A Firm Place To StandErwin W. Lutzer | May 5, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Though it’s not a common phrase anymore, don’t you sometimes feel like you’re “in the pits?” David felt this way when he wrote Psalm 40. God didn’t abandon David. David waited on God, who heard his cry and delivered him. When life seems hopeless, we need to cry out to God.
Let me begin today by asking you a question. Have you ever been in a pit? I’m not talking about the sand dunes. I’m talking about the pit of your own experience, the dilemmas of life, the mire and the muck.
Take your Bibles and turn, if you would please, to Psalm 40 because this was David’s experience. And as we shall see at the end of the message, it was also the experience of someone else. You’ll notice he says in verses 1 and 2, “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.”
The imagery in the text is that of swirling water and you are in that water, and no matter where you step, the simple fact is that you keep going down deeper as you try to walk. There does not seem to be any possible way out of it. It could be a pit of failure, moral failure, the entanglements of lives. Some people live their lives because of a series of very bad decisions. It could be those kinds of entanglements.
It could also be a snare that someone else has put out for you, and you are either afraid of falling into it or you have fallen into it and now you are stuck in the mire of your experience. One thing we can be sure about is that it’s the kind of pit that can be described as number one, it’s too deep for you to get out of on your own because every step that you take, you take two further down; and number two, it is so steep and so slimy that others can’t get you out of it either. They can wish you well. They can tell you that they are going to pray for you, but they can’t get you out.
What I’d like to do in the next few moments is to delineate five blessings that came to David when he was there in the pit, or as a result of being in the pit. And then most important we’re going to tell you how those blessings can be yours too. What are the requirements to receive those blessings when you are in the pit? We sometimes use that expression, don’t we? We say, “I’m in the pits.” I haven’t heard that for a long, long time. Maybe it’s because nobody is there anymore. Or maybe it’s because the expression has lost its luster, but we all understand what it’s like, don’t we?
What are the five blessings? Number one, He heard me (verse 1). “He inclined His ear toward me,” one of the translations says. It’s as if God bent down His ear and said, “I’m listening to you.” He heard me. That’s blessing number one.
Have you ever talked to somebody and you wondered whether or not they were listening? One day I was having a discussion about the book of Job with someone who was on the couch, and we were talking about it because we had a different interpretation. And I was giving an exposition as to why my view was correct, and I noticed that he drifted off to sleep. (laughter) And I didn’t notice it until there was no response. I thought he was buying what I was selling, but he was sleeping. Do you sometimes feel that way about God? We keep telling Him the same thing over and over again because we’re not sure whether or not His ear is listening? The imagery is so beautiful. Of course, it’s figurative, but “He inclined His ear.” He bent down so that he could hear my cries and my whispers.
I remember Jim Cymbala from the Brooklyn Tabernacle answering the question of why two thousand people would come on a Tuesday night for a prayer meeting. And he said, “You’d come too if, number one, you believed that God was listening, and number two, that your prayers were going to make a difference. Of course you’d come if you really believed that God was listening and that your prayers would make a difference. And thank God we still have some people here at the church who do believe, you know, that God hears and makes a difference.
So, he says number one, “He heard me.” Number two, “He lifted me.” We’re still actually here now in verse 2. “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire.” God came and did what no human being could do. The situation needed intervention and God was there. And it was clear that God was there because you can’t get out alone.
You know if you are walking along through a pasture and you get to a certain place and you see a fence post and on the top of that fence post there’s a turtle, you know that some human being was there ahead of you. There’s no explanation for that except for the fact that somebody picked up the turtle and put him there. He can’t get up there alone.
There are times when we are in the pit when it’s very clear that God is there, because if God weren’t there it wouldn’t happen. It is, as we like to say, a God thing. And so he says, “God picked me up. He personally came to me in my need and gave me His aid, and it was very clear that this was of God. He lifted me. He did what no human being can do.” And if we had testimonies here today, hundreds of testimonies could be given of people who were cleaned up from their sin, taken out of the pit of their sin, and given cleansing and confidence and a whole new life. And God keeps doing it over and over again. So he says, “He lifted me from the pit.”
Third, he said, “He established me.” We’re still in verse 2. “He set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand (solid rock),” so that even though the tide is still there and the water is swirling around, you find a rock right in the middle of the mire and the muck.
Now here we come to an interpretive issue. Is it really true that when we cry up to the Lord and He hears our cry that He always delivers us from the circumstance? I’m going to be commenting on that in just a few moments but hang on to that for a moment. I think first of all that the solid rock is basically confidence in God, that in the midst of the swirl, in the midst of circumstances over which we now have no control (Maybe at one time we could control them but now they are beyond our ability to control.), even there God gives us the deep settled confidence that He will walk with us and that we can stand even though everything around us seems to be going through the throes of destruction and it’s beyond our control. So it’s confidence – the solid ground.
But also, in addition to that, eventually God may bring us total and complete deliverance, but maybe not as soon as we would like to have it. You’ll notice that even in this Psalm 40 we think, “Well, in the opening of the Psalm, David got rid of all of his problems because now God lifted him.” No, I was surprised to read in verse 14, “May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion. May all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.”
