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FACING AN UNKNOWN FUTURE

June 23, 2019

PSALM 40

 

Aim: to encourage people to face an unknown future by trusting God more

 

Good morning brothers and sisters,

How are you this morning? Jeannette and I have really enjoyed our first 2 weeks in KL. We have met a few more people from St Andrews. Please feel free to come over for a chat and sharing and prayer. Just give us a call and we’d love to get to know you better. My mobile number is in the bulletin. Also please join us for Bible study on Thursday evening from 8-9pm where we discuss the practical applications of the sermon.

 

Our most memorable experience so far is the uncertainty of KL’s weather. We got thoroughly drenched in the downpour last week and waded through flooded footpaths to come home.

When we arrived home soaking wet there was no hot water. Jeannette had to boil the kettle 3 times to wash her hair. It reminded her of our time in student ministry in Indonesia 47 years ago: no hot water, no AC, no telephone. But here it turned out this electronics engineer was the culprit; he inadvertently switched off the hot water at the power point!

 

Yes, the weather in KL is quite uncertain.

The American inventor Benjamin Franklin famously said: “Nothing is certain in this life but death and taxes”. That’s true, the future is unknown. So are you worried about the future?

Many people are. What if ………

Different people have different strategies to face an unknown future. Some try to plan their future in as much detail as they can; their career path, their savings plan, their family plans, their retirement plans etc.

Chinese temple

Other people go to a temple to know the future ……

Some even call on a …….

Crystal ball

Can a crystal ball tell us the future? Of course not! All we know is we will have ups and downs. We will have some ups: happy occasions, passing exams, getting married, getting children or grandchildren, a promotion at work or a fabulous new job.

But we will certainly also have some downs: sad occasions, sickness and death, financial problems, unable to have children, break up with good friends.

 

Learn from Psalm 40

So this morning let’s learn how Christians should face an unknown future. We’ll do this by looking at how the author of Psalm 40 prepared for his future. But before we open God’s word, let’s ask Him for help to understand:

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You that You are a loving heavenly father, You give us all good things we enjoy day after day. And yet, often we are still worried about the future. We don’t know what the future holds, but You do. You are in control of this world however unfair and troublesome it looks.

We come now to learn from Your word how to face the future. Please open our hearts, help us to understand and obey what You want to teach us.

May Your Holy Spirit control our thoughts so we are not distracted and only hear Your voice.

We pray all this not in our name but in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Background

The book of Psalms has 150 Psalms in it. About 70 are linked to King David meaning they were either written by David, assigned to David or addressed to him. Ps 40 is one which David actually wrote himself, therefore it dates to around 1000BC. Many commentators think that David wrote this Psalm after he became king, not when he was still a shepherd boy.

 

Ps 40 is divided into 3 parts:

The past: In v1-3 David talks about a time when he was in trouble but God graciously helped him.

The present: In v4-10 he talks about what he learnt from the past and how he lives in response now.

The future: in v11-17 he talks about problems he can see coming.

 

Let’s unpack these verses and see what God wants us to learn. If you have closed your Bible please open it again to Psalm 40.

 

v1-3 The past: God was faithful

When David was in trouble he said he waited patiently for the Lord, v1. He was in trouble but didn’t panic, he didn’t grumble, he didn’t question “God where are you?” He just waited. Patiently. He probably prayed a lot, trusting that God who is in control will do whatever is best for him. He knows God loves him so he’s prepared to wait. These few words alone teaches us so much about the correct attitude to have when we face trouble.

What is the first thing you do when you have a problem? Women probably call their best friend, spouse or mother and start grumbling. Men may quietly stay in their room or watch TV. Why don’t we immediately pray and wait like David did? Look what happened to him.

V1b tells us that God turned to him and heard his cry. His waiting was not in vain, his trust in God was vindicated.

We’re not told what his trouble was, maybe an illness or opposition from people, or running away from his son Absalom. He described it in v2 as being in a slimy pit, being in mud and mire. He felt like being in a slippery place with nothing solid to stand on, at risk of slowly drowning in the mud. But God did come to his rescue, pulled him out of the slimy pit and put him on solid rock, a firm place to stand.

 

God gave him a new song

v3, He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
What’s more, God also gave him a new song of praise. God gave him joy and thankfulness. Instead of frustration, fear or anger, God gave him a desire to sing. As a result of David’s singing many people will put their trust in the Lord (v3). This is still the case now: How we handle difficulties is a witness to people around us. If they see us joyful and praising God, non-Christians may well put their trust in the Lord, and Christians too are encouraged. Is the way we handle life’s difficulties a witness to outsiders? Or are we no different to them?

