I think we have only a couple of messages remaining in our series on the Church. This morning, I want to talk about something that lies close to the heart of the Church – the work of God in individual’s lives, and those individual’s letting the Church know.
Let’s turn to Psalm 34:
Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
34 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
Several words in the opening stanza around the idea of “speaking well of God”
Bless – to recognize how perfect in His being God is, to acknowledge how, even apart from what He accomplishes, He is complete, and completely happy, unique in His contentment. “To bless” God is to admire Him for Who He is in Himself, before He does anything.
God is self-sufficient. If God had never created anything whatsoever, he would still be fully himself, with no unmet needs waiting to be fulfilled by anything outside of his own divine life…To put it briefly, we can think of the word blessed as the answer to the question, “What is it like to be God?” To the extent that creatures can give any meaningful answer to that question…we can answer that to be God is to be happy. Here, certainly in English but probably in all creaturely language, we crash into the problem of a word like happy not carrying the weight we need it to. God possesses whatever we should call the absolutely solid and real thing that happiness and joy are just a shadow of. – Fred Sanders
Praise – to assess, to value, to rank the highest. There are other powers, goods, beauties that aren’t the Lord or the Lord’s, but He surpasses them all.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD – meaning, David isn’t faking his praise; he’s not going through the motions of praise, it’s not only a part of him that attends to God. No, his whole self is enamored of God!
Others might draw confidence – sometimes without even realizing it – from their wealth of resources, from their accomplishments or competency, from their background, from their purchases, from their offspring… But David has come to rely on – – in his mind he keeps returning to and gnawing on and drawing energy from – the strength and commitments and beauty of God.
Magnify – to take evidence of God and His work that otherwise might be hidden and – by attention and exclamation and skillfully presenting – making it unignorable.
Exalt – same idea. Making a feature of God prominent that otherwise might have blended into the existing landscape.
Brothers and sisters, often the cumulative lies that circulate in the world and trespass into our consciousness have this effect:
-of making God small and tinny and cross,
-of pointing to reasons to complain rather than seeing God’s might and goodness,
-of suckering us into religious half-heartedness where we’re just mouthing some pretty words,
-of rending the world gray and oppressive and the so-called works of God boring and ignorable.
The antidote to all these lies that hide God from us is to bless God and praise God, and make our boast in Him, to magnify and exalt Him.
And…here’s the thing that shows up in this first stanza…we desire to be accompanied in this praise. We’re looking to other people – fellow recipients of God’s help, who have been humbled in receiving His help, fellow observers of the might and beauty of God – to join us, to help us in crowing about the greatness of God. O, magnify the LORD with me….
The church is the answer to this desire to not be left alone in worshipping God. I have to tell someone. Hey, Church…! V. 3 – O. Do you see it too, Church?
Let’s keep going.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
In the second stanza the praise takes a specific shape – – personal testimony of rescues. God is not only generally great… and has done great works out there…He has also delivered me from troubles (v.6). And from fears (v.4) – i.e., troubles not yet arrived but speeding on their way.
So the church is not merely a people come together for general praise. But a gathering of individuals who have their own testimonies of deliverance from real problems.
And indeed, there are problems, many problems…even for those who are “in the right,” whom God has declared to be righteous. Look over at v. 19, the first word: Many. Many are the afflictions of the righteous.
Dangers without. Many more dangers within. So many afflictions. We get into a cycle of overeating, then sluggishness, then browsing the web because we lack energy for anything else, then we get a surge of energy from cookies or a power drink…but then here comes the withdrawal…after we feel vacant…more browsing…spiraling…who will deliver us?!
You come to a place in your marriage where you have no more feelings for your spouse. Actually, you feel numb to the whole world – you’re going to lose this marriage, you’re going to lose your job. And you’re like, whatever. You’re bored with life. Who will deliver?
This poor man (v. 6) – poor in habits, poor in resources, poor in patience, poor in feeling, poor in whatever he really needs to get out of his problems – this poor man cried and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The Church is filled with these stories…and they’re increasing week by week.
Yes, God saves a man from all his troubles. Look at v. 4. Look at v. 10. Look at v. 19. Along the same lines, look at v. 22: none of those who take refuge in Him. These are sweeping victories of the LORD being recounted. These testimonies of the church are stunning for their bravado, for their great claims! Those who look to Him are… not just helped a little… but radiant. And this is true of everyone who takes refuge in Him.
I’m an early riser and it’s dark outside when I roll out of bed. I sit in our family room with my coffee and the psalms and I see the sun come up over that hill of trees. From darkness to radiance. A new day. What a transformation! God specializes in such!
A church is like any other group in that it’s a people with problems. And yet here’s the difference: Outside the church, many times, and eventually every time, affliction slays the wicked (v. 21). (Here the wicked aren’t the dreadfully sinful, but those who ultimately refuse to come under God’s conditions of reconciliation.) That’s how things commonly go: Afflictions enter and death ensues.
