HUNGER FOR GOD 7 April 29-Persevering
Persevering in Spiritual Passion
Psalm 42, a Psalm NOT of David but one of the Psalms of Korah, was written when the psalmist finds himself in extreme difficulties and disillusionment at the distance of God. And some of us here today can understand this, because if you have been maturing in your walk with God, you know what it is like to walk in God’s presence feeling God near by, and then suddenly find yourself in a place where it seems as though God has taken a long distance trip on you.
IOWs, if you have walked with God for very long OR very close—then you know there are always those times when we will sense the distance of God. That is, those times when the troubles of life come in like a flood, and God doesn’t seem to be responding to our prayers.
This is why we are looking at Psalm 42 today, because if you haven’t experienced this distance of God, you will. There are 3 Stanzas in Psalm 42, that deal with the emotions that flow around these times:
STANZA 1 we’ll call — Pursuit.
You know it well: v1. The psalmist sees a deer in search of water and relates that to himself and says, “Just as water sustains the physical life of a deer, causing her to pursue it no matter what the cost, so God sustains my life and so I will pursue God until I find God.”
Now, the question is “why.” Why is he in hot pursuit of God? Well the short answer is…because life has done a number on him. And the sad fact is our greatest pursuits of God come in times of crisis, and the psalmist is in a crisis that is causing suffering. In fact, he is suffering in 3 ways. This person is suffering emotionally. In verse 3 he talks about tears, in verse 5 he talks about despair: VV 3 & 5a. When you’re in despair it means all hope is gone and you just see no way out. This would be bad enough, but now his enemies see the state he is in, and they begin to taunt him.
But not only is he suffering emotionally, he is also suffering spiritually. Why—because God is nowhere to be found: v 2.
Lastly, the psalmist is suffering physically. He says in verse 10: V10a. He is even feeling this thing physically. Have you been there? Have you ever felt so down the only place you wanted to be was in bed. In fact, you had to call in sick because you just couldn’t go any further.
And look at the end of that verse he says it again: V10b. Do any of you have a work place with an enemy who all day long taunts you and jeers you? Or maybe some of you even have to live with your enemy. This is why the Bible is so relevant and so real it looks at life in realistic terms and sometimes, life just isn’t very sweet.
Now, if you are a seasoned Christian, you understand this. In fact, you know these moments cause people to have questions. In fact, you know what it’s like to be in a situation where you have had to defend God, when all along you had the same questions as the folks to whom you were defending God. So, what are the questions raised in the pursuit of God in these moments? In other words, you’re defending God, but in your heart you’re asking the same questions. So, what are the questions raised in the pursuit of God in these moments?
One question that arises is: does God really care? In fact in Psalm 73 the question is raised, “God, I see the wicked prosper and the righteous, who are trying to live for You…who don’t and I want to know God whose do You rally favor?” Now if you’ve never asked this question, you’re not living in a real world. And I want you to know right now; there is no expectation on my part that you come to church every single Sunday in victory…because hear me loved ones…real people of faith have real questions. And if I were to tell you otherwise, if I were to tell you, if you’re spiritual enough you wouldn’t have questions, then I’m not a real minister.
The next question is often found in the Bible. In fact, the Bible is full of the question, “Where is God?” And that leads us to the objective of the Pursuit. In the midst of this deep struggle, the psalmist says, “As the deer pants for the water brook…” So when does the deer stop panting? Not until she finds water. Why – because the deer knows she can’t live without it.
So what should be the object of our pursuit? The psalmist says: v1. So could it be, that God doesn’t want you to pant for things, but for God. You see the object of circumstances is to bring us to God. Our problem is all we want is a solution. You see, when we face challenges and trials, maybe at that moment, all God is offering is Himself.
So, if God is not answering your question the way you want it answered, may be you need to change your prayer. Don’t give up on changing the situation…just change your prayer. And so it is that our psalmist says, “Ok then, what I’ll take is You. Even if my circumstances don’t change, I’ll still take You.”
So the first stanza is about the pursuit of God. But when you pursue God in the midst of a moment that is emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically painful, you quickly find yourself in the midst of the next phase: and that is – STANZA ii: paradox.
Our psalmist is crying all day long, this is major depression. His tears are his food, and yet he remembers when thing were not always like the situation he is in: V4. But that immediately leads us to the paradox: v5a And it’s back and forth…and up and down as the psalmist (like a ship on a storm-tossed sea) moves between great internal despair and great hope.
