What Love for the Lord looks like in light of Suffering
SCRIPTURE READING – PSALM 116
I love the LORD because he has heard my appeal for mercy. Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live. The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “LORD, save me!” The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate. The LORD guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, LORD, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, even when I said, “I am severely oppressed.” In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.” How can I repay the LORD for all the good he has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. The death of his faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’s sight. LORD, I am indeed your servant; I am your servant, the son of your female servant. You have loosened my bonds. I will offer you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the LORD’s house— within you, Jerusalem. Hallelujah!
This morning I am reminded once again that I myself am feeble and a weak vessel, that I need the Spirit in me to strengthen me to the task at hand. Even as I pray for the Spirit to be in you, renewing your mind and stirring your heart and calling on your will that we might be a people set apart for the Lords work in this world. Let’s bow our heads and open this time of teaching in a brief word of prayer.
Father God in heaven, I do thank you for your word. It is faithful, it is true. Upon it Lord God we can build our lives, we can stake our testimony. It provides us with everything that is necessary for a life of godliness, that is God-glorifying as we walk before you. And so, this morning Lord God we ask would you reveal yourself to us in your word, your son Jesus Christ who’s Lord and Saviour. Might we see Him and live. Renew our minds. Lord God stir our hearts into new love for you, conform our lives towards the image of your son Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour, that we might live our lives to your praise and glory in this life even as we will praise you forever and ever in the life to come. These things we pray in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
For many 2020 has been a time of multiplication and intensification of suffering. A time of calamity, of turmoil and of distress. Many are suffering and will suffer from poor health. This morning's Coronavirus count worldwide is 19,803,003 souls. We have 553,188 cases in South Africa. Worldwide there have been 729,568 deaths. 10,210 people have died in South Africa. We have not remained unscathed at Crystal Park Baptist Church Benoni. Many are suffering from the financial shortfall caused by the lockdown. South Africa's economy was in disarray before. It is really and truly in disarray now. We have not remained unscathed at Crystal Park Baptist Church Benoni. People have lost their jobs. Companies are under pressure and some face bankruptcy.
Suffering is on the cards for many of us in the short term. And even if you have remained unscathed up until now, for the moment, soon suffering will knock on your door in one form or another at one time or another too.
We are a people acquainted and familiar with suffering are we not?
So, I found the sermon last week on Psalm 116:1-8 a real comfort to my soul. An encouragement to my heart in the midst of these present storms. Because the Psalmist spoke of a love for the Lord flowing out of a season of suffering. Suffering had moved him from beyond a knowledge of the Lord and into an intimate relationship with Him. Our suffering is not pointless.
In suffering, we move beyond reading about the characteristics of God in a bookish way. In suffering, we encounter our Lord in our lived experience. You don't just know God is merciful, you experience our Lord's mercy. Together with the Psalmist in verse 1 you can say, “I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy!” Together with the Psalmist in verse 2 you will call out to him because you have experienced him turning his ear to you. We experience the Lord as mighty to save from the ropes of death, the torments of Sheol, trouble and sorrow (verse 3-4). It is in suffering that we see the Lord's graciousness, righteousness and compassionate (verse 5). It is when we are helpless that we learn our Lord can be our refuge in times of storms (verse 6). In suffering we come to love the Lord as we experience that He is not just good but that He is so good to me (verse 7-8).
And so, the big take away last week was “Don't waste your suffering!” “Suffer well!”
In the midst of calamity, turmoil, distress seize the opportunity to taste and see that God is good. That the Lord is a refuge, compassionate, righteous, gracious, mighty to save, attentive to your cry and merciful to you. Our suffering serves to guide us to love the Lord more and more.
Love for our Lord flows out of Suffering. Now we turn to the second movement in the Psalm, What Love for the Lord looks like in light of our Suffering.
What Love for the Lord looks like in light of our Suffering!
You see friend, creed always impacts conduct. Belief always influences behaviour. If suffering stirs our hearts to love, then it is right to ask what does your love look like?
What Love for the Lord looks like in light of Suffering is the theme from verse 9-19. We are going to look at it in a number of points, 2 of which we will cover this morning.
- In light of our suffering, present or past, love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Obedience (9).
