Wrestling With Yourself: Spiritual Self-Leadership From Psalm 27
What do we do w/those voices outside of us, messages we hear, messages we read?
What about the voices inside our heads?
Sometimes we are our harshest critic, sometimes we are our worst enemy.
In Psalm 27 we learn about what David did to counter those voices. We see what David did to combat those voices in his head that were saying things like this, things like,
Maybe I’d be happier with someone else.
Maybe if I just gave up and had a fresh start everything would get better again.
Maybe if other people would change then I’d be happy.
Maybe if I had something more, had something different, I’d find fulfillment.
Maybe if I achieved something more profound, then my life would matter.
David grabbed on to some of the truths in scripture that he had learned over the years, that he had learned not only from reading the old testament, not only from going to worship at the tabernacle with God’s people but also that he learned about God as he walked with God, as he obeyed God, as he stumbled and fell and got back up again. God had taught him things over his life and David in Psalm 27 reminds himself through this long letter to God of what he knows to be true about God.
We have to grab onto God’s truth as well; this is as important for us as it was for King David. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that we read scripture consistently but often times we look at reading the Bible as Holy homework or as a religious assignment that we have to do. But it’s more than that, there’s such a pragmatic blessing from reading God’s Word and it’s that we get to soak in God’s truth.
If anyone of you are the dishwasher in your house, like I am, there are some pots and pans that you just can’t or shouldn’t scrape clean right away. The sediment, the oil, the spaghetti sauce, whatever, is so caked on it’s so baked into the pan that to scrape it off now would cause flecks of Teflon to come back up out of the pot and would render it dangerous for future use. Or if you have stainless steel post and pans your going to scrape up that pot and pan that it’s not going to look as shiny and clear as it did before. So for some pots and pans we’ve got to let them soak over night and then often times as it soaks in water the next morning were able to just rinse out with the faucet or with the sponge to easily get it clean.
Friends, we accumulate so much sediment, so much gobbledygook, as my dad would say, in our lives, that we have to get rid of that too and if God were to just scrape us clean it would harm us. And so God, I think, is encouraging us every day, “Soak in my word even if you don’t understand it all the time. Ask questions, get a commentary, you know, talk to your small group, talk to a pastor, what ever, but read this, soak in this, take it in so that I can loosen up and heal some of the wounds you’ve accumulated over time, some of the stains you’ve accumulated.
Here’s the thing though: we are going to go through Psalm 27 this morning but the last thing I want is for anyone to walk out of this room and think.
“OK, I’ve got MJ’s or David’s or whomever’s three or five or seven easy steps to an easy life, or follow this procedure, or this ritual and your problems will fade away like a fog or a mist.”
It’s not true unfortunately. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble”. Not maybe, not might, not possibly, but certainly you will have trouble. Some of it we cause, and some of it is just life. Some of it God allows even when we don’t deserve it, so to speak, because God has a bigger plan. So following God’s word and soaking in it and grabbing onto these truths like secure handholds climbing up a mountain, it doesn’t exempt us from suffering but it does help us to endure it.
Just like in a Chicago January or February when it’s frigidly cold outside putting on a down coat doesn’t make the temperature outside change but it does enable us to do what we need to do outside so that we can survive and thrive in the cold.
And before we get into verse 1 of this Psalm some of you might be saying. “Alright, well, MJ break it down for me. What’s the worst case scenario here, so what if I don’t do this, so what if I’m going through difficult times and I don’t grab onto God’s truth. God loves me anyway, right? What if I don’t soak in his word, He still loves me unconditionally, correct?”
Yes, absolutely He does, but there are some negatives that happen, there are some earthly consequences that we have to face when we don’t spend time with God, when we don’t grow closer to Him by reading His word, when we don’t soak in His truth over the course of our lives.
One of the consequences is that when were in a desperate situation, if we don’t reach out for God’s truth were going to reach out for something.
See that’s the thing Mike Woodruff (Senior Pastor At Christ Church Lake Forest) has taught in the past many times. Everyone worships. Everyone. There’s no box that say’s I’m not going to worship anything. Everyone worships something. Everyone reaches out to some outstretched hand. If we don’t reach out for Gods virtue were going to reach out to the Evil One’s vice. If we don’t reach out for truth were going to grab onto the lie that sounds best to us in the moment. If we don’t reach out to Jesus we are going to reach out for whatever/whoever will get us through our dark night of the soul, and it might just get us through that night, temporarily it might be a short term fix, but it’s always leading to long term destruction and brokenness. So we’ll reach out for those things and when we reach out to sin we cause more pain for ourselves, we cause more pain for others, we cause more pain for God. He suffers too, but it also compromises our witness in this world. Jesus said the harvest was great but the workers are few. There’s not enough people to get the job done so thankfully God is with us, and God works through us. But the world is watching!
