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“God Is With Us: Although I May Not Feel Him” sermon from 2/13/11, Psalm 42

When was the last time you were flooded with the feeling or sense of, “Where are you God?” You know, those times when everything you feel makes it incredibly hard to really know God is with you. What are we to do in these times? Are we really alone? It can sure feel like we are!

Well, those first few lines should give you a feel for where we are going this morning. Once again, though, as for a quick recap, for the last 4 weeks now we have been taking notice that God is with us! I’ve tied this to the season of Epiphany, for that’s where the word Epiphany comes from; from when people have an experience where they see God unexpectantly, or come into a better understanding of something about God and they respond with praise for they’ve noticed God’s presence with them. In this series we have piggy-backed off the season of Christmas where we celebrate Jesus being born and given the name Immanuel, meaning God with us, and we’ve sought to become familiar with God with us in various ways. In our first message we looked at the story of the Wise Men coming from the East looking for the Christ child born King of the Jews. As they found Him they found God Himself with them and they established Him as King of their own lives. In the end they left a different way from which they came. Secondly, we looked at an even older story of God showing Himself to be with Jacob in Genesis where in a dream while escaping his home environment Jacob saw a structure connecting heaven to earth and angels ascending and descending upon it. With this he heard the voice of God saying, “I am the God of your father Isaac and his father Abraham… Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land…” bring you back home safely. Jacob wakes up and declares, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” In that place God showed Himself to be real to Jacob. He and His angels stepped out from behind the scenes and Jacob saw an even bigger reality present with him and among him than he had ever imagined. In response he turns in worship to God, pledges himself to Him; makes Him his personal God. Thirdly, I gave a message on how God is with us: All Glorious & Powerful. For this we looked at song sung by Moses and the Israelites as they stood on the other side of the Red Sea after being set free from captivity in Egypt. They had witnessed God as their strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, stronghold, and salvation. They didn’t just know God as with them sporadically, but they saw Him as their everything in this life, an intimate ally all glorious and powerful that is duly involved in all things, cares about all things, so that we might praise and glorify Him in all things! And lastly then, last week we looked at a short passage from the minor prophet account of Zephaniah as we sought to see how God is with us: As Astounding Lover. The passage we looked at tells of how God looks and rejoices over us in gladness and exults over us in loud singing. The passage said, He will renew you (silence you) with His love, and we took the opportunity to revel in the love God has for us in Jesus Christ, in whom our judgments have been taken away, we have been made righteous, and in whom we can rise to new life, empowered by the astounding love of God!

This morning then, we again move forward into another message on how God is with us, and we’ll look at how God is with us: Although We May Not Feel Him. For that turn with me and follow along as I read from Psalm 42

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6 and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

So, I’ll ask again, when was the last time you were flooded with the feeling or sense of, “Where are you God?” Those times when everything you feel makes it incredibly hard to know God is with you. What are we to do in these times? Are we really alone? The Psalmist in Psalm 42 is definitely in one of those moments!

It’s almost funny to me. I’ve heard the beginning lines of this Psalm quite often. It’s a prayer or cry to God that I have turned to often, and many others as well, as a heartfelt plea to see God, for He quenches the thirst of our souls. He, as the hymn (“As the Deer”) we sung says, can be known as a friend and brother, even though He is a King. He has this way of reaching within us and satisfying our deepest desires & longings even better than our most favorite drink (yes, even more than Mountain Dew) or refreshing/beautiful commodity. So, just as we long for those things in how they satisfy, the hymn goes on to say, “I want you more than gold or silver, only you can satisfy…” And not to forget the opening of the hymn which are taken from our passage for this morning of Psalm 42 and as well as the chorus, we do pant after & long for God, especially as He shows Himself to be our strength and shield amongst the things in our lives, much like how we’ve noticed Him as with us over the last two weeks, as All Glorious & Powerful and Astounding Lover. But what about the rest of this Psalm? When I read further than these first few lines I realize, man, this Psalm is hard! That’s probably why I can say I haven’t heard or looked into the rest of this Psalm much before. When we read into the 3rd verse and following we are struck with the reality that the author is facing what may be the hardest time of his/her life and has been flooded with the feeling of “Where are you God?” The author says, “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” The author longs, and has known, and wants to know again, God as strength, as shield, as friend, brother, lover, but God is nowhere to be found. What are we to do in times like this?

A book I read some time ago speaks to all this quite well. The book is called “Faith Is Not A Feeling” and if you’ll remember that phrase you are well on your way. I read it at my Pastor’s request close to when I first became a Christian, but it was originally written in the late 1970’s. The first chapter begins with a story of when the author had gathered along with 35 other women for a leadership retreat within Campus Crusade for Christ at a conference center in the Big Thompson Canyon near Loveland, CO. They had gathered there the day before a humongous flood hit that exact area on July 31st, 1976. The author and a few others had barely escaped death & injury and many others weren’t so lucky. As word of the devastating conditions that were heading their way reached the conference center this warning sprung out to all in the building, “EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY! HIGH WATER IS COMING! DON’T TAKE ANYTHING WITH YOU! GET TO HIGHER GROUND!” All those words are important when faced with a flood, but especially the last phrase—“Get to Higher Ground!”…

One more quick illustration to bring in here is one we all received in our church mailboxes this past week (read from Focus on the Family flyer “An Attitude of Love”)… In this short article the encouragement is sort of like, take the high road, maybe the road less traveled, and go out of your way, in terms of your spouse, to make him/her know of your attitude of love. We cannot depend on our feelings. Our feelings are fleeting. We cannot base our relationship with our spouses on them, and we most certainly cannot base our relationship with our God on them. More often we need to lead our feelings. Our attitude of love will sprout feelings of love.

