Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 5

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
I want to look with you briefly at Psalm 116, and I want to help you and remind me of six reasons you and I are to love God.

Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 5

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove, we are training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It is our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His word, building Godly relationships, and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.

I keep random quotes I collect in the front of my Bibles and books. And one of them that always rolls around in my brain, I think it’s attributed to Luther but I’m not sure, is that “you don’t have to get better to be well.” No matter what the struggles and trials we’re facing. I talked to one dear woman this morning at breakfast who, her job 24-7 now is caring for her mother who’s got Alzheimer’s. I thought, “Oh, my lands.” Five years. Five years; 24-7 job. And her sisters and friends made a way so she could come here and get a little break. What a gift!
You know, we don’t know what’s in store for us. We just don’t know what’s in store for us. And the trials and tribulations of life are no fun to talk about in a culture that worships youth and that worships health and virility and Viagra and all those kinds of things. And that’s just the way it is. Now we’ve got this new testosterone treatment; we all need to have testosterone shots. We’re getting dim; the eyes going dim. So I don’t want to just hang onto youth and try and be something I’m not. I want to live faithfully with where I am today, and you do too, so it’s been a privilege to be with you.
I want to look with you briefly at Psalm 116. It’s a long Psalm. We’re going to do a high-level view of it. And I want to help you and remind me of six reasons you and I are to love God. Six reasons; there’s more, I’ve just picked out six. But as you think about it, as we start looking at it, we love a lot of things in life. Some of us love chocolate. Some of you, it seems to me you either love sweets or you love salts. How many of you are the salts: give me the chips, yeah; give me a bag of chips, give me nuts, give me the salt shaker? Do you salt your food before you eat it? Godly people salt their food before they taste it. You just do, because you need salt, because we’re the salt of the earth, and it’s biblical to put salt in your food. And I tell my children, “I have a sodium deficiency. Leave me alone.” And so I put salt on my food. I love salt. You can have all the sweets and caramels and candies and cookies and chocolate; you give me a bag of chips and hot sauce and jalapeños, I’m the happiest guy on the planet. I love salty stuff and I’ll pass up sweets all the time.
Do we have dog lovers? Cat lovers? There’s no place for you in heaven. Do you know that cats were once worshiped as gods in Egypt? And they’ve never forgotten this. Do we have anybody that loves dogs and cats? Now, you need therapy. You need therapy. Some people love hamburgers. We have a thing in our family about the best hamburgers, and we’re Five Guys kind of people. Yeah, Five Guys. If you haven’t been to Five Guys, you’ve not had a hamburger. In and Out, no way, Five Guys is far better. So people have different opinions about these. Garrett’s popcorn, in Chicago. You walk off the train, you smell Garrett’s popcorn. Certain things: the Cubs or the Sox. Who are the Sox, right? They win, but who are the Sox? Nobody cares.
We have things we love and we have reasons and rationales about why we love them. Feelings are unreliable things, aren’t they? We know that intellectually. We think logically. But they still drive us enormously as we make decisions on what we like and love in life.
I read a prayer one time. Do you use these little books, Prayers to God? I read a prayer one time that says, “Dear God, I hate you. Love, Marilyn.” What a great prayer! Which one of us has not, at some time, now we don’t say “I hate you, God,” but when we’re shaking our fist at life and circumstances, we’re shaking our fist at God, aren’t we? So I don’t know about you, but I need a constant recalibration, constant reframing, constant reminding of why, how, what, it means to love God.
Psalm 116 has lots of them; we’ll look at six reasons. Number one, I love God because He hears me. Psalm 116: “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my supplications; because he has inclined his ear to me. Therefore I shall call upon him as long as I live.” The Psalms are the Hebrew songbook, 150 songs. They cover the gamut of every emotion you can ever define: love, anger, fear, passion, imprecation, which means “kill my enemy, destroy my enemy, God,” a cry for desperation, lament, despair, joy, thanksgiving, celebration, going into the throne of David, going into the Kingdom, the Messianic Psalms. The Psalms cover the gamut of every human emotion. This is one reason I love them so much, is the depth of the Hebrew passion with which David in the main, Moses, and others, Asaph, wrote these songs; this songbook. And when they begin, each one of them, you need to pay attention to the structure. Most of our Bibles do a pretty good job of laying out the Psalms. Some do a really nice job of showing you some of the structures.
The most important tip in reading Psalms is watching for parallelism. And so if you look at your Bible at 116, it’s very easy to see: “I love the Lord, because he hears my voice and supplication, because he inclined his ear to me.” So the first parallel is he hears: you see the word “hear,” and then you see “inclined his ear.” Now you can’t see it unless you’re looking at your Bible. If you’re looking at me, you can’t see it. “I love the Lord because he hears,” and the next row, “because he’s inclined his ear.” So that’s a parallelism.
“He hears my voice and my supplication.” The voice is then parallel to a call: voice and call. I won’t go into these too detailed, because you’ll fall asleep. But parallelisms are repetitions and the Psalm will flip these devices, and they become known as chiastic devices and bracket devices. Because the Hebrew heart and mind did not memorize through cadence and lyric and memory and sound and rhythm; the Hebrew mind heard structure. So repetition and parallels and bracketing was the way the Hebrew brain glommed onto things. And the Psalms are chock full of these mechanisms to help the learner grasp some of these.
“I love the Lord because he hears me.” Now, when you think of your prayer relationship with him, when I read Psalm 116:1-2 – and I often sign cards with this reference at the bottom – if I stop there, and years ago when I was studying this in my Bible I wrote in the margin, “This is the one. If for no other reason I love God, I should love God because he hears my prayer.”
