The Lord's Day Evening
July 25, 2004
“Help — Hurry”
The Reverend Mr. Bradford C. Mercer
(1) “O God, hasten to deliver me; O Lord, hasten to my help! (2)Let those be ashamed and humiliated who seek my life; Let those be turned back and dishonored who delight in my hurt. (3)Let those be turned back because of their shame who say, “Aha, aha!” (4) Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; and let those who love Thy salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified.” (5) But I am afflicted and needy; hasten to me, O God! Thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.”
God bless to us the reading of His word.
Psalm 70 is very familiar. If you've read the guide to the evening service, very familiar, very similar to Psalm 40:13-17. Probably this psalm was detached from that psalm and adopted to a different context or setting. But the mark, or point or note, I want you to especially see, is this note, this sense of urgency in Psalm 70. Psalm 40:13 begins, “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me.’ Psalm 70:1 begins literally, “God, deliver me! Lord, my help! Hurry.”
I. want you to notice first the context of crisis. What David is doing, what this psalm communicates at its core, is the bare cry for help. For David, black clouds are forming. He's experiencing a threatening situation, a crisis, and serious trouble. We don't know what the crisis is, but we see the urgency with which David prays. We know that David spent many years hiding from Saul. We know that he was forced to flee Jerusalem and from his rebellious son, Absalom. We know from other psalms and the times in which David lived, he faced constant troubles and trials, and dangers. Yes, he reigned as king for forty years. He was called, installed by God: a man after God's own heart. He enjoyed close fellowship with God. But he faced trials and dangers, as we all do, throughout his life. In Psalm 40, he says this: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, He heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay.....” He is in desperate straits, and he needs God, and he needs God now! Help! Hurry!
Yes, it's true. I have been spending some time in the sun, and I just simply have to address this. It's the first time I've ever been to Destin. I know that's strange. But it's the first time I've ever been to Destin. I've been to other beaches, but first time I've ever been to Destin. I'm not much of a beach-person. You know, lying on the beach sweating, getting salt all over you, and then getting hot and going into the water to cool off, and getting stung by a jellyfish...now, this is not fun for me! But I like the beach, I finally figured out, early in the morning and late afternoon, in the evening. And as I was walking along the beach, by the way, I met somebody from this church, and we got up in the morning and watched the ships come out and the sun come up. I like to get up early. We got up at five-thirty and watched the boats go out and watched the sun come up. But one late afternoon, I was walking along the beach with my wife, and I noticed–I'd never seen anything like this before, maybe somebody can explain this to me–there were hundreds, hundreds, of large fish, they were about this big, and hundreds of them, all along the shore. And what they would do, underneath the water, is, they would ride these waves and come in toward the sand, toward the shore, and feed off of these small fish. Very, very small fish. And the way you can tell...the way you could tell where these fish were and where they were feeding, was that all the gulls would be along the sand, and they would follow up and down the beach where these fish were. In other words, these large fish would come in; they would go after and feed on the smaller fish; and the smallest, weakest fish were washed on shore and eaten by these gulls. It was a brutal lesson in the food chain.
But that's how life is, in a sinful, fallen world. Aren't those the very same kinds of struggles we face? There's nowhere to go! We’re surrounded! And our cries for help seemingly go unheeded. You remember the movie a few years ago, Castaway, another brutal lesson in a modern mind-set. Another man washed on the beach, walking the beach all by himself after his plane goes down. He walks on shore, looks around, and what does he do, in this time of urgency, in this time of crisis? Well, he hears the coconuts fall to the ground, and he walks around and calls out for another human being, another person. But never, never once, if you go back and watch this film again, never once does this man washed on shore in the midst of a crisis, in an urgent crisis, call out to God. It would be natural even for the hard-boiled pagan to cry out to somebody, instead of building a relationship with a volleyball! But, he never once calls out to God.
And that is the lesson, so often, in this age: don't’ bother, don't bother. Life is meaningless, there is no hope, and God is not there. Especially this “Christian God” you preach, you teach, you talk about. He's not there.
David reveals to us that he is in this context of crisis. There is great trouble. We don't know what it is, exactly. But we know about the troublemakers. We see that these enemies seek his life; they desire his ruin; and they are openly mocking him. What's David's response to this crisis?
II. The second thing I want you to notice is the priority of prayer. David drops to his knees. He prays for himself, for his enemies, and for other believers.
First, for himself. Look at verse one: “O God, hasten to deliver me; O lord, hasten to my help!” Notice that David here has not used the acrostic ACTS. He does not pray with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. He does not use a model similar to the Lord's Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done....” He is in desperate need; he needs help now. There's an emphasis on speed: “O God, hasten to deliver me! O Lord, hasten to my help! (Verse 5)- “But I am afflicted and needy, hasten to me, O God! Thou art my help and my deliverer: O Lord, do not delay.” Help me, hurry! Deliver me now! David prays in the context of crisis urgently for deliverance.
