On the Road | Not So Alone | Psalm 13:1-6

January 10, 2016 Speaker: Nate Greenland Series: On the Road

Topic: Stand Alone Passage: Psalm 13:1–13:6

On the Road | Not So Alone- Psalms 13:1-6 from Damascus Road Church on Vimeo.

Nate Greenland

January 9, 2016

Psalm 13 - Prayer

Prayer

INTRO

Every year of course, the New Year brings with it an opportunity to reflect on the previous year – awesome memories of what we were grateful for and reflections as well on what we want to be different in our lives in 2016. I don’t know what, if any, resolutions you’ve made, mine are modest and few, but one observation I have about my life is that I simply don’t pray enough. I’m fairly confident that that’s true for the vast majority of us here this morning. If you have made any sort of resolutions pertaining to spiritual rhythms and habits, I’m guessing it likely includes some sort of Bible reading plan, but I’d guess it doesn’t include an equally specific and concrete plan for prayer and meditation.

Let me pause right there and say, “Relax”. Even with that brief intro, you might hear alarm bells going off yelling “legalism! Run!”. I’d caution you to check that voice. When I say I don’t pray enough, you quite likely hear that in the sense of “I don’t exercise enough and eat too much ice cream.” – resolutions we end up breaking pretty early on in the year.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying that much in the same way that if it’s been a hectic week and Carly and I don’t have any evenings together I’d say, “man, we haven’t talked as much as we should this week – I miss you.” Yeah, she’s always there, we eat meals as a family, sleep in the same bed – but we haven’t had the chance to connect relationally…there’s a felt absence.

If we are Christians, Christ followers, do we not have a relationship with God. And doesn’t any relationship that’s of any value thrive the most with intentionality and pursuit and effort and thoughtfulness? That’s all we’re talking about today. In view of Christ’s mercy and the access, the royal red carpet to the Father He’s opened up for us, isn’t our infrequent or non-existent prayer life a giant missed opportunity for joy, peace, confidence, purpose and more?

So my purpose and hope when you leave here today is NOT that you’d have this grey cloud of duty hanging over your head, but rather that in your belly, in your gut you’d have a stirring to seek and enjoy rich communion with God through prayer. So when you hear an inner voice crying out, “legalism”, just tell him to be quiet for a few minutes.

TEXT – Psalm 13

[1] How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

[2] How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

[3] Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

[4] lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

[5] But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

[6] I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

PRAY

What is Prayer?

So if we’re going to talk about living a more prayerful life, it’d help to define what prayer is and isn’t, and why the lack of prayer is a missed opportunity and a problem.

At its very heart, prayer is not something we initiate. It is a response to God taking the initiative in our lives. When we pray, we’re not starting from scratch. We’re not starting from square one. We’re continuing a conversation that the Father initiated.

From the first verses of Scripture, Gen 1:3 and following, we read over and over “and God said…and there was…” Our Creator God initated by speaking the universe into existence and from that day forward, we’ve been responding to His voice

In John’s gospel we read in 1:1,14, “

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

And so we see our Savior God, the Word, initiating redemption through His coming to earth and clothing himself in the language of human existence and experience.

So when we pray, we’re not doing something original. This is not an idea that originated with us. We are responding to the conversation that God began from the foundations of the world and brought to a overwhelmingly personal intensity in His Son Jesus Christ. He is always the First Mover – we’re always following his lead.

Describing prayer further, New York pastor Tim Keller, in his book Prayer, says,

“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change-the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

6min

To that I would add that part of that “treating God as God” that Keller refers to is that prayer expresses and deepens our trust in God – it’s our way of saying, “God, I’m helpless. Apart from you I can do nothing. Please step in and show yourself strong.”

So we see that prayer is central to all of life really. It comes in many different forms and expressions including several of which are captured in the acronym ACTS, which stands for Adoration – where we relish in and praise God for his attributes and perfections. Confession where we acknowledge to God where we’ve sinned against Him and others. Thanksgiving where we remember and thank God for his many gifts in our lives. And Supplication where we ask God to act on our behalf.

A Missed Opportunity

That’s just a little primer on what prayer is. An absence of prayer then is a big problem and a missed opportunity. James writes in James 4-

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3 ESV)

By not humbling ourselves in prayer to ask God for what we feel we need, we miss out on receiving gifts from Him—you don’t have b/c you don’t ask. James’ learned this from his brother Jesus, who tells us in Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Some of you might be saying, “Whoa there Preacher! God isn’t a cosmic vending machine that we just push the prayer buttons on and get stuff.” No, He’s not. But how many of us have taken that truth too far the other direction and never ask Him for anything, never allow Him to show His Fatherly provision for us. Jesus continues in Matt 7:9-11

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Does hearing that begin to stir or rouse something in your gut. Not a sense of guilt, but a sense of longing, that you’re missing out on those good things of God and the goodness of God Himself?

