Sermon by Rev. Ryan Braam, Welland ON , Grace CRC
Call to Worship:
The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:1-4 NRSV)
As we have gathered here to Worship, it is our prayer that God will greet us in this place. We pray these words from II Corinthians 13:13
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Possible Hymn Selections (from the grey Psalter Hymnal):
“Abide with Me” #442
“Great is Thy Faithfulness” # 556
“Christian do you Struggle” # 575
Prayer of Response after the Sermon
Heavenly Father, we come before acknowledging that you are God, and that you control all things. We thank you for sustaining us with your sovereign hand. Yet, there are times when we feel alone and abandoned by you. Give us a voice to cry out to you. Enable us to express our pain and doubt to you. And draw near to us in our times of darkest weakness. Give us the comfort of Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who has suffered in every way and knows our pain and sorrow. Strengthen our relationship with you that we may feel the mighty power of your hand in our lives, and know that you are God. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
“Our blessing comes from the book of Numbers where the Lord instructed Moses to tell Aaron how to bless his people. Let this be our prayer as we go forth from here in the knowledge that God is in control, and that God desires an intimate relationship us:
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you
May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
In one of his essays Lew Smedes, retells a story that he remembers of a young man. This young man just graduated from Princeton , at the top of his class. After his graduation he had several job offers to choose from and the future could not be brighter for him and his wife. The couple was expecting their first child and they knew that their future was financially secure. Now that his education was completed, and he looked forward to a promising career. Immediately after his graduation, he spent much of his time on the road interviewing with different companies.
One weekend this young man was driving home from a job interview and he was excited to share the details of his week with his wife. It was a sunny summer day and his drive took him through some beautiful rolling countryside. He was thoroughly enjoying his drive over hills, through forests and around tight corners. He crested a sharp hill to see a truck jack-knifed immediately in front of him, spanning the entire width of the road. He didn’t have enough time to stop and he died on impact.
A few days later, family and friends were gathered at his grave-side for a memorial service. The pastor began the memorial service by saying “We are gathered here this afternoon to protest the death of a young man.” A few people at the memorial service were very upset with the pastor. How can you protest God? God is the controller and the sustainer of creation. We are mere people and we cannot protest God. We need to simply accept whatever comes our way and give God praise, not protest. God is in control.
But if God is in control where is He when a sixteen year-old girl get cancer? Where is God when four teenagers are killed in a weekend car crash? Where is God when a group of terrorists fly fully loaded airplanes into buildings? If God is in control, why doesn’t he step in and do something about it? Why does God allow good people, Christian people to suffer?
In the Bible we can see examples of people who have done nothing wrong in God’s eyes yet they suffer greatly. Job, was blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job suffered more than any of us probably ever will in our lives. Job lost his livestock, his home, his health and even his family. His body was tormented with boils. Job lost absolutely everything and suffered immensely. Yet we know that he was blameless, and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Where is God when believers are hurt? Life is full of pain and tragedy, and it seems like God is absent when the pain is the greatest.
David wrote Psalm 13 as a result of feeling overwhelmed by a long succession of calamities and afflictions. David was at the end of his rope. He did not know what he could do any more. Feeling completely abandoned by God he cried out (vs. 1, 2):“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?” David is filled with frustration, anger, even rage against God. His words are a strong protest against God.
There is raw emotion loaded into verse one. You can almost picture David on his knees with tears streaming down his face, shaking his fists at God, challenging God’s very Character. David is saying:
“God you promised that you would never forget your people. Prove it! As far as I can see, I am forgotten. In Numbers 6 you make it clear that your face will shine on the ones you bless - what have I done to lose your blessing?”
In these first two verses David is challenging God’s character. From his perspective, he is abandoned by God; God did not come through on His end of the deal. David’s words sting. These words sting like any other form of protest – whether it is a political protest against a law, or labour union workers protesting – the words of the protest are harsh. David is demanding answers to his questions: “How much longer will there be horrible injustice? How much longer will stay away from me God?” These words are harsh. These words accuse God of being distant and disinterested in the life of His servant David. These words are harsh accusations because harsh accusations spur action.
