Please turn to Psalm 28, a psalm which declares that the Lord is my strength and my shield. Who needs to hear that tonight? You're feeling under pressure and under attack. Perhaps God seems distant. Well if you're trusting in Christ the Lord is your strength and your shield. It’s certainly a psalm for Christians in Syria. The Lord is their strength and their shield too.
This summer I had the most amazing few days visiting not America, Africa or Australia but the NW Scottish Highlands for the very first time and for the very first time in my visits to any part of Scotland it didn't rain, except for one afternoon in Glencoe. Why had I never been there before? I asked myself as I drove the 8 hours back from Ullapool to Jesmond. It is a photographer's paradise. The sheer breathtaking rugged wonder and beauty of God's creation, which reminds you of his might and power, of him being our rock, our strength and our shield, is there right before your eyes on every twist and turn of every road and path.
Ullapool, the small town on the edge of Loch Broom, is built on solid rock and the surrounding hills and mountains shield the town and its port. As I looked across the harbour the view reminded me that the Lord is my rock, my strength and my shield. As did the view at Portree on the Isle of Skye. The Lord is my rock, my strength and my shield.
And if you're trusting in Christ and seeking to obey him then your life is being built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and his word. So when the storms of this life come (and they will, and sometimes like King David here in Psalm 28 you might even feel you're under the sentence of death - from persecution, from evil, from those who mock you at school, university or work, from those who want to secularise everything and squeeze you out or squeeze you in to their way of thinking, from those who have no regard for the works of the LORD or the work of his hands v5, from peer pressure to conform to do evil, whether in freshers week or in the workplace - you see David's prayer in v3 is that he shouldn't be reckoned with the wicked but with those who follow the Lord - is that true of us or are we compromising?) when the storms of life come and then the Day of Judgment, in Christ we stand firm. He is our rock, our strength and our shield. He can deliver us from evil. He is always there for us. We can turn to him our Rock as David does in v1 of this psalm at any time. Because of him, because of his work on the cross, his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven we can take our requests, our cries right into the heavenly sanctuary knowing that as well as Christ interceding for us God hears us and will answer us whether that answer is yes, no or wait. You see another main message of this psalm is that
THE LORD IS NOT DEAF TO THE CRIES OF HIS PEOPLE v1-5
Do you believe that? Do you believe that the Lord is not deaf to you but that he hears your cries? Do you believe that the Rock has ears for you? Or do you sometimes think the opposite? That the Lord just doesn't seem to be hearing you. David's plea in v1 suggests he'd been thinking the same but he doesn't give up. Well Jesus taught in Luke 18 that we should always pray and never give up. Believing persistent prayer will be answered in God's way in God's time. On our recent staff retreat we were reading these words from John's Gospel chapter 14:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14.13-14)
So you might be asking what kind of prayers does God answer positively? Well those that are asked in the Lord's name ie according to his will. Those requests that will bring glory to God. The Lord's Prayer is a pattern for our prayer life. The pattern is unselfish - needs not wants, not my will but God's will - and God honouring and glorifying. That is how you should pray Jesus says in Matthew 6. And here in Psalm 28 King David's request echoes at least in part the last clause of the Lord's Prayer: Deliver us from evil. A clause we perhaps don't focus on enough in such times as these, when Christianity is under attack. Look at v1-3:
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
towards your most holy sanctuary.
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbours
while evil is in their hearts. (1-3)
Reading those verses turned my thoughts to the plight of the Christians in Syria, a country where no doubt there's been much speaking of peace with neighbours while evil is in their hearts. A report last week relayed this from the General Secretary of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches
“On behalf of Syrian Christians and other minority communities, we appeal to Western governments to alleviate the suffering of our people by providing urgent humanitarian aid, as our communities are in dire need. The majority have been displaced from their homes with hardly anything to subsist on; most are jobless, homeless, and in danger of abduction and assaults by radical militants.”
Since the conflict began in 2011, the Barnabas Fund have provided practical aid to an estimated 139,000 Syrian Christians, around 10% of those who remain in the country. Around 600,000 Syrian Christians have sought refuge in other countries. The Lord has been their shield as they've departed safely.
Most of those whom they are helping are internally displaced, having had to flee their homes as a result of targeted violence against them by Islamist rebels. Christians are being singled out for violent attack, kidnap, torture, sexual assault and murder; their homes have been taken over in violent raids. Christian leaders have been particularly targeted, and numerous church buildings have been deliberately destroyed.
A siege has been going on over the last week at the Christian village of Maaloula. Al-Qaeda-linked rebels seized control of the village, where Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus, is still used; fighting against government forces is ongoing. The rebels have been attacking Christian homes and churches, destroying Christian symbols.
The bodies of Christians killed in the violent takeover have been left lying in the streets, and Christian residents have been threatened with beheading if they do not convert to Islam. Six young Christians have been taken captive.
The Christians are in desperate need, while shortages and soaring prices of essentials exacerbate their hardship. They need food parcels, hygiene kits, medical and surgical costs, blankets, heaters and sleeping mats.
But as well as showing practical love and support we can also cry out to the Lord to hear their cry and be their rock, their strength and their shield, to deliver them from evil.
When the psalm was written King David was in grave danger. He fears for his life. He's close to panic. If God doesn't hear him and help him he will become like those who go down to the pit, in other words to the grave.
