Moving Forwards, Looking Back

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Moving Forwards, Looking Back

Christians should be the most joyful people in the world, shouldn't they?

If you've put your faith in Jesus, if you believe and trust that God sent his one and only son, to die, to take the punishment that you deserve, to save you, and to give you the life and relationship with God that he deserves. Well then, you know the greatest love on earth!

You've been forgiven for every one of your sins. You can look forward to spending eternity in heaven! And so now, you have no fear of death. You have come to know your Heavenly Father who controls everything, who loves you more than you could possibly imagine, and who listens to you when you talk to him. You have an incredible Heavenly Father,and you also have an amazing earthly family,…of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who also follow Christ.You are never helpless and never hopeless.
You have been transformed, and you are being transformed.

Being a Christian is incredible!

And Christians should, for those reasons and for many more, be the most joyful people in the world.

The message of Christianity is a message of joy. The Bible talks about joy or being joyful or rejoicing 437 times!

But we're not always joyful, are we? There are times when we don't feel joy, we feel the opposite.

When we suffer what the old preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to call 'spiritual depression'. Dark days. Times in our lives when the joy of our salvation, or of anything else for that matter, seems to have been sucked away. When instead of feeling joy, you feel flat and empty.

Lloyd-Jones in his book called 'Spiritual Depression', suggests that there are 5 causes.

Temperament -
For whatever reason it seems that some of us struggle with spiritual depression more than others (I count myself as one of them)

Physical condition -
The state of our physical health, particularly is we suffer from something chronic, often effects our spiritual health as well.

Reaction -
Not a reaction to a bad situation, but actually the reaction to something good. Often the high points in our lives are followed by a time of battling spiritual depression.

The Work of the Devil -
He loves to rob Christians of their joy by whispering lies into their ears.

Unbelief -
A failure of our faith.

He identifies 5 causes of spiritual depression, and he recommends one cure.

Which we find in Psalm 43.

For the next 5 weeks over the summer we're going to be looking at some of the Psalms in our evening services.

The Psalms are a collection of songs and prayers and poems from Israel's history, and they are like little windows into relationship with God. And so it is with Psalm 43.

We don't know who wrote it, or when it was written – there is no title. But as we read it we see the psalmist, the author of the psalm, goes through three stages.

The psalm starts, in stage 1, 

Confusion and anguish in suffering, v1-2

It's clear, isn't it, that the psalmist is going through a hard time. They ask God to rescue them, they're in mourning, and feeling oppressed. It seems, from v1, that they've been falsely accused, or mistreated, or misunderstood, so they ask God to vindicate them. To show, to prove, that they are innocent, to the ungodly nation, the deceitful and wicked men, who stand against them as their enemies. We're not told any of the details of the situation, but it's clear that life is hard. And it's made all the more painful, because it's not fair. There are psalms where the author cries out to God asking him to rescue them from their own sin. Psalms asking God for forgiveness and restoration. But that's not what's going on in Psalm 43. Here the psalmist is both suffering and innocent. They've done nothing to deserve or justify the pain they're in.

I wonder, this evening, if you know that feeling? Not only are you struggling with the pain of your situation, but you're struggling with the fact that you did nothing to make it happen. The company you work for was taken over by some bigger firm, and your new boss seems determined to make your life miserable. People move into the flat upstairs and the noise is unbearable. You keep fit, you eat right, you don't smoke, and you're the one seeing the specialists, and having blood tests, because something is wrong.

The pain of suffering is made worse by the injustice of suffering.

But that's not what the psalmist finds hardest. What they find hardest is how to reconcile their suffering, on the one hand, and their relationship with God, on the other. Look at v2. The psalmist is a Christian. God is their stronghold.

They believe and trust that God is their heavenly Father who sees all things and controls all things, and they believe and trust that God counts them as his precious child. God is their stronghold. They know Him and love Him, and they believe and trust that He knows and loves them. So why is all this happening to them? Added to the pain of suffering, and the injustice of suffering, now comes the feeling that somehow this is personal, that God has rejected them.

Do you see? In some ways, or on the surface at least, suffering is actually harder to accept for those of us who believe and trust in God, than for those who don't. If you don't believe in God, well then when suffering comes it's just random. It's just chance. It's not personal, it's just the result of living in a chaotic world. It's just bad luck.

But when you believe in the God who controls all things, when suffering comes, it feels personal, because you know, at some level, it comes from God.

Which leads the psalmist to the next stage…

Longing for Understanding and Joy, v3-4

Look at the start of v3. The psalmist says to God…

"Send forth your light and your truth"

Now at first we might think that must link back to v1. That the psalmist is asking for light and truth for his enemies, so that they can see that they are innocent.

But that's not what it says. It says in v3

"Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me."

In other words, the psalmist wants God to show him what's going on. He wants understanding.

Remember they believe and trust in God. They know that God is in control of all things. They know, as it says in Isaiah 55, that God's thoughts are higher than their thoughts, and God's ways are higher than their ways. They know, as it says in Genesis 18, that God only ever does what is right.

