Surround Me O Lord
As we begin I want you to think back to this morning as you left your home. As you walked out of your house what was the last thing you did? Or if it’s still a little early to think back that far, then what was the last thing you did as you got out of your car and headed into the building this morning? I would venture to guess that everyone of us did the exact same thing, we locked our doors.
We know about the world we live in, and that’s why we lock doors. That being said there have been times when I acted a bit foolishly because I was seduced by the idea of being safe. Some of you know that the first night that we lived in our home, I left my cell phone, and other various electronics in my truck. I also left my truck unlocked. But thankfully during the night someone locked the doors of my truck for me, after they cleaned it out. And I live in a safe subdivision, but the idea of safety doesn’t take away the risk.
We were reminded this week about how quickly the weather can change and in the process change our lives forever. Not that we here on the gulf coast needed that reminder. The videos and pictures that are coming out of Granbury, Texas and Moore, Oklahoma are surreal.
And in this economy there is this overwhelming insecurity in our jobs. I heard a story of a manager and a sales rep looking at a map with colored pins that indicated the company rep in each area. The manager looks at the map and then looks at the rep beside him and says, I’m not going to fire you but I’m loosening your pin a bit just to emphasize the insecurity of your situation. Whether we are the employer or the employee, all of our pins are at least a little loose. We are left wondering in this broken world if there is any place to find security, or are we just waiting for the pin to drop.
That’s why I believe today’s Song of Ascent is so powerful for us in a world that struggles with security. It is a song that dispels fear and points us toward something, or in this case Someone, who can give us such eternal security.
When I read this Psalm this week my mind went to those ancient travelers on their way to Jerusalem. As they got closer to the city they were able to see those mountains and it naturally became a metaphor for God’s eternal protection. These mountains enforced the reality of God’s secure love and care. These the mountains caused them to sing about the security that God provides.
On the other hand, by the simple fact that someone had to write this Psalm meant that there were people who needed to be reminded of the security God provides. They struggled with the same fears and doubts that we do today.
You may remember when we looked at Psalm 121, we read I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? we discussed that our help doesn’t come from the mountains, but from the Lord who made heaven and earth. We don’t have to build our own walls. We could never build them securely enough. There aren’t enough locked doors to protect us completely. But God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Surrounded by God
It’s not a mistake that our song today is sung immediately following Psalm 124, a song about the hazards of living. It’s not an accident that we go from a song about the difficulty and struggles of life to the security that can be found in God.
Anyone who does a quick read through the stories in the Bible will find that God’s people have endured struggles and difficulties in this life. The story of Job is about a man who lost his children, his home, and his possessions. His wife and friends comforted him saying if he wasn’t so sinful, he wouldn’t be having so many troubles.
Then there is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three boys were taken from their homes, from their families and placed in Babylon. They were encouraged to learn and consume the Babylonian culture and gods. But you remember that they refused, they would not bow down to the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and for their faith they were thrown into a fiery furnace. My favorite part of their story is found in Daniel 3:16 where these boys said, the God whom we serve is able to save us … But even if he doesn’t … we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. They said God can, but even if He doesn’t we won’t worship your fake gods. Nebuchadnezzar’s rage boiled and he heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal and threw those boys in, and even though they had to go into the furnace they were not alone.
The Bible is very honest in describing the struggles that God’s Children endure. But if we are willing to slow down enough to see the whole story we will see that while God’s Children struggle, they never struggle alone.
David says in the 23rd Psalm, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. David says that he has to walk through the valley, but he doesn’t walk alone.
In Mark 4 we read about the time that the Apostles were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm suddenly appeared that was so fierce that it scared a group of seasoned fishermen. But they were not in that boat alone, Jesus was there with them and spoke calm in the midst of their struggle.
One more example, and this one comes from 2 Kings 6. Ben Hadad was the king of Syria and was constantly waging war on the Israelites. The problem was that every time he devised a plan of war God told the prophet Elisha, who told the King of Israel. Ben Hadad was incensed and was looking to put to death the traitor who was leaking his plans. Someone told him that the reason that the Jewish armies escaped was that the prophet Elisha lived in the land. Ben Hadad set out to capture and kill Elisha.
The next morning a young man when out to draw water. When he saw the Syrian soldiers he ran back to Elisha terrified. He asked, What shall we do? Elisha replied, Don’t worry, there are more on our side than on their side. Then Elisha prayed, O God, open his eyes and let him see. The eyes of the young man were opened the whole mountainside was full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!
What wonderful words of hope; There are more on our side than there side. It’s not that we don’t have enemies and struggles in this world. We do. There are so many things in this world that make us feel insecure, but our song serves to remind us that God is on our side and He is greater than those who stand against us. God is greater than our enemies, and every other cause of our anxiety. We can have peace because He never leaves us alone.
Our Response to the Danger
It wouldn’t do us any good to belabor the point that brokenness and evil exists, after all you all locked your doors before you came here this morning and you have seen the news. And while this song references the danger in the world, that is not the point of the song. The Psalmist knew that Jerusalem was not totally secure, there were times in her history that she had been attacked and seized. The point has never been that there would never be struggles and hard times, the point has always been that we would not walk through those valleys alone.
To the Jews, the city of Jerusalem was the place that they went to meet God, the place that they were in His presence. The city of Jerusalem was the foundation for their relationship with Jehovah. It was only in this city that they could gather to be in His presence.
