Posts Tagged 'trouble'

The “All” Psalm

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Psalm 34 is one of those psalms that Christians quote verses from all the time without knowing exactly which psalm they’re quoting.   In that sense, it’s we might call it “the anonymous psalm.”  But it’s also the “all” psalm, and you’ll see why shortly.

This is really a psalm of deliverance; deliverance from all kinds of things, including fear, danger, trouble, and affliction.  The historical context behind Psalm 34 is interesting and can be found in 1 Samuel 21:10 – 15, where David pretended to be crazy before King Achish of Gath.  Achish may also have been named Abimelech.

That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath.  But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ” ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”  David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath.  So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.  Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?  Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”  (I Samuel 21:10 – 15  TNIV)

Bless God all the time

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  (Psalm 34:1  KJV)

The psalm begins on a positive note, and one that hymns and gospel songs have echoed.  Matthew Henry makes a succinct observation on verse 1:

If we hope to spend eternity praising God, it is fit that we should spend much of our time here in this work.

He’s right, of course.  If you’re a Christian yet find it difficult spending a few moments in praise of God, then you’re in big trouble!  You’ll never make it in Heaven!  But does this mean engaging in the singing of worship choruses all day long?  Does it mean blessing God even when you don’t feel like it?  Or praising Him when your car breaks down or your microwave oven ignites and catches on fire?

Let’s look at what David is saying we should do.

First, he says we should “bless” the Lord.  The word “bless,” barak, essentially means “to kneel before.”  But the idea is not so much posture but attitude.  We are to acknowledge God.  We are to thank God.  We are to praise God.  Now, depending on your circumstances, it would be just plain foolish to thank God for your house burning to the ground.  Or for the flat tire.  But you should always acknowledge Him; take time to remember that He is always with you, even in those bad situations.  Always acknowledge His presence.  Always acknowledge His abilities to help you and meet whatever need it is you have.

And you should never stop praising God.  There are all kinds of reasons for praising God, and if you can’t think of any at the moment, then you are truly the most miserable of creatures and probably beyond help!  This verse helps a lot, and if you can keep in the front of your mind, you’ll always be praising Him:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  (James 1:17  KJV)

When you take a look at your life; at all the good things in it and realize they all came from God, why wouldn’t you praise Him?

But what if you have a truly miserable existence?  If you honestly can’t praise God for what He’s done for you, then you can certainly praise Him for who He is!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3 – 6  KJV)

There is never a time when you can’t bless the Lord!

God delivers from all fears

I sought the Lord , and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.  (Psalm 34:4  KJV)

The first three verses of this psalm can be considered a kind of general introduction. At this verse, though, David gets personal.  This is his personal testimony about something God did for him.  Despite his faults and failings, David was never shy about telling others what his God did for him!

Have you ever stopped to think about all the things people are afraid of?  But did you know that fear is the opposite of faith?  It’s a sin, and there is no virtue in fearing anything.  Now, it’s good to respect certain things, like the ocean or fire or grizzly bears.  You’ll live longer.  But fear has NO place in the Christian’s life.  Purkiser was absolutely right when he wrote:

Fear and an attitude of faith in the goodness of God are contradictory moods.  “The fear of the Lord” destroys all unnatural fears and anxieties.  

I believe that to be true.  A healthy fear of God should cancel out any other fears you may  have.  If you, like so many people today, struggle with fear, then do what David did:  seek the Lord!  When you do that, verse 5 comes to pass in your life:

They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.  (Psalm 34:5  KJV)

When you take the time seek God – to look to Him – your very countenance will change.  You won’t look fearful or anxious.  You’ll be encouraged and you won’t be let down or disappointed.

And ye shall seek me, and find me , when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13  KJV)

Struggling with fear?  Anxious about something?  Let God deliver you from those things once and for all!  Moffatt translates verse 4 like this, and it’s how you will look when you look to God:

Look to him, and you shall beam with joy.

That’s what Christ-likeness is all about.  When we adopt His character and allow His perfect personality to overtake ours, we will shine with His presence and “beam with joy” regardless of what’s going on in the moment of our lives.

God will save you from all your troubles

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him , and saved him out of all his troubles.  (Psalm 34:6  KJV)

The “poor man” here is David; this verse is autobiographical.  King or pauper.  Rich or poor.  Trouble makes all men the same!  All the resources in the world can’t chase away fear or create lasting satisfaction.  Spiritual poverty afflicts most everybody, even some Christians.  It’s sad that so many believers allow themselves to think that they are spiritual paupers; that they actually lack the things they need.  Does any Christian seriously think that God would ever withhold anything from him, if he needs it?

For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.  (Psalm 84:11  KJV)

If you believe that, and you should since it’s in the Bible, then start living like it!  If you truly believe that God gives you what you need, then you’ll walk fearlessly and courageously.  Years ago, we used to sin a chorus that went like this:

This smile on my face wasn’t always there the struggles use to get me down,

Hassles and problems from every direction use to make me wear a frown.

In the midst of the storms I found a deep contentment to help me face this night and day 

You see the world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away!

