Hope in the Midst of Problems
Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in Your law. Psalm 119:18
“A Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” — C. H. Spurgeon
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
INTRODUCTION: Someone once remarked, “Once we know that life is hard it is not so hard any more.” They were referring to the mistaken belief that many have that life was meant to be without struggles. If that is our belief, when troubles come we will be shocked. We may slip into self-pity, bitterness, depression, and eventually despair. But when we know that life is hard and that problems are not only an essential part of life, but specifically used for our good, we are encouraged to endure any suffering with a quiet trust and even a deep experience of joy.
However, some teachers within the Church claim that Christians are exempt from suffering. They teach that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have within our authority the power to claim a carefree, disease free, trouble free, prosperity. I for one cannot imagine how anyone could believe that, much less teach such false claims. First of all, no one lives that out. But more importantly, Jesus did not live that way. His way was one of pain, suffering and eventually a horrible death on a cross. If that is the way of the master, should it not also be the way of the disciple? (John 15:20)
Paul’s pain and suffering is another rebuttal to such teaching. His testimony reads like stuntman Evil Knievel’s hospital records:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches”. [2 Corinthians 11:23-28]
Jesus wanted no confusion on this issue: “In this world you will have trouble.” If He had stopped there, we would have reason to fear. But Jesus added, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). There is a purpose in the troubles we go through. When we “take heart” in the middle of our troubles, God’s will is accomplished in ways that perfect comfort could not produce. God’s determination to use our problems to bring about His purposes helps us to understand why God does not take us to heaven the moment we become His children. In Psalm 119:49-56, we will see how trusting in God’s promises in the midst of struggle births a hope that honors God and gives us joy.
49 Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me without restraint,
but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD,
and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
55 In the night I remember your name, O LORD,
and I will keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.
If all of life is deigned and intended to bring glory to God, then our problems also come to us to bring about that divine purpose in our lives. Psalm 50:15 is a classic passage that brings this into perspective for us. God invites us to, “call upon me in the day of trouble.” Then, in response to our cry, He promises, “I will deliver you.” The end result of that deliverance is this: “you will honor me.” There you have it. Problems come. They are designed so that we cannot handle them on our own. They are problems in that they threaten our joy. God says, “I will deliver you, and then, you will honor me with your faith, with your thanks and with your praise.” We get God’s help. He gets the honor. We get His grace. He gets the glory.
Verses 49-50: The psalmist has discovered that our hope is built upon God’s promises. Hope is present strength based upon past promises and future provision. It is not “hope so” wishful thinking, but solid hope built upon God’s character. When God says something we believe it. First Samuel 15:29 declares, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” When we see and hear a promise of God we can take it to the bank! No matter what situation we find ourselves in, God’s promise to be with us and sustain us and bring us to final reward, keep us strong. We may have to wait and take heart over an extended time, but we can be assured that “we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13-14).
But we also see that this confidence and deliverance does not happen without our aggressive and active faith. The psalmist is not a fatalist. He is a disciple. So, he prays to a personal God who waits for His child to cry out to Him. To experience the benefit of God’s promises the psalmist cries, “Remember your word to your servant.” He is not showing a lack of trust. No, he is showing trust. He has learned that it is prayer that moves the hand of God to fulfill what He has promised. “You will call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will honor me.” Prayer honors God by showing our faith in His promises.
Verses 51-52: Some of our most difficult times are when we are out of step with the times. We want to feel a part of our community. We want not only to be accepted, but also admired. It is not easy to stand against a popular policy or an accepted practice. It is especially hard when that value is cherished by the vast majority of our peers. That can lead to suffering great anger and persecution. There will be attempts to isolate and vilify us. Prophets have always suffered persecution. That is what the psalmist is enduring. His suffering is personal. His belief has made him an enemy. And, these enemies are fully committed. They relentlessly and without mercy heap their abuse upon him.
Not many of us are suffering from such direct abuse as that, but maybe we are indirectly. I am talking about the great “falling away” we are seeing in our present day culture. Every day on TV, in newspapers, in movies and music, our most cherished beliefs and convictions are being challenged and attacked by an increasingly pagan society. It is not a passive evolution but an intentional revolution designed to wipe out the unique and exclusive claims of Christianity. This can wear away at the most committed believer. Over time we begin to feel overwhelmed and maybe slip into a “what is the use” mentality.
Not the psalmist. He has weapons that can withstand the pressure. He calls it “the ancient laws.” Persecution and paganism are not new. God’s people have in every place, and at all times, faced a hostile and aggressive enemy. The forms and the strategies may be different, but the purpose and the hostility are the same. But there is something even more important, God’s laws have also been sufficient for all those times and all those places. In the midst of battle, the psalmist doesn’t need to run to the latest therapy or the newest drug. He goes back to the ancient laws that have their origin and power in the mind and purposes of God. Those Scriptures written in the past can train us for today. They worked for Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul. They will work now. They teach us that by our faith and through our endurance we will win and God will be honored no matter what we are going through.
Verse 53-55: One of the things that motivates the psalmist in his suffering is anger, or indignation. It is a righteous anger, an anger that has the glory of God in view, not his own suffering. It should help us to know that what we are suffering because of our confession is not ultimately directed at us, but at Him. The unbelieving world is not neutral but enemies of God. Its members know in their heart there is a God but they suppress that knowledge with wickedness (Romans 1:18-20). So, as hard as it is for us to grasp, persecution is directed not toward us but toward our God. So, our fight, our struggle, is not about us, but about Him.
What I am trying to point out is that there is something going on in our problems that is far greater than our personal comfort. God’s name is at stake. We are His children. That is a great blessing, but it also has very serious and significant implications. What happens to us has God’s name written all over it. Here is how Paul wrote it: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4-6). What God is doing in our lives is for His glory. The enemy knows this. He is committed to destroy that. God is committed to complete it. I can rest in knowing that He is more committed to glorifying His name in me than I am. Although I am surrounded by the darkest night, He will see me through. His name is at stake.
So, in the midst of the pain we can sing. No matter where we go his song rings with us. I am a Word man. I cringe at the commercialization of gospel music. I get a little uptight when the great doctrines of God are reduced to little ditties, sung over and over and over to a rock beat. (My age?) But I thank God for the great truths of Christ put to music that touch the deepest corners of my soul. Many times in the last few years, I have been moved to faith and hope by God glorifying, Christ honoring, faith building truth, put to music. We can sing His promises at any time, in any place or in any circumstance.
Verse 56: Bobby Knight was once asked what was the secret of a winning basketball team. “Was it the will to win?” he was asked. “No,” he replied, “It is the willingness to practice.” That is what the psalmist is saying here in the final verse. “I will keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts.” The secret to winning any battle is preparation. Training, gathering the weapons and planning the strategy must happen before we enter the great battle. That is the secret of the psalmist’s strength. He has made it a practice to obey the law of God. It has carried him in the past. It will carry him in the present. Jesus said it like this:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
It is in doing the Word and obeying His precepts when the sun is shining that prepares us for the time when the sun is hidden. Practicing His precepts and obeying His law will build our house upon a solid rock. No storm will be able to destroy our house. It is built strong, kept and preserved for God’s glory
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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