in Troubled Times
A sermon by
The Rev. Vaughan Smith
Epiphany 7, Year C
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SERMON: Trusting God in Troubled Times
Several Psalms and many Proverbs
divide all of humanity into 2 groups:
the righteous and the wicked.
Certainly in Psalms and Proverbs,
and I think in the entire Bible,
righteousness is a matter of relationship.
Righteous people are not perfect. (1)
are simply people who
relate rightly to God.
Likewise, wicked people do not relate rightly to God.
The righteous relate rightly to God
because the righteous recognize God as God.
The righteous relate rightly to God
by seeking to know God and to obey God.
But the wicked reject God and God’s ways.
The wicked reject God
because the wicked want to be their own gods.
And the wicked reject God’s ways
because the wicked want to do things
their own way.
Among other things, Psalm 37 recognizes the frustrating reality
that the wicked often prosper,
and the righteous often suffer.
This seems unfair.
The righteous try to live God’s way.
The wicked reject God and live their own way.
And yet… the wicked often seem
to have it better
than the righteous.
If YOU have ever been punished for doing the right thing,
if you’re a good guy who seems to always finish last…
then Psalm 37 is for you.
Psalm 37 is also good spiritual medicine
for just about any problem a person might have.
I heard a story recently about a little boy
who wanted to wash his cat.
The little boy went to the store
and bought some Tide detergent.
The cashier said to the boy,
“It’s nice of you to run errands for your parents.
Do you do the laundry at your house?”
The little boy said, “I’m not doing laundry.
I’m washing my cat.”
The cashier explained to the boy that Tide
was not good for washing cats… but the boy refused to listen.
The next time the boy came to the store,
the casher asked him, “How’s your cat?”
The boy hung his head in sadness. He said, “My cat died.”
The cashier said, “I’m sorry to hear that your cat died.
Did it die from the Tide you washed it with?”
The boy said, “No. I don’t think the Tide killed my cat.
I think it was the spin cycle.” (2)
When we get bombarded with problems...
when stress comes in waves…
life can feel like a spin cycle.
Raise your hand if you know what I am talking about.
The spin cycle killed the cat…
and the spin cycle can kill people too.
The spin cycle can kill us quickly, like in a heart attack.
Or the spin cycle can kill us slowly…
by slowly sucking the life out of us,
until we become joyless, defeated zombies.
When life is like a “spin cycle”
or when a specific, major crisis strikes,
Ps. 37 provides God-given wisdom,
a plan of action for experiencing
the peace that passeth understanding, (3)
a supernatural peace
that transcends circumstances.
The first 8 verses of Psalm 37 give us 7 steps
for enjoying God and experiencing supernatural peace,
even in a spin cycle.
The supernatural peace that God offers
can help us cope with the current economic crisis.
The current, world-wide economic crisis might lead
to one world currency… to one world government…
and to the rise of “The Man of Lawlessness,” (2 Thes. 2)
commonly called, “The Antichrist.”
On the other hand, the current world economic crisis
could simply be a product of human sin and greed,
and it might have nothing to do with The End of the World.
Either way… Christians have nothing to fear!
Either way, Christians have nothing to fear
because our God is in control… and His plan is perfect!
Whenever we face any crisis,
it’s helpful to review God’s instructions
for enjoying God
and experiencing supernatural peace.
Don’t worry about writing these 7 steps down.
God already wrote them down for us,
and we can turn back to Psalm 37 any time we need to.
Step 1: Don’t Fret.
David knew that it is hard to avoid fretting.
That’s probably why the words, “Do not fret”
are recorded three times in the first eight verses of Psalm 37.
David, Paul, and Jesus each command us not to fret,
not to worry.
Fretting—or worrying—is a sin.
It’s a sin because God commands us not to do it.
Fretting, or worrying, is a choice.
We cannot control what thoughts enter our minds,
but we can control which thoughts we dwell on.
When I experience worry, I try to turn my worries into prayers.
The best weapon against worry is trusting God
When we trust that God loves us…
When we trust that God works for our good in all things,
even in hurtful things…
When we trust in God’s person, plan, power, and love,
then we really have nothing to worry about.
I expect that most of us will never completely stop worrying,
but we can grow in faith.
We can worry less and less.
And when we do worry, we can repent…
and try to better.
Steps 2 and 3: Trust in the Lord… and do good.
These 2 steps are inseparable;
neither can exist without the other.
