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God’s Glory In Our Personal Suffering

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 16, 2014

Selected highlights from this sermon

When you’re in the midst of destruction, despondency, depression and feeling utterly helpless and hopeless, cry up to God—because when you do, you have His full attention.

As we look at the first five verses of Psalm 40, we can see how God works in our lives when we’re broken and reach out to Him.

The message that I’m going to speak to you today I believe under God is going to be transforming. I expect families to be reconciled, couples to be reconciled. I expect those with addictions to receive help. It’s going to be a message that will be transforming because it’s based on the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit of God. This message, I believe, is directed towards thousands of people who will hear it.

The passage of Scripture is Psalm 40. It’s the experience of David, and as we shall see later, it’s also the experience of Jesus. And David says these words. He begins, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog.”

Don’t you love the imagery? You can imagine the pit. You can imagine the miry bog, and once you are in a pit and you begin to dig, the deeper you fall because there seems to be no way out. We don’t know exactly the experience that David had but I assume that it was an experience of destruction. He was near death. It was an experience of despondency. It was also an experience of depression (If you are depressed today, David can relate.) and utter total hopelessness. Every step you take, you get a bit deeper into the pit.

Now what I’d like to do is to give you five lessons that are in this particular psalm – five lessons that God does for us in the midst of such unbelievable great need. Let’s look at them briefly.

Lesson number one – David said, “He heard me.” I read it a moment ago. “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined to me.” There’s an expression also in the Bible that says, “The Lord inclined His ear.” That doesn’t mean that God has ears. It’s a way of expression to say, “God gave me His full attention." In fact, He inclined to me. I spoke to Him and He leaned over and He looked in my eye and said, ‘Speak to me directly because I’m listening.’”

Perhaps you read the article this past week that about a third of all married couples (or I suppose also unmarried ones) use their cell phone during a mealtime. You’ve had that experience. You are out in a restaurant and the guy tries to hide it behind the table and he’s texting. Come on! The world will continue without you knowing exactly what’s going on. I heard of one family that says they take all of their cell phones and put them on the shelf during the meal. Why? It’s so they can connect directly and they are not distracted.

God says that when you cry to Me you have my full attention. The Bible says that God spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend. Now Moses had a unique experience, but we have it too. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we come into the presence of God and we talk to God face to face, and He gives us His full attention. “He heard me.” God isn’t deaf.

The second lesson is that He lifted me. It says there in verse 2, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction.” “He drew me up!” And was David able to help himself? No, not really! When you are in the pit of destruction God doesn’t say, “I’m going to throw you a rope and now that you have the rope, hang on to it and I’ll help you out.” You don’t have enough strength to hold on to that rope, do you? You are weak and in despair and you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, and you are in that pit. God has to come along and not just throw you a rope. What God has to do is something much more drastic. He has to descend into the pit and lift you up and put you in a bucket and pull you up because you are in the pit of despair, and there is no hope for you apart from God’s intervention.

Today I am speaking to many people who are in predicaments that you well know about that you cannot get out of alone. Now God may use other people, just like He’s going to use the message that I am preaching to touch your heart, and to remind you of what God can do. He will use other people, but you need God to come along. You need Him to scoop you up because there is no other place for you to turn, and every place you turn to there is a more miry bog that you descend into. So he said, “God came along and He picked me up. He drew me up (I love the imagery.) from the pit of destruction.” And God is here today to do that for you. See, some of you never expected to hear this message, but you are hearing it today because God is going to speak to your heart and He’s going to help you out of your pit.

The third lesson is He established me. The Scripture says that He put me upon a rock, making my steps secure. When we get to the New Testament we discover that that rock, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. God takes us out and then He gives us a new path to follow.

Perhaps you have seen the animal channel, which I think is one of the best channels. You say, “Well, which one is that?” It is actually the animal channel. There are others that may compete, but it is the animal channel. I think that just blew past many of you, but the point is that here was a deer that fell into the icy water. It was walking on the ice and then slipped into the lake. And they got some ropes and they got some pulleys, and they pulled this deer out, and after the deer was pulled out it was back on its path. But that doesn’t mean that all of its enemies are gone and all of its problems are solved.

