Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thinking About Life

There is a once popular book that starts with a bit of simple profundity. It’s first sentence is, ‘Life is hard’. To my knowledge, the person who wrote that wasn’t a Christian. But I do think that he was able to see a piece of reality pretty clearly. Not the whole of reality, but a bit of it. Life is hard. To be sure, that’s not the way that it’s supposed to be. But that’s the way that it is in this very broken world. It’s a big step forward when we come to acknowledge this bit of reality. Once we do acknowledge this, we are led to a question that really needs to be answered. How do we deal with this? How do we respond to the hard parts of life?

We’re going to use something from David’s life to explore this question and to find some answers to it. In what we will look at, David is dealing with his own particular difficulties, but we can apply his methods to the difficulties that we face. This morning we’re going to work our way through a bit of one of David’s psalms, Psalm 22.

David starts by identifying a problem.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22.1-2
So, do you see it? Do you see David’s problem? God is silent. David has been praying about something, but God isn’t responding. There’s nothing. He’s silent. Now, why is this a problem? For one thing, David has certain expectations, expectations that he thinks are reasonable. But they aren’t being met.

Imagine that you wrote to the Queen of England asking her for a favor. She might respond. But if she didn’t, it wouldn’t be a crushing surprise. Who are you to ask the Queen for a favor? Is that something that you should expect?

So, is David expecting too much to think that he might ask God for a favor and to be shocked because God isn’t responding? No. His expectation really is quite reasonable. But that’s not because God is obligated to grant favors to all who ask, even though many people think that He is. The God of the Bible has not obligated Himself to all. But He has obligated Himself to His covenant people. There is a certain kind of relationship between God and all who are His people, a covenant relationship. And that is what David is appealing to when he cries out,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
He is calling to the God who is in relationship with him. That’s why he says, ‘My God’. It’s because of that relationship that David has expectations of his God, expectations like responding to his prayers. His expectations are quite reasonable. The surprise, or even shock, of that first line is very appropriate. God isn’t supposed to be silent, not when it comes to His people.

Now, it’s not as if David has called to God just once. That is, it’s not that David expects God to be at his beck and call to respond immediately. Listen to some more.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
David has persisted in his prayers. And that persistence reveals his covenant expectations. It reveals his faith. ‘My God has promised to hear me. He will hear and respond. He promised.’ But still, God is silent.

And then, to make it all the more pressing, the situation isn’t just some little thing. Whatever it is, David is struggling. He speaks of the words of his groaning. Something big is troubling David. But still, God is silent.

So, David is in need. He does what he knows he should do. He calls out to his God, the God who has made promises to him. But the problem is not solved. God isn’t answering.

So, what is he to do now? Well, what are his options? Consider what people do in similar situations. Some just give up. They quit calling on God and figure that they are on their own, at least in that particular situation. If there is going to be a solution, it will be up to them to find it. And more of life falls apart.

Then, there are those who just keep praying into the silence. They don’t know what else there is to do. But the expectations have changed. When they started out, they really expected an answer. But now, not so much. It’s the religious thing to do. So, they do it. But it has become an empty habit.

And then, there are those who stop their praying and ‘hope’. Please note the quotation marks. They aren’t really hoping. They’re just wishing into the void. They are ‘hoping’ that something will happen to change the situation. They have no reason to think that anything will happen, but they keep on waiting for it.

David doesn’t choose any of those options. He responds more wisely. He takes a step back and thinks about the situation. And he thinks about it as a believer. Listen to where he goes next.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  Psalm 22.3
What’s David doing here? What’s he thinking about? He’s thinking about God. He’s thinking about who his God is. So, first, David reminds himself that his God is holy. Why does David bring that up? Of all the attributes of God, why that one? Here’s one reason. This God always does what is right. He couldn’t do otherwise. He’s holy. If something is amiss in what David is facing, it’s not because God has done something wrong. And that fact becomes an anchor to David’s storm-tossed soul. Whatever is happening, it’s not that God has blown it. He is still David’s covenantkeeping God.

Notice what else David does here.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Psalm 22.3-5
He remembers some history. He reminds himself that his God has come through in the past. The fathers trusted this God, and this God always came through. And that’s why they praised Him for things like keeping His promises and meeting their expectations. This provides some evidence to establish that his God is holy. And please note that David does not recall personal history here, though that would have been fine. He recalls what we might call church history, how God dealt with His people in the days before David showed up.

So, here is David. He is having a hard time with something. What does he do? He stops and does a little thinking about the situation. He applies some biblical reflection to what’s going on in his life so that he can know how to respond well to it. He reminds himself who his God is.

But that doesn’t resolve all that is going on. Listen to what’s next.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Psalms 22.6-8
Now, what is this? And why does David include it here? This is another aspect of David’s problem. This has to do with how others are adding to his problem. He is being scorned, despised and mocked by those around him. And their nasty words are having an effect on him.

