By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
(Sermon May 26, 2012)
Persecuted but Joyful in the Heart!
The class of ‘believers’ who make me most sad, disappointed and angry at the same time are the joyless type. Not that I am given to mood swings. But I guess God is a lot more saddened because of these whimpering souls who claim to be His children! They sting His heart with their attitude–their faithless, complaining attitude.
God rebukes such ones in Mal. 3:
"Your words have been stout against Me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against Thee?
"Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?
"And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered" (vv. 13-15).
While eventually promises to reward them (vv. 16-18)–along with all other true believers–their attitude clearly riles God. The God-pleasing attitude scripture commands and recommends is to "count it all joy" when we encounter trials (Jam. 1:2); it’s bearing up under pain cheerfully!
Such was the attitude of the early church. The persecuted early church had a cheerful heart! Acts 2:46 reports that the early believers, "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart". The early disciples had simply taken Christ’s word at its face-value–"In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 GW)–and it worked for them.
"My Soul hope thou in God"
So what is your attitude? What is eating you up that you are this morose? Are you without God or hope?
In Ps 42 a devout follower of God is just as downcast but he does not give up faith in God! He says that although his soul, given the circumstances in which he finds himself, is naturally despaired, his soul should still hope in God, for He will yet let it praise Him.
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
“My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
“When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
“O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember Thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
“Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
“Yet the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
“I will say unto God my Rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
“As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Ps 42:1-11).
Bible scholars cite three reasons why the hart or deer is extremely desirous of water: they were habitats of the desert where water is scarce, they searched for water to refresh themselves after being heated by destroying snakes, and third, when chased by dogs, they plunged into the water as an escape to safety.
And this is what the Psalmist compares his longing for God with. As the deer desperately pants for water, so his soul longs for God. He thirsts for the living God, because he misses Him badly: "When shall I come and appear before God?"
Secondly, he is overcome with grief and uses a strong metaphor to express it: "My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’”
Obviously, the Psalmist is a mature believer and has known the mercies of God, but why the heightened desire for God now?
Trouble has struck, and people ridicule him "where is your God?"
The believer’s moment of trial can be very discomfiting for him, especially for the ‘double-edged pain’ it brings: while he naturally feels somehow downcast, others, especially unbelievers, rub it in–‘where is your God?’ If He’s real and powerful as you say, let Him come and save you’.
I’m sure they said it to Daniel while he was shut up in the lion’s den; they said it to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah as they were being cast to Nebuchadnezzar’s blazing furnace. And they said it to Jeremiah while confined in the miry dungeon (Jer. 38). But did their God not show up to shame and silence their enemies? He did in fulfilment of His word: "… I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him" (Ps 91:15).
Then came the greatest Man who endured the greatest taunts from unrighteous men and persecutors while in the throes of the greatest trial ever–the Lord Jesus Christ, who was Himself a Phenomenon never known before and after, a great miracle worker, the Son of God and the prophesied Messiah. On the cross of Golgotha, His enemies threw cruel insults at Him:
"… Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
"Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said,
"He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
"He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God" (Matt. 27:40-43).
As He cried out in the agony of His searing pain "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?", others jeered Him, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him" (v. 49). It was a moment filled with tension. The Son of God had been dared; God had been dared. Should they prove themselves now?
At the sixth hour (12 noon), darkness had covered the land until the ninth hour (3pm), a significant supernatural sign enough, but still no sign of a miraculous rescue. Where is the God and Father of this Messiah hanging in great pain on a cruel stake?
Yet the Father did show Himself–after three days when He raised His Son from the dead, "having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:24). All those who taunted Jesus suffered a great shame, most of all the devil (1 Cor. 2:8; Col. 2:15).
In our little trials as believers, we will necessarily go through a similar cycle: trials are bound to come, and when they come, people are likely to say to you, ‘where is your God?", even if not directly. At such moments, comfort your soul. Your God will come!
But frankly speaking, the Psalmist is inwardly broken, a depressed soul. He has seen good times before but not any more. A Levite, he used to play a leading role in the mass pilgrimages to the Jerusalem temple "with the voice of joy and praise" to keep the feast (v. 4). Now, that joy has given way to sadness and emotional turmoil, the Psalmist having been torn away from the Presence of God in the temple. Yet he encourages his heart from the place of his national and spiritual exile: ‘hope in God, I’m bound to praise Him again for His help’ (vv. 5-6).
Life is a rollercoaster ride; it’s full of up and downs. As there are good times, so there are bad times. But the believer should never despair when he falls on hard times. God will never leave him without an occasion to praise Him. His help is guaranteed for the believer. He assures us in Isaiah 41:
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.
"Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.
"Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
"For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
"Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (vv. 10-14).
So, why are you depressed because that debt is still unpaid? Why are you despaired because you are still childless or because no man has asked for your hand in marriage? You owe God a debt of praise; He will help you so He can redeem His praise from your grateful lips!
Even so, the crisis may assume unimaginable proportions and totally swamp you as the Psalmist paints in broad strokes in verse 7, likening his ballooning crisis to a massive waterfall spouting out from heaven above and the earth below and sweeping over him. It’s almost a throwback to the waters of Gen. 1–those above the firmament and those under it–coalesced in one big heap with your poor, puny self underneath! "Yet", he insists on the basis of faith, "the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life" (v. 8).
No crisis is stronger than the "loving-kindness" of God towards His people, and no darkness is too deep for His light to dispel. Armed with this secret, prayer interspersed with divine songs should come to characterize your life, especially at night. While praying, hold God, your Rock, to His promises to you, that He cannot possibly forget you, that any further delay at answering your prayer only prolongs your misery at the hands of your enemies (v. 9). Remind Him once more that the taunts of the enemy have become unbearable; they as painful as a sword cutting through the flesh, as they continually harass you: "Where is your God?" (v. 10).
The situation can only worsen the depression of the soul. But give your soul a pep talk. The salvation of the soul lies with a power beyond your personal resources. The right attitude is to hope in God in the face of the gloomy circumstances. Your God will never leave you without opportunity to praise Him (v. 11).
No matter how worse the situation gets, "hope against hope" (Rom. 4:18); you will praise God, for His help for you is assured.
In the time of crisis, the calm-ensuring elements of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (joy, peace and patience, Gal. 5:22-23) don’t frizzle out. They remain as long as the Spirit lives in us! That’s why we are exhorted in Phil 4:6-7:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (ESV).
We read in Isa. 26:3: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in Thee".
There’s joy in God in every situation and at every turn–joy in hope of the glory of God and joy in suffering, since “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:2-5 ESV).
True love never betrays, and since God’s love is pure and true, He will never betray our hope in Him leaving us disappointed or ashamed. So “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). No matter how bad the situation gets, your hope in God is secure. He will come!