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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Finally Finding a Reason to Hope
Text:Psalms 77 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2015
Added:2015-11-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1,17                                                                            

Ps 78:1,2,3

Reading – Psalm 77; Romans 5:1-11

Ps 77:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Psalm 77

Ps 77:5,6,7

Hy 83:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, it’s probably true that everyone has a favourite Psalm. Some will point to Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Others love Psalm 116, or 121. And each of the 150 Psalms has its own story, its own beauty. Unlike other books of the Bible, Psalms was written over a wide stretch of time, from the days of Moses, to the period after the exile—it’s a book that was a thousand years in the making! And unlike other parts of Scripture, it has numerous authors; about half are by David, while others are written by Moses, by Solomon, Asaph, Ethan, and the sons of Korah.

Now in some ways, each Psalm can stand on its own. You can just turn to one and read it, without thinking about the context, what comes before and after. Yet the Psalms are organized into sections, grouped in such a way that they have meaning together. For example, the 150 are divided into five books—probably to match the five books of Moses. You’ll notice that each book ends with a similar doxology, or hymn of praise.

Within the Psalms, there are also three sections where David’s are grouped together (3-41, 51-70, and 138-45), and there are collections of the Psalms of Asaph, and the Sons of Korah (42-50 and 73-88). The Psalter includes at least four collections by topic: there are songs of God’s kingship (93-11), songs of praise (103-7), songs of ascent (120-134), and the Hallelujah psalms (111-13 and 146-50). Besides this are psalms of lament, for teaching, and historical psalms.

Despite the Psalms’ diversity, they have this in common: they’re expressions of God’s people and their experience of faith, whether in the midst of agony or burdened by guilt, basking in comfort or singing with praise, shouting in anger or whispering words of trust. This is what we like about the Psalms, their connection to our own experience as believers.

But we have to say more. Because it’s never just about us, is it? The Scriptures, and the Psalms, are about the LORD, his strength and faithfulness and compassion. That’s in fact the staying power of the Psalms. A lot has changed since the time of Moses and David, but this one essential thing has not: the goodness of the LORD as He saves a weak and wayward people. Psalm 77 shows this so clearly. It’s a cry from the heart of one of God’s children: he begins with a vision blurred by tears, but he slowly comes into focus, and finally obtains a clear view of the LORD and his mercy. This is our theme,

The troubled child of God finally finds a reason to hope:

  1. the irritation of a lowly soul
  2. the intention to focus the mind
  3. the illustration of God’s grace

 

1. the irritation of a lowly soul: It’s always good to begin with the title of the Psalms for what they can tell us. For Psalm 77 we learn a few things. It’s by Asaph, who was one of the priests given the job of leading the singing at the tabernacle. And it’s dedicated “To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun.” We know that there was a Jeduthun who was chief musician in King David’s time, and his name means “praise-giver.”

Sometimes we know exactly when a Psalm was written, but not for this one. Some have said that a different Jeduthun than in David’s time is meant, and that this Psalm was written during the exile. For then  God’s people were grieving everything they’d lost when the temple was destroyed and the land taken away. It’s true that some Psalms wrestle with national tragedies like the exile. But what we find in this Psalm is a very personal statement of sorrow. It is one man, communing with himself, and communing with the Lord.

And long before we get to the end of this Psalm, we know it’ll turn out well. How? For this is what he says: “I cried out to God with my voice… and He gave ear to me” (v 1). He wants to reassure us right away: God heard him! Beloved, that reminds us that it cannot end badly when we begin with prayer. When we’re troubled by something, worried about something, don’t explain it away, or laugh it away, or drink it away, or find some other escape. No, you should pray. Pray at once. Pray, for our God in Christ has an open ear, He’s sufficient for our concerns, and  willing to help. It was when Asaph gave voice to his despair that he gained peace.

But before we get there, let’s consider the irritations of this lowly soul. “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord” (v 2). Other Psalms mention various problems and concerns: the pursuit of enemies, a body wracked with weakness, a heart oppressed by guilt. But not here. This child of God is overwhelmed, depressed and embittered, for some unknown reason.

And saying little of the cause opens up this Psalm to even more people—for us to relate to it, to see ourselves reflected in it. For everyone has some measure of trouble. I don’t have to tell you about this, but I can mention the loneliness that God’s children sometimes experience, or the misery of a long illness, or a flood of disappointments in your family, and conflict with other people, and anxiety over health, and regret over the past. You can surely add your own.

In days of trouble, I think we all know what to do: we pray! Asaph tells us, “My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing” (v 2). This is the posture for prayer; he’s reaching out for the LORD. And we say, “Keep it up, Asaph. You’re going to the right place.” But notice a couple things about this prayer, things that show how deeply distressed he is.

First, he’s doing it “in the night.” He’s doing it when he should be sleeping. This is how bad trouble can be, when it won’t even let a person rest. Instead of being a time of relief and comfort, night can be full of terror: we’re oppressed by our thoughts, unable to overcome our anxieties. In a nervous fear, we toss and turn. On the one hand, tomorrow can’t come soon enough, because then we’ll actually be able to do something. But we also know that when tomorrow comes, the situation won’t have changed. No, the psalmist is so upset he can’t sleep, can’t even talk coherently. “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (v 4). He’s praying, but it’s real difficult.