Later on in this very psalm, David talks about his enemies wanting to surround him and wanting to kill him. Life is never easy, but God gives you a path to follow that is secure because there is a center of certainty that you’ve come to know Him. And you are following Him in whatever it is that He asks you to do because “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Now we can begin to see the obedient path to follow.

It has been said, you know, that if you walk along and you see a little frog on the top of a fence post, you know that the frog didn’t get there on its own. Obviously it had help, and when you and I find that path to follow, that path of meaning and fulfillment, you know we didn’t get there on our own. God came along and scooped us up. He listened to our cry. He established our going and gave us something else that we must do.

Now not only that! You’ll notice that He heard, He lifted me up and He established me. And we are now on number four. He inspired me. You’ll notice it says in verse 3 that “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” He put a new song in my mouth.

Rebecca and I recently were with a couple that in both instances had been previously married. Their mates had died and now they married. And the man said that life with his new wife was very different than life with his first wife, though he has loved both of them. I’ve never had that experience, but those of you have been married and remarried may know that things are very different. And he put it this way. He said, “This isn’t just a brand new stanza to the same old song. This isn’t stanza two of the song. This is a brand new song. In other words, the past is past. The relationships are very, very different now as we move to the future and it is an entirely new song.”

He has put a new song in our mouths. You know, there’s something about singing that is not true of speaking. You can speak even when you are depressed. You can speak when things aren’t going well. But singing touches our emotions like nothing else does. And that’s why the Bible tells us so much about singing and the need for a song, because really what David is saying is, “He didn’t just enable me to write a new song. He gave me a new heart. He changed my heart. Therefore He changed my tune.”

The Bible says in the book of Psalms that when Israel was in Babylon, “We took all of our harps (Harps were generally used to give praise to God.) and we hung them on the willows.” It says, “Who can sing the songs of Zion in a strange land? How can we sing praise to God in the midst of a situation that we didn’t create with all of this cultural and spiritual pressure from a pagan country? We can’t sing the songs of Zion here.” Why? It’s because your heart determines ultimately what you will sing.

Many years ago I wrote a book about the experiences that people had during a great awakening that took place in Canada, and there was a woman that I tracked down because I wanted to use her story and to authenticate it. So here’s her story. She is in such despair and such depression that she wants to commit suicide. She takes the sleeping pills and she puts them in her own purse, but before she dies she decides that she’s going to church to say goodbye to God. “Goodbye God! I’m here! Goodbye! And now I’m going to take the pills and die.”

But she knew that there was a service going on in the church, and you had all of these people singing praise to God. If I remember correctly they were actually singing a little ditty that we never sing anymore. It’s “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad.” How many of you have ever heard that? Oh, about 25 of you in this large crowd. (laughter) That must say something about my age. It goes, “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad.” And there she is. She wants to sing, “Oh say, but I’m mad, I’m mad.” I mean how can you say, “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad?” That’s all the singing you’ll ever hear from this pulpit. Alright? (laughter)

But some women said to her, “Why don’t you come into the prayer room, and let’s cry up to the Lord for your depression? You don’t have to live with such hopelessness. They stayed there an hour or two praying with her. And then she wrote me a letter, and this is what she said. “I have many physical problems, but the depression never returned.”

Now it could be that you are having depression. Maybe it will return. But isn’t it wonderful to know that when we are in the company of God, when we are in that deep pit, He can change our song from “Oh say, but I’m mad, I’m mad” to “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad.” He gave me a new song to sing, not just a stanza of the old one.

Number five, you’ll notice, is He will use me. He used me. Look at how far we have come. He has heard me. He has lifted me. He has established me. He has inspired me, and now look! “I sing a new song and many will see it and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” Wow! When you are going through a time of suffering you’re not doing it just for yourself. You are doing it for the benefit of others because when others see your testimony, they are going to say, “Wow! If God can do it for him, why can’t God do it for me?” And as a result of the deliverance that God brings you, it’s inspiring to others.

