If you’ve been around at the evening service over the last month then you’ll know that we’re digging into the Psalms in a sermon series entitled “Songs from the Heart”. Tonight we come to Psalm 27 - so if you could grab one of the Bibles in the Pews and look that up, I’m sure that would be of help to you.
The Psalms are wonderful prayers from Old Testament believers and they model to us how to pray. Often we face circumstances when we don’t know what to pray. We have times of anguish or joy when we can’t find the words to express our emotions. Well the Psalms give us the words to say. I would really recommend once every few months taking the time to read through a Psalm each day and write at the top in pencil what the Psalm is all about. Is it a Psalm of doubt or depression or despair... a psalm of praise even! Well jot it down and then next time you feel that way, you will know where to go - to find the words to express how you’re feeling. To find the words for your prayers.
Well tonight’s Psalm is all about facing up to fear. I guess we all have fears. Some people’s fears are rather unusual. Like some of the phobias we have. For example…
1. Coulrophobia. You’re scared of Clowns!
2. Peladophobia – The Fear of Bald People.
3. Some people worry about having too little hair, but you can also get anxious about having too much. Pogonophobia – The Fear of Beards.
4. Alternatively, Arachibutyrophobia – the Fear of Peanut Butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
5. If you didn’t find any of that remotely amusing it’s probably because you’ve got the Geliophobia – Not the fear of smug beautiful people, it’s the Fear of Laughter.
There are all kinds of crazy stuff that we can get worried, anxious, stressed or uptight about. BUT I guess most of our fears are a little more mundane than all that. The stuff that most regularly gives us a knot in our stomach OR keeps us awake at night is probably a bit more like:
• What if I can’t find a job?
• What if my friends don’t really like me?
• What if I stay single for the rest of my life?
• What if that lump really is cancer?
• What if my kids go off the rails? Those of us who are parents are most vulnerable when it comes to our children, aren’t we?
And some of us can live with almost constant fear. Exam pressures? An unhappy marriage? A recurring illness? Or perhaps your company keep talking about laying folks off and you wonder if you are next?
What is it for you? Have I named it yet? What do you fear?
Well I think Psalm 27 is one of the great Psalms of the Bible. Because you will discover that King David lives in your street, your office, your family. It’s a real life Psalm for real life people. As it’s more like a documentary than a Hollywood movie. It’s the kind of Psalm that we understand. Because David knows what it is to live with fear. Verse 6 suggests he’s surrounded by enemies. Verse 12 speaks of the twisted way they plot against him. His concerns loom large over every word he writes.
And as he writes David teaches us 2 lessons to help us overcome our fears:
(1.) Take Confidence In The Lord In Midst of Trouble (v.1-6)
Take a look with me at verse 1:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”(Psalm 27.1)
Like a child waking up from a scary dream - in the darkness David turns on the light and the light that blazes into his troubles is the light of the Lord. He can face any trouble because the Lord is with him in those troubles. It’s like he puts his fears alongside the Lord to figure out which one is bigger - The Lord v. His Fears - and he realises that there can be only one winner. It’s the Lord!
And this isn’t the vain boasting, the smack talk before a football match. As opposing fans talk up their chances. No! David seems to be reflecting here on his experience of trusting God when he’s been up against it in the past.
• Verse 2 has echoes of David going up against Goliath who threatened to feed his flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field when he was done with him. But in the ultimate little v. large contest it was Goliath who stumbled and fell.
• Verse 3 could speak of the time he was pursued by Saul and his men. But just when it looked as if Saul had David in his net he was distracted by news from across the country.
David looks back on God’s faithful protection and takes confidence. No matter who or what the opposition is. 1 + God is an unassailable majority. That’s David’s experience. You pitch up with God on your side and ultimately you’ll be a winner. And as trouble has found him yet again, he clings to that experience.
Now, doesn’t that fly in the face of what gives us confidence in the midst of trouble? If you’re anything like me you’ll tend to cling to the hope that one day the trouble will be over. That you’ll wake up and it will just magically be gone! And then you can get on with your life. We sometimes go through hard times and think to ourselves, “If I can only get through this week, this month, this year, this crisis.”
Yet when we do get through the crisis there is always another one just over the horizon. There’s always more trouble. Isn’t that what life is like?
I guess the first thing that Psalm 27 reminds us of is a problem we all face: The problem of unrealistic expectations. We have unrealistic expectations of work or relationships or children or church - of life generally. So you get married to a handsome witty Prince Charming. And then you find out that he leaves his dirty washing on the floor, he doesn’t rinse the sink after he shaves, and his breath smells like a camel in the morning... a sick camel. And this is your Prince Charming!
