by Mike Ratliff
Kaph. My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask, "When will you comfort me?" For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me? The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law. All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me! They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. (Psalms 119:81-88)
God is our mighty fortress. When we are Spirit-led and are suffering, we take refuge in Him and are content in His resolution of everything. When we are Soul-led while suffering, we cry out in hurt, anger, and blame. We become nonplused and completely controlled by our anxieties and doubts.
Before I became Spirit-led, pride controlled me. Pride ruled my life. All reactions to circumstances were from a hard heart that was completely self-focused. When adversity came into my life, I responded in anger, resentment, and confusion. I wanted it to end immediately. I would do all sorts of things to reduce and end the pain. Coupled with a very volatile temperament my resentment from this stress created a noxious mixture of emotion that frightened even me at times.
However, God rescued me from that hell on Earth. I became Spirit-led by His good work in my heart. As I surrendered to His Lordship, my entire value system was changed. My focus changed from self and happiness to the Lord and His glory. Now when adversity comes to visit I have patience and contentment to spare because I have taken refuge in my Lord. David wrote Psalms 18. He wrote it when God had delivered him from all of his enemies. Here is the title: "To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul." This is a big title for a big psalm. Let's look at the first three verses.
I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (Psalms 18:1-3)
The Hebrew word translated "love" in v1 is not the normal word for love that is used to convey covenant meaning. This is a rare verb form of a word group that expresses tender intimacy. David was expressing his tender love for God as a child would to a loving parent or a much-loved servant would to His King. We should express this love to our Lord as we worship Him in spirit and in truth. David uses the most sacred name for God in this verse. We have looked at this name for God before. It is the most precious name for God because it expresses His constant presence with those whom He loves. What does he say about the God whom he loves? He is David's strength. We must grasp this truth. Most believers walk through their life trying to conquer their fears and sins with their own paltry will power and are walking in defeat most of the time. However, when we walk through this life knowing God is our strength we do not even try to deal with our problems ourselves. We stand armored and ready to obey. Let's paraphrase v1. David expresses himself to God in complete adoration fully acknowledging his utter helplessness in his own strength. He says, "I love you O Lord God who is always with me as my strength." The rest of this psalm is detail of that statement.
In verse 2 David says, "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." The great I AM is David's rock, his fortress, his deliverer, his God, his refuge, his shield, the horn of his salvation and his stronghold. The rock here is a large cliff like structure where one could be safe from attack. The fortress is an impregnable castle. The word "deliverer" means one who carries one away to safety. The word "God" in this verse means "almighty." This is referring to David's worship of God as his one and only God. The statement, "…my rock, in whom I take refuge…" is referring to a secret, yet secure place where David could run to and hide in safety with full trust he was completely safe. The word shield refers to God's ability to shield David from the enemy's temptation attacks that resembles fiery arrows. The phrase, "horn of my salvation…" refers to God being the power behind David's deliverance. The word "stronghold" is a word picture of a lofty castle on a high cliff. When David was in that stronghold, he was completely safe.
In light of all of these facts about David's relationship with God, he expresses in v3 how he reacts when he is attacked. When David's enemy attacks him, he calls upon God. Most of us overlook that simplistic little statement. We need to start here when adversity comes instead of worrying and fretting about it before finally giving in and crying out to God. If we would turn to our Lord for deliverance at the beginning as we remain in the stronghold of His grace we would not have to go through any of that agony. God is worthy to be praised! That statement is actually one word in Hebrew. Its meaning is "sing, be worthy of praise." Therefore, God is worthy of our praise and we need to praise Him for who He is. When we do this what does God do? He saves us from our enemies. Who are our enemies? Satan and his demons are our enemies and so are his seed. Satan's seed are the unregenerate lost who will never believe and are fully within his power. Our "OLD MAN" sin nature is our enemy as well. Most of the attacks on us are temptations to go after self-gratification, however, if we live for Jesus the way He wants persecution is inevitable. In either case, we have the wonderful promises from these verses to lean on when we are in a crisis.