We’ve all been told that we can live as independent people. We really don’t need anyone else. But the fact is that we are very social. We need others. And part of what we need from others is their encouragement and support. And when that is lacking, and especially when we hear the opposite of encouragement and support, well, life gets hard. It is not a surprise, then, if doubts arise within. With doubts come different kinds of struggle and confusion. Then, it just may be that it gets so bad that you don’t even know which way is up. It’s hard to live well when you’re in a situation like that. And that’s another part of what David is facing.

So, again, how does he respond? What does he have to say about all of this criticism and ridicule? Listen.
Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Psalms 22.9-10
Do you see what he is doing here? Again, he stops to think about the situation. He hears what others are saying about him. So, he responds. But note that he doesn’t try to convince himself that he shouldn’t be scorned because he’s good at this or that. He doesn’t try to deal with their negative points about him - their criticisms - by listing what he considers to be his positive points.

Instead, he, once again, steps back to take a look at the situation, to look at the situation as a believer. So, he thinks about what his God says about who he is. He considers how his God has defined him and has dealt with him. So, David reminds himself that God took hold of him from before birth. God blessed him with faith so that he could trust God even from infancy. This God has been God to him and has cared for him as His own. So, David could say to himself that in the eyes of his God, he is somebody significant.

In all of this, David is answering this question, ‘Who am I?’ And his answer is clear. ‘You people don’t get to define me. You don’t get to tell me who I am with your mocking words. My God does that. He defines who I am. And He defines me very differently from what you say about me.’

Do you see how this is a protection against the attacks of those who were so critical of him? By their definition, he was a loser. But David takes the time to rehearse some Gospel truth about who he is. And having done that, he makes his choice. He will believe what his God says about him and not what some critical spirits think. He is taking refuge in his God.

Having worked through all of this, what does David do next? Listen.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Psalms 22.11
What’s this? Well, actually, it’s quite obvious. David is resuming his calling on his God. He’s worked through the obstacles that prevented him from doing that. He’s asked: Who is God? Who am I? And he arrived at some good answers to those question. Having sorted those things out according to biblical truth, he is able to return to his prayers and to pray with confidence. And as we see later in the Psalm, this pausing to think about the situation was worth it. Later in the Psalm, David is able to say,
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! Psalms 22.21
His God was no longer silent. He heard David’s prayers and acted. And David was saved.

So, what are you to do with this? Here are some thoughts.

First, be aware that there are times when God does things that you don’t expect, things that don’t seem reasonable. In David’s case, it was God being silent. But it could be most anything. There are times when He does the unexpected. He does that, you know. But it’s not as if He were being difficult. God does the unexpected for our good. Sometimes it’s to get us to think, to reflect biblically on what is going on. And in this way, He gets us to understand life better. Wisdom. So, when He throws you a curve ball, stop and acknowledge that. Tell yourself, ‘I didn’t expect that. I wonder what He wants to teach me now.’

Then, figure out what the real problem is. In David’s case, the real problem wasn’t that God had goofed in some way. No, He is holy, and He is faithful. And then, it wasn’t that David was such a loser that he was disqualified from expecting an answer to his prayers. No, this God was his God. Ultimately, David concluded that he just needed to continue praying and to wait for God’s answer.

So, find out the real problem. And you do that by eliminating suggestions that can’t be true. Satan will do that sort of thing. He’ll suggest all sorts of terrible possibilities, lies about God, lies about you. So, think through your situation using Gospel truths to eliminate Satan’s lies. This is a good place to pray for the help and protection of the Spirit.

But we’re not done. We still have a choice to make. Sometimes we don’t like what the Spirit tells us. Sometimes the real problem that He points to isn’t one that we want to deal with. It doesn’t have to be some cherished sin in your life. Sometimes the real problem is something that we just don’t want to work at. It’s too hard - or so we tell ourselves. So, this last step is to decide to believe the Spirit when He says, ‘This is the problem.’ Real belief will show as real action.

Is all of this hard? Oh, yes! Sometimes it’s really hard. But what’s the alternative? The only alternative is to quit. There are plenty of people who do exactly that. They still show up at some church every Sunday but they have actually quit working at life as a Christian. That won’t turn out very well.

We have all been told, too many times to count, that we are saved by grace alone. And the fact of the matter is that that is the truth, and thanks be to God for that. But some assume from that that there is no work to be done. But that is simply a lie, a lie from Satan. Being a faithful disciple of Jesus, someone who is being saved by the grace of the Gospel, will require much effort. It will require us to face life’s difficult problems and to work hard to respond to them according to the Gospel. It is as we do that that God’s kingdom is advanced and we become more like Jesus.

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