Those of you who have been following Jesus for a while whether a week or decades, your neighbors, your friends, your family members who aren’t Christ followers, most of them know you’re a Christian. Most of them know on some big picture level what you believe in, and so they’re watching, and it’s actually kind of a good thing. They’re looking to see if this Jesus makes any difference in your life. And it’s not that if we trust in Jesus everything’s going to work out great so everyone’s going to get on this bandwagon, it’s a stock that can’t miss, you know 100% returns, that’s not the case but they’ll see how we handle the difficult times in our lives, they’ll see how we handle the difficulties of parenting or the difficulties of the economy or the difficulties of this and that, of illness and personal tragedy and loss, and if they see us not being perfect as we follow Jesus, God knows were not perfect but if they see us grabbing onto God’s truth, if they see us doing life His way and when we stumble actually owning up and asking for forgiveness and when others hurt us actually offering forgiveness even when they don’t deserve it, when they see us do that over time eventually they are going to say. “Excuse me, can you… how do you do it? How do you handle that?” And Peter tells us “Always be ready to give an answer for the hope you have.” That verse implies that people are eventually going to ask you for the hope that you have, people are eventually going to say “How, how?” and they ask that question by seeing how we live this life, how we grab on to God’s truth. So that’s why grabbing onto God and His Truth is so important.
Let’s jump right in to Psalm 27. I’d like to read it and then we’ll go through it a verse at a time. You can follow in your bibles in the pew rack or on the screen behind me.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom, of what, shall I be afraid.
When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the LORD,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his holy temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.
7 Hear my voice when I call, LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
13 I yet I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Now friends, this is my favorite Psalm so when Mike gave me the opportunity to teach in this Honest to God series he said basically “Pick a Psalm.” and I knew right away which one I wanted to do. And I’ve always read this Psalm as if David were like a professor, as if David were teaching these various truths about God throughout this Psalm, and I thought to myself as preparing this message, “God just help me to see this Psalm a little bit differently this time.”
As I prepared this message, I noticed that David’s not so much a professor listing out these truths and then teaching them to us, but he’s writing these truths in his journal, in his diary so to speak, out of the difficulty that he is facing and has faced in the past and is worried about facing in the future.
That’s one of the reasons why the Psalms are so powerful, real and raw because when we read them, we’re kind of snooping in the diaries and journals of some of the giants of the faith. We’re reading their honest cries to God. We’re reading what they went through as they walked with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit. David is reminding himself of the truths he has known. He’s almost like a professional athlete going over the fundamentals:
‘bend your knees’;
‘keep your arms straight.’
Athletes often coach themselves, and David is doing the same thing here. That’s part of what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes we need to talk to a pastor. Sometimes we need to call a friend. A cord of three strands is not easily broken, Ecclesiastes says, and that’s important. But sometimes we need to coach ourselves. If I called my friends or mentor every time I had a crisis moment, I would be on the phone all day and would not be able to work. That’s how much I go through big and little trials all the time.
So David is reminding himself to stop, hold on a second.
“You’re hearing this voice that says God feels far; God is not w/you, He has abandoned you.
Remember what you’ve learned about God!
Or perhaps the voice is saying,
“Just give up on your family; just walk away. Start over; you’re the King.
You can do whatever you want.”
And David reminds himself to “wait a minute; what has God taught you?
What have I learned about God before I make some life-changing decision?”
We need to learn to do the same as well. The rub here though, is how can God bring to our mind, our memory, scripture verses and biblical truths that we’ve never put in in the first place? We’ve got to make these deposits.
It’s not that if you don’t read the Bible every day that God will keep track and your “grade” goes down and His love for you and His concern for you goes down – absolutely not. But we do our selves a monumental disservice when we don’t soak in God’s truth. We do ourselves a dangerous disservice when we don’t take with us the tools God has given us each day as we go out.
In verse 1, David writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
David compares God to light; God is like this flashlight. It is so dark and I don’t know what to do. We get into situations as well when we are confused and, in many cases, God’s word is like a light. We can shine it on our problems and often times we say, ‘this person has wronged me. I know what I want to do. I know what the person deserves.” But what does God tell me and encourage me to do? How did Jesus, David, Paul, Samuel and Noah deal with this? What does God say in His word? What’s a tool I can grab on to to pull me out of this pit that I’m in?’