I said some time ago, over the last couple of days, if he never did one more thing for me, would I still be thankful? Would you love him if he never did one more thing for you? And the Psalmist says, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my supplications.” When I utter a prayer, when you pray, no matter how feeble or frail or imperfect your prayers may be, he hears you, the God of the universe who created everything we can see and not see. I was talking with someone the other day about some of the stuff the Hubble has revealed. I’m into that. I like looking at the high resolution pictures. There’s applications, if you have an iPhone, or you can go online on your computer and see these high-res pictures of the Hubble’s discoveries. It blows your mind! And evidently there’s an iMax production of this. And when you look at this stuff, you go, “God, it’s just unbelievable what he can do!” Yet he loves me. He hears my little prayer, when he’s sustaining the entire universe by the power of his will.
Sometimes we view prayer as spiritual puppeteering. If I pray enough, God will do some things for me. And this is where I think we’re off kilter on prayer. And the Psalmist begins clarifying: I’ll pray just because he hears me. Now, hearing is more than listening. “Hear” is an expectation of the part of the person petitioning that we presume the person is going to do something more than just listen.
For example, Cindy and I have been married for 30 years. We have a dialog, as a husband and wife, very often. Floyd, when he would talk about him and Deborah arguing, goes, “Deborah and I had words last night.” That meant they argued. “Deborah and I had words.” So Cindy and I have dialogs. That usually means I’m in trouble, so she talks to me. And we learned this thing, I don’t know, 15 years into marriage. It took us awhile. And I will say to her today, “Do you want me to just listen to you or do you want me to make some comment along the way?” I don’t mean that condescendingly; I just want to know what, you know, it’s the 50 Rules of a Woman, and, “I can change any of the rules at any time that I want,” that’s Rule 50. So it’s like, “Okay, do you just want me to listen, or do I get to comment?” And sometimes I’ll say, “Do you want a suggestion?” And we have a good enough relationship, 30 years of marriage, to be able to, she’ll say, “No, I don’t want any suggestions.” Now, I have to confess, I’m a big, fat sinner. At that point, I don’t listen very well. I just kind of nod appropriately. And I’m pretty smart; I can say back some things that she said that makes her think I’m really paying attention. I’m a big sinner and so I can play it, right? Am I really listening to her? No.
Phases of life, you know. When your children are little you’re obsessed with things. As they get older and they become adults, you never stop parenting. No one told me this. No one told me this; when they leave, they never leave. My dad used to say, “I see you less and you cost me more.” It’s just, you never stop parenting. My mother’s 83 and she’s more worried about me than her own health. Mom, I’m a grown man; I can take care… A friend of mine was telling me a story of a New York physician friend of his who’s a bazillionaire. He’s one of the leading neurologists and he’s designed some exotic techniques and he’s very successful. And he bought him a brand new Jaguar, one of these $75,000 Jags. And he picks her up to take her up to take her out for Mothers Day last year – a 95-year-old woman living in New York in a little apartment – and she says, “You can’t afford this car! What are you doing buying this car?” Just giving him the business. He’s taking her to Mother’s Day brunch! He says, “Ma, I can afford the car.” “You don’t have any business buying this car.” You never stop being a parent.
In light of that, I want to ask myself, how well do I listen to my children? I’ve got three girls. I promise you, they could relive a day shorter than they can tell me about their day. That’s true. You guys that have got daughters, you know. They could relive the day faster than we could talk about it. And Jessie is one of these, if the story took 60 seconds, it takes 18 minutes to talk about the 60-second story. We have some stories legendary in our family that Jessie has continued to elaborate over the years, where she and some friends were pulled over by the police because the kid had a cell phone out the window and someone thought they were waving a gun. So according to Jessie, it’s now “Eleven cop cars pulled us over.” Eleven cops. And Hanna and I go, “Was it 11 or 12 cop cars?” And she goes, “No, it’s true! There were 11 cop cars.” So we have great fun at her expense. Even though she’s 21 now, we love to razz her. And I have to listen to these stories again and again and again and again and again. And when I get a little impatient or irritated or “why do we have to talk about this same problem with this one child over and over and over again,” that little voice in the back of my head says, “The Lord hears my voice and my supplications” every time I call on him. And I love Him because he hears me.
There’s something intrinsic in the heart of every man and woman, that they want to be heard. Not just listened to, not just appropriately nodded, “Hmm, okay honey, I understand, you’re frustrated about so-and-so. I understand this.” That’s not listening and hearing. That’s just being clever and saying something back.
The Word says, “inclined.” In the Hebrew, it has the idea of reaching out or stretching out. Now some of you may remember, there was a preacher, Manley Beasley – does that name ring a bell you to you? A Baptist Texas preacher. Manley had this expression; he would say, “Do you hear what I’m sayin’?” I think Stanley does that sometimes too, but Manley did it 20 years ago. “Ya hear what I’m sayin’?” And he’d have another “Ya hear what I’m sayin’?” And I always think of that picture, when I pray, that the God of the universe is beckoning, “Ya hear what I’m saying?” because he loves you.
Why do we pray to the God of the universe with worn-out clichés and repetitions and meaningless nonsense? Every time we say the same dumb things. If you had a chance to meet President Obama this afternoon, and you had a while to think about asking him one question, anything you wanted, what would you ask him? I suspect you’d think about that for awhile. If you got a chance to meet your favorite movie star, artist, musician, political friend, leader, some famous person you’ve always wanted to meet, and you could ask them one question, what would you ask them? You and I have the opportunity to speak to the God of the universe in prayer. What do you ask him? What do you tell him?