But among the church there are tens, hundreds of rescue stories. You wouldn’t believe what happened with my son! You wouldn’t believe what happened when I had no money. You wouldn’t believe what happened in my spirit when I was bitter and had lost all capacity of tender-heartedness. You wouldn’t believe how his character changed. I couldn’t stop looking at porn. I was chronically impatient. I hated people so much. I was so manipulative. There was no way I could pay those bills. I was so bored with the Bible. I never thought I could be happy again. This task had me completely intimidated. I was a New England Patriot fan…
The Church is a place of rescue stories, where those stories are being told. You see that throughout the psalms. Hey, let me into the assembly, I need to let people know what God did for me. When I was down and out, stuck, poor, in the dark…I promised God I would give Him credit if He would liberate me…so now, listen up, Church.
How wrong it would be if the church would become the setting for people to pretend that a) they have no troubles or b) ok, they have troubles but have always had the resources in themselves to overcome. People visit and the vibe is “we got this on our own.”
Also, how unfortunate if in the life of the church there’s no venue for testimony. We got sermon time, prayer time, singing time. When do we tell of God’s rescues in our personal lives? Some of that should happen in homes over the table, at people’s houses. Some of that happens when – over time – we learn to get to know each other and trust each other with our stories.
But we need gatherings, or at least segments of gatherings, so people can tell of God’s rescues in their lives. We experience God’s rescues, and it’s so enlivening, and we want others to know.
Shoot, we want them to have that same experience. You see some of that in the next stanza:
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
David says to his brother believers. David’s Son, King Jesus, says to His younger brothers and sisters. Church members say to one another: I want you to experience these types of rescues that have become so common in my experience.
Taste and see – there’s a lot to true Christianity that isn’t taste and see. There’s a lot that about God’s work that necessarily we just accept by faith, without sight, that doesn’t show up in our experience. There’s a lot of studying, learning. No drama here. But in the life with God, there should be experiences of the grace and longsuffering and power of God…of His rescues.
You see that word twice: Oh. Oh. That’s the heart of the church, a tender-heartedness toward each other. We’re not in competition. We realize we’re dealing with people who also have troubles. Many troubles. We long for these brothers and sisters to experience the deliverance of the Lord as we have.
Especially today, in a land of plenty where there are systems and institutions ready to meet practical needs, we don’t feel as much the need for physical supply. But we know among the church we’re dealing with people – our brothers and sisters – you! – who are hungry for deliverance for themselves or their children…delivered into order or wisdom or contentment or self-control or diligence.
David spent a lot of time outside, so his metaphors and allusions regularly picked up something wild. Here he brings up the king of the jungle, young lions. What better specimen to denote self-sufficiency, overspilling resources? But even with them, the young lions, there are lapses of strength.
But, let me tell you Church, with those who seek the LORD…man! They’re better off than anything!
Oh. Please take refuge in Him! You’ll see!
With seek the LORD (v. 10) we enter the instruction part of the psalm. At the heart of the Christian community, the Church, is teaching, instructing one another in method about this shared life in Jesus Christ. Here’s the theory, here’s what to expect on the ground. V. 11 is very typical: this inclination for the church to teach fellow believers what you have learned about life in God. Come, O Children, listen to me; I will teach you.
And here’s the lesson: Though God, of course, is at liberty to rescue all people, He commonly chooses to help people of a certain quality. This psalm variously describes this type that God helps as those who:
Seek the LORD (v. 4, 10)
Look to the LORD (v. 5)
Cry to him (v. 6, 15, 17)
Fear him (v.7, 9, 11-14,)
Take refuge in Him (v. 8, 22)
Are righteous (v.15, 17, 19)
Are brokenhearted/crushed in spirit
When it says that God deals with the righteous, that doesn’t mean strictly or even mainly ethically righteous. But people who are actively in covenant with God, taking God seriously, whom God has recognized as partners in covenant, who believe God through Jesus Christ.
When it says that God helps the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, it means that God deals with those who are at the end of their physical and intellectual and spiritual resources… and who feel themselves as such. Those for whom there’s no repair job possible. Totaled. I’ve come to heal the sick, Jesus said.
When it says that God deals with those who seek Him and look to Him – that implies there are other quarters to turn to for relief: kicking the problem down the road, cookies, self-pity, transgressive acts, self-pity, focusing on others, hating others, self-pity, despondency, suicide….
Rather, Look to God – well, we know that God is in heaven, and heaven is up. So, we look up. But even while we look up, in our mind’s eye we might be moving from self-pity to how could this have happened to me to thinking about this person to wondering what’s happening on Facebook.
But I sought the LORD (v.4) – not necessarily because God is hiding but because He’s hidden behind all this mental clutter. And you put your head down and attend to Him. God… GOD!
Taking refuge in God is kinda a summary way of saying all of this: that you’re God’s, you’re deliberately going to God for help and you’ll stay with Him throughout. Call to Him, follow His instructions, dump it all at His feet.
