Worship as a Cry For Help
I am sure if you were to take a few moments, you would be able to tell a story of something that went wrong, because you weren’t being careful. Maybe you were in a fender bender, or broke a lamp, or bumped into someone and spilled your coffee on them. And next thing you know, you are on the other side lamenting the fact that you should have been more careful.
I remember one day that I was out in the woods, it was getting late and the sun was setting. This was before cell phones so, I didn’t have that little flash light to help me see where I was going. What little light I had left was struggling to get through the leaves in the trees. I knew better than to get in a hurry, because when you rush, you get careless. But it was late and I didn’t want to be in unfamiliar woods in the dark.
I can still make out the silhouette of the tree that had fallen across my path, and I can still see the leaves on the other side of that log. But in my carelessness, I never considered that those leaves might actually still be attached to a tree. When I stepped over the log, the only thing my foot hit was a small tree branch, then air and I fell about 6 feet to a small ledge below.
When I gathered my wits I realized a few things: First, my right wrist was broken, the sick feeling in my stomach and pain left no doubt in my mind. Secondly, I had no idea how I was going to climb up and get back to my car then drive myself to the hospital. And finally, if I hadn’t hit that ledge there was no telling how much farther I would have fallen.
I still think back to that “if”. As a matter of fact there have been an awful lot of “if’s” in my life. If this hadn’t happened, if I hadn't stopped to do that, If they didn’t cancel our plans, if she didn’t get sick… Part of the problem of living in a broken world is that every day we are called to live a life of faith in spite of the “if’s”. In a world where everything can be weighed, explained, and analyzed we often are led to believe if we will just say the right things, do the right things, then we will have a life free from problems and struggles. Living out your faith in a God you can’t see is risky, what “if” everything goes south?
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, an 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 “if’s” our future holds. THat’s why we live in hope that God will accomplish His will and that nothing will separate us from Christ's love.
Every day we put our love on the line, and honestly most of us 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 to do 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 finding ways to love others.
That’s the beauty of Psalm 124, it is a song of living in the “if’s” of life. It is honest about the hazards and the help that occurs in this life. It’s a song that deals honestly with our doubts, struggles, and cynicism. It is honest about the hazards in this life and the help that is experienced at the hand of God.
One of the criticisms that the world, and honestly many of us, have about Christianity is that there seems to be this gumdrops and lollipop type of mentality. The church has mistakenly sold this lie that if you follow God then you will never have to deal with hardships, struggles, doubts, or fears. And while that sounds great on the surface, when you take a deeper 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.
On their way to Jerusalem to worship the Almighty God, our travelers would take a moment to sing a song that encourages us to bring our doubts and struggles out in the open and deal with them. Our pilgrims knew if they tried to keep their struggles hidden, it would eventually drain their hope, and dry up their 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, trust, and love.
The people who know this psalm best, are the ones who have tested it out and know that it’s credible because it fits into the reality of a life lived in faith.
Sing Had It Not Been the Lord Who Was on My Side
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 focus on the good things. Our AppleTV constantly fills our television with pictures of birthday parties and family vacations. We have videos of school plays, and soccer and basketball games. I have never had anyone want to show me a picture of the time that their boyfriend or girlfriend broke their heart. I have never had someone want me to see a video of the time when their family was hungry and they didn’t know where they were going to get food to eat. No one keeps a picture on their cell phone of the day that they got fired, or when they were in a difficult spot in their 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, when you lived in a nice house then 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 remember 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. This is a description of an enemy that is fierce and able to completely devour it’s prey. 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 an abundance of traps, and we get the picture of 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. On Tuesday of this week I was told about a minister who committed suicide. He was preaching a series on finding the joy in your brokenness but he was consumed with his own loneliness and depression. Unfortunately it was not the first minister I have ever hear about that committed suicide. In the last 5 years I have heard of more ministers committing suicide than in my previous 40. Even those who sing It Is Well With My Soul have moments when they don’t know how they are going to make it, who to turn to, or where to go. That’s a real world experience. And if we are going to be honest, we have to admit that there are times in this life when everything is not right. But even in the midst of the storm, we can still sing our songs.
Sing It Is Well With My Soul
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.
There is a very dangerous teaching out there that goes something like this; If you love God and behave then you will always have enough money to pay your bills, 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 intimately that still face struggles and must still pick up their shield of faith.
The reality is that there are a whole multitude of people who love God the best they can, and still hear the Doctor say it’s cancer, or I’m sorry we have done all that we could do, or stand at the grave of their child, or go through a divorce, 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. As long as we perpetuate this myth that the Christian life is easy when life happens, we fall apart and wonder what did we did 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 the 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 killed in terrible ways. But the Hebrew writer never says that they were abandoned by God. They never say that God failed to take care of them, actually they say these men and women 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 worship because we understand that 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.
We all experience hardships and trouble in this world, but we never have to experience them alone. David would write in another Psalm, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; David acknowledges the harsh reality of this world, but he also acknowledges that he will never have to go alone.
Sing The Lord My Shepherd Is
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; 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. This song reminds us that when troubles come in your life, focus on the one who can offer peace and comfort.
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, a better dad. There is no shame in admitting that we need God’s help to be His people; 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.
It is estimated that last year the self help industry made 9.9 billion dollars. But the problem is that we buy one book, and then another, and another. We go from seminar to webinar and never learn the truth that our help does not come from a product, or anything you can buy for the low, low price of $19.99.
Our help is God, but we get so much more than merely help in our time of struggle and need. We get to form an actual 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.
Right now you are either headed for a storm, living the middle of a storm, or just coming out of a storm in your life. In those moments when the report says cancer, or you have lost your job, or your marriage falls apart, or the Doctor calls you out of the surgery waiting room and into that awful little private room. In those moments there is not a price too great, no amount of cost is so large that you wouldn’t be willing to pay, just to find help.
The good news is that the help we get from God has already been bought and paid for. We don’t have to give anyone our credit card number, or tap anything with our phone. It was bought for us already when Jesus went to the cross. The empty Cross is God’s deposit that our greatest need has been met. Jesus has given us uninterrupted access to the Father. And the Empty Tomb is God’s deposit that our greatest enemy has been defeated. Jesus has already paid the price for us to have what we really desire most, even when we don't realize what our heart longs for. And that’s eternal joy, peace, and bliss in our Fathers presence.
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.