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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:Holiness and Help in Times of Trials
Text:Psalms 141:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 386 - Prayerful Desire
TH 51 - O Jehovah, Hear My Words
TH 630 - Eternal Father Strong to Save
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

What is our response to trials? All of us go through them. We are sick - our medication doesn’t work well or it causes bad side effects. Our loved ones are chronically sick and we have carer’s fatigue. Or we struggle financially. These examples only touch the surface. Life is full of trials. In 1 Peter 1, Peter remarked how his readers rejoiced despite having manifold trials. The Greek word for manifold means multicolored. As many colors as there are - there are just as many trials. Jesus said - “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But he didn’t stop there, he said- “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

In my short time with you, and speaking to some, I’m reminded we are the same. Trials are a given. But how we respond and go to Jesus matters. He has overcome the world. He helps us overcome them or patiently bear with them. But we can respond badly to trials. When Abraham was under pressure from Abimelech and Pharaoh about Sarah, he lied and said she was his sister. When Lot was asked to hand over the angels, he said - take my daughters! When Judas was rebuked by Jesus, he decided to betray him.

This evening, I want to speak about our commitment to Christ in times of trial. But not just any kind of trial. Severe trials involving opposition from people. These happen. From something as small and common like an unkind colleague to something less common and more severe like persecution. You read the chatter on the internet on Singapore and American politics, you observe the interaction between people who are odds with one another - the vitriol and sharp words, you also remember your own experiences in conflict situations - we need to know our commitment to Christ in times of trial.

But not any trial, but opposition of the most extreme kind. That is the context of our text in Psalm 141. How do we respond to these kinds of trials? And from the title - holiness and help in times of trial - we know that the two points are firstly, the holiness we must pursue in times of trial, and secondly, the help we cry for in times of trial.

Firstly, the holiness we pursue in times of trial. King David wrote this Psalm. And we know that he was going through a trial because of his language. Verse 1 - “Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.” David encountered many trials in his life. He was pursued by Saul and his men - who sought to kill him; he was ousted by Absalom his son, and his friend Ahithophel betrayed him. Times of great distress. David’s words show urgency and desperation - I cry, make haste, give ear.

And in his urgency, he sought God solemnly, seriously. Verse 2 - “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”  He didn’t turn firstly to his devices. He turned to God. He continued in worship. And that tells you what was most important to him. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. In other words, his problem did not consume him - it did not take first place. It is true that when we go through trials, it’s the only thing we can think of. It consumes us. We do not pray, we do not worship, we do not put God first, but our trials are our first priority. David was different - he prayed and worshiped.

And notice the description of his prayer -  he asked that his prayer ascend like incense, like raising of the hands as the evening sacrifice. Now, the Psalms are poetry. And it’s hard to ascertain for sure what the meaning is. Now, literally, it could’ve been during the evening sacrifice when he prayed at the temple. Or, he prayed during the evening sacrifice - but because of his trial, he couldn’t be in Jerusalem - he was banished - so his prayer was as the evening sacrifice. But these reasons are not satisfactory. It doesn’t say he prayed in the evening, nor does it say he prayed during the evening sacrifice. It says, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” What’s significant about the evening sacrifice? Through my study, it was often repeated that the evening sacrifice was more solemn than the morning one. As a practice in Israel, it was more solemn and public, and more attended than the morning sacrifice. Perhaps David was saying that this prayer of his was solemn and serious as the evening sacrifice. Could it be the meaning? That his prayer was urgent, sincere, solemn, serious? I think so. He was serious in seeking God during his trial.

But there are applications for us who go through great trials. It is a reminder to us that when we have opposition, we need to go to God. We must go to him. No opposition or person is so large that we need to focus on it exclusively - we worship God, not our trials. We don’t want to go to sleep without bringing the trial to God. And we see the example of the greater David. Jesus, in the last 6 months of his Great Galilean ministry, knew that many people rejected him, the Pharisees were causing others to doubt him. He was frequently alone with his disciples - who were a motley crew. And so, he was frequently by himself in solitude praying. And toward the evening days of his earthly ministry, he was alone. At the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, he prayed to God before he underwent his greatest trial. His prayer was serious - asking for help. He needed strength to go through his trial. And God sent an angel to strengthen him. In trials, we worship God - this is the holiness we must pursue.

But also in his prayer to God he asked God for help to be holy practically. In verses 3-6, he prayed for 3 things. Firstly, he prayed for holy speech. Verse 3 - “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” In trials, we can sin with our mouths. So David asked God guard his mouth, to guard the doors which are the lips. In such times of extreme opposition, we can sin easily with our lips - full of bitterness and venom. 

Secondly, he prayed for a holy heart. Verse 4 - “Incline not my heart to any evil thing.” The reason why he was concerned for his mouth was because of his heart. Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Those things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile man - like evil thoughts, murder, adultery, lies, theft, etc. We guard our heart with all diligence - like we guard prisoners, because our heart intentions will affect every other area of life.

Thirdly, he prayed for holy hands. Verse 4 - why he prayed he would not be drawn to evil is so he wouldn’t “practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: nor eat of their dainties.” Trials can lead us to sin. Anger can cause us to shed innocent blood. Anger can cause us to kill with our words. When Joseph’s brothers were threatened, they mocked him first then sold him into slavery. When Haman was insulted, he built gallows to destroy Mordecai. When Judas was rebuked, he went along with the Sanhedrin’s evil plan - that by wicked hands he had Christ crucified and slain. The dainties or desserts of that 30 pieces of silver, like forbidden fruit, was tasty to him.