This past week Rebecca and I spent a couple of days in Florida. We arrived home last night and we were at a meeting where we were hearing these testimonies of what God had done when people seriously (I mean seriously) get right with God. No longer coming to church, singing the right songs! Like one man said, “For me it was God on Wednesday night, God on Sunday morning, and it was my time during the week.” There was no more of that.

There were stories of unfaithfulness in marriage. Marriages were put together. There was a story about a man who had to confess to his wife finally that he had a son whom he had fathered many years ago. And after working through all of that, a couple of years later the same man (who had to confess to his wife), who had been ministering in a church, went back and said, “Let me introduce you to my other son.” He said, “My wife has accepted him. He’s now a part of the family,” because God loves to restore our brokenness. And He loves to use it. You see, when you hear testimonies like that you say to yourself, “Well, if God did it for him, why can’t He do it for me?”

David said, “I have a new song to sing, and many are going to fear.” In the rest of the chapter do you know what he talks about? He says, “I’m going to sing your name among the congregation. Everybody’s going to hear about the deliverance You gave me.” That’s why here at The Moody Church we celebrate the joy of changed lives since 1864. And that is our motto during our anniversary year because what we’re all about is the transformation of lives through the Gospel.

The name Stuart Hamblen may not mean a whole lot to you but in the late forties he was Los Angeles’s most famous disk jockey. That, of course, was in the years largely before television. And when Billy Graham was there in 1949 he was on Hamblen’s program because Hamblen was a cowboy singer and he was very famous in Los Angeles, and Billy thought that this might be a way to promote his crusade. Stuart always struggled with alcoholism, and in fact, one time his radio station got him out of jail and paid his fine so that he could be back because he was so popular that they needed him on the air.

He comes to Billy Graham’s hotel room at two o’clock in the morning and knocks, and Billy spends time with him until about five in the morning, and Stuart Hamblen gets saved. So after he is saved he gets fired from his radio program because now he refuses to allow advertisements and commercials for liquor – for beer. So he meets his friend, John Wayne. They were together and had done things together, and John Wayne says, “Boy, you’ve got religion. You’ve really taken a different track in your life”, and Stuart Hamblen said, “Yes, you know, John, it is no secret what God can do.” And according to the account I read, John Wayne said to him, “You know, that almost seems as if that could be the basis of a song that you might be able to write.” So Stuart Hamblen wrote a song (And once again, just relax. I’m not going to sing it. I wish I could.) but I’ll see if I can quote it.

The chimes of time ring out the news,
Another day is through.
Someone slipped and fell.
Was that someone you?
You may have longed for added strength,
Your courage to renew,
Do not be disheartened
For I have news for you.

It is no secret what God can do.
What he’s done for others,
He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.

And Stuart Hamblen sang that song to 100,000 people in Los Angeles in 1963 when Billy Graham was there as they recounted his story of conversion.

Folks, what He’s done for others He’ll do for you. There is reconciliation. There is hope no matter who you are. David says, “Many people shall see it and fear and trust in the Lord and say, ‘If God did it for David, He can do for me.’”

What I’d like to do is to help us nail this down for ourselves as we look back on the psalm and the experience of David.

First of all, I want you to notice that God never wastes our experiences. No matter how far you have fallen, no matter what situation you are in, God can redeem you because He is a redeeming God, and our sin and our despair do not catch Him off guard.

Look at David who fell into a pit. I don’t know what pit he was talking about here but you know that eventually he fell into the pit of uncleanness and immorality. He was untrue and he ended up having an affair with Bathsheba. Now even though God forgave him of all of the implications, even forgiven sin has its consequences. Alright? Let’s just get that established. But later on what happened is David married Bathsheba. I mean he murdered her husband and let’s just say that the story was ugly and messy, and yet in the midst of this pit of despair and brokenness, and the despair of family relationships, what happens? God gives Bathsheba and David a son by the name of Solomon, and God says, “I love Solomon.” And one day God says to Solomon, “What is it that you really want?” And Solomon said, “One thing, and that is wisdom.” And God said, “I like that request. You didn’t ask for money or fame. You are going to have all of that, but you asked God for a heart of wisdom.” And Solomon ended up building the Temple, the great Solomon’s Temple, which lasted a couple hundred years before the Babylonians came and destroyed it.

