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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Learning to Lament 2: God Hears You
Text:Psalms 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2021-09-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 10

Text: Psalm 10

 

LEARNING TO LAMENT: God Hears You

  1. In Your Pain

  2. In Your Plea

  3. In Your Praise

 

  1. Psalm 4:1-3

  2. Psalm 10:1-4

  3. Psalm 74:1-3, 8, 10

  4. Hymn 13:1-5

  5. Psalm 10:5-7

 

Words to Listen For: chew, incense, flood, velcroed, house

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. How do “why questions” change over time?

  2. How should we speak to God in prayer?

  3. What is the 2-word response to the promises of God in this world?

  4. What did surfer Greg teach me about the Christian life?

  5. What changed for the psalmist at the end of Psalm 10?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

 

WHY?

 

Why do people all over this world go to bed hungry?

Why do parents have to bury their children?

Why do the rich get richer at the expense of the poor?

Why are good people afflicted with cancer, and bad people live prosperous comfortable lives well into old age?

 

“WHY” it has been said, is the most difficult question to answer.

 

The other questions, the questions of who, what, where, and when...these are questions with relatively easy answers.  You research these things, in an encyclopedia, or on Wikipedia, and you can find answers.

 

For these questions, you research, But for why questions?  For why questions, you struggle.

 

You struggle, either alone, or with someone else.  If you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone who asks you a “why question,” you know that these are the deepest conversations you can have.  Trying to tackle these “why questions,” and fix all the problems of the world around a bonfire, or over a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning...these are the most difficult conversations we have.  Conversations filled with thoughtful pauses, awkward silence, and a lot of deep sighs.

 

“Why questions” are hard, and should never be answered with a simple: “BECAUSE.”  Many why questions can’t be answered at all.

But even though there is a lack of answers, this doesn’t mean that the question is wrong.

We CAN ask “why questions.”

We SHOULD ask “why questions.”

 

Not JUST to ourselves in the dark of night - though being honest with yourself is important

Not JUST to our friends - though being vulnerable with those you feel safe around is important

 

But we CAN and we SHOULD ask these questions in prayer...because God hears our “why questions.”

 

As we continue to LEARN(ING) TO LAMENT: know that God Hears You

  1. In Your Pain

  2. In Your Plea

  3. In Your Praise

 

Whatever the cry of our heart is, God hears it.  Even the uncomfortable cries.  Even the seemingly unanswered cries.  We are to take them to God because He loves us, and His desire is to make His body whole.

When we cry out to Him in pain and confusion, He is not surprised to hear it, He’s not frustrated with us, He’s not tired of hearing our prayers, but rather, He is pleased with us for obeying His commandment.

 

For this is what we heard in our call to worship, didn’t we?

Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

Crying out is a difficult first step, but if we want the others to follow, this is where we have to start.

 

And we heard this last week as well.  KEEP PRAYING.  Keep praying like Asaph did.  Cry until you have no more tears left in you.  Cry out until you have no more words left in you.

It is tempting to keep the most difficult questions to ourselves, especially when we don’t think anyone hears.  Especially when we don’t think anyone cares.  Especially when we don’t think anyone can do anything about them.

And yet, this is a learned behaviour, isn’t it?  As a child, “why” was probably one of the most common words you said.

Why is the sky blue?

Why do I have to chew with my mouth closed?

Why can’t we get a dog?

Why do I have to go to bed when it’s still light outside?

But as you grew up, and the why questions became more difficult, they also became more difficult to ask.

 

Why don’t the other kids like me?

Why can’t I find a girlfriend?  Why can’t I find a boyfriend?

Why is life so hard?

 

The curiosity of a child has become the difficulty of a teenager.

And it just gets worse.  The questions get harder and harder, and we express them less and less...and some of us, not at all.

 

Why did I miscarry?

Why am I sad all the time?

Why...why can’t I feel God?  Why can’t I feel hope anymore?

 

And these are the questions that need to be expressed, far more than the curious questions of a child.  Because the curiosity, having become difficulty, now has turned into pain.  And deep down, we want to express it...but we’re scared.  We talk ourselves out of it.

Am I allowed to cry out...isn’t that just the same as complaining?

If I do cry out...who is going to listen to me?  Who is going to believe me?

And if they do listen to me...if they do believe me...what can they even do to help?

It’s cliché to say that the answer is GOD...but the answer is GOD.

 

We are allowed to cry out - in the way of lament.

God is the one who listens to you.

God is the one who believes you, because He knows your heart

And God is the one who can help.  He can ultimately help.

 

Asaph knew this.

The Psalmist in our text knew this.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

 

The first word out of his mouth is “why.”

And this is telling.

