Hi everyone I’m Josh Pollard. I’m the Adult Ministries Pastor here at Renovation Church. Happy New year!
Today we are continuing with our study of the Book of Psalms, which for some of us is really encouraging, and for others, it’s like trying to read Shakespeare while eating saltine crackers on a Monday morning… No thank you. Poetry? Yuk! Poetry that doesn’t even rhyme…double yuk!! Give me some Romans with a side of 1st Corinthians and I’ll be on my way with something useful.
But today’s Psalm is an excellent example of how Psalms can be a very practical guide for Christian life. In some ways, this Psalm is like a story, where we meet our author when they’re at the very lowest of lows. They cry out to God for help, praying with their hands reaching to God without quitting all night long, not able to sleep a bit, and hears nothing but their own doubts echoed back to them. This has happened to me in the past and it will happen to you sooner or later, maybe some of you are there now. So let’s take a look at what this person did when they were filled with Questions in Psalm 77.
You can find Psalm 77 in the [Ren App.> Bible Tab>weekly verses, or in a paper Bible you can find the Psalms smack in the middle of your Bible. Leave a comment!]
1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
What we see here is an example of how a Bible Study work. It is a bible study in action.
You can see the movement of this psalm like this. We’ve come upon someone who is in a deep anguish. We’re not told why. It doesn’t matter why because this psalm applies to all forms of anguish – physical, circumstantial, spiritual, perhaps their troubles are found in a very specific occasion, perhaps it is cause by something ongoing and persistent. In vs 1-6 we see them experiencing the height on their misery, crying out to God, remembering the good old days when God was so present, so visible. And that almost makes the misery feel worse! They Can’t Sleep! They don’t even know what to pray any more! Have you ever had that where you so at the end of your rope that you’re all prayed out of words? You want to talk with God but you don’t know what else to say so you just sit there at the table with God? Exhausted?
Then in verses 7-9 we see that the person has turned from asking for God’s help to questioning God’s character. Who is this God anyway? Is He is even real? Does He even care? The Questions that rise up in the heart of someone in anguish might seem like they are insulting God. But that depends on their aim. Are these questions arising in the heart of someone seeking truth about God’s Character, to understand better? Or are they attempts at manipulation? Or are they questioning the very foundations of what they believe – what we might call a crisis of faith? The difference is if, when we ask those questions, we go looking for their answers or not.
In Verses 10-12, we see just that, we see the author has moved from anguish, to questioning who God is in the midst of their unrelenting anguish, to now deciding that the antidote is to study the Bible. Remember that this psalm was written about 500 years after the time of Moses. The collected books of God’s activity that they would have when this was written were probably just the first five books of the Bible that we have, Genesis Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. So the “Years when the Most High stretched out his right hand” and the “miracles of Long Ago”, and “the Mighty deeds” that the author is talking about is all of the great deeds that happened in those books. Of course, now time has gone by and our record of God’s activity in the world, our Bibles, have grown to include this very Psalm! So we have plenty of Bible to study! Also, The primary activity of the Bible study shown here included nothing other than reading the Bible stories and meditating on it. He didn’t have a devotional or a book or a podcast or a commentary to take up any of the important time and energy spent on the actual stories in the Bible and the mental energy of meditating and praying on them. Those things may be helpful tools at times but they are often actually huge distraction from actually being in the word and in prayer.
In verses 13-14 we see the result of the Bible study that the author did. The stories were from “Long ago” which may make them seem irrelevant or disconnected - they are from hundreds or even thousands of years before and happened somewhere far away. But since our God’s Character does not change, those stories have the power to tell us about Who God is now! Even though the stories in verses 10-12 are from “long ago” as the author says, everything in this description of God in verses 13-14 is present tense. This is Who God is in the midst of our seemingly ever-present anguish. He is Holy, He is Great, He performs miracles, and His is glad to put his power on display. A Bible Study does not tell you more about the Bible, It tells you more about who God is.
