Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Continuing our “Stretch” series this morning.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perseverance
And are we, at least, in a good sections of our American culture, losing our ability to persevere through hard times?
I mean, one thing’s for certain, we are becoming much more of an ADD / impatient culture
For some of you, the most horrific thing you could imagine would be coming home on your evening commute while doing absolutely nothing.
I mean…no radio…no talking…no phone…no texting…just silence.
We’ve become obsessive multi-taskers
Some of you can’t brush your teeth without doing something else
Texting, walking around, picking out clothes for the day (maybe cuz you just ruined the ones you have on)
Our lack of patience with the internet is always a great example
Do you remember what it was like to log on to something like AOL in the early days?
Log on, get someone off the phone, Dial up, “welcome,” keyword…cris carter photo….slowly reveal itself
NOW, if page doesn’t load within one second, “What’s wrong with you!!”
And I fear that our slowly eroding ability to be patient, is going to have a negative effect on our relationship with God
Because it’s not just patience and attention spans that are fading…
Their very closely related cousin of perseverance is also fading
And maybe that’s because until at least the recession started, we’ve had it pretty good for quite some time.
Many of us haven’t even really had to persevere through a whole lot.
We didn’t live through the depression.
We didn’t live in Europe during WWII
We didn’t live in Africa during the diamond wars and the civil wars
And I’m not saying that I have any desire to live through something like that, but hardship intuitively teaches you perseverance.
And hardship in a culture intuitively teaches a whole culture how to be more perseverant.
It probably depends on your age a little bit, but if you ever had the chance to spend much time with people who lived through the depression…maybe your grandparents for some of you…those people had an ability like no other to weather storms
They had a “we’ll get through it attitude.” Why? Because God got them through it once, and He’ll do it again.
Yet, for way too many Americans, when the going gets tough…we just quit and try something else.
Marriage is too tough…just move on
Job is too hard…get a new one
Group, or a team, or a club that you’re in is too stressful, quit and find a new one
Which by the way has no resemblance the generation who lived through the depression… (anthropologists call them “The Greatest Generation) They are the generation that had a unbelievably low divorce rate, worked at the same company their whole life, and more.
And sure, there are great reasons to leave a job and some of those other things as well, but the sad reality is, we’re just not that perseverant
We don’t persevere
And this becomes a little scary when it comes to God
What happens when things get really rough in our lives and on top of that, we feel distant from God?
Will we just walk away? Will we just move on and trying something else?
I want to do something a little different this morning and study a passage in the Psalms. Psalm 77 to be exact.
Let’s look at the first few of verses. This is a psalm about a person who is going through some hardship in their life…which we all do and all will at some point in our lives.
(Psalm 77:1-9) – NIV
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 my soul refused to be comforted.
3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
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 mused and my spirit inquired:
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?"
All right, let’s stop for a moment.
This is obviously a very honest psalm.
Which is a great thing about the Bible. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
Cuz let’s be honest. Sometimes living for God is hard. Sometimes it feels like He’s not there or not speaking when we want him to.
And this Psalm writer comes right out and says that.
BUT, in the midst of his complaint, notice what He’s doing. Let’s go back to verse two for a moment:
(Psalm 77:2) – NIV
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
So, as he’s doing these other things he lists off (Crying out, contemplating life, keeping his eyes open as the night as the pain wears on), as he doing all these things, he keeps stretching out for God! Literally.
So this is a man sitting here in the dark nights, who literally just keeps reaching up his hands to God
Sometimes in churches, you see people raise their hands in worship
Although this is a fairly common thing in worldwide Christian worship (Africa, South America, you name it)
We don’t see it as often. We’re pretty reserved people, are we not?
We live in MN for goodness sakes.
Too many stoic Scandinavians.
But you see people doing this in worship sometimes because (and it was very common in Biblical times) because STRETCHING out to God symbolically means a lot of things. And I would like to explain with pictures if I can because I think this is a powerful thing to do in worship.