 

For you...when you have these deep and dark questions, these seemingly impossible questions of pain...who do you go to?

If you have the strength to share them, you ask your closest friends, don’t you?  You ask those you trust more than anything.

You trust them to listen.  You trust them to care.  You trust their wisdom.  And we must do this with our God too.

 

But there is a fine line that we must tread when we speak to our God in prayer.

He is always God, and we are never God.  We must not treat Him as though He is our equal.  We must never treat Him casually, but always respectfully and worshipfully.

And yet...at the same time, He is our Father.  He isn’t just some great and mighty sky being.  Even though He is worthy of us groveling before Him in the dirt and the dust, He lifts us up.  He gives us status.  He gives us a place in His heavenly throne-room.  He extends to us the scepter of grace and calls us His friends.

And so, when we pray, there’s a fine line to tread.  God isn’t our buddy, but He isn’t an angry, far off, impersonal deity either.

 

He is our covenant God, and we are His people.

And that is why the psalmist addresses Him as such.

Why, O LORD

Why, Yahweh?

It doesn’t seem like the psalmist is bringing a specific difficulty to the LORD, like a specific war, a specific persecution, but more of a general complaint.  More of an outpouring of his pain.

WHY HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN YOUR PEOPLE?

Why does the Psalmist think that God has forgotten? Well, because of what he sees:

In arrogance, the wicked hotly pursue the poor…

The wicked boasts of the desires of his soul… (he) curses and renounces the LORD…

He says in his heart, “God has forgotten.  He has hidden His face, He will never see it.”

This is how the psalmist describes the heart of the wicked man...but in it, we see his heart too.  We see his doubts.

“This must be what the wicked man is thinking...and is he right?  He can’t be right...but…”

It seems as though You have forgotten your people, God!

  • Aren’t we, the righteous ones, those who belong to you?  Are you not Yahweh, our covenant God?

  • Why then are the wicked blessed, and we are the ones who struggle?

  • Why do you let them continue in their wicked way?  Are you on their side then?

This is a deep why.  This is not a simple “what,” or an easy “where,” but this is a real question.  This is a real question and the Psalmist dares to ask it to God.  He dares to ask it to God because he knows that God hears.  He knows that his prayers are rising higher than just the ceiling.  The cries of the saints rise like incense before God, and the psalmist is holding onto this hope.

And hope, you see, is more than just a feeling.  Faith is more than just a feeling.

Your faith is truly tested in times of doubt.

Your hope shows what it is made of in your deepest pain.

 

For hope is easy, and even useless when things are going well for you.  Who hopes for what he already has?

But instead, hope is forged in the crucible of difficulty.  Hope is forged in the crucible of difficulty.  Hope gets stronger when we get weaker.

It seems impossible, it seems contradictory, but isn’t that always the way with God?

God teaches us in Romans 5 - we...glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame

We can glory, we can rejoice, we can stand firm and confident in our sufferings.

 

And why?  Because we have hope.

And where does this hope come from?  From our sufferings.

You see, the Christian life is a never-ending cycle of suffering and hope.  Hope is gained in suffering, and hope helps in suffering.  The Christian life is a never-ending cycle of suffering and hope.

 

I know.  I know that’s not what you want to hear.  I know it would be far nicer to say that the Christian life is a never-ending cycle of peace and joy...but that’s just not what we are promised on this earth.

There will be a day, when we are in our glorified bodies, when we will be before the face of God, with His countenance shining upon us forevermore...then our lives will be a cycle of peace and joy...but for now...for now it is suffering and hope.

And how does this work?

We see it in others, and we reproduce it in ourselves.  When we see a fellow believer who, even though suffering, glorifies God, this strengthens us.  This reminds us of the power of God.  This reminds us of the faithfulness of God.  It reassures the rest of us that there will never be a valley so deep that God will not get us through it.  It reminds us that our faith connects us to a God who is more real than our feelings, and that He will sustain us in our hour of need.

In our suffering, we can have hope.  In suffering, we can see the strength of our hope, for hope is like a bridge over a canyon. You never know how strong it is until you are forced to step out onto it.

 

In our pain, we can pray, and we know God hears our cries.

And this pain doesn’t have to be so nicely formulated as that of the psalmist.  If what you are feeling can’t be expressed in words, and you just go for a drive in the middle of the night, onto a back road, park your car, and scream until your throat is hoarse...since you are His child, God hears your pain.  He hears it, He considers it, and He affirms it.

God does not JUDGE you for your pain.  He knows, He knows better than most, better than ANYONE, really, about the pain that this sinful world has to offer.

The psalmist was in pain because of the wickedness of the world, and all he could do was cry.  Cry tears of pain, and cry out to God, explaining his pain.

