God’s Gear For Getting Through Grief (Psalm 13)…
Many of us are happy to see 2011 go. It was debilitating in many ways and at the very least, very difficult. For many of us, when we look forward as much as we can from our human perspective, the future doesn’t look a lot more promising than 2011. For many of us, we’ve been stumbling and groping around in the darkness and looking for a light at the end of the tunnel that seems to go on forever. We feel like a person on the top of the building, out on the ledge; we look to the side and we don’t see much room, we look back and we feel the wall right up against us. Then we look down and it seems that’s our only option. For many of us, we’ve been in need of a lighthouse. We feel the waves crashing around us and we need a solid place on which to stand, a solid place that when we’re engulfed and surrounded by trials, by giants, where we’re secure, no matter how bad it gets around us. It’s helpful for me to remember that even Jesus struggled with giants. Even though He is and always has been fully God, He became fully man on that first Christmas. Right before He was about to be crucified in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wrestled with a giant such to the point that He cried out to His Father and said (I’m paraphrasing), ‘If there’s any other way for You to save humans, if there’s any other way to shatter the padlock that sin has placed around the gates of heaven, please do it that other way.” And then He said, “Yet not My will but Yours be done.” So my hope this morning as we go through Psalm 13 is that we walk out of here with some tools, a renewed confidence in the Lord that if He’s provided tools for us to endure and persevere through our trial, if He’s given us the means to get through our giant, then we can do it one step at a time – the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a step. None of us, if we’ve ever asked our children to mow the lawn, have tossed them a pair of scissors – no, we provide them with a lawnmower and we teach them how to do it. And so Psalm 13 and throughout Scripture gives us tools God is providing for us—adequate and appropriate tools—to make it through our difficult times.
My family and I were blessed to be at IHOP early in the week with my wife’s brother and her two sisters. We have this amazing fourteen month old daughter named Madison and while she’s EXTREMELY cute, don’t let the cuteness fool you. She has this thing she does—we’re not sure if it is a real clinical condition—that we call baby rage. We’re not sure if it’s because she’s the youngest of five and has to compete for our attention, but when she wants Mama or Papa and the cooing and cuteness doesn’t seem to get it done, she clenches her fists and puts everything her 20 pound body has in it and she screams as loud as she can. I won’t demonstrate for you right now, but needless to say, it’s strident, it’s overwhelming and of course, everyone stops and looks. We were there at IHOP on Christmas day and it seemed that everyone in the restaurant could hear Madison, so my wife gives me the look and I return with a silent but eloquent look in reply that says, ‘yes, honey, I will definitely take Madison and walk around with her so you guys can have a peaceful breakfast.’ J So now I’m walking around the restaurant with Madison and bouncing her around and running out of things to do with her so I decide just to spin with her. It’s a thing that we do all the time. Madison at fourteen months doesn’t understand a lot about what’s happening around her in life; she’s just gotten past the stage where she realizes that the other people she sees are not actually extensions of her own body and that’s why little babies think they control all of us because in fact they really think they can! Anyways, so when we spin, though she understands very little about life, she instinctively realizes that something about her environment is unstable so every time we spin, even though she giggles after the first few seconds of it, she grabs onto me with all the strength that she has. And it hits me, in the theological greenhouse known as IHOP—isn’t that what God wants us to do? When we can’t tell up from down and we don’t know where we’re going and we feel like someone’s tossed us in a washing machine without the water, doesn’t God want us to grab onto Him and hold onto Him with everything we have? I think so.
One other story. When I was driving here last night, on the outside of the windshield, everything was clean. But on the inside of the windshield, it started to get foggy so I turned on the defroster and it helped eliminate that. But I began thinking that the fog wasn’t on the outside, but on the inside of the windshield. It wouldn’t have helped last night to pull the car over, get out, and spray a gallon of Windex on the windshield. No, the obstacle that was blocking my vision (and thus making it VERY dangerous to drive) was on the inside…For many of us, we’re in difficult situations that we haven’t caused and that are going badly—but oftentimes the difficulty is not a result of a sin that we have committed but is a result of either the sinfulness of others or simply the general sinfulness of this broken world in which we live. Nevertheless, while we cannot control the situations on the outside of us we can control how foggy it gets on the inside of our own hearts and minds where we’re focusing so much on the giant in front of us that we take our eyes off the Savior and miss all the things in our lives that are going right. So again, it is my hope that in Psalm 13 God is going to give us some tools to clarify our vision and to eliminate some of the fog on the inside of our minds and hearts that make it difficult to continue following after Him…
I’m 31 years old and I haven’t had very much tragedy in my life so I’m under no illusion that if I weave together just the right words and provide the right illustrations that everyone will walk out in 20 minutes and everything will be great. But again, if God has provided us with tools to get through a situation, I believe that is because He intends on bringing us through that situation. I chose Psalm 13 because as I read through it and got to verses 5 and 6, it was as if God highlighted it and I said, “I’ve got to teach on this, God’s telling us something.” It stood out in a different way this time (even though I’ve read it before a few times).