We can just as much have romanticised ideas about our ideal job or our ideal church as of our ideal man or ideal woman. But they don’t exist!
You see unrealistic expectations come when we don’t listen to what the Bible says. The Bible says that sin has permeated every millimetre of planet earth. There is no escaping it this side of heaven. We live in a world where deceit and disappointment are an everyday occurrence. And there is no inoculation from sinful men and women and the things they do. Or the things we do for that matter! So we should not be surprised when we are buffeted by the trouble and turmoil of this life.
David understood that when these troubles were over there would be other troubles. So his primary concern was not to look for an escape hatch to give him the security he craved, but to look to the Lord. Which is verses 4 to 6 isn’t it? As David prays:
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all round me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”(Psalm 27.4-6)
I don’t know about you but I find verse 4 is an extraordinary prayer. Here’s David besieged by trouble and hardship and enemies. And what does he pray for? He doesn’t pray for power or control or victory or retribution. No! His 1 thing - His number 1 prayer request is to live with God and see his beauty.
Which doesn’t mean that David wanted to live in church. There are some weeks when I feel like I do - But that’s not what David wanted. Nor does it mean he saw God as some work of art to be admired from a distance - “Oh, that’s a masterpiece. It’s simply beautiful.” No! David is speaking figuratively of a longing to enjoy unbroken communion with God, in order to engage with and worship his glory and discern his will. He longs above all else to love God and know God and lean on God and find his purpose and strength in God.
It was through such a life of walking in God that David knew he would be delivered. In the day of trouble God would protect him as a tent gives shelter from the storm – I think in David’s case he was sheltering from sun, but this is Britain so I’ve contextualised a bit – BUT in the day of trouble God would protect him as a tent gives shelter from the rain OR a high rock gives safety from the floods. Why? Because he was already there. With God. Sheltering in him daily. Standing in him, his way, his truth, his life. Every day. The time to get in the tent or on the rock is not when the storm hits. You will be caught out if you only ever run to him when the trouble starts. Safety is only found in God – So LIVE IN HIM!
David does as he says: “You are my rock! And the 1 thing I ask of you... is to live with you.”
Which begs the question: What is your 1 thing? What’s the 1 thing you can’t do without? What’s the 1 thing that you reckon will make you happy and secure right now? Folks if it’s not the Lord you are going to be deeply disappointed. Because at some point or another it will disappear. It will crack. It will fail you.
We all create security systems to make us feel safe in this broken world. We try to carve out some rock on which we can stand. It maybe Money or Relationships or even our own Achievements - If you got where you are by the sweat of your brow then it’s really tempting to trust your own instincts isn’t it? But no created thing can hold the eternal needs that we have in our hearts. None of them can bear the weight of our eternal longings. Only God can.
God is the only one who doesn’t crack under the pressure, or go off in a huff, or decrease in value or run through your fingers like sand. He is the only safe place in a world full of danger.
The Psalms tell us a profound truth... and the truth is that God is enough! Not God’s blessings. Not God’s creation. Not God’s creatures. But God himself. God is ultimately all I need.
So Firstly, take confidence in the Lord in the midst of trouble. AND secondly...
(2.) Cry Out To The Lord In The Midst Of Trouble (v.7-14)
I was reflecting over the holidays about the fact that I have been in pastoral ministry of one sort or another for 28 years. Ever since I first lead a Sunday School group aged 15. I don’t know what’s the scarier thought - the fact that they let me lose on a Sunday School class on my own when I was so young and clueless OR the fact it was so long ago! But as I dwelt on it a bit longer the other thing that struck me is that I’ve led a lot of groups and met a lot of people in that time and my approach in trying to counsel them has changed a lot. At first I was such a typical bloke and would always try to find a solution to whatever problem folks were struggling with. Now my instinct tends much more towards asking them: “Have you spoken to the Lord about this? Have you sought his wisdom first?” And in the rest of this Psalm David models for us how to do that as he cries out to the Lord in the Midst of Trouble.
>> Step 1: Cry Out For Mercy (v.7-8)
Which is what David does in verse 7: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!”
As true prayer is never presumptuous, but rather a response to his God’s gracious initiative. Whatever miracle you think you need in life, the miracle you most need is God mercifully listening to your prayer!
I mean think about it. That the God of the whole wide universe would listen to you! Would listen to me! And would answer us!
It’s even more amazing when I look into my own heart and see that too often I am more interested in my kingdom instead of God’s kingdom. Too often I have eternity amnesia as I try to find satisfaction in the temporary, transient things of this world that won’t last. Too often I’m only praying because I’ve only gone and created a mess by my own selfishness… again. Yet God says, I can still pray to him and he will hear me and answer me.