For one, it means to celebrate
(SHOW picture of “Crowdcheering”)
(SHOW picture of “concertcrowd_02”)
Sometimes putting your hands out in worship is a symbol of asking God to give you something in your life.
(Show picture of “begging”)
It’s a humble symbol of receiving or begging
Sometimes it’s a symbol of surrender
(Show picture of “surrender”)
And often, and this is what we’re focusing on today, it is just simply reaching up
(Show picture of “babyreachingup”)
For a child, this is the international symbol or reaching up for help. It’s a symbol for help, a symbol for I need you, a symbol for hold me.
So picture now this Psalm writer, who’s going through the pains of life like we all do, but he’s sitting in the dark of night, crying out to God, and he just keeps STRETCHING his hands up
He keeps REACHING UP His hands as if to say, “I’m in pain, but I will wait. I will keep seeking you here. I will wait for your timing. If will wait until you change my own heart if need be. I will wait. I will persevere with your strength.”
I don’t know if you ever watched the TV show Survivor before, but sometimes they’ll do challenges of endurance and perseverance.
Or maybe you’ve even seen something like this another reality show…as Survivor really is the Godfather of modern reality television
But sometimes they’ll do challenges where someone has to hold up their arms, and others put weights on
Or other times, they do a challenge where they just have to lift up their arm and touch something.
And in a challenge like that, it doesn’t have much to do with strength. It’s perseverance.
Some contestants will bow out at the 20 minute mark, and you’ll see others still battling it out at 13 hours.
Well, what’s the difference?
It’s perseverance. Can you stay focused…will you fight through the difficult times because you know it’s worth it in the end?
What type of contestant would you be? How long would you last? What’s your endurance level like? Your ability to persevere?
Because perseverance is the picture of the Psalm Writer. It’s him in his dark room, night after night with his hand raised up, “Saying, where are you? But just so you know, I’m not happy about it, but I will wait, I will wait, I will wait.”
And his arms reached up are a symbol of his intent to not give up, walk out, walk away, and go try to solve his pain with something else OR someONE else.
Because when we wait for God…when we wait for His timing, things happen the way they should.
Over and over in the Bible, the phrase “Wait for the Lord” is used.
(Psalm 27:14) – NIV
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 37:7 – NIV
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
The idea was sort of like a battle scenario from ancient times.
Imagine you were a leader of a company of soldiers in ancient days (yes you..Mulan)
Imagine you had 100 soldiers and you could see the enemy with 1,000
BUT, you knew a general was coming to reinforce you with 5,000 and was on his way.
But too often in life…and in our spiritual lives, even though we know the General (God) is coming and that His timing is perfect, we get nervous…we get antsy…we get scared.
So we do things like… “CHARGE!” And we take on a battle without God
Or we get too frustrated with life and we say, “RETREAT!” Even though the General was still on his way.
But there’s a reason that we must persevere in waiting. Persevere in reaching up to God…keep your prayer life going…keep connected to the church body…because when we keep seeking God…things happen. God moves.
I want to read to you what happens in Psalm 77.
Our writer has been reaching up to God all through the nights and asking God to move and speak again…and here’s what happens
(Psalm 77:10-15) – NIV
10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.
13 Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so 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.
And He goes on to describe more and more things that God has indeed done.
So at some point in the middle of the night, while he’s still holding on, hand stretched out to God, waiting on some sort of answer, all of a sudden it hits him…
“God is good. He’s been so good. In fact, He’s been incredible.”
But when we only are focusing on the moment, on what we’re dealing with RIGHT now, our ability to persevere and trust God through a situation, is incredibly low.
Think about this: What is it that gets you through really tough times?
It’s the past and the future.
It’s remembering what God did in the past and trusting in what He will do in the future.
What gets mothers through childbirth?
For those of you in school, what gets you through those incredible stressful weeks?