To cry to Him is to pray, but it sounds like prayer that isn’t flaccid or skimmed off the top of your consciousness but your whole self is beckoning to God, flagging Him down, crying out. Son of David, have mercy on me.
The final descriptor of those whom God helps is that they fear God. And because this might be the phrase that’s toughest to grasp, in the next stanza we’re provided with an explanation of what it looks like to fear God. Not a definition…but what it looks like on the ground.
11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
(v.12) The fear of God does not crush you so that you hide away from life. Rather, it is expressed in a great love of life, a desire for more and better days. Sometimes, in the midst of a life of troubles, a deep pessimism can set in, a tiredness of life under the sun.
But one saturated with the fear of God staves off this despondency because he stands in awe of the Creator of the world and the Refiner of the faithful. The first lesson of the fear of God is actually a question: do you love life? And the one who fears God says, I do. And, I want more of life.
V. 13 – Then, when afflictions are many, the fear of God isn’t to get cynical or to get careless. But to guard your tongue. To be especially careful about evil speech, a corrosive tongue – faultfinding, gossip, grumbling, gathering supporters to your cause. And to be on your guard against sliding into deceitful speech – manipulation, double-dealing, vagueness, exaggeration, insinuating, a lack of plainspokenness.
You see, evil and deceitful speech are the measures of people who are attempting to handle afflictions on their own, who aren’t taking refuge in God. These are things you employ instead of calling out to God. And God most often chooses not to help those who aren’t looking to Him.
Rather, as reviling and accusation come flying at you – which are often key ingredients of many afflictions – do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called. (1 Peter 3: 8). And here’s Paul’s take: When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. (1 Corinthians 4: 12)
When afflictions come, make guarding your speech your especial priority. Then the brief fear of God lesson concludes in v. 14.
Turn away from evil and do good – to turn away implies that in the middle of troubles there will have to be a deliberate decision to not embroil yourself in the surrounding evil. You’ll want to destroy – which is at the heart of doing evil: you’re going to accuse me; let me tell you what you’re doing wrong. You’re going to kick me around….well, I’ll find somebody for me to kick around. You wound me, I’ll cut you off/ freeze you out.
A criticizes B to C. Then sometime later A criticizes C to B. B thinks life is a competition, and he wants to get up on C, so he tells C that he’s a bad guy because of what A said about him. C then remembers that A has criticized B, and wants to pull out that card now, let B know what A said about him: to put B on the defensive and to demonstrate that A just runs his mouth.
Don’t be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)
Some time ago I was the target of what I considered unfair treatment. I was being recklessly accused; unwise people were taking advantage of the moment to land their scolds on me.
So what did I do? To someone completely outside the situation I complained. I explained in detail the injustice being done. How did this person respond? She kept calling me back to Scripture. Don’t get bitter. Keep a tender heart. She sent me a Spotify song about falling down in front of God, glorifying Him. She refused to join my campaign, to take my side, to add momentum to my bitterness, but for all that actively loved me by pointing me back to the fear of God. Overcoming evil with good.
Seek peace and pursue it – There’s something quiescent about the fear of God – in several ways you’re not responding to the afflictions around you and waiting for God. But then in quiet ways there’s something active too…seeking and pursuing peace.
- Keeping yourself in a frame of mind where you want there to be harmony and unity…you’re not mentally writing off anyone.
- Looking for points of agreement. Examining possible compromises.
- Keep examining yourself and repenting where that is appropriate. Though you don’t want to repent for things you’re not convinced that you’re in the wrong. Truth undergirds real peace.
- Keeping yourself tender-hearted. Not allowing in hate, disgust.
- Keeping yourself in a mindset where you’re interpreting people’s actions and inactions in the best possible light.
- Not gossiping at all.
- Following biblical protocols for ironing out differences, which starts with keeping things private.
- Overlooking a multitude of sins.
- Getting your affairs into order. Organizing your basement.
- Getting that heart rate up.
And all of this because you believe in God, and are convinced enough of His awesomeness to know that you’re not going to improve on the God who calls Himself God of Vengeance.
Brothers and sisters, God rescues those who wait for Him to act. Who don’t try to take God’s place in meting out appropriate punishments – even in very subtle ways – but rather concentrate on peace. Who wait on God and, in the meantime, concentrate on their duties and requirements. Who don’t simply “say their prayers” but cry out to God. Who look to God while putting to death their self-pity and whining and thin-skinned-ness.
We’ll have to close with the next stanza, which assures us that when we’re rescued out of trouble, we’ve encountered nothing less than the personal, effectual, active God.
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer is that this be a church where people are continually experiencing small, medium, and large-sized rescues of God. This work of the Holy Spirit is the energy, the hum of the church.
Among whom is a burgeoning practice of, a growing wisdom about, taking refuge in God. Understanding what gets in the way of that. How to overcome the obstacles to fearing God.
Where God is redeeming the lives of His servants, and the redeemed of the Lord are saying so.