Keep reading with me: V5b – but God even as I say that – V6a. He is fluctuating between hope and despair, confidence and collapse, fear and faith. So why is he so down—because he’s been hit by one thing after another, until again…like a ship that has been too long at sea, barnacles have built up on his soul.
So what are the implications? Sometimes, when you’re in those dark times, you just have to learn to trust God. Oh I know it’s no fun to even think about it. But any Christian minister that tries to tell you that faith in God through Christ Jesus ends the dark times is just plain not telling you the
whole truth. Life can get dark.
So our psalmist says, “Ok, I am emotionally, spiritually, and physically challenged right now, but even in the midst of the darkness I have decided to hope in God.” And that leads us to the second implication of this stanza: Sometimes you are left with nothing but your will and determination to just be obedient to God.
In other words, your circumstances are such that you don’ feel God…you don’t see God…and you’re not experiencing God. In fact, it seems like God has taken a vacation, and when those moments come, you are left alone with one thing…and this is the 3rd implication: What you know to be true about God. And Loved Ones, I can’t tell how important this one is, because it is remembering Who God is and what God has done that we find hope. For Hope, you see, is waiting for and expecting God to act.
But let me tell you what makes this pursuit of God so hard in the midst of paradox…and this can lead to despair: We assume that if we don’t see God, and we don’t see what God is doing, then nothing is happening. That’s what sends us into despair. We assume nothing is happening because we can’t see anything happening.
But I love the counsel of psalms: Psalm 27:13-14. (sermon notes) The psalmist says, “I would have despaired except for one thing, I choose to believe that God was still up to something, even when I couldn’t see Him.”
So let me make something very clear dear ones…even when God appears to be doing nothing, God is doing something…God is working. That matches an important principle in our Experiencing God study: What is it? (God is always at work.) But understand even in the face of this, questions remain.
It’s like the grief-stricken father who cries out, “Where was God when my child died!” There are just plain times in our life when no counselor, no preacher, and no friend will be able to answer any question you ask. In fact, they are as helpless in answering that question as you are in answering it for yourself.
And so our psalmist says: V6a. Loved ones, listen carefully and heed the lesson our psalmist has just given us because it’s golden: When the dark times of our lives come, it is critically important to have had a history with God in the good times. So if it’s good right now enjoy it to the max, in fact, record the good times, because you’re going to need that story someday. You’re going to need to look back and see the footprints of grace in your life. IOWs…although I don’t see it now…I remember when. The psalmist says, “When I’m in despair, I remember.” And that leads us to the final phase of this psalm…
stanza iii: prayer It’s hard to pray when God doesn’t seem close. When God seems close, you can talk all day long. But when you need God and it seems He is nowhere to be found, it’s hard to carry on a long conversation and we can slip into despair.
But look at now our psalmist responds. He is NOT afraid to get real with God. This is a prayer born out of desperation…and he is getting real…look with me: vv 8-10. What he saying here? “I don’t know what You’re doing Lord, but one thing and one thing only do I ask – be with me. I don’t know why You’re taking so long, I don’t know why it’s hurting so bad, but just please be with me.”
It’s like a child who falls and bumps him or herself and immediately lifts his head to look for the only comfort that will satisfy, the comfort of mom or dad. You see, the Christian life is not always filled with joy and bliss, that’s heaven.
In 1970, Jimmy Carter ran for Governor of Georgia against then governor Lester Maddox. The spiritual record of Carter was clear and consistent… whether running for office or not. But Maddox was a different story. He had been an avowed racist all his life, so when it got out that he had had a conversion experience just in time for his race with Carter, well you can understand the skepticism.
That is, until Maddox was asked what his conversion meant to him. He paused for a moment and then he said, “Well, as an unbeliever, this life was all the heaven I would have ever known. But as a believer, this life is all the hell I will ever experience.”
Whoa…let that sink in…that is an incredible nugget of solid gold truth. Our earthly journey is a mixture of heaven and hell. When people die they either go to all of heaven or all of hell, but on earth you get a mixture. “In this world,” Jesus said in John 16, “you will have trouble.”
