Trials will come. This is the reality that all followers of Jesus have known or will come to know, time and time again. Many of us have committed to memory the words of Jesus when he told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We know this is true. And yet we are still taken by surprise and shaken when tribulations show up at our door and move the ground beneath our feet.
We all face times in our lives that are especially difficult, that are full of moments that can break our hearts and shake our faith. An unexpected call, a deadly disease, a rebellious child, a husband who has abandoned the faith, money difficulties with no end in sight, relationship problems…. What can we do when trials come? How much our hearts respond? Psalm 119:17-24 shows us the way.
In this psalm we find a prayer with specific requests made by David, in the midst of the persecution and defamation that he was suffering that were coming from men in positions of authority. Every request he makes in these verses is within the context of trials and tribulations, and in each request the psalmist has in mind his own faithfulness and obedience to God’s word.
While you’re certainly not living through the same situation as David, his requests—and the hope they show—are applicable in your own trials. We need the Scriptures at all times, especially the difficult ones. This is why our Lord responded in the moment of temptation with the words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Knowing this truth, the psalmist shows us where our hearts should be aimed and what we should ask for in the word.
David prays, “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word” (v 17). The petition with which he initiates this portion contains a truth that we need to understand. To live and keep God’s word is something that we cannot do for ourselves—it is a blessing that comes from God; it is granted by the author of the word. David recognizes himself as the servant of the Lord. Kind he may be, but he recognizes that God alone is the exalted one, and David is but a servant, seeking in his Lord’s face what only he can give: life and obedience to his word.
If there is anything we should always pray for, it is this! We do not have what it takes to live and obey by our own strength. David asks the Lord to let him live and to help him keep his word, and the truth is that there is no life worth living that is not a life of obedience and delighting in God’s word. Psalm 1 teaches us that anyone who has their delight in the word of God and in it meditates day and night is blessed, and in 1 Samuel we find Samuel telling David himself that the Lord delights in obedience more than in any sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).
The obedience that blesses us and in which the Lord delights is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each believer through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. In every moment of our life, even in the midst of deepest pain, we need the grace that leads us to obey his word. We need outside help; we need him.
Next, David says to the Lord:
I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (19-20)
In the midst of this pilgrimage, he recognizes what he knows is steadfast and true: the word of God. That word is our anchor in the midst of a chaotic world—a world full of sin and difficulties. The Lord’s commandments are a safe haven in our passage through this land.
That word becomes precious when the pilgrimage takes us through rough ground, for, like David, we can say to God, “You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments,” and we can ask him to “take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies,” and we can recommit ourselves so that as his servants we will “meditate on [his] statutes” (21-23). In these verses we see how David begs the Lord to remove from him the slander and accusations that are falsely being made against him. In the midst of this difficulty, he knows where he should go; he knows that God is his defender, and that he is the one who brings judgment to those who deviate from his commandments.
David knows the value of keeping God’s word in the midst of persecution. Perhaps you find yourself in a situation much like David’s. Just as David did, you can entrust your defense to the Lord. He knows all things, and he is for you and not against you. Justice will come, even if it feels slow to you. As you follow David’s example, you are also following the supreme example of the better and greater David—someone who did not commit any sin, in whose mouth was found no deceit; one who, when insulted, did not respond in outrage and who, when he suffered, did not threaten; one who entrusted justice to the one who he knew would judge in all righteousness—the greater David, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
The last verse of this stanza again reminds us where our counsel lies in the midst of difficulties: “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (v 24). For David, the word was not only his source of meditation; it was also his delight and his guide. The word is our faithful guide and if we genuinely want to find rest in it, we must submit to its direction, making it our delight. When life becomes difficult, our hearts desire comfort and guidance, and David knew that this could only be found in the word. How much more will we find these things in the whole counsel of God that we hold in our hands, aided by the Holy Spirit of God who is living in our hearts, guiding us to all truth.
In what difficult circumstances do you find yourself? What injustices or disappointments must you contend with? Think of the wonderful things that God has shown you in his word through your difficulty, which have been clearer to you now because of that situation in which you are living. Think of how your difficulties serve as a reminder that you are only passing through this world and that a heavenly, eternal abode is awaiting you, where there will be no more crying or pain. Be alert in the midst of your difficulty, so that God’s word will be at all times your delight. Fix your eyes on its truths and so shut out the lies that so easily creep into our minds in the midst of pain. May God’s word be our anchor in the midst of difficulties, and our delight and counselor at all times as we sojourn on to our home with him.
Patricia Namnún is part of the leadership of the Women’s Ministry at International Baptist Church, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is Coordinator for Women’s Initiative for Coalición por el Evangelio (The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish ministry). The above excerpt is adapted from ‘Our Anchor and Delight’, an essay in His Testimony, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God (The Good Book Company, 2019) and is republished here by kind permission of the publisher.