And Jesus cried too.  He cried bitter tears at the death of Lazarus.  He cried because His friend had died.  He cried because Mary and Martha had been hurt.  He cried because of the faithlessness of the crowds, and He cried because of the evil that had invaded His world, bringing suffering and death with it.  But our Saviour did not cry helplessly.  But rather, He cried, and then He did something about it.

On that day, He rose Lazarus from the dead, scoring a victory against the domain of death.

And then, about a week later, He died on the cross, saving us from the wrath of God by taking it upon Himself.  And then He Himself rose from the dead, scoring the definitive and final victory over the domain of death.

And so our comfort is not just that our Saviour hears our pain, but He also answers our pleas.  Our second point.

We see a change in our psalm at verse 12.  There is a change from DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE to PRESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE.

The psalmist has been describing the situation.  He has been describing the wickedness that surrounds him and the pain experienced by the righteous.

But in verse 12, the psalmist calls out for God to act.

Arise, O LORD

O God, lift up your hand;

Forget not the afflicted.

This is a call to action.  We should not view it as the Psalmist DOUBTING God, or the Psalmist REBUKING God, but rather, the Psalmist is holding God to His promises.

And this is one of the amazing things that our God does for us - He lets us hold Him to His promises.

He doesn’t HAVE to do this.  But in giving promises, and telling His people to record them for all time, in preserving these promises for us, so that we can still read the promises that God gave to Adam and Eve, those promises that God gave to Noah, and to Moses...He is telling us that we should know these promises and expect that He will fulfill them.

But it’s even more than that.  It’s even stronger than that.  For God’s promises aren’t only written down.  They are signified for us.

Each time a rainbow appears in the sky, we are reminded of God’s promise to never flood the earth again.

Each time we see a baptism in our church, we are reminded of God’s promise of working through families.  God’s promises of covenant.  God’s promise of salvation.

Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of God’s promise of forgiveness through the death of Christ.

God’s promises must not be forgotten by us, for they are not forgotten by God.

 

The psalmist is asking God to act as God.  For God to do what He has promised.

You say that you are a God who is close to us - so do not act as though you were far off.

You say that you are a God who lifts up the afflicted - so do not let us sink down in the dirt.

 

And inevitably, the question will come up, If God is so faithful to keep His promises, why do we have to ask?  Doesn’t He know that He should keep them?

And He does know, but He likes to be asked.

In fact, it’s stronger than that, isn’t it?  It is part of our Christian life, of growing in hope in the midst of suffering, it is part of that to ask.

For if God were to simply give us each one of our needs before we even ask, if God were to simply give us each one of our wants before we ask...would we ever ask?  Would we even remember that it is God who is providing us with these blessings?  Or would we forget?  Would we think that we don’t need God, since every one of our needs is met?

Of course, our God gives us so many things without being asked.  In His grace and love, He gives.  And in His grace and love, He withholds for a time.

 

And to remind himself of this fact, the psalmist gives us the two-word response to the promises of the gospel in a fallen world.

These are the same two words that summarize the gospel itself.

These two words, say them with me in your minds: BUT GOD.

But you (in other translations, BUT GOD), But you DO see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands.  To you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

 

Just as God stepped in to this sinful world...we were dead in our sins, BUT GOD.  We were drowning in our iniquities, BUT GOD…

So too, the psalmist puts these words on his lips.

There is evil in this world, BUT GOD

I’m finding it hard to trust, BUT GOD

 

But God, you DO see.

But God, you DO hear.

But God, you DO act for your people.

 

 

Last summer, when I went surfing on the island, that time when I met surfer Greg (some of you may remember him), one thing that surfer Greg taught me was the importance of the leg rope.

There is a cord that is attached to the back of the surfboard, and velcroed around your leg.

At first, I thought this was just to make sure that we didn’t lose the expensive surfboards that we rented.  But it’s more than that, Greg told me.

When the wind comes up, and the waves start to grow, and it’s good weather for surfing, it can also be quite dangerous.  It’s not easy to ride the waves, especially when you are first learning how to surf, and the leg rope can actually save your life.  If you fall off your board, and are being crashed over by waves, it can be so easy to lose all sense of direction.  You can think you’re swimming to the surface, but you are actually swimming down deeper into the depths.  And so, when you are panicking under the water, you are supposed to reach out your hand, and grab the rope attached to your leg.  Pull on this rope, and drag yourself along it until you reach the surface.

 

I took note of that, tried to remember, and still ended up with a stomach full of ocean water, because I kept forgetting.  But I filed the lesson away for a sermon one day.  And today is that day.

Because this is the perfect metaphor for our Christian lives, isn’t it?