Getting back to verse 2, notice he offers his prayer “without ceasing.” Sometimes we pray to the LORD, and we’re filled almost at once with a sense of peace. Maybe you’ve had that, when you pray in a tight spot, and you just know that God surrounds you. You don’t have your answer, but you do have comfort. But not this time. For Asaph has to keep praying.

And here’s the worst of it: “I remembered God, and was troubled” (v 3). Read that verse again, “I remembered God, and was troubled.” That’s not what we expect! Thinking about God only brings on pain. Why? Is he maybe contemplating God’s wrath against sinner? Thinking on God’s mysterious ways in the world? The Psalm reveals that Asaph is meditating especially on things of the past. Like verse 5, “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.” For Asaph, things used to be so much better—those days when he had temple songs on his lips, when he loved to open the Psalm book with the saints. But now he can barely pray. The joy has gone.

Do you ever feel that way? When we look at what we used to have, when we consider the changing seasons of God’s providence, there’s almost always better memories in the past. In the past, all was well. Life was easier then, the blessings fuller. When we were young and more carefree. Or when we still enjoyed life together with our spouse. Or before we got sick, and before there was trouble with the kids. Before work got so stressful. Today can seem so full of trouble and regret, while yesterday was a time of joy. We might not say it out loud, but there can be that question for God when we consider the days of old, “Where are you God, and where have your blessings gone?” “I remembered God, and was troubled… I complained.”

Asaph has come into the wilderness. Asaph is coming close to losing hope. And this is a dark place for a child of God to be. There can be many hardships in life, many burdens, but this is the most severe: the sense of God being far away, of the Father withdrawing his hand of blessing. “I complained,” Asaph says, “and my spirit was overwhelmed” (v 3). For it is overwhelming. You know you need to pray, you ought to pray—you do pray—but your confidence is starting to waver. Because what’s one more prayer going to change? What could ever relieve this difficulty, or restore the peace?

And yet beloved, this child of God hasn’t given up. He hasn’t. Just as Jesus taught us, Asaph began with prayer, so he’ll persist in prayer. He writes in verse 6, “I meditate with my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.” He’s coming to that point when it can go either way, a make-or-break moment. It’s time to face the truth head-on.

And in verses 7-9 he does, when he poses six questions—direct and loaded questions. Look at them. A “yes” to any of these means that all hope is lost, that we might as well pack it in, give up praying and give up on God. Yet Asaph cannot bring himself to answer “yes.” Listen to his questions, and to the answers that are between the lines.

“Will the Lord cast off forever?” (v 7). No, for He is faithful.

“And will He be favorable no more?” (v 7). No, for God is full of grace.

“Has His mercy ceased forever?” (v 8). No, his mercies are new every morning.

“Has his promise failed forevermore?” (v 8). No, God’s word endures.

“Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (v 9). No, his grace is never-ending.

“Has He in anger shut up his tender mercies?” No, his anger may last for a moment, but his steadfast love lasts forever.

You see what Asaph is doing. More than just remembering the good ol’ days, he’s remembering the good Lord. These days we call it “self-talk,” or maybe “preaching to yourself.” He is reminding himself of God’s holiness and goodness. For this, and this alone, is what will lift him out of the depths—this is what will lift us. Whatever our experiences, whatever our circumstances, it’s when we consider them in God’s holy light that we find our peace. We must say to ourselves, “Forget not all his benefits! Remember what kind of God loves you.”

 

2.   the intention to focus the mind: When a person’s in a difficult situation, there’s sometimes an urge to resign yourself to it. “It is what it is,” people like to say, like that’s the end of all discussion. In a way, Asaph does resign himself: “This is my anguish” (v 10). But that’s not the end of it. For Asaph has started to change his outlook. God’s not indifferent to his concerns, but God’s love is steadfast. “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

The sleepless Asaph resolves to look for hope: “I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old” (v 11). As Asaph lies there tossing and turning, he doesn’t count sheep. No, he talks to the Good Shepherd! That’s a good example for us. He recalls how God has blessed him. He meditates on the past to recall who was there, the whole time! All along it was God, working wonders and showing grace. This is why he speaks of remembering “the years of the right hand of the Most High.” However long Asaph had lived, this one thing was true: the LORD had been with him.

For God’s people in Christ, this is still the pathway to hope. We often lurch from moment to moment, from one worry right to the next, and we fail to see the big picture of our life. So there can be moments (and days) when all seems lost and futile. But then we recall “the years of the right hand of the Most High.” And we ask ourselves: “Has his mercy ceased? Or has his promise ever failed? Right now I feel alone, but will the Lord really cast off forever?” And then we answer with confidence, “No, God has not forgotten to be gracious! This misery too, will pass. This darkness will lift. Because of God and his faithfulness!”