The Psalmist says, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my supplications.” Supplication: the word means an inferior asking a superior something. Supplication is something I don’t have the capacity or resource to deal with, so I have to have someone who has the capacity and resource to help me. I can’t cut the back of my neck open and take out all the diseased discs, and saw the bones out that are part of my vertebral bodies, and put pedicle screws in place and titanium rods in there, and put fusion materials in the sides of five levels of vertebrae, and sew all the tissues back up and keep the bleeding under control, and keep the surgical field clean and sterile, and hope that it all goes back. I can’t do that for myself, so I have to go to a doctor and I have to ask him. Supplication: Can you do this surgery to make me better? You and I are talking to the God of the universe and when we do, our voice and our supplication, the Psalmist is saying I am asking a superior who has resources I don’t have to do something for me as the inferior person, as the one who is in need.
When you and I come to Him in prayer, we grossly underestimate both the power of prayer and the reason of prayer. And the reason of prayer is not always to get an answer; the reason of prayer is that, “I love God and because He hears me, I will pray.” That’s what verses 1 and 2 say. Jeremiah 3:21 says, “A voice is heard on the bare heights.” These are the same words, the voice. “A voice is heard on the bare heights, and weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the Lord their God.” The same two words, Jeremiah 3:21. The voice is heard; they are in trouble because of their sins, and their supplication is, “God, help!” What does that tell me more about the Psalm? When you sin, when you’re guilty, when you’ve failed one more time, when you’ve messed up for the umpteenth time, God hears your voice and your supplication.
I was sharing with some, during the funeral for my dad, I don’t know exactly what he believed; I hope he believed, I’m not sure. And I got to present the gospel that Jesus lived, died and was buried, came back from the dead. I used the crucifix. The mass was 32 minutes long and I spoke at the end. That was a God thing, to let me get to speak at the funeral. And there were three priests on the altar and one of them didn’t want me there. And one of them was kind enough to let me do it. And I got up after the mass was done and I spoke for 27 minutes. And I didn’t care what anybody thought, because I was going to honor my father.
I told a bunch of stories about Dad, and at the end of it I said, you know the crucifix is the central figure in every Catholic church. That Jesus paid for your sins and mine, that gruesome tortuous death because of your sin and mine, on our behalf, in our place. Then I read the section from Luke, where we have the two thieves on the cross, and the scribes and the Pharisees and the bystanders were mocking and hurling abuse, but then it talks about the two thieves. And one says, “If you’re the Christ, save yourself and us also.” And the other one says, it’s not “leave him alone;” I forget the expression. But then he says, “He has done nothing wrong. We on our part deserve our condemnation.” Then he says, “Will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”
And I said, you know that crucifix, as gruesome as it is, we forget it is flanked by two people: one who demands of God, who expects of God: if you are God get me off this cross, if you’re God save yourself and others, if you’re God show up and do something for me; the other one says I deserve to die, I deserve this punishment, I’m a sinner, you did nothing wrong, will you remember me?
I said, that’s all of humanity – one side or the other of that crucifix. And what you need to decide is which side of the cross are you on. And what did Jesus say to the one who said, “Will you remember me?” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” So God, the Father who sent his son to die, hears the supplication. This criminal did not get off the cross and earn and do good deeds. He did not make restitution. He died. He did nothing except believe Jesus at his word, and that was sufficient to gain him entrance into paradise. And, more importantly, “you’ll be with me”, that’s the operative phrase. Forget what paradisio means; “you’ll be with me” in paradise.
Supplication is praying to the God of the universe. So do you, do I, do we love God just because he hears us? That’s a propositional truth, I know that. David Augsburger, my friend, said, “No one ever shed a tear over a propositional truth. You need a story about a puppy, then they’ll cry.” I’ve got no puppy story here, so it may take awhile to sink in. But do you love God just because he hears your prayer? That’s what the Psalmist says.
There’s a gospel song that Isaac Watts wrote, and then it was a contemporary arrangement by Richard Smallwood. And Whitney Houston; I love Whitney Houston. I have always loved her music and I feel so sad when I see her today. She on, I think it was “The Preacher’s Wife” CD. You ought to go buy that CD. That is the best CD, I tell you. I play that thing all the time. She sings “I love the Lord.” And I’ll weep just hearing it. I can hear it in my head, when she sings it. It’s the perfect song. “I love the Lord. He heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live, and troubles rise, I hasten to His throne.” That comes out of Psalm 116. Oh, that’s a great song; we should play it. “I love the Lord, He hears my cry.” The first few notes of her voice, her voice is perfect in that song. It’s perfect in that song. And you won’t like a couple of the songs on there because you’re old like me, but get over it. But that is a beautiful. I heard “Joy to the World” song on there. That is just a beautiful, beautiful song. And I read Psalm 116 and I hear Whitney singing it: “I love the Lord. He heard my cry.” Just because he hears me, I will love him.
Secondly, we should love the Lord because of our brushes with death. Verse 3: “The cords of death encompassed me; the terrors of Sheol came upon me, I found distress and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord, Oh Lord, I beseech you, save my life.” Again, the parallels: the “cords of death” parallel to the “terrors of Sheol;” “encompassed me” is parallel with “came around me” or “found me” or “came upon me,” depending on your English Bible. The cords of death – the terrors of Sheol. Who else used that language? Jonah! “The cords of death encompassed me,” remember he writes? He’s in the belly of the fish. And this is a messianic overture here. The cords of death encompassed me; my brush with death.