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?
And every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God,
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
My enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
For he has been good to me.
We know from the beginning that this is a psalm of David and if there’s anyone in the Bible besides Jesus who has the street credibility to walk us through difficult times, it’s David. Remember that even at the age of 14-15 David began experiencing difficulties. You’ll recall that Samuel came to David’s father’s family and Samuel said “The Lord has chosen the new king” and Jesse brings by all of David’s older brothers and Samuel says, “Well, it’s none of these, is there anyone else?” It’s almost as if Jesse goes, “Oh yeah, we do have another son; I forgot about him, he’s a shepherd out in the field. Let’s just bring him in, then. But it can’t be David.” David was overlooked even by his brothers and his dad and that probably wasn’t just a onetime occurrence. David had to deal with that, being the youngest, being relegated to the role of shepherd, which was the least desirable role in a family back then. David had to deal with his best friend Jonathan’s dad Saul, eventually pursuing him with the fiercest warriors of Israel trying to kill him, so David had to wrestle with that too. David had to deal with being a murderer and an adulterer later in his life and the natural consequences that came with that, even though God forgave him for his sin. The first child David had with Bathsheba died; the baby didn’t do anything wrong; that was David’s sin, but that baby died and David had to deal with that. David had to deal with his son, Absalom, usurping the throne later on and also pursuing David and waging war against him.
So David knew what it was alike to go through hard times, and his difficult times didn’t all turn out well for him. So let’s remember that as we read Psalm 13, we see it’s not just the words of a holy superstar of the faith; but it’s the words of a real person who went through real difficulties, like we do, like we have or like we will.
So David begins by asking, “How long, Lord, is this going to last?” As he originally wrote those words, he probably hadn’t had a bad day or a bad week; he probably had been pushing bad month, bad year, bad decade territory. He says, ‘will you forget me forever?’ and then he continues with “how long will you hide your face from me?” In both of those lines, he’s actually accusing God – he’s not saying are you going to forget me, are you going to hide your face from me – he’s saying how long is it going to last while you forget me, while you hide your face from me. He’s forgotten the promise that God made early on in the Old Testament where He said to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “I will not leave you or abandon you.” David’s forgotten that great promise so he’s now accusing God of abandoning him. And though David’s wrong in his accusation against God, he is bold/honest with his prayer to God; let’s learn from that and start/continue to also be bold/honest when we come to God – we don’t need to sugarcoat it with Him. He can take our honesty (and indeed, honesty with God is perhaps an essential step towards forgiveness, healing, etc.).
In verse two David continues by asking “how long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” As I was reading through that I was reminded of a bathtub that’s filled with water and has had a lot of people bathe in it. Over time, the water gets dirty; you drain the water out and refill the tub with fresh water. What David is going through is, why all this sorrow in my heart? When we go through life we accumulate dirt. Whether it’s because of the sin, actions and words in our own hearts, whether it’s the sin of this world or the sin in other people’s hearts, we accumulate muck and grime and if we don’t ever release that and pull up on that tab we’re going to continue to soak in it. I feel like once we get to verses 5 and 6, God says here’s some ways to pull the plug and drain the water. But David hasn’t done that quite yet so he’s still stewing in his sorrow.
Verse 3 is the key for us. David turned a corner. He continued to reach out to God for his relief and to God for his rescue. He hasn’t reached out for sin in this situation. We have that same opportunity; we can go to the right or to the left when we’re struggling; we can reach out for whatever is going to get us through the night, whatever is going to solve our situation now, or we can stick with God and say I’m not sure there’s any biblical guarantee that this, in the short run, is going to work out so I’m going to continue to choose to trust in you, God, because where else am I going to go? All of the other idols area but carvings made by humans. You are the living God.
