My soul languishes for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
My eyes fail with watching for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke;
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
Psalm 119: 81-83 (NRSV)
Psalm 119 holds rank as the longest psalm in the Bible. Throughout the psalm, the Psalmist spells out in various ways the refreshing and delightful qualities of submitting to God’s instruction. In this extended prayer, the Psalmist makes certain that his or her obedience to God’s instruction is made plain. As the longest psalm, it is difficult for our increasingly distracted minds to absorb the repeated variations on this theme. As a result, many contemporary Bible reading plans split the psalm into two, three, sometimes four different sections spread out across the week. In my opinion, this renders the psalm less effective.
In trying times, our more desperate prayers hover between anxiety and hope. Striving to make sense of our place in the cosmos, words and phrases get repeated over and over. Imagine, if you will, these words being prayed by an inmate on death row, or a young mother facing eviction with no family and no place to turn, or the many Syrian refugees who have witnessed the unraveling of their lives into dismal chaos. This is far from an exercise in exploiting the tragedies of others to make our daily Bible reading more compelling since the
Psalmist speaks of his own desperation.
The Psalmist writes that his soul languishes waiting for God’s salvation. The Hebrew word for “soul” should be understood as referring to the very core of a person’s existence, the very fiber of one’s being, not some spiritual substance, as is commonly understood. Understood this way, the Psalmist speaks of how worn out he is within the very core of his being. His eyes have strained and grown dim with watching for God’s promise. The very fiber of his being has shriveled like a wine skin in the smoke. And yet, the Psalmist has not forgotten the goodness of God’s character as revealed through God’s promises.
When we begin to question God’s presence or activity in our lives, our faith calls us to attend to the things God has entrusted us to do whether or not our prayers are answered in the way we desire. Sometimes when we find ourselves too burdened by the extent of our longings, too prayed out, or too exhausted with coming before God, we can look to others to bear our burdens prayerfully until we regain our own strength of spirit. A believing community shoulders hope when circumstances seem hopeless. A believing community speaks boldly into despair and longing and suggests that things do not have to remain as they are in the presence of a holy, imaginative God. For this reason, Psalm 119 is not an individual’s prayer, but a communal prayer.
Lord God, we are hungry for your counsel. Don’t ever deprive us of truth. Help us to see you acting in those who surround us. Guide us down the road of your commandments. Amen.
First Level, M. Div.
Before seminary, Christopher worked as a Financial Analyst for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Continuing Medical Education. His call to ordained ministry has been in the making for many years. After graduation, he plans to pursue a Th.M. (most likely in Old Testament theology) before going where God needs him.