Worship as a Cry For Help
In his book, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, Eugene Peterson tells about a time that he was giving blood at the Red Cross. He says that a nurse was going through that long series of questions to see if there was any reason why he should not donate blood. The final question on the list was, do you engage in hazardous work? To which Peterson replied, Yes.
The nurse looked up and noticed his clerical collar. She smiled, ignoring his answer and marked no on her questionnaire. She said, I don't mean that kind of hazardous. Peterson goes on to explain that being a disciple of Christ is hazardous work. There are no easy tasks in the Christian life; there are only tasks that can be done faithfully or erratically, with joy or with resentment.
The life of a disciple is hazardous because every day we put faith on the line. In a world where everything can be weighed, explained, and analyzed we continue to make the center of our lives a God who no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no one can probe. That's a risk.
Every day we put hope on the line. We don't know the future, we have no idea what the next hour will hold. There may be sickness, accident, personal or world catastrophe. Before today is over we may have to deal with death, pain, loss, and rejection. We don't know what the future holds but we still have hope that God will accomplish His will and that nothing will separate us from Christ's love.
Every day we put love on the line, and honestly we are not very good at love. We are better at competition, or following our instincts and getting our own way than we are at figuring out how to love one another. And yet we decide, every day, to set aside what we do best and attempt what we struggle with. We still open ourselves to the frustrations and failures of loving God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength and loving others.
That’s the beauty of Psalm 124, it is a song of hazard and at the same time a song of help. It’s a song that deals honestly with our doubts, struggles, and cynicism. It is very honest about the hazardous work of discipleship and declares the help that is experienced at the hand of God.
One of the criticisms that the world, and honestly many Christians, have about Christianity is that there seems to be this gumdrops and lollipop type of mentality. The message they have heard from the church is that if you follow God then there is no hardship, no struggle, no doubt, no fear. And while that sounds great on the surface, when you take a closer look, you see that the road we travel is littered with pitfalls, struggles, and pain. That’s why so many people have fallen away from the faith, they were promised heaven on earth, and what they experienced was anything but heaven.
This song encourages us to bring our doubts and struggles out in the open and deal with them. If we keep them covered, they become a leach on our faith, they drain our hope, and they dry up our love. This psalm gives us an honest warts-and-all view of our faith life. Every skeptical thought, every disappointing venture, every pain, every despair that we can face is lived through our personal relationship with God, and is balanced with acts of praise, blessing, peace, security, trust and love.
The people who know this psalm best, and who have tested it out, know that it’s credible because it fits into the reality of a life lived in faith.
Troubles Come From A Real World Experience
For me the striking thing about this psalm is the honest way it depicts images of pain and struggle. For most of us that’s not the picture that we want to focus on. There’s nothing pleasant about enemies attempting to swallow you alive. Nothing good about rushing waters trying to drown you. Nothing nice about someone being surrounded by angry enemies on every side and yet these are the things that the pilgrims sang about on their way to worship God.
I wonder why they would even bother to remember those bitter experiences. Normal people want to remember the good things. We keep photo albums of birthday parties and wedding ceremonies. We have videos of high school graduations and family reunions. I have never heard anyone say, Here is a picture of the time my boyfriend broke my heart. Here is a video of a time when my family was hungry and we didn’t know where we were going to get food to eat. I keep this picture in my wallet of the day that I lost my job, or when my wife and I were in a bad place in our marriage.
But these travelers knew that any history that only remembers the good things, is not a true history. If you only remember the times when you had peace at home or peace on the job or peace at school then you are missing something. If you only remember when money was good and the bills were paid on time and you lived in a nice house, you don’t have the full story. If all you remember are the times when you felt happy and healthy and holy then you don’t have it all. This Psalm tells the truth that everyone of us knows to be true, whether we want to admit it or not. Everyone of us will have to endure times of heartache.
The Psalm describes three types of enemy attacks. First metaphor is an animal swallowing it’s prey. It describes our enemy as fierce and the destruction is complete. These early travelers lived in a world where wild animals were a common danger, and their history was littered with stories of family members who left and never returned because they encountered a wild animal that consumed them.
The second metaphor is a flood overwhelming it’s victims. The flood was a common figure in the Old Testament describing swift and sudden danger. Palestine was dry land filled with mountains and gullies. A simple rainstorm would quickly turn into a flash flood as one gully filled with water and fed into the next one. One minute the world is wonderful and things are fine; the next minute the entire world is devastated by a flash flood.
Finally we see a bird entangled in a trap. Those who snare birds know what they’re doing; they know that if they are going to effectively trap a bird it takes more than one trap; they set many different traps. So the picture here is a difficulty that seems to come again, and again, and again.
While these metaphors might not speak to us, what if I said the words, Cancer, Downsizing, or Divorce? The thought is the same. We get into a spot that we can’t get out of. These are pictures of being in a trap and not being able to get out. Troubles that are swift and seem to come one after another.
Just because we are the people of God doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, loneliness and depression still show up on our doorstep, and we are left not knowing how we are going to make it, who to turn to, or where to go. That’s a real world struggle, but God does not leave us there.