Death is on the hunt. Death is this ominous thing that we’re all running from emotionally and psychologically, and in our worship of youth. It’s all part of our culture, taken together, the snare, the death, the pain, the distress, the anguish, the horrors, the bonds of death.
“Sheol” is another word that is very complex in the Old Testament like paradisio is in the New Testament. “Sheol” means a lot of things, not one thing. And so you can’t just say Sheol means hell, because some of the patriarchs say “my soul has gone to Sheol.” It’s like saying “I’m depressed out of my mind,” is what it means. And other times it does mean hell. So context interprets meaning. Word definition does not always tell us meaning; how it’s used is how we determine meaning.
You understand this. If I say, the peanut is in the trunk, what trunk am I talking about? What are the options: elephant trunk, car trunk, tree trunk, suitcase, did someone say the back of a car? Okay, we have lots of “trunks.” Something big. If I say the zookeeper is trying to get the peanut out of the trunk, the usage of it has narrowed the field. Now, do we know for sure it’s an elephant’s trunk yet? No. But the usage starts to lean to us; it’s probably not a tree trunk. Why would a zookeeper be trying to get a peanut out of a tree trunk? Unless a kid stuck a peanut in a tree trunk at the zoo.
So usage; I strain the point. So when you look at a word, it doesn’t always mean something; how is the context used. If his soul goes to Sheol, does that mean that Abraham went to hell, or David went to hell? So we have to be careful with these words. All that was for free. Sorry.
The Psalmist is saying I’m in death’s grip. I am near death in my brush with death. Now here we have a literal life and death situation. We don’t know the time stamp of Psalm 116. Some Psalms, we know why they were written. Psalm 51, Psalm 23, we can get a pretty good context on when those Psalms were written; at the time when David’s on the run from Saul. We can get a pretty good bead on them. This one we don’t know. If you look at your Bible, it probably says a superscription there, “thanksgiving for deliverance from death.” The Psalm has enough language to tell us the Psalmist wrote this after a close call. He almost died. He’s begging Yahweh to save his life.
Now, I don’t know how many times you have had a brush with death. Every time I have a surgery, they give you this long piece of paper, you know. It’s like buying a house: every piece of paper you sign says if I don’t pay my mortgage you can take my house away. They all say the same thing, just a hundred different ways. If I don’t pay my mortgage you can take my house away, that’s what they say. When you have surgery, all the papers say the same thing: you might die, sign here. You might die, sign here. You might die, sign here. You might have complications, sign here. They all say the same thing, right? So you have to do that. And as I was talking about doctors, when you put me to sleep, I don’t know what you’re going to do to me. Why am I signing these pieces of paper? They mean nothing. Well, yes they do because if you try to sue me, you’ve signed; that’s what they say.
I don’t know how many times you and I have had a close call brush with death. But I know sometimes on the highway, when I’ve about soiled myself, I’ve had to pull over and rest for awhile. I used to ride a motorcycle, back when I was stupid like some people. Back when I used to ride my motorcycle, there were a number of times I had to get off my bike and just sit and stop shaking for while. That was so close!
Now, in God’s sovereign hand, did he prevent that? I think so. I think so. Sometimes you don’t get those benefits; sometimes you have an accident. Sometimes you’re hurt and injured. But we have had brushes with death.
Number one, we should love God just because he hears our prayer. Number two, we should love God because we have brushes with death. Maybe not as dramatic as David or Saul, but we do. Number three, we should love God because it’s all about His grace. Look at verse 5: “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate. The Lord preserves the simple. I was brought low and He saved me. Return to your rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
We should love God, we ought to love God – I know we don’t like the words “should” and “ought” but I think we can use them sometimes – we should and ought love God because he hears our prayer. We should and ought love God because of our brushes with death. We should and ought love God because of his grace. Nineteen times in the Psalms, the psalmist asks God to be gracious to him. And this word is a little different. Hessid is the word lovingkindness. This word’s a little different word, and some versions translate it differently, but NASB uses “gracious.”
Here are some of the uses, the way the Old Testament uses the word: asking God for graciousness when you are lonely. There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t had spells of loneliness. The long dark night of the soul, whether you’ve lost a spouse or had a divorce, you’re single, you never married, you lost a close friend. After my mentor, Floyd Sharp, died, I went into a deep funk and a depression for months, because I talked to Floyd about everything all the time. He was the spiritual father I never had.
And my second spiritual father, Howard Hendricks, is getting older and older and older. And where Prof used to give me advice and counsel – and I talk to Prof all the time – you who know Howard Hendricks, pray for Howard and Jean. Pray for them. He is failing, and it just breaks my heart. The man who gave me advice, who gave me counsel, who got in my face, got angry at me at times, who is the most extraordinary human influence from a ministry standpoint and my soul, humanly speaking I am where I am because of Howard Hendricks. And as I watch the Prof fade, it just breaks,… I’ll see him, God willing, next Sunday or Monday. I’m hoping to be in Dallas and I hope he’s there and I’m going to go by and surprise him and see him. I love him like crazy.
When I think of Prof dying, it scares me. I’ll be so alone. Because those two voices were the male voices that got me on track with Christ, to be the father and the husband and study this book and teach it right and teach it well and don’t quit and don’t give up and stay in the local church and get back to work and quit your whining and other words I can’t say at The Cove. And Prof was the one who gave me the spiritual kick in the pants I needed many, many times. And oh, I’m going to miss him. God’s gracious when you’re lonely.
