Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where Is God When I Need Him? (Sermon: Psalm 34)

It’s a tough question we’re looking at tonight as we begin our new series of Open House. Where is God when I need him? It seems to be a question for many people - a serious question, and a serious challenge. Type that phrase into Google (which might be an indicator of where we’re at), and you get almost 92 million results. It’s a popular question, and lots of people are trying to answer it.

The immediate problem is clear - I need God because of some particular situation in my life, but he seems absent, distant, uninterested. Perhaps you find yourself asking this question tonight - it might be because of some illness you’re battling, or long-term suffering, or some home situation, or you have a decision and need some help or guidance or intervention.

You pray, you search for God, but he appears to be absent. Where is God? Why does he not do something? Why does he not answer my prayers?

Where is God? The question brings us to the heart of the matter - what is God like? What can we expect or demand of God? Or, perhaps the more pressing issue - what do we think God is like?

In The Hobbit, the story before the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard is described in these words: ‘Gandalf thought of most things; and though he could not do everything, he could do a great deal for friends in a tight corner.’ Is this how we think of God as well? Can’t do everything, but should do a great deal for us when we’re in a tight corner?

Let’s look at the testimony of one person who has experienced God’s help and salvation when he needed it. We heard Psalm 34, one of the Psalms written by King David. He was in a tight spot, and God rescued him.

Why does David begin by praising God, and calling for others to praise God with him? ‘I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.’ (34:4) Later he says ‘This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.’ (34:6)

That’s all very well, you might say, but what about me? I’ve been crying to the Lord and he hasn’t answered me. What does David tell us about the Lord in this Psalm? First of all, we have particular comfort if we’re going through time of trouble or suffering: ‘The LORD is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.’ (34:18) ‘The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.’ (34:15)

What we’re seeing here is that, rather than God being absent or distant, God is near as we suffer, that God is watching - not in a nosy, or spiteful way - but watching with eyes of compassion, and quick to listen. You know the way a parent always hears when their baby cries out, no matter how deep a sleep they’re in? My wife’s sister was over last week, and she could hear baby Elizabeth crying in the next room even over the noise of the TV and us talking... But God doesn’t sleep, God isn’t distracted - he always watches and listens to us.

But what does it mean when it says ‘The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous’? It has nothing to do with us - as if you have to be ‘good’ for God to listen - you know, as if God’s help is a barter system - if I’ve done my good deed of the day, or if I’ve helped an old lady across the road, or if I’ve been to church or whatever... The righteous are those who are trusting in the Lord, or as verse 5 says ‘those who look to him’. In verse 22, we have the promise that ‘The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.’ The picture here is of trouble coming, like a huge shower of rain, and taking shelter in the Lord, trusting him for protection. But it’s not protection from suffering or trouble - it is protection forever - our future is secure and there is no condemnation.

So far we’ve seen the particular comfort the Lord provides, but David also invites us to praise God all the time, to get to know him all the time: ‘Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!’ (34:8) I love it when I’m going round the supermarket and there’s a free sample - recently it was mince pies in Marks and Spencers - and I’ll always try a wee bit (so long as I can). We’re being invited here to sample the Lord’s character, to experience who he is, and to trust in him.

Because the Lord is good, we can and should depend on him all the time, not just when things are rough. God is not just a rainy day God - just sitting waiting around until we think we need him. I recently read on a blog this exact attitude: ‘I had made him a God of weeping and tears. When life got hard and painful, I would go see him, take my problems and weep with him. When life got good, I would walk away and eventually pat myself on the back for all the good times I was experiencing.’

Do we do this with God? We demand him to be present and helping when we need him, but then when we don’t need him we’re not interested. Where is God when I need him? The very same place he is when we think we don’t need him!

But this might raise another question for you - if God is right there, near to the broken hearted, and I’m taking refuge in him, then why doesn’t he do something to show it? Why doesn’t he answer my prayers or intervene to change things when I cry to him?

Consider Paul. Paul was one of the first Christian leaders, a missionary who travelled vast distances telling people about Jesus. One of the leading Christians, and yet he suffered from what is described as a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ It was some particular ailment or illness or situation, which Paul found incredibly difficult, so he does what you or I would do, and prays to God to take it away. Here’s the answer the Lord gave: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9)

It’s not that the Lord didn’t answer Paul’s prayer - it’s just not the answer Paul expected. Could it be that when we pray to God that we have one desired outcome, like taking a shopping list to God, wanting ‘yes’ answers all the time?

CS Lewis once asked if God forsakes those who serve him best. ‘He who served him best of all said, near his tortured death, ‘My hast thou forsaken me?’ When God becomes man, that Man of all others, is least comforted by God, at his greatest need.’

As Jesus died on the cross, he knew the loneliness of separation from God. He suffers in our place, stands where we should have stood, and therefore is the one who sympathises with our weakness and suffering. Indeed, the Lord Jesus promises all who trust in him: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5).

Where is God when I need him? Closer than you think, if you will but cry out to him, and take refuge in him.

This sermon was preached at Open House at St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 15th November 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment