Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shepastor: "Wading Through Deep Waters..."

42:1 As the deer panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? 4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday. 5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. 6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. 7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. 8 Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. 9 I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Psalm 42: 1-11

Text: Psalm 42: 1-11, Focus verses: 5 and 11

Within the five books of Psalms there are several categories of Psalms – there are Thanksgiving Psalms, Praise and Adoration Psalms, Royal Psalms, but then there are Psalms of Lament or in other words, Psalms of great distress and complaint. Interestingly, there are more Lament Psalms, that is Psalms where the writer was complaining or crying out to God about a distressful condition – more than any other type of Psalm. There are approximately forty Psalms classified as Laments.

Our focus text for today is one of those Psalms – a Lament Psalm. In the 42nd Psalm, the writer begins by saying that his soul is longing for God. For some reason, the Psalmist feels like he is estranged from God or in other words, he seems to feel that God is far away from him. He longs to be in God’s presence and to once again go with his fellow worshipers to the temple where he can rejoice and praise God once more.

But something is keeping him from the presence of God. One commentator suggested that some sort of sickness was preventing him from accompanying his friends to the temple. But what ever the problem is – he feels separated from God. But then, it’s almost as if he catches himself and says, “Self, wait a minute, don’t keep going down this tormenting road…” He talks to himself and comes up with an answer based upon his trust in God.

When considering the Psalms of Lament, biblical scholars suggest that there are at least five elements that appear to be characteristic of this type of Psalm:

First, there is an invocation where the psalmist addresses God or calls upon God to hear his prayer, something like, “O Lord, my God, I call for help by day and I cry out in the night before thee.”

Second, there is the Lament, where the psalmist personally lays his grievance or complaint before the Lord a complaint against something, someone or distress brought on by something they themselves have done or even God Himself.

Thirdly, there is an expression of confidence and trust. Here the psalmist is able to express his deepest despair because he is confident of God’s dependable presence and actions oh his behalf. In many of the laments of personal distress, the Psalmist expresses his confidence and trust with phrases that begin with, “The Lord is,” “because of,” “but I have trusted in,” “I put my hope in,” and “I have complete confidence, O God.”

Fourthly, accompanying each lament is a corresponding petition that asks God to do something. Knowing of God’s past actions and having trust in God’s presence, the Psalmist is quite confident in God’s power and authority to act in response to his distress. The request is usually very direct, using such words as hear, turn, restore, protect, come.

Fifthly and Finally, the psalm often ends with an Expression of praise or vow to praise. In other words, often the psalm will end with the psalmist expressing praise or promising praise in response to who God is and what God has done.

I found the last point particularly interesting because the commentators say that this final element, the element of praise or a vow to praise is the one element that is missing in many of the individual psalms of lament.

In other words, many of the psalmists were not able to reach that final stage where they transitioned into praise or a promise to praise God for who He is, all that He has done and all that He is going to do. But somehow, the writer of the 42nd Psalm was able to make that transition from the valley of despair, from feelings of loneliness and alienation, from separation from the God He loves and serves, to the mountain of I WILL PRAISE YOU!

As I considered the psalmist’s major leap of faith, I pondered, what caused this psalmist to be able to make that transition? For surely, his pain was at least as great, if not greater than the other psalmist. What made the difference for the writer of the 42nd Psalm? We read of his struggles when he proclaimed, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?"

We can imagine his pain as he declared, "My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?"

We can identify with the writer of the 42nd Psalm when he declared, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.”

Deep calleth unto deep….Personal pain and toil, deep calleth unto deep…the killing of nine innocent people due to hatred, racism and mental illness, deep calleth unto deep…random killings, burnings, beatings across the Nation, deep calleth unto deep, child sex trafficking, deep calleth unto deep, depression, poverty, overwhelming grief and distress…not knowing where to turn, folks in the church saying, “Oh, it’ll be all right” doing nothing to address gaping wounds, deep calleth unto deep… Just when you thought that things were about to get better it looks like your whole world is falling down …DEEP CALLETH UNTO DEEP!”

Have you ever felt like the psalmist? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t take one more thing? Have you ever felt like the waters of life were getting so deep that you didn’t know how much longer you could go through?