Imagine with me that one of your co-workers, or even a friend, makes an off-hand comment that implies that you are a sloppy, or a lazy worker. Naturally you would be offended. You would think to yourself “I’m not sloppy or lazy.” From that time on, you would make sure that everything you do, is done right and is done quickly. You will want to prove that you are not lazy, or sloppy.
This is the intended effect of these challenges against God. David is saying: “God you claim to remember me, I think you have forgotten me - Prove me wrong. God, you said your face will shine on me - all I see is abandonment.” These are strong accusations, but these accusations are intended to motivate God to action. Furthermore, these accusations demonstrate the pain and the doubt which David feels.
With all of his accusations brought forward, the stage is now set. So God, you heard what David said, what do you have to say for yourself? David cries out, demanding a response (vs. 3, 4). “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.” David is desperately crying out for help. He is saying “God not only is your character on the line,I am on the line.” The stakes are high. David’s faith, even his very life is on the line. The truth wrapped up in these verses is potent. We know that pain, suffering, and injustice can destroy the faith of a person. Doubt can easily overwhelm a person if everything that once was solid has been stripped away. Then the very foundations of that person’s faith can crumble. If a person is hard pressed on every side, the hopelessness of life can overcome him. David is speaking of a very real danger. For him it is a two fold danger. One, there is a very real physical danger pressing in on David; the danger of his enemies. But two, that physical danger also has a deep spiritual element: if God allows a physical defeat, David will see that as both a physical defeat AND a spiritual defeat, because the physical defeat will indicate that God has abandoned him. Then David would spiritually lost.
The stakes are high. Yet, in spite of the dire circumstances that David finds himself in, his tone drastically shifts in verses five and six. In verse five David suddenly resolves to Praise God. He resolves to praise God, even after he has poured out his heart and levelled strong accusations against God. At this point David acknowledges, “yes, I am surrounded by calamities, 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.” These two verses are a stark contrast to the rest of the psalm. After raising harsh accusations against God, and petitioning God to act, David suddenly resolves himself to trust in the Lord, because the Lord has been good to him. The Lord has been good to him? Where does a statement like that come from?
This statement of the Lord’s goodness is rooted in David’s long lasting relationship with God. Throughout the years God has provided for David more than he could ever imagine. For this reason, he knows that God will not let him down. Although the situation looks grim and David’s own words convey his sense of hopelessness, David knows the true character of God. If his history with God is any indication of who God is, He knows that God will pull through for him in the end.
David’s faith in God’s character, is similar to our faith in the changing of the seasons. In many winters, as the winter draws to a close, the cold snowy days seem to drag on and on almost endlessly. Sometimes we find ourselves in March or even April and there is still no evidence that spring is coming. At that point in time, for all that we can tell, it is going to be a perpetual winter wonderland. Yet, based on previous experience we know that spring is coming. The change of seasons is an inevitable part of the creation order. Each year, winter gives way to spring. There are no exceptions to that rule.
David is looking at his past experience. Even though as far as he can see, he will be destroyed, he knows from his past experience that God will not allow that destruction to happen. His long standing relationship with God shapes his understanding of his present afflictions. Therefore, David is able to say that he can trust in God’s unfailing love. He can truly rejoice in God’s salvation, because when he reflects on his life he knows that the Lord has been good to him. His long standing relationship with God shapes his current experience of pain. His long standing relationship with God gives him a hope that is deeper than his doubts.
When we have a long standing relationship with God, God expects dynamic communication with him. Everybody experiences pain at one time or another. This pain can cause us to question God, and to doubt that he cares for us. At one time or another every single one of us has gone through struggles that have caused us to doubt the very existence of God. And it may feel like God has abandoned us. Typically when those times hit the hardest, people with good intentions will offer words of comfort. They offer phrases such as: “It is for the best,” or “God has a plan for this.” While that may be true that God does have a plan for whatever calamities that we encounter, God does not want us to silently endure our suffering. God does not want us to gloss over our pain and simply praise Him. God wants to hear our struggles. God wants to feel our pain.
Yahweh is different than any other god from any other religion. Yahweh does not simply demand unswerving obedience; rather, Yahweh wants submission that comes from a true relationship with him. God is big enough, God is strong enough to hear our protests. He does not get offended when we lament the pains of our life. God is not angered when we express our deepest doubts. Rather, God draws close to us in those times of our weakness. He hears our confusion. He feels our pain and He appreciates our honesty about our struggles. Every relationship requires communication. In every relationship there are struggles. The only way to properly handle struggles is to talk through them.
Everybody experiences pain or hurt. – When you are ravaged by pain . . . when the foundations of your life are shaken to the point of collapse . . . when your heart is so full of sorrow that you cannot carry on – Cry out to God! Express your doubts to God and protest God! As you struggle with His presence in your life your relationship with God will become deeper. It will no longer be a two dimensional relationship in which you serve a God who demands unswerving obedience. Through your struggles it will become apparent that God, Yahweh, wants a relationship with you! Through your struggles it will become clear that God wants to have a dialogue with you in order to enter into a deeper relationship with you.
It is God’s desire to foster a relationship with us, His people created in Hid image. He wants a relationship with us so much that He sent His one and only son Jesus Christ to live with us, to suffer with us, and to die for us. In Hebrews 4:15 we realize that in Jesus we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. God knows our temptations. God knows our weaknesses and doubts, and He wants to talk through them with us.
Jesus himself struggled with God the Father. He lamented his own pain and suffering. When Jesus was suffering on the Cross, He didn’t simply accept His pain and praise the Father. No, He protested! He cried out with the words of Psalm 22 “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Yet, in His cries of protest, Jesus never lost faith. Jesus never doubted God’s perfect plan and He remained on the Cross until it was finished. His protest, His lament enabled Him to trust in God’s faithfulness. Lament is an integral part to the life of faith, and it helps us to cope with the pain and suffering of life. Lament acknowledges that God is in control and begs His intervention. God is the only being who can bring about change.
When a criminal stands before a judge, he pleads his case because he has faith that the judge can change his sentence. If the criminal did not believe the judge could do anything, he would not waste his breath. He would not say a word because it would be pointless to speak if his speaking could not effect change. But the criminal speaks, because he knows that the judge has the power to change his sentence. Likewise, when a child complains to her parent “it’s not fair,” she knows that her parent has the ability to “make it fair.” In her plea, the parent can hear the child’s sincerity, or lack of sincerity, and therefore better understand the frustration of the child. And then, it is up to the parent to decide if it will be beneficial to the well being of the child to do something to “make it fair.” Ultimately, the child acknowledges that the parent is in control, and that only the parent can effect a “fair” change.
Therefore, to protest God is essentially an acknowledgement that God is in control. Protesting God is realizing that God, and only God has the power change your circumstances. For this reason, it is appropriate for us to stand in front of Him, protesting saying “I can’t do anything about this! But I know that you can! You are God! You alone have the power to do something! Do it, please!” And then, having acknowledged that God is in control, our only true response is to submit to that control. When we truly believe that God is sovereign over all creation, we will truly trust in His unfailing love. This is how David was able to testify at the end of Psalm 13 “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.” David has laid his case at the Lord’s feet, and he knows that it is the Lord alone who can bring about change. He knows that God is sovereign and that God has heard his cries. His lament and protest are an act of faith.
We see this reaffirmed in the life of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 5:7 recalls that During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Jesus did not simply accept the way things were. He prayed for change. He petitioned for God to intervene, and he reverently submitted himself to God’s authority.
Everybody struggles with God’s plan from time to time. These struggles can cause us to doubt, but deeper than our doubts is our trust that God will remain faithful. Deeper than our doubts is our knowledge that God is sovereign. Deeper than our doubts is our hope that God will act on our behalf. When hard times and hard questions come, we have the freedom to go to God and let Him know our struggles! We have the freedom to enter into a deep relationship with Him and let Him know our doubts. We can let Him know that we are angry or terrified. Lament is a beautiful act of devotion that acknowledges that God is in control, and that we can trust in His unfailing love. We can ask the hard questions. We can let God know that we are angry. We can tell him about our doubts because deeper than our doubts is our trust in God. Deeper than our doubts is our comfort that no one understands our pain better than God. Deeper than our doubts is our faith in a sovereign God: that God and God alone has the power to act on our behalf, and God is the only one who can pull us to safety. Deeper than our doubts is our relationship with the one True living God.