You know, I learned, when Floyd died, Michael, you’ve got to be a Floyd now and quit whining about losing Floyd. That’s why Cindy and I started mentoring young couples. That’s why I started dragging these young guys with me and make them carry my bags and drive me places. I’ll never be Howard Hendricks, but I’ll encourage them and I’ll give them a kick in the pants once in a while. And my seven young guys that I have in my house for two years, and we do all sorts of nonsense together, and they’re absolutely hysterical and they keep me,… they don’t keep me young, but they keep me entertained. They call me “Doctor E” and it’s just so wonderful.
And you see the rubbing-off. One of them was out of town two weeks and he sent me an email last night. He goes, “Doc E, I watched the two messages you gave on the Great Commission. Man, you rock!” He’s never heard a sermon on the Great Commission in his life; the generation that knows not the Bible. And see, Howard Hendricks and Floyd Sharp gave it to me. Thank you, God for being gracious! I’ll never be those guys, but God will use me. And here’s the big part – God will use you. God will use you. God – will – use – you.
When I taught the Great Commission, I had this big idea: God will use you unless you choose not to be used. You can choose not to be used. You can do nothing, sit at home, on your “como se llama” and know nothing, and He won’t use you. But there is not anyone in here who is un-useable. You may think you are, but that’s the world talking to you, not the Scripture talking to you. And if you’ve heard nothing we’ve talked about this couple of days, you can comfort people through the things you’ve been through, and put their nose in a book and say “let me tell you how much Jesus loves you.”
He’s always compassionate, righteous, and gracious. The triad is here. Oh I have too much to say. The word “gracious” appeals to distress. In Psalm 32: “God is gracious when we’re in distress.” I so appreciate this gentleman talking about being insecure and fearful. Boy, what a courageous thing that was. That was pretty courageous to say “I’m fearful,” wasn’t it? Sounds to me like he’s got a lot of courage. Gracious in transgressions. Gracious in the benediction of Aaron’s blessing, “The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you,” same word. Gotta stop. The triad is complete.
Now, God’s grace here is not extended to the elite. This is where I say God will use you unless you choose not to be used. Look at verse 6: “The Lord preserves the simple.” That word is not a nice word. That word is kind of like saying, the Easley paraphrase, God preserves the socially inept dopes. That’s really what the word kind of means. The “simple” in the Proverbs is the idiot.
All three of my girls sort of lean to the blonde side, so we are merciless with the blonde jokes. And Jessie is the consummate blonde. I was reading this chapter and I let Devin read it and he was cracking up, laughing at a joke about a blonde. And I said, “Watch this.” We were on a plane a few days ago. And I let Jessie read it, and she goes, “huh?” And Devin and I are about to mess ourselves, we’re just laughing so hard. She’s five years older than him and she is just blonde. She is just blonde. You know, if you put five blondes ear-to-ear, you know what you get? A wind tunnel. So we constantly, constantly tease Jessie about being blonde. Sarah, the youngest, is not blonde. She’s dirty-dishwater blonde, and she hates being called blonde. She hates the blonde jokes. So we call her “Highlights.” It’s perfect. It’s perfect.
This is the highlight – this is the blonde – “the Lord preserves the simple.” Why is it important? You don’t have to be smart by the world’s standards. You don’t have to be somebody you’re not. God help you not to be like Michael Easley. Do not try to be like Michael Easley. You’d do well to be like Cindy Easley, but God help you not to be like Michael Easley. The Lord preserves us – his grace. The Psalmist puts himself in the company of idiots. “I was brought low and you saved me.”
Verse 7: “Return. Find your rest, because the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” I don’t remember the precise situation, but I can see the den. I know you have defining moments in your life story, with your family, your kids, your husband, your wife. We all could share, and they’re fun to hear people share them. But you have to listen to mine. I’m sitting in a den one day, very discouraged, was thinking. In almost 30 years of doing this nonsense, I have probably tried to quit every other year. I’ve tried to figure out some other way to do life than ministry. Ministry is just an extraordinarily weird thing, and you’re perceived to be some kind of holy, religious, priest person, which I don’t want to be. Yet you can’t be too irreligious because then you’re not a priest. So it’s this constant conflict of what does it mean to be a minister. A minister is a servant. And I’d rather be served, frankly. So that’s the tension. I’m just telling you the truth.
I always wanted to go to med school. I wanted to go to med school in 1985. I almost, after four years of college and four years of seminary and two years of a church, I was ready to throw it all away and start over and go to med school. And my precious wife, I talked to her about it; I talked to some doctor friends about it, what it would entail. And they said, bottom line is you’ve got ten more years of school in front of you. I was 32 at the time, I think. And I did the math that said I’m going to go to school until I’m 42. So I went home; I had a tiny little house, tiny little baby, little wife; and I said, “Cindy, how would you feel if I cashed it in and we went to medical school?” And this is what Cindy said, “Well, we’ll have to sell the house.”