David is saying “The Lord is the one who ultimately will satisfy the deepest desires of my heart.” It won’t be my success or achievement; it won’t be the size of my bank account or the car that I drive; it won’t be the percentage body fat I have or how big or little my waist is. It won’t be the diplomas I have. Those things are fine and good, a lot of them. But it won’t be how many Facebook friends I have. Remember, David, God is your salvation. He is the only One who can bring you across the chasm that separates humans from Himself. You can’t earn it. You can’t swim that pool. You need God. That helps takes some of the pressure off trying to secure our own salvation.
David’s saying ‘whom shall I fear?’ The Lord is the stronghold of my life. He’s the place I go to when everything else is falling apart. God is the place where I run. Not to the bottle, the racetrack, more work or the gym. God is the place where I run. He’s the stronghold when the tornado comes – He’s my safe place. I remind myself of God’s truth. It doesn’t’ necessarily stop the winds from blowing but it does give us something to hang on to when we feel trapped, like the walls are closing in, when we hear the voice that says, ‘this difficult time you’re going through is never going to change. It’s always going to be like this!’ You can say “STOP. Hold on a second. God promises to never abandon me.” So I can get out of the storm, out of the boat and walk on the water because God is with me.
Whom shall I be afraid?
I’m afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of the economy, of things I can’t control, of this debt limit with the government. I worry about the value of the dollar plummeting. It makes me nervous. God, how do I prepare for this? But this verse helps me to say wait a minute, God is the one will ultimately bring me through it. When tragedy does occur, God will be the one to bring us through it.
Here’s the point – God is not upset when we’re afraid but fear sometimes makes us walk away from Jesus and that’s what God gets frustrated with. We leave the rock of God and we sit on the sand because we think it’s safe, we can see it, feel it, and say ‘here in the middle of the ocean I’m safe’ even if we’re 5,000 miles from land. God wants us to remain in Him, to keep following Him even when it’s hard. That’s the problem with fear; it often leads us to walk away. Even when we’re afraid of not fulfilling our potential, of letting our family down, when we’re afraid of not doing a good job at work, of getting passed over for the next promotion, God says,
‘Trust in Me.
Get up, keep following Me,
keep loving your spouse,
keep pursuing your children even if they want nothing to do with you.
Keep reaching out to that neighbor, inviting them to church.’
Do whatever it takes to keep honoring God. Keep coming to church; keep reading the Bible even if you don’t understand it and it’s the last thing you want to do – do it anyway. Keep praying even if it feels like God’s not listening and your prayers are falling on deaf ears and you hear that voice that says God’s not real, he’s just a myth, a fairy tale, he’s not real. When you hear that voice you say, ‘stop, no!’ Jesus said blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.
Remember that most of the people who saw Jesus didn’t believe in him. People who saw him with their eyes, who saw him do miracles. Grab on to the truth where Jesus says, “I am coming back and bringing my reward with me. I’m not being slow as some count slowness, but I’m delaying my return so that more and more people can get on board. I’m delaying the rain so that more and more people can get on Noah’s ark because God doesn’t just want two from every nation. He wants everyone to say yes to him!
Verse 2-“When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it’s my enemies/foes who’ll stumble/fall.”
There are times when we feel like an army is besieging us. Most of us will never have soldiers encamped around our house with real guns trying to break in, but we feel like the world is closing in on us. We’ve committed some sins, we’ve told some lies to cover it up and now they’re starting to bite us in the butt. We’ve sown anger, jealousy, hatred and unforgiveness for so long that it’s starting to bloom and we’re starting to reap the harvest of such a life and everything is closing in on us.
But David said, “I will be confident.” Remember the thief on the cross who presumably spent his entire life saying no to God and yes to himself, yes to every desire. Finally he got it as he’s hanging on the cross, he doesn’t speak to God proudly, he doesn’t yell at Jesus, He says, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He doesn’t’ even ask to go to heaven; he just asks Jesus to remember him. Look at what Jesus said, he responds to that popcorn kernel of faith and says, ‘today’—not after years of working off your sin in purgatory—‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ If God can do that for a thief who is rightly and justifiably being punished for his sins, how much better is he going to treat us who are doing our best every day to love him?
In Verse 3, David looks at the big picture with confidence. “Even if the rest of my life is as bad as it can be, even if my spouse doesn’t get healed from cancer, even if my child doesn’t’ get better from their illness, even if my teenager/older child doesn’t come back to the faith, even if I get laid off, even if we lose our home, even if we become homeless, I will STILL be confident.”
