The Ability To Continue On
Over the past few weeks we have been looking at a section from the book of Psalms called the “Songs of Ascent”. We are told that instead of playing the alphabet game or looking for slug-bugs, ancient travelers used to sing these songs with their families, as they’d travel to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. With that in mind we are talking about the Psalms and singing through them together. It’s a little different, but I really hope that it is helping us get the deeper meaning behind the text. Today we stop to sing the 129th Psalm.
You might remember that when we looked at the 127th Psalm, I mentioned the TV show Inside the Actors Studio and the 10 questions they ask of every guest. I told you then that my least favorite word was the word useless. I don’t like the connotation of something being useless. The other side of that question is what is a word that you like, and my answer to that can be found in our Psalm this morning, and that’s the word persistence or perseverance.
President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
I am probably drawn more to the 129th psalm than any of the other Songs of Ascent. It is a calling for God’s Children to develop perseverance in a world that is broken. Everyone of us here this morning knows the struggle that comes from dealing with the brokenness of this world. There are many days that we feel the weight and the stress of daily life and we are left feeling distressed.
Do you know that feeling of being so distressed that all you could do is long for God? When we lived in Atlanta there was a lady who would come to worship and just sit and cry. When we would sing she would just cry, as we prayed tears rolled down her cheeks. There was no loud sobbing, just the silent struggle of someone who was broken and desperately needed to be in the presence of God. Her life was falling apart and she found comfort in the company of other broken people longing to be near God.
The Psalmist knows that perseverance is a sign of genuine faith. Authentic faith continues to trust God and live for Him, relying on His strength when everything else around you is falling apart. There are times that we expect God to give us convenience and comfort. Then when hardships come we get indignant. Perseverance is not passive resignation, or putting up with things the way they are. It is growing stronger through the valleys of life, being knocked down and getting up again. Perseverance is not perfection. We continue on, through our successes and failures, learning from both. Even when we fall, we get up and keep going.
The danger in our message today is that we may miss the point and think that perseverance is something we have to produce. And while I believe that we should be determined to press forward we are not in charge of perseverance, that’s something God does within us. So as we draw into this text this morning, let us draw out why we should worship God.
First I believe that the Psalmist says because of our relationship with God we should expect opposition
There are always going to be those who attack, abuse, insult, and otherwise persecute those who are followers of God. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. Our text says: “Often they have attacked me from my youth.”
Have you ever noticed how often you come under attack from people who are angry with God? We become the lightning rod for the world’s opposition to God. The folks who cry out for tolerance of their lifestyle are usually the most intolerant of our life style. Whether it is the loss of friendships, or the inability to climb the corporate ladder because you refuse to lie, cheat, or steal. We suffer persecution because people who are supposedly enlightened believe that we are backwards and ignorant because we believe in something they cannot see or feel.
We see this play out in the relationship that Jesus had with the religious leaders of His day. They thought they had it all figured out, after all they not only had the law but they also had the Talmud and the Mishna that gave them centuries of Rabbis beliefs and thoughts on the law. And when Jesus came with a different understanding of the law discounted Him. And instead of making sure that their beliefs were in line with Jehovah they wanted to kill Jesus.
The dirty little secret in the church is that when you try to live the Christian life you experience persecution. We have preachers who do this hard sell and say that when you follow Christ everything in your life becomes gumdrops and lollipops. I have heard folks say in Bible studies that if will just get baptized then all of your problems go away. There will be no more sickness, no more struggles, no more difficult people in your life. They say you can have heaven right here on earth.
The truth is that when you become a Child of God you still have struggles, and they come from outside and inside the church. Not everyone who claims to be a child of God is cultivating their relationship with God. Not everyone who gets up on a Sunday morning and walks in to a building has spent time in the Bible and in prayer the week before trying to see if their lives are in line with the will of God. Rather there are some folks who believe that they have the corner on the truth and anyone who disagrees with them are considered the enemy.
I have always thought that it was interesting how we often thank God for the freedom we have in our land to attend church, to read our Bibles, to come to youth group and Bible studies. When you look around the world, there are plenty of places around the world where Christians do not have this freedom. And in many of these places the church is growing. Cuba is a great example of this. The Church was expanding so rapidly in communist Cuba, that the government realized they could not squelch it, so they opened the doors.
In places where there is no freedom, where opposition has actually made being a Christian a punishable offense, the church often grows and thrives. Sometimes I wonder if the church in Port Arthur might not benefit from more open opposition.
Because it is only when we face opposition that we understand that God is our only hope. When we face opposition then we must cling to the only thing that matters, and that is the Lordship of our Savior. It is only during opposition that we long for a better home, and when we are filled with hope because of our heavenly home, we cannot help but tell everyone about the hope that resides in our souls.
Next we see that we worship God because he will “cut the cords” of opposition
The attacks of the enemy are described with a rather striking image in verse 3. Imagine someone lying on their bellies while someone uses a plow driven by cattle to make deep cuts in the person’s back. It a vicious attack that is intended to cause a lot of damage.
Yet our psalmist remains confident, you see this is not a psalm of despair. He says of his enemies “They have not prevailed against me.” Despite the attacks, he has not been overcome. Despite their attacks, his enemies have not managed to get a real foothold. They keep on trying, but they have not prevailed.
