When in Trouble…?

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Psalm 40

 

A man was up on his roof.

Why was he there? The land all around him was flooding terribly. The water was half way up the door. He could see cars floating down where the road used to be.

Then all of a sudden, he saw a person rowing nearby and the person in the boat called out, “I’ve come to help! Get in!” But the man on the roof said, “Thank you but don’t worry! God will rescue me!”

Well after some back and forth between them, the person rowed away to look for someone else to help.

By now, the water was up past the door! The man on the roof was beginning to get worried. But see! A family in a power-boat came right up to the house. “Get in!” The father of the family cried. But the man of the roof replied, “No you keep going! Get your family to safety! God will rescue me.” … So the family went on their way.

By now, the water was up past the gutters. The man on the roof was praying fervently. All of a sudden a helicopter arrived and a rope was being lowered down to the man on the roof. The operator was using one of those bull-horns, “Take hold of the rope!”

But the man pulled out his own bull-horn, “No thank you! God will save me!”

Just then, a gigantic wave came and swept the man off the roof and tragically, he died.

Now the man had a sincere trust in Jesus and so after death found himself in paradise with God. “God, why didn’t you rescue me? I told all those people you would save me from the flood… now I’m very grateful I’m here with you, but I have to say, I feel like quite the fool!”

God looked at him for a moment then said, “I sent you a two boats and a helicopter — what more did you want from me!?”

It’s a funny story, but probably all too real for a lot of people in our country right now, who have experienced the horrors of the bushfires this summer. I’m sure many have called out to God for help in their troubles—and perhaps some of them, with their properties were rescued. For others, they’ve lost everything.

For many, today and at many times throughout history, troubles have come, not in the form of natural disaster, but through people. Perhaps some of us here have experienced the trauma of being targeted by evil people. 

What do we do when we’re in trouble? What can we expect from God? 

One of the reasons I’ve come to love the psalms is that they sit with us in our troubles. They are not systematic theologies. They are poetry. Written by people in the world experiencing real life. They plumb the depths of the lived experience. They don’t necessarily provide hard and fast rules—do this, then that will happen. Or, you’re feeling this, but look! Read this, now everything is okay! 

No, the psalms are poetry; designed to be sung, recited, and reflected on. And this psalm, while it ends with a petition—not a resolution, it does reassure us, that we are not alone in our suffering, that we serve a great God who has done much and has planned much for the benefit of his people, and upon whom we ought to call in our trouble.

The Psalm is in two big sections, which we will consider in turn. The first, verses 1-10 are really about gratitude. Acknowledging and proclaiming God’s goodness and past rescue. The second half (vv11-17) is a prayer for deliverance now.

 

Acknowledging God’s past help

Let’s take a look together at verses 1-4.  These are a poetic acknowledgement of God’s help in time past. “I waited patiently for the LORD,” he says. The sense is of a long drawn out time—David waits and he waits. Finally, God turns and hears David’s cry. We don’t know anything about the circumstances of David’s trouble, but the language he uses is so vivid, we don’t really need to know. Look at verse two: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire.”

Imagine yourself being in a slimy, muddy pit. When this picture comes to my mind, I imagine helplessness, suffocation. Weakness in my limbs from desperately struggling to reach safety. Crying out and waiting for help. Will help come?

Imagine the sense of relief, when your feet, after struggling for hours, helplessly, all of a sudden find a firm place to stand. A rock. “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

I was once caught in a rip with my brother in Narrabeen. When you’re treading water, normally you feel a certain kind of resistance under your legs. But when you’re in a rip, to me it felt as though your legs just can’t keep you afloat—there’s not the same resistance to the water. I can remember struggling and—typical of a drowning 8 year old—reaching out and using my brother as a floatation device. Not very reliable. And dangerous. 

So you can imagine the relief and joy I felt when a surfer noticed me and came over with his board! I was able to put my arms on the board and feel it sturdy beneath me—able to take my weight.

I was brought in and my Mum, well she was even more relieved.

We don’t know David’s experience, but the language he uses is captivating. I can understand the joy he must have felt when he says in verse three, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” What’s interesting to me is that there are two gifts in David’s case. The obvious one is his rescue. But the second is maybe not so obvious. Can you tell what it is?

Think about it for just a moment—trying not to read below if you’ve got a print-out!

The second gift is the gift of the hymn of praise to God. You may not realise it, but many people are ‘rescued’ by God from all sorts of troubles all the time. It’s by God’s grace alone that we are not instantly wiped out because of our sinfulness, but God gives and sustains all life, moment by moment. More than that, he rescues us from danger, like he did when I was a young boy caught in a rip.