So if you have drifted from God because of your disappointment with him. OR you’ve drifted because you’ve been disloyal and done your own thing. Like David you need to come back to God and say “Have mercy on me”. You also need to...
>> Step 2: Cry Out For Help (v.9-10)
As David does in verse 9: “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not O God of my salvation!”
Once again it’s amazing that he ever would, isn’t it? When we come to the Lord for help, he has every reason to hide his face from us or turn us away. But if you are trusting in Christ you will never hear those 2 awful words: “GO AWAY!” Why? Because God’s wrath - his anger was poured out upon Christ in our place. He will never hide his face or turn his back on us or pour his anger out on us - Because Jesus quenched the wrath of God on the cross. Because God has said “go away” to another there. God turned his face from his Son so that we could be rescued.
“For God is my salvation. God is my help,” says David. When we really understand that we are dependent on God – It will give us enormous freedom in our daily lives. When we understand that we are not independent. When we realise that we are not God... We will realise that we are not in control of anything!
Sometimes we have this Messianic complex going on where we think we need to make everything happen. Desperately trying to pull the strings to keep life moving. And often we feel totally overwhelmed by it. And as we fail, which we inevitably do, we end up feeling guilt and burnt out over stuff we have no ultimate control over.
Well God is our helper. God is our saviour. And that’s why we must cry out to the Lord for help and put it in His hands. And rest in him.
>> Step 3: Cry Out For Teaching (v.11-12) [PP2]
Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.”
“Don’t go to the wrong University,” says David. If you’re in CYFA and have just accepted a place at Cardiff don’t worry, I’m not going to stand up here and say “Mmm, Perhaps Sheffield would have been a better choice”. Glasgow, maybe... But I’m not talking about that kind of University. I’m talking about the University of the world.
Every day you and I hear thousands of voices clamouring for our attention. At work, at home, on TV, radio, the internet. And they are telling us what we should think and how we should be and what the good life looks like. We are in danger of being led astray by those voices. For what they pedal seems so attractive. It can be so easy to be sucked in by the gospel according to the BBC. Or the gospel according to Cosmopolitan magazine.
“But don’t get taken in,” says David, “True wisdom only comes from God.” As he asks to be a student in God’s school.
One key characteristic of being a student in God’s school - Is having a healthy cynicism about your own wisdom and the world’s wisdom.
You see one of the results of living in a fallen world is that it turns us into fools - Because the Bible tells us time and again that the definition of folly is to not trust God. But this world has also made us believe that we are wise. It’s kind of like when someone drinks too much to alcohol. They do and say the stupidest things. They become a fool, but they think they’re smart. They think they’re funny.
When we turn from God we think we’re smart, but we actually become fools. That’s what sin does to us. It makes us foolish and arrogant. And the temptation to think we know it all seems to grow the older we get.
So don’t lean on your own wisdom. Like David, long for the Lord to be your teacher. Every step of the way.
>> Step 4: Cry Out for Patience (v.13-14)
Which is what David preaches to himself in the final 2 verses of this Psalm - verse 13: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
It will be no surprise to you that researchers recently looked into what the defining aspects of our culture were and one of them was impatience. We hate having to wait. Behind our frustration with waiting is the idea that our agendas are so important that we shouldn’t have to wait. We always think we are the main actor in the story. That we’re the hero. But that’s not true.
God is king. And when you wait on God you learn that your story is not ultimate. You have been created to be part of something that is larger than your wants, your needs and your feelings. You are connected to something that is bigger than your relationships. You are waiting because God said you are part of his kingdom.
So when I am expecting him to answer good and godly prayers and I have to wait. It helps me remember – It’s not all about me! It humbles me – As when we pray we do not stay in control as if God were merely some heavenly vending machine – where we simply slot in our prayer and out comes exactly what we want. In prayer we acknowledge that we are not in control and step out in faith to depend upon the Lord.
And sometimes we are left to wait because it helps us to understand that the things we desire will not satisfy the longings of our heart. Only God will. And I must learn to rest in him. As I don’t need all God’s things. I don’t need all God’s blessings. What I need is God himself. For God is enough.
Let me finish with a Poem by Paul Tripp that summaries the essence of this Psalm: “I’m not afraid... and it’s not because I’m strong or wise. I’m not afraid and it’s not because I have power or position. I’m not afraid, but it’s not because I have health and wealth. I’m not afraid, and it’s not because my circumstances and relationships are easy. I’m not afraid for one glorious reason: I have been lit by the Lord of light. In the darkness of this world I no longer walk in the night, for I have been given the light of life. I’m not afraid because light lives in me. This is one amazing reality and this reality gives me rest. I have been rescued from darkness and transported into the light. And I’m not afraid.”