That’s how we should be living our lives!  The attitude we all need to adopt.  It’s Biblical!  You should be living in obedience to the Word.  You’ll be happier, and the people around you will be happier.

The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.  (Psalm 34:17  KJV)

I love this verse; it’s so matter-of-fact.  There’s no ambiguity or question.  When a child of God calls out to God, God hears.  Period.  Do you know what a singular privilege that is?  To know without any doubt that God hears your prayers?  There’s no begging involved.  Or convincing.

But there is something else here; an inconvenient truth tucked away in these verses.  The assumption is we will have troubles.  Apparently many.  God, for reasons that seem good to Him, allows them to come into our lives, but the promise is that when we ask Him, He will deliver us from them.  Of course, that deliverance may or may not be immediate.  We always have to trust that whatever is going on is not going to harm us and that in some way we will actually benefit from the trouble.  Sounds crazy, but it’s a profound truth Joseph well understood:

As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  (Genesis 50:20, 21a  TLB)

And of course, Jesus made it clear that trouble would be the lot of Christians:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33  KJV)

And that’s really the secret, isn’t it?  To be of good cheer when it doesn’t make sense to be.

God delivers you from all evil

Many evils confront the [consistently] righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  (Psalm 34:19  AMP)

Like it not, if you are among the “consistently righteous,” then you have a following.  But it’s probably not the kind of following you want!  If you’re a Christian and trying to live the good life – the righteous life – you might as well be walking around with a target painted on your back.  The demons have you in their sights and they want to take you down.  That’s evil.  That’s what David is talking about here.  God will deliver you from that kind of evil.  You have nothing to fear from this world or the world beyond for God takes care of His own.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.  (1 John 4:3, 4  KJV)

Again, that’s a statement of fact:  You  have overcome the “spirits” that are not of God.  It’s an accomplished fact.  There is not doubt.

And when you feel overwhelmed, you call out to God and He will deliver you.  Period.

God preserves even your body

Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.  He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone; not even a finger gets broken.  (Psalm 34:19, 20  MSG)

Some Bible scholars believe these verses allude to Jesus and the fact that He died without any broken bones.  That’s probably forcing an interpretation onto this psalm that isn’t warranted.  The power of these verses is that they applied to David, though the specific incident isn’t known, yet they also apply to all believers.  God loves and saves His people from a myriad of trouble.  In fact, God cares so much that He won’t even let a finger get broken!   It’s a statement of the caring concern that God has for His people.

Now, you may wonder:  “If God cared that much, why not keep all trouble from ever getting close to me in the first place?”  That’s a good question.  But I keep going back to Joseph.  All the awful things that happened to him were for a very specific reason.  Of course, at the time he didn’t know that there was a reason.  But he never gave up on God; he never lost faith.  And we shouldn’t either.  God’s ways and purposes are seldom clear.  They become clear in hindsight, but not always.  That’s why we need faith.  That’s why we need to stay in the Word.  It gives meaning and perspective to what we may be going through.  And as one commentator noted:

I’d rather have a thousand afflictions and be delivered out of them all, than half a dozen and get stuck in the midst of them!

 

Praying through trouble

suffering

Psalm 77

The Psalms are a unique genre of Biblical literature.  For some Psalms, we can find the historical setting from clues within the psalm itself.  Many of David’s psalms are like that.  When we know the circumstances surrounding the psalm, the psalm means so much more.  Some psalms were written as hymns of praise to be sung in the worship of Jehovah.   Generally speaking, the psalms are not dissertations of doctrine and theology.  They are poems and songs written either to magnify the nature and attributes of God, or to reflect the mood of whoever composed them.  Generally we don’t find promises or doctrinal statements upon which to hang our faith on in the psalms.  But there is a lot we can learn from each and every psalm.

Psalm 77 is known as a “lament.”  In fact, it is a personal lament, not a national one for it describes the desperation of one man:  Asaph, the writer of this pslam.   It follows the pattern of other laments in the Bible: it begins down in the valley of despair but rises to the summit of hopefulness.  Verse 10 is the turning point of the psalm—

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

This verse separates the major segments of the psalm; the first section tells of great sadness and sorrow and in the second section, the lament turns into a song where the sorrow is all but forgotten.  In the first, the individual is predominant and in the second it is all about God.  In fact, in the first 9 verses the personal pronoun occurs 22 times and there only 11 references to God.  But in the second section, God is mentioned 24 times with only 3 personal references.

This makes the basic message of the psalm so powerful:  to dwell on the negative side of life leaves a person broken and disheartened; but when we focus on God our troubles pale.

We know nothing of the personal story that inspired the writing of this psalm, although Bible scholars love to try and figure it out.  For us, we’ll just say that the author was probably very much like we are who have good days and bad days, and at the time of this psalm, Aspah is having a very bad day.

1.  Sorrow, verses 1—3

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
Selah

Here was a desperate man.  Day and night he cried out to the Lord.  While we don’t know exactly what is problem was, the KJV’s translation of verse 2 may give us a clue—

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.