Verse 4, again, David has been pursued by fierce warriors that probably none of us will have, but we have other giants that are just as doggedly determined, we have giants inside of us, like depression and anxiety, fear and stress, uncertainty about the future and doubt that creeps in that’s just within our own hearts that maybe people can’t tell by looking at us when they pass us in the lobby but we know they’re there. We also have giants that we can’t seem to shake that are on the outside of us. Giants like rebellious children, unwilling or unresponsive spouses who have hurt us deeply. We might have antagonistic relatives, neighbors or co workers. We might have failing health, deteriorating relationships, collapsing careers, and a withering standard of living. We have enemies that we face but look at what happens when David gets to verse 5.
But I trust in your unfailing love, O God. David is looking at the present. He’s saying, right now, in the midst of all this chaos, the one thing I can control is myself, my thoughts, my attitude, and choose to trust in God’s unfailing love. I’m going to step today as if the bridge is there. I can’t see you, God, but I’m going to continue to live as if you are real. I’m going to continue to obey, follow and worship you, I’m going to give until it hurts and I’m going to keep pursuing you. That’s what David is saying in the present. How do you do that?
David says, ‘my heart rejoices in your salvation.’ David is looking ahead to the future to that day that God has promised. Jesus said that Abraham looked ahead to the promise that God the father had made and he rejoiced in it and was glad. So that’s another tool we have – to look ahead to what God has promised us. There’s a book I picked up from the dollar store, God’s Promises and Answers that is filled with Bible verses but not exactly like a regular bible from Genesis to Revelations. These are Bible verses grouped by topic so what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you have a relationship that’s on the rocks, etc. What’s helpful about this is that it’s a book you don’t read from cover to cover, but you reference it like an encyclopedia. When you’re going through a trial or facing a giant, you can turn to this and it gives verses. What’s also great is when you read a verse in the Bible; you can go to your regular Bible and read the chapter before and after to get the full picture of God’s hope. What David is doing, is saying look ahead to what God has promised us and cling to them. Also, there’s a bit where he talks about salvation where there’s a little bit of heaven thrown in for us where God has revealed enough about heaven in Scripture for us to get excited about it. It’s not just like this ethereal place where we won’t know anything about it until we get there because there’s a lot that God has revealed about heaven in the Bible and I think he’s revealed that to us to encourage us, to spur us on, to help us look forward to the fact that someday it’s all going to be perfect, that as bad as our time is right now, it’s not always going to be this way and that’s the great lie that causes us to do terrible things at times. We think it’s always going to be this bad and God says, ‘no it’s not.’ Not even close.
I was reading a book this week by D.L. Moody on heaven and he said the length of our time on earth compared to eternity is no greater than the drop of the dew to the Pacific Ocean. This life is temporary and when times are going really bad, that’s a thing for us to cling to. Not only is this life temporary but the life for those who have trusted in Jesus as their Savior, the life that God is preparing for us is forever and it’s perfect, it’s amazing, there’s not going to be any betrayal or cancer or anything that wrecks our lives. Jesus said I go to prepare a place for you and if the architect of life, the author and perfector of our faith is designing our eternal dwelling place, I want to soak in that truth for a while and read the hundreds of passages of Scripture that God has provided on that topic because it’s exciting for us, it provides that lighthouse beacon in the distance that we say God’s bringing us to that point, he promises to come back for us and to bring us where he is, so let’s look past the giant that we’re facing and have the long view of eternity. So I hold up this pamphlet because there’s a group called Rose Publishing online that sells all kinds of great pamphlets that you can read through in 10 minutes. This one is on heaven and it costs $3-4 and you can keep this in your car or at home and reference it every now and then and get that long view.
In verse 6, David says, “I’m going to continue to trust you, to follow you, to look ahead to what you’ve promised me, I will look ahead and rejoice in what you’re preparing for me, and then he says, ‘I will sing to the Lord, I will celebrate you for your unchanging character and not let the situations of my life think that you have somehow changed, that you have deteriorated or your character has eroded. I’m going to continue to sing to you. How is David going to do that? How is he going to muster up the strength? Not by sheer will power alone. He says at the end, I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me. He’s going to look back to the past and he’s going to focus on all that God has brought him through – Goliath and war and familial infighting and he’s going to say if God has brought me through all of that, he’s going to bring me through this. Right? If God has brought me through all of the difficult trials in my life, isn’t he going to help me finish this lap that I’m on? Absolutely he will. So my encouragement for all of us is to take some time and reflect on 2011. This is a great time to do that, to talk with family members and friends in your small group and say what has God done for us in this past calendar year and to write that down. It might be a paragraph for some of you, it might be 20 pages. Write it down so you can remember it next year or in 2016, keep it as a memorial to the Lord. When you review them in the future, they can infuse your heart and mind with renewed faith in God because we see what he has done for us in the past.