Indeed, though, many of those good gifts he wants to give us aren’t only material things or even jobs or stronger marriages or better relationships. He also wants to fashion and form us into more of His Son’s image. So an absence of prayer means we’re missing vital opportunities for the Holy Spirit to examine us and highlight areas of our character and behavior He wants to refine and change.

We reformed types with our semi-Puritan work ethic are pretty decent, at least in the first few months of the new year, and finding a bible reading plan and regularly reading the scriptures. But then what? What do we do with that reading? Do we respond to God and His Word by meditating on what we read and conversing with God about it? Some of us do but many of us don’t. So the seed of God’s word sits there on rocky soil and gets picked off by the cares of this world and the enemy before it has a chance to sink deep in our hearts and bare fruit.

Why Don’t we pray more – what keeps us from it

We’ve seen a glimpse of what prayer is and talked a little about how not praying is a huge missed opportunity, so why don’t we pray more? What keeps us from it?

10:25

At the heart of it, I think it’s because we forget the gospel. We forget that we’ve been pursued at immeasurable cost and given a spirit of sonship which cries(prays) “dada-Father!” We forget that we have incredible access to the Father in Jesus’ name, and that that access isn’t just for when life takes a turn and we need help, but it’s also for enjoying and knowing God more even when life is going great.

We forget who we are in Christ. And when life does get hard, we treat prayer like it’s the Sharktank. If you haven’t seen the show, 4-5 millionaires sit in cushy leather chairs while they listen to proposals from entrepreneurs who are seeking substantial loans to grow their fledgling businesses. When these entrepreneurs don’t know their financials well or have a lousy business plan, they and their requests get completely chewed up and spit out by the shark investors. They can be ruthless.

In like manner, Instead of remembering the gospel and who God says we are, we listen to our inner voice rehearse our litany of failures and why we aren’t worthy to come before the King. “You’re too inconsistent. Too lustful. Too proud. Too little faith. Too apathetic. Come back when you have a better business plan. The King of Kings doesn’t want to see you now.”

We think our sinful heart attitudes repel God from us. And so distance is created, but it’s not God distancing himself from us, but us stepping back from and avoiding God. We think, “well why would a holy God want to draw near to a wretched sinner like me? I need to clean myself up first before I even try to approach him.” and we wean ourselves and cut ourselves off from the only thing, the only Person who has the power and the grace to help us and change us. So I want to show us, through Psalm 13, how the gospel, our adoption into God’s family through Christ, can help us press into rather than withdraw from praying.

How might PS 13 help us pray?

I think one of the hardest things about prayer is the getting going. It’s hard to “pray until you pray” as some have put it. It’s the getting past ourselves. Getting beyond our noisiest thoughts to the deep places of our soul. If you’ve tried more than twice in your life to pray for 3 minutes or more, you’ve no doubt experienced dryness, a lack of focus, deadness. You came to meet with Jesus and it feels like He stood you up and left you alone. And prayer time is over just about as soon as it started.

So that’s what I love about Psalm 13 and what David has to teach us about praying. This psalm provides some great help to get going.

We don’t know a lot about the historical context of the Psalm, but we can be fairly sure that either David was fleeing for his life from King Saul, who was trying to hunt him down and kill him because he’d grown too popular with the people OR he was fleeing from his son Absalom who’d staged a coup and was also trying to catch David. Look with me again at verses 1-2.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

[2] How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

I think a big part of our problem is that we don’t complain to God very well. Don’t get me wrong, I think we complain plenty in general, but when it comes to speaking with God, I think we’re fairly lousy at it.

What I mean by that, is that I don’t think we often approach God all that honestly. I don’t think we’re all that aware of what’s going on deep down in our hearts. We don’t acknowledge our loneliness, our sense that God has failed us, abandoned us, plugged His ears. We don’t tell Him it seems like he doesn’t care, or worse, that he takes some dark pleasure in our grief.

15min

Because you don’t say those things to God. He’s God. He’s perfect. He’s all-wise. He knows what’s best. So if something isn’t right in life, if it’s not all daisies and butterflies, I’m the problem and I should just shut up and deal with it. Except bottling our thoughts and emotions like that seldom if ever works.

Much in the same way like when you’re nauseous with sickness and need to throw up. You don’t want to get off the couch our out of bed. Throwing up isn’t pretty. It’s violent and unpleasant and sounds painful. But it’s necessary. Trying to hold it in only leads to greater nauseousness. Throwing up is the first step toward restored health.

God is so much more ready to hear our cries than we are to cry out to Him. Isaiah 30 says that the Lord waits and longs to be gracious to us. And David knows that about God and freely pours his complaint, His lament out to Him.

