Sunday’s Message | August 7, 2016
Series: Knowing God’s Heart
Message: We Delight Our Creator By Suffering Faithfully
For the director of music. Of David.
1 In the Lord, I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men;
his eyes examine them.
5 The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked and those who love violence
his soul hates.
6 On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men will see his face.
The American culture revolves around insulating people from suffering. And, despite the news, we really do a pretty good job of it. I’m not from a particularly well-off family, but I have never (without parental punishment) gone to bed hungry. I have had my choice of personally-fulfilling experiences to choose from as I grew up. I am currently serving my second congregation as an ordained minister of the Christian Reformed Church without violent reprisal from my government or other faith groups. My wife still loves me and my kids are not in jail. I’ve grown up with the freedom to make choices about my life that have ensured my comfort, and they’ve (mostly) paid off.
So, what happens when the comfort disappears? What happens when “the foundations are being destroyed?” The love of someone close comes to an end; the comfort of home falls to pieces or the security of your savings vanishes. “What can the righteous to do?” Like the guy questioning David in Psalm 11, we sometimes ask what our righteousness is worth if we can’t hold it up to God and expect him to protect us from suffering. Let’s consider two different aspects of the situation:
1. What exactly is the Christian’s righteousness, and;
2. What does God do with it for his glory?
“In the Lord I take refuge.”
In Psalm 11, everything is breaking loose in King David’s life. People are shooting at him from the shadows (literally) and the promise of God to keep him and his sons as kings of Israel forever seems like it’s crumbling away. David says, “In the I AM WHO I AM, I take refuge.” And that, it seems, has made all the difference. Much like The Road Less Traveled, David has a personal readjustment to the dangerous world he lives in. This is a relationship with God in the attitude of our heart and mind that doesn’t change the outward situation as much as it changes our heartfelt experience of “suffering.”
I’m not going to list what “foundations” are being destroyed around Christians today. After a while, these sermons begin to sound like the old man telling kids to pull up their pants and stay off his lawn. I’m guessing that you don’t need help identifying what’s causing suffering today. The point is, this week – today – you can know God’s peace in the middle of suffering through faith that God is doing something to make Christ glorious through a really bad time.
“What does it mean to ‘take refuge’ in the Lord? How do I actually do something like that?”
Wait: we’re on Psalm 11! Yes, we are. But, David describes some things about his faith in Psalm 28.6-9 that are wrapped up in the very first verse of Psalm 11. How do you take refuge (find safety) in the Covenant God? Psalm 28 has a couple of good ways of visualizing it.
Cry for Mercy
28.6 says that the I AM WHO I AM hears Davids yell for mercy. We have admit to God that, without him hearing us and reaching into our situation to save us, we’re as good as dead [Ps. 28.1-2]. It is God’s merciful intervention into our lives that breaks our suffering.
A Trusting Heart
Do you trust God’s promise in Christ to “never leave you or forsake you”? [Deut. 31.6; Matt. 28.20] The idea of “trust” is simple to explain, but harder to make happen. Example: In 28.7, David compares God to a shield. Simple comparison: shields blocks stuff that hurts you. If you really believe the shield is going to block the stuff that hurts you, then you hold it up and hide behind it. It’s the same kind of trust: do you really believe God will do what he has promised? Trust is essential for peace in the midst of suffering.
Express Your Joy
Have you ever given someone a particularly strange reindeer sweater for Christmas and not received the look of excitement and joy you were hoping for? The same is with our trust in God. Trusting God to work miracles is not just brain-based. Our hearts will be moved to joy, or else it’s not God we’re dealing with. Are you joyful about God’s mercy and protection in your life? Betcha it’s worth a song or two.
Let the Shepherd Lead You
A lot of people know about Psalm 23. David was a shepherd, and so he composes a song to God calling him the shepherd… Well, David keeps on using that analogy. The thing about God being the shepherd: that means that you and I are sheep. Wooly, stinky and a little dense. Sheep don’t always know where the shepherd is leading them, but they follow the shepherd’s voice just the same. Remember: Jesus is “The Good Shepherd.” [John 10.11] Sometimes the road is hard, or dry, or full of rough and possibly life-threatening terrain – but the good shepherd proves his qualities by safely bringing the sheep home. Go where he leads, even if it is through suffering.
What Can The Righteous Do?
If you’ve expected me to tell you that God will remove all your suffering if you trust him, then you’re probably disappointed at this point. I’m not gonna lie: this life stuff is hard. David says as much in many of the psalms. Life with Christ is not free from suffering. Life with Christ is free from the anxiousness, worry and fear that often comes with suffering.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” – James 1.2
Remember Psalm 23? There’s that part where David sings, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” [Ps. 23.5] Notice: God does not remove David’s enemies. Instead, God prepares a rich banquet for David when his enemies think they have him cornered. David should be sweating, crying and overall hiding in a corner from fear. But, because the Lord is his “strength” and his “shield” [Ps. 28.7], David can follow his shepherd through some pretty rough times – even through “the valley of the shadow of death.” [Ps. 23.4]
For the Christian, our “righteousness” isn’t really ours – it comes from Jesus himself. He is our righteousness that fulfills God’s covenant [Rom. 3.22; II Corin. 5.21]. So, you and I really can’t tell God how good we’ve been and expect him to tally up our goodness and say, “Wow, you’re right! You you’ve been too good to lose your job!” Something amazing happens when we’re following Jesus and resting in his leading and power: since our righteousness is all from him, he uses his righteousness in us to demonstrate his glory and power! In fact, Jesus’ friends John and Peter considered it a privilege to get beaten up by the ruling council in Jerusalem because of how they served Christ! Still with me?
Christ will demonstrate his strength in his brothers and sisters to show others how worthy he is of their worship. But, that requires us to be in a position of needing Christ’s power. For many people, the suffering of cancer, a bad marriage, a hopeless situation – even abuse and personal loss is an excuse not to have faith. But, if Christians suffer faithfully, we can demonstrate to future brothers and sisters in Christ that there is something infinitely worse than our worst suffering and something infinitely better than a comfortable life. Certainly, not having Christ remove our unholiness will result in something worse than the worst suffering we can experience on earth. And likewise, having Christ and his righteousness simply by faith is infinitely greater than all the riches a comfortable life could enjoy in this life.
Your trials this week may be an opportunity from God to show the strength of Christ. He’ll show it to you and to the people around you, if you cry out to God, trust him, and joyfully follow The Good Shepherd. If we must suffer, brothers and sisters, suffer faithfully.