2020-7-12 A Cry of Trust

A Cry of Trust
Psalm 23
July 12, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. Grant me the ability to speak your Word to your people. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand your Word. Transform by the power of your Holy Spirit. This we ask in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Psalm of David.

       The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

            He makes me lie down in green pastures.

         He leads me beside still waters.

            He restores my soul.

         He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

       Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

         for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

       You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

         you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

       Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

         and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever. [1]

One of my favorite stories is “The Chronicles of Narnia”. I read the first book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when I was in elementary school but it wasn’t until the movie came out in 2005 that I really fell in love with the books. I re-read those stories and still re-read them every few years. One of the least well known books in the series is “The Horse and His Boy”. I think it’s partly not as well known because it doesn’t have much to do with the central characters of the other stories, the Pevensies.

The story is about a young boy, Shasta, who is trying to escape from Calmorene to Narnia. He is a young boy who has been adopted by a cruel man; a man who treats him like a slave, barely feeding him, and frequently abusing the boy. One night, a wealthy man comes and begins to bargain with Shasta’s adoptive father so that Shasta will become his slave. It is in that moment that Shasta decides to run away, so he steals the man’s horse and rides into the night towards Narnia, a land of freedom. It’s a rather dangerous and treacherous journey as he and his horse, Bree, were chased by a lion.

Along the way, he meets up with a young girl about his age but eventually they get separated. They had agreed to meet at the tombs outside one of the cities. Shasta is waiting there for his friends and their horses to meet him so they can continue their journey when it starts to get dark. Shasta starts to become very afraid. He’s worried about the ghosts and the wild animals. This is a difficult moment for Shasta. As he’s waiting, a cat walks between his legs and stared at the young boy with an intense and piercing look. The cat begins to walk away and Shasta follows him. The cat takes him through the tombs and out the other side. This cat leads Shasta through a dangerous place to a place of relative safety and then sat next to the young boy all night except for a moment when jackals howl and a lion roars.  This most popular psalm will help us sing a song of trust; a song that helps us trust in that God will lead us through difficult times.

One of the most famous lines in all of the English language is verse four of Psalm 23, “And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me”. When David wrote those lines, he might have been reflecting on the difficulties in his life. Samuel anointed David to be the next king of Israel while Saul was still king. At first, David and Saul got along; David was Saul’s best warrior. But not long after that Saul grew jealous over David’s popularity and drove him from Jerusalem into the Judean wilderness. Years later, David was driven from Jerusalem again, but this time by his son Absalom. David and Absalom had a strained relationship and then Absalom declared himself king, raised an army, and sought to capture Jerusalem. David was once again driven out into the Judean wilderness with its many valleys. The many valleys in the wilderness were about as unsafe a place as there was in Israel.

Often, we imagine lush valleys like that found in “The Sound of Music”. But the valleys in Israel are not real valleys. They’re really dry riverbeds. And as soon as it rained, they could be filled with rushing water that could sweep anyone away.

It was also unsafe because of wild animals like lions, bears, and wolves. Oh my! It was not uncommon for shepherds to encounter any of those dangerous animals. And if that wasn’t bad enough, criminals and thieves could be hiding in the nooks and crannies of the hills. When David was hiding from Saul when Saul was hunting him, he hid in one of the caves and had the opportunity to attack Saul and his army. But it wasn’t just innocent future kings hiding in the nooks and crannies of these valleys, there were those who might attack travelers. We often think that shepherding was something for pre-teen boys to do. Shepherding was a dangerous line of work. Those must have been difficult times for David.

Maybe some of us feel like David. We turn on the news and things don’t seem great. We are seeing cases go up with COVID-19. Even here in Cherokee County we have seen the number of confirmed cases double in the past week going from the 20s to the 40s. While as a country we have resumed much of our normal life, there is this sense that this virus could make a strong comeback and we could possibly see an increase in mortality rates. These are difficult times.

We turn on the news and see what is happening in Seattle and wonder will there be a civil war?

These are difficult times. How do we get through them? How make it through difficult times? We make it through difficult times by trusting that God has provided and continues to provide.

David trusted that God had provided before in his life. He could look back at his life and see how God had been providing him like a shepherd provides for his flock. He could say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake”. David understood that sheep only rest when they feel safe and secure. Sheep are vulnerable animals. I know they look ferocious but they’re not. They don’t have sharp teeth, or claws that tear apart would-be danger. They have soft wool and hooves. Now, I’m sure that if a sheep were to kick someone, it would hurt and maybe it might break the skin. But they’re pretty defenseless animals; an animal that need a shepherd that provides food and safe places for them to rest.

David could look back and see how God had been providing for him when he was a shepherd and he faced ferocious animals. David could look back and see God providing for him as he took on Goliath. No one else was willing to face him and God provided the strength and courage to face him. David could look back and see how God was providing shelter as he was being persecuted from Saul. David made it through difficult times by trusting God to provide because he had provided before.

Like David, we can make it through difficult times by trusting that God has provided. We can trust that God will led us through dangerous times and places because he has led us to safety before. Look back through your life and see how that God has provided.

When I first left seminary, I faced some difficult times. I had an internship with a church in Wichita but after that I had to move back home without a job. I eventually started working at Starbucks so I could pay my loans but it was hard. What I love to do, what I felt called to do, I wasn’t doing. On top of that, there were a few times where I felt a church was close to extending a call to me but didn’t. They were difficult times.

I can remember sitting in worship one Sunday when I was particularly upset. I had flown out to California to interview with a church about being the associate pastor, the elders more or less told me it would happen. Then they called a few weeks later and told me that the congregation didn’t vote in my favor. I was sitting there in the sanctuary, thinking, “Lord, where are you leading me? You’ve called me and I’m waiting in the valley.” I was angry.

Then Nate, one of the pastors at this church, got up to preach. I don’t really remember what text he preached on but towards the middle of the sermon he started talking about Thanksgiving. I was in no mood to hear what he was saying. But I can remember Nate saying that Thanksgiving just for when things are going our way; thanksgiving reminds us how God has provided in the past and that’s what helps us make it through hard times. Remembering how God has provided for us in the past helps sustain us in difficult times; it helps us trust that he will continue to provide for us.

Now, maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “That sounds nice that it all worked out for you, but I trusted God and he didn’t provide. I trusted God to heal my loved one and he didn’t. I trusted God and he still died”. We can’t rub a bible, make three commands, and expect God to meet our demands. Don’t you see, if you say, “I’ll only trust God if”, you’re not really trusting him; you’re using him.

We can’t treat God like he is some genie whose sole purpose is to make our lives what we think they should be. God calls us to trust him just as parents call their kids to trust them. We can trust God to provide. God provides not what we want or what we think we need, but what he knows we need. We might think we need that job or a certain amount in our savings accounts, but he knows what we really need. He knew we needed a shepherd who would not just lead us safely through a dangerous valley where death lurks behind every rock, but a shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus was the Good Shepherd who fought our greatest enemies, sin and death. But he didn’t fight our enemies with a rod or staff; he beat them by dying on a cross. On that cross, he bore our sin so that we could be reconciled to God, so that we could be safe from sin and death. God knew our greatest need was redemption from our sin and he provided the solution in Christ. Trust that the God who provided a shepherd who would die for us is the same God who sovereignly provides for us today.

We can make it through difficult times by trusting God that he will continue to provide for us.

As David hid from Saul, he could trust that God promised that he would be king of Israel and he would be faithful to his promise. He knew that God was preparing a table before him in the presence of his enemies. He trusted that God would be the victorious host celebrating David and his kingship. In that culture, hosting and hospitality was a big deal. It is still an important cultural practice in many Middle Eastern countries. A host provides for his guests, makes sure that there is enough food and wine. David trusts that God will throw a feast in honor of him. All of the enemies that David was fleeing from would be subdued and he would be safe from harm. While David might have been thinking of a literal feast at his coronation, it is more likely he is thinking of a time when God’s promises come to fruition; a time when David is king over Israel. God had promised him that he would make David king over Israel. Later when Absalom had chased David from Jerusalem, he could think of the promise that God would establish a dynasty through him.

