Making it Through the Middle Miles | Psalm 119:81-88

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  • Making it Through the Middle Miles | Psalm 119:81-88
  • Psalm 119:81-88 is the midway point of the Mt. Everest of the Psalms. It is also the lowest point of this psalm. The psalmist discusses his troubles throughout this psalm. But no other stanza, before or after this section, describes his anguish, despair, or weariness as here. His turmoil is evident from the opening verse of the stanza. Even though he maintains his devotion to the word, he does not experience spiritual breakthrough in this stanza. 

    This stanza also stands out because verse 84 is the first verse of this psalm that does not mention the word of God. It is as if the psalmist momentarily lost his sense of direction. It can happen to you. You grow weary, lose your way, or feel abandoned by God in the journey of faith. But this dark stanza is not the last stanza. It’s not the end of the story. 

    The psalmist made it through this dark night of the soul. In verse 89, the following stanza begins, “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” Following the path of God’s word will not guarantee an easy journey. But if you follow God’s word, you can make it through the middle miles. 

    • Anyone can be excited at the beginning of the journey. 
    • Anyone can persevere when the finish line is in view. 

    The challenge is to press on through the middle miles when the joy of the start has faded, and the view of the end is not in sight. Vance Haver wrote: “If you can sing along the middle miles, you’ve learned one of life’s most difficult lessons.” Psalm 119:81-88 teaches two ways to press on through the middle miles. 

    Wait on God’s Perfect Timing. 

      What does it mean to wait on God’s timing? 

      Wait on God’s Salvation. Verse 81 says, “My soul longs for your salvation; I hope for your word.” In the New Testament, “salvation” typically refers to deliverance from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. In the Old Testament, the term often speaks of salvation from suffering, not salvation from sinfulness. That is the meaning of the term in verse 81. The psalmist was not seeking the forgiveness of sin, removal of guilt, or gift of heaven. He was right with God. That did not exempt him from the trials of life. 

        • The only Son of God did not escape suffering. 
        • No adopted child of God escapes suffering. 

        But your sufferings are a means to an end, not an end of your means. Your middle miles are not your final miles. You can call on God to save you when you are weak, weary, and worn out. But you must wait on God’s timing. Verse 81 says, “My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.” The psalmist was so desperate for deliverance that he was fainting with spiritual exhaustion. But he was in a good place, where he recognized that no one but God could rescue him. And he determined to hope in, wait on, and patiently trust the word of God. 

        • You may be spiritually exhausted. 
        • Your faith may be fainting. 
        • You may be longing for salvation. 

        But you are in a good place if it causes you to stop putting your hope in unworthy things, people, or circumstances. You are in a good place if you hope for God’s salvation. 

        It is not the anchor that holds a ship during a storm. It is the strength of that to which the anchor holds. If you drop an anchor that does not reach the bottom, the dangling anchor might imperil the ship. The anchor must cling to the bottom of the sea to keep the ship afloat. It is the same way with the anchor of hope. Your hope of salvation is only safe, strong, and secure if it is anchored in the word of God. 

        Wait on God’s Comfort. Verse 82 says, “My eyes long for your promise.” The psalmist had been on the lookout for God. He watched and waited for God to fulfill his promises. He strained for some sight of God’s approaching intervention. His eyes had become heavy and weary with longing for the promises of God’s word. The psalmist’s failing eyes remind us not to judge the faithfulness of God’s word by what we can see. Charles Bridges wrote: “Do not be discouraged by present appearances. The sunshine is behind the cloud.”

        Airplanes often fly in stormy weather. The flight may even be delayed because of the weather. There is turbulence during takeoff. But as the plane breaks the clouds, the sun shines brightly. The sun did not just show up. It was there all along, even though the clouds hid it. The same is true about God. He is there even when you cannot see him. 

        Verse 82 says, “My eyes long for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’” The psalmist did not see any change in his situation. And it caused him to question God. He explains his feelings in verse 83: “For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke.” Wineskins were ancient bottles. When exposed to smoke, wineskins became odorous, shriveled, and unusable. That’s how the psalmist felt. John Calvin said, “He was, as it were, parched by the continual heat of adversities.”

        • Have you ever been there? 
        • Has your spiritual life become dry? 
        • Has your attitude become foul? 

        The psalmist said, “For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.” The benefits of devotion to God’s word may not be evident in your life. You will not experience the benefits of devotion unless it goes beyond what you see, feel, or understand. James Draper wrote: “Sometimes we have read it and gotten nothing out of it. The good news is it is like brushing your teeth. It is doing good whether or not you know it.”

        Wait on God’s Verdict. Verse 84 is the first verse in this psalmist that does not mention the word of God. It records two questions about God’s timing: “How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?” Some translations read the first question to be about the length of the psalmist’s life: “How many are the days of your servant?” The ESV reads the question to be about the length of the psalmist’s suffering: “How long must your servant endure?” I believe this is the proper reading of the text. The psalmist was not concerned about how long he would live. He was worried about how long he had to live through his suffering. 

        • Verse 82 asks, “When will you comfort me?”
        • Verse 84 asks, “When will you judge those who persecute me?”