Let me close with this. Those of you who have heard my wife’s testimony know that when she decided to give her life to Christ 12 years ago, growing up in a Muslim family, her parents disowned her. They chose to act like she was dead. Hadn’t talked to her in 12 years, not allowed her name to be brought up in the house by the other siblings and never met their 5 grandkids. It’s been difficult for Sarah. God has really blessed her through this congregation, through his Word and through his love for her to thrive through that 12 year stretch, not being able to go to her mom and ask for parenting advice and things like that. But something happened 3 days ago. Sarah’s sister Jasmine had to go to the hospital rather quickly, and Sarah took our daughter Jasmine who’s 7 years old to visit her sister Jasmine. They went to Joliet to the hospital and we expected that Sarah may run into her parents, but in Sarah’s dry humor she said, ‘well we’re in a hospital so if they hurt me, it’s the best place I can be.’ Sure enough they ran into each other. I got a phone call later and Sarah said it was great. They were so kind. I had a 45 minute talk with my dad and he was asking questions about family and homeschooling and we were catching up. It was awkward for me but he was genuine and they are head over heels for Jasmine and they can’t wait to meet their other 4 grandkids and they invited us to dinner tonight if we want to go. I share this to say that God has brought us from one part of the lake through quite a storm to the middle part of the lake and he’s brought us to this fantastic port and I’m probably the only person in the world who can’t wait to get to know his in-laws. The point is, if God has brought us through that storm for this type of port, won’t that same God bring all of you in one way, shape or another through the storm you’re going through.
The song our band sang called Yours was written by Stephen Curtis Chapman because of the death of his 5 year old daughter Maria that he and his wife had adopted from China. That song was born out of the pain of going through a difficult storm but it was a double edged sword because not only did he and his family have to deal with the death of little Maria but they had to deal with the fact that she died by getting run over by their 16 year old son on his way to prom. So that’s serious. That blows out of the water any tragedy or difficult time I have faced, so I just want to read to you the verse that Stephen Curtis Chapman could genuinely write at the end of that song even though that terrible thing happened to him.
I’ve walked the valley of death’s shadow
So deep and dark that I could barely breathe
I’ve had to let go of more than I can bear
And I’ve questioned everything that I believe
That’s the first half of the verse and for many of us, that’s where we are. We’re in that place, questioning everything. Wondering if everything we’ve been taught about Jesus is true or not. But God brought Stephen Curtis Chapman to a place where he could write the second half of that verse that continues:
Still, even here in this gray darkness
A comfort and a hope come breaking through
As I can say in life or death
God, we belong to you.
He is trusting where that precious little girl of his is right now. He knows that this life that he can see with his physical eyes isn’t all there is and it comforts him. It’s a down coat on a cold day that doesn’t raise the temperature on the outside but it does help him stay warm as he trudges through the barren cold. So he trusts in that.
It is my prayer again that as we close this message that we will choose in the middle of our storm to continue to trust in Jesus in the present, that we will look ahead to all of his promises and we will look back to all he’s done for us and it will give us the strength to keep taking our steps one at a time to follow him.
Holy God, I thank you so much that you are the God who transforms Abrams into Abrahams. Sarais into Sarahs. You transform Sauls into Pauls. You help us to become who you made us to be. You take coal and turn it into diamonds. You take slimy caterpillars and turn them into gorgeous butterflies. Thank you, God, that you are transforming us and making us to be who you want us to be and God I just pray that you will help all of us hang on to you like baby Madison hangs onto her papa. Help us, God, not to give up on you, not to believe the lie of turning from your path and going down the other paths that are so well lit and that are so alluring and that seem so smooth and straight. God, help us in 2012 recommit our lives to you and trust that you have something amazing in store for us to give us the 20/20 vision of hindsight to look back on all that you’ve done for us and to be amazed and help us, God, to trust in you each day that you are carrying us when we see only one foot of footprints. IN the name of Jesus I pray, amen.