Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sermon: Psalm 27 No Fear

I wonder if you’ve got achluophobia? See if you can work out what it’s a fear of: It’s a fear that some adults may have, but it’s probably more common among children - in fact, one of our nieces takes a wind-up torch to bed with her each night. You know what it is, now, don’t you? It’s a fear of the darkness.

We’re coming into the lighter evenings again, as the days become longer and the nights get shorter, but it’s easy to see what the problem might be - or rather, it’s because you can’t see, it’s what brings the fear. The darkness can seem mysterious, threatening, dangerous - even if it’s just the danger of walking into the furniture in a power cut, as you scramble for matches.

While Elizabeth’s remedy is to have her wind-up torch with her, David’s confidence in the face of danger comes from one more powerful, and ultimately brighter. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (1). It’s a bold declaration, isn’t it? Because of who the Lord is, and what he is for David, there is no one to fear. The Lord is light - illuminating the darkness; guiding him through trouble; revealing truth. The Lord is salvation - deliverance from enemies, rescue in the face of attack. The Lord is a stronghold - a place of refuge, security, safety.

That’s why David can make this bold statement. Enemies will stumble and fall (2); even if they come and build a siege and make war, yet I will be confident.

I wonder if you are so confident in the Lord’s provision and protection? When the difficulties come; when opposition strikes; when it seems like the whole world is at war against you - can you be confident?

Let’s see why David is so sure. In verse 4, he shares the desire of his heart. ‘One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after;’ And what is it? What is the one thing? ‘to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.’

David’s desire is to be at home with the Lord. To be close to the Lord, and getting to know the Lord better. You see, his one thing has a couple of bits: ‘to behold the beauty of the Lord’ - that is, to be lost in wonder, love, and praise at the sheer beauty and glory of the Lord; and also ‘to inquire in his temple’ - that is, to continue to get to know the Lord, to go deeper, searching out just who God is.

You see, to be at home with the Lord is to find safety and security - sanctuary. That’s why David uses all these word pictures strung together to make his point - to live in the house of the Lord; to inquire in his temple; hide me in his shelter; under the cover of his tent; high on a rock.

To find refuge in the Lord, to have him as our stronghold means to be safe and secure in him - it’s a bit like a child hiding behind the legs of her parents when they’re talking to a scary man!

This sense of security and safety naturally leads to shouts of joy in verse 6. Of singing and making melody to the Lord. Hallelujah, what a Saviour! When you know the danger you have been in; and the deliverance you have experienced, it’s a reason for praise. Your enemies have failed. You’ve triumphed through the Lord’s might. Answered prayer leads to praise.

Now wouldn’t that be the place to stop? It’s a great message - we have confidence in the Lord as we seek after the Lord. All our struggles will be over when we seek after the Lord. Wouldn’t that be brilliant to hear?

Except, you know that’s not always the case. There is no guarantee that things will get easier when you become a Christian. Oftentimes, things might just get harder - precisely because you’re a Christian. Jesus never said ‘in this world you’ll have an easy time as you coast along to heaven.’ Rather, he said ‘In this world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ It’s not that we’re saved from trouble, but rather, sometimes we’re saved through trouble.

That’s what we see from verse 7 on. You can hear the tone of voice change from confident assurance to a more urgent cry for help. ‘Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! Come, my heart says, seek his face! Your face Lord, do I seek.’ The language of seeking stays the same, but now it’s in the midst of trouble - he still faces adversaries (who are willing violence against him); they are false witnesses, waiting for him to fall. So David is crying out to God, seeking for God, so that he can walk in God’s way, on a level (or straight) path.

Now it seems that, in the face of these threats and the enemies lurking, watching for him to slip up, it appears that God has abandoned him. His enemies are visible, they’re easy to see - which drives his desire to seek the Lord’s face.

He cries to the Lord asking that he won’t hide his face from him; also that God won’t turn him away in anger; nor cast him off. Yet even here there is the mark of trust; the confidence continues even in his desperate search: ‘If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.’ (10)

The relationship with parents is such a close one (for most people) that their forsaking him is uncommon, unexpected. It would be a severe blow - one I pray none of us has endured. Yet even if that were to happen, or if it has happened, yet David shows that there is one who sticks closer, one who has pledged that he will never leave us or forsake us - the Lord himself.

As David continues to seek after the Lord, in the midst of his problems, we come to the last two verses, where he finishes off with another burst of confidence. ‘I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’ Isn’t this what faith looks like? Trusting that God will give us what he has promised - himself - his goodness. Trusting that God will show his goodness as he keeps us from slipping.

And yet, our timing is on a different schedule to God’s timing. We want it all now, if not yesterday. As life speeds up with microwave meals (although maybe they’re off the menu now), we want instant rescue. It’s why the last verse, full of confidence, nevertheless calls us to patience: ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!’

We want to be in the first half of the psalm, but David knows that we’re actually probably in the second half. Continue to seek after God; be confident that he will not forsake you; listen to him as he leads you on the level path; and wait for him as he works in his own time.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church at the Lent Midweek service on 27th February 2013.

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