Even in those difficult times, David trusted that God’s covenantal love would be with him in any circumstance. When David says, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all of the days of my life”, he uses the word hesed. Hesed is the Hebrew word that is often translated “loving kindness”. It is frequently used of God’s relationship to Israel; a special relationship where God’s loving kindness is expressed through how he provides for the needs of his special people. And here David trusts that even though he is facing difficult times, wandering in a dangerous valley, that God’s special love is still on him.

Difficult times don’t negate God’s special love for his people. Unfortunately, there a lot of believers think that if they are experiencing difficulty in life that God does not love them. There are some pastors and teachers out there teaching that if you do certain things, God will bless and prosper you; but if you don’t do them, life will be difficult and God will not love you. Don’t you see, even when David was driven from safety, he trusted that God still loved him; no matter what situation he found himself in, whether good or bad, he trusted that God’s covenantal love was still on him. As we saw last week in Psalm 22, that even in suffering God is with us. God has not and will not abandon us in difficult times. God is with his people even in difficult times. Better yet, God is especially with his people in difficult times. Even if we are experiencing difficulty, our finances aren’t quite what we imagine, people we love are sick and dying, or we don’t have the job we want, we can trust God. We can trust that God loves us no matter what our life circumstances are because of how he has loved us in Jesus. So don’t believe those false teachers who say that the only way you know God loves you is if your life is great and you never experience difficulty.

And trusting that God’s loving kindness was still on him caused David to worship. When David writes, “to dwell in the house of the Lord”, he is thinking about spending time in the tabernacle. The only reason to spend time in the tabernacle was to worship God. David is probably thinking of fellowship offerings. In the Mosaic Law, God prescribed several different sacrifices and offerings; one of them was a freewill offering. A freewill offering was a voluntary offering where someone would sacrifice an animal to celebrate and enjoy God. This was worship. Yes, things were difficult for David but he trusted that God would provide and that God’s loving kindness was on him. And thinking about those things caused David to worship. He wanted to spend his life in God’s presence, worshipping him.

We can get through difficult times by trusting that God will continue to provide. The God who provided for sin, will continue to provide for us. Even though sin and death still affect this earth, we can trust that God will be faithful to his promise to defeat sin and death. In Revelation 21, John writes that he saw a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” See, there will be a day when our enemies will be completely defeated. No matter what enemies we face in our lifetime – financial issues, health issues, relationship issues – they will be defeated. That includes our greatest enemies, sin and death. On that day when Christ returns, he will finally defeat sin and death and there will be a feast; a feast celebrating God’s victory and we will spend eternity celebrating with him. We will taste the finest wine, eat the best food, and be in the presence of our God and savior. We will experience God’s loving kindness in the most tangible way possible. We will see God face-to-face and experience his goodness and mercy as feast and worship him.

Towards the end of “The Horse and His Boy”, Shasta has almost made it to Narnia. He is again, alone as he walks the forest. And as he is walking, he hears faint breathing, the breathing of a rather large animal. He is terrified. He asks the creature who the creature is and the creature says that he has waited long to speak with Shasta. He tells the boy to tell of his sorrows. Shasta tells the story of his life, how he was adopted and mistreated; he tells of being chased by lions on his journey. Then the creature replied, “’I am the lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the house of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’” This lion, Aslan, has been leading Shasta his whole life; he had been providing for him even when he didn’t know it.

Trust that God, the God who defeated sin on the cross, provides. Maybe he doesn’t provide as we think he should provide; but he provides what he knows we need. That might mean that he might lead us through a difficult time, a dangerous valley, but he knows that is best for us. He knows that it is the best way, the only way for him to lead us to the place where we can find our rest in him. He won’t abandon us in any of it; his special grace is on those who trust in Christ. Trust him.

Trust that Christ’s death is enough for us. We don’t need to add anything; Christ is enough. He doesn’t call us to trust and then to do something so that we can be saved. God calls us to trust that Christ’s work on the cross is enough and we can live from that.

Trust that God will provide the victory banquet when he returns. Yes, we face sin in its many forms while on this earth. We will face financial difficulties, health issues, death, relationship problems, and many other hard times. But there will be a day when Christ returns and all of our enemies are defeated once and for all. And on that day, we will feast with the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and worship for all eternity.

Let us pray.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 23:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.