Unless otherwise noted all scripture
is quoted from the New Living
A little heads up -- At the end I’m going to ask you to share what you do to better her God’s Word during tough times. That is, I want you to help us come up with the application for this sermon.
When I was working for PIU I interviewed a potential site director for one of our teaching facilities in Micronesia. I asked him about his experiences as an educator working for the government out there on the islands. He’s an American -- a white guy -- who had drifted down into the Western Pacific islands after college -- drawn by the opportunity to teach. And he was quite good at it from what I hear.
He told me that eventually the state government hired him to survey the educational needs of the remote islands. And they sent him out on the state owned boat to do that.
But he ran into problems on one of the more remote islands (and having traveled about a quarter of the way to those islands myself and I was thinking as WE traveled that we’d reached the end and would soon fall off the face of the earth) I’d venture to say that he was describing what is literally the most remote place on earth.
The boat anchored off island and he paddled ashore in a smaller boat.
While he was ashore doing his survey work, the crew remaining on board the big boat received an emergency radio call from the governor’s office. There had been a riot on an island on the other side of the state but the police boat was out of order so they needed them to return immediately to the capital island to pick up a battalion of Barney Fife policemen and transport them to the troubled island.
So, without telling the educator who was ashore what was up or sending someone ashore to fetch him, they powered up, turned the boat toward Weno, and left the unsuspecting teacher on the island. They eventually sent a radio message to someone on the island to tell him that they would return to pick him up once the boat was available again.
Well, one thing led to another. The crew eventually got the policemen to the rioting island -- two weeks after the incident. Then there were engine problems with the boat -- and they barely made it back to the main island with the prisoners that they had arrested on the problem island.
Once the part for the engine arrived from Toyko -- well, quite a bit of time had gone by. Then there was a fuel shortage so the governor ordered the boat to remain in dock.
Well, eight months later -- they did eventually get around to returning to the island where they had left the poor teacher -- who didn’t even have a change of clothes when they left him there.
I asked him how he felt being stranded out there in literally in the middle of nowhere. And he told me that there were times when he was going stir crazy -- certain that he had been completely forgotten and that the boat would never come back to rescue him. He worried about his family back at home and if anyone had told them what was happening or if they just assumed that he had disappeared -- swallowed by the sea.
He nearly lost all hope -- and his mind. All he could do is wait and wait and wait -- and question. Why was this happening to him?
Then one morning on his beach walk he saw the diesel smoke on the horizon. Eventually he could hear the chugging of the boat. And he knew that he’d been rescued.
Sometimes I wonder if he could not have written this section of Psalm 119. Or maybe these could be your words.
vs. 81 -- “I am worn out waiting for your rescue”
vs. 82 -- “My eyes are straining to see your promises come true. When will you comfort me?”
vs. 83 -- “I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke...”
vss. 84-85 -- “How long must I wait? When will you punish those who persecute me? These arrogant people who hate your instructions have dug deep pits to trap me.”
Where is justice?
Do you feel like you’ve been dropped into a pit? Forgotten on a remote island? Going crazy because people are on your case -- persecuting you because you’re trying to do things God’s way and they have different interests?
The fact is, you’re not alone. We all experience times when we feel deserted and God doesn’t seem to have anything to say to us. We’re dry and we’re weary -- frustrated -- and annoyed.
Well, in recognition of this reality I am wanting to make four observations from Psalm 119:81-88 -- the kaph -- hoping that this morning we might find some encouragement in the experience of the psalmist.
OBSERVATION 1 -- There are times when we don’t hear much from God.
Some of you are shocked by this idea but well aware of the reality. You’ve just been assuming that the reason you’re not hearing much from God is that there is something wrong with you. You know the bumper sticker, “If God seems far away, guess who moved.”
And there is a measure of truth there. God is constant and he loves his children and wants us to relate to him on an ongoing basis. His Spirit lives in us as an encourager.
But the psalmist -- in all of his righteous living still felt deserted at times. And it’s not just Psalm 119 but there is a pattern throughout the psalms -- where the psalmists feel abandoned and are weary of waiting for the Lord to rescue them.
And then there is Job. Remember him? --
“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” ~ Job 1:1And you know what happened to him.
Even Jesus experienced a time when God the Father seemed distant and unresponsive to him. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
You’re not unique in this regard. When you’re in a healthy state of mind you realize this but when you’re stressed out it’s easy to lose perspective and to begin to think that you’re unique in your trouble.
“Nobody understands. Nobody else ever has to deal with this kind of thing. Why me?” When you’re in a healthy state of mind you realize that God has his own agenda and his own way of doing things -- his own timing -- and all that rarely lines up with our agendas and our way of doing things and our timing.
Even when you’re doing everything right -- even when you’re living a faith-filled life -- you’re still going to spend time waiting to hear from God. That’s to be expected -- but at times it’s a struggle
Thus, OBSERVATION #2 -- Some of those silent times are desperate times.