The question is, will we acknowledge God’s rescue when it comes? The average person probably wouldn’t. They might recognise the valour of the surfer, the wisdom of installing sprinklers on their rooftops before a bushfire, clearing fuel loads from the bush surrounding their home… all good things, but it is a great gift to be among those who recognise that ultimately, God is sovereign over the fire, over the waters, over the situations around us, and ultimately the rescue belongs to him and He deserves our praise. To recognise this truth is a gift.

And David doesn’t praise God for no practical reason either. He praises because he is certain that many will see God’s rescue for what it is and turn and trust in him. He is confident of the blessing it is to trust in the LORD.

In fact, David makes a contrast between those who would trust the LORD and those who would look to the proud or turn aside to false gods. Literally, “turn and fall after a lie”. The one who trusts in the LORD is blessed, while others desert God for false objects of reliance: vain aims, hopes, empty ambitions.

Where is your hope invested? …Your intellect? Your investments? The people around you? All good things, but we have to realise that without God’s gracious, moment by moment saving acts, we are like so many people helplessly deep in mud.

So, as in verse 3, fear the LORD. Without his grace to sustain us, we are without hope.

And put your trust in the LORD. Unlike our vain hopes, we have much reason to trust him, because of the history of the things he has done. Look at verse 5. David writes, “Many, LORD my God are the wonders your have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

David here is probably speaking of the way God had rescued his people out of Egypt with many great signs, and his promise to make them a great nation and give them a land—to make them a blessing to all the nations. David could look back and see all the great things God had done for his people, and even in his own life. 

Do you have reason to trust God? What reason do you have to believe that your trust in God when in trouble is not in vain? There’s the biggest reason isn’t there: The cross. God in Christ rescued a people for his name, of which you are one of them, if you have put your trust in Jesus. Jesus died and rose again and offers new life to all who would call on his name. God has taken care of the biggest trouble that could affect us, so it follows that we can place our trust in him when we are faced with all of life’s troubles as well.

The truth is, that with David we all can declare that none can compare with the LORD our God, so many are the wonders he has done, and the things he has planned for his people. My hope is that any of us here today who haven’t yet placed their trust in Jesus, would take a moment today to ask a Christian friend—how has God provided for you, or rescued you? I have no doubt that you’ll find more than enough stories of God’s goodness here in this room alone, for you to know — verse 4: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”

If you’re in a Bible study group here with Chatswood Baptist Church, why not make it a practice to share stories week by week of God’s goodness with each other? What a blessing it is to here of what God is doing in the lives of others. 

 

Proclaiming God’s help

Next, in our psalm we read of David’s response to God’s saving acts.

There is something David understands, something he desires and something he proclaims.

First, David understands there is a right way and a wrong way to gain God’s favour. Verse 6: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened—burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.”

Some people will want to get God’s attention somehow, by some great act of empty piety. Around the world, this is how people of different religious backgrounds might believe they can get their god’s attention and manipulate their help. Perhaps by bringing a donation to the temple, or making an offering. But in this verse, David confirms that this is not how our God operates. 

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened…” What this means is that what God desires is obedience, not gifts, not empty piety. He desires that his people would listen to his voice. No doubt David’s aware of what happened to King Saul. Saul had disobeyed the LORD’s instruction and this is what the prophet Samuel said,  

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

For Saul’s rebellion, he lost the kingdom and it was given to David. David knows first hand that gifts and offerings will not ‘win’ God’s favour!

Next, in verses 7 and 8 we hear of David’s desire—to do God’s will. Not only are David’s ears open to God’s word, but he has placed God’s word in his heart. 

This is good because in Deuteronomy 17:18-20 God had said about future kings that would rule over his people that they were to write themselves a copy of God’s law—that he might read it and follow it all the days of his life.

David, as the King God has chosen affirms, (verse 7-8) “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

Finally in verses 9-11 David makes good proclamation of God’s righteousness, his faithfulness and his love. He doesn’t seal his lips, he doesn’t hide God’s righteousness, he doesn’t conceal his love.

How good is it when we are so in awe of God’s goodness that we share of it everywhere we go? When we experience God’s rescue and everyone knows about it! 

New believers are the best at this, because they’ve just experienced God’s salvation from sin recently! The penny has dropped and all of a sudden the weight of the world has been lifted from their shoulders! They’ll tell anyone who will listen! Then the years roll on and we turn around and notice we might not be as free with our sharing any more.

May I encourage you to remind yourself of God’s goodness and God’s good rescue of you? From every sin, of course, but also remind yourself and each other of the good things God has done, in his grace, in your life—remind yourselves. I find whenever I remind myself of these things I’m in a much better place to be sharing God’s goodness with others. I’m no longer hiding it, I’m excited by it!

