October 6, 2013
We begin a new series of messages this morning, From Our Heart to God’s. It will be four to six weeks and will end with the 23rd psalm, which may take several weeks just for that psalm. Then we will take a few weeks to talk about our personal role and mission in God’s kingdom. Then we’ll be into Advent.
The messages in our new series all come from the book of Psalms, which contains some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. I chose the title From Our Heart to God’s because the psalms, as a collection, express the full range of human emotions unlike any other book of the Bible. The psalms express the highest joys and the deepest lows, the greatest expectations and the most devastating disappointments, the greatest sense of security and the most ominous fears. All throughout the psalms we read of the full range of human emotions as they are expressed to God.
Reading the psalms will give you a very real sense that it is unlike the other books of Scripture. The prophets, for instance, speak the words of God, warning of the consequences of ignoring or forsaking the people’s covenant with God. They speak the voice of God, mostly, and not their own. The writers of the psalms, however, speak from the human heart, and sometimes the words they speak are very raw. Consider this passage from Psalm 3:7 – Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. It’s doubtful that we would find anywhere else in the Bible a passage where someone is imploring God to act like a defender on the school playground, asking him to punch out the school bully. An even more raw passage comes from the 137th psalm, verses 8 and 9 – O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. That’s a tough passage to read, but one that expresses the deeply felt emotions of being, in this case, a people captive in Babylon, far from their homeland and wishing they could exact revenge on their captors.
I want you to think for a moment about the greatest challenge you faced in life. Got it in mind? What is one of our first inclinations in times of trouble? To formulate a plan. We feel compelled to do something about the challenge we face.
Now, imagine that your plan is – let your plan go. In essence, that is the message of the 46th psalm, as the 46th psalm tells us we should trust God with our circumstances.
Now, we like to use that kind of language – I’m going to trust God – but then we do whatever we believe we have to do to take care of ourselves.
The first psalm that we will study – psalm 46 – is one that was born out of great fear and uncertainty. Its setting takes place when Israel was a divided kingdom – Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Sennacherib, the fierce leader of the Assyrian empire, was marching through the Middle East, conquering everything in his path. As he marched toward Egypt, his path took him through the northern kingdom of Israel, which he conquered in 701 BC. Next in line was the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah was not, on paper at least, any match for Sennacherib and his mighty army. He sent a letter to Hezekiah, the king in Jerusalem, telling him exactly when he would invade the city. Hezekiah took the letter into the Temple to spread it out before God. The prophet Isaiah warned Hezekiah not to attempt to strike a deal with Sennacherib, but to trust God.
Hezekiah listened to Isaiah. He trusted God, but it could not have been easy. Under the circumstances, it would have been easy to send negotiators to Sennacherib, seeking to spare the city of Jerusalem and its people from harm. The Assyrian army approached Jerusalem and set up camp outside the city. By appearance, it seemed as though the city was on the verge of a terrible invasion. Sennacherib was set to invade the city at midnight. Fear ran rampant through Jerusalem. Imagine the pressure that Hezekiah must have felt to make a deal to spare the city. He did not give in to the pressure, but continued to trust God. Almost at the moment of battle, a plague swept through the Assyrian army, and they withdrew from Jerusalem, and the people were spared.
Psalm 46 was written in response to the deliverance from the Assyrians. It is a psalm of grateful assurance to God’s salvation and deliverance.
1. Don’t fear others.
I don’t mean to get into the politics of all that is happening in Washington, DC these days with the government shutdown, but imagine the pressure those individuals are feeling.
Can you imagine the pressure Hezekiah faced? He had the entire city of Jerusalem paralyzed with fear and what was he doing? Nothing, it appeared. No gathering of his military. No display of weaponry. No battle plans being considered. Outside the walls of Jerusalem was camped the most fearsome army of the day, and Hezekiah appeared to be doing nothing.
Can we stand up to the pressures from others? Tomorrow morning students will walk into schools and worry about what others think about them – what they are wearing, who their friends are, how they act, and many other matters. People will walk into their workplaces and worry about what their coworkers think about them. It’s hard not to fear others and their opinions. I’m not recommending that we ignore wise, and needed, counsel from people we trust, but I think we give people far too much power over our lives because of our fear of their opinion.
2. Don’t fear the situation.
Rudyard Kipling wrote the famous poem If, which begins If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs. It’s a magnificent poem, and one person has rewritten the beginning – If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs, you obviously don’t have a good grasp of the situation. That might have been how some of the residents of Jerusalem responded to Hezekiah when he appeared to be calm in the face of the Assyrian army.
How do we maintain faith and hope in the face of our fears and the pressures of life? How do we maintain faith and hope when we face an uncertain future? How do we maintain faith and hope when we don’t know if we’ll have a job tomorrow? How do we maintain faith and hope when we receive difficult news from the doctor?
In verse 10 we are told to be still and know that I am God. We don’t do still very well in our world. We’re 21st century Americans who are rarely still. The word for still, however, does mean that we sit and do nothing. In our busy world, it certainly doesn’t hurt us to be still for a while, but the meaning is really that we stop depending upon our own resources and learn to depend upon the resources of God. It means that we drop our arms and hands and stop clawing away at life with our own plans. It means that we stop thinking and believing that our destiny resides in our own efforts and our hands. This is an immense challenge for those of us who are proud of our self-sufficiency and ability to take care of ourselves. Being still means that we are willing to place our trust in God rather than trusting in our own abilities. That’s still a tall order, as it is hard to let go, but psalm 46 is a reminder that God is, indeed, trustworthy as our deliverer.
3. Don’t fear the future.
I don’t know how I got to this point in my life so quickly. Wow, it’s gone fast. Where did the time go? And you know what? A lot of what I feared about the future never came to pass. I know there were many nights when I was awake with worry, but I don’t remember what those worries were. I know there were situations that brought great stress to my life, but I’ve forgotten about them in the passing of time.
Jesus famously said in Matthew 6:34 do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Psalm 46 is about getting the best out of our troubles, not getting out of trouble. We all want to avoid trouble, but we also recognize that we can’t always avoid it.
This is a psalm of triumph – you can triumph over your circumstances. You might not be out of your circumstances, but you can still triumph over them. You have a bright future ahead, and one that is filled with hope.
4. Don’t be afraid to live.
I think that we too often accept a dimmer life than what God has in store for us, and it’s because of our fear. We feel deep within our heart what God is calling us to do with our lives, but we are afraid to act upon it.
Several weeks ago, I read a few lines from this book, Kisses From Katie, by Katie Davis. Tanya had been telling me for a number of weeks that I should read this book. I’d seen it in bookstores but the title sounded like a romance novel and I didn’t pay it much attention. I finally picked it up recently and have found it to be very moving. Katie Davis, after graduating from high school, went to the African country of Uganda. Now in her early 20s, Katie has adopted fourteen orphans. She founded a ministry that helps to educate, feed, clothe, and provide medical care for hundreds of children. Katie says that people often say to her that she must be a very special person to do what she does, but her reply is that she is the same as everyone else.
I believe the primary difference between Katie Davis and others is that Katie has not been paralyzed by her fears. There is so much that all of us are capable of doing, if we were not paralyzed by fear.
Psalm 46 has so much to teach us. It teaches us that we need not be afraid, because we can trust God with our present and our future. It asks us to receive a life that is far greater than we often accept.
Don’t be afraid. Receive the life God has in store for you.