That’s the kind of woman I married. And Cindy is not a doormat. Cindy is, she’ll tell you she’s a Christian feminist at the core. In fact, can I do a little shameless wife promotion? Cindy just had a re-published book called Dancing with the One You Love. If you have any friends, any young couple friends, and the woman struggles with the word “submission,” you need to get Cindy’s book to her. Because Cindy takes a biblical view of what submission is and isn’t and explains it. And she interviews 12 women – all real stories – who are married to alcoholics, non-believers, guys that make tiny money, guys that are chronically ill, women who are nationally-renowned names – some of you know the name; Janet Parshall is one of her interviews, who is “everybody knows Janet Parshall; oh, that’s Craig” – women who make a lot more money than their husbands, women who are better at decisions than their husbands. And she talks to all these women: to African American women, in the African American culture, about what it’s like be submissive in that culture.
And she says, look, this is what submission looks like in these situations. Submission is not just saying “yes, sir” to your husband. Submission isn’t a role. If submission was a role, you would just say, “yes, sir.” And so she unpacks it biblically and then she shows you how 12 godly women, in very difficult situations, are submissive to some pretty complicated husbands. Dancing with the One You Love. Was that shameless? I’m sorry.
We were sitting on the couch. I was going to throw it all in. And it wasn’t med school, it was one of these other defining moments, and I said to her, “Why do you put up with me? I mean, you’re married to this schizophrenic husband who is ADD, ADHD, APB – which is A Pain in the hmm. Why do you put up with me? He’s never satisfied, always crazy, always wants to do some new thing, always wants to try this that and the other, always endlessly unhappy.” She said, paused for about 10 seconds, and she said, “I look back over our lives and I see how faithful God has been to this very day.” And I wept like a little baby.
Have you taken stock, through all the stuff you’ve been through, that he is faithful to this very day, right now where you sit? Yeah, you might be on a handful of medicines like me; yeah, you might have cancer; yeah, you might have some struggles; yeah, you might be taking care of a poor mom who’s really sick; yeah, you might have a husband or wife who walked out on you; yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But you’re here right now. And the Psalmist says, he came down to the simple. He has compassion on an idiot like me.
Number one, he hears you; number two, he saves you; number three, his grace toward you; number four, He gives you rest. Verse 7: “Return to your rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you; for you have rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” See the parallels again? Rest for my soul, bountifully; verse 8, rescued from death, my eyes from tears. So you’re rescued from death, my eyes have been rescued from tears, my feet have been rescued from stumbling. These are all parallel structures so the brain starts to see the repetitions. That’s why you have to read the Psalms over and over and over. Read one in the morning; don’t read five, read one over and over and look for the parallel connections. Look for the similes; look for the metaphors; look for the bookends. And the more you study it, the more alive it becomes.
Now, giving res; we talked about rest a little bit yesterday. You know what it means when we say anthropomorphism? When we attribute a human attribute to God: we say God hears, God sees. Well, yes He does, but that’s a human concept. Watch this: my soul, my eyes, my feet. See the progression? He rescued my soul, my eyes, my feet. As a consequence I can walk. Now think about that. The guy is so crushed, in this fear of death, his soul –the Hebrew soul is the nephesh; has to do with the neck, because this is where they believe life comes in. When God breathed life into the adam, the dirt man, it’s a wordplay. You do know that, don’t you? Adam means dirt. Adam is a dirt man. So I see Jesus on his hands and knees making a sand man and when he’s done he gives him the belly button, to answer that question. And when he makes him in his image, because he’s a Christophany, he’s a theophany, he’s a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus; when he makes the dirt man, he does what? He breathes the breath of God, in Hebrew, the nephesh enters him, and man became a living being. “From dust you were created, to dust you shall return.” You’re just the dirt man. I think someone said if they take all the moisture out of our body, we’re five or six pounds of some sort of mineral compound. That’s about it. It’s all water and dirt.
So he makes this mud adam and breathes the nephesh into him. So when you read “soul” in the Hebrew in the Old Testament, it has to do with this part of the body. In the New Testament, it’s kardia; it’s the Greek “heart.” Kardia really means the center of the man and not just cardiology like the organ itself, but the emotion. You know we talk about, “we feel things.” You wake up with a knot in your stomach; your heart aches when you have bad news. So the Greek looked at it, the life was here, in the New Testament; and the Hebrew soul was up here. And we talk about when a person has a “death rattle” and we say they “breathed their last.” It’s all theological, because the last breath – breath: oxygenation for your blood, blood circulates to your brain, keeps you going, keeps your organs alive – so when the breath of God goes out, you’re dead.
So notice, his “soul is rescued,” now he can see differently because his eyes were clouded from tears; he’s so desperate he can’t see. You’ve had those, when you’re crying so much you can’t see anything. My tears have been my friend in bed, right? You can’t read, you can’t see, you’re crying so hard. His tears are better. Now he can walk again; his feet are good and he can walk. So the image is a beautiful imagery of how God took him from the edge of death and now he tells himself to rest. “Because you’ve rescued me, rest.”
I think he’s talking to himself in verse 7. It’s like when you tell your dog, “sit,” he’s saying, “soul, rest.” Now, you who deal with anxiety, and for years I woke up with a knot in my stomach, for years I was always, always, always anxious. I was nervous. I didn’t literally chew my fingernails, but that’s the kind of person I was. I worried about everything all the time. I wrote a little prayer, in that little book some of you have, and it’s called “A non-anxious presence.” And I prayed that prayer for a year: “God, would you create in me a non-anxious presence?” And “when I sit in a meeting, when I write a sermon, when I deal with my kids, when I have somebody screaming at me after a sermon because I said something that made them mad, when I have somebody who has beaten up his wife and yelling at me because I’m pulling back the cover and saying ‘you can’t hit a woman,’ and on and on and on, give me a non-anxious presence.” And one of the lines that really helped me was I said, “Lord, if you answer this prayer, only two people will know it – You and me.”
