What Works When Life Doesn't
11 Feb 2012, Dr Alex Currie
(Alex is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
What Work's When Life Doesn't - Practical Help from Psalms for Tough Times (Psalm 30)
Understanding Scripture's big picture is important. Old Testament divisions of scripture are Law the foundation; history the explanation; poetry that inspires; and prophecy that is pregnant with expectation. Psalms falls into the poetry section. The New Testament can be summarised as: Gospels that share His manifestation; history of the formation of the early Church; letters which give exhortation, and prophecy that resounds with culmination.
The Psalms are people's honest response to a huge variety of human emotions and experiences. They are people talking to God. So David can cry - 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me', a phrase that Jesus picked up centuries later. (1)
The structure of the Psalms, a book of worship which has a theme of praise through prayer is interesting. Jews see these 150 chapters divided into five books. Book one, chapters 1-41 are mainly Davidic, are about adoring worship, and highlight man, which is a theme in Genesis. Book two, chapters 42-72 are mainly Davidic and were added during the reign of Hezekiah and Josiah. Their theme is wondering worship, they highlight Israel , which is the focus of Exodus. Book 3, chapters 73 to 89, were written mainly by Asaph and were also added during the reign of Hezekiah and Josiah. Their theme is ceaseless worship which is the focus of Leviticus. Book 4, chapters 90 to 106, were compiled during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah and highlight submissive worship. Writers are anonymous but these psalms focus on Moses and the wilderness experience, which Numbers is all about. Book 5, chapters 107 to 150 are all about worship perfected. Writers are either David or anonymous. They focus on law and land which Deuteronomy highlights.
The Book of Psalms is like a reflective lake which picks up every mood of man's changeful sky. It is a river of comfort which, though swollen with tears, gladdens people who need a lift. This poetry book is a garden of floral beauty, which is delightfully fragrant, but some roses have thorns. This library of poems is like a stringed instrument which captures every note of praise and prayer, of triumph and trouble, of gladness and sadness, of hope and fear, uniting them in a symphonic choir singing from human experience. This poetry competes with that of Milton and Shakespeare, but is in the verse of downright reality. It is a book of practical theology with vivid concrete human expressions. Psalms deals with all of our emotions such as anger, stress, guilt, doubt, joy, failure, depression, self-pity, love, worry, helplessness etc.
Read Psalms 30 and ask yourself: Have I ever felt like giving up, or throwing in the towel? Have I ever felt like every time I turn around something else broken, or is late or something is wrong with something or somebody in your life? Have you ever lain in the bed at night and your problems have multiplied so it seems like the darkness of the night has turned its back on you? So, you lie awake in bed scared to go to sleep -- wondering will the night ever end. Have you ever felt as though you were in a hole and may never get out?
Here are three ways from Psalms 30 to experience joy in life's dark seasons.
1. Review your life.
Have you seen God at work? What has God done for you in the past? David gives several reasons for praising God.
Reason 1. Verse 1. God lifted him up (past tense). David thought of what God had already done in his life. Such memories become anchor points in our faith journey. David remembered fighting a bear, a lion, and slaying Goliath.
When we read Scripture we need to ask three questions. What did it SAY to people when it was written? What does it MEAN to me today? How does this APPLY to me in 2012?
Reason 2. Verse 1. God did not permit David's enemies to triumph. Our enemies include fear, guilt, shame, hurt, pain etc.
Reason 3. Verse 2. God healed his body.
Reason 4. Verse 3. God saved him. There is a story of an Indian who was praising God. Another person asked what God had done for him? The Indian found a worm, circled it with combustible material and lit it. When the fire was about to consume the worm the Indian snatched it from the midst of the flames. Turning to man he said "That is what God has done for me."
Reason 5. Verse 5. God created change, so that night becomes day, Winter turns into Spring, etc. So there are seasons in our lives. A medical couple in my congregation have seen so many suffer illness and pain. Their nine year old son who was so creative and noisy, a real boy, was on his way to school when he was knocked down by a car and killed. This was their time of weeping. To see a vacant chair at the table created a memory that was difficult to deal with. But Psalms 30: 5 says that 'weeping may remain for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning." They treasure this text.
2. Learn to be Thankful
Verse 4 So, we need to look back over our lives. That's the PAST.
Then, remember and be grateful. That's the PRESENT. Remember when you were BROKE. You couldn't pay your bills but God helped you through that financial crisis? Remember when you were in hospital and didn't think that you would ever get better? Remember when you wore hand me down clothes? Remember when you prayed for a job and He answered your prayer? Remember those difficult times in relationships? God heard you and your life was touched. Thank Him. Praise Him.
Have you heard to John Stott who lived between 1921 and 2011? Time Magazine ranked him among the top 100 influential people in the world. His father, Sir Arnold Stott, was a Harley St physician who was agnostic. His mother was a Lutheran but she took John to the local Anglican Church. In 1935 John was sent to the well known school, RUGBY where he heard Rev. Eric Nash (nicknamed Bash) preach on "What shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ." That turned his life around and eventually he became the minister All Souls Church in Langham Place, the church he attended as a boy. That church became the hub of evangelical Anglicanism.
