FACING THE FEAR THAT GOD IS DONE WITH US — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 8th, 2013. The audio will be loaded later.
Context: Psalm 71 is a little different from other Psalms we have looked at because it is written by David in his old age and when he is facing trouble. Of course, David was no stranger to trouble, but now David is facing a fear he never had to face before – aging, weakness – and this brings up the possibility, in his mind, that God is done with him. He says, ”Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” This issue is not unique to David, but something that we all have dealt with – or will – in times of crisis or fear, when facing accusation or trouble, or in old age. How should we respond when we are confronted by these fears in hard times? David’s response is a model.
Vs.1-4 BE SPECIFIC AND BOLD IN ASKING FOR HELP.
David Makes Specific Requests: We are very often like the person who won’t tell you what they want for their birthday because they are embarrassed to want things. Then, when you get them something, they are underwhelmed because it wasn’t what they wanted or needed. We often pray this way. We might be specific about the needs of other people when we pray – but when it comes to our own fears and needs and desires, we become vague – as though we were embarrassed to ask God too specifically for anything.
David is quite specific. He is afraid of being put to shame by his enemies vs.1. He needs deliverance from cruel and evil men vs.2&4. He needs to know that God is the rock, and that he can always go to him – vs.3. He tells God specifically to “Give the command to save me” – vs.3 – to
“… turn your ear to me”, or listen to me – vs.2 – and to “Rescue me and Deliver me” – vs.2.
How often do we pray like this? And, of course, because our prayers are vague and undemanding, we often have no idea whether God answers prayer or hears us at all. How would we know when our prayers are vague?
David is Bold to Ask: Notice how many of David’s requests come across as commands. Again, is this the way we tend to pray? When we hear someone pray like David does here we are struck by their confidence and the power of their prayers.
David is bold in prayer – even while he is wrestling with doubts – and this is a good model of prayer for us. Do we realize that God has preserved this prayer – by this man who prayed boldly and unashamedly – as a model of prayer. Put another way, if you want to pray “Biblically”, you should pray with this kind of unashamed confidence about your needs and fears and doubts.
Vs.5-13 BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR FEARS.
David is Afraid that God is Done with Him: ”Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” Another way of saying this would be – Do not throw me away… Do not abandon me because I am old. This is, in fact what David’s enemies are saying – “My enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” David is in a terrifying situation. In the ancient world, people did not tend to wait around patiently for an older, weak king to die. Now, more than ever, David has become aware that his strength is not enough to keep him safe. As he has gotten older he has become aware of just how much he has depended on God – more than he knew when he was young. Old age has a way of opening our eyes to the heedlessness of our youth.
We All Face Abandonment Fears in Times of Crisis: These fears are not unique to David – or to old age – although old age is a time when we face our mortality and we know that we are not going to “get better”. Nevertheless, David’s crisis here is familiar. Many of us have faced the fear that perhaps God is done with us. These fears can confront us when we face a crisis, when we face illness, when we are spiritually dry and God seems distant, and certainly as we age and aren’t able to do many of the things we once could do. And these fears are a question and a doubt about the character of God and our faith. Do we believe that he is faithful? What does that mean in crisis?
It is Good to Articulate Our Fears: Perhaps we might think that articulating questions about the character of God and our fears is out of bounds – something that we should never do – because we believe and have faith. However, God doesn’t say to David, “Keep a stiff upper lip”. This Psalm is not dropped out of the book of Psalms as an embarrassing moment in David’s life that God doesn’t want to talk about and chooses not to remember. David pours his fears and doubts and questions out, not only here but in all of the Psalms that he wrote. God takes these questions about his character and makes them a worship song of Israel.
Why? Because God wants us to face these fears. He is neither unaware, nor uncomfortable with them. As long as these fears are unexpressed they are like our fear of the dark – what we can’t see and imagine (without the information our eyes give us when we turn on the light), is far more threatening. David articulates his fears – and having done so is able to address them.
Vs.14 – 24 TAKE YOURSELF IN HAND AND SPEAK HOPE.
Reject Despair: “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure”. This is where the Psalm turns a corner – as though David, after having expressed his fears out loud, has come to a decision. He is going to praise God and he is going to talk about God’s salvation. Now David is going to begin to rehearse what he knows and has experienced of God’s character.
Verse 15 is interesting – the meaning is ambivalent. David could either be saying (I don’t know how you are going to do this yet, but I believe you will deliver me) – or he could be saying – (I know that I have not yet seen the heights – the extent – of your salvation) – which would be prophetic, because the full extent of God’s salvation is Jesus, who took our trouble on himself. The point is that David makes a decision to believe – even while he is questioning and afraid, and to set his mind on the fact that God is better than he even knows.
Rehearse God’s History of Faithfulness in Your Life: “I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me , O God.” I think we can tend to do the opposite of what David does here. We start to think about all of the reasons we are useful to God – the things we are proud of – that become the things we try to put confidence in. David refuses to do this – although he does have a resume’. He rehearses “[God’s] righteousness… alone” – not his own. He says, in essence, you have been with me since I was a child. I can look back and see all the times you were faithful in my life – and now, in my old age, don’t stop doing what you have always done for me.
In fact, says David, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” David uses death imagery here. What is he saying? He is saying that he has faced trouble – and he is facing trouble – and that God’s love for him is so great that God will comfort him and increase his honor – even after he passes through the ultimate suffering – the grave.
Speak Hope to Yourself: vs.20-21 is an important statement about resurrection. What must it mean that God will increase our honor in the resurrection. We tend to think that glory means sitting on a seat and looking impressive – but this is never what it means in regard to God – it is always tied to action. David’s glory as a king was always tied to the things he did. It seems that David, now in his old age, is saying, not only that God will bring him up from the grave, but that God will increase his activity, his ability, his usefulness and the meaning of what he does. This is what makes David so joyful and full of praise – that he has life to look forward to that will be more than the life which he has lived up to this point. And of course, if we believe what the scriptures teach about resurrection – we cannot merely think of it as reanimated inactivity.
Choose to Trust: Vs.22-24 are not some easy, carefree denial of trouble. David is making a choice to believe in the goodness of God – that God has heard him. He is choosing to respond with praise, rather than despair.
Can you have this kind of faith? Maybe this is just something David can do – after all, David really seems to have a special relationship with God. But this kind of relationship – this confidence and trust – is exactly what God wants for us. This is the message of the Gospel: That because of Jesus Christ – his death on the cross for our sin – and his resurrection – which is the stamp of God’s approval – and the fact that he is now praying for us at the right hand of God – means that we are now in a greater position of favor than David was. This week, as we think on this Psalm, I want to encourage you to pray specifically and boldly with confidence that God will never abandon you.