That’s a great prayer to pray. God, will you give me a non-anxious presence? When I read these kind of phrases, I hear the Psalmist saying that, “Soul, sit down! Rest!” And I do think you have to reprogram your brain to do these things, because we’re all sinful. We’re all trying to crawl on the altar of control. Think of it this way: you’re not at rest if you’re dealing with unconfessed sin. You’re not at rest if you’re in sin. You can’t be in rest if you’re in sin, and you’ll start to be separated from your relationship with Jesus. You cannot be at rest when you’re in an impossible situation. When there’s a circumstance going on that you can’t control, you’re naturally going to be anxious. You cannot be at rest in that. You cannot be at rest when you’re in over your head. But he is still at rest and he offers that rest.
So, there is self-talk in a sense; not the psycho-babble self-talk, but the self-talk that the Christian says, “Soul, be at rest. This is nonsense for you to be anxious.” Didn’t Jesus say something about, what can you add to your life by being anxious? You can’t make yourself a half-inch taller or live a day longer. What are you worried about? Stop worrying. Lilies of the field take care of themselves. And I go back to Cindy’s expression: if you go back and look at God’s faithfulness to us to this day, why should we worry?
If I could give you a gift before you walked out of here, today, I would give you a gift of rest. Wish I could give it to you. Wish I could say, take these three pills and you will be at rest. You will no longer worry or fear or have anxiety or uncertainty about your health, or your mom or your dad or your future or your kids or your job or the economy or the next election or whether terrorists are going to come and take over the world. That you would be at rest because of who your King is.
He hears us, number one; he saved you, number two; his grace toward you, number three; he gives you rest, number four; number five, we should love him because he’s completely, 100%, totally trustworthy. “I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believe when I said I am greatly afflicted. I said in my alarm, ‘all men are liars.’” Number five, he is totally trustworthy. He’s trustworthy because he saves you from death. He’s trustworthy because he has a future: I know I’m going to walk in the land of the living. To walk before the Lord is our manner of life. Here, when he says, “I believe when I said I am greatly afflicted,” this isn’t a word play. What he’s saying here is, I know how desperate my situation is and I know that I am about to die, and I know that all men around me are failing, but I know he’s trustworthy. That’s what verses 9-11 mean. I know he’s totally trustworthy.
So here comes the question then: When you and I face the difficulties of life, and the props don’t help and the resources aren’t there – I can’t call Floyd anymore; there’ll come a day I can’t call Prof anymore – what am I going to do? In the back of my head, where those voices talk to me once in a while, I do hear this voice when I worry about those things saying, “Why don’t you just talk to me? Why don’t you just trust Christ? Why don’t you just trust the Father? Why are you so worried about so many things?” “Mary has chosen…” what? “…the good thing.” We worry about so much stuff that doesn’t matter.
We ought to love God because He hears us. We ought to love God because He saves us. We ought to love God because of His grace toward us. We ought to love God because He gives us rest. We ought to love God because He’s totally trustworthy.
And last, we ought to love God by worshiping him. By worshiping him. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will lift up the cup of salvation. I will call upon the name of the Lord. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” By the way, those are great verses to use at a funeral. “Oh Lord, surely I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid. You have loosed my bonds. To you I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord. Oh may it be in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, oh Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.”
If we love God, we worship him. So in light of all the circumstances, we can do what? Circumstances can control our emotions, our feelings, our affections, our time, our energy, or we can control our circumstances by saying, “I choose to worship.” Worship is always a choice in the Psalms: “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice;” “I will sing praises to you;” “I will give thanksgiving.” When you read those declarative phrases, the Psalmist is saying I’m going to make a choice to do this.
Now most of you in this room, I suspect, are pretty good Bible students or you wouldn’t be at The Cove. But I don’t make any assumptions anymore. I’ve lived long enough that I don’t make any assumptions anymore. If you do not grow to get up in the morning and put this book in your lap – oxygen and caffeine. And if you don’t do it for ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty minutes, an hour. If you don’t get to that zone where this is not a have-to but a get-to; not a should, but a can; not an ought or a better or a guilt thing, but the delight of it; if you don’t get there, you’re not going to grow. You who work at The Cove, you can hide behind a guitar and a pulpit too; you can be a chaplain and a pastor too. And if this isn’t your oxygen, you will never grow as a Christian. You can’t live on the past. It only gets you so far.
What have you learned new about your God? What have you been reminded of that you forgot, in my case? Morning by morning new verses I read. “Never saw it before. I even wrote something in the margin there, what’d I write in the margin there? Oh, that’s a pretty good observation. Huh.” I don’t remember anything. My brain’s like a cheese grater. So I have to read it every day.
“What shall I render to the Lord for all of His benefits for me?” verse 12. That right there could be the whole next week for you. What will you render to the Lord for all of His benefits toward me? When you worship others will hear you. And this is one of the ways I think it has become easier for me to talk about Jesus to friends. I use a bunch of phrases and clichés that work for me and they may not work for you. But I just say, “In God’s great kindness,…” and I talk about what God’s done in my life.