So what does he do first? What do we do first when we're facing trouble or danger? When we're in need of help? When we're close to panic? When we fear for our lives? When we face persecution? When we're needing to be delivered from evil? Do we direct our cries for help to the Lord, to our Rock, Strength and Shield or do we seek help first from other sources? Do we complain to others instead of casting our cares on Him who cares for us? Do we not trust him to care for us and to provide for us? Well David here goes first to the Lord in prayer. To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me...
Spurgeon wrote "our cry must be directed to the Lord alone, for to cry to man is to waste our requests upon the air. When we consider the readiness of the Lord to hear, and his ability to aid, we shall see good reason for directing all our appeals at once to the God of our salvation, and shall use language of firm resolve like that in the psalm…”
The Lord is our rock. David is sure of that. We can be sure too. When we look back and see his faithfulness to us then we realise he is trustworthy and we can go to him and rely on him. He is my rock. He is your rock. He is stronger and greater than Satan. In fact he has won the victory over Satan. There's no need for us to be devoured by Satan, the prowling lion. But we do need to be alert to his lies and to our own gullibility and put on the armour God gives us, which includes the shield of faith that can protect against all the fiery arrows or darts of the evil one.
And knowing that the Lord is his rock David goes boldly to the Lord in prayer. He cries out be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. 2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands towards your most holy sanctuary.
Do we pray humbly and boldly or apologetically? Lord, its me, do you remember me, perhaps you don't, I'm so sorry to trouble you again, I know twice a year is probably far too often when you've got so many people to listen to, but do you think you just might possibly be able to help me out, if it really isn't too much trouble?!
No! Because of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Yes the Rock has ears (v1). Yes the holy sanctuary receives our cries for help (v2).
Is your heart filled with hope because you appeal to a God who hears your prayers? Or is your heart filled with cynicism and hopelessness because you feel that God has turned a deaf ear towards your prayers? Are you maintaining a spirit of thanksgiving to God to help fuel your hope for the future?
The Lord is not deaf to the cries of his people. And David now cries out to the Lord not only for deliverance but also for justice. Look at v3-5:
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbours
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more. (3-5)
Verse 3 reminds us of the evil of the human heart. And that the way of the wicked is not simply hypocrisy but every kind of falsehood. And Satan is the great deceiver. How we need to learn to pray, Deliver us from evil. In Proverbs we learn “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. How especially hurtful must be the false pleasantries of supposed friends who “speak peace with their neighbours, while evil is in their hearts.” Have you experienced such disappointments? Have you been able to move beyond those experiences with Christ's strength or have you become bitter over them? So what do we make of v4&5? The repaying of the wicked. Those who have no regard for the Lord. Is this how we should be praying for wicked leaders and people today? Well notice first that David is asking God to take responsibility for it. And secondly notice that the tone of his prayer is not vindictive but pleading. He's confident that in the end the Lord will bring justice. If there's no repentance, if they continue to disregard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, the Lord will tear them down and build them up no more. And we've seen that happen around the world in recent years. And ultimately true justice will be done on the Day of Judgment. You see to say that the Hitlers and Stalins, the Amins and Pol Pots, the Saddams and Gadaffis of history ought somehow to have the enormity of their crimes eventually brought home to them, expresses not vindictiveness but outraged justice; and who but God can bring about the righting of such a wrong?
THE LORD HAS HEARD AND WILL ANSWER THE CRIES OF HIS PEOPLE- HE IS MY STRENGTH AND MY SHIELD v6-7
Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him. (6-7)
How do we respond to answered prayer? From almost panic and despair David is now in near ecstasy as he has confidence that the Lord has heard and will answer his prayer for mercy. He bursts out in a hymn of praise and blesses the Lord for what he will do in answer to his prayer. His heart exults. He's overjoyed and jubilant in the Lord. It's as if inside he's playing his electric lyre and singing at the top of his voice while dancing on the ceiling! In him his heart trusts and he is helped. He trusted in the rock of his salvation and the Rock proved to be reliable and faithful. The Lord is my strength and my shield (my protector). It is true. He can be trusted. Indeed in him only is there help. Why do we doubt it? Why do we go anywhere else? Do you remember Paul's words in Philippians 4:13? "I can do all things [I can be content in any and every situation; I can cope; I can make the most of every opportunity to witness to Christ] through Christ who strengthens me." Thirdly and finally
THE LORD PROVIDES THE STRENGTH OF A FORTRESS AND THE CARE OF A SHEPHERD v8-9
The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them for ever. (8-9)
The Lord is not only my strength and my shield he's also the strength of his people. He's the saving refuge or fortress of his anointed. Salvation belongs to him and so those who come to trust in the Lord will know his strength, the strength of a fortress where there is eternal security and share in his victory over sin, death and the devil.
But he doesn't just provide the strength of a fortress but also the care of a shepherd. He cares for his sheep in a tender way so as to carry them in his arms. And he will carry them forever. What a promise. What a comfort. If you're trusting in Christ then he will carry you forever. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. And he knows his sheep. And no-one can snatch them out of his hand (John 10:28). Who tonight needs to come to him and find pasture and have life and have it abundantly?
Now you might have been asking earlier but what about those Christians who have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict? Where was the Lord's strength and shield then? Well he will carry those who trust in him forever. His Kingdom is an eternal Kingdom. This world is not all there is. The best is yet to come.