And so they ask for light and truth so that they might see where this path is taking them. So that they might understand the plans of God. So that God's design for their life might make sense to them, because then they could rejoice again v3-4…

At present the psalmist feels blind. They are suffering in the dark. They can't see any purpose or the reason for their suffering, or for God's seeming lack of care or concern. But they believe that if they could see what God is doing, and how he's using these difficult and dreadful things to mould them and shape them. Then, no matter how painful as the suffering might still be, they could keep going.

If only they had light on the path in front of them, and they could know the truth of God's will, that would be enough.

Have you ever felt like that?

Have you ever asked God,
Why have you given me this struggle?
Why this battle?
Why this colleague?
Why this infirmity?
Why this weakness?
Why this tendency?
Why this burden?
Why this family?

We don't know. We cannot imagine why God would allow this. But if God would show us his purposes and his plans, we would be able to rejoice. We would be restored.

And so, we ask God for light and truth. And at times, perhaps, we do find an answer. We hear a sermon, or read a passage in our quiet time, or speak to a Christian friend, and they remind us of a promise in God's Word that we've forgotten, or teach us a truth we've never known before. Or perhaps, over time, we can start to look back and see how God has been at work, using those painful and difficult times for our good and for His glory. That happens, sometimes.

But there are other times when we ask God for light and truth, and we don't seem to get any answer.

God seems silent.

That appears to be what's going on in Psalm 43. There is no answer to the request of v3-4. No explanation given.

So where does that leave us? In those times, can we have no comfort? Well, no.

Wonderfully, despite God's apparent silence,
…Psalm 43 doesn't end with despair, but with hope.

And that's the last stage we see, in v5

Preaching the Truth to Yourself, v5

Up to this point the psalmist has been talking to God.

They've been crying out to God, v1
Questioning God, v2
Pleading with God, v3
And making promises to God, v4.

But now they turn and talk to themselves. Their head, if you like, talks to their heart. And instead of asking God questions, they question themselves - v5,

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?"

The psalmist does the very thing, that in our deepest, darkest moments, we so often fail to do. They question themselves, and they doubt their doubts. They say to themselves, v5,

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?"

It's as if they grab themselves by the shoulders and say, 'Stop!'

Stop, and think.

You know that God is in control. And you know that He has a plan. And just because you cannot see it, doesn't mean that it's not good. Just because you can't understand it, doesn't mean it's not true. Just because you wouldn't choose it, doesn't mean that it's not the best thing for you.

You are focusing, he says to himself, on all the things you don't know, but forgetting all the things you do know. That God is in control.
And that he does love you. That his thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and his ways are better than your ways (Isaiah 55) And that He does, only, ever, do what is right, Genesis 18. You've forgotten all the things God has already done for you in your life, and forgotten that as long as you have known him he has never let you down. 

Remember those things, O my soul, and put your hope in God.

Put your hope in God, even though you do not have light and truth for the way ahead. Praise him.

Why?

Because he is your Saviour and your God.

Look for a moment at Psalm 42.

In Psalm 42:1-4, the psalmist is struggling and suffering. He's in anguish, and he cries out to God. And then he turns to himself and says, v5

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God."

Then he cries out to God again. He's still struggling, he doesn't understand, he's in pain. Then in v11 he says,

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God."

And then in Psalm 43 we see it all over again.

Now, some people think these are really two halves of the one Psalm. Maybe. Or maybe it's the same psalmist, writing later that day, or the next morning, or the following evening? Or maybe it's different author altogether, who learnt from the first. We don't know.

What we do know is that these psalms teach us that again and again and again, we must preach the truth to ourselves.

When our souls are downcast, when are hearts are full of questions, and God seems to be giving up no answers. When we are struggling and suffering, when we are spiritually depressed. Our heads need to turn to our hearts, and remind them of what we know to be true. We need to preach the truth to ourselves.

Listen to what Lloyd-Jones says in the introduction to his book,

"The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled.
Do not listen to him; speak to him; condemn him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you.
Far that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.
The devil takes hold of self and uses it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say,
"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Stop being so!
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God."

Do you see? We may not have light and truth going forward, but we do have light and truth looking back.

We can look back to our own lives and see how faithful God has always been. How wonderfully and lovingly he's always cared for us and never let us down.

And we can look further back…all the way to the cross. And remind ourselves that God loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be born into the world, and that Jesus loves us so much that he willingly went to the cross to take the punishment that all of our sins deserve, so that we can be free and inherit the life that he deserves. We can look back and see that God loves us more than we could ever imagine. And we can look back and see that he uses even the darkest and most desperate times, to bring about his perfect, wonderful plan.

We can have confidence, and joy, and hope, today and tomorrow because of what God did for us yesterday. He is our Saviour and our God. We need to learn to preach the truth to ourselves every day. So that on the days when we are confused and in anguish in our suffering, and longing for understanding and joy, we can preach the truth to ourselves once again.

And move forward, by looking back.

Let's pray.

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