I think David is saying I can still be confident in God because once this life is over, my suffering is over. God promises that one day he is going to wipe away every tear, he is going to heal every wound that we’ve accumulated whether self-inflicted or by others on earth. He is going to get rid of suffering. There’s not going to be any more crying or pain. There’s not going to be anymore disappointment, there’s not going to be anymore betrayal. He knows that and David is saying, “it’s probably not going to be as bad as it can be from here on out, but if it is, once this life is over, once I’ve run my race, my hundred years, my eighty years, my sixty years, whatever, I’m done and then I have a zillion, trillion, bazillion years in heaven and once that time is over, I’m still not a foot into the foyer of God’s mansion. It’s forever there. This is only temporary.
So we can take strength from that and remember/remind ourselves over and over and over again that this life is temporary. Let’s not treat it as though this life right now on earth, the way it is here, is supposed to last forever. It’s not. It’s not.
I’ve got a mini devotional in the notes section of my Facebook page called “Home, Sweet Home” that might be a blessing to you. It’s some of the ways that God has been teaching me His truth over the last eleven years of following Him, changing my pallet to get ready for heaven someday whether that’s later on today or sixty years from now. But we have to be able to say this world is not forever, let’s live for the next world. C.S. Lewis said those who make the biggest impact in this world are those who are most focused on the next. So when times are going bad, we must remind ourselves not to listen to the voice that says it’s always going to be this way because it’s not. Even if our trouble lasts one hundred years here, it eventually will end.
Verse 4. One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek, that I might dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze on him and to see Him in his temple.
As King David knows what it means to have ultimate power – whatever I say you have to do. And yet, in his most honest private moment in his journal, he says I’ve had all that and what I really want and desire is not more of this and more of that, I desire God. He’s the only one who truly satisfies. He’s the only one who can truly quench my thirst. He’s the only one who can truly make me happy so I’m going to focus on him and look ahead to that time in heaven when it’s going to be just an eternity of focusing on God and for some of us that sounds a little boring. We think clouds and harps and grapes and we think why do I want to live for that? It’s good. Trust me. God also says through Paul no eye has seen no ear has heard no mind has even conceived; we haven’t even imagined what God has prepared for those who love him so we have to ask ourselves, do I believe that? Or do I think that this thrill, this rush, this experience, this achievement, this is going to finally seal the deal and make me happy? We have to ask ourselves that question but God says in His Word, He promises, “Trust Me, you’re going to love heaven and it’s going to literally be beyond your wildest dreams.”
Verse 5. For in the day of trouble, He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
A lot of people will use this verse and say “God will keep me safe. I just got to follow Jesus and everything will work out. I will get healed and get a raise! No, it’s not true all the time. I think what David is talking about here when he says keep me safe is that God is going to keep safe that part of us which does live forever, that part of us which is immortal—our souls. Humans have souls, you see. That’s what separates us from the animals. And God isn’t always going to take care of this physical body. Our physical bodies do rot; they get wrinkly and saggy; it just happens. The worse case scenario is that our bodies get ravaged by disease, cancer, bacteria or viruses that can sap our strength like that, but David is saying that even if God allows my body to waste away, He will take care of me, my soul, that part of me which lasts forever. C.S. Lewis said, “We are not bodies that have souls. We are souls that happen to have bodies.”
My dad is 93 years old and I am so thankful that God has blessed him to live as long as he has. His health is starting to decline a bit and I know that eventually I will be here seeing him in his casket, mourning his death. But that won’t be my dad in the casket. I will be sad of course; Jesus wept when Lazarus died and Jesus knew He was going to raise him from the dead in a couple of days, so it’s totally appropriate to mourn. But even while I mourn, that’s not my dad. That’s his shell, his body. His shell is there but he’s not there. Think about the fact that the shell is no more my dad’s body than a newly hatched chick is the shell that it crawls out of. The shell is not the chicken! What crawls out of the shell is the chicken! Now, we might mourn the shell a little bit but the shell eventually gets discarded because the chick is what matters, so similarly God is going to keep safe our soul if we entrust it to him. He’s going to eventually let our bodies decay, but he’s going to keep safe our soul which lasts forever. And guess what, He’s going to give us a new body to boot! No sagging, no “muffin top”, no arthritis, no cancer. None of those things. No pulled muscles; no wrinkles some day. It’s going to last forever and it’s going to be perfect.
