This was my sermon for today, 26th March 2017 on Psalm 34.
The text I want to settle on today comes in v11: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
When looking for teachers, we need to find those who are able to teach. They have the skill and experience to tell us what we need to know. If you want to learn anything, you need a teacher who is more advanced than you. You would be in serious danger of picking up bad habits, and in fact get many things wrong if you did that. Similarly if you want to learn a language, you find someone competent to teach it.
Brother Andrew, who founded Open Doors, author of God’s Smuggler, tells how he learnt English. He grew up in a small Dutch town, and there was a woman in the village who said she could teach him English. And she did. Sort of. It was only when he became a Christian and came to the UK to train to go into the mission field that she told him that she had never in fact listened to any English, and had taught herself from reading English books. So she was teaching him without actually knowing how to sound the English words. So when he came to Britain, he discovered that though he was speaking what he thought was English, his pronunciation was so off-beam that nobody could understand him. To make matters worse, his college was in Scotland – so he had people speaking English at him with broad Scottish accents. No wonder he effectively had to to learn all over again.
Our parents are given the duty and joy of raising us. They are the ones who teach us to speak, to sound out words. What a joy it is to hear a child say those first words. ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’. Speech does not come automatically. We are not born with the power of speech – we must learn it. And it is no different for those who are born again. We need to learn the language of praise – to learn how to trust God in both the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. Because the longer we live, the more we realise that life can be tough at times.
And so we need to listen to one who has been there, whose experience benefits us. There is no point where we can say this side of glory that we have ‘arrived’. We are always learning. We need to learn the language of praise even in the hard times. Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm – that is, every verse begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So, I’m going to divide my sermon today into three sections – the ABCs, as it were. Adore, Believe, Call Out.
Adore. Praising God at all times.
Straight away we are confronted with the context of David’s psalm. He has been on the run from his father-in-law Saul. The old king was jealous of David – of his success, popularity, blessing. And so he was resolved to kill him. David ran for his life. There were dangers and discouragements all the time. And he was in danger from others too. And David wrote this psalm as a reflection on the time when he found himself in the Philistine country of Gath. If discovered, it could mean death. So he pretends to be mad – scrabbling in the dirt, saliva running down his beard. And Abimelech decides that he doesn’t need someone like that around him so sends him packing. And David attributes his rescue to God.
Look at how David begins his lesson: “I will extol (or bless) the Lord at all times. His praise will always be on my lips?”
David has learnt the lesson that praise is as much an act of the will as it is a movement of the heart. He will do it; he has resolved to do it.
And there will be many times when we will say ‘why should I praise God’? ‘What has God done to help me?’ And especially when our circumstances seem to be against us. If we know our own hearts, we know how often we are gravitationally pulled away from God. Our circumstances may seem such that we tend to look away from him, to find our help and comfort in anything but him – and in those worst moments doubt his loving care for us.
But it is for those moments that we need to learn: “I will praise the Lord.” How? We ask a basic question: has God’s character changed? Have God’s promises suddenly become worthless? Did Jesus’ resurrection from the dead lose its truth or power? Has God lost authority? Has God in that moment become less loving? God in his character and purposes are unchanging; he is trustworthy in every way.
Those brought up with the Book of Common Prayer will remember the prayer of humble access: God, ’whose nature is always to have mercy.’
David has known this. Even when his actions were less than they should have been, God saved him. God still had his hand on his life, and would not let him go. His promise to David still held firm. And in Jesus, when we call out to him, and acknowledge him as Lord, we are saved by his power, not our own works. It is not our perfection that secures our hope, but Christ’s.
There is a danger of giving in. New Christians are sometimes discouraged by opposition, suffering and difficulty. They thought that life was an upward trajectory. Surely God would give them everything they wanted, every prayer answered. Power, victory would be theirs. But then discouragement comes. It as this moment, that we must train our wills to trust.
Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews in their home in Holland during WW2, tells the story of her life in a concentration camp with her sister Betsy after they were arrested. She and her sister were praying, and Betsy was determined to thank God for everything, as the Bible had told them. The overcrowded hut they were in was infested with fleas, but Betsy prayed ‘thankyou for the fleas.’ Not the fleas, said Corrie. Yes the fleas. Over the following months, they were able to encourage the other women in the hut by holding services – reading the Bible, praying. Many women gave their lives to Christ. And all that time, not a single guard entered their hut. They were free to do whatever they wanted. And it was only later that Corrie discovered why: the fleas. None of the guards would come near it because it was so infested. Thank you Lord for the fleas.
So David invites us to praise, to trust. “Come,” I will bless the Lord at all times. God never fails to provide for his children in their need. What he promises, he makes good on.
Believe. Fight fear with fear.
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
This is fears vs the fear of the Lord. We are often afraid – of failure, of being proven wrong, of the future. Combat fears and anxiety with trust in God.
V5 of this psalm reminds us to ‘look’ to God. Belief in God means to look on him, to look to him. This what we find with all those who look to Christ – that they are promised so much in him, and will not be disappointed. None of those who come to him in faith will be turned away. And none of those who seek him will be disappointed.
Charles H Spurgeon: There is life, liberty, love, everything in fact, in a look at the Crucified One. Never did a sore heart look in vain to the good Physician…
God was prepared to give up his Son to death on the cross. Not for his own sins, for he had none, but for yours. If God did this for you, can you really doubt that God has mercy?
Do you doubt the love of God? Do you doubt whether he can be trusted? Do you wonder at whether he could have mercy?
Go to the cross. Go to the foot of the cross. Look at Jesus and see him there – your sins laid upon him. If you are struggling with this, I would make a suggestion. Go home and open your Bible; read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for you. Spend time there, and in your heart linger there at the foot of the cross; by faith see Christ dying for you. Look to the cross and see God’s love poured out for you.
Will you do that? And then ask ‘Does God love me?’ ‘Can I really trust his love and goodness, his provision?’
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, give us all things?
David teaches us one more lesson:
Cry out. To come to God.
David is not immune from his troubles. And neither are we. However good life may be, there will have been time when we struggled; there will be times when we will do so. We will be tired, frustrated, demoralised. We will sin and wonder whether we are really Christians. We will suffer loss and heartache. We are not promised a life without storms.
But here is where the Christian finds their comfort and their hope. Jesus said:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
This is what God’s word tells us: God will deliver us. Not from our troubles, but in them.
V19: There are many afflictions, but God delivers us from all of them.
He is the refuge in the storm. Like a person caught in a storm, God doesn’t stop the downpour for them, but provides a refuge in it. Christ is that refuge: run to him. Take cover in him. Augustus Toplady’s hymn conveys this beautifully:
Rock of Ages cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.
This is not theory, but practice. v8 “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
Faith is not to be done at a distance. Cheryl will often make cakes or biscuits and when it comes out of the oven, taste them to see how good they are. And then she gives them to the rest of the family: taste this. And it is the same with Christ. God invites you to place your trust in him. Not to hold him at a distance, but to receive him as you would good food. If you are hesitant, we should make an experiment of God’s goodness. When you put your trust there you will not find God wanting. Have confidence in him. Even if the food appears unappetising, the taste is good and we see that it is in fact good.
It is not: let God prove himself and I will trust him. That is pride, arrogance. God doesn’t need to provide proof of his goodness. It is there. It is his nature, and it doesn’t change.
Rather, trust in God and he will prove himself to be good.
Blessed – happy, relieved, comforted – are all who find refuge in him. Cry out to him, and he will answer; come to him and you will find refuge. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. God will not withhold any good from you that you need. And if we truly seek him in Christ, we will find him. Don’t look elsewhere, but only to the one who provides it.
So, in the school of life, God has provided us with a lesson plan: learn the language of trust:
the ABCs – Adore, Believe and Cry out.
Listen to David’s teaching here: Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together (v3) And when we have no voice of our own, when our voice may seem tiny and strained, God has given us one another – to add our voices to one another. This is why God has given us the church – one another in Christ – as we uphold one another in our prayers and our praises. Pray for one another, encourage each other to look to Christ and hold on to him, and help each other to learn these spiritual ABCs.