Thankfully for us our Messiah has come and finished the work of closing the gap that exists between us and a holy and righteous God. Because we have a relationship with God that is not limited to a place, we have the assurance of His presence in every aspect of our lives. Just as Jesus did not keep the storms of life from His disciples, He will not keep the storms of life from us either. Christians in Boston, and West Texas, and Moore Oklahoma have all had to deal with the storms of life in the past few days and weeks. But God’s goal has never been safety, rather God’s goal is relationship!
In the Psalm this morning we see three significant responses to the dangers in our world.
In verse 3 we see the first response, a promise. - The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous,
Think for a moment what was happening in your life on October 4th 2008. For those of you who were living in this area you know that was three weeks after Hurricane Ike made landfall. Bridge City and Orange were almost washed off the map and there was catastrophic damage to Port Arthur and Mid County. Think back to that day, if you can. Think back to the time you were not home yet, but seeing the pictures on the television. Think back to driving into your neighborhood and seeing all of the calamity and destruction. What were you feeling, do you remember the doubt and frustration that was going through your mind?
We all have moments and times and periods of doubt and despair. There are times in our lives that we don’t feel at all like Mount Zion. We feel anything but steady. One moment we are filled with faith and ready to take on the world, and the next moment the world comes crashing down.
While I may not be a steady rock, I can find security in the fact that God is. That’s why we rejoice, that’s why we can have peace in the middle of the hurricane. That’s the promise in this text, that the brokenness of this world will not last forever. By singing this song, we are reminded of God’s promises even when our feelings fail us. We are reminded that our security comes from God, not from how we feel.
Here we are almost 5 years after the hurricane and we know now that life continues, there was wickedness but it did not remain, there was pain but it did not stay. The Psalmist reminds us that our problems will not last and that God has not forgotten us. Evil, pain, and suffering are not permanent. If it were even the most faithful person would break under the pressure. But that’s not the reality of faith and that’s not the witness of our faith.
The kinds of evil we face in this world are not too great for faith, they were not too much for Job, they were not too much for Jeremiah, and they were not too much for Jesus. There will be a deliverance, when we leave this place and go home, and for those who love God with their very lives, home will be a place with no tears, no pain, no fears, and no struggles. Home is what we were created for and when we live for that we can stay on the right path.
In verse 4 we see our second response, a prayer - Be good to your good people,
While we live on this earth we need help. The last few weeks have been a bit hectic, between Pepperdine, MiM, the combined revival and the area wide Men’s retreat, it has been difficult to get everything done. Last Wednesday I was trying to finish my Wednesday evening sermon and work on todays sermon and I found myself in the library looking through the commentaries trying to get my mind wrapped around this beautiful text and a woman, who was waiting to see David, asked me what I was doing. I explained to her that I was working on this sermon and it wasn’t easy to get everything that needed to be said down to 21 minutes. She smiled and said, don’t worry about it God will give you what you need. So I smiled back, and asked her to pray that God would help me. She looked very confused, and asked why a minister would ask her for prayers. I just smiled and said I need all the prayers I can get.
The truth is that all of us benefit when someone brings us to the throne of God because we all need help. The Psalmist writes this song out of the experience of living in difficult times, and out of that experience he offers a prayer for God to be gracious to His Children because they need it.
We tend to pray better when we understand the pain. I had the great blessing once to hear a man who had struggled with cancer 3 different times pray for someone who just received her diagnosis. It was a prayer of understanding, and that type of prayer can give hope in a chaotic time.
The final response is found in verse 5 and it’s a Blessing - Peace be upon Israel.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, the human race has not been what it was meant to be. Sometimes it’s because we have let too much of the world in and other times it’s simply the world has crashed in on us. But we were not created for confusion, we were created for shalom.
The word shalom is probably the most well-known Hebrew word, but for many of us, we don’t fully understand the depth of its meaning. Since there is no good English definition we use synonyms to grasp its meaning. The general idea is of completion and fulfillment and brings with it the sense of wholeness and harmony in relationships, especially with God. When the Psalmist prays for shalom from God he means harmony with the Holy One and a sense of well-being on the inside, and on the outside. He is offering a blessing of health, happiness, quietness of soul, tranquility, prosperity and security. It is the thought of finding everything you need and everything you are in God.
A relationship with God is a relationship of peace. This relationship is available for each one of us who know him. Peace is there for the taking. Nothing can rob you of your peace, because it is based on what Jesus has already done, not on who we are or what we have done, or the circumstances we find ourselves in. Be confident in the fact that God is all powerful and He is in control. We can have Shalom even in the midst of brokenness and chaos because we are surrounded by the God of peace.
Do you have peace today? Do you want peace today? I urge you to examine your relationship with God. This is where true peace comes from. Make your relationship with God a priority and let him be a part of every part of your life.
Questions For You To Consider
What are some things that have happened in your life that serve as a reminder of the frailty of life and possessions?
Do the hard times bring clarity or just muddy the water?
What type of mountain-top Christian experiences have you had where your faith and God’s blessing were in evidence?
When is it hardest for you to trust in the Lord?
How does the promise found in verse 3 work out in real life?
What is the benefit do we get from praying for others? For having others pray for us?
Is Shalom possible in our culture? If it is how do we get it? If not then what hope do we have?