September 24, 2017

A Refuge for the Redeemed

Preacher: Harvey Sparks Series: Stand-Alone Messages Topic: Psalms Passage: Psalm 31:1–24

If you have a Bible this morning open it to Psalm 31.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, racist rallies, terrorist attacks, health scares within our own church family, the last few weeks have overwhelmed us with reminders of the brokenness of creation; it seems as though everywhere we turn we are faced with the reality that we live in a fallen world; given all that we see, hear and experience, it is easy to fall into despair but despair is something that should be foreign to the one who has placed their hope and faith in Christ.
This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 4 when he said that we are to grieve but not like those who have no hope; yes, we grieve, we hurt, we experience devastating pain but there is something that undergirds it all so that we do not fall into the pit of despair.
One thing that I love about the Scriptures—and especially the Psalms—is that they were not written by the kind of people who fill up most churches today; unlike those of us who go to great lengths to hide our hurts, our fears, our questions and our doubts, the writers of Scripture were brutally honest about their struggles, even singing about them throughout the Psalms.
Psalm 31 is just such an example of this; it is a Psalm of David; it is actually a lament from someone who has been worn out by the trouble around himthere is speculation that David wrote this song when he was running from Saul; it was during that time of his life when his entire world had been turned upside down; he was in constant fear for his life; on top of this, the promises of God concerning his life seemed like that they were never going to be fulfilled; given the circumstances of his life at that time, it makes perfect sense that this would have been the song that was on his heart.
Having said that, no one knows exactly when David wrote this song or the circumstances that led him to pen these words; what we do know is that he was worn out and frustrated by the struggles that he was facing and he was not afraid to share this with God; his honesty is commendable as he refuses to try and keep up appearances; in the midst of his trouble, he cries out to God and in doing so he has given us a song to sing when we are overwhelmed by the struggles that come with living in this fallen world; David doesn’t hold back anything as he talks about the struggles he is facing but that doesn’t keep him from also singing about his refuge; he may be overwhelmed but that doesn’t keep him from singing because he knows that no matter how bad the storms are, there is always A Refuge for the Redeemed.
Look at the first 2 verses of Psalm 31:  In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
These verses form the Prologue of Psalm 31; David opens his song by appealing to God who is his refuge; a refuge is shelter or protection from danger or distress; David opens his song by acknowledging that only God can protect him in the midst of danger; rather than running from God or being bitter that he is suffering in the first place, David instead leans into the only one who has the ability to shelter him in the midst of the storm; according to David, God is a refuge that protects him from shame; He is a refuge that provides deliverance; and He is a refuge that provides a rescue; it is because God is his refuge that David can sing in the midst of the storm.
The question is, what makes David so confident? Why is he assured that there will be a rescue; that deliverance will come? It has something to do with the past being prologue.
Look at verses 3-8For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
It is in these verses that David seems to take a short trip down memory lane as he recounts God’s former faithfulness in his life; in vs. 3 David sings about God being a fortress that has led and guided him; in vs. 5 David sings about being rescued from the nets of his enemies; in vs. 7 David rejoices in God’s steadfast love; and in vs. 8 he sings about God’s protection from his enemies.
As David continues his song, it becomes clear that he is facing some difficult circumstances; he begins to outline those challenges in the next section; what is interesting is that even though David is in the midst of dark days, he chooses to sing about God’s faithfulness in the past; in essence he is saying that God has always kept him safe in the past; when everything was crumbling around him, God was his rock; when he was caught in his enemy’s net, God was his rescue.
Oftentimes, in the midst of a trial, we can become very forgetful; the stress and anxiety that comes with suffering can cause us to forget God’s faithfulness in the past; but David reminds us of the importance of confronting our struggles with reality of God’s faithfulness; he begins these verses by calling God his rock and his fortress, and the picture is that God and his character is fixed and unchanging; in others words, David trusts that the God who was faithful in the past would now be faithful in the present; it would have been easy—and understandable--for David to focus all his thoughts on the trouble that was chasing him but rather than allowing himself to be overwhelmed by his current situation, he intentionally spends time recounting God’s former faithfulness.
The reality is that meditating on God’s faithfulness in the past gives us confidence for the present; because David had previously experienced God’s rescue out of His enemy’s net, because he had known God’s steadfast love, there was an assurance that God would somehow once again come through on his behalf; by reflecting on God’s faithfulness in the past, David was able to keep his current struggles in perspective.