We are Not Defined By Our Struggle
I need to you listen very carefully to what I have to say here. I readily acknowledge that it’s not going to sit well with many of you, but it needs to be said. God’s love does not protect us from anything.
I know that many of us have this view of God that as long as we love Him then we will be prosperous, have a great marriage, our children will be well behaved, and our car will always start. But it’s time that we let go of that lie because it has done more harm than provide comfort. There are many people that love God with all of their hearts, who pray and read their Bibles, folks who long to be with God and know Him who still face struggles, and must still pick up their shield of faith.
The reality that we all deal with is that folks who are deeply loved by God, and Christians who try to love God in return still get cancer, still lose their children, still go through divorces, lose their homes, and get fired. There are Children of God who fast with their faces in the ground praying for healing and healing never comes. And as long as we perpetuate this myth that the Christian life is easy, when troubles come we fall apart and ask what did I do wrong. We begin to think if I just loved God more, or prayed more, or read my Bible more, or gave more away then God would prosper me.
The truth is that God doesn’t always deliver His people. God doesn’t always grant deliverance; He doesn’t always deliver us from the evil and sickness and failure. There is this haunting passage in the book of Hebrews chapter 11. You may remember that we call Hebrews 11, Faith’s Hall of Fame; it is filled with the names of men and women who did great things following a life of faith. But as we get to the end of this great chapter we read these words:
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated, the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:36-40
These people had faith, and they were still tortured and chained and put in prison. They were still killed in terrible ways and sent out into the wilderness. But the Hebrew writer never says that they were abandoned by God. He never says that God failed to take care of them, rather he says that they received something better than the garbage that this world offers.
These men and women of faith were delivered from sin and death and now they will be honored and rewarded; they will be victorious. But their victory will come at the resurrection. We can worship because our God delights in delivering us from hopeless, impossible situations, to show us that when the time comes, He will save us from the ultimate hopeless situation, death.
What we need to understand is that while the love of God does not protect us it does something much better; it defines us. We are not defined by the tragedy that happens in this life, we are defined by the love of God that delivers us.
Think about it this way, when a marriage ends in divorce, the world calls them a divorcee; but God calls them loved.
When someone loses their job and as a result they cannot make their house payment so they are thrown out into the street, the world calls them homeless; but God calls them loved.
When someone loses their spouse to cancer, or accident, or whatever, the world calls them a widower; but God calls them loved. That’s the point of this Psalm, we worship God because we are defined by the one who loves us, not the tragedy that happens to us.
So as we close today let me very quickly give you four appropriate ways to respond in our times of need:
First we see that the Psalm tells us to focus on the Helper and not the hazards.
The Psalmist says that he wasn’t overwhelmed by the floodwaters and was able to escape the snare because of the Lord’s help, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” Too often we are like Peter in Matthew 14. We are quick to get out of the boat and step on the water, but very soon look down at the waves churning beneath our feet, we lose nerve and begin to sink.
Secondly, We must admit we need help. I know that this goes against every fiber in our being, but before God will save us we must stop trying to save ourselves.
When someone joins AA, it’s because they have finally reached that point when they can admit they have a drinking problem. They go to the meeting and say, Hi, I’m an alcoholic; and I need help. In the same way we must be able to say, Hello, I’m Jeremy, and I need God’s help to be a Christian, a better disciple, to be a better husband, and dad. We should always be willing to say, Lord, we need your help to be Your people, and to be the body of Your Son Jesus, and to be a real witness in this world.
Next we must realize that our help is never an answer, a solution, an explanation, or a product, but a Who, namely God.
The help we get is not only what God gives to us. The help we get is an actual relationship. Having God as our helper is not simply about going to Him when things get bad and the flood waters come, but about being in relationship with God.
Finally we must realize that God has already paid the price for our help.
It is estimated that last year the self help industry made 11 billion dollars. With all the people out there purchasing self-help products, it’s an incredible thing to say that the help we get from God has already been bought and paid for. We don’t have to write a check or give anyone our credit card number. It was bought for us already when Jesus went to the cross.
This morning we have people here that are facing difficult situations. Fractured relationships, medical problems, family or job issues. Your situation seems hopeless and you want to give up. Today you need to know that your situation is not hopeless. Maybe God wants to do something mighty and powerful in your life, something unexpected, and all you need to do is hold on a while longer. So don’t give up. Pray. Trust in God. Wait on the Lord. Keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Remind yourself of all the times that God has helped you in the past. Ask Him for grace and wisdom, and keep walking by faith, rather than by sight.
Questions For You To Consider
What are some historical examples of how the Lord rescued His people?
Where is Satan actively attacking God’s people today?
What types of deliverances have we experienced (maybe from sin or addiction or other forms of bondage)?
Jeremy said this morning that, “God’s love does not protect us from anything.” How does that make you feel?
Does that line up with your reality? (Have you experienced pain, death, loss, and grief?)
Jeremy also said that God’s love “defines us”. How does this lead you to worship?
If God is on our side, who can be against us?? Read Romans 8
Why do we feel sometimes like the Lord has deserted us or that something has separated us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?