We feel as though we are surrounded by the wind and the waves.  They are crashing over us, and we are doing our best to just hold on.  When we fall (and that’s WHEN, not IF) when we fall, we begin to panic.  We don’t know which way is up.  And so we need something to lead us back to safety.  Back to stability.

And these are the promises of God.  Grab them, hold them tightly as though your life depended upon it...because in so many ways, it does.  Grab hold of the promises of God, and, one by one, use these promises to drag yourself back to the surface

  • I will never leave you or forsake you

  • Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

  • I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 

And you’re back at the surface again.  You can breathe.  You can catch your bearings, and you can praise God once more for His salvation.  Our third point.

Just as we saw a change in verse 12 from descriptive to prescriptive language, we see another drastic change in the language from verse 15 to verse 16.  We do not see any kind of segue or transition between verse 15 and 16, but simply: Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none // The LORD is king forever and ever

 

It is because of this that some commentators have suggested that there was a gap in time between verse 15 and 16.  The psalmist had called out for relief, he had called out in pain, he had pleaded with the LORD, and then, hours, days, or years later, God answered, and so then the psalmist concluded his psalm.

But there is no evidence of this, and, in fact, verse 17 and 18 act as evidence against this.

Though the praise is in the present tense, the salvation is there in the future tense.

You WILL strengthen their heart

You WILL incline your ear

And when these things happen, man who is of the earth MAY strike terror no more.

 

The psalmist is perfectly aware that, even if he was saved from a particular situation, this world is sinful, and that the wicked will seem to prosper until the very end.

 

So no.  It was not that the psalmist’s circumstances were changed in any particular way, but rather, the lament was doing its work.  The lament was transitioning the psalmist from pain to praise.

 

And did you notice...the “why’s” that he started with were never answered.

Just as Job was never answered in his questioning of God, but God simply appeared in splendour, and Job covered his mouth.  All the questions that he wanted answers to so badly, all the answers that he thought he could demand to hear from God’s mouth...they all faded away in the presence of the Almighty Himself. 

Here too, as the psalmist said what needed to be said, his perspective changed.  It was his perspective, not the circumstances.

Think about it like this...Your “why questions” that you ask, in your head, your why questions that you ask to your friends, or to God...if you got those questions answered...would they help?

Why am I being bullied?

What answer would actually satisfy you?

 

Because it will make you stronger?  Because children are cruel?  Because you need to be taught to depend on God more instead of the people you thought were your friends?

 

The answer could be any of these, or something completely different.  But we will not be satisfied with these answers.

And why? (smile)  Now, this is a “why” question that I can answer.

 

Because answers are not what ultimately give us peace.  Answers are not the thing that we truly need.

Answers might be useful, in certain situations, at certain times...but answers can’t save you.  Only God can do that.

 

Think about the human search for joy and contentment.

I’ll be joyful...when I graduate high school.

    And then you graduate, and there isn’t a miraculous feeling that washes over you.

I’ll be joyful...when I graduate university.

    But it’s not there either.

I’ll finally be content when I have a job...when I’m married, when I have children...when the children leave the house...when I’m retired…

This just doesn’t do it.  It’s chasing a legitimate dream in an illegitimate way.

 

There is true joy out there.  There is true contentment.  But it can’t be found in knowing all the answers.  It can’t be found in having all your ducks in a row.

But instead, it is found in God Himself.  We can have joy, we can have hope in the midst of our suffering because of who God is.

The LORD is king forever and ever.

The LORD will strengthen the heart of the afflicted.

The LORD will do justice to the fatherless and to the oppressed

 

And there is an element of this that hasn’t come yet.  We do not have joy in its fullness yet.  But our hope...our hope is never stronger.  Each and every suffering that we go through, our hope is strengthened.  We are strengthened through the suffering, and we are strengthened BY our Saviour.  

There will be times when it FEELS as though God has left us, and we will cry out with the psalmist, "Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" but we still have a firm hope, that this is merely a feeling - and it is not reality. 

We know this is true because our Saviour was not only the ultimate example of faith in suffering, not only the ultimate example of perseverance, but because of His own “why” on the cross.  For He called out WHY as well.

 

He cried out WHY, and was not answered. The Father DID stand far away, he did turn his face away.  When Jesus cried out WHY, His question did not reach the ear of His Father, because He had truly been forsaken.

He was on the cross, forsaken, so that we would never be.

His salvation was denied so that our salvation would be secured.

He cried out why...and we know the answer.

He was forsaken for us.  He was forsaken because it was the only way.

He was forsaken to change our sorrow into song, and our pain into praise.

Jesus Christ is the key to our lament.  He is the key to our life.

 

For life without Jesus is a hopeless end.  But life with Jesus...is endless hope.

AMEN.


 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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