is previous experience with God’s faithfulness gave him confidence in God’s present and future faithfulness; the same should be true for us; there is no doubt that every person in here this morning has struggled in the past; some more than others, but we have all faced moments when we were overwhelmed by things that were beyond our control; you may dealing with something at this very moment, but I am sure that this is not the first time you have walked through dark days; at some point we have all struggled; struggled in a relationship; struggledwith a health issue or a financial issue; we no doubt, like David, have all faced trouble, but the good news is we are here today and that means that somehow, in some way, we have experienced God’s deliveranceHhas rescued us from the nets of our enemies; at some point, He has seen our affliction and delivered us from it.
In other words, God has been faithful to us in the past and so we should be confident of His faithfulness in the present and in the future; so, are you in the midst of a storm? Is your heart troubled and filled with anxiety? Then join David and sing about the storms that God has brought you out of; sing about the times He has rescued you from others and yourself; sing about the ways that He has delivered you from circumstances beyond your control and see if that doesn’t begin to change your perspective on the trials you may be facing today; as David sings this song of lament about the trouble he is facing, he reminds us that the best place to start when we are overwhelmed is to recount the steadfast love of our faithful God.
Look at vs. 9-13:  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
In vs. 9 David transitions from the past to the present; he goes from talking about God’s faithfulness during times of trouble in the past to talking about his current struggles; although we don’t know exactly what David is dealing with, from his description, it seems to be pretty serious.
In vs. 9 he says that he is in distress and that his eyes and soul and body are wasted away from the grief; it appears that he had shed enough tears for a lifetime and that his grief had affected his body in dramatic ways; he was worn down emotionally and physically.
In vs. 10 he acknowledges that maybe some of his trouble springs from his own sinfulness; he says his strength fails because of his iniquity; although we don’t know exactly what he is talking about we do know that was the case with his sin with Bathsheba; committing adultery and murder had led to some serious consequences for David and his family; even though some of his trouble may have been of his own making, it was no less painful as he felt as though his bones were wasting away.
In vs. 11-13 David details the pain inflicted by those who were attacking him; it is because of his adversaries that David’s friends and neighbors were turning against him; that was the case in 2 Samuel 15 where we are told that David’s son, Absalom, stole the hearts of the men of Israel and David ends up having to flee Jerusalem; in this Psalm it seems that David is singing about another instance in his life where it seems like the enemies of God’s anointed are winning.
It is clear that David is worn down by the trials that he is facing; he is not simply having a bad day; this is a season of very intense suffering and David doesn’t hold back any of the emotions that he is feeling, he begins verse 9 be appealing to God’s grace; he recognizes that his ability to endure is not based upon his strength; he can’t work or earn his way out of trouble; but what he can do is appeal to the grace of God to rescue him; God’s grace allows him to be weak, vulnerable and transparent. 
Based on what we just read in the previous verses, it may seem like a contradiction that he would be singing about being a broken vessel but actually the opposite is true; it is because he knows that God has seen his affliction and known the distress of his soul that, rather than hiding his emotions and concerns from God; he sings them out because God has, after all, in times past, delivered him from the hands of his enemies; it is because he knows that God graciously hears and loves him, that he is able to be open about his struggles; it is his honesty before God that reveals the depth of his trust in Godthe point is that our honesty before God is a measure of our trust in Him.
Between dating and marriage, Jenifer and I have been together for 23 years; obviously over those years things have changed between us; there are things that I would share with wedding night Jenifer that I didn’t share with first date Jenifer and there are things that I would share with 18thanniversary Jenifer that I didn’t share with 1stanniversary Jenifer; the better I got to know and trust her, the more freedom I had to be honest with her about my hopes and fears and failures; if after 23 years of being together, I still had the same hesitations that I had on our first date; then most people would say that there is something wrong with our relationship.
The point is that David’s honesty in these verses is a mark of his confidence in the faithfulness of God; it is because he trusts in God’s steadfast love that he is able to be brutally honest; and so he sings about his tears, about his weakness, about his feelings of isolation; rather than trying to maintain a stiff upper lip; he looks to heaven and sings about his suffering; and in doing so, he gives us a good example to follow.
God knows our afflictions and he sees us in our distress; He longs to be our refuge; He longs to be the Rock that we run to when everything is crumbling all around us; He is not threatened by our questions or offended by our tears; what does offend Him is when we look elsewhere for comfort and assurance; He is offended by our self-reliance as we just try to tough it out; He is offended by doubts about His compassion or reservations about His ability to save; God is honored by our honesty because demonstrates our trust in His faithfulness.
Look at vs. 14-18:  But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
David spends several verses describing the trouble that he is facing; with powerful imagery he talks about the ways that he has been brought low but it’s important to notice that he does not linger there too long; he voices his concerns and reveals how he is feeling but in verse 14, with confidence, he sings “But I trust in you, O Lord.”; it is not as though his circumstances have suddenly changed but rather, it is that he has shifted his attention away from the storms that he is facing to the one who has control over the storms.
