upon himself rather than the promises that are in God’s Word. Where do I get that? Verse 84 is the only verse in Psalm 119 that does not make a reference to God’s Word or use one of the ten or so synonyms for it. Is it a subtle confession of the psalmist that he was in such darkness that he was struggling with self-pity? Did he move from looking to God in faith to dwelling upon himself in self-pity? Here is what he said: “How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors?” (verse 84).
The struggle for the psalmist is so great that Charles Spurgeon has singled out this passage as the darkest point in Psalm 119. He writes, “This octave is the midnight of the psalm, and very dark and black it is.” Then he went on to add that even in the blackness of night, “stars … shine out, and the last verse gives promise of the dawn.” I think that is what we need to hear from this psalm. God wants us to know that the darker the night the more brightly His glory will shine in our lives. Let us see how as we turn to the exposition of Psalm 119:81-88.
My soul faints with longing for your salvation,
but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail, looking for your promise;
I say, “When will you comfort me?”
83 Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,
I do not forget your decrees.
84 How long must your servant wait?
When will you punish my persecutors?
85 The arrogant dig pitfalls for me,
contrary to your law.
86 All your commands are trustworthy;
help me, for men persecute me without cause.
87 They almost wiped me from the earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 Preserve my life according to your love,
and I will obey the statutes of your mouth.
Verse 82: Right away we see something of the intensity of the struggle going on in the psalmist’s life. The struggle is not just intense, it is long. His soul “faints.” Who of us cannot survive a momentary struggle? But when it comes in wave after wave without any let up, day after day, then our faith is really tempted. Doubt, fear, self-pity and depression are all possibilities during those times. If we are unprepared for the battle at hand, we will react like so many overloaded soldiers have done before. We will quit the battle. We will stop fighting. We will go AWOL. We were told there would be skirmishes, but we had no idea they would be so intense or so long.
I think that is one thing every soldier of faith must face. We are in a battle that is going to get down and dirty. Paul warned us that evil spiritual forces are arrayed against us and an “evil day” is coming. He commands us to put on the whole armor of God so that after everything is thrown at us, we will stand (Ephesians 6:10-18). Peter issues the same kind of warning:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9).
So, it should be no surprise that we will be engaged in a fierce and long battle.
Today, in our seeker sensitive evangelism, people join the church because of the great benefits associated with it. It seems like it is a no-lose situation. But that is misleading. We enter the faith by dying to ourselves so that we become alive to Christ. It is true that having Jesus is worth any cost we might have to pay in knowing Him. But, to enter the faith is also to join an army. To be a believer means that we become soldiers. To become a soldier means that we will do battle. Battle means taking hits. And, the battles we face may surprise us in their intensity.
Perhaps you witnessed something like this in the recent coverage of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. Reporters interviewed members of the IDF as they came out of Lebanon. To a man they all said they were surprised at the intensity of the fight. Perhaps they thought that their superior training and weaponry would intimidate, causing Hezbollah to lay down their arms and run. But, they didn’t. They were ready to die in battle, so they fought with a ferocity that was totally unexpected. Should we expect anything less from the devil who hates Christ and His Church; who has no rules and is a murderer and a liar by nature?
I like the words of J. I. Packer as he described the mindset of the Puritans:
“Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims, just as Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.” (A Quest For Godliness, page 22)
The psalmist is in the midst of battle. It is a battle for faith. His heart faints. But he has a rock to stand upon in the midst of the battle. “I have put my hope in your Word.” No matter how hard or long the battle and no matter how faint we feel, like the psalmist, we will persevere because our hope is in God’s Word. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He promises to provide the grace we need to be victorious in any circumstance (1 Corinthians 10:13). We have those promises in black and white.