        These parallel questions are both concerned with divine timing. The question is about God’s timing, not God’s truth. The psalmist did not ask if God would intervene. He wondered when God would do it. The psalmist did not take matters into his own hands. He trusted that God was his Comforter and his enemies’ Judge. His questions do not express doubt. They are faith’s cry for divine help. 

        Are you in God’s waiting room? Do you join the psalmist in asking “When?” and “How long?” Don’t stop waiting on God’s perfect timing. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.”Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

        Walk in God’s Unfailing Word.

          In the first half of this stanza, the psalmist wrestles with God as he determines to wait on divine deliverance from his troubles. In the second half of this stanza, he wrestles with enemies as he resolves to walk in the word despite them. Verses 85-88 show us how to walk in the word in, through, and beyond the challenges you face. 

          Walk with Spiritual Discernment. The psalmist’s determination to walk in the word was an informed decision. It would not be a walk in the park. There would be obstacles and opposition along the way. He describes these challenges in verse 85 with spiritual discernment: “The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law.” 

          The author of this psalm had powerful, influential, and arrogant enemies. They were either hardhearted unbelievers or carnal-minded believers who opposed the psalmist because of his devotion to the word. Verse 85 makes it clear their opposition was not incidental. They dug ditches for him. To catch prey, a hunter would dig a ditch, cover it up, and wait for an unsuspecting animal to fall into his trap. In the same manner, the insolent marked the psalmist as their prey. 

            When people hurt us, it is often not intentional. We are the collateral damage of other people’s selfish, thoughtless, or unfeeling words or actions. Even though it is rare that we are the intended victims of people’s ditch-digging, it is real. People may dig ditches for you on your job, at school, or in your family. But the Lord will take care of you. Proverbs 26:27 says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” 

            You may never experience people digging pitfalls for you. But you have a spiritual enemy who digs ditches for you. Ephesians 6:11-13 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

            Walk with Spiritual Devotion. In verse 85, the psalmist focuses on his enemies. In verses 86-88, he shifts his focus to the word of God and the God of the word. These verses give three reasons to walk in spiritual devotion, regardless of obstacles and opposition. 

            The Lord Will Help You. In verse 86, the writer contrasts the word of God and the ways of the ungodly. Concerning the word of God, the psalmist declares, “All your commandments are true.” The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis” (“always faithful”). No one is always faithful but God. All of the commandments of God’s word are true. In contrast, the writer describes the ways of the ungodly: “They persecute me with falsehood.” Note the contrast: 

            • The Lord speaks faithfully. 
            • The insolent speak falsehood. 

            The psalmist was caught between the two. What would you do? The psalmist prayed. Verse 86 says, “All your commandments are sure, they persecute me with falsehood, help me!” Matthew Henry commented: “‘God help me!’ is an excellent comprehensive prayer; it is a pity that it should ever be used lightly and as a by-word.” The length of this prayer demonstrates faith. The psalmist prays, “Help me!” There are times when long prayers are appropriate. But there are times when long prayers are out of place. When Peter sank into the sea, he did not have time to pray long. He cried out, “Lord, save me.” The content of this prayer also demonstrates faith. The psalmist prayed, “Help me!”

            • He did not tell God how to help. 
            • He did not order God around. 
            • He did not give God instructions. 

            A successful but frustrated beautician closed her shop and became an artist. When asked why, she replied, “Because the blank canvas does not try to tell me how to make it beautiful.” 

            The Lord Will Sustain You. The psalmist did not face a minor trial. It was a major ordeal. His life was on the line. Verse 87 says, “They have almost made an end of me on earth.” Sometimes, “almost” is bad news. In Acts 26:28, Felix said to Paul, “Almost you persuaded me to be a Christian.” That is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. To almost be a Christian is to die in your sins and go to hell. If you are saved, “almost” is good news. W. Graham Scroggie wrote: “God sets a limit to the design of the wicked. Almost is not altogether.”

            Verse 87 says, “They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts.”Note the contrasting conjunction: “But.” It was almost the end of his life on earth. But he did not forsake the word of God. We justify our betrayal of God’s word by claiming we have to live. No, you don’t! Death is not final. Eternity is! Nothing in this life is worth forsaking the word of God. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

            The Lord Will Revive You. Verse 88 says, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.” The psalmist speaks as one who was at the point of death. He cried out to God to give him life, revive him, quicken him. He was in a spiritual coma, as it were. He asked God to wake him up, renew his strength, and put him back on his feet. In verse 40, he prayed, “In your righteousness give me life.” Now he prays, “In your steadfast love give me life.” 

            “Steadfast love” is the covenant-keeping love of God. It is loyal, generous, sufficient, unfailing, and eternal love. The steadfast love of God will give you life. If it seems too good to be true, look at Jesus. 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” What does that mean? 1 John 4:9 explains, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”

            Verse 88 says, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.” The psalmist did not pray for life to do his own thing. He desired renewed life to do God’s will, keep God’s word, and serve God’s work. God does not give us life for us to waste it. He gives us life to use for his glory.

            The psalmist did not promise to keep God’s word to receive life. He pursued holiness as a beneficiary of God’s steadfast love. You can never live good enough to earn God’s love. But you don’t have to! God loves you because of who he is and in spite of who you are. He has proven his love through the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Jesus gave his life for you, give your life to him! 


            H.B. Charles Jr.

            Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.