Rather than dwelling on his condition too long, he chooses to focus on the sovereign hand of God; in vs. 15 David sings that his times are in God’s hand; he recognizes that it is not just seasons of blessing that are in God’s hand but even seasons of suffering that are under the control and authority of God; in vs. 15 he acknowledges God’s power to save; in vs. 17 and 18, he affirms God’s authority over his enemies.
Because of God’s past faithfulness, David is able to keep himself from being overwhelmed by his current situation; he is able to experience pain, sadness, frustration, weariness and grief but because he trusts in the sovereign hand of God, rather than allowing himself to fall into despair, he is able to sing about God’s steadfast love; he is able to sing about the one who could and would rescue him from his persecutors.
What a blessing to be able to sing as you are running from your enemies? To sing as your name and reputation are under attack? To sing as your life is under constant threat? What gives someone the ability to sing under those circumstances?
Some may try to endure such trials by living in denial but David shows us a better way; in vs. 15 he sings about a God who is in control of his time; in other words David is declaring that the length of His struggle, the length of even his life is in God’s hands; worrying can’t expedite his season of suffering and striving can’t lengthen his life because God is in control of every aspect of David’s life—including his suffering; and so by reflecting on God’s sovereignty, David is able to find hope in what looks like an impossible situation; the point is that recognizing God’s sovereignty enables us to remain hopeful in our storms.
The reality is that we have two choices when we are in the midst of a storm; we can focus on the storm or we can focus on the Creator of heaven and earth; the more we focus on our problem the bigger it gets; but the more we focus on the God who is in control of our times; the more we meditate on His steadfast love, the bigger He becomes; there is the relationship between our view of God and our view of our struggles; the smaller our God, the bigger our troubles but the bigger our God, the smaller our troubles seem.
What have we to fear if God is able to rescue us from our enemies? Why should we be anxious if He is able to save us with His steadfast love? When we are confident in the sovereign hand of our God then we are able to join David in singing with confidence, “But I trust in you, O Lord.”
We talk a lot about the sovereignty of God in our church and the reality is that walking through difficult circumstances can be a great blessing because it gives us a great opportunity demonstrate our trust in a sovereign God; it isone thing to sing songs, pray prayers and listen to sermons about God’s sovereignty, but it is quite another thing to find refuge in Him in the midst of a storm; how we respond to trouble says more about our belief in God’s sovereignty than anything else.
It is our trust in God’s sovereign hand that enables us to grieve but not like those who have no hope; it is our confidence that He is both willing and able to save that keeps us from falling into despair; so let us remain hopeful even during our darkest days because we trust in the sovereign hand of our God.
Look at vs. 19-24:   Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
David finishes up this Psalm with powerful words that demonstrate an absolute assurance in God’s salvation; in vs. 19 he sings about God’s abundant goodness; he describes it as being stored up as though he fully expected God, at any second, to open up the floodgates so that His goodness might flow all over David and his struggles; in vs 21, he once again reminisces about God’s faithfulness in the past; he is talking about the past because he is looking to the future and what God has done in the past, David fully expects him to do in the future. 
It is because of his assurance in God’s salvation that, in vs. 23, he encourages others to love the Lord; although he is in the midst of a difficult trial, he is assured of two things—that God will bless those who remain faithful and he will judge those who do evil; he believes that to be true for himself and for all of those who belong to the Lord because He is always and forever a refuge for the redeemed.
David finishes up his song with a simple instruction to others who were facing their own trials; he tells them to be strong and take courage as they wait for the Lord’s salvation; this is the same David that was just singing about his body and soul being wasted from grief and yet here he is at the end of this Psalm singing about God’s abundant goodness and even encouraging others to be strong in their struggles; the only explanation for this is that, even as the storm rages, David is absolutely assured that a rescue is coming; even though he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he is assured that God’s abundant goodness will provide a refuge; as David sings these final lines of his song, we find that trusting in God’s goodness enables us to walk in confident assurance.
There are a lot of things that should mark the follower of Christ; holiness, the fruits of the Spirit; every believer should exhibit those characteristics or qualities; from David we find something else; confident assurance should characterize every believer who knows the abounding goodness of God; the reality is that we should respond differently to wars and rumors of wars; we should respond differently to bad news from the doctor or financial advisers.
This does not mean that our hearts shouldn’t break when tragedy strikes; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t shed tears when our hearts ache; what it does mean is that like David, there is something that undergirds our pain; it is the assurance that the Lord, the one who is abounding in goodness, the one who is a refuge, the one who is steadfast, the one who preserves the faithful, will sustain us; deliver us, walk with us and restore us; because God is good, we can walk in confidence even through the darkest days.
