Sermon Follow Up - Week 15, 2021
Typically when we’re discouraged we go to the Psalms to encourage us and strengthen us. We love…Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd), Psalm 46 (the Lord is my refuge and strength), Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me). All these and more speak much about all the blessings, all the beauties of God, his steadfast love and his worthiness of praise and thanks. Interestingly, however, the most common kind of Psalm in this collection of Jewish worship is the Psalm of lament. And usually the Psalms of lament have a cheerful, happy portion to them. Struggling with difficulty, crying out to God, living in pain…but having the resolution of a remembrance of the faithfulness of God and the hope in his strength and salvation.
But Psalm 88 isn’t like that. There is no resolution to the soul of the Psalmist in the midst of his intense, prolonged suffering. It’s just simply a song of unrelieved suffering and pain. It begins with despair and trouble and it ends in complete darkness. In Psalm 88 the Psalmist doesn’t declare that God is faithful or good or near or Creator or Redeemer or Shepherd … the Psalmist exclaims that darkness is his closest friend…not God…just darkness. This Psalmist is perplexed, bewildered, confused. Full of sorrow. What are we to make of this? And how can we find hope amid this anguished cry?
The Sermon Text
“A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” (Psalm 88:0–18 ESV)
The Main Point of the Sermon
Even in the darkest moments of your life, there is always hope because of Jesus.
Sermon Points, Additional Scriptures, and Quotes
The Earnest, Anguished Cry of a Child of God
- "I cry out day and night before you.” (Psalms 88:1 ESV)
- “my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.” (Psalms 88:9 ESV)
- “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” (Psalms 88:13 ESV)
This reality of God being sovereign and Savior isn’t lost in the midst of his suffering. In fact, this reality informs the very reason that he’s crying out. He’s crying out to the one he knows is sovereign and the one who is his only hope and salvation. And for those who truly know God as sovereign King and Savior, through his word and the power of the Spirit, we can never ultimately or completely despair though our despair is real and deep and sometimes significantly brutal. Though he is perplexed about God and his ways he still knows he is sovereign and that he is Savior and as such no matter how deep his suffering is, which is really very deep, he isn’t in absolute or ultimate despair, having no hope at all, but he is crying out day and night. He’s fighting for faith.
- Are you familiar with this? Suffering that endures for years with no end in sight? Are you acquainted with a continuous, faithful cry out to God without a seeming response from Him?
- How does the nature and character of God inform your prayers amid your current suffering?
The Significant Crisis of a Child of God
- “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.” (Psalms 88:3–9 ESV)
- He [Heman] is angry. He is essentially cross-examining God, saying, “I want to praise you. I want to declare your love and faithfulness to others.” There is no “I’m sure you will bring good out of this, God.” Finally at the end, Heman is virtually saying, “You've never really been there for me” (Tim Keller).
- Looking back, this man can remember nothing but ill health and ill fortune; looking Godward he is terrified; looking for a human comfort he can see no-one at all (Derek Kidner).
When we are dealing with trouble our minds are filled with questions. And a heart that is filled with questions is a heart that is tempted to doubt. We cry out questions like, “Why are you allowing this? I don’t understand! Why don’t you save my child? Why don’t you heal my son? Why don’t you save my husband? I’ve cried out for weeks, months, years. Why aren’t you inclined to do this?! Why? Why does this illness continue? Why is there no relief? What is the purpose? We’ve been crying out to have a child for years. Why won’t you give us a child?!
- Everyone has a “why.” What’s your why?
How is it that God intends Psalm 88 to be helpful to us?
1) This Psalm serve us when we find ourselves in a similar condition.
It informs us and reminds us that some forms of suffering goes unrelieved in this life. It affirms that experience of unrelieved suffering for the Christian. It tells us that a genuine Christian can experience this. And not just a genuine Christian but a mature Christian.
It is possible in this life to pray and pray and endure and things not really get any better. Things don’t have to quickly work themselves out, nor does it always become clear why this or that happened
If you are experiencing prolonged suffering, a sense of God’s silence and indifference and darkness all around you this Psalm tells you that it’s not a foolproof indicator that you have incurred the disapproval of God and it reminds you that are not alone.