Now let's look at the next stanza in Psalms 119. It is entitled "Kaph." The first line in this stanza is, "My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word." This verse gives a picture of one who has taken refuge in God in the midst of adversity, but the deliverance has not yet taken place. How does he "rest" in this refuge? The word "hope" implies a "patient hope." This means the psalmist is waiting on God's solution and will wait as long as it takes. What is he using to gain this patient waiting? He is relying on the strength he derives from immersing himself in the Word of God. New Testament believers do this as well. In fact, this is what Jesus wants us to do whenever we realize we are becoming mired in "empty religion" instead of being Spirit-led. When we try to please God with our religion we get tired and worn out and are candidates for burnout. This is not what God wants us to do at all.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
If we do this then we can endure any adversity the world can throw at us. However, if we rely on our religion we will not recover our lives or rest in Jesus. Instead, we'll burnout and blame God when it all falls apart. Not Good!
The second, third and fourth lines in this stanza are, "My eyes long for your promise; I ask, "When will you comfort me?" For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?" As God takes us through the adversity that He has allowed in our lives, it hurts. There is no reason to attempt to soften this. Yes, adversity can be painful and distressing. Sometimes God will seem far away. If we diligently pursue Him during this, He will draw us into humbling ourselves even more. This requires the shedding or jettisoning of things that are of us and not of Him. God is pruning us. We may feel as if God is destroying us. We have to let go of things in our hearts we have clung to for ages expecting fulfillment from them in place of God. However, God is in the process of remaking our hearts into the image He desires so we must become as an old smoke-blackened and cracked wineskin. That means we empty ourselves of our prideful pursuits and humbly remain in our refuge. Sometimes it may appear God has forgotten us. It may appear we are doomed to obscurity and destruction. This is our stay in the valley of humiliation.
John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim's Progress the Second Part, presents the valley of humiliation as the place the godly learn to rest in the Lord as they welcome sorrow and suffering. It is a very restful place to be for the humble. The prideful, immature believer will be in total anguish and distress while there. However, we must learn that our path to maturity goes through this valley. There is no way around. There are no short cuts. We must go through the pruning of our hearts so they can become Christ-like. As we mature, we learn to welcome this. We grasp our adversity as sweet pain and pursue godliness through it. God's grace enables us to be as the Apostle Paul with his thorn in the flesh.
So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Contentment with adversity makes us strong in Christ, as we are weak in ourselves. This is not the world's way of thinking nor is it the way the Soul-led perceive Christianity. However, the Spirit-led know this. They are learning to come to obedience to God's pruning of our character.
The fifth, sixth and seventh lines in this stanza are, "The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law. All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me! They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts." Again, we see the nature of the persecutors God uses to shape our hearts. His desire is for us to seek Him first and rely on His Word to learn the truth so we can live godly lives in the midst of evil people bent on our destruction. Jesus gave us a clear picture of this process in the Beatitudes.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:10-16)
We must be that light of the world not a self-pitying, resentful, and defeated believer who is good for nothing except to be trampled under people's feet. That means seeking God as our refuge, resting in Jesus as the Father prunes and reshapes our hearts for His glory.
The eighth line in this stanza is "In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth." This verse is our cry to God to change our old hard hearts to tender hearts by "quickening" them according to His grace. This means the process of taking us from Soul-led mode to Spirit-led is making us alive where we were dead. In a sense that is a good description of the outcome of God circumcising our hearts to roll away our reproach. He does this when we reach that point in our spiritual maturity when we surrender completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every part of our lives. When we are Spirit-led, we have the ability to obey the Lord at a much higher level than we could as an immature believer. At salvation, our wills are empowered, but we have to learn to use them for His Glory. When we are Spirit-led, we are doing that.
Who is in control of our maturity? The Lord is the one who draws us into circumstances where we must learn to obey Him, trust Him, and surrender to Him. When we obey, we exercise our faith and it grows. Since God is the author of our being, not us, He is glorified when we grow in grace. Yes, we obey and believe, but it all accomplished within our joy empowered wills. No matter how mature we become we are still completely reliant on the Holy Spirit to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in our hearts so we can exhibit Christlikeness in our character. God controls the maturing processes that grow our new nature. We cooperate by obeying, but He is the author of our being. He draws us to seek refuge in Him so He can do this quickening work in our hearts. Until we do, we will be mired in self-focus and will be floundering in our pain.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.