In verse 4 the Psalmist says we can sing in the midst of struggle and pain: the Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked. Cutting the cords refers to the harness cords that connected the plow to the oxen. To cut the cords makes the plow useless and unable to do its job. According to our psalm, God has cut these cords of the enemy, rendering his plows useless and ultimately harmless. While the attack continues, it has no effect. The enemy is powerless.
Once again we see the reason we can grow in our faith is because of the great things that God has done. Things that only God can do. He cut the cords of the wicked. We cannot defeat our enemies, we are not equipped to do so. Even the armor of God, as described by Paul in Ephesians, amounts to our placing our trust and faith in God, His word, and His gift of salvation. We arm ourselves with what He gives us: peace, faith, and trust. However much we defend ourselves, we cannot defeat our enemies; that’s already been done by God.
The Lord is righteous and He has cut the cords. The Lord is righteous and He has disarmed the enemy. The Lord is righteous and He has protected His children. Our salvation does not come because of our own goodness, or skill, or wisdom. We cannot defeat our enemies. No matter how hard we try to defend ourselves, we cannot defeat our enemies; that’s already been done.
Let me add something here that is very important; the opposition God is saving us from is the sort we experience on account of our faith in Jesus Christ. There are many difficulties that come from living in a broken world, among broken people. There are times that we suffer because we are caught in the backwash of someone else's sin. The relief that God provides is relief from the enemy who tries to prevent the faithful of God from being faithful. It is because of God’s own righteous character and His sovereign will that He will not allow opposition to prevail and overcome His people.
Even though God has defeated the enemy, we are by no means completely passive in the face of opposition. That is why we must preserver in the face of opposition. We must keep pressing on and trusting God even through severe circumstances.
And ultimately we have to realize that our perseverance is possible because of God’s faithfulness. When our psalm calls God righteous, this describes His relationship with us. He sticks with us and because He is righteous and faithful to His own purposes for us. He is our strength, our treasure, and because of this we can persevere. We worship God because He is our all in all.
As we close this morning let’s look at three reasons that we must preserver.
First it’s important because it takes time to see the whole picture.
It takes time to know if a project is going to succeed. Appearances can be deceiving. In fact, as you look through the scriptures you will find that many times God waits until the situation seems hopeless before He moves and brings about victory. He likes to demonstrate His power and might by turning around seemingly hopeless situations. And so if we give up too soon, we may miss the blessing.
I believe the greatest example of this is seen in the death of Christ. By all appearances, His mission had failed miserably. What could be more hopeless than a dead Savior, a lifeless leader? But three days later came the resurrection. And that changed everything.
Next it’s important because it takes time to reveal a person’s character.
A lot of us begin well, but very few finish well. In fact, when it comes to the issue of faith in Christ, perseverance is so important that only the one, who continues to the end, will be saved.
In 1 John 2:19 we see the apostle, referring to those who had left the church and denied the gospel. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
In other words, these people had never been fully converted, although for a while it must have seemed that they were. During the time they had been a part of the fellowship, they knew all the religious terminology. But when they left, the truth was finally revealed. Their failure to persevere showed the emptiness of their life. Remaining in a life of faith demonstrates the validity of our faith.
Finally, it’s important because it reveals the truth about God.
It’s through perseverance that we come to know God as He is. if we abandon hope when trials come, we will never experience God’s power to sustain and strengthen us in the midst of suffering. If we give in to sin, we won’t experience God’s grace as sufficient for us to resist temptation. The only way to know God’s grace is to persevere in a situation in which we need His grace. If we run, we may avoid the pain, but we will also be avoiding the chance to know God. If we give up on Christ too soon, then we will only see the tragedy of the crucifixion, and never the victory of the resurrection.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." If we continue, we will reap a harvest. We will find His grace and mercy to be sufficient. We will find His rewards to be worth all the suffering, and sacrifice, and labor, and tears. But we must not grow so tired that we stop following Him, or else we will never know God as He truly is.
God wants us to persevere because that’s the only way to get past the garbage to the glory. You usually have to go through a lot of difficult, painful, unpleasant stuff in order to get to the really good stuff. As with most things in life, it’s only by persevering through the trials and troubles that you can enjoy the deepest blessings.
Perseverance is not easy; no one talks about persevering through a hot fudge Sundae. Sports fans don’t need perseverance to make it through a game that your team is winning. We don’t need God’s grace to persevere in the things we enjoy. The Bible encourages us to persevere because God knows there will be times we want to quit. Perseverance implies difficulty. But its difficulty with a purpose and that purpose is godly character, and hope, and joy.
Whenever we face something that threatens to throw us off the road of faith and we wonder if we can continue, if the fight is worth it, let’s just remember that the Lord is our defender. We gather to worship this morning because God has already cut the cords of the wicked and they hold no real power against anyone who trusts in the righteousness of the Lord.
Questions For You To Consider
Who is the most patient person you know?
What are characteristics of that patience?
Why are we surprised when we face struggles (oppositions) in our lives?
Why does God cut the cords of the wicked, rather than stopping the wicked from trying to plow?
What are the benefits of anger that are found in verses 5-8?
How can our perseverance show the true nature of God?