This is all an example; this get to higher ground, or take the high road with your attitude of love instead of relying on your feelings, of what is described and acted upon by the author of Psalm 42… And it’s what is needed in times of great despair when our feelings tell us one thing, but our hearts and minds know another. In the rest of this Psalm three things are apparent to me that the Psalmist does in his time of despair, when he doesn’t FEEL God… Three things that help him get to higher ground (notes fill-in), or are his way of taking the high road (notes fill-in) in his attitude (notes fill-in) of love for God.

1) He recalls the positive and uplifting about his past (Proverbs 13:12):
The first is, he recalls the positive and uplifting about his past. In a sense, he remembers the good ol’ times. He says in verse 4, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.” This person seems to have been a leader in the church. He led others in the procession to the House of God and in glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving. The way he writes it I get the picture of joyous occasions, times of great exuberance in the Lord! Something has happened since that time and where he finds himself now, but these are times that he clings to; that help him get through the hard times. Something else God seemed to be telling me to share with you along with each of these three points is a Proverb for each. Here I’ll share with you Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” The Psalmist is experiencing a moment of hope deferred, and as the Proverb says, his heart is sick. Yet he recalls in this moment a time when God brought forth fulfillment of a longtime desire to lead and be a part of something in his life. That to him was a tree of life, for at a time of heart-sickness this fulfillment still sprouted life within him. What are those moments in your life; moments you can recall that still spring up life within you even when flooded with despair?

2) He recalls his God (Proverbs 9:10):
The second thing the author of Psalm 42 does is, he recalls his God. He says in the second part of verse 6, “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message translation of the Bible translates Psalm 42:6 this way, “When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” What is something you know to be true about God, but that you need to recall in your heart because it’s the last thing you feel towards Him at some given moment? Do you need to recall in your heart that God is your provider, or comforter, or lover, or grace-giver for it may not feel like He is any of those things presently, but prior knowledge and experience of Him in your life tells you He is those things? The author of Psalm 42 recalls the places of the land of Jordan, Hermon, & Mount Mizar. These are past places for the Psalmist. Likely places where he experienced the very needs from God he needs right now; provision, comfort, love, etc.

The Psalmist continues in verse 7-8, “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Now, it’s not necessarily easy to understand what the Psalmist is saying here, but I think this explanation I found online helps… “Outwardly, the depth of misery and pain weighed heavily upon him…” All the waves and billows God could let thunder against him and come over him had seemingly come; he was flooded to the depths in misery. “But there is a depth that is greater and much more powerful than all of that; the depth of God’s love…” “By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” What an awesome reality! Read that tomorrow as a Valentine from God. This is who God is, and what He is about! Remember our fall series on Jeremiah? This is why I wanted to take us through that series; to notice and come to know God as Everlasting Lover. This is why knowing God is with us as we heard last week, as astounding lover, is important. The depth of God’s love is deeper than our deepest sorrows! The Proverb I’ll share with you here is Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” In times when we don’t feel God as our provider, comforter, lover we must continually fear/revere Him and recall our knowledge of Him the Holy One, our Everlasting Lover.

3) He determinedly decides to hope in his God (Proverbs 3:5-6):
Lastly then, the third thing the author of Psalm 42 does is, he determinedly decides to hope in his God! The Psalmist repeats a sort of chorus twice in this Psalm as he says in verses 5 & 11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.” The Psalmist does here what is maybe most difficult, but also most helpful; he determines to rehearse the truth he knows in his heart out loud despite his circumstances. His feelings and emotions have him feeling one thing, but he knows his God to be another, to be bigger than all that; to be his Help and his God whom he is certain he can hope in and will raise him up to praise Him once again. You could say in this Psalm that the author is sort of preaching to himself. He says, “This is how I feel right now, but I know my God is more than this.” Our feelings are fickle, but our God is constant! Another quote from Eugene Peterson says this, “Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God—it whets our appetite.” Worship has a way of causing even more worship within us. In times when we don’t feel like worshipping, it is the very thing we need to do! The Proverb I thought I’d share with you here is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

So again, in times when we are flooded with feelings that scream the question, “Where are you God?”, when we don’t feel His presence with us, we must GET TO HIGHER GROUND, or take the high road in our attitude of love for God. We do this when in those moments we recall the positive and uplifting about the past (the times of fulfillment that God brings forth in our lives that are trees of life in times of hope deferred), recall our God (rehearse everything we know of our God…), & determinedly decide to hope in our God always (rehearse the truth we know in our hearts out loud despite our circumstances, worship whether we feel like it or not)! That’s how we’ll make it to higher ground and up out of the floods that rise upon us in this life, all along praising our help and our God!

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