Three or four months ago, Steve and I were talking – my older brother – as my dad was dying. And I used the phrase, “in God’s great kindness,… God is really kind to me.” He’s not a believer. And Steve says to me, “Oh, you know, Mike…” and he’s very gracious. He’s a very gracious man. He says, “You know, Michael, I learned a long time ago I don’t need anybody’s approval. I don’t need God’s approval or your approval or anybody’s approval. I have learned that if I feel good about what I’ve done, that’s all that matters.” Now, Steve went to Rice University; he’s a brilliant engineer; he was second in his class in a prep school; he was one of the top graduating in his class in engineering at Rice University; he’s a brilliant man. And he’s self-made. And he firmly believes that. He’s not smug about it, he’s not arrogant about it. He’s very kind about it. He thinks I’m his younger brother who’s sort of an idiot, and I agree with him. He thinks religion is a crutch, psychologically, for me.
“What shall I render to the Lord for all of His benefits for me?” What he says here is, I’ll talk about it. I’ll talk about it in the congregation. I’ll tell people, “I almost died. God saved me. God hears my prayer. I love God if for no other reason than he hears my prayer.” If we don’t talk… you don’t have to be a religious, King-James-only, Bible-beating, lunatic fringe, fundamentalist, weirdo Christian. Turn it down a little bit. Just turn it down a little bit.
Some of you listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio. Dave has become a friend. Dave talks about God; he doesn’t talk about Christ too much; he talks about God. You know who his greatest critics are? Christians. He said, “Michael, Christians write me the nastiest letters. Even people in the financial world who just think I’m a simpleton, they don’t write me critical letters. Christians are downright nasty.” He says, “We decided years ago, as an organization” – his group’s called “Lampo,” based on the Greek word – “you don’t put a light on a hill and cover it. You put a light on a hill so people can see it.” And he wants to use Financial Freedom and Peace to show people who Christ is. That’s his mission. And he’s doing it like crazy. He leads people to Christ all the time. And he uses the word “God.”
They don’t like it when he says other words on the radio. They get all mad when he says “friggin.” They’ll say, “A Christian shouldn’t say ‘friggin’,” and they get all mad and write these big long hate letters. He’s got a great sense of humor. He goes, “I just quit answering them.” And Dave’s not a perfect Christian; he’ll be the first to tell you that. But you know what he does? He talks about God unapologetically. And if you listen to his program, he says, “The only peace is in the Prince of Peace.” That’s how he signs off every day: “The only real peace is the Prince of Peace.” And so when he has his seminars and fills up these auditoriums, a lot of them are “God-people,” a few of them are Christians, but a lot of them go, “This guy is different. This guy is different.” He speaks of what God has done for him.
You can do it the same way. You’ve just got to get a little courage.
Well, he hears you; he saved you. We love him for these reasons: he hears us, he saved us from our brush with death, he gave us grace, he gives us rest, he’s totally trustworthy, and lastly, we love him and therefore we should worship him.
Now, just hold on to your hat for a minute. I’m going to give you a little theological “dump.” Just listen. Close your eyes and listen. This Psalm is about Jesus Christ. The Father heard Jesus’ prayers on the cross. Jesus is tied in the cords of death. Jesus calls to his Father on the cross. God the Father heard him but did not answer him, but rather let him die. Jesus prayed for the cup to pass; the Father said no. Jesus was brought low; he was a fool – he became a man. Jesus was brought low and death wrapped around him and killed him. Jesus was around all men who were liars. Jesus was greatly afflicted. What could Jesus render to God the Father except his own blood? I will lift up the cup of blessing. Jesus is more precious in the sight of God the Father than anyone. Who was God, who became a servant? Whose bonds were loosed, except ultimately, Jesus’? Who paid the vow perfectly, except Jesus? It’s a messianic Psalm.
Why should we love God? Because Jesus loved God. And every injustice that happened to Jesus is worse than anything you will ever experience. And the Psalmist says, “I love God because He hears me.”
Jay Ackerman was talking about, remember the Biosphere project? The Biosphere was where they had this artificial environment. And in Biosphere II they put all these different environments: they had a winter environment, a desert environment, a rain forest environment, an ocean environment. They simulated every possible environment they could and put these people in there for a couple of years. There was only one element they couldn’t reproduce, and that was wind. The effects of a windless environment had unintended consequences for them. For example, they planted acacia trees, but the acacia trees were so weak, as they grew and took on flora on the top, they just broke. Because without the stress of the wind, the tree doesn’t learn to be strong in the pressures and stress of the life. It couldn’t hold its own weight.
The weight of our prosperity and the blessings that God has given you are immeasurable. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits for me?” You need to go home and start writing those down. And the struggles: for me, physical; for you, taking care of your mom; for you, cancer; for you, losing your husband. Whatever they are, those are what make you able to hold the blessings he has given to you. This is a strange Psalm to think about. You can’t contain His goodness to you apart from the trouble of life. This will start to blow your mind, if you start thinking through it. So you want more blessing? You’re going to have more affliction. If he’s blessed you a lot, strap on. To that 80-year-old gentleman who told Mark the first day “I’m 80 years old, I don’t have any pains like that young fella.” Just you wait. Maybe not, but you know what I’m saying.
The marvel of the Psalm is that all this that we go through, even to the brink of death, is to make us into what we’re not. To make us into what we’re not so we’ll be able to hold the blessing that he gives. I get to stand in front of a bunch of people at The Cove and tell them about the Bible. I wouldn’t get to do that if I hadn’t taken the wind shear test all the way here. You have an opportunity, where God has placed you, and I think God will use you in ways you don’t even have a clue. But if you take the risk, I’m 100% certain He’ll use you.

[prayer] Father help each one of us to understand the wind when it comes; that it makes us strong, that it makes us what we’re not, that it helps us to be something we can’t be apart from it. And as I’ve prayed all week, God help us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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