His “sore ran in the night” seems to suggest some sort of physical ailment was at the root of this man’s distress.  This is, of course pure speculation, but whatever the problem was it was serious enough to cause the writer wonder if God turned His back on him.

The sadness of this verse cannot be missed: here was a faithful man who sought the Lord in time of trouble, yet he found no relief.  This made the writer restless and confused.  He writes in verse 3 that he “mused” when he thought about God.  His present predicament seemed to run contrary to what he knew about God!  In this instance, because of his self-centered mind-set, the more he thought about God the more he became discouraged and the more he “groaned” in despair.  Usually good memories about God have the opposite effect, but if we are mired in negatively, even good thoughts can be turned negative.

2.  Searching and questioning, verses 4—9

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Selah

In his darkest hour, the psalmist recalls what it used to be like and he recalled the “songs in the night.”  These hymns were sung in the nighttime hours to comfort the people of God as they rededicated themselves to Him.  As they lay awake, unable to sleep, they would sing these special hymns and their anxiety, hopefully, would leave and sleep would finally come.  Unfortunately, things were now so bad, that not only could Asaph not sleep, but these “songs in the night,” these spiritual lullabies, no longer worked.

As he sat up in bed, unable to sleep, he asks a serious of six questions.  These are common questions that depressed people often ask, but they came from the psalmist’s heart and were not considered complaints.  Doubts and questions, incidentally, are actually therapeutic and common to many of the great men of Scripture.  Even our Lord on the Cross quoted Psalm 22:1—

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

Each of these questions demands a negative answer because they are asked from a negative mindset:

  • Will the Lord reject forever?  Answer:  No.
  • Will he never show is favor again?  Answer:  No.
  • Has his unfailing love vanished forever?  Answer:  No.  His love is still there, in fact.
  • Has his promise failed for all time?  Answer:  God is still keeping His promise whether we see them coming to fruition or not.
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Answer:  No.  Being merciful is part of God’s character.  He has never stopped showing mercy.
  • Has he in anger withheld his compassion?  Answer:  No.  Again, being compassionate is part of God’s nature; the fact that we cannot feel that compassion says something about us, not God.

If we look at these questions, we see a kind of progression from the writer’s personal present situation (he feels rejected) to the cause:  the Lord’s apparent anger (He withholds His compassion).

What is interesting about these questions is that they reveal something very precious about the psalmist’s heart.  His heart finally comes to rest because as he gives voice to his doubts he realizes that the living God cannot be as he perceives him to be at this dark moment.   The more questions he asked, the more hope swelled in his heart.

3.  Surrender, verses 10—15

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Selah

The questions asked are followed by some determined statements, each beginning with the phrase “I will.”  Remembering God’s acts in history provides the foundation for a faith that trusts.  This is why knowing the Word of God is so important.  The great stories of the Bible are meant to teach us something, to encourage us, and to lift us up when we find ourselves in a desperate position like the psalmist found himself in.

Verse 10, as previously mentioned, is the turning point in the psalm.  Here are other ways to read this verse—

And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.  (KJV)

Then I said, “It is my grief,
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”  (NASB)

Then said I, This is my weakness: — the years of the right hand of the Most High.  (Darby)

In other words, the psalmist has realized:  “This is my trial, this is my grief.”  Here he had reached the absolute lowest point of his experience; he had come to the end of his resources.  At that point, his whole attitude began to change.  What changed his attitude?  He took his eyes off himself, after all there was nothing he could for himself, and started to look at God; the God of the Bible.  He “remembers” all the amazing things God did throughout the history of Israel.   The Hebrew for “remember” may also be rendered “proclaim,” suggesting that in the midst of his misery, Asaph proclaimed the goodness of God!   He did not complain or whine; he preached.

Aspah reached the bottom and there was no way to go but up, which is why verse 10 signals such a change is thinking and direction.

4.  Sovereignty, verses 16—20

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

These verses remind us of some of the things Job said of God in the midst of his suffering.  He, like the psalmist, hit rock bottom and was forced to see the greatness of God from a different perspective; from the bottom up, so to speak.  From a literary stand point, these verses are powerfully dramatic and imaginatively written.  In this passage we read of the supremacy of God in nature and in the history of Israel.   God is seen as working in and through nature; He who made the earth has not left it merely hanging in space.  God continually uses His creation to benefit his people.  Even terrible things, like violent storms, are used by God to help man.

John James Stewart Perowne, bishop, Hebrew scholar and author of an excellent commentary on the Psalms wrote this:

We know not, they knew not, by what precise means the deliverance was wrought…and we need not know; the obscurity, the mystery here, as elsewhere was part of the lesson.  All that we see distinctly is, that through this dark and terrible night, with enemy pressing close behind, and the driving sea on either side, He led His people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

God is sovereign.  When we are suffering we see things very narrowly.  The urgency of the moment crowds out the important and eternal truths we know about God.  The great lesson of this psalm is that sometimes, when times are rough, we need to reach the bottom before we may begin our ascent.  God uses the circumstances around us to affect a positive change in us.

May each of strive to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, instead of on the passing circumstances around us.  Only then will we be lifted up, like the psalmist was.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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