I love the Psalms and turn to them often as a source of prayer. In the Psalms you can find prayers of praise and prayers of complaint and lament, and often both ideas are in the same Psalm.
In spite of my love for the Psalms, I tend to avoid one particular Psalm — 119. It is the longest of all the Psalms, taking up at least 6 full pages! But last night when I got home I had the overwhelming urge to read Psalm 119. So after I had changed my clothes, I sat in my chair in my bedroom, before even talking to my family, and began reading. Before I was done, both my husband and my son came looking for me, wondering what had happened to me.
It had been a stressful day at work and I was struggling with my attitude towards someone who was not responding to my voicemail or email, and I needed an answer. I struggled because this is a typical response (or rather, lack of response) from this particular person. So I was feeling frustrated and upset.
As I read Psalm 119, I came to this section:
49Remember the word to Your servant,
In which You have made me hope.
50This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me.
51The arrogant utterly deride me,
Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.
52I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O LORD,
And comfort myself.
53Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked,
Who forsake Your law.
54Your statutes are my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.
55O LORD, I remember Your name in the night,
And keep Your law.
56This has become mine,
That I observe Your precepts.
A couple of lines jumped out of this passage and caught my attention: “The arrogant utterly deride me” and “Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked.” This is how I felt. And I was not alone in that feeling — even David felt as though he had been utterly derided and felt a burning indignation toward those who had derided him.
But I knew I had to move past those lines of complaint into the lines of praise and worship. This is the beauty of the Psalms. When reading them, one is never left with just the human emotions that we struggle with every day. This Psalm in particular is a great reminder of the wonder of God’s Word and His precepts. By His Word I am revived; I find hope and comfort; I am able to sing a song of praise to my Lord and King.
I didn’t finish Psalm 119 after work because my son interrupted me wanting to know how I was doing. And so I set my Bible aside and visited with him, and then made dinner. I picked it up again this morning before I came to work, and still did not finish the whole Psalm, but I did skip to the end (a bad habit I have with books in general). As I skipped to the end, I noticed that there was some complaint or lament about the wicked in every section of the Psalm, except this final section:
169Let my cry come before You, O LORD;
Give me understanding according to Your word.
170Let my supplication come before You;
Deliver me according to Your word.
171Let my lips utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.
172Let my tongue sing of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.
173Let Your hand be ready to help me,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
174I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
175Let my soul live that it may praise You,
And let Your ordinances help me.
176I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant,
For I do not forget Your commandments.
In this last section, the Psalmist does not complain about the wickedness of others but finally admits that he has gone astray and asks God to seek him. He recognizes that it is our Lord who will find us. Even though the Psalmist sings God’s praises and delights in His law, he has stumbled himself and needs God to redeem him.
This is the place we need to get to. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that it is at the end of a very long Psalm. It is a lesson that can take a long time to truly understand and internalize. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6. His Word and His precepts are the key to understanding our own wickedness and need for our Savior. It seems easier to focus on the character and actions of others, but it is more fruitful to focus on Christ and on allowing Him to change our own character and actions.