I’ve selected Psalm 74 for our message today as a representative of this weeks readings. In it we will explore how faith works in devastating times of desperation.
I asked Bryan Curtis, who is interning with us this summer, to interview some of our youth on this Psalm, here’s the results. (Show video)
(Greeting one another)
This week’s reading took us from Psalm 68 through Psalm 82.
These fifteen Psalms are mostly cries for help from God against enemies. Listen to these opening lines:
68 – May God arise, may His enemies be scattered.
69 – Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
70 – Hasten, O God to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me.
71 – In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.
74 – Why have you rejected us forever, O God?
77 – I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
79 – O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
80 – Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
The Psalms are cries of the heart from God’s people expressing human emotions in response to a wide range of experiences. These are scriptures, inspired by God, to help God’s people of all time to walk with Him. The worldview of the Psalmist is that God’s hand is in everything. When things are going great, God is to be praised. If things are looking bad, God is to be called upon. If things are really terrible, God is the only answer.
Most of us feel comfortable saying “God has blessed us” when things are going well, but I dare say, it’s not as common to hear Christians lay their woes at the feet of God saying, “You did this to me, or at least allowed it, and I desperately need your help to make it through.” Psalms reveals to us that seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is not all about praise and rejoicing in triumph. It includes struggling with hard questions during times of crushing trial. During those times, we are given biblical examples of how to respond and we discover, it’s ok to ask, “Why?”
Let’s read together the first 8 verses:
O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember the nation you purchased long ago,
the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—
Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
When faith is under fire, literally, we have permission to ask: Why?
Our nation has been spared for many years. 9-11 was a wakeup call. We’ve done more to ruin ourselves than we have through foreign foes. Civil war, rioting, civil unrest, school shootings… These have brought us to our knees and continue to trouble our nation. We either bow before God in desperation of faith or turn away from God in defiance of unbelief. It’s here we ask the hard questions:
Where is God when terrible times come? Why does God allow tragic things in our lives?
Let’s read on in the Psalm:
We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
These are the worst of times.
The Psalms record the cries of the heart of God’s people in the very worst times. Lamentations was written by Jeremiah who witnessed the devastation of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captives being led away in chains, some with hooks in their flesh.
I dare say, the vast majority of us have had lives of peace and security compared with the context of this Psalm. I have to mention Rachel Bible’s comment when Bryan asked if she could identify with it. Remember? She said, “I’m only 18 and I’ve lived a middle class life and I’ve never been put to the brink of death and depression… No, I don’t think so.” Well put! And how true!
We’ve had it good, brothers and sisters. We’ve been blessed these many years with prosperity and abundance from the hand of God! Amen? We on Signal Mountain, have lived through times of security enjoying amazing economical progress. Our greatest faith struggle today is from having it so good we can get comfortable and forget. That’s not true of every community in our area, but it is here.
But there’s a danger. We can become weak in our awareness of our deep need for God’s care, and think that we somehow deserve it or will always have it, or worse, that we have the control to keep it coming in and of ourselves. We can be surprised by trials.
Trials are not wasted. In fact, God uses trials to strengthen His people. Peter and James both speak to this truth in their letters. Jesus calls us to be willing to suffer. Not that we want it, but we need to be willing to suffer, and even choose to do hard things. We need spiritual exercise in building faith muscles to endure hardship for Christ! This is biblical from cover to cover!
What happens to those whose faith is too weak to face trial when it comes? Let us be ready! This Psalmist was. His complaint is not a rejection of God, but a faith statement in the midst of the trial. God does not despise the cry of the heart in desperate times! Jesus himself cried out in His crucifixion.
This Psalmist shows how his faith held him when God’s help seemed far away.
Let’s read on:
But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
Notice that in spite of what is going on, and in spite of the horror of the present crisis, God is king. Salvation belongs to Him. Seeking His kingdom and righteousness in all of life’s experiences is how we practice our faith. When terrible times come and we witness the depth of darkness and sin’s wretched destruction, where do we go? Where does faith lead us? Faith does not mean that we take it all in stride. Faith in God cries out in desperation when times of desperation come. But faith in God seeks God as king, always, even through the valley of the shadow of death. How? By recalling the works of God. Number 1 work – God brings salvation on the earth. All crisis in this life is temporary for God’s people. He will one day wipe away all tears. Recalling His works gives us strength to face life’s worst.
It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
Did you notice how this entire section recognizes the power and might of God. God is the ultimate power over all things and the ultimate source of all as well. Kingdom seeking faith knows that there is no where else to turn but God. This reminds me of John 6 when Jesus had said some of His hardest statements about discipleship and many were turning away. Jesus asked His 12 disciples, “Will you leave me too?” Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Turning away from God is not an option for a kingdom seeking faith. The trials of kingdom seeking faith can actually refine and strengthen it.
Finally, the Psalmist lays before the Lord his case and offers his appeal for God’s deliverance. This is not a formula to manipulate God into action according to our liking, But an expression of hope in the power of God to do what we believe is good.
Let’s read together the final prayer of the Psalm:
Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
This appeal for protection and judgment against the adversaries is a common theme within many of the Psalms. This reminds us that we can call on God to vindicate us, deliver us and judge those who reject God’s kingdom and righteousness.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each of us may give an account for the things done in this body. Therefore since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we persuade men.”
John 5:24f Jesus tells us that the Father has given Him authority to judge and some day everyone will hear His voice. The dead will hear it and rise: those who have done good will rise to life, those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. Kingdom seeking faith prepares us to receive eternal life in Christ.