Up From The Dust | Psalm 119:25-32

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  • Up From The Dust | Psalm 119:25-32
  • The previous section of Psalm 119 ends in verse 24 with a testimony of joy: “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” This section begins in verse 25 with a prayer of lamentation, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” 

    This sudden and extreme change of mood reminds us that one who lives by God’s word will face joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, celebration and grief. This abrupt shift further reveals that seasons of depression often follow seasons of delight. Times of weakness often follow times of strength. The experience of defeat often follows the experience of victory. 

    Andrew Bonner wrote: “We must be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” It does not take much, and it does not take long to go from delight to depression. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah won a contest against the 450 prophets of Baal, calling down fire from heaven. In the next chapter, Elijah ran from Ahab and Jezebel, complained he was the only man of God left, and asked the Lord to take his life. It can happen to you!

    • You can go from success on Carmel to despair in the wilderness. 
    • You can go from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. 
    • You can go from delighting in the word to clinging to the dirt. 

    The person who is devoted to the word may be down, but they are not out. In verse 25, the stanza begins, “My soul clings to the dust.” In verse 32, the stanza ends, “I will run in the way of your commandments.” When the psalmist reached a low point, he called on the Lord. The Lord took him from biting the dust to running the race. The Lord is willing and able to do the same for you. How do you get up from the dust? Two aspects of the psalmist’s prayer moved God to lift him from the dust. 

    The Prayer of a Depressed Soul 

       The first half of this stanza addresses the distress of the psalmist. He prayed about his situation. And the word of God ministered to him. Verses 25-28 affirm the sufficiency of God’s word to comfort a troubled soul. 

      God’s Word Revives. In verse 25, the psalmist describes his distress in graphic terms: “My soul clings to the dust.” This lament will automatically register with you if you have lived through a season of despair, depression, or discouragement. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases: “I’m feeling terrible – I couldn’t feel worse.” Have you ever been there? The psalmist claimed his soul – not his body – was clinging to the dust. His pain may have resulted from obedience or disobedience to God’s word. This godly man was not exempt from circumstances that put his soul in the dust. Neither are you. 

        What should you do when your soul is in the dust? Pray! Is that what you do when you are low in spirit? Or do you feel you are so low that you are not able to pray? You can never be so low that God cannot hear you when you pray. The intensity of your suffering is never as important as its location. 

        • Does it stand between you and God? 
        • Or does it press you closer to God?

        You can still reach God in prayer when you are at your lowest point. Verse 25 says: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” The psalmist speaks as one at the point of death. He asked the Lord to give him life, revive him, and put him on his feet again. Note the means of this spiritual resuscitation: “according to your word.” 

        The psalmist was depressed. But he did not see a psychiatrist. He did not enter therapy. He did not go on medication. He prayed God would give him life according to the word. The word of God is sufficient to comfort troubled souls. John Phillips comments: “There are very few problems in this life that cannot be solved by a thorough-going, honest exposure of one’s life to the Scriptures. To do that is the greatest therapy in the world.” 

        God’s Word Enlightens.  Verse 26 says, “When I told of my ways, you answered me.” God is willing to hear and able to answer prayer. Notice when God answers: “When I told of my ways.” The psalmist did not turn to family and friends to talk. He declared his ways to God. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” If your soul is in the dirt, don’t spend too much time talking to people who cannot fix the situation. 

        Verse 26a records a testimony of answered prayer. Verse 26b records another prayer request: “Teach me your statutes.” The psalmist experienced God’s power to answer the prayer. Yet he could not live today on yesterday’s grace. You are mistaken if you think you can face tomorrow on the accumulated knowledge of the past. You need fresh grace and new mercy every day.

        Verse 27 prays: “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.” You need more than information; you need insight. You need an understanding of God’s word. As God gives understanding, meditate on his wondrous works. Many sunbeams are wasted for the want of intent eyes. Understanding and meditation are vital for comfort when your soul is in the dust. 

        God’s Word Strengthens. The psalmist speaks positively in verses 26-27. Then he relapses in verse 28. In verse 25, he says, “My soul clings to the dust.” In verse 28, he says, “My soul melts away for sorrow.” This idiom probably refers to intense weeping. The psalmist cried so hard that it seemed his soul melted with grief. This second expression of grief teaches that godly people may face difficulties that are not easy to overcome. Christians can experience lingering sorrows. 

         What do you do when sorrow doesn’t go away? The psalmist did what he did the last time. He prayed: “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” God’s word will give you strength. Deuteronomy 33:25 says, “As your days, so shall your strength be.” 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.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

        One Sunday, Charles Spurgeon addressed his critics from the pulpit. “Some have found fault with me,” he said, “Contending that I am too old-fashioned. I am always quoting the Bible and do not say enough about science. Well, there’s a poor widow here who lost her only son. She wants to know if she will ever see him again. Let’s turn to science for the answer: Will she see him? Where is he? Does death end all?” There was a long pause. “We are waiting for an answer,” he said. “This woman is anxious.” Another long pause. “Nothing to say?” Then we’ll turn to the Book!” 

