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A Confident Prayer in Troublesome Times
Do you ever feel as though your prayers are ineffective, that somehow you're not getting through? I would imagine that all of us have felt that way at some time in our lives. And we're right to be concerned about it! We desire to walk closely with this God and to enjoy fellowship with him and it hurts when we feel somehow cut off from him. In particular when our circumstances become more difficult we may find that we're tempted to give up completely especially if no immediate response appears forthcoming.
What are we to do in such circumstances? Are we to give up and simply stop praying? After all when we look at the lives of others round about us, those who don't have any faith to speak of, and they seem to be living their lives successfully and perhaps even in a trouble free way, then that temptation can be a strong one as we ask ourselves "What's the point?"
But troubles and difficulties are far from being unusual in the life of a believer however much we might wish that not to be the case. And that fact should never take us by surprise –after all over a third of the Psalms were written for just such times of difficulty, did you know that?
Many folk consider Psalm 4, the psalm we're looking at this evening, to be a companion to Psalm 3 and composed in the same set of circumstancesthat we thought about last week. They understand Ps.3 to be a morning psalm whereas Ps.4 is an evening psalm.
Now the Book of Psalms is the Bible's hymnbook and as such is full of songs. These songs take a wide variety of different forms. Some of them consist of hymns of praise directed towards God while others take the form more of prayers and intercessions. There are yet others that address various different groups of people and some are more introspective addressing the psalmist's own inner life. Some psalms are a combination of these different elements. We shouldn't be taken aback by this – we do the same thing with our hymns – we must simply take care that we consider carefully who is being addressed at any particular moment. Sometimes this is clear and sometimes it is less so.
Let's turn to look more closely at Ps.4 now.
The Psalmist and his God v.1
The psalmist prays as a believing man always should pray: he is convinced that the God to whom he prays, the God whom he ardently desires, is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. He cries not into the void from which he would be relieved if there came any answer rather he cries out to a God whom he knows to be there and who so habitually hears prayer that he fully expects him to hear now!
But his prayer is anything but complacent! This psalmist longs to be heard and so prays with engagement and fervor.
The Believer's God
He prays to the LORD as "the God of my righteousness" and this is an unusual title, indeed a unique one that is only used here. What does he mean by it?
The psalmist is not primarily putting the emphasis on the fact that the LORD himself is righteous, which he is, nor is he putting the emphasis upon another equally true fact that as righteous he can be relied upon to do what is right. What the psalmist is saying is that he is the author of any righteousness to which the psalmist might possibly lay claim. More than this the LORD is not merely the author of such a righteousness he is also the witness, the sustainer, the judge and the One who rewards such righteousness. David is thus calling upon the LORD to recognize his own handiwork and to judge that! And what is this righteousness other than Jesus Christ himself?
And is this not exactly what we as Christian celebrate in songs such as:
JESUS, Your blood and righteousness
my beauty are, my glorious dress;
midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed;
with joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
for who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Or from the hymn ‘WE rest on Thee’, our Shield and our Defender! We sing in the second verse:
Yes, ‘in Thy name’, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear name, all other names above;
Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation,
our Prince of glory and our King of love.
Or from Newton's hymn "WHY should I fear the darkest hour," the fifth verse has:
Though sin would fill me with distress,
the throne of grace I dare address,
for Jesus is my righteousness.
What reasons we have for confidence when it is Jesus who is our righteousness!
The Believer's Past Experience of God
Then, as in the previous Psalm, David builds upon the foundation of past mercies. Past blessings provide a real ground for hope in the present. God who supplied life-giving manna in the wilderness to the people of Israel regularly until they crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land will surely not abandon us short of the finishing line!
David really does have tremendous grounds for being confident in the midst of his trials but he does not abuse this nor does he give way to complacency. He knows that even the best of saints still stands in need of divine mercy and sovereign grace and so prays accordingly with the humility that becomes a sinner saved by grace.
The Psalmist and his Enemies vv.2-5
Having first spoken to God David is ready to turn his attention towards his enemies and to speak to them. His words are not a request for information but a challenge to them to rethink their entire strategy and way of dealing with him. Do they really understand what they are doing?
"O men, how long shall my honour be turned into shame?" he asks v.2. And what he means is how long will they go on mocking the LORD Jesus Christ who is all David's honour. In ridiculing David and his beliefs his enemies are really ridiculing the Messiah, the LORD Jesus! They might not see it as clearly as that and sadly we often don't see things that clearly either but that is the heart of the matter and how serious a matter it is!
These were men who were of a certain rank in society, they were intelligent men and how often is it the "leaders and shakers" who are most hostile in their opposition to the people of God!
"How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah" he continues v.2. David's enemies are unspiritual men and they have inflated ideas about their own importance, they are puffed up by their own ideas and not naturally open to the truth. How easily such men suppress the truth replacing it with their own flawed thinking!
And David challenges them to think carefully. And he pauses so that his words might sink in and men might begin to think.