Anxiety is a real thing; I know that there are many who struggle with debilitating anxiety and so I don’t want to make light of it, but there is a reason why Paul, in Philippians 4, instructs us to not be anxious about anything; it is because we have a God who is abundant in his goodness; we have a God who is our refuge; we have a good God who hears our pleas for mercy; we have a God who preserves the faithful and so let us be strong; let us take courage as we wait in confident assurance for the Lord’s deliverance.
David’s belief in God’s goodness enabled him to sing with confident assurance; the hope is that we would be able to join him in this song even on our darkest of days; to experience peace in the midst of the storm because we are assured of God’s deliverance is one of the most powerful affirmations of His goodness; so, in the midst of the storm, let us be strong, let us take courage as we sing about our good God.
They say that only two things are certain in life—death and taxes; I would add to that suffering; trials, struggles, heartache, brokenness, whatever you want to call it, the reality is that we all face suffering of some sort; while the extent of our suffering may vary greatly, at one point or another, we all identify with David as he sings about distress and grief and sorrow; one of the great things about Scripture is that there is never any attempt to hide that reality; we see it in every book of the Bible; every major character in Scripture suffered; the bottom line is that the question is not whether we will suffer but rather how we will respond to it when it comes.
David knew how to respond appropriately to his struggles; rather than falling into despair he sang a song that focused on God’s faithfulness, on His abounding grace, on His sovereignty and on His abounding goodness; in doing so he has given us a song to sing when everything around us is falling apart.
In verse 5 David sings, Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
This is one of the most powerful lines in David’s song; it would have been easy for David to be bitter; he had been minding his own business with his flocks when he was plucked out of obscurity and anointed as God’s chosen one to lead Israel; God had called him out and raised him up and yet here he was running from his enemies as an outcast; it would have been understandable if David had placed on the blame for his current circumstances at God’s feet; he could be forgiven if he had felt betrayed, abandoned and forgotten by God; but rather than running from God; David says “it is into your hands that I commit myself; it is into your hands that I commit my health, my future, my safety, my reputation, and even my life.”
It is because of everything else that he sings in his song that he can confidently and unequivocally place all of his hopes and fears and pains into the faithful, gracious, sovereign and good hands of God; David knew that God alone was his refuge and he was willing to stake everything on that.
“Into your hands I commit my spirit”; David sang this in the midst of His suffering; many years later there would be another who would sing this in the midst of great suffering; in Luke 23:44 we read, It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
If there was ever one who had reason to feel betrayed, abandoned and forgotten by God it was Jesus on the cross; as he hung on cross with the weight of the world’s sins upon His shoulders; He experienced the full weight of David’s suffering in Psalm 31; in distress, soul and body wasted by grief, a man of sorrow; strength failing, bones wasting away; a reproach to both adversaries and neighbors; forgotten, a broken vessel; Jesus experienced suffering in a way that neither David nor any of us could ever imagine; but as He breathes his last upon the cross, He commits His life and His death to God as a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world.
In the end, He became broken vessel so that broken vessels like you and me could be restoredHe became an outcast so that outcastslike you and me could become the sons and daughters of God; He became the object of God’s wrath so that we might be rescued from it; and it is through His death that redemption has come.
God has provided a refuge through His son; Jesus has redeemed us through his blood; the rescue has come and snow we can sing David’s song even in the midst of our darkest day; we can sing it when our hearts are aching so bad that we are sure they are going to break; we can sing it even when anxiety seems to be our most constant companion.
Jesus is a refuge for the redeemed and so let that reality shape how we respond to suffering; In the midst of our darkest day, let us sing about his faithfulness, his grace, his sovereignty and his goodness; in the midst of the storm, let us not run from our rock but let us seek His shelter as we sing, “Into your hands, I commit my spirit.”
As David sings, he affirms that God’s promise of refuge is only for those who have been redeemed; for the enemy and the scoffer, judgment is their certain futurebut for the one who places their hope in God and in his only son, there is salvation; redemption only comes by way of faith in Jesus; if there has not been a point in your life when you have turned from sin then the reality is that you are unable to sing this song of redemption, salvation and assurance; but the good news is that Christ is willing and ready to receive you this morning if you will turn to Him; if God is speaking to your heart then I would encourage you to visit with David before you leave this place.
The hope is that we would all be able to join David in his song; that we would all be able to sing songs about the faithfulness of God; that we would sing of His grace and His sovereignty; and that we would be able to sing about the abundance of his goodness; “into your hand, I commit my spirit,” even on our darkest day, may that always be our song.
Let’s pray.