And then there’s something else that this boy did, and that is he wrote quite a few chapters of the Old Testament because it was he who wrote most of the book of Proverbs. What was it? Was it 3,000 Proverbs the Bible says? If I have this correct, he wrote 1,500 songs, and he ends up in the genealogy of Jesus.

Do you see how God is a redeeming God? If you are in the pit today, it is not that you are stuck. You are strategically positioned for something wonderful if you turn to God and allow Him to have His grace upon you.

I think, for example, of Peter. He denied Jesus and wept bitterly because he did love Jesus but he denied him. Three times he denied that he knew Jesus, and what happens is he is restored. Three times Jesus gives him the opportunity to say, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” And we think of Peter today preaching on the Day of Pentecost and writing two books of the New Testament, and having such a great impact on the Church because for those who turn to God failure is never final. (applause) There’s a new song that has to be written. There’s a new chapter that God has in mind for you. God never wastes your experience.

So first of all, God never wastes your experience. You’ll notice also that God responds to desperation. What’s the key to this whole thing? How come God heard and inclined to him, helped him, drew him out from the pit, blessed him and gave him a new song? How did that all happen? Well, let’s look at the text again.

“I waited patiently for the Lord.” Did you know that the Hebrew text actually says this? “I waited and I waited.” I like that better. It really uses the word “waited” twice, but they didn’t want to say, “I waited and I waited,” so they said, “I waited patiently,” which essentially means the same thing. But he says, “I waited, and then I waited.”

Where are you today? Have you waited patiently and done something else? You’ve waited for God’s deliverance most assuredly, but also you’ve done something else and that is this. (Listen to this.) “He heard my cry.” This isn’t a little prayer. “Oh God, please bless us four, us and no more.” It’s not a little prayer of “Oh Lord, help me to be better. Take care of the kids.” No! This is a cry of complete utter desperation. There is nowhere else to go. Every avenue is shut up. The pit has four sides and no matter where I go it is still a miry bog. This is a prayer of desperation and only desperate people really pray. You know that. That’s why prayer meeting for many people is something they never get involved in because they’re not yet desperate. And they are saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong,” and God says, “I’m trying to bring you to the point of desperation.”

When I was flying back from Florida yesterday evening I was reading a book by Jim Cymbala. It’s entitled Breakthrough Prayer, and I thought that would be a good book to read, and I got through I think the second chapter before I tried to take a little nap. And I came across this story, which fits exactly with where this message has gone and is going.

Cymbal writes, “A 44-year old man lies in the gutter waiting for the hospital to open. He is waiting not to get well but to die. His 108-pound body is covered with sores, a muttering, half-mad creature filled with phobias that paralyze him. He has lived in the streets for 3 years. His head is filled with voices that scream incessantly, voices that have been speaking to him for some time. The dominant voice is constant accusations at him, while the other voice spews out a steady stream of profanity.”

So there he is. It was a hospital in the Bronx that only opened in the morning. It wasn’t open all night. So he is there. Cymbala said, “This man, Danny, is someone you cross the street to avoid. He is pitiful and hopeless, a hopeless heroin addict, ready to die. And that’s what he wants to do but he doesn’t want to die out on the street. He wants to die in the hospital with at least some dignity.”

Then he goes on to give his story in Danny’s own words, that he was brought up in a fine family and had the ability to be a hair stylist, and got many interesting and very lucrative contracts. He went to Paris, came back a heroin addict. And a woman by the name of Wanda asked if he would do her hair, and he said yes, and they also prayed for him – she and some others. And Wanda said to him, “Danny, the day you call on the name of the Lord, you’ll be set free.”

Danny said, “Whatever she meant, I knew it would never happen to me. I had already been in and out of 8 or 9 detox programs, and nothing had worked. There was no way any of this miracle stuff could change me. Once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend!”

