My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word!
Put false ways far from me
and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart!
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!
Our focus from now through this fall will be Psalm 119. We will follow the journey and posture of the psalmist as he wrote this prayer acrostic using the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist is transparent and authentic.
In our first eight verses today, we hear the emotional swing of the psalmist from low to high. He begins with very low and pleads with God. He ends very high emotionally and has found hope. This kind of emotional rollercoaster is not unlike ones that we ride often in life. Let’s follow and apply the psalmist’s journey.
The writer is desperate. God often leads His people to places of desperation to work His ways into their lives. This stanza contrasts God’s ways and man’s ways. There are ways that lead to life and ways that lead to death. This teaching is echoed in the New Testament teaching of Jesus of the broad and narrow ways – one bringing death and the other life (Matthew 7:13-14). When our way and the Lord’s way (revealed through His Word) come together – there is great life! When they drift apart there is death (Proverbs 16:25).
The psalmist describes his pain in verse 25, “My soul clings to the dust”. This means full of sorrow. People would mourn in times of sorrow, distress, calamity, and despair by putting dust on their heads and sitting in ashes. Job did this in his despair (Job 2:8). Here the psalmist is overwhelmed by grief, sorrow and pain. He is tempted to wallow. His clinging to the dust is like a union “holding fast” with the dust – a union with grief – like a marriage (Genesis 2:24). He is saying that he is “one” with his grief and it is beginning to define him.
He is being honest and vulnerable – he is not trying to justify his feelings – he is just sharing. He gives us a word picture in verse 28, “My soul melts away for sorrow”. He is stating that his soul is leaking out. This overwhelming anguish is killing him – it is bringing death. In spite of the intensity of his pain, he is neither denying it nor allowing it to define him. This is a beautiful example for us to model.
The psalmist makes to huge requests in his desperation.
- “give me life” (verse 25)
- “strengthen me” (verse 28)
His request is for life not death. He is asking for a miracle – to move from death and despair to life. The imagery is that of a burned city being restored – from an ash heap to beautiful restoration. This is the picture of the healing and restoration that Jesus brings to our lives at salvation but also through the painful events that life brings.
His request, “strengthen me”, is a cry to stop the leaking of strength and energy from his soul. He wants to be rebuilt and made whole – to move from brokenness to wholeness. The New Testament speaks powerfully about weakness and strength: Romans 5:6; Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9. God restores us and gives us strength in our weakness.
When God restores us, He also has the power to sustain what He restores. The psalmist requests to be sustained: “teach me”, “make me understand”, and “put false ways far from me” (verses 26, 27, 29). He declaring his dependence on God and wants more dependence. He is saying, “I will naturally pursue false ways – my ways. As you remake me out of my ash heap give me a stronger love for you and a stronger hatred for my sin. I want to be what you want me to be”. He wants God to do something that only God can do – he wants a miracle: death to life.
The writer wants God to make him better than he has ever been – and he knows how it can happen: “according to your word; teach me your statutes; understand the way of your precepts; according to your word; teach me your law” (verses 25, 26, 27, 28, 29). We tend to examine the Bible looking for things that we cannot accept. This should be reversed. We need to allow the Bible to examine us, finding things that God cannot accept. Tim Keller says,
“We can’t truly understand the Scripture unless we make a basic commitment, saying ‘whatever I find in your Word, I will do’. This seems restrictive but will lead to freedom.”
God is not silent. The Holy Spirit works primarily through His written Word. Instead of praying for quick fixes and escape from our pain, pray for God to bring His Word to bear down on my life and situation.
Hope is Found
There is no record of the psalmist’s circumstances changing. But everything had changed inside of him. His soul is no longer clinging to the dust. Instead he is clinging to the testimonies of God. He has found hope! “You answered me”, (verse 26). “When you enlarge my heart”, (verse 32). He chooses the way of faithfulness (verse 30).
Things are changing – not so much in circumstances but in his heart, mind, and emotions. He was clinging to grief, now he is clinging to the testimonies of God. He was sitting in a pile of dust – now he is running in God’s commands. God has worked – enlarging his heart. Only God can do this! Here are some testimonies of God that we can cling to: Isaiah 53:3-5; 1 Peter 2:24-25; Romans 5:1-2.
Jesus takes our desperation as we acknowledge our dependence upon Him – and He pulls us out so hat we are not united with sorrow. We are united to Jesus with hope despite circumstances. Let’s read the second eight verses of our text as response to the Lord: Psalm 119:33-40.
We are dependent!
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing to discuss the implications of the message.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Psalm 119:25-40
Share about a time in your life when you experienced desperation. How did God use this moment/season to teach you more about yourself and Him?
Describe the ministry of God the Spirit in your life as you saturate yourself in God’s Word.
If someone asked you, “Why are you dependent on God?”, what would your response be to them?
Reflect on how your response opens avenues to the Gospel.