 

All that happened in the past. David is just telling us of his past experience.

Slide 9: First lesson

So the first lesson for us as we face an unknown future is: remember the past, remember the occasions when God was faithful and got us out of trouble. So when we face trouble: don’t panic, don’t grumble, don’t question God, but wait patiently. Remember that in the past He was faithful to you and to me.

In fact, in v5 David remembers that God’s faithfulness in the past was not an isolated incident; Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done…… Were I to speak ….they would be too many to declare (v5).  God’s faithfulness to us is a repeat business, not just once off.

            Do we also look at the past and see God’s many blessings?

I have a Philippino friend who is a Christian. Many years ago he told me that each year after Christmas and NY he goes away by himself. He is single so it is easy for him. He goes away to a quiet place to reflect on the year that is past. He fasts and meditates on what God has taught him in the past year.

 

I have followed his example and found it helpful to spend a day fasting and reviewing my relationship with the Lord and I want to encourage you to try it. If you can’t get away for a whole day, just go for half a day. Go somewhere quiet by yourself; maybe the botanical gardens, or the Eco Park across the street and turn your mobile phone off. No breakfast, no lunch just read the Bible, meditate and pray. Think over the past year, write down the times when God helped you. Writing things down helps us to remember. You’ll find that your half day is soon over.

Let’s not take God for granted; remember the past, that’s the first lesson.

 

v4-10 The present: How to live today

What other lessons did David learn from his past experience?

 

Second lesson

His second lesson is in v6 where he says

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but my ears you have opened    

burnt offerings and sin offerings  you did not require.

 

God doesn’t want sacrifices and offerings. When we read this in the 21st century KL, we are not surprised: of course God doesn’t want sacrifices or offerings, we all know that He wants our hearts. But these words would have been a big shock to the original hearers, to the Israelites of 1000BC. At that time the whole Jewish religion revolves around the temple sacrifices. Remember that while there are lots of Hindu, Buddhist and pagan temples everywhere in the world, there was only ever one Jewish temple at any time and that was where sacrifices were made. Moses told the Israelites they were all sinful and regular sacrifices need to be made at the temple to wash away their sins. That was the only way to be accepted by the holy God while waiting for the Perfect sacrifice to come; Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But in v6-8 David said that the day will come when temple sacrifices will be abolished, God won’t need that anymore. Big shock to the Jews of 1000 BC!

The Hebrew word for “opened ears” can also mean “pierced ears”. God wants pierced ears. Now, if any of you young fellows here want to have your ears pierced to be cool but your parents or girlfriend is against it, don’t quote this verse to support your desire. Pierced ears at that time was a sign of life-long obedience. In those days when a slave had the opportunity to become a free man but voluntarily chose to continue to serve his master, his ear would be pierced. Ex 21:5,6 describes how it was done in those days: you grab the slave by his ear, find a door or doorpost, hold his ear to it and puncture it with an awl, that is like a screwdriver with a pointy end. Ouch….! You end up with a much bigger hole than what you ladies have in your ears!

A pierced ear was not to be cool but the sign of lifelong obedience to the master. That is what God wants instead of sacrifices and offerings.

            Today, what are the sacrifices and offerings people want to give God? Maybe it is good deeds like going to church regularly, serving at church, or giving money. Those of us with an Asian background often fall into the trap of thinking that even after becoming a Christian we still need to do good deeds to please God. But what pleases God is a personal relationship with Him, a close friendship and our obedience, not good deeds.

            v8 puts it a bit differently;

I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.

What God wants is that we desire to do His will and that His laws are written in our hearts. Lifelong obedience, a pierced ear. None of us can do this, only Jesus can fulfil v8. More than 1000 years later the writer of the book of Hebrews attributed these words to Jesus. Jesus is fully God and also fully man. He died on the cross to pay for the consequences of our disobedience. Anyone who repents and accepts this free gift will be forgiven. God will then write His law in our hearts and give us a desire to do His will.

Brothers and sisters, if anyone here this morning has not yet done so, may I strongly encourage you to repent and accept this amazing, free gift of God’s forgiveness. Please don’t think that God will accept you based on your sacrifices and offerings. Doing good deeds can never be enough.