He’s still got evil people after him. You read the rest of the Psalms. There are still the wicked who are plotting their vengeance. I read just this morning in my devotions in one of the Psalms that said, “The wicked do injustice and they say to themselves, ‘We have the perfect plan.’” That still might be happening even though you have confidence in God. Eventually there will be total and complete deliverance, but maybe not right away. So he says that God established him.
He says in verse 3, “God inspired me. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Does that mean that he wrote a new song? Maybe he did because David was a songwriter, but I’m not so sure that it means that we need a brand new song to give praise to God as much as it means that we sing the old songs entirely differently. There is no one who rejoices as much as someone who has just been snatched from the jaws of a slimy pit and put upon a rock, and whose goings have been established, as one who has joy and praise to God for the deliverance. That’s why God lets us be in the pit. That why deliverance sometimes is not so instant, because when it comes, we discover that we can suddenly sing again. God opens our mouths to give praise to God. God opens our mouths that we might be able to speak His blessing and His ministry, and give a testimony of His entire and beautiful grace. So he said, “He inspired me.” It’s not that He gave me a new song with words. He gave me a new heart so that I could sing differently.
I remember one woman saying that she was in church and she was planning to commit suicide. The pills were already in her purse, but she thought she’d show up at church one last time just to say goodbye to God. And everyone was singing, “Oh say but I’m glad, I’m glad.” Do you remember that song? We haven’t sung that in years but you know there is a song – those of you who are older will remember it.
Oh say but I’m glad, I’m glad.” She felt like screaming, “Oh say but I’m mad, I’m mad.” You can’t sing the songs of Zion. You can’t sing, “Oh say but I’m glad, I’m glad,” when you are planning to commit suicide.
Thankfully she went into the prayer room and stayed there until God met the deep needs of her heart, and I wrote to her years later. And she said, “Thoughts of suicide have never returned though my physical problems have remained.” God gives a new song to those who cry unto Him and who wait for Him as we shall see.
Number five: Okay, He heard me, He lifted me, He established me, He inspired me, He used me. In the last part of verse 3 it says, “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” You’ll notice that the power of personal testimony is overwhelming. You see when we have personal testimonies here at the church what’s being communicated is this: If God can get this person through this difficulty, if the Lord can give someone grace even though they’ve discovered that their mate is cheating on them, and somehow God enables them to walk through that mire and that muck and gives them a place to stand and confidence, then it says to other people in the congregation, “I can handle my relationship because if God is faithful there, I know that He can be faithful elsewhere.” And so you see the testimony inspires faith because we look at the lives of others and we see what God has done through them, and therefore we say to ourselves, “As the result of God’s sustaining grace to someone who was that low in the muck and the mire, surely God is going to be with me.”
I want you to know today that you do not just suffer for yourself. You suffer for everyone who is watching you and who knows you because the way you suffer is a test of your faith, and therefore, God allows us to suffer that we might be a testimony, and that others will see it in fear and say, “He endured. Therefore I can endure.”
Stuart Hamblen, converted under the Billy Graham ministry in Los Angeles in 1949, wrote that song,
It is no secret what God can do.
What He’s done for others He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open He will pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
And if God can do it for Stuart Hamblen who is in the muck and mire, and if God can deliver people who have gone through excruciating circumstances that are too much for us to even think about, surely we can face life.
I remember reading Corrie Ten Boom’s book about her life in the Nazi prison camp. Do you remember that? I’ve forgotten a lot of the details but there is one line that I remember till today, and will remember it till the day I die. After living through all that horror, after seeing her relatives killed and abused and living there in the worst possible conditions, and being victimized, she wrote in her book, “There is no pit that is so deep but that God is deeper still.” Because of her, many saw God and feared and trusted in the Lord.
Now, of course, here are five wonderful blessings. The question is, how do we get on them? That’s what you are asking. I know what you are thinking. I know that’s what I’m thinking. How do we benefit from these blessings? How do they become ours? And you’ll notice two things. First of all, here are the conditions now. Verse 1, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” You see there are seasons in God’s deliverance. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Patience is so foreign to our nature that it is a gift of God. Did you know that patience is a gift of God? It says in Ephesians that we are strengthened by patience, that through the Holy Spirit of God we are strengthened by patience.
I always think of myself as a very patient person. The thing that confuses me is why the people around me don’t think so too. It’s confusing to me because I think I’m very patient. I may get a little exasperated if I miss one turn in a revolving door, but I’m very patient. And if I’m standing at an elevator where the button is already pushed to go up because it’s already lit, I may push it again just to make sure that it’s pushed. But I am patient.
I learned that the word patience is derived from the Latin, which means suffering. And while we are waiting, the work that God is doing in our hearts is much greater than the end product of the work. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” It may not happen immediately but we wait, and we yield and we commit. And so we wait. We wait for God’s timing. That’s the first condition, and you and I who are impatient find it difficult to wait.