As ever Bible truths are backed up. David's enemies are reminded that the godly believer is not after all some poor failed human being to be slighted at will as though he were a person of no significance. No, the godly believer has been set apart not as a result of his own effort or endeavour but by God and for God.
The follow-on from this is no small matter either. The God who has chosen and set apart his people for himself will also hear them when they cry to him!
In this part of his Psalm/song David doesn't hesitate to refer to the doctrine of election – he is what he is, a believer, because God has chosen him and set him apart. The believer is special and should be able to draw great comfort from this fact especially in times of difficulty: if God has chosen to love me he can hardly chose not to hear me when I pray!
Such truth is likely to be unwelcome to David's enemies just as it is to the unbeliever today who doesn't like talk about God's sovereign election of particular men and women to be the beneficiaries of his grace and salvation.
David calls upon his enemies not to be carried away by their anger and in their anger to sin. Yes, they might become agitated but that is no excuse they must stop and consider things carefully. The truth he has just shared with them is designed to make them reflect, to take stock, and yes, to repent.
He urges them to be careful lest they sin further and he urges them to seek the very best conditions in which they might be able to think and think carefully about all he has said:
v.4 "ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent."
We live many of us in a world of constant distraction whether it be the noise of a radio or TV in the home, or piped music (muzak) in our supermarkets. The mobile phone is constantly at hand to distract us with text messages. So many things militate us thinking. And the Bible's repeated advice is settle down, be quiet, be still, be silent – then we might perceive and know that he is God.
"Be still before the LORD" Ps.37:7; "Be still and know that I am God" Ps.46:10
Again a selah, a pause, oh if only men and women would stop to think it might lead them on to ask that sobering question that was asked at Pentecost as Peter was ending his sermon:
Acts 2:37 "Brothers, what shall we do?"
I say that this was David's purpose because he goes on after his pause to answer just such a question.
v.5 "Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD."
The sacrifices of the OT all point towards the the final and complete sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did what the OT sacrifices could never achieve fully – he dealt with the problem of sin once and for all. David was, in effect, calling upon his enemies to put their trust firmly in the LORD Jesus. For a man or a woman to do so there is of necessity a recognition of sin that needs to be dealt with and the expression of confidence that Jesus and Jesus alone can deal with it!
David began his song in a difficult place being hard pressed but already he is commending his Savour and urging others to repent and believe in him too!
The Need for a Clear Spiritual Vision vv.6-8
The Christian believer, like others believers in the Bible, is called to live by faith and not by sight. This doesn't mean that the Christian dreams up some scenario he'd like to enjoy and then tries to make himself believe it will happen! No, living by faith means taking God at his word. We are called then to know what God has done for us and what he has promised us and we are to believe because he who calls us is faithful and worthy of our trust.
We don't always find this easy and, as David continues, he declares:
v.6 "There are many who say 'Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD."
Even amongst believers there are to be found those who long for visible demonstrations of God's blessing in their life. They prefer to see than to believe and so hanker after what they think to be evidence of that blessing in their lives. They want to see prosperity, they long for good harvests, they are eager to have the wealth that this world has to offer.
There are many today who twist the gospel of Jesus Christ and make out that the offer of the gospel is all about material and temporal blessing in the here and now. They are proclaiming that the Bible is wrong when it declares that you cannot serve God and Mammon. But that is not what the good news of Jesus is all about! You can't serve God and Mammon and nothing in the modern world has altered that fact. Nor has the good news changed: it is still all about having peace with God, having joy in the heart because of sins forgiven, of having an enjoying fellowship with the Living God.
v.7 The true believer in his faith-union with Jesus Christ has joy in his heart because he has Christ in his heart! And this joy is not dependent upon possessions etc. Indeed his peace and joy is something that can't be compared to what the worlding extracts from his worldly pleasures!
Does this challenge us I wonder?
We live in a rich world where we seem to need more and more each year. Do we harbour in our own hearts a hankering desire for the things of this world that is threatening the well-being of our own spiritual lives? Could we declare with the apostle Paul that we too have learned to be content in whatever situation we might find ourselves? The cares of this world are bound up with the things of this world and in Jesus' parable about the Sower those cares along with the deceitfulness of riches were capable of choking the word rendering it fruitless in a person's life.
And so David reaches the end of his song. He began with God and he will end it with him too. He has rebuked and challenged his enemies calling them to repentance and faith and he has declared the importance of having the right orientation in life, setting the right goals in life and now the day is over and he will sleep. David's sleep will be sweet even if his enemies have not yet repented, even if many still prefer to see rather than to believe. David will sleep and rest because his hopes are not in transient things that can appear or disappear, here today and gone tomorrow. No, David's hope is fully set in the LORD who alone is able to keep him in safety and will do so because he was the One who chose David, he was the One who has become the author and sustainer of David's righteousness by becoming, in Jesus, David's Saviour. Such a God who knows how to feed the birds of the air and clothe the flowers of the field will certainly know how to look after his elect.
Praise his Name!