In our home and in our marriage. I’m not a big fan of universal statements. They feel so defeatist and victimy. “You ALWAYS do that…” “I NEVER get to…”. Those kinds of statements are seldom helpful in having a productive conversation because they blow things out of proportion.

Yet we see in this psalm that God is ok with imprecise and exaggerated language, as David says, “will you forget me FOREVER. Shall I have sorrow in my heart ALL the day.”, because David is being honest with where he’s at in relation to God. And he belabors the point by stating 4 times, “How long?”

David isn’t the only one who isn’t afraid to be transparent about his feelings with God. After CS Lewis’ wife Joy died from cancer, he felt similarly abandoned by God. He writes in his book, A Grief Observed:

“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

J I Packer writes in his book on prayer,

“Complaints are integral to this new, regenerate life of communion and prayer…so complaint will be, or at least should be, a recurring element in the praying of the born again.”

Being honest with God in this way isn’t for His benefit of course. Scripture says, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of God…”(Hebrews 4:13). Being honest like this is for our benefit-so that we see ourselves as we really are instead of as we wish to be.

Being honest like this with God is actually a way of expressing trust in Him as well. We’re essentially, if indirectly, confessing that we know He loves us enough that he won’t reject us or spurn us for our feelings. As a parent, one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating things is when one my kids won’t open up about what it is that’s bothering them, especially if it’s something I’ve done. Conversely, it feels awesome when, even if they’re mad at me, they’re willing to tell me how I’ve hurt them in some way so work on mending the relationship and restoring trust.

So it’s not just OK, it’s necessary to be brutally honest with God. BUT we don’t just stay there. Our honest heart is not the measure of all reality. We ought not want to stay in that state of being. We lament to God not for the sake of complaining itself, but to realize that He is listening and that He does care and that he’s more compassionate and patient then we ever thought possible.

So David appeals to God in verses 3-4

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

[4] lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

David’s request is so amazingly beautiful. His prayer isn’t for deliverance from his circumstances. He prays, essentially, for the grace and strength to go through his circumstances. “God, don’t hide your face from me anymore. Light up my eyes, restore to me the joy of my salvation. Make me confident in your goodness and your nearness in the midst of this ordeal. Let my foes, which are really your foes, be mortified by my peace and rock solid hope in You.”

While David’s external circumstances don’t change as he’s praying this, we see God answer his prayer in verses 5-6

5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

[6] I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

How did God answer his prayer? David asked for God to restore his joy and confidence in Him and now we see David ready to burst out in song. Starting an honest conversation with God was the doorway to being led out of his despair to a newfound trust the overflowed in worship.

Again, honesty in itself isn’t enough. To go back to the pleasant image of vomiting, after we’ve thrown up, while we generally feel better, we’re not ready to hop back on our feet. We’re still weak. So as soon as we’re able, we try to start consuming nourishing food again to regain our strength and stamina.

The same is true with David and us in prayer. He fed his mind solid food by recalling all the ways that God had dealt bountifully with him. He got some perspective outside of the immediate experience of what his feelings were telling him.

You and I need to do that with God’s word. Having confessed to God where we’re at with our attitude, we need to load our minds and hearts with glorious truths about who He is and who we are in Him. We do that by reading and meditating on His Word so that we’re not so vulnerable to being led astray by our feelings.

As we read His Word and see what it declares about who He is and who we are, we have a choice to make. What narrative, what reality is going to dominate me today? What am I going to believe? Am I going to be tossed around by wherever my feelings blow me? Or am I going to be steadfast in His rock-solid truth?

PERSONAL EXAMPLE – Juking the flesh & Practical tips

As I stated out the outset of the sermon this morning, my sense is that prayer is a weak muscle for us as a body, and that’s a missed opportunity for knowing Him more and seeing His kingdom realized in the world around us. My hope is that encouraging us to be more transparent with God will lead to greater enjoyment in prayer. Praying and meditating don’t earn anything from God. They remind us of all that’s already been bought for us with the precious blood of Christ.

Matthew 27:45-46 records another prayer of lament or complaint that we haven’t touched on yet today, and it’s of Jesus on the cross:

Now forom the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Our hope isn’t in how often or how well we pray or how transparent and authentic we are. Though we may feel like God has forgotten us at times, our hope is in the Son of God, our Great High Priest, our Mediator, who was the only human who actually was forsaken, for our sakes, so that we might receive His Spirit of Sonship by which we can cry out– Abba-Father!

As you respond to God’s word with songs of praise and with offerings of gratitude, and for those of you who’ve put your trust in Christ come to the table to remember His sacrifice through communion, see and hear Christ praying on the cross facing devastating rejection so that you and I, when we call on our heavenly Father, enjoy astounding reception.

More in On the Road

January 24, 2016

We Are Damascus Road | Acts 9:1-25

December 27, 2015

On the Road With [out] Jesus | Luke 2:41-52