“Reality Check” (Psalm 44) (John MacDiarmid)

Talk given by John MacDiarmid at Poole High School for PCF on Sunday morning 12 August 2018

Listen to this talk (or download – right-click here and ‘Save as’):

 

We continue our series in the Psalms under the heading “Songs in the Key of life”.

As we have seen whenever we have looked at the book of Psalms, it is a song book written by ordinary believers who wrote about the ups and downs of living for God in a hostile world. It’s a song book about their challenges. It is therefore a song book about your challenges and the issues you face in your life.

In Psalm 44, one of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah, the singer, remembering the victories he has experienced with His God, looks in dismay at his current situation and cries out to God for relief. In this Psalm, as in many others, we come face to face with the reality of living for God in a world that is hostile.

The psalm comes in five stanzas

1. Know Your History

We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.

Our singer knows his history! He knows that in the past God has given His people great victories. From delivering them out of Egypt to taking them into the promised land, God has always delivered on behalf of His people. He has meditated on what God has done, made it his food and drink as he trusts in God day by day.

We too are to meditate on what God has done for His people. But our understanding of it goes further than this singer’s understanding. We understand that the deliverance out of Egypt is only a picture of what God did for us in Christ, as He took our sin upon Himself and delivered us from the clutches of the enemy. We know that the entry into the promised land is only a picture of us as God’s people possessing God’s promises for ourselves and finally arriving in our heavenly home. We do well to build our faith day by day by reading of God’s exploits on behalf of His people, knowing that we are the beneficiaries of the same loving care. In other words – know your history means, know your Bible. Make the great stories of the Old Testament your bread and butter. Make the great acts of redemption by God spelled out in the new Testament, your food and drink.

2. Know YOUR History

For our singer, it is better than that. Not only does he know about God’s dealings in the past with His people. God has also dealt with him personally. He personally has experienced God helping him, giving him victory, delivering him from danger. He has a history with God. As we saw last week, nothing replaces your own personal history with God, where you learn in the cauldron of experience, what it is to trust God, to see God provide for you and help you.

You are my King and my God,
who decrees[c] victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

Many of us may wish that the song ended there, with a shout of triumph. And maybe you were told that the Christian life is like that from start to end. However, here is where reality comes in.

3. Reality Check

Suddenly it’s just not working!

Everything that has happened in the past has gone into reverse. The promises of God seem a million miles away. The singer feels like the disciple who got into the boat with Jesus, only to discover that the boat is in the middle of a storm and Jesus is asleep!

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

Note how the singer understands that God is behind all of this. He is a firm believer in the sovereignty of God. He knows that even though the enemy who is “bent on revenge” is on the prowl, ultimately, nothing can happen unless God decrees it.

Have you ever been there? Hurt, confused and disorientated? Jesus himself knows what it is to feel like this. So, why is it happening?

4. Asking Why

The first thing to note is that it’s Ok to ask why!

When Job suffered so appallingly, his so called comforters had an easy answer. You’re a sinner! You’ve sinned and that’s why you’re suffering. Turn back to God and you’ll experience His blessing once more.

Now whilst it is perfectly true that disobeying God leads to trouble, this is not the answer.

All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Job suffers not because his is wicked – but because he was innocent.
Jesus suffered not because he was wicked – but because he was innocent.
Believers in Jesus suffer, not because they are wicked – because Jesus has dealt with that – but because they are innocent.

So what is the answer to the suffering of the innocent? We don’t have all the answers. We have some good things to say – we know why evil appeared in the world, we know that we are in a battle with evil, that God will win. But the total reason why a loving and powerful God allows His creatures to suffer. We really don’t know. But we know enough to trust a God that sent His Son to be a part of that suffering scene with us. And the intense suffering of Jesus, that seemed so wrong at the time, and it appeared there could be no good reason for it – we now understand was the very means which God used to bring life to you and me. So, if we don’t understand every reason for pain now – is there not every reason to trust that God knows what he is doing?

As Peter said:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

And as Paul said:

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; 9 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….
6 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

5. Responding

As you will see, the singer still comes to God with his questions. He comes to God pleading to change things, and he comes to God in the basis of the faith that he has in His undying love.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

The singer knows that His God is strong, loving, victorious and able to deliver them. If God has purposes that he doesn’t understand he accepts that, but continues to ask God to deliver him.

And, when things don’t go the way we think they should, we do the same in the confidence that our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

John MacDiarmid
August 2018