- Verse 9 reads, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
Abraham walked before the Lord (Genesis 24:40). Isaac and king David too (Genesis 48:15, 1 Kings 3:6). In fact, all servants are those who walk before the Lord with all their hearts (1 Kings 8:23).
Now this is interesting. The word “before” is panyim, which means “face.” “Walk, facing the Lord.” God expects us to live in such a way that His “face”, His Person, His Character and His Presence is always “before” you. Your “walk”, your lifestyle or behaviour, is to be “perfect”, complete, whole, healthy. There is to be nothing inhibiting your relationship with the Lord. No matter what the circumstances may be, if we are looking at “the face of God” we will walk in perfection.
This walking before the Lord is to happen in the land of the living. It's plural, so it's “lands” or “regions” of the living. Wherever you may find yourself. Whoever you may find yourself before. In light of whatever you are suffering, whatever you may be going through. You are to live out your life as if you're doing so before the very face of God. There is a relationship between suffering and holiness. Between suffering and your testimony?
So, Drawing these three themes of suffering, holiness and testimony, bringing them all together, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).
Jamie Dunlop paraphrase’s that verse as: “Conduct yourself as you suffer in a way that is truly supernatural—never even grumbling or arguing. Why? Because through suffering we are made holy. And as our lives look increasingly different from those around us, we will shine out. Like stars in the night sky. And the gospel, the word of life, that we hold out to the world, will be seen as it really is, the power of Almighty God.”
In light of our suffering, present or past, love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Obedience. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
2. In light of our present suffering love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Faith (10).
- Listen to the text, “I believed, even when I said, “I am severely oppressed.”
Note the desperation of the situation. The Psalmist is oppressed, depressed, afflicted, chastened, even defiled, hurt, ravished. And severely so. That’s his reality. That's a dark place.
Been there? There at the moment?
This kind of suffering is all about faith. The struggle with faith. Suffering is a struggle for faith because it challenges God’s claim to be both good and powerful. In the face of severe oppression, God doesn't feel very good to me. And at a time when we are oppressed our minds wonder if God is powerful enough to help then why doesn’t He help me?
Here is the truth that the man of God knows despite any dreadful dilemma he may be in. God is in control. God has a sovereign and perfect plan for us. And so, he the man going through trial and tribulation is able to profess faith despite the problem. Faith is the tangible knowledge that God is bigger than the difficulty, and that He is willing and able to help. Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
But let me remind you of the good news: Faith at first wasn't a work that you did, it was a gift you received (Ephesians 2:8). A gift sovereignly bestowed upon you by God. Gifts from above are not deficient, cannot be depleted, will not be found in the end to be insufficient. They also cannot be marked “Return to sender,” as if they could be denied, quenched or snuffed out. No, faith is a gift from God and as such it will stand despite disillusionment, despite disaster, despite disease and despite dread. Oh, it may be sore pressed, it might be brought low, it might be under grievous attack even at present, but it will stand.
William Barrick writes, “faith will survive even in the midst of the pressures and pains of disillusionment, disaster, disease, and dread.”
Why is it such good news that faith isn't a work that you do but a gift you receive? Because right now you might be fearing you lack faith enough to see you through your present season of suffering?
Maybe you are wondering, “Will my faith hold?”
Turn in your Bible, briefly to Mark Chapter 9.
In Mark 9, Jesus returns from the Mount of Transfiguration. And He finds a large crowd surrounding His disciples. There is an argument taking place because the disciples had tried to cast a demon out of a man's son and they failed. Jesus immediately points out the problem. They lack faith. “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus said “how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19).
“So they bring the boy to Jesus, and when the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth” (Mark 9:20).
Now the scene is heartbreaking. The boy has been suffering these attacks from childhood (Mark 9:21). His father describes to Jesus how the demon had many times thrown the boy into fire or water to destroy him (Mark 9:22). The father in desperation asks Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).
“If you can” (Mark 9:23)? Well of course Jesus can. But can you hear the plea of desperation, that mix of doubt. “If you can.” Jesus responds to the desperate doubter, “everything is possible for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
Well, the man's answer is so honest, so genuine, so excellent and noble that it moves the Son of God to heal his son. He exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
- The Christian Standard Bible - “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
- The New American Standard Bible - the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
- The New International Version - the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
- The Contemporary English Version - “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more.”