Faith and trust are VERBS; faith and trust are a lifestyle,
and they involve action. (4)
Real faith always includes obedience,
and obedience includes
doing the “good” things God commands.
That is why trusting God and doing good cannot be separated.
Step 4: delight yourself in the lord.
What do you delight in?
What is your greatest source of pleasure?
If knowing God is not our highest joy and delight,
then we do not know God very well.
And if we do not know God very well,
it is only because we have not invested enough time
in developing our relationship with God. (5)
Speaking from his own experience,
plus the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, (6)
David says that when we delight in God,
God gives us the desires of our hearts.
This is a blank check… with one condition attached.
Much like when we are “abiding in Christ” (7)
…when we delight in God,
then the desires of our hearts
will be in line with God’s will.
When we delight in God,
the desires of our hearts
are in line with God’s will…
and when our desires are in line with God’s will,
God can safely give us the desires of our hearts.
In fact, when we delight in God,
we desire increased intimacy with God…
and God is happy to fulfill our desire
for increased intimacy with Himself.
Step 5: Commit your way to the Lord.
This one is tricky. It means more than we may think.
Commitment is important.
Deep, satisfying relationships
—like marriage, friendship, and discipleship—
Our commitment to God is important…
but, here in Psalm 37.5,
being committed to God is not the point.
We don’t have time to dig deep into the original Hebrew today,
but please trust me when I say that the word translated
means “to roll something onto something else.” (8)
The Apostle Peter probably had Psalm 37.5 on his mind,
when he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on [God]
because he cares for you.” (9)
Casting our cares on God,
rolling our burdens onto the Lord,
that is what David means, when he tells us
to commit our way to the Lord.
Committing our way to the Lord
includes going to God in prayer,
taking our problems to the foot of the cross…
and leaving our problems there, with God.
Committing our way to the Lord includes
- seeking God’s presence…
- placing our problems in God’s hands…
- and then trusting God will… and God’s timing.
Step 6: Be still before the LORD
and wait patiently for him.
Again, please trust me when I say
that the original Hebrew includes the idea
of sitting still with God in silence. (10)
David is telling us to tell God about our problems…
and then to sit quietly with God.
Let’s learn the lesson of the face.
God gave us two ears and one mouth.
We should listen twice as much as we talk,
and this is especially true,
in our relationship with God!
Most of us, including me, could listen to God more,
and if we did, our lives would be better!
And just in case we forgot Step 1,
David reminds us, saying, “Do not fret…”
Step 7: Refrain from anger
and turn from wrath.
We all get angry.
The Apostle Paul gives us two especially helpful commands
about dealing with the anger we all feel at times.
“‘In your anger do not sin’
“Do not let the sun go down
while you are still angry…” (11)
Don’t allow anger to lead us to do or say harmful things…
and… let go of each day’s anger,
before going to bed at night.
If we sincerely desire God to help us to obey these 2 commands,
then we can ask for… and receive God’s help.
And lest we forget, for the third time, David reminds us,
“Do not fret — it leads only to evil.”
That’s it! Seven steps to stop fretting at the wicked…
seven steps to surviving the spin cycle…
seven steps to enjoying God and God’s peace
in the storms of life.
These steps are not a one-time thing.
Some days we need to go through these steps several times.
Remember, the seven steps are right there in Psalm 37.
We can review these seven steps whenever necessary.
And as we practice these seven steps,
we can enjoy God’s presence and God’s peace
even in the storms of life.
As we practice these seven steps,
we can survive the spin cycle…
and come out clean.
And as we practice these seven steps,
we can experience what Jesus was talking about, when He said,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.”
Lord, help us to be doers of Your Word! Amen.
In 37.18 the righteous are called, “blameless,” but being, “blameless” is very different from being sinless or perfect. The word translated as “blameless” in the NIV of 37.18 is MImyImVt (Strong’s # H8549). In 37.18, the KJV translates this same word as “upright.” BDB notes that the word can refer to, “integrity.” We see this meaning brought out in Ps. 25.21. Ps. 25.21 uses the word MO;t (Strong’s # H8537), and this word comes from the same root as H8549 (the root is Mmt or tmm). In Ps. 25.21, both the NIV and KJV translate H8537 as “integrity.” Wilcock, (The Bible Speaks Today: Psalms 1-72, p. 93) notes that the integrity of MAmD;t [tmm] is “an undivided heart… that is why Ps. 25 can at the same time both admit his [David’s] sin and protest his integrity.” Psalm 26.1 also uses a form of the same word (I;mUt) (H8537), and this word is translated as “blameless” in the NIV and as “integrity” in the KJV. The people described by H8549 and H8537 are the people who, in the wisdom literature, are consistently contrasted with the wicked. In Ps. 37, these people are not named as “blameless” or “righteous” until later in the Psalm, but the “blameless/righteous” are the people who do the things commanded in the early verses of the Psalm, things like trusting God, delighting in God, committing their ways to God, and waiting quietly on God. Incidentally, H8549 is the word applied to Noah in Genesis 6.9. In Genesis 6.9, the KJV translates H8549 as “perfect,” and the NIV translates it as, “blameless.” This verse is not saying that Noah was sinless; it is saying that Noah had integrity; his devotion and loyalty to God was pure and undivided.