Now, bear in mind, the context here for David is persecution and the temptation to take revenge. How would he react to the evil done against him? Would he take revenge? When we are hurt, rather than speaking directly with the person who has hurt us and admonishing and rebuking him - what are we prone to do? Gossiping. We will nurse our wounded hearts by plotting and speaking evil, gathering in groups to stir our emotions and dissatisfaction. And we act to destroy a person. Or we act to exclude ourselves when we’ve been hurt. It is too irresistible to us, like dessert - dainties. Parents, when we are upset with our children, it’s easy to bully them isn’t it? To yell and to speak hurtful words. Children, when we are upset with our parents, it’s easy to be silent and hardened in heart isn’t it? Or spouses, when we are frustrated and angry, we give ourselves permission to shout or make snide remark - we give into the flesh. But no, David was not willing to do this. Instead, he was willing to be corrected by the godly, verse 6. Their rebuke is kindness. Their correction is a good medicine. He would not refuse it. 

He pursued after holiness in times of trial by going to God in prayer and worship - that was his first priority; and he wanted to be holy practically - by guarding his lips, protecting his thoughts, and withdrawing his hands from doing evil. May the Lord help us to overcome sin.

But secondly, the help we cry for in times of trial. David not only prayed for holiness. He prayed for help, for deliverance. In verse 7 he described the severity of his trial - “Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.” David was describing a vicious massacre - like the Holocaust or the Killing Fields. If you’ve ever visited S21 prison in Cambodia, you see pictures of bones from the massacre in mass graves. Now, to sure, this is a description of the judgment that would come upon his enemies - but this is what they wanted to do to him. It’s like Haman, if you remember your Bible history. He built gallows to kill Mordecai, but it was eventually used on him. So it gives you a clue about how severe his trial was.

David’s enemies wished to massacre him. And there are examples during David’s time. In his life, when Saul chased him, the priests at Nob gave David refuge. So Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s servant, massacred all these priests. Over 80 of them died. And the way Doeg killed them was like a woodsman hacking at them like wood. This was the severity of the opposition he faced.

There are times our trials are overwhelming. No, I don’t think they are as bad as a massacre. Yes, I believe we should not exaggerate our trials. But I also know that when we go through them, because of our make up and circumstances, they may be very overwhelming. The words that people use against us, their plotting, their opposition can be bad. Because of these extreme trials, what did David pray for? He prayed for preservation. Verse 8, “But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.” I’m looking to you Lord! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let me be overcome. Don’t let me succumb to their devices.

He also prayed for protection. Verse 9 - “Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.” Saul tried to lay a trap for him many times. In fact, when Saul offered his daughter Michal’s hand to David in 1 Samuel 18:21, his intention was to destroy David. If you remember, he made David mutilate 100 Philistines as a dowry, hoping that David would get killed in the process. The verse reads - “And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.”

And he also prayed for justice. Verse 10 - “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.” David used very strong language. He prayed that his enemies themselves would be trapped in the trap they laid for him. Verse 6 - that their leaders are thrown off a cliff. And as much as they wanted to massacre him, that their bones would be scattered, verse 5.

Now, how do we apply this? Is this the justice we ought to be praying for? Dear friends, we know that when we go through great trial - especially at the hands of people - we are to pray for holiness - that while they may be sinful - we would not be. Yes, we pray for protection, we pray for deliverance, and we may even pray for vindication and justice for ourselves. But we do not take revenge - the Lord said - vengeance is mine.

But what about David? How could the one who prayed he wouldn’t sin with his mouth, pray for such extreme judgment? Ultimately, this Psalm, while written by David, was written by the Spirit of the Great David. When we look at this, we see the life of Jesus. Was Jesus not tried, did he not have enemies? Did they not try to lay traps for him? Luke 20:20 speaks of his enemies, watching him, sending forth spies, pretending to be friends of his, so that they may trap him at his words and deliver him to be destroyed. Jesus knew that. Which is why he was always careful with what he said. Guarding his lips. Remaining silent. When he was mocked, like a lamb, he uttered not a word. He bore the injustice in silence. Because he who was creator, who by his Words uttered the world into existence, could by his Word remove the lives of his enemies. 

You might ask, how could Christ, being God ever struggle with temptation? But as a man, he struggled and overcame. Hebrews 5:7 - “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Let us not ever think that Jesus didn’t need to pray for help to guard his lips, to guard his heart, to guard his actions. He even showed goodness to the one who would betray him. And he didn’t take revenge, but committed himself to God. As 1 Peter says, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” And as God, he judged righteously. Those enemies who repented were forgiven. But those who were hardened in heart, like Judas, the son of perdition, whom Jesus called a devil, received his just desserts. He hanged himself on a tree - just as he had planned for Christ to be hanged on the cross. His dead body dropped off a cliff and his body scattered in the field of blood. We leave the judgment of our enemies to God as Christ did.

No one ever faced fiercer opposition than Christ. The world was against him. The devil was against him. But he prayed with strong crying and tears. He prayed that he would not do his will but God’s will. We do not obey the words of this Psalm because we can - we can’t. Our enemies can be fierce. And we are weak. But because we are Christians, and Christ is in us, and we in him, let us find strength from him. He overcame. If we live not for ourselves, but live for him, his life and victory can be ours.

Sermon Outline:

1. The Holiness We Must Pursue in Times of Trial

A. He went through trial

B. He sought God seriously

C. He asked for specific practical help to be holy

2. The Help We Cry for in Times of Trial 

A. The severity of his trial

B. He prayed for preservation

C. He prayed for protection

D. He prayed for justice

Conversation for Change:

1. When your trials are severe, why might a Christ not go to God as urgently but focus on the immensity of the trial itself? How would you advise such a person that such an attitude is idolatry?
2. Is it right to pray for punitive justice against your enemies? How can we justly do this as New Testament saints? Or can we not in light of Jesus' teachings?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Mark Chen

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