To do this, you don’t have to be a senior citizen. Certainly our older members can give a testimony to long decades of God’s care, that no matter what happened to them, no matter how little they had, the LORD was faithful. Listen to them sometime; you’ll be encouraged. But beloved, any child of God, young or old, can do this —should do this! Say what God has done for you. Remember his works. Point out those times in life when it seemed hope was almost gone, but when the Lord came through yet again. Doing this, we learn to rest ourselves in God. We learn to trust him, for He is God and changes not.

Memory is such a great aid to our faith. For God’s not only promised great things in his Word, He’s also backed it up with action. Never has a child of God been truly alone; never truly forsaken. Jesus Christ was forsaken, so that we would never be! Remember that.

This has always been the case for troubled times. It’s those trials which prove the richest blessings for the soul. It’s why Paul writes in Romans 5, “We also glory in tribulations.” Glory in tribulations! How on earth can you say that, Paul? “We also glory in tribulations… knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (vv 3-4). It’s in that trouble that we cling to what we know is true.

Asaph stays with his theme in verse 12, “I will also meditate on all your work, and talk of your deeds” (v 12). This points us to the need for two things: for reflection, and conversation. We’re so busy with our schedules and commitments that we don’t often ponder the great things of God, or notice his works. And because we don’t notice, we also don’t speak of them with others. Here’s a calling for us: See how God confirms his Word in our life, and then talk about this with one another. “I will meditate on your work, and talk of your deeds.”

If you put Asaph’s mood on a graph, you can sense that after that very low dip, he’s climbing back up, ascending again to the joy of faith. For as he continues thinking on God’s ways, in verse 13 he asks, “Who is so great a God as our God?” No, He is matchless in his might, incomparable in his grace. Which makes that little word in verse 13 even more amazing: This great God is our God! He and we are joined.

This truth is also in the first part of verse 13, “Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary.” Asaph confessed that God might be almighty and heavenly, but He’s also nearby, right in the sanctuary of the tabernacle, where Asaph was allowed to minister every day. That’s where God was, where He could be worshiped, because He was glad to fellowship with his people.

We echo Asaph’s words, but with confidence that’s even greater. For God’s sanctuary is no longer in Shiloh or in Jerusalem, but it’s in us. Through Christ, God’s come down to dwell among us. We’ve become sanctuaries—temples of his Holy Spirit! Because He’s so near, God fills us with grace; He equips us for holy service; He provides us with wisdom. And He’s always with us, said Christ, even to the end of the age! So we are right to put our hope in God. Says Paul, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5).

 

3.   the illustration of God’s grace: After all this, Asaph’s getting warmed up. Everyone likes an example, and remembers an example. So as he meditates on God’s works, Asaph comes around to “the sons of Jacob and Joseph” (v 15). Together Jacob and Joseph are among the founding fathers of Israel, and they’re outstanding examples of God’s care. For God “with [his] own arm redeemed [his] people.”

If there’s one thing that reveals God’s love for his people, it’s this: redemption! He magnifies his power and mercy by saving those who have no power to save themselves. Now, God has redeemed his people many times. Yet there was one redemption that shone brighter than all others: when God brought his people out of Egypt. As you read through the Old Testament, that event is so often brought to mind. Remember what God did in Egypt! Remember how the LORD saved us from bondage!

And so as Asaph lays in bed, he replays in his mind that scene at the Red Sea. There were the Israelites, freshly departed from Egypt, but with the Egyptian hordes in hot pursuit. It looked like the end for God’s people, like the day would end with a massacre. But then… “The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you, they were afraid; the depths also trembled” (v 16). There was rain and thunder and lightning, but this wasn’t just a storm system blowing in from the Mediterranean; this was God Himself, “The voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind” (v 18).

God himself came down and opened the way through waters. “Your way was in the sea, your path in the great waters, and your footsteps were not known” (v 19). At the last minute, the LORD walked through the waters. The waves crushed the Egyptians, but God led his people on.

And He brought them through: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (v 20). See that contrast in the deeds of God: one minute He’s like a crashing storm, the next minute He’s like a gentle shepherd with his flock. For God leads his people in the paths that He himself has gone. He leads us through dangers that He’s already met.

And if God went to such lengths to save his people—if God even parted the waters of the sea, came down in the storm to give protection—what will God not do to help? After all that, is He going to ignore the lowly cries of his little child? Will He now turn a deaf ear to our prayers? Or will He instead preserve us? Lead us onward? He will! This is Asaph’s hope, and our hope: it’s the LORD. We can be strong in faith when we have so strong an arm to lean on. No need to live in doubt when God’s power is beyond question!

And it’s in this way that Asaph points us to our Saviour. For we no longer talk about Egypt as the greatest moment of salvation. We talk about the cross. We talk about him rising again, and the Lord going up to heaven. “When we were still without strength… Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). As we lay sleepless in our beds, and as we drive in our cars, and as we sit in our chairs, these are the moments to mediate on. The cross of Jesus. The resurrection of our Lord. His ascension as King of the universe.

From these glorious events we learn that God’s promise is sure, to each and every one of us. The “years of the right hand of the Most High” remind us that we’ve got every reason to trust in him, and to find our rest in him: “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Reconciled by Christ’s death, saved by his life. Beloved, that’s our reason for hope, now and always.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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