Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 4 Dealing with Distress

I’m sure you’ve heard the wee saying - Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me. But is it true? You see, we might teach this wee rhyme to children, to tell them to never worry about what someone says to them or about them, but is it true? So many people’s experience would suggest that long after a broken bone would have healed, the ongoing harm from words and names continues to be felt. So you find that twenty, thirty, fifty years later you still hear that voice telling you that you’re stupid, or useless, or whatever was said about you.

So how do you respond when someone attacks you with their words? Or when they bad mouth you to other people? Start spreading some rumours about them? Come up with some sharp-tongued words of your own? While it might seem satisfying, it’s probably not going to help in the long term. So what are we to do?

Well, someone once said of the Bible that ‘all human life is here.’ And in our Psalm (4) this morning, we find that David is facing that very circumstance. He’s facing opposition, he’s under attack from a verbal assault. Now, whether or not this is connected to Psalm 3, and Absalom’s rebellion - some people think it might be, but we’re not told for sure - we see how David responds to this opposition. So what does David do?

First, he calls out to God. We see this in verse 1. ‘Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.’

Notice that he goes to God first of all. You see, so often we’re likely to tell everyone else about our situations and our problems before we think to tell God. ‘Did you hear what they said about me?’ But David goes directly to God. And do you see how he describes God, as he calls out to God? ‘O my righteous God.’ God is ‘my God’ - there’s a personal relationship here; but also an awareness that God is righteous, just and holy.

So what does he want God to do for him? Well, there are three (or maybe four) requests in that first verse. ‘Answer me... give me relief from my distress... be merciful to me and hear my prayer.’ David asks God to help him - he says that he is in distress and needs relief. The situation has been getting to him, and so he needs the pressure relieved. But even as he asks for this relief, David knows that he can’t order God about; that he doesn’t deserve this help. Rather, he can only ask for mercy - when God doesn’t give us what we deserve. ‘Be merciful to me and hear my prayer.’

David calls out to God, first and foremost - the God who is righteous; the God who is merciful; the God who will answer by giving relief from distress. Do we (me included) need to train ourselves to be quicker to pray, because of who God is? Call out to God, first of all.

But then David turns, secondly, to confront his enemies. Here, we see what the problem was, and we get an idea of what was being said about David. ‘How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?’ (2) (Or, footnote, see lies).

By their words, they were trying to turn things upside down. They were turning David’s glory into shame - speaking evil of him, making him out to be what he wasn’t. And they were doing this by loving delusions and seeking lies. Donald Trump talks a lot about ‘fake news’ these days, but David’s opponents seem to be the first batch of fake news reporters.

But look at how David responds directly to them in verse 3. He’s saying that you might run after delusions and lies; you might seek after false gods; but here’s something you can depend on; here’s something that is certain; something you can know for sure: ‘Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him.’

Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself. Now, as we’ve already seen, David isn’t claiming to be godly because he’s good or perfect - he had to ask for mercy in verse 1. But God has (and will) set apart his own people for himself.

What David is saying here is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of him - it’s God’s opinion that really matters. So even if other people speak lies about him; even if others have all sorts of opinions about him; he doesn’t really care. It’s what God says about him that counts - and God says that he is godly, and that he is God’s. Therefore, the LORD will hear when he calls to him.

Are we too quick to listen to the opinions of others? To be labelled by people as this, that or the other - and to have that name stick? Listen to what God says about you. In that power and that name, you can confront your enemies.

Now as we come to the next section, there might be some confusion as to who David is speaking to. So far, he has called out to God; and confronted his enemies. But who is he speaking to now? Still his enemies? Or someone else?

It’s a bit like walking into a house, and you hear someone in the living room say ‘Hello, how are you?’ So you start to reply... and walk into the room to discover that they’re actually on the phone to someone else! So while it might be that David is still speaking to his enemies, telling them how to turn from their sin, it seems that he’s actually comforting his friends.

David’s friends are offended on his behalf. They’ve heard what his opponents are saying, and they’re now stepping in, getting angry, and could make things worse. So David comforts his friends in verse 4: ‘In your anger do not sin.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but I wonder how you can be angry but not sin. We’re so used to anger being sinful - anger at the person who cut us up on the road; angry over something that happened at work; just being constantly angry. So what does it mean to ‘in your anger do not sin’?

There is a type of anger that is righteous - where we get angry at injustice and oppression; angry at the way things are wrong with the world; even angry over someone being picked on unjustly. But we’re to be wise with it - ok, be angry, but don’t let it lead to sin. Paul picks up on this in Ephesians 4:26 as he's showing us what it's like to live out the new, saved self - our anger can provide a foothold to the devil - even our righteous anger, so that it can lead to sin. So be careful with your (righteous) anger!

Instead, David says, ‘when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD.’ You deal with your anger, and the LORD will right the wrong, not you. Just trust him.

Think back over the last week, and try to remember all the times you were angry. Then ask yourself - was this justified anger? And did it lead to good, or to sin? David comforts his friends, to trust the LORD.

David has been dealing with opponents, friends, and finally, the despairing. With everything that has been happening, with the verbal attacks on David’s name and character, some are seeing the glass half empty. They’re like Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Eeyore, you know the donkey? Everything is doom and gloom. So here’s what David’s friends are saying: ‘Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”’

Well, who can? If anyone can, it’s the Lord. Even if no one else can, the Lord can. So David prays to the Lord: ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.’ He’s taking up a line from the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6 - You know, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.’

He’s asking God to bless, to turn towards them, to shine upon them, even to smile upon them. And God answers the prayer. God gives David joy. ‘You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.’ (7). He thinks back to harvest time, to the joy that people feel when they have a good harvest of grain and grapes. But God has given him a greater joy. A lasting joy. Better than the joy of payday.

We get to the end of the Psalm, and it’s the end of the day for David. So how will he sleep? Just as Psalm 3 is a morning psalm, so this is taken as an evening psalm. We’ve already looked at his friends lying on their beds. Now David says that he’s going to get a good night’s sleep. Even with all that’s been said about him. Even with the comings and goings of all that’s happened. How will he sleep so well? Verse 8 - a great verse to remember and remind yourself of as your head hits the pillow tonight: ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.’ (8)

David will sleep in peace, not because of Nytol, but because of the LORD over all. The LORD almighty makes him dwell in safety. David calls to the Lord, confronts his enemies, comforts his friends, and has confidence in the Lord.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me? My version of that rhyme? Words and lies may cause my cries, but God will hear and keep me. That’s what Psalm 4 is all about. The God who has set us apart for himself; the God who hears us; the God who keeps us in safety. To know this God is to have peace in the midst of difficulties. If you do know God, are you experiencing this peace? Take some time with God this week, listening to his opinion of you, and find the peace that comes from him. And if you don’t know this peace, and don’t know this God, then I’d be delighted to introduce you to him.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 9th July 2017.

No comments:

Post a Comment