When I Called Upon the Lord - Psalm 30 - May 17, 2011
(A Sermon Preached at the Dauphin Hospital)
I’ve got a watch here with me this afternoon. [Hold up watch]. I got it a couple of years ago. It’s got a lot of fancy bells and whistles on it. It’ll tell you the normal stuff – like the time and the date. Beyond that it’s got an alarm and a light and you can even use it as a stop watch. I’m sure it does a lot of other things too that I’ve never bothered to fiddle with. There’s only one problem – you see, this watch doesn’t work. When it first broke down I thought that maybe it was the battery so I went to the store and bought a fresh battery. But it didn’t make any difference. The hands won’t move, the watch won’t keep time. It’s broken and I don’t know how to fix it.
It’s a little something like the world we live in. There’s a lot of brokenness around us these days, isn’t there? There are a lot of people discouraged, for example, by the flooding that’s going on here in Manitoba. People’s homes are being destroyed, some of our farmers won’t be getting a crop this year. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods; we’re talking about their lives. There is a brokenness there.
Slave Lake, Alberta, is about the same size as Dauphin. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it or not but about half the town has burned to the ground in the last couple of days. Whole neighborhoods have been turned to ashes. I imagine there are a lot of shattered dreams and hopes scattered in the burnt embers of that once thriving town.
But we don’t even have to look that far to find brokenness, do we? I imagine that there is a degree of brokenness right here in this room. It’s the brokenness that comes from injury or illness, or loss. It’s the brokenness brought about by despair for the future and by the uncertainty of what is to come. It’s the brokenness that is magnified when we’re faced with the reality of our own mortality. It can be a brokenness brought about by physical illness, by mental distress, by emotional turmoil. It’s a brokenness that can affect our work, tear apart the home, sunder relationships and steal our joy.
Most, if not all of us, will experience that brokenness at some point in our lives. The truth is, most of us will experience it more than once. And in those times there are often no easy answers, no quick fixes. Sometimes it seems as if there is not even any way out. Sometimes we don’t even know where to turn to find the answers that we’re looking for.
A few years ago I began to have trouble with my hands and feet. I began to lose feeling in them. They would go numb, almost as if they had fallen asleep, but I couldn’t do anything to change it. A little bit later my hands started to tremble with a shaking that I couldn’t control. At times it was difficult to even hold a pen in my hand. Then my vision began to deteriorate as well. It got so bad that there were times when I couldn’t even see well enough to read anything smaller than those big “Exit” signs that you see over doorways. One night I woke up and for about ½ hour I was completely blind in one eye. Couldn’t see anything out of it. It was a terrifying experience to watch your body deteriorate bit by bit, not knowing what to do about it, and not understanding why it was happening.
I saw a number of doctors in that year. Each would pass me on to a different specialist. Finally they began to suspect something like Multiple Sclerosis. It’s not what I wanted to hear. It was devastating news. I had only been married a few short years at the time, our children were very young, and it seemed like the future was being stolen from us – and we didn’t have any answers.
Where do you turn to when something like that happens? Who can you lean on when you don’t have the answers? Who is going to lift you up when your world comes crashing down around you?
My wife and I turned to God. We prayed together on different occasions throughout that period of time. I confess that we often didn’t get the answers we were looking for. The truth is that it often seemed that God wasn’t listening. We knew He was there – we just didn’t know how to make sense of what was going on in our lives.
Then the brokenness came. That moment in time when we realized that maybe the best years of my life were already passed and that from here on in life, and everything in it, was going to be completely different than we ever could have imagined and that there was nothing that we could do about it.
That night we sat on the bed together and prayed like we’d never prayed before. I mean we were a mess! We were weeping as we prayed, the tears running down our faces as we just let go of all the hurt, and the disappointment and the bitterness and the fear that had built up in our hearts over the previous few months. We cried out to God as we had never cried out to Him before. We weren’t even sure how to pray that night or what it was we ought to have been praying for.
We’d started praying about 11:00 that night. And around midnight we heard from God – both of us at the same time. We didn’t hear an audible voice, we weren’t visited by an angel, but at the exact same moment an incredible peace came over us and the tears dried up in an instant. And with the peace came an assurance that it was all going to be o.k. - not necessarily o.k. in the sense that I was going to be healed and not face any more problems – but o.k. in the sense that whatever happened, whether my health deteriorated further or whether it improved dramatically, it was going to be o.k. because God was going to walk through it with us. Now I’ve never had an experience that deep in prayer either before or since that time. But because of it I can stand here today and testify to the goodness of God.
King David, a man the Bible calls “a man after God’s own heart,” wrote a number of psalms. They were originally meant to be sung but we don’t have the music and I’m not much of a singer anyway so I’m just going to read it to you. If you wanted to look it up later it’s Psalm 30. But this is what he writes …
I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.” You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30)
Wouldn’t you like to be in David’s place? Look at what he says of God, “You lifted me up … You healed me … You spared me from death … and You made my heart to sing your praises.” David’s on what we might call a “spiritual high,” he’s having a “mountain top experience.” It’s a tremendous thing and many of us might be envious of him this afternoon.
But consider this … you can’t be lifted up if you haven’t first been knocked down. You can’t be healed unless you’ve been afflicted with something to be healed from. You can’t be spared from death unless you’ve first been on death’s doorstep. And you can’t sing praises to God unless you have seen His hand of deliverance in your own life.
Now I don’t know what has brought you here this afternoon but I do know this: In the midst of your need, in the reality of your brokenness, there is a God who is longing to meet with you. It’s the prophet Ezekiel who says of God that He will “search for the lost and bring back the strays.” He “will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:16) Hosea proclaims that while the Lord has torn us to pieces He will be the one to heal us and to bind up our wounds as we return to Him. (Hosea 6:1)
And again and again in the pages of the New Testament we see the people coming to Jesus and finding healing! Healing of the body, healing of the mind, and most importantly, healing of the spirit. He met the people where they were at and He ministered to them. He laid His hands upon them, He spoke to them, He made time for them, He did life together with them and because of that a people were changed.
That Psalm that David wrote reminds us that there are going to be those times of brokenness in our lives. It’s not a matter of, “if they will come,” it’s a matter of, “when will they come.” But he reminds us too that when they come we need not give into the fear nor the darkness of despair for there is One who will walk through that time of suffering and trial with us. His name is Jesus. Listen to what the apostle Paul writes of Jesus in the book of Romans …
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. … What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
How does Paul know those things to be true? Because he experienced them in his own life. Paul was a man for whom life was not easy. He was shipwrecked (more than once!), he was beaten many times, he was flogged, he was imprisoned for his faith in God, he endured hardship and danger and hunger and thirst and yet through it all He acknowledged the presence of God and praised His holy name. He knew that God would never leave Him nor forsake Him.
That’s why Paul could also write these words …
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
Whatever circumstances you find yourself in this day know that it is an opportunity for God to be at work in, and through your life. To work to bring healing, of body, mind, soul and spirit and to bring each one of us to relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. That our wailing may be turned into dancing; that the garments of sorrow and despair that we wear may be removed that we should be clothed me with joy, that our hearts might sing to Him and not be silent. (Psalm 30:11-12)
This is the hope we have in the Lord and that the circumstances of our lives cannot steal and for that we can give great thanks to the Lord, our God.
So let me pray for you now that in the midst of your brokenness you might know the presence and the love and the mercy of God.
Let’s pray …