- The Message - the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”
- The Amplified Bible - the father of the boy cried out [with a desperate, piercing cry], saying, “I do believe; help [me overcome] my unbelief.”
Michael Houdmann paraphrase’s, “My faith is far from perfect. I may not have enough faith. If my faith is not enough, please help me to have enough.”
Little flock, faith isn't a work you do, it is a gift you receive. Are you in the middle of a season of suffering? Are you despairing because you lack faith enough? Are you wondering, “Where will faith enough come for this moment from?” Ask for what you need. Ask for more faith. Ask for more resolve. Ask that you might believe. If left to our own strength and our own faith, we would never make it. So, ask for more! Ask right now. Do not wait. Our heavenly Father has storehouses full of faith. He will gladly bestow more on sons and daughters of the Kingdom. Ask and it will be credited to your account. He will surely lavish you with all that you need and more. “I believe; help my unbelief!”
In light of our present suffering love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Faith. I believed, even when I said, “I am severely oppressed.”
In closing, I want to draw obedience first together with faith, love and suffering in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God. He is the Lord. When we talk about the characteristics of God, we are talking about the characteristics of Jesus. He is a refuge, He is compassionate, He is righteous, He is gracious, He is mighty to save. It is Him who is attentive to our cry and He is merciful even to you.
God came into this world, Emmanuel, God with Us. He came because man had divorced Himself from God, set Himself against God. Our sin rose as a stench before the throne of heaven. We had wilfully rebelled against the holy standard of God in Adam and ever since every son has followed in his sinful footsteps. And so, God pierced into this world. The Son of God was born of the virgin Mary and lived a life that you and I should have lived. He walked before God faultless, without blame, a spotless Lamb of God and was obedient in every way. Faithful to the end.
And then perfection, obedience and faithfulness met in an act of suffering. Jesus Christ willingly, as an act of obedience to the Father went to the cross and He died, not for His own sins but for yours. He paid the price that your sin deserved, and He paid it in full so that as He cried out “It is finished” it really and truly was the wrath of God for the sins of mankind was appeases and the way for reconciliation between God and man had been laid.
The good news is that God has accepted the payment Jesus made. He was raised from the dead as the first fruit from the grave. The call upon your life is to repent. Repent from your sin and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Turn away from your own self effort and believe on His finished work of Christ Jesus and you will be saved. This day do not wait and do not delay.
Do you find yourself this morning in a season of suffering, Believer?
And yet in the midst of it you are not walking before the Lord in obedience? This morning you too turn from sin. Look once again in the face of the Lord and walk before Him along the paths of righteousness. Maybe the hardest person who might be listening to this is the believer who is going through a period where their faith is under attack.
Friend, have you allowed anxiety to well up unchecked within you and choke out the purpose of whatever you're going through? You too must repent but the lifeline is that you must ask the Lord to give you in abundance this day that which you need, faith to endure.
New Saint be reminded this morning that What Love for the Lord looks like in light of Suffering. Creed always impacts our conduct. Belief always influences our behaviour. If suffering stirs your hearts to love, then it is right to ask what does that love look like? Our response to suffering allows us to demonstrate our love toward Him. In light of our suffering, present or past, love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Obedience. And, in light of our present suffering love for the Lord looks like a life lived in Faith. Resolve today in the Son that you will live tomorrow in the shade like this filled with obedience and that God might be glorified in your life.
Friends who are going through a present hardship. In the closing words from 1 Peter 5 reads, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world. The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen”
Let us bow our heads and close in a word of prayer.
Father God in heaven, we are feeble, and we are frail, and we are weak but Lord God you are not. This strength of untold universes exist purely because you brought them into existence. You are made strong in our weaknesses. You make us fit for whatever we are going through, and nothing can separate us from your love and Lord God we love you all the more. Might the lives of Believers at Crystal Park Baptist Church so reflect their love for you that we are an obedient people and that we are a faithful people that you might receive praise and glory as we walk before you in this life Amen.
Well friends the benediction this morning is taken from the book of 1 Peter 5: 10-11:
The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.