The Apostles Paul put it in a very profound way when he said this:
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (sermon notes) Paul says “we,” not just “me”… “we.” Everyday is not going to be a sunny day. There are going to be cloudy days and rainy days and cold days and snowy days, but he says, “I want you to know that, even if God is not changing your situation, God will meet you where you are and give you comfort.
That’s why Romans 8:28 is so spectacular: (sermon notes) “All things,” say that with me, “All things.”
But you say, “What’s good about my illness?” Nothing
“What’s good in that situation when someone is raped?” Nothing.
“What’s good about my financial crisis? Nothing.
“What’s good about my battle with depression? Nothing.
The verse does not say “all things are good,” there are some things that are just down right bad. You open your newspaper and there’s war - that’s bad; there’s another bombing – that’s bad; there’s another politician who as fallen – that’s bad. There’s a lot of just plain bad things – but that’s not what God is saying, God does not call all things good…but that all things are working together for good.
Listen to me…don’t call stuff good that’s bad. That just makes me sick when I hear these overly spiritual Christians call everything good until something bad happens to them…then they’re the biggest whiners on earth. Call stuff that’s bad, bad! Did you have a bad day? “Yea, I had a bad day!” Not everything is good, it’s that everything is working toward good.
Let me illustrate: When you came to church this morning you came in a car and that’s good. But if I could take you back to the assembly plant, what you would see is a tire here, and a wheel there, and a transmission over there, in other words, all you would see is a chaotic mess of parts converging from all over the place into that building… none of them seemingly belonging to the other.
In other words, when you’re on the outside of the building, you don’t understand all the intricacies of an assembly line. All those individual, unrelated, disconnected pieces are being taken down an assembly line hidden from your sight, where somebody is connecting this with that, and that with this, until you come to the end of the building and all of a sudden that which had no meaning when you started, has absolute meaning when it comes riding out.
And indeed, right now the pieces of your life may look disconnected, the circumstances may look unrelated, you don’t see any rhythm or reason why God is taking you through this, but when God gets finished, all things, all things are going to be worked together because God is up to something.
But that still leaves us with a final question. We heard it verse 9 – “Why have you forgotten me?” That’s the perpetual question – Why, why, why?!
Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good…” But then comes verse 29. Everybody loves verse 28, but nobody ever bothers to go on to read verse 29. Verse 29 answers the “why”: V29 (sermon notes)
When we cry out, “I haven’t seen God move in my life, and I want to know why!” Here is the answer, “God has determined, that what He has allowed in your life right now, is absolutely necessary for you to be conformed to the image of Christ.”
Let me say it again, “God has decided, that what He has allowed…” now why do I use “allowed?” Because nothing happens to a believer that doesn’t first pass through God’s fingers. That is, in order for it to hit you, God had to approve it or God is not sovereign…and if you don’t believe me ask Job.
To illustrate, a man devastated by his circumstances began to pray, and read the Bible, and fast, and worship, until finally he went to the pastor and cried out, “Why hasn’t my situation changed?” To which the pastor replied, “If I was God I wouldn’t change it either.” “Why?!” He asked. “Don’t you see what has happened to you? Before this crisis you were selfish and self-centered, thinking only of your money and your career. Now look at you. You are developing into a man of God.”
God has a number of ways to answer our prayers: God can just say “Yes,” that’ what we all want. Or He can say, “Not yet.” Or God can say, “No, I love you too much.” Or, God can say, “No, My grace is sufficient.”
But you say, “My hope is gone. I did everything, but my hope is gone.” Well, maybe it is a situation you cannot rectify, maybe it’s gone too bad. That’s why the psalmist says in the midst of this prayer: v11. IOWs, when God doesn’t change a situation, keep going after God. Even if God says no to your situation, go after God.
· I asked God for strength that I might achieve, but I was made weak that I might humbly obey.
· I asked God for health that I might do greater things, but I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
· I asked God for riches that I might be happy, but He gave me poverty that I might be wise.
· I asked God for power that I might have the praise of men, but He gave me weakness that I might feel more need of Him.
· I asked for all things that I might enjoy life, but I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
· I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for, almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered, and so I am among men most richly blessed.
I wish I had answers to all your questions, but when your hope is gone, it is then that God stands ready to do a hope adjustment. God wants you and me to see that His sufficiency is sufficient.
To put it another way, when you pray in your pain, God’s answers are always deeper than your pain. For sorrow may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning. Loved ones…God is able to take you through whatever you are facing.