July 15, 2018
I haven’t preached from the Psalms very often. But maybe I should. They are an interesting collection of writings. We often think of the Psalms as expressions of praise. But in them you also find lamentation, you find anger and frustration, and you find great joy! This Psalm, number 34, is part of the curriculum for Vacation Bible School this week. So I thought it would be good if we thought about it here this morning.
The other thing we know about the Psalms is that they functioned in some way as the hymnbook of their time. There are even some musical notations in the Psalms, though we really aren’t sure what they mean. Every so often we find in one of the Psalms the word “Selah.” And we don’t know what that means, either. But it seems to be musical in nature. And it might even be an indication of an instrumental interlude. So, I’m thinking maybe a screaming harp solo! I can see David now. (Just think of Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” and you’ll get the picture!)
Psalm 34 is a wonderful psalm of deliverance. It echoes the first song we sang today, “Set Me Free.” In that song there’s a line which I’ve used as the title of this message. Maybe you caught it. “Is this the one they say will set the captives free? Jesus, rescue me.” That song was about the man who was possessed by many demons, a man that Jesus “rescued.” And the whole idea of God “rescuing us” is the theme of our Vacation Bible School this week. (It’s also the theme of about four other churches that I know about !)
I want you to think about that. In this life we have many hardships. And I must say, once again – and I know I say it a lot – but being a Christian is not a matter of having no problems. Far from it. And it is not a matter of God giving us the problems we do have, for some purpose – like “helping us to grow,” or something like that. Yes, God can use the circumstances of our lives to help us to grow. But that doesn’t mean God gives us those problems! That’s why I want us to be careful about that statement that “things happen for a reason.” It makes it sound like God makes all things happen, including bad things! (Again, to teach us or strengthen us!) I know I harp on this, but there’s just too much of that thinking in this world. And it puts God in a bad light!
God does not cause our problems. Or I should say, every problem is not an act of God. Some might be, but not every one! In a lot of the difficult times of our lives things just happen. Adversity comes our way. And in all of that, we have a God that rescues us! That’s the thought for today! And I can’t say this enough!
God rescues us. However! Rescuing us” does not necessarily mean God “gets us out of” our problems! I get the feeling it was more like that in Old Testament times. God was with the people in battles. He was there in the Exodus in the plagues and the pillar of fire. The people saw him as more of a “hands on” kind of God. But that isn’t so much the case now. Now it’s almost as if God is like the parent who is letting the child go out on his own, and make his own decision – and his own mistakes. He’s not so “hands on.” But, like a good parent, he he is always there to support and encourage the child.
That’s often the case. So God doesn’t necessarily “deliver” or “rescue” us in physical, tangible ways. Sometimes he gives us the strength to get through the tough times. Or he gives us the sense of his presence, he gives us his assurance that, no matter what we may be facing, he us with us. God is by our side, as we go through the difficulties of this life!
In a way I like that better. It’s not that we get into trouble, we pray to get the problem solved, God steps in and solves it, and then says, “Ok, see ya next time you’re in need!” Wouldn’t that approach make God only a rescuer? And wouldn’t it make our “interaction” with him “sporadic” at best? It would only be based on our needs. Our relationship with God would be on an “as needed” basis!
That’s not what God wants. That’s not why he created us! He created us to be in ongoing relationship with him! He wants to share our joys as well as our sorrows. He wants to share our triumphs as well as our difficulties. He wants not just to rescue us, but to be with us, to interact with us.
He also wants us to think about things beyond “our terms.” And that’s not easy! Because, when we cry out for God to rescue us, do we not also add, “And here’s how I want you to do it!”?
Maybe you remember the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” In that movie, Will Smith starred along with his son Jaden. And at one point Jaden told this joke to his father. “A man was drowning,” he said, “and a guy came along in a boat to help him and the man said, ‘God will save me.’ Then a little while later another guy came along in a boat, and the man said, ‘God will save me.’ Later a helicopter came to save the man, and he said, ‘No, God will save me!’ Then the man drowned. And when he went to heaven, he asked God why he didn’t save him, and God said, ‘Dummy, I sent you two boats and a helicopter!’”
Sometimes we don’t see God rescuing us, because he isn’t rescuing us the way we think or the way we prescribe! We need to try to see beyond our own understanding, and our own view of the “best solution,” and see what God’s going to do!
That’s not easy, folks! We ask for help and then we do often prescribe the way we want the help. And the reason we do that is that it’s hard for us to trust God, and to trust the ways he rescues us.
There’s another little story. Maybe you’ve heard this. This one’s about a man who fell over a cliff, and managed to grab onto a branch, and was hanging there in space over a several hundred foot drop. He cried out, “Help! Is there anyone who can save me?” He was shocked when a low, echoing voice said, “I am here. I will save you!” The man said, “Is that God?” The voice said, “Yes, it is God. And I will save you. But you must trust me.” “I trust you!” the man said. “Then,” God said, “let go of the branch.” The man looked down, thought for a moment and then said, “Is there anybody else up there?”
It’s not easy to “Trust in the Lord with our whole heart, and in all our ways acknowledge him, and let him direct our paths.” as the writer of Proverbs tried to teach us. That takes practice. It’s something that grows in us. And the bigger the stakes, the harder the trust. So one way of “practicing” that trust is to trust God in the little things, then trust him with bigger and bigger things. And sometimes what also grows is the ability to be sure of God’s presence, to know he is with us, no matter what we’re going through!
“God rescues us.” As you think about that this week, and I hope you will, I hope you’ll acknowledge that it’s easy to say that, but it’s not so easy to trust it. So make it a point to trust God with the little things, and let that lead to big things.
Eternal God, we thank you that you care for us, you share this life with us, and when we need it, you rescue us. Help us to grow in our trust in you. Help us to continue forward in faith as we do so. Help us to look to you, to acknowledge you in all our ways, and to feel you directing our paths! For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen!