August 28th 2022: Phil Swann

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Psalm 61

In the midst of all the challenges of life, where does your certainty rest? My certainty rests on all Jesus has done. The Christian’s confidence rests on Jesus Christ, on who He is and what He has done for us. The Christian hope rests on the objective claims of scripture concerning who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done.

This psalm begins in desperation,

“From the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Psalm 61:2

It’s very powerful language. David, the writer of this psalm, is reflecting on where he goes in times of difficulty and need. He faces overwhelming challenges. He is at the limit of his resources and ability to cope. Yet wonderfully, he knows where to go. Where do you go when you feel overwhelmed in life? Family, friends? Or maybe life gets so demanding you just want to get away from life and rely on escapism? Maybe you just turn in on yourself and cut yourself from other people, perhaps blames others and become bitter? With all the challenges, difficulties, and pain that you feel in life, may be your way of coping is simply to blame other people.

This psalm reminds us that that the Christian is not insulated or somehow protected from difficulties. David is a man whose heart is set on God. God uses him remarkably and unusually as a king. Yet, here he speaks about crying out to God as he feels his heart is growing faint. Some people believe that if something bad is going on in your life, you must be a bad person. That was the problem with Job’s friends. The Bible tells us Job was a righteous man. There was no-one like Job on the face of the planet. Yet God, in the mystery of His ways in dealing with Job, allows all the precious things in Job’s life, to be taken from him. His friends turn up to comfort him. The best thing they do is spend seven days sitting in the dust with him, not saying anything. But as soon as they opened their mouths, they add to his distress! One of his friends turns to Job and simply says, ‘Well, you must have sinned. Repent. Confess your sin, that you’re in such a mess because you must be a terrible sinner.’

Sadly, some people think that in life – that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Sometimes, as Christians, we can be caught up in that. We can find ourselves saying, ‘Why has God allowed this into my life?’ We can begin to believe, in the darkness of those moments, that He is punishing us because of the evil that we have done. The reality is, as Christians, none of us are insulated from tragedy and suffering.

Paul, writing his second letter to Timothy in the New Testament reminds us, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). Everyone. If your heart is set on following Jesus Christ, you will know difficult times, trying times, times of great testing.

If you widen the lens, sometimes God actually allows suffering in our lives to move us on in the Christian life. James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2). Difficulties can come from all quarters. There are times when God allows difficulties in our lives so He can make us mature, complete, and not lacking in anything, so He can make us strong in faith. This psalm reflects this in many ways, in how the Christian responds in times of great difficulty, when we feel our hearts are overwhelmed.

Clearly, David needs help. He places himself before God in a very important posture – he is moved to prayer. That’s the ultimate response as a believer. As David prays, he believes that God will hear his cry. He prays with great confidence. He is asking God for something in the midst of all his troubles. What is very clear is he is not asking God to make everything all right. We often pray to God, and we want God to respond in a very precise way. There are times when we have a terrible problem, and we want God to take it away. David prays for something deeper – the presence of God in the midst of his sufferings.

In this psalm there are a series of places where we are invited to find comfort.

“From the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I.”
Psalm 61:2

Lead me to the rock.’ This is an image of security, of finding God as our rock. This is similar to psalm 40. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are bogged down. There is need for solid ground. Security and stability is what we point to, the opposite of sinking sand. Here is a place where we know we can stand and be secure and safe. In life we can feel the rug being pulled from under our feet, feelings of uncertainty and struggling when all the things we felt were secure are suddenly taken away from us. It’s very natural to feel like this in times of difficulty, when we are disorientated, uncertain and struggling.

David, in this situation, is full of faith, believing that the God he calls is able to lead him to ‘the rock that is higher than I.’ It’s a reminder of the confidence that the Christian has, that we don’t face our difficulties and struggles on our own. There is a place, indeed there is one, who is higher than us. He is mighty to save. We have Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead. He has overcome the final enemy. Whatever struggle comes your way, Jesus is greater than that. There is confession of need here. God doesn’t expect us to face our difficulties under our own steam, under our own resources. Instead, in times like that, we are to call on Him.

1 Corinthians 10 reflects on stories of the Old Testament, of the children of Israel in the wilderness, wandering around, being kept alive by the grace of God. Paul, writing here, tells us that the rock that sustained the children of Israel is Christ. We build our lives on one who has broken the power of death.