Then in verses 15-20 the author gives us the Biblical reason behind His claims about God’s Character. He shares the story with everyone who reads this so that they know the same story - namely the crossing of the Red sea in Exodus 14, One of the highest points in the entire Old Testament. If you aren’t familiar with it, Go read at least Exodus 14 and maybe even Exodus 1-14 for the whole Exodus Story. It is foundational to so much of the Bible. It’s no wonder that the author of our Psalm landed in Exodus 14 to remember who God is. Who knows, you may find yourself landing there sometime soon to be reminded of the same thing. It’s a good thing we have Exodus 14.
Verses 19-20 are especially important. The author is reminded that God is a powerful and loving God, leading his people to toward His Promises even when evidence of Him cannot be found. In the beginning of the Psalm, the author goes on and on about how God is nowhere to be found, and now because of time spend studying the Bible we all remember that he was silent, and invisible when he was he was at his most protective.
That, you guys, is how studying the Bible Works. Life happens, you’re in anguish, you begin to question God’s Character so you go to the Bible to be reminded of who God is, and then you tell everyone what you found. It’s in the Bible alone that we find the promises of God. It’s in the Bible that we find a trustworthy description of His Character. Our personal experience is important but subjective and changing. Even though the stories of God in the Bible are from “long ago”, they still challenge our experience. They Correct our experience. They put our experience into perspective. They put our experiences into God’s Story. That’s what a Bible Study does.
Now, there are a few things about Christian life that this psalm teaches us.
First, even when you are a Christian, the Questions do not stop. Just because we love God, doesn’t mean that pain and depression and unwanted temptation no longer come. When we turn from a life of sin, to a life dedicated to honestly seeking God, we still experience tremendous difficulties, both physically and spiritually. Read the Bible for Ten minutes and you can’t help but see it everywhere in scripture. There will be times when you question everything, even the people that wrote the Bible did! And that’s ok because of my second point.
Questioning God does not affect God’s reality. God is not threatened by questions because He has answers to all of them. The only danger in asking questions about God is that you get to a difficult one and stop pursuing the answer! Some folks like to think that if you ask too many questions about God that you’ll expose something that proves it’s all just a fairytales and wishful thinking, and all the really smart intellectuals who ask all the questions and know all the answers don’t believe in God because they all know there no such thing as God but it is just not true. Even just last week I saw a Merry Christmas Broadcast from the International Space Station where one of the astronauts talked about how Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our savior! And another one of the Astronaut who flew up on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket brought his bible and communion up with him. His Church is doing virtual church services right now so He’s still able to go join his church’s service each week… In fact if you’re watching this live on Sunday morning, right now, Astronaut Victor Glover is probably worship our God right now, in a church service, from space. How cool is that! In fact, did you know that when NASA first had people orbit the moon on Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968, they did a radio broadcast from the moon’s orbit where they read the biggening of Genesis 1, And when People finally landed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, Buzz Aldrin did a reading from the Gospel of John from the moon! and took communion, on the moon! The first liquid ever poured out on the moon and the first food ever eaten on the moon, were the body and blood of Christ. If you think that intelligence and Christianity are mutually exclusive, well I know some folks at NASA who would disagree with that. Questioning God is a normal part of our fallen human experience. And when they are question that are honest and the goal of the questions is to get to the truth about God and who God is, then they are ok. God will be who God will be, even where not totally sure about it. When we press into our questions we will eventually get back to the God of the Bible every time.
So, the Questions don’t Stop, God’s not afraid of your questions, and our last point for today is that Someone has asked your Question Before. Which means that when you are in that spiritually dark place of asking, who is this God? Is he even real? Does he even care?... When your personal struggles cause you to question the character of God, you’ll look down and see foot prints all around you because many people, including the person that wrote this Psalm, have walked that very path and come out the other side.
A Good Bible Study may start with your anguish, your prayers, your questioning, but it will end with God’s Character, God’s Story, God’s truth.
Copyright: Josh Pollard
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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