The future! Degree, job, a world without multiple choice tests and homework assignments that have no relevance.
And you know what often gets us through tough relational situations? Tough marriage situations? Tough situations at work? Tough situations with your family?
It’s remembering that time 5 years ago when you were at a rough spot in your marriage, but God brought you through.
And if He brought you through then, you better believe He can bring you through now.
It’s remembering that time maybe 10 years ago when you didn’t have a job…but you got one then. God provided then didn’t He?? Sure, you had to wait. Sure the timing wasn’t what you expected, but He came through.
But in order to see the past and future clearly, and thus persevere through your situations, we must first keep reaching up to God.
Because when you reach up to God, He eventually pulls you up, closer to Him.
And it’s like when a little child gets pulled up by their Father, the world looks differently from up there.
Maybe they just stubbed their toe or skinned their knee, but when they’re picked up by their father, things change
It feels safer, it feels like it might just hold together…and not to mention your perspective is different
When you reach up to God, it’s like God is pulls you up from the short-sightedness of your own situation and allows you from above to see the big picture. To see the birds-eye perspective of the past, present, and future
But when we don’t reach up, we don’t get there. We stay stuck blinded in the franticness our own here and now.
CONCLUSION / HOUSE GROUPS
This whole “Stretch” series is about us learning to get of the couch and start “Stretching out” towards God a little bit in our faith.
So let me ask you this morning…how can you reach up more for God?
Is it for the first time?
Maybe you’ve been kind of fighting most of your battles on your own, and you’re just starting to hear that there’s a God who wants to fight for you.
He loves you so much that He sent his very own Son to die for you and take your place.
And maybe reaching up for Him is just starting to spend some time in prayer. A little bit each day. Reaching up.
Or coming to church on a Sunday morning
OR, maybe it’s different for you. Maybe He’s challenging you to not put your hands down in life. To not give in so quickly. To trust in His timing.
To keep seeking his heart, his strength in battle.
OR, maybe you just need some people around you to help motivate you to keep reaching up towards God
In the Old Testament, the Israelites, who were led by Moses, escaped Pharaoh and his enslavement. While they were on the run and wandering in the desert, they were all of a sudden attacked by the Amalekites, and here’s what happens:
(Exodus 17:10-13) – NIV
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
And it’s really a neat passage about the power of reaching up for help in our lives.
But it’s also a powerful passage about the effect other people around us have on our ability to keep reaching up for God in our lives.
Without Aaron and Hur around him, Moses would have gave in, and his arms would have fell.
And if I can, I want to take my last few moments here to challenge you to put other people around you to help you reach up for God.
We value that SO much as a church, and that’s why we’ve been talking about House Groups so much around here.
If you’re new, House Groups are our unique version of small groups where we have 25 people in one house…something for you to start thinking about today…or maybe you’re even ready to make the leap today.
Basically what house groups are is this: each group will has 25 people in it of varied ages, and half the night is spent in large group (getting to know each other, fun activities, DVD teaching from here.), and the other half of the night is spent in small groups of 5-6 people
So really, it’s like having normal small groups that a church would have, but instead of having 4 separate small groups that meet at 4 diff. houses, we are putting 4 small groups together in the same house
And we do this because:
1) It’s less intimidating:
People don’t have to feel like they might be shunned if they don’t come back or if they want to try a different house
2) It really gives you a community of people looking out for you, helping you to reach up towards God
And listen, it’s hard enough to reach up towards God by ourselves. To be the type of people that keep praying and waiting when the difficult times come because they do.
And when they do, we need to be surrounded by people who are caring for us and supporting us, there helping to hold our hands up when we can’t hold them up any more, and that’s why we want to provide you with something like House Groups.
And honestly, this is why when we started sign-ups last week, we already had 75 people sign up in just one week.
It’s because people are being cared for and being spurred on together to help reach up towards God
So reach up for Him and trust Him to move in your life.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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