Verses 82-84: The ultimate question we ask in times like this is “why?” Why is God allowing us to go through such profound darkness. But there is another question that is of penultimate significance: “When?” That is the sentiment of the psalmist in verses 82-84. His sight is becoming blurred. He is like a wineskin in the smoke. His persecutors seem to be getting away with their sins against him. So he cries out: “When will you comfort me?” “How long must your servant wait?” “When will you punish my persecutors?” The pain is not just intense. It is long. He wants to know when he will be delivered from the pressure. He may even fear he might not make it.
Here is another crucial but hard lesson for us to learn. God not only uses the night to shape us into His image (Romans 8:28-29), He uses the long night. He allows us to be stretched to the point where we feel like we cannot go on another moment. I think Paul addresses this in Romans 5:3-5, when he writes:
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
God uses the long dark night to produce perseverance, character and hope. And the inward, sustaining power of hope is the love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that awesome? The calling of God upon our lives comes with His promise to turn all things for His glory and our good. It may not feel like it in the pain, but we don’t live our lives based upon our feelings. We live our lives upon the promises written down in black and white in His Book. God’s Word is our objective rock upon which we stand. In times of darkness we can be assured of the love of God permeating our hearts.
Verses 85-86: Now, let me say something that may be misunderstood, so think with me. In the darkness we need something more than the written Word. The Bible can be a dead book, especially when our suffering appears to go against God’s promises. What is the other thing we need? We need the present, active power of the Spirit of God making God’s presence and truth real to our hearts. How does that happen? That is where prayer comes in. In our previous studies we have tried to show how prayer and the Word are the two tracks that keep the psalmist going in the right direction. Although 119 is about the Word of God from beginning to end, prayer permeates every stanza. In Kaph, we hear the psalmist crying out to God for answers to the questions, “how long?” and “when?” Then, in desperation he cries out, “Preserve my life.” The Spirit makes the Word come alive to our hearts when we cry out to God in prayer.
Paul understood that. That is why he prayed for the church at Ephesus:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Ephesians 1:17).”
Psalm 50:15 says it like this: “Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will honor me.” God has ordained prayer to be the means whereby He pours out into our lives His grace that is sufficient to handle any pressure we would face.
Verse 87: There is a story about a man who came upon a well known minister, who seemed very agitated. He was wringing his hands and walking back and forth across his living room floor. His visitor asked him what his problem was. The preacher responded, “I am in a hurry but God isn’t.” I think we all can relate to that. God’s ways are beyond our ways. He does things in surprising ways. But He promises that they always turn out for our good. The purpose of our pain may not be known at this time, but we can be assured they have a godly and good purpose. And, we can also be assured that God will keep working in our lives until we are shaped into the image of His Son.
So, our enemies may “almost” wipe us from the earth but they will not and cannot lay one finger upon us without our loving and sovereign God overseeing and directing the results, for His glory and our good. They may mean it for evil, but God will turn whatever it is for our good. God is sovereign over our lives. With David Livingstone, we can say, “I am immortal until my mission on earth is through.”
Verse 88: The end result of the trial will be a new assurance and confidence in the God of the Bible. Our faith will be stretched out and enabled to trust God in new and exciting ways. Charles Spurgeon was one who regularly went through days of deep depression. But through the process of time he began to see that those times were ordered by God so that he knew, in the midst of the darkness, that God was preparing him for greater ministry. May you come to discover that same truth. It is in losses and crosses that the Lord accomplishes His divine and glorious plan in us and through us.
Conclusion: Earlier I mentioned J. I. Packer’s description of the Puritans. They knew they were soldiers and expected that every step they took for the glory of God would be contested by the Enemy. And then he added this:
“The Puritans lost every public battle that they fought …. But the moral and spiritual victories that the Puritans won by keeping sweet, peaceful, patient, obedient, and hopeful under sustained and seemingly intolerable pressures and frustrations give them a place of high honor in the believer’s hall of fame.”
May the God of all grace enable us to follow in their train. May we know the joy of giving Jesus honor by our faithfulness in the long, dark night. Remember, the Star shines the brightest when it is the darkest.
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