In vs 82 the psalmist says that he’s been looking so hard for God’s rescue ship that his eyeballs are about to pop out.
The Message rendering of vs. 83, while not so literal, really captures the level of annoyance that the psalmist is expressing -- “There's smoke in my eyes—they burn and water...”
He’s being smoked out. Can you feel it in your eyes -- in your throat -- all over your skin?
No matter where it is that you’re sitting around the fire the wind shifts and the smoke finds you. There is no relief -- other than wandering away and out into the cold and dark night.
Vss. 84-85 suggest that he feels under attack -- that he is being persecuted by enemies who are out to trap him.
We might label him paranoid. As Steven Burst says, “Just because they really are out to get you doesn't mean you aren't paranoid.”
There are times -- and they are desperate times.
And if you’re not going through it now the chances are high that you will be soon enough. It could be health. It could a stressed relationship. It could be financial crisis. It could be that the boat leaves without you and you’re on a remote island for most of a year. It could be one thing after another.
The point is that during some of those desperate times you may not be hearing from God -- or at least you won’t be hearing what you think you should be hearing.
It’s not that God has gone totally silent but that in our distress we’re not hearing -- because he may not be saying what we want to hear.
But God is still speaking. The psalmist recognizes that and finds encouragement in it. 81 again: “I am worn out waiting for your rescue, but (technically there is no BUT in the Hebrew but the way that the sentence is structured -- it is definitely implied) BUT I have put my hope in your word.”
THAT’S THE BIG BUT.
It is a statement of confidence -- a statement of faith blurted out even though the psalmist is weary -- no energy to go on. But he does because of the Word from God that he has been savoring in his mind and heart.
vs. 83 -- “I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees.”
In spite of it all, I’m still committed to following and living into what you have said -- your decrees -- your word.
vs. 87 -- “They almost finished me off, but I refused to abandon your commandments.” If anyone has an excuse to give up -- it’s me but he says, “I refuse to abandon your commandments.”
I love pastoring MasterPiece Church, but I have other assignments that God has given to me, too. One of my gigs is serving as the church planting coach and theological studies mentor for Pastor PD and the Sudanese church which is forming in this area.
Verse 87 reminds me of PD. He grew up in the war ravaged country of Sudan. Both of his parents were brutally murdered in the fighting -- along with other family members. He escaped and eventually ended up in the US -- and is now a US citizen.
He leaves on Tuesday -- this Tuesday -- to travel to Ethiopia where his wife lives in a refugee camp. They will visit the American Embassy in Addis Ababa and they are trying to get a visa so that she can move to Phoenix to be with him. Please pray for that situation. It has been a complicated and long process.
And I’m sure that if it doesn’t happen this time around he will be very frustrated. But I know, given his history, that he will refuse to give up on trusting in God and his promises. He has already proved that he will continue to live his life for God and God’s purposes -- even though he does not get the answer that he wants to hear.
And that is exactly what the psalmist is saying. He’s going to continue to take God at his word. And he is anticipating a time of more freedom so that he can continue to live for God and his word.
Thus vs. 88 -- “In your unfailing love, spare my life; then I can continue to obey your laws.”
His conclusion is, and this is OBSERVATION #3, regardless of the tough times -- God still speaks through “his word.”
And then fourth, I would summarize the whole thing by saying that the psalmist leads us into rediscovering that we connect with God’s unfailing love throgh God’s Word.
Of course, “the word” is scripture -- but more than that. The word is the message -- contained in scripture, the promise, the command -- the direction -- the gracious revelation of God’s mind.
And from our perspective, we now know that the Word is God himself. God didn’t just send us a letter -- but he sent himself.
The “Word became flesh and made his home among us...” (John 1:14 ~ CEB)
If God’s unfailing word is good news -- the fact that God’s living unfailing word came into the world to reconcile us to himself -- to encourage us during the tough times -- to direct us -- to “lead me into life everlasting” (as we just sang) -- that’s the really good news.
And in light of this really good news, when the tough times come we need to be ready to wait it out with the word.
- You see, Job recovered from his bout of disaster -- and with more than he started out with.
- Jesus was raised from the dead -- even after feeling that his Father had abandoned him.
- And the boat eventually showed up on the island.
I decided to hire the man who had been deserted on the island. The decision was eventually vetoed for other institutional reasons but he was the man of my choice. And one of the key factors in my decision was that he had gone through this hopeless traumatic time and had not given up.
He even turned the whole situation for the good. During those eight months on the island he started teaching the children who lived there. And then he trained others to teach and he set up a school system that continues to function even today.
After he was picked up and the boat returned him home he didn’t give up on the islanders -- but continued to advocate for higher educational standards. And then he was hired to lead the turn around of the high school -- which caused all kinds of problems because he had to fire some non-performing teachers -- and that led to death threats.
Wait it out -- continue to trust that the Word is still at work through it all.
So, I want to ask, practically speaking, what do you do to better hear God’s Word during the tough times?
Let’s affirm our faith using the words drawn from Romans 8:35-39.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.