Monday, February 22, 2016

Wanting More

 Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Pop quiz time.

Is this one psalm or two?

Is it a psalm about confidence in God? Or a psalm about crying out to God?

The answer is: It’s one psalm that reflects two different aspects of our lives.

Does anybody have a life that is all good, all the time? Probably not. We all have those days or dark periods.

Does anyone have a life that is nothing but trouble and woe? Probably not. Although sometimes it may feel like we are trapped in our brokenness, some light can get in through the cracks.

For most of us, life is like a roller coaster ride—sometimes up, sometimes down and sometimes moving with dizzying speed.

Perhaps you noticed the different outlooks in the psalm. In verses 1-6 the person speaking isn’t afraid of anything. They are confident that they will avoid any trouble because God is on their side. This is a psalm of a person whose life is going well, someone who can sing with joy and praise the Lord.

This is a person who may feel like they are on top. They are close enough to God to boldly knock on heaven’s door. Someone who is confident enough to say God should let them in so that they may dwell in the house of the Lord, behold the beauty of God and to inquire at God’s temple. This person feels ready to step into the heavens to ask God all those questions we have about life, the universe and everything. They can see the whole park from the top of the roller coaster, but what they want is to go higher, to see God.

The second half of the psalm (starting at v. 7) is a lament or an expression of grief, not confidence. The psalmist is crying and looking for God. They have been forsaken by their parents and the enemies are at the doorstep. In this half of the psalm God feels distant and far. It’s a call for help as the psalmists implores God to have mercy as they speed downhill, fast.

If this were a Hollywood movie, God would swoop in, fix all the problems and the psalmist would end up at the top and live happily ever after. But is that what happens?

Let’s look closely at verses 13 & 14. 

13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

This psalm doesn’t give us a Hollywood ending. But it does give us a true, but challenging, ending.  
The last verses show us that our psalmist regains confidence (hooray!), but not because they got everything they wanted. 

Instead, the psalmist will wait patiently for God. We have to read between the lines to realize that the psalmist is declaring their confidence and faith in God even though nothing has changed.

The psalmist is still at the bottom of the hill, but they accept the new reality, maintain hope and wait on God.

I saw a quote from Adel Bestavros, a Coptic Christian and scholar from Egypt. He said this:

Do we think of faith as patience with God? Do we think of faith as waiting for something, anything from God and not getting it?  I don’t think that we do. Usually we think of faith as something that gets us eternal life, protects us from harm or earns us God’s intervention—like in the confidence of the first part of the psalm. But we need to remember Paul’s words: faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT seen. Faith as patience is all we have left when we don’t see God at work in our lives.

The psalmist is giving us a key to a life of deep faith—be patient with God. Faith is learning to not give up, to wait on the LORD.

Remember how we talked about this psalm being in two very different voices?
One of praise and one of lament? Some scholars in history argued they should be two different psalms, but I don't agree. 

It is only when we read them together that we can see they reflect the reality of our lives and show us an elemental truth:

We always want more from God.

The two perspectives are what make the psalm feel authentic. Most of us understand that the person at the bottom wants more from God, but we might miss that the person on the top wants more, too. The confident person at the beginning may be at the top, but they want to go higher.

This psalm shows us that sometimes we feel like we are on the top and life is good. Yet, we still long for God.  The psalmist at the beginning is trying to peek into heaven, so see and know more of God. When life is good, we still want more of God. And so, as the psalmist says, we wait on God.

Sometimes we are in the middle waiting to move up—to get closer to God. In ordinary life, we sense that there is more and so we seek to connect with God in church, in prayer and in study. We show up week after week because we want more of God. And so, as the psalmist says, we wait on God.

And sometimes we are flat on our backs, stuck on the ground. Heaven feels too far away to even imagine let alone see. Life hurts us and we cry out for more of God. And so, as the psalmist says, we wait on God.

It’s not easy, this life thing and this faith thing. But we wait on the LORD believing the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us.

We wait in faith because we trust that when we knock, eventually God will answer.

We wait in faith because we know that God hears us when we cry out. 

We wait in faith because whether we are at the top, in the middle or at the bottom, we have a deep longing to encounter the one thing we know to be true—the one thing we know to be eternal—and that is the love and faithfulness of God in Christ. It doesn’t matter if we are at the top or at the bottom, we wait patiently because we long for God.