        The Prayer of a Determined Soul 

           In verses 25-28, his faith is depressed. He prays God will pick him up and put him back on his feet. In verses 29-32, his faith is determined. He prays that God will help him stay on his feet and on the right track. William Cowper wrote, “True godliness evermore wears upon her head the garland of perseverance.”

          The Desire of the Determined Soul. There are two petitions in verse 29. First, the psalmist prayed, “Put false ways far from me.” The NKJV reads: “the way of lying.” The psalmist did not ask the Lord to help him to stop lying. He prayed against lying ways. The concern was the direction of his life, not the words of his mouth. He desired to stay away from any course of life that did not align with God’s word and wisdom. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The psalmist wanted to avoid the false way that ends in death. He brought this holy desire to the Lord, “Put false ways far from me.”

            Holy desires, good intentions, and sincere motives cannot keep us on the right track. We need God’s help to resist temptation, live obediently, and endure hardship. Galatians 5:16 says: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The flesh gravitates toward false ways. Only the Holy Spirit can put false ways far from us. There’s another petition: “Graciously teach me your law!” The law of God is a gift. The word is not a weapon in the hands of an angry judge. It is a tool in the hands of a loving father. God sanctifies us through the scriptures. The determined soul desires God to graciously teach him the law.

            The Decisions of a Determined Soul In verses 30-32, the psalmist makes three decisions about his walk with God. 

            Choose God’s WordIn verse 29, the writer denounces false ways. In verse 30, he says, “I have chosen the way of faithfulness.” These are two ways to live: the false way or the faithful way. The psalmist chose the way of faithfulness. It was a settled decision. What path have you chosen? Joshua 24:15 says: “choose this day whom you will serve.” Jesus visited Mary and Martha. Martha was overwhelmed by the meal she prepared. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear him teach. Martha confronted Jesus and ordered him to make Mary help. Luke 10:41-42 says: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

            Verse 30 reads: “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.” To live the faithful way, you must set the word of God before you. Charles Spurgeon says, “The commands of God must be set before us as a mark to aim at, the model to work by, and the road to walk in.” 

            In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar placed Daniel and the other noble slaves in a training program. They were to be mentally and physically trained for service in the Babylonian Empire. Most of these young slaves saw this as an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation. Daniel resolved not to be defiled by the king’s food and wine. He was allowed to keep the dietary restrictions of God’s word for thirty days. When the time was up, Daniel and his friends were healthier and stronger than those who ate from the king’s table. God can give you the same personal integrity, moral courage, and spiritual strength if you choose the way of faithfulness and set God’s word before you at all times. 

            Cling to God’s Word.  Verse 25 says, “My soul clings to the dust.” Verse 31 says, “I cling to your testimonies, O Lord.” If your soul clings to the dust, cling to the word of God. Get wrapped up, tied up, and tangled up in God’s word. Don’t be stuck with it. Be stuck to it. Cling to God’s word deliberately, strategically, and continuously. John 8:31-32 says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set your free.” To have assurance of salvation, understanding of the truth, and freedom from sin, cling to the word of God. A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who is not. 

            Verse 31 contains a pledge: “I cling to your testimonies, O Lord.” It also contains a plea: “Let me not be put to shame.” Psalm 119:6 says, “Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” Rebellion against God’s word results in shame. Devotion to God’s word prevents shame. The psalmist says, “Lord, I am clinging to your word. Don’t put me to shame.” If you cling to God’s word, you can pray with that same assurance: 

            • If you honor God, God will honor you.
            • If you hold up God’s word, God won’t let you down.
            • If you take care of God’s business, God will take care of your business. 

             Chase after God’s Word.  Verse 32 says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! This picture describes eager, diligent, and zealous devotion to God’s word. Psalm 119 begins by declaring the blessings of walking in God’s law and ways. Now, walking is not good enough. He runs in the way of God’s commandments. This is the proper progression of the Christian life. You should go from walking to running.

            Is the testimony of your faith journey a progression from standing in faith to walking in truth to running after God? Or is your story the opposite? Did you start out running but slowed to a walk? Are you even standing on the promises? Or are you just sitting on the premises? 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

            Verse 32 says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.” “Enlarge my heart” is a greater capacity to understand and appreciate God’s word. The psalmist was confident he could run because God was enlarging his heart. The psalmist did not recite the prayer of Jabez to receive God’s supernatural enablement. He was not concerned about God enlarging his territory. He was concerned about God enlarging his heart. That needs to be your concern. You don’t need him to enlarge your head. You need him to enlarge your heart. You will be able to run the way of his commandments only through God’s energy, enablement, and empowerment. 

            Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

            Derek Redmond represented Great Britain in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He was expected to take home the gold medal in the 400-meter. During the race, Derek’s hamstring ruptured, causing him to fall to the track in tears and agony. Finally, he rose to his feet. With pain dogging his every step, he hobbled toward the finish line. Suddenly, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and a ball cap jumped from the stand, fought past security, and ran to Derek’s side. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. Arm in arm, Jim carried Derek, supporting the weight his son’s injured leg could not. Together, they stayed in Derek’s lane to the finish line, which they crossed together. 


            H.B. Charles Jr.

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