So he couldn’t take it any longer and Wanda connected with him again, gave him some money and a Bible. He said, “Dirty as I was, I showed up to the church because she said, ‘You can’t have the Bible unless you come to the church,’ and so I showed up.” He said, “I used the money for drugs and sold the Bible within an hour of leaving the church.”

And then Wanda invited him over again because there were several young women who wanted their hair done, and he goes over there, and he says, “Before I left, they circled around me, praying so hard, it made me think, ‘Wow! They actually believe this stuff.’” He said, “They prayed really loud as if they thought God was listening, and there were five of them,” and I said, “I don’t believe this nonsense,” and so I left.

But now he’s in the hospital. We’re back where this story began. He gets in the hospital. He lives through the night, and now he tells the rest of the story.

He’s lying in the hospital, he says, in his bed in his own vomit. He said, “Suddenly all the voices in my head started screaming, creating total chaos within me. I was disoriented. I wanted to die but I couldn’t jump out of a window because they were barred. Then in the midst of all of my pain, something or someone whispered words I had heard before from Wanda. ‘The day you call on the Lord, He will set you free.’ All the other voices tried to drown it out but they couldn’t. ‘The day you call on the Lord, He will set you free.’ In absolute desperation I screamed on my bed, ‘Jesus, help me. Oh God, help me with everything. You’re my only hope so please help. Jesus, Wanda told me that the day I called on You, I would be set free. Help me now, oh God.’ At that moment, Almighty God swept over me and around me. I knew He was real because all the voices in my head suddenly stopped their hellish screaming, and the ball of fear that had been weighing on me lifted. I knew that everything had changed even though nothing had changed outwardly. I was still in my bed surrounded by my vomit but I was a million miles from where I had been.”

Now what happened later is he entered into a rehab program, and then a Christian rehab program. Today, eight years later Danny is ministering at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and he sings in the choir twice every Sunday, (applause) because God lifted him out of the pit of despair and gave him something to sing about.

How does God do this and why does He do it? If you read the rest of the Psalm you discover this is a Messianic Psalm. It’s about David, but like many of the Psalms it’s about David but then there are parts that don’t apply to David. It’s all about Jesus. And what the Psalm goes on to say is, for example, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” This is quoted in the New Testament as belonging to Christ.

I’ll tell you how God does it. When Jesus left the glories of heaven, He descended into the pit. He came to a world of injustice. He came to a world of violence. He was nailed on the cross, though He was sinless. He was accused of things He didn’t do. He suffered the pain and the humiliation of being nailed naked on this cross where other people gawked at Him. He descended into the pit that you and I might be brought to His palace. That’s what happened when Jesus died. And because of His death on the cross, it is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you. With arms wide open He’ll pardon you. It is no secret what God can do.

Whether it’s Stuart Hamblen, or the man Newton who wrote Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound, God delivers when we are desperate.

Corrie Ten Boom, who lived in the concentration camp and lost her sister in Nazi Germany, said, “There is no pit that is so deep but that God is deeper still.”

Let’s pray together and then I’m going to give you some instructions.

Father, we thank You today for David. We thank You for his deliverance. We ask, oh Lord Jesus, deliver Your people today as they call upon You. We pray that couples will be reconciled, and families. We pray that those who struggle with alcoholism will cry out to You, and that You’ll put their feet upon a solid path. Do that, Lord, we ask, in Jesus’ name. Save those who need to be saved.

Today we’re going to be doing things a little differently. We’re going to be singing Amazing Grace, which really fits very beautifully with what we’ve said, but I’m going to ask the prayer partners to come forward, and also those of you to whom God has spoken. I’m going to be here on the floor level. Would you come and shake my hand, and in shaking my hand there’s nothing magical. Please understand. All that you are saying by doing that is “By God’s grace I will call on Him and receive deliverance.”

So as we sing, I’m going to be standing there. You come, and prayer partners will be there because there are many of you who have to call on the name of the Lord.

Let’s all stand to sing Amazing Grace.

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