Stott wrote: "Here, then, is the crucial question which we have been leading up to. Have we ever opened our door to Christ? Have we ever invited him in? This was exactly the question which I needed to have put to me. For, intellectually speaking, I had believed in Jesus all my life, on the other side of the door. I had regularly struggled to say my prayers through the key-hole. I had even pushed pennies under the door in a vain attempt to pacify him. I had been baptized, yes and confirmed as well. I went to church, read my Bible, had high ideals, and tried to be good and do good. But all the time, often without realising it, I was holding Christ at arm's length, and keeping him outside. I knew that to open the door might have momentous consequences. I am profoundly grateful to him for enabling me to open the door. Looking back now over more than fifty years, I realise that that simple step has changed the entire direction, course and quality of my life." (2)
'I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as "God on the cross". In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me!' (3)
'Tough times neve last but tough people do.' (4) The question is not whether we will have difficulties ahead. One thing that I've learned in life is that the forecast always calls for 'pain'. The question is whether we will react or respond to life's challenges.
The Psalmist says that after we have wept 'joy comes in the morning.' (5) In Hebrew the word Joy is the same word used for singing, rinnah. (6) It's a shout of rejoicing; a loud cheering in triumph; and singing. Rinnah describes the kind of joyful shouting at the time of a great victory. In Proverbs 11:10, rinnah describes the jubilation of the righteous when the wicked are eliminated. In Zephaniah 3:17 says God will dance over His beloved people with singing or a shout of joy. When the Israelites returned from captivity they sang and shouted for joy. Like the sun bursting through cloud in the morning, so we can burst into song with exclamations of joy.
Mahatma Ghandi wrote "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always."
One of my ageing friends lost his wife with cancer. Then a son and a daughter were diagnosed with cancer many years later. In his 80's he accidently killed a woman while driving his car. He has experienced so much emotional pain, yet I enjoy visiting him after almost 50 years of friendship because of the memories such a visit evokes. My friend's story is perhaps a microcosm of life. A mixture of hurt and happiness.
John Paton and his wife were expecting their first child while pioneering missionary work in the New Hebrides. Their happiness was brief because Mrs Paton and the new baby died and Dr. Paton dug their graves with his own hands. Paton wrote "If it had not been for Jesus and the fellowship and grace He afforded me, I am certain I would have gone mad or died of grief beside their lonely graves." The promises of Scripture sustained and strengthened Paton through his grief and loss.
3. Trust God for the Outcome
This is in the future. We trust Him for how things turn out. Why? Because there will be joy in the morning. When Jesus was crucified there were two dark nights but joy came with the resurrection.
The disciples were discouraged on Friday and Saturday, there were tears but they rejoiced on
Sunday morning. They couldn't see past the tomb but there were shouts of joy on resurrection morning. The cross seemed the violent end but the empty grave brought happiness. Although cast down all weekend they rejoiced when they meet Jesus. We may have weeping for a time but remember 'joy comes in the morning.' (7)
My mother died when I was a teenager in High School. Her death caused me to ask Why? That 'why' word, created a whirlpool in my thoughts that dragged me down. It wasn't until I asked the question 'What can I learn from her death? That I began to heal and grow. There was grief and emotional pain but eventually dawn arrived and there was joy in the morning.
God wants to bring joy to your mourning too. He offers hope for your despair. He wants to give you power for living and peace instead of anxiety and stress. He offers healing balm for your hurts and pain and rest for weary souls.
McGee wrote, "God knows about the difficulties and problems of His people. If you belong to Him, He is able to quiet the storms of life, but sometimes there are lessons for His own to learn in the storm. When you find yourself in the midst of a storm, instead of sitting and weeping and criticizing God, why don't you look around and find out what lesson He wants you to learn? God will not let you go through trials unless He has something for you to learn."
When my mother died a Christian teacher and his wife took me into their home. I have never forgotten their kindness. Both celebrated my 60th birthday celebrations with over a hundred of our family and friends. I still visit this teacher. He is in his nineties now. His wife died. He is in a nursing home. I have found him on the floor. Last time I visited he was in the midst of a stroke. But I know and my friend knows that even though he may die there will be joy in the morning. There will be a resurrection. (8)
Trust God for the outcome. He comforts in our grief, helps in our hopelessness, provides peace when we have perplexity, gives solutions to our problems, helps us through poverty and gives stability when we stumble. He provides forgiveness for human failure, deliverance from our defeats, light when we are in darkness and faith when we are fearful and frightened.
God's still at work when life lets us down.
(1) Matthew 27:45-46
(2) John Stott, quoted in Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: The Making of a Leader (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, 1999), p. 95
(3) John R W Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 335-6
(4) Robert Schuller
(5) Psalms 30:5
(6) Strongs Concordance. SDA Commentary on Psalms 30:5 A ringing cry.
(7) Psalms 30:5
(8) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
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