So the second lesson for us is; God does not want sacrifices but obedience.

 

Third lesson 

The third lesson is still about the present time. David told everyone about God’s faithfulness in v9.

V9, says: I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
                 I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know.

The great assembly was the worship meeting of the Jews in the temple.

            At our church in Sydney this is possibly our greatest shortcoming. We don’t seem to talk much about what Jesus has done for us. At morning tea, it is not often that we hear someone talk about answers to prayer, about a new insight from the Bible or sharing their walk with Christ. I don’t know enough about St Andrews yet, what do you talk about after the service? Today, why not ask someone how they are going spiritually? Share something God did for you last week. Offer to pray for someone who seems sad. Look out for each other, being a Christian is being in one Godly family.

Look at David; he does not seal his lips, he does not hide, and he does not conceal but speaks freely and enthusiastically.

            And you know what is worse for us? If we don’t speak about our relationship with Jesus in our assembly, our morning tea, among close friends, in a safe environment, then it is very doubtful that we speak up in the hostile, ridiculing, secular world outside. Do our school friends, colleagues, neighbours, friends, maybe even relatives – do they know that God loves them? They may not know because we don’t tell them.

I realise that we need to be wise how we do it outside. But there is usually no problem if we share our experience how God helped us and blessed us. There is usually no problem if we share how God answered our prayers. They can not deny how God has worked in our lives.

Remember the past and share it with others.

 

In Matt 12:34 Jesus said out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. In other words we speak about things that fill our hearts to overflowing, things that we value most. Let Jesus’s love be the thing that overflows from our heart. How can we do this? By meditating on God’s word. Set aside a special time each morning to spend with the Lord, to read His word and pray. If this is not your habit, why not start by spending 15 minutes each morning. Surely anybody can spend 15 minutes for God. And over time, by God’s grace, we grow closer to Him. He will no longer be a God far away, somewhere out there, but a loving Father who is right beside us every moment of the day. Then our hearts will start overflowing and our lips speak like David’s.  

I do not hide Your righteousness in my heart, I speak of Your faithfulness and saving help.

I do not conceal Your love and Your faithfulness.

That’s our third lesson.

 

v11-17

The future: Facing the unknown

At first glance these verses seem strange. Look at v12:  

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.

 

Didn’t God just rescue David in v1-3? Why does he now talk about facing troubles again?

Well, David is a realist. He looks to the future and sees lots of trouble and uncertainties. David lived in a fallen world and so do we.

 

At least he is honest and admits that his own sinfulness is partially to blame, look at v12

For troubles without number surround me, my sins have overtaken me.

David is a man after God’s own heart but he is honest enough to admit that he still sins. He admits that part of the troubles that are coming to surround him are due to his own sins. Admitting our own sins and taking responsibility is not easy. It is easier to blame others, blame the government, blame our colleagues, our society, our spouse, our background, our circumstances. It’s easier to blame anyone and anything except our self.

            Of course it is true that sometimes our troubles are due to other people like David mentions in v14-16.

 

Looking at the future troubles David says in v17 I am poor and needy, may the Lord think of me.  

After admitting that part of his future problems are due to his own sins, he acknowledges his total dependence on God. He acknowledges that he is poor and needy. Remember that at the time of writing this Psalm David was most likely already King of Israel. Definitely not poor financially. Neither was he needy because he was a powerful king who commanded authority. Yet he did not rely on his wealth or human power and authority but solely on God. He says in v17b: You are my help and my deliverer.

And then he prays: You are my God, do not delay.

The basis for David to face the troubles of the future is total dependence on God in prayer. How dependent are you and I on prayer to face the future? Do we rely on our wealth and power, or intelligent planning, or abilities to face the future?

 

Fourth lesson

This is our fourth lesson: depend totally on God in prayer.

 

Brothers and sisters, yes we face an unknown future but from David’s example this is what we should learn:

Slide 17: Psalm 40 Summary

1. Remember the past: God is faithful

2a. In the present: God does not want sacrifices but obedience

2b. In the present: Tell of God’s love to everyone

3. Facing the future: depend totally on God in prayer.

 

Being a Christian doesn’t mean having a bed of roses and an easy life. But listen to what Jesus said to His disciples just before He was crucified.

Jesus said; I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.

 

John 16:33

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

Brothers and sisters, go forth and face an unknown future in peace by remembering that our God is faithful. Amen

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