Have you ever felt like the Psalmist? I have. I remember just a few years back, on a Tuesday, my father had to have emergency surgery, on Wednesday, of the same week my mother had to have surgery, on Thursday of the same week, my mother-in-law, my husband’s mother had an aneurysm and on Friday of the same week she died. Deep calleth unto deep!

As we went through that week, I remember feeling almost numb. It felt like a whirlwind, like we were spinning round and around wondering what was going to happen next. Deep calleth unto deep. But then I remembered the words of the Psalmist who didn’t stop at the level of anguish and despair. The Psalmist gave us a much needed example of how to get to the next level, how to have a spiritual break thru.

The Psalmist stopped himself, looked at his problem, looked at himself, and then started looking at God. If you remember, there are 5 elements to a psalm of lament – the invocation, the lament, expression of confidence and trust, petition/supplication and an expression of praise or a vow to praise.

The psalmist reached back to element number three – which is an expression of confidence and trust. Phrases used in this element include, “the Lord is… because of…but I have trusted in…I put my hope in… and I have complete confidence, O God…."

I believe the Psalmist looked above his circumstances and declared, “because the Lord is good, because of who God is, because of all that he has done for me, because his mercies are new every morning, because I know my redeemer liveth, because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, because I have seen the Lord move on the behalf of others and also myself, I have put all my trust in the Lord and I have complete confidence in my God.”

The psalmist began to question himself saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”

He said, "I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance…"In other words, when the Psalmist took a look at God, the creator, God, the giver and the sustainer of life, God, the Lord God almighty who hung the moon and the stars in the sky he praised God for the help us his countenance. What is the countenance? The term “countenance” means the look on a person’s face that shows one’s nature or feelings. We know that God is not a person but a spirit - and none of us living have seen the face of God, but by the reading of His word and the experiences of our lives, we know and understand the nature of God.

The personality of God – the way of God. God is a healer – he is a deliverer – he is a way maker – he is the source of our joy and our strength – God is all powerful – He is all knowing – He is everywhere and can do anything – God’s countenance – God’s nature.

So when I consider these things – the countenance or the nature of God I can’t help but get encouragement! When I look at God and understand like the song writer declared “How Great thou Art” I can’t help but put my circumstances in perspective. In other words when I look at my problems matched up against God’s power then I understand that nothing is too hard for our Great and awesome God. As one contemporary song writer put it – “God is an awesome wonder!”

God’s countenance… his appearance, God’s countenance… his splendor, God’s countenance… his glory…God’s countenance… his awesomeness.. God’s countenance… his beauty… God’s countenance… His omnipotence, his omniscience, his omnipresence.. God’s countenance…The psalmist said that God’s countenance helped him. Therefore, he praised God for the help he got from looking at God!

But the psalmist didn’t stop there. He went on to say that he praised God not only because he was helped by looking at God’s countenance, but in verse 11 the psalmist said, “I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”

In other words, the psalmist was saying not only did he gain help, strength, reassurance and a new perspective from looking at God instead of focusing on his circumstances, but that God is also the health of his own countenance. Therefore, he asks himself, “Self, why are you cast down – hope in God…” Take your eyes off of the storm and hope in God. Take your eyes off of the problem and hope in God… Cast all your burdens upon the Lord and hope in God… hope in God who has the whole world in his hand… hope in God who as another psalmist declared, “weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the mourning…” Hope in God who said that if this earthly tabernacle should be destroyed, we’ve got another building not made with hands whose builder and maker is God… hope in God who through the writer of Hebrews declared, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Hope in God who through his son declared, lo, I am with you always even until the end of the world.

And when we like the psalmist take our eyes off of the struggle, we can then join in with the Psalmist and declare, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”

If you want a healthy countenance take your eyes off of the struggle and look at God! If you want a healing in your mind and in your spirit – take your eyes off of the problems, the people and the circumstances and look at God! If you want to know how to wade through deep waters, look at God…look at his countenance, remember his nature, remember his love, remember his faithfulness…God’s countenance will give you a healthy countenance!

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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