As well as being a rock, He is a strong tower against the foe. This is a reminder, in life our difficulties can be the result of our enemies. In life we have our foes, our enemies, who seek to discourage us, to mock us. It is hard. Compared to the 100,000s in Pembrokeshire now, we are a small gathering of people. The accusation comes, ‘Look how small you are.’

In Ephesians 6 Paul calls these ‘’fiery darts of the evil one.” They are designed to spread chaos and confusion, to spread uncertainty amongst us. There are times of doubt and difficulty which can come over you as a Christian. But there is a refuge for us – a strong tower, a place that will not fall. David tells us Christ is our refuge. There is, in Jesus Christ, a strong tower, one who is impregnable to the assault of Satan.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13) Jesus Christ is not just one who can comfort you in the face of your enemies, but He invites us to run to Him so He can be our refuge against the enemy. It’s a wonderful place of safety.

We have a rock, we have a strong tower, but then in the next verse David says,

“Let me dwell in your tent forever!
 Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”

(Psalm 61:4).

The tent is very different to a strong tower. Strong towers are built for military defence and fortification. But the tent is a place designed for a place of care, comfort, kindness, family and friends. A tent in the Old Testament, in many ways is a loaded word. David writes ‘your tent’ – God‘s tent, the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God amongst His people during their wandering in the wilderness. It was a place of comfort, the place of reassurance, the place where the presence of God was known uniquely, the focus of all God’s promises to His people. So, to all His people wandering in the wilderness, it was always a visible reminder of God with them.

In the New Testament, the focus is off tent and tabernacle and onto the temple. What David wanted more than anything right then, in the midst of his distress, was to be with God. He wanted to know His presence, His reassurance, what it was to worship Him in the midst of great difficulty and great opposition. As a Christian, in the midst of crisis, you are invited to know God and worship Him, to know what it is to dwell in His presence.

David longs to dwell in His tent forever, to know warmth, love and security. No-where in scripture does God say He will take all the trouble away – until we are with Him in glory. But in the midst of all our troubles we may know His reassurance, we may dwell in His tent. We may feel His protection. He is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. Paul’s wonderful anthem at the end of Romans 8 says he is convinced that, from the long list he gives, nothing can threaten our sense of peace in this life. He ends up, having looked at life and death, angels and principalities, things future and things past, and anything else in all creation, convinced that none of these things can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

These are the things we are to long for, to hunger and thirst for in times of difficulty. These are the things we are to pray for. We can always be guaranteed, as Christians, a welcome into His presence, to feel His reassurance and comfort.

When David’s heart is overwhelmed, he focuses on the images of the rock, the strong tower and the tent. His fourth and final image in this psalm is a wonderful, tender picture of a mother bird, “Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Psalm 61:4b). Wonderful!
What a variety of imagery. Here is the desire to find refuge and safety. This is our basic need in times of distress.  Here it is presented in the most tender of ways. 

There are times in life when you and I need to run into that strong tower and know that there is an enormous strong door that can be shut tight, locked secure and we can bury ourselves in that strong tower and know that nothing can get us. But there are also times in life, as Christians, when we need to know the tenderness of His protection. He is both mighty and tender. Here we have the shelter of His wings. Jesus picks this up powerfully. Just before His crucifixion, as He looks out over Jerusalem He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34).

In our distresses, as Christians, there are times when God provides the strong tower. There are times when He comes to us, as this illustration shows us, as a mother bird, so tender. The difference between the tension of the tower and the mother bird is that in the tower is the objective truths of scripture and security – the things that we know and believe about God in the face of the accusations of our enemies. But here, with the mother bird, it’s the warmth of His life, His person. There is something very intimate here. There are times in life when you’re distressed as a Christian, and Christ comes to you with such warmth and tenderness, ultimately pointing us to His unfailing love, which was made manifest upon the cross.

The comfort that we have in the face of difficulty is that we, as Christians, have a rock to go to that is higher than us. We have a strong tower to enter into, which cannot be penetrated. We have a tent where we are always welcome and wings that will shelter us. All of this rests on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Be encouraged this day. You are not alone. He has bought you by His blood. He has promised to get you home into glory. In the meantime, He is with you and He will not fail you.