Spiritual Life and Vitality in Ps.119
Reading: Psalm 119:145-
The Psalmist is a believing man and he is spiritually alive
v.93 "I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life."
The warm and enthusiastic manner in which the psalmist speaks about his own personal delight in the word of God throughout this psalm is clear evidence that he is a believing man. He must be numbered amongst those who have "tasted and seen that the LORD is good".
Here in this verse he specifically declares that he has indeed received life through this life-
And yet having been made alive does not necessarily mean that all is well in a believer’s life and despite so much that is positive in the experience of this particular believer he is not satisfied. As he considers his life all is not as it should be – in fact if truth be told he feels spiritually lifeless.
I wonder whether you have ever felt like that; perhaps you feel like that right now. Yes, you have genuinely heard and responded to the gospel and yes you have genuinely become a follower of Jesus Christ but still you have that nagging feeling that you’re not really functioning as you ought to be as you want to be; you’re not firing on all cylinders.
While this type of experience is not a pleasant place for the believer to find himself in it is not however an uncommon experience in a Christian’s life.
Sometimes the believer may gradually, almost imperceptibly, slip into such a state but sometimes he may be precipitated into suddenly as the result of some crisis or another.
In the NT Jesus, quoting Isaiah, described how the Messiah would conduct himself. This is what he said:
Mt.12:20 "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not quench"
I wonder whether you’ve ever felt as though you were that bruised reed – you feel so battered that you’re almost ready to give up completely or perhaps you see yourself as smouldering wick that is about to be finally extinguished. That was how the psalmist had felt at times and that was why he composed parts of this psalm.
The NT will also refer to Christians who have (or who are in danger of) losing their first love. Still performing, still doing the right things externally but inwardly lacking the fire and the passion – lifeless.
The fact that the Bible describes such an unhealthy spiritual condition does not justify the believer languishing there for a long period of time. It is a condition from which to be delivered and to do so we must not be passive just hoping for some sort of improvement to happen to us; he has work to do.
But first things first; the situation must both be recognised and acknowledged.
Ps 119:25 "My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!"
The psalmist finds himself drawn to the worthless things of this life. Instead of setting his mind on the things above he finds himself dominated by the attractions of things that will soon be over and gone, the things of earth. It is a familiar temptation. Satan even tried it on our Lord through the foolish intervention of Peter. Do you remember how Jesus reacted?
Mt 16:23 "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Jesus saw through Satan’s attempts to distract him but sadly we often do not and allow our spiritual vision to be dimmed by failing to keep our focus on what really matters. We know that we are to "seek first the Kingdom of God", that we are to love God with all we’ve got but all too easily we get entangled with the things of the world forgetting that such entanglements are not fitting for the spiritual soldier on active service.
But the psalmist now has recognised the problem and has started to do something about it – he is going to God in prayer about it.
A second reason for a sense of spiritual lifelessness is to be found in:
Ps 119:107 "I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!"
This time external pressures have exerted their negative influence upon the psalmist. He is afflicted and in a serious way. This might be due to poor physical health or to the opposition of others but the psalmist has come to feel worn down by it all and is languishing conscious that he does not want to be like this and once again he turns to God with the same prayer: Give me life". It is not a case of simply gritting his teeth and trying to ‘snap out of it’ he needs God to restore his soul and so he does what we may at times be so slow to do: he asks God to do it!
A third reason is hinted at:
Ps 119:154 "Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!"
This time the language the psalmist employs is that of having been taken captive by those who are somehow opposed to him. There are times when we feel so alone that it seems we’ve been taken prisoner and no-
Recognising his spiritual condition and his spiritual plight is the first and necessary step. It is quickly followed by repeated pleas to God to intervene with his solution: "Give me life" cries the psalmist and he does it again and again.
The steadfast love of the LORD encourages the psalmist to pray:
Ps 119:149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life.
Nine times in this long psalm the psalmist repeats his prayer for life. Nine times he prays:
"Give me life..."
And on a third of those occasions he specifically links his prayer to the steadfast love of the LORD. He is unsure of his own abilities to rectify his own condition but he has no such uncertainty concerning the LORD who is characterised by "steadfast love". This steadfast love is the merciful faithfulness of God; it is his lovingkindness that never gives up; it is the covenant love of the covenant keeping God. It is the faithful love of a God who can be trusted even when we don’t see what he is doing or why.
Job trusted this God when from extremely trying circumstances he cried out:
Job 13:15 "Though he slay me, I will hope (or trust) in him;"
Similar trust was displayed by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when threatened with the fiery furnace.
Christians too have great cause for trusting this same God – after all nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom.8:39) Knowing that God is for us we too have every incentive to go to him with our prayers for the spiritual life we need and which he has promised in Christ, "life in all its fullness". (Jn.10:10)
Just what it is the psalmist wants:
The psalmist wants life but he goes further than that he says he wants life:
According to God’s word vv.25, 107
According to God’s promise v.154
A . Life as it is described by God – this is what the psalmist asks for.
I wonder whether you sometimes read your Bible and have the impression that you know very little in your own experience of the Christian life as it is described there. Well the psalmist wants to experience and live the life that is described and he is not content to go on living at a lower level as it were.
The kind of life he wants is a life lived in God’s ways. So he prays:
v.37 "Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways."
It is life according to his rules v.156 "Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules."
B. Life as it is promised by God – this is what the psalmist asks for.
It is life given according to his righteousness v.40 "Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!" And it is right and appropriate for God to give what he has promised to give – so the psalmist basically pleads with God to keep his promises to him:
v.149 "O LORD, according to your justice give me life."
Thomas Manton, one of the Puritans, wrote: "One way to get comfort is to plead the promise of God in prayer, show Him His handwriting; God is tender of His Word." He meant God loves the sight of what he has written, what he has promised, and we should learn what it is to "plead the promises".
The psalmist was not only encouraged to pray because God loved him and had given him promises in his word he also knew too that the life he wanted to enjoy was given out of that same steadfast love.
v.88 "In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth."
v.159 " Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love."
And all this comes in a psalm that is all about the Word of God where in almost every verse the psalmist has something positive to say about Gods rules, command, regulations, instructions etc.
The implication of all this is that we cannot and must not attempt to secure life or some kind of liveliness that is somehow separated or independent of this divine life-
The NT explains to us that we are brought to spiritual life by the life-
1Pet.1:23 "since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;"
Jesus taught that we go on living by being fed by this word on a daily basis:
Mt.4:4 "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
And we don’t do this is splendid isolation – we do this as we abide in Christ and his words abide in us (Jn.15) – we do this as we:
Col 3:16 "Let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in (our) hearts to God."
The message of the Bible throbs with life. God is alive and the source of all life; Jesus is alive who once was dead, he is called the Author of Life. One of the reasons for his coming into the world was that we might have life and eternal life is described as knowing the Father and the Son whom he sent. And yet it is possible to have merely the reputation of being alive when the reality is very different.
Are you alive in Christ? Have you trusted in Christ as your Saviour and Lord? If you have not yet done so then call out this very evening to God to have mercy on you and ask him to forgive your sins for Jesus’ sake.
If you have already done so then press on and live your new life in Christ wholeheartedly, enthusiastically and joyfully. And if you’re finding it at times hard going and that the way you’re living your life is not really in step with the Spirit and that it doesn’t seem to match the descriptions of the spiritual life that are contained in the Scriptures then do something about it! Go to God just the psalmist has been doing in this psalm and pray with earnest determination for the life that you need.
And may God be pleased all your calls and answer so that his own Name may be honoured and glorified and others brought to know and love and trust him too.