2 Adapted from a story told by David Lemming.
3 Philippians 4 is another extremely helpful passage on receiving supernatural peace from God. Briefly, Philippians 4 tells us: to pray… to count our blessings and thank God for them… to choose and discipline ourselves to focus on the positive… and to emulate the examples of godly people.
4 The Bible sometimes does use nouns like, “faith,” but these nouns are almost always followed or preceded by active verbs. Paul, who speaks often of faith (noun) is an excellent example of using the noun in the context of active verbs. John drives home the fact that faith is a verb by refusing to use the noun form. In his gospel, John uses the verb pisteu/w 98 times, but he never once uses the noun pistiß.
5 This thought comes from James M. Boice, Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 317. The cure for this problem is verse 7, discussed below as Step 6.
6 Mk. 12.36 shows that Jesus considered David’s psalms to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus believed
2 Tim. 3.16 and 2 Ptr. 1.20-21 to be true!
7 Jn. 15; see also Mt. 6.33.
8 lAlÎ…g means to roll some object on, upon, away, in, against, from, together, unto, or down. This figure is used for rolling oneself on the Lord and so to trust the Lord (Ps 22:8 [H 9]) or to commit one’s behavior or life to the Lord (37:5; Prov 16:3) or remove such non-material things as reproach and contempt (Ps 119:22). The physical act of the rolling of something or someone (lAlÎ…g) appears in only four episodes and possibly two or three observations. The first is in the story of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well in Paran, mentioning the necessity of rolling the stone from the well and of Jacob doing this (Gen 29:3, 8, 10). When Joshua caught the five Amorite kings in a cave during the Gibeonite battle, he ordered his men to roll great stones on the mouth of the cave to incarcerate them until the battle’s end (Josh 10:18). Saul, knowing his hungry people were eating meat with blood still in it, directed his men to roll a great stone to him upon which the animals could be slaughtered (1 Sam 14:33). After Joab had thrust his sword treacherously through Amasa, Amasa wallowed in his blood in the road (2 Sam 20:12). Jeremiah in a figure likens Babylon to a mountain when he says of her, “I will roll thee down from the rocks” (Jer 30:14). Surely the wise man writes metaphorically, “He that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him” (Prov 26:27). When Isaiah employs the verb in two effective figures: the heavens shall be “rolled together like a scroll” (Isa 34:4) and “garments rolled in blood” (9:5), depicting warfare in contrast to the reign of the prince of peace. Joshua used lAlÎ…g symbolically when he said, after the circumcision of the Israelites, “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Josh 5:9) and the place was named Gilgal—a word play on lAlÎ…g. Close to the meaning of rolling an object is Amos’s metaphor, “But let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). Other uses of lAlÎ…g are more remote from rolling an object. Among the indignities that Job suffers is the action of young men who rolled themselves upon him-probably as an army breaking through defenses (Job 30:14). Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph is seeking occasion (lAlÎ…g) against them to enslave them (Gen 43:8). lAlÎ…g becomes trust, commit or remove in four places. The thought is to “roll one’s trouble” upon someone or away from oneself (cf. KB). Those who stigmatize the victim of Ps 22 says, “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him, let him deliver him” (v. 8 [H 9]) while in 37:5 and Prov 16:3 we are urged to commit our works and way unto the Lord. In Ps 119:22 the Psalmist requests, “Remove from me reproach and contempt: for I have kept thy testimonies” (TWOT). The NIV translates lO…g as, “trust” in Ps. 22.8.
91 Ptr. 5.7. Peter may also have been thinking of Ps. 55.22.
10 [MDmD;d] vb. be or grow dumb, silent, still (BDB).
11 Eph. 4.26, quoting Ps. 4.4.
Copyright 2008, Vaughan Smith. Used by permission.