 

Asking for God’s help

Now at verse 11, the psalm takes a dramatic turn.

When I read this psalm for the first time I thought, wow it’s so positive! Look at all the good things God has done.

But then I realised that while David had been saved in the past, he was actually in trouble right ‘now’. See verse 11, “Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD; may your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me;”

All the rest of the psalm is really an extended introduction for this request. And even though David had realised earlier that God desires obedience, and even though David had expressed his desire to please God and obey him—look (verse 12b) “My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased to save me LORD: come quickly, LORD, to help.”

If one extreme way of thinking is that God will be moved to rescue us because we’ve brought him the right gift or sacrifice, the other is that God will be moved to rescue us because we are good and righteous people. Neither are correct.

Rather—this is good news—God rescues sinful people, because of his love and faithfulness, not ours. Look at verse 17, “As for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.”

While David is in trouble, he has remembered God’s past rescue, he has recognised that God desires obedience, not offerings or gifts, and has recognised that he himself doesn’t meet the criteria for obedience. His sins have overtaken him, he is poor, he is needy. The brilliant thing about this, is that David has recognised his own helplessness. His real need for a saviour. For God’s intervening help. He is again, deep in the mud without a foothold. The perfect place to humbly receive God’s help.

What else is extraordinary, I think, is how David, in the midst of his trouble could hold out hope even for those persecuting him. The ones who are causing his pain. It may not appear like it at first glance. In verses 14-16  He asks that those who want to take his life, that they would be put to shame and confusion, turned back in disgrace, appalled at their own shame.

But look at verse 16, “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say ‘The LORD is great!” … It’s not a bad thing to be ashamed of the bad things we’ve done. It’s a bad thing if we never come to God for forgiveness nor ask for his saving help. How good it is when sinful people turn and trust in God, finding forgiveness.

No doubt David is making a contrast here, between those who seek his life and those who seek the LORD, but it’s such a contrast that allows for the opportunity for those who are appalled at their shame, to turn to God, to rejoice and to be glad. It reminds me of Jesus’ word to us—to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Just like them, you and I are sinful people who have come to know God’s grace and mercy. This psalm, and Jesus’ command isn’t asking that we pretend people who have hurt us never did anything wrong… No, but it is suggesting that their shame would be purposeful, moving them to trust in Jesus and find forgiveness.

How hard it is to seek the good of those who persecute us—we ought to ask for God’s help to do just that.

 

Proclaiming God’s goodness in the midst of trouble.

So how to draw these strings together? When in trouble, how are we to respond?

First: remember how God has already rescued you. How you actually depend on him for every breath.

Remember that God did not spare his own son from suffering. In the book of Hebrews (10:5-7) the words of this psalm are applied to Jesus. “Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’” The writer of Hebrews applies those words to Jesus’ lips. And you know Jesus suffered, even though he did not deserve to suffer. He always did God’s will and “by that will”, says the writer of Hebrews, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10). 

So when in trouble we need to remember God’s rescue through Jesus, who suffered for us. 

Second: proclaim God’s goodness—his rescue. Sometimes when we are in trouble it can be hard enough not to be angry with God, but like David, we ought to proclaim his goodness, tell of God’s rescue. The pastor of a church in the Shire said a few years ago when his teenage son was dying of cancer, “In some ways it’s easier to be stoic in the face of hardship—a lot harder to be actually serving and proclaiming God’s goodness.” I can tell you that I, and a lot of other people were deeply moved by his christian witness over that time, because he pointed us to a hope that was beyond this life, beyond the here and now, so that we could all say that whatever the outcome, God is good.

Our greatest hope is that we’d be reconciled with God and not just us, but those around us. It’s amazing reading this psalm the concern that David has not just for his own welfare, but for others. He says, many will see and fear and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.  May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you… I pray God would help me say these kinds of things when I endure hardship and persecution.

My friend’s dad was a Baptist minister until his death last year. Did you know that even as a Baptist minister, his most prolific time of gospel ministry, was while he was in hospital. “Do you have a plan for death?” the nurses would ask… of course he knew what they meant. They meant did he have insurance lined up, a plan for burial, a will, these sorts of things, so they asked if he had a plan for death. But he would respond: “I have a plan for transition to life. Do you want to hear about it?” And so he would go about sharing the good news with anyone who would listen and go to glory a few days later.

So seek God’s help to proclaim his goodness, even in suffering.

Third and final: Ask for help. Ask for it quickly. God has helped before, he will help in the future, he can help today.

“You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay!”