Verse 7. There’s a little bit of a break that happens in this Psalm. I never noticed it until I prepared this lesson and that’s the sidestepping nugget of truth that I learned when I was going through the Crown Financial ministry eight years ago. If you want to learn something well, sign up to teach it – whatever it is – because when you know you have to speak on something in front of people, you see with a clarity that you might not have had before.
So up until verse 7, David’s hearing these voices and reminding himself of all these great truths of God, but then it’s almost like he gets insecure for a second and he says, ‘you know what God – if you could just even hear me when I call, if you could just be merciful to me and even answer me, that would be enough.’ After visions of heaven and seeing God’s beauty for an eternity, David suddenly shifts his attention to being satisfied merely with God answering him. It’s almost like he started to hear voices that the evil one was slinging accusations at him: liar, murderer, adulterer, bringing up all the bad things David had done in his past life and David is saying God please, those things were terrible and I deserve this but God please, my heart says of You “seek His face! Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
David’s reminding himself to keep his eyes on Jesus.
It’s like in those action movies when someone is hanging off the cliff and what does the hero almost always say? ‘Don’t look down; keep your eyes on me.’
So David is starting to get overwhelmed and have a panic or anxiety attack and says to himself “I’m going to focus on You, God. You’ve been my helper. You have been the one who has made me successful. You have been the one who’s been with me every step of the way. You’re the only one who has never abandoned me. When I only saw one set of footprints in the sand, it was you that carried me. Don’t reject me, you’ve been my helper; you’re my savior, and at the end of verse 10, he says, ‘I’m strong now. Even if everyone abandons me, you will receive me. There are no maybes in this Psalm and I don’t know if there are many maybes in the Bible form God. Lord, you will receive me. David remains confident of this that he will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and this, my friends, is not the only land of the living that there is. We can live for God confidently and even recklessly in obedience to Jesus in this world because this is not the only land of the living. David is reminding himself, I am confident; some day I’m going to see the face of Jesus, I’m not going to need to have faith the way I have faith now, I’m going to see him and it’s going to be worth it. I remain confident of this. I’m going to get up, I’m not going to wallow in my misery, I’m not going to throw a lifelong pity party, I’m going to stand up and I’m going to keep on honoring God, I’m going to keep loving my spouse, I’m going to keep loving my children, I’m going to keep serving at church, I’m going to keep carving out time to pray with God and read my bible, I’m going to keep being obedient because I trust that even if I don’t feel God, He is there. I trust that even if I can’t see God that He’s there. That even if it seems like He’s not going to fulfill his promises, He will. He’s brought me this far, why would he leave me stillborn now?
Let me close with this quote by Brent Curtis, who I believe died in a mountain climbing accident.
Jesus holds out his hand to us saying he will provide a bridge over any chasm if we will follow and trust him. We hear Jesus’ words but such language sounds like those who have used and left us exposed and alone. It sounds like a promise that’s just too good to be true. We pull back from Jesus, many of us return to Vanity Fair [from Pilgrim’s Progress]. We mortgage our heart to purchase more of what is religiously/materially familiar. We run after that which will satisfy now but a few of us arouse our spirit and take a step towards the chasm.”
As David closes in verse 14, he reminds himself to wait for the Lord. I imagine David is about to fall asleep. He’s gone through his long night of the soul and he’s drifting off and he says, ‘Jesus you’ve brought me through this difficulty; I’m just going to wait for You. Be strong, be courageous. Use the tools God has given you; trust in Him. Get up, place one foot in front of the other each day and keep loving God and loving others.” This is as important for us to do today as it was for David to do almost 3,000 years ago.
Finally, friends, there’s one thing I forgot to talk about.
What does it look like when God is your stronghold?
What does it look like to run to God in the difficult times?
Well, I don’t actually have a clear ABC “follow-these-steps” answer, but what has helped me over the years is to read biographies of Christians who have walked with Jesus. They have run their race of life already and by examining their lives we can see how they ran to God as their stronghold, how they relied on Him during the difficult times. There are lots of biographies you can get out there of Christians—my favorite is the “Men and Women of Faith” series by Bethany House. At the church library here, we have about 30 of these books of about 120-150 pages. I encourage you to read through these.
Moreover, even in nature we see how God has designed us to be overcomers and to make it through the difficult times. Check out the documentary “March of the Penguins”—if penguins who have wings that don’t work and have feet that really aren’t appropriate for their bodies, if they can march 80 miles each way in the Antarctican wilderness every year and survive, we too can make it through the difficult times we face (with God’s help, of course!). So may we draw courage from some of these examples in nature that animals go through.