But there’s a second condition. “And He heard my cry.” Bill Gothard, with whom I speak on the telephone every once in a while, has written a little book in which he claims that crying out to God is more effective than just the normal prayers. That is, crying out to God out loud – just crying out. Well, I have to ask the question. Is it because God is deaf and the louder we cry the more the possibility that He will hear us? No! In fact, that’s the difference between the pagan gods and the true God. To the pagan gods you have to cry out. Remember when Elijah was on Mount Carmel and the pagans were crying out to their Gods, and he was taunting them and having all kinds of fun with them. And he said, “Cry louder because maybe your god has gone on a journey. Maybe he’s having something to eat. Maybe he’s gone to the bathroom. Give him time. Cry louder.”
It’s not because God doesn’t hear us unless we cry out. He hears the whispers. He hears the thoughts of our heart. But this point is to be made. It’s a good point. When we cry out it illustrates our helplessness, our utter helplessness before God because we’re desperate. And we say, “Oh God, help!” It illustrates and shows our humility because we are desperate. We know that we have no resources. I can’t get out of this pit. There’s no way. I tried to crawl out. I tried a hundred times and every time I try to crawl out of the pit I go down deeper into the mire. I can’t get out. God, deliver me or I won’t be delivered. So there’s humility, and I think there’s also faith. The very fact that you are shouting out loud means that you believe that God can be believed.
Now I have a question for you. Who is this Psalm about anyway? “Oh,” you say, “it was about David.” Yeah, that’s true! Who else is this Psalm about? “Oh,” you say, “this Psalm is about me. This is my story.” Yes, it’s your story, but whom else? Whose story is this? Do you know what the answer to that question is? This is the story of Jesus Christ. You say, “Well, how do you know that?”
I want you to look at the text. It says, for example, in verse 6, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but my ears you have pierced. Burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Here I am. I have come to do thy will, oh God,” and so forth. Those verses are quoted in the New Testament as belonging to Jesus. And do you know what I believe? I believe that the first four or five verses are Jesus’ experiences as well.
Now take your Bibles and look at Hebrews chapter 5. I’m looking at verse 7 and this is what it says. It says that during the days of Jesus’ life on earth He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death. And He was heard because of His reverent submission. Wow! Hang on, everybody, at this point. The Greek text indicates that when Jesus was heard, His petition was heard by God and granted.
Here He is in Gethsemane. He is crying up with loud cries and tears to the One who is able to save Him from death. He wasn’t saved from death. He went to the cross and died for you and for me. What’s going on here? Eventually He was saved from death because He was raised from the dead forever to be saved from death. My point is simply this: There is some muck and mire that God delivers us from instantly, and I’ll tell about that in a moment. There are times when we are going through that pit, that time of difficulty, and our deliverance may be our confidence in God, but yet we do not see immediately the deliverance, but we keep waiting and we keep trusting, and we keep trying. And eventually we see it. “Well,” you say, “Pastor Lutzer, does that mean that everyone who is in the muck and mire has to be crucified first?” No, thankfully not! In fact, the Bible gives us this text. “Call unto me in the day of trouble and I will answer thee.” (Psalm 50:15)
Call unto me in the day of trouble. There are times when we just cry up to God and the answer is right there. God just comes and delivers us. There are other times when we are put on a rock, but the water around us still swirls, and the muck and the mire is still there, but we’re standing, thank God. We’ve got a firm place to stand. But it’s not all resolved yet. But God says, “In the end deliverance is sure, if not in this life, most assuredly in the life to come.”
Now I want you to know that there is one prayer that you can pray (and some of you need to pray this), in which you’ll receive an instant answer, not even with any waiting (Isn’t that wonderful?) because there are times when God has promised to answer immediately. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
You can call on the name of the Lord and say, “Jesus, save me from my sins. Be my Savior.” And the Bible says you will be saved. You don’t even have to wait for an answer. It’s guaranteed to come.
What is it that I am telling you today? I’m asking you to do two things. Number one, to wait on God in reverent submission like Jesus did. That’s what the Bible says that He did – to wait on God. I’m asking you to begin to call out. Now we’re not going to do it in church today, though we may do it sometime. We do it sometimes at prayer meeting to just simply call out to God and let Him know what our requests are, or we call out to God together on a certain issue because we show our desperation, our humility, and our faith. And we say, “God, intervene. God help me.” And all of that is honored by the Lord because of our reverent submission to Him and to His will. And the promise is that deliverance will come, maybe not now but eventually it will be there.
“I cried to the Lord. He turned to me and heard my cry, and He lifted me from the slimy pit.” If it’s the pit of sin that you need to be delivered from, that is also something that can happen very soon as you cry to the Lord, our God.
Join me as we pray.
Father, today I am reminded of the song that was based on this Psalm.
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
And from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Father, some people have to be delivered from the pit of sin, some from the pit of fear, some from the pit of despair, some from the pit of hopelessness. Whatever it is, Father, we cry to You today and say, “God, help us.” Some people have to be delivered from themselves. We pray that they might cry to You for salvation and cleansing. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.