My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. 4 You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, The years of long ago. 6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders: 7 Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? 8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? 10 Then I said, "It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed." 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were in anguish; The deeps also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; The skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea And Your paths in the mighty waters, And Your footprints may not be known. 20 You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Reading the Psalms as the New Testament Writers Did
We know from the way the New Testament writers used the Psalms that the Psalms were the book of praise and meditation for the early church. In other words, the early church did not say, "Well, Christ, the Messiah, has come now, so everything written of old is out of date and unhelpful." On the contrary, they saw Christ in the Psalms, and they saw their own experience in the struggles and triumphs of the psalmists.
So we should read the Psalms like they did. Christ didn't come to abolish them, but to fulfil them (see Matthew 5:17). So we should read them as fulfilled, not as abolished. They should be fuller and richer for us, but not nullified. For example, when the Psalms call us to meditate on the Word of God we don't say, "We don't need to do that, we have the living Christ and his Spirit." Rather we say, "We have a richer, fuller Word of God, including the Gospels and the epistles - the testimony of the apostles - as well as of Moses and the prophets." So our meditation becomes richer and deeper - at least it should.
Most of you know this intuitively because when you read the Psalms you see yourselves so often. The experience of the psalmist is your experience. And that is no accident. God put the Psalms in the Bible not only to call us to great heights of praise and worship, but also to comfort us in very dark seasons of discouragement and doubt. The strategy of fighting this kind of darkness is what I want us to look at this morning. Indeed it's the strategy of living the whole Christian life. It is the same strategy that we should use. Only we now have so much more truth and more history and more of God in Jesus Christ than the Old Testament saints did. But the design of the strategy is the same, even if our arsenal of truth is larger than theirs.
Christian Living Means Living on the Word of God
My main claim this morning is this: Christian living means living on the Word of God. We live on the Word of God. Day by day, the written Word of God in the Bible is the means of our relation to Christ. We fellowship with Christ by knowing him in the written Word. We talk to him on the basis of what we know of him from the written Word. We hear him speak to us through what he has shown us of his character and purpose in the written Word. Moment by moment, our vital union with Christ, experientially, is sustained and shaped and carried by the Word of God.
If you don't read the Word and memorize the Word and meditate on the Word daily and delight in the Word and savor it and have your mind and emotions shaped by the Word, you will be a weak Christian at best. You will be fragile and easily deceived and easily paralyzed by trouble and stuck in many mediocre ruts. But if you read the Word and memorize important parts of it and meditate on it and savor it and steep your mind in it, then you will be like a strong tree planted by streams of water that brings forth fruit. Your leaf won't wither in the drought and you will be productive in your life for Christ (see Psalm 1).
Christian living means living on the written Word of God, the Bible. In true Christian living, our relation to the Word is intentional, not haphazard. It's active not passive. We pursue it and don't just wait for it to happen. The Christian life is a joyful project that calls for energy and aim and resolve and determination. It is not coasting or drifting or something that just happens to you like the weather. The Word of God, soaked in prayer, is the substance (in the sense of "the material" or "the fuel") of that joyful project. Our delight is in the Word of the Lord, and on this Word we meditate day and night (see Psalm 1:3).
Let's see this way of life at work in Psalm 77 and then step back and do some planning for living this way in the Word in 2000.
Reading Soaked in Prayer
I said that the Word of God, soaked in prayer, is the substance of the joyful project of Christian living. One of the reasons I say "soaked in prayer," is that so much of the Word of God is prayer. Psalm 77 is prayer. If you are going to read it authentically, you read it as prayer. You pray it. I think this is the way all Scripture should be read. We read it in the presence of God. We read it as read before God and to God. We read it as praise to him or confessions to him or questions to him or pleas to him. God is always listening to his own Word in our mouths or in our minds and watching what we do with it. He cares what we do with it. So we should be aware that he is listening to our reading and should acknowledge to him that he is there and that we want him involved in the reading: helping us understand and helping us believe and receiving praise and thanks and petitions and complaints and cries and questions. The Word that we live on should always be prayer-soaked. It should be Godward reading.
A Strategy for Living
So here is Asaph in Psalm 77 praying and struggling with darkness and discouragement and with a sense of the distance of God. Verses 7-10 are the essence of the misery:
Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Then I said, "It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed."
Now there is a typical struggle in the Christian life. The feeling that God is not favorable. That his lovingkindness has ceased. That his promise is not reliable. That his compassion is rescinded. That he is a fickle God and has changed. I say that is typical struggle. Please hear me: I am calling you to the Word in 2000 not because I believe Christians rise above struggle by the Word, but precisely because we never rise above struggle in this world and because the Word is our only hope to survive and come through our struggles with faith and hope.
So now, what does the psalmist do in this critical time of darkness and discouragement? What is his strategy of life? How does he live his life of struggle? How should we? The answer is in verses 11-12. But before I read them, let's read verses 13-20 so that you can see the effect of this strategy.
Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were in anguish; The deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water; The skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea And Your paths in the mighty waters, And Your footprints may not be known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
What has happened between verses 7-10, when he was so low and uncertain and discouraged, and verses 13-20, which is worship and confidence? Worship has swallowed up his doubt, and boldness in God has swallowed up his fear. What happened? This is what we want to happen when we are in darkness and discouragement and doubt. What was the key?
Now let's read his strategy of life in verses 11-12: "I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds."
His strategy is remembering, meditating, and musing on the deeds and wonders of God in history. This is what I am calling for in 2000. This is the way to live the Christian life. This is what I mean by living on the Word of God. The deeds of God and his wonders of old are available to our minds one way: by the Word of God. We remember and we meditate and we muse one way: by the Word of God.
The central Biblical strategy for coming out of darkness and discouragement and doubt is a conscious effort of the mind. Notice these strong words of intentionality (even stronger in the Hebrew with the second verb in each pair a cohortative): "I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember" (verse 11); "I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse" (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. This is the fight of faith. This is the fight for delight. This is the opposite of passivity and resignation. This is a strategy of life.
All of us have said (or ought to have said) from time to time: "I know God in my head, but I don't feel him in my heart. My knowledge is not rescuing me the way it did the Psalmist." I don't want to minimize physical and traumatic obstacles, but I do want to raise this question - mainly for myself, but for you too: When we say that we know facts about God in our head, but they are not making their way down into our emotions and making any difference the way they seem to for the psalmist, what do we mean by "knowing facts about God"?
Do we mean what the psalmist does by "remembering" and "meditating" and "musing"? I wonder. Take an example. Suppose you are feeling unworthy and unacceptable to God and generally a failure and having little motivation to rise above the sense of despondency. Now, you have lots of knowledge in your head of Christ's great deeds of old. And if someone says to you, "But don't you know that you are justified by faith and God looks on you in Christ as you cast yourself on him for mercy?" you might say, "Yes, I know that in my head, but it isn't having any effect on my feelings."
But is that passive knowing about - or that awareness of - justification what the psalmist means by "remember, meditate, muse"? Could it be that he means something like this? I will call to mind that my Lord Jesus - the kindest, most loving, and utterly sinless man - on a day in history hung on a Roman cross of torture and execution in horrible pain next to a man who had lived a life of sin all his life and was on the brink of eternal dam nation. I will remember the sufferings of what he experienced that day and let them brew in my mind. I will remember that the thief next to him said, for some wonderful and inexplicable reason (for he was cursing at first), "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" (Luke 23:42). I will meditate on the grace of God that brought that change of heart. I will muse on how unlikely that was and how hopeless that request was. I will talk to myself about how this man had no time to become good and deserving before he died. I will think about what kind of grace he thought might be available from this dying Christ.
Then I will remember - I will consciously pursue the memory, I will call it up from my memory or I will track it down in the Gospel of Luke - that Jesus said to the thief, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). And I will pause here and muse on this answer a long time. I will not hurry off somewhere to say that such knowledge has no effect on my emotions. I will pause. I will linger and muse and meditate on this. This is a wonder. Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn't. Here is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance. "Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders" (Psalm 77:13).
How many of us have fought for the joy of faith like that when we complain that we know the facts of God but they hare not having any effect on our feelings?
Make a Plan for the New Year
I am pleading with you to make 2000 a year with a new strategy of living. It is a strategy laid out in Psalm 77:11-12 and many other places. It is a life on the Word of God. Reading the Word and Meditating on the Word and musing on the Word. And to that end, memorizing the Word (the Fighter Verse challenge).
So I call you to do something very specific this afternoon or this evening: plan a place, plan a time, and plan a way to read the Bible every day in 2000. This is the foundation of remembering and meditating and musing. If you don't make a plan, it will not happen. Notice those words of intentionality and purposefulness in verses 11-12, "I will remember . . . I will meditate . . . I will muse." If you will join the psalmist in this purposeful way of living, rather than just drifting and coasting into the new year, then mark off some time today to plan three things:
1. When will I fit the reading of God's Word into my day? What can I change to make it fit?
2. Where at home or work will I read and begin my meditations and prayers? Where can I make some quiet and solitude? If you want it you can make it.
3. How will I read my Bible this year? Will I read a chapter a day? Will I use the Discipleship Journal reading plan that Pastor John and so many others use? Will I use a thematic guide? Will I use a devotional help?
May the Lord help you to see that this is not marginal. This is not icing on the cake of Christian living. This is the appointed instrument of God by which he sustains and grows the faith and fruit of his children. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the witness of those who knew it best said it was their delight. Psalm 1:2, "His delight is in the Law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night." John 15:11, "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." Planning to meditate on these words is the path of joy. This is the fight for delight.