Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Life Stinks, Run to Jesus (Psalm 118)

It’s easy to be happy and rejoice when things are going great.  But it is difficult when times are tough.  True Biblical rejoicing is not dependent on circumstances.  How do you rejoice when life stinks? 

Life gets hard for all of us from time to time.  Perhaps you fought with your spouse.  Perhaps your children are giving you problems.  Perhaps it is bad news from the doctor.  So the question is applicable to all of us.  How do we rejoice when life stinks? 

Psalm 118 1-4 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.”

The character of God never changes.  His goodness and His love are always there.  He will never run out of lovingkindness.  His goodness has no limits. 

He won’t get bored with me.  He won’t get distracted and forget about me.  Even though He gets sad when I sin, He will never withhold His love from me.  It endures forever.

So when life stinks – remember His goodness and His love never change.  When life stinks, I am tempted to think that either God is not good or that God doesn’t really love me.  Because if God was good, why would this bad stuff be allowed to happen?  And if God loved me; why would this bad stuff happen to me? 

Often our mindsets are that if God loves me, I should get everything I want.  We’d never really verbalize it that way but we would think that if God loves me, then I’ll have everything that is important to me.  I’ll have my health.  My kids are going to flourish.  I’m going to be able to pay all the bills.  Money won’t be a problem.  I’m going to live in comfort.  As long as all of these things are in place, I’ll know that God loves me.  Here’s the problem – God never promises any of these things.  Whether we have all these things or not, God is still good and He is still loving. 

In His goodness and in His lovingkindness, He does promise us certain things.

My always good and always loving God, promises to set me free.

Psalm 118:5

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.”

The idea of a spacious place is the idea of freedom.  It is the opposite of being confined.  When I was hard pressed (confined), I cried out and He brought me into a spacious place.  Cry out when you feel closed in, crushed, beat down on all sides, and Jesus will bring you to a place where you can stretch out and breathe. 

My always good and always loving God promises to walk with me.

Psalm 118:6-7

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.  I look in triumph on my enemies.”

The Lord is with me.  I enjoy the very presence of God.  That means I am never truly alone.  Therefore I will not be afraid.  This verse doesn’t promise that people won’t hurt me.  They may do terrible things to me.  What He is promising is that He will be there with me through it.  He will always be with me.  He will go through life and through pain with me.  He will never leave me or forsake me.  This is a promise I can hold on to when life stinks.

Psalm 118:8-9

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

It is better to trust in God than in people. While this may seem like common sense, how often do we actually trust in people rather than God.  We have a tendency to trust in people.  We think if we just elect the right people to government or church offices, that they will be able to go in and fix everything.  They can’t walk with you through troubles.  Why trust in them?  They can’t do for you what Jesus can.

Look at the way the Psalmist describes his struggles starting in verse 10.

Psalm 118:10-14

“All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They swarmed around me like bees, but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defense, he has become my salvation.”

The nations surround me.  The imagery is that the enemy has surrounded me and I am trapped.  When God got involved, He takes care of everything.  What is overwhelming for me, is nothing to God.

I was pushed back and about to fall – but the Lord is my strength.  Not Lord give me strength – He is my strength.  He lives in me.  He is strong.  I have all the strength I need.  He is my defense.  He is my salvation.   I have everything I need.

Psalm 118:15-16

“Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!””

Instead of despair – there is joy and praise.

The Lord’s right hand – a symbol of His power – has done mighty things.

Who has done all this?  the Lord.  Why does He do it?  because of His lovingkindness.  He can’t help Himself.  This is who He is.  He loves me so much that he raises his right hand to my defense. 

So I am not going to choose human solutions when times are tough.  I’m not going to trust in my spouse, my doctor, my president, my banker, etc.  Humans will let me down.  Instead, I am going to trust in the Lord.  I am going to trust that He is good, that He loves me, that I have His presence, and His power within me to walk through this stinky place I find myself in.

My always good and always loving God, also breaks me. 

Psalm 118:17-18

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.”

I will not die – God’s in the business of bringing life not death.  I will proclaim what the Lord has done – I will not hesitate in speaking about His power and His rescue. 

The Lord has chastened me but he has not given me over to death – The Lord has allowed trouble in my life.  Why would He do this?  Because what He cares about more than anything else is my relationship with Him. He recognizes that as long as I trust in myself and my strength, I will not walk in intimacy with Him.  So He allows me to get to the end of my rope, to experience brokenness, and in that place I will look to Him and find life.

In the midst of struggle, intimacy with Christ is developed.  When I’ve been through brokenness, Christ will meet me there and I will start to live.  I won’t want to go back.  I have a change of perspective. 

Don’t blame hard times on the fallen world.  Don’t think that God dropped the ball.  Sometimes, God purposely allows hard times to come into my life because He knows it will draw me closer to Him and that is what He really cares about.

When hard times come, He wants me to dive in deep with Jesus. 

My always good and always loving God, gives Christ to me.

Psalm 118:19-29

““Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.”  This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.”  (19-20)

I can’t open them myself.  God has to open them for me. 
Only the righteous are permitted to enter and worship Him.

This is the gate – not a gate but the gate.  There is only one gate into righteousness. 
(I am the way, the truth, and the life – John 14:6)

“I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.” (21)

So what is this gate?   Where is this gate?  The gate is a stone.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;” (22)

An interesting gate – a big stone.  (See Mark 12 – Jesus quotes this verse)  In Acts 4, Peter was called to account by the religious leaders as to why he healed a man and they asked under whose authority did you heal this person, and he replies:

“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.””    (Acts 4:10-12)

There is only one gate and He is Jesus Christ and here He is in Psalm 118.

“the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.”  (23-27a)

Jesus the “light of the world.”   (John 18:12)

With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.  (27b)

Definition of boughs – a branch of a tree.  Perhaps referring to Palm Sunday when they waived the Palm branches.

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  (28-29)

The Psalmist ends where he started to make sure we got his main point.

It is possible to sing this song with my lips and not mean it with my heart.  The people who sang these words on Palm Sunday, two days later were shouting crucify Him.  So they believed the Psalm but rejected the man the Psalm spoke of.  The Psalm doesn’t save me, it points me to Christ.  Run to Jesus, He’s always the answer.

How do you rejoice when life stinks?  You know that God is good.  You know that God loves you.  You find your refuge in Christ.  You ask Him to meet you in that stinky place; that you might sense His presence and His power to walk through it in His grace. 

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