2) This Psalm helps us care for others who find themselves in this condition.
Understanding this Psalm will simply help you care for someone in this condition. To empathize with them. To mourn with them. To have patience with them. To mourn with them before you exhort them. The reality is that suffering happens. It’s all around us, isn’t it? And suffering people need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do. Nor should we do that to ourselves, if we are grieving.
- I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did. Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go. – Joseph Bayly
This specific Psalm teaches us, pleads with us to have mercy on those who doubt and to unhurriedly care for one another in the darkness by listening and empathizing amid the darkness. The Lord doesn’t seem to be in a hurry during some of these experiences of darkness, does he? Why are we in such a hurry? May we trust him as we walk with one another the long, worn paths of the difficulties and dark experiences of this life.
3) This Psalm teaches us the nature of genuine faith.
True faith clings to God even when God appears to be silent. And when his activity is hidden in darkness.
- The faith of this Psalm…helps its singers to see that faith can be real even when it cannot arrive at strong hope after prayer (ESV Study Bible).
- If there is hardly a spark of hope in the Psalm itself, however, the title supplies it, for this supposedly Godforsaken author seems to have been one of the pioneers of the singing guilds set up by David, to which we owe the Korahite psalms (42-49), one of the richest veins in the Psalter. Burdened and despondent as he was, his existence was far from pointless. If it was a living death, in God’s hands it was to bear much fruit (Derek Kidner).
When you’re suffering, don’t stay away from this Psalm. Rather, sing it. Meditate on it. Recognize the grace that is there in it. Though God seems silent he is indeed present and he is doing a deeper work in the pit you face than you will ever understand. Your faith will be strengthened in the dark pit. God is at work in the worst of times.
- He is at work doing a thousand things no one can see but him (John Piper).
- Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face (William Cowper).
4) This Psalm teaches us where we find our ultimate assurance amid our darkness.
The Psalm ends in darkness, but the Bible doesn’t end in darkness.
It was Jesus who truly experienced the ultimate darkness – the rejection that we deserved – so that we can know that the Lord will indeed never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Because he was truly abandoned by God, we only seem to be or feel to be abandoned by him. But in reality we aren’t, despite our failures. He went into suffering for us. He didn’t abandon us despite all his own suffering and he certainly won’t abandon you now in the midst of yours.
- It is true that Christ himself came down [into darkness] in this way, and was lifted out again. But here he is concerned to reach back, through his word and through the servants who know his word, to the soul that is stuck in the depths. “This can happen to a believer,” he says. “It does not mean you are lost. This can happen to someone who does not deserve it [after all, it happened to me!]. It doesn’t mean you have strayed. It can happen at any time, as long as this world lasts; only in the next will such things be done away. And it can happen without your knowing why. There are answers, there is a purpose, and one day you will know” (Michael Wilcock).
Take time to write out some answers in your journal/notebook
How might you grow to know Jesus more amid your suffering? Or in preparation for the day of suffering? He is the one who knows your pain and sorrow, your fears and struggles? The one who took on the deepest of darkness’s, the darkness of condemnation. He did so, undeservedly, in your place so that if you believe in him, not only would you pray for relief in this life, but you would do so with both eyes fixed on the certainty of the relief and joy in the life to come – in fact, the very life for which we exist and long for. Friends, each of us have days of struggle, perhaps weeks, months, or years of struggle. The fight of faith through the days of this life no matter how joyful or sorrowful will be worth it all on that day when we see His face.
How might we grow to become more and more a family where struggling in this life is met with understanding and grace, patience and gentleness? We’re in this together. We are all fellow strugglers, sometimes significant doubters of the very foundations of our faith…but we want to grow to continue looking to Christ together amid the darkness and the silence, never ceasing to trust and pray. Knowing that in the darkest moments of our lives, Jesus is right there with us, sitting with us, holding our hands, crying with us. And reminding us that sorrow may last for the night, but joy will come in the morning. What might it look like for you, personally, to grow in this manner?
RESOURCES FOR THIS WEEK
Consider Reading the Section Entitled...
Life in Christ - Waiting for Christ
SONGS TO CONSIDER
Song - "God Moves"
Song - "Thank You Jesus for the Blood"