As a matter of fact, many commentators skip over or say very little about this short psalm. Martin Luther gives it ten pages. Ten wonderful pages! And at one point he says this: “This prayer, this prayer of David, this psalm is a shield, spear, thunderbolt and fence against every attack of fear, presumption, and lukewarm-ness.” God, deliver me...the priority of prayer.
Secondly, David prays for his enemies. Look at verse two: “Let those be ashamed and humiliated who seek my life, let those be turned back and dishonored who delight in my hurt. Let those be turned back because of their shame who say, “Aha, aha!” Let those who sneer, who mock, who seek my destruction, be dishonored. Fail, be turned back. David is praying for the shame, humiliation, disgrace, and failure of his enemies. But didn't Jesus teach us “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”? How does this square with what David is asking for?
David is asking that the evil designs of his enemies, of his persecutors, of those who are after him, be frustrated; that those who plan evil, those who plan sin, would fail; be ashamed of their actions, and turn back. Isn't it true that sometimes, sometimes, the most caring and compassionate things we can do for folk, prayers that we can offer up for others, are for failure and frustration in their evil ways? That they might be ashamed; that they might see their sin and need of a Savior.
Jonathan Edwards, at the beginning of his book, Religious Affections, says this: “It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ.” It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ. In order to pray for the failure and destruction of those who do evil, of those who mock, of those who attack us, attack Christ, attack the church; those who seek our lives, our hurt; we must be able to see sin and evil. It must be on our radar screen. We can't help but miss it.
I remember an incident that took place several years ago with one of my best friends, in a bookstore. It was a simple incident, seemingly unimportant. He wouldn't remember it. But we were walking through the aisles of this bookstore, and looking at bestsellers. I remember the cover of one of these books. And I don't even remember what it was, but I remember that there was a woman on it and it was inappropriate–it wasn't pornography, it was a bestselling book, it was right on the front. But it was inappropriate, starkly, obviously so. And I remember that he leaned over, again, a simple gesture–he leaned over, picked up the book, turned it around and put it back on the shelf, and said, “That is so sad. That is so sad.” It was a conscious decision to turn away from sin, to do something about it, to dislike it, to recognize it; to see it for what it is, and to see it as sad; to almost have pity on the person on the cover.
This is where we live, but do we see it? Do we recognize it? Do we recognize those who perpetuate it, or do we give in to the temptation to stop and enjoy it? Do we give in to the temptation to stop and take it in just for a little while? What is the response to the evildoers, to the mockers? Those who attack us, those who attack the church, those who attack Christ? Do we see it? Do we recognize it? What is our response? Do we pray for their turning back, for their failure, for their recognizing their sin, and for their need for Christ?
Finally, he prays for other believers. Verse four: “Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; let those who love Thy salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified.’” Take note. Take note. David, in the midst of an urgent crisis, with enemies attacking him, surrounded seemingly on every side, urgency, seemingly overwhelmed–he prays for other believers. He prays for others who know and love God. In the midst of this need–yes, he does pray regarding his enemies, but he also prays for other believers. He moves beyond himself. He recognizes that, yes, others are here with me. Others have the struggles, the trials, the urgent needs. All of God's people, all of God's people must rejoice in Him and His salvation no matter what the circumstance.
Some of us, many of us, are tempted to say with Elijah, “I am the only zealous one left, and everyone seeks to take my life.” David doesn't do that. He prays for others. He prays for other believers. He's asking for nothing for himself that he doesn't ask for all of God's people–in the midst of this urgent crisis. You remember the words of Paul, in Second Corinthians, chapter one: “God comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ; but if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings, which we also suffer....” We are made to need and support and pray for each other, especially in times of urgent crisis. We ought to be praying, should be praying, that God would be magnified in all circumstances. David gives us here a model for praying for others, even in the midst of trial.
Several years ago, Neil Postman wrote a book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he compared the visions, or the predictions, of George Orwell and Aldus Huxley. And Orwell argued that the downfall of our whole world, our whole civilization, would be the infliction of pain, things that we don't like, upon us by “Big Brother.” In Huxley's book, Brave New World, people in the future are not controlled by those who inflict pain, but by those who inflict pleasure. And he poses this question: “Will what we hate ruin us, or will what we love ruin us?” In one of Chuck Colson's recent books, he gives an account of a well-known church, an established church, doing a market survey. And as a result of this market survey, this church changes its name, its location, and its theological terminology. He goes on to speak about the rampant consumer mindset in the church that is changing the very character of the church, perverting the gospel and undermining the authority of the church. We are, in many ways, in America experiencing what J.I. Packer called, hot tub religion: meet my needs, be convenient, the least hassle, what feels good.
David shows us a better way. In the midst of intense personal crisis, he prays, yes, that the enemies of God, his enemies, the enemies of God, would be defeated and would turn back. And that the people of God in all circumstances would go hard after God and magnify His name, and seek to serve Him, no matter how bad it gets. No matter how difficult it gets.
III. Finally and thirdly, I want you to see David's belief in the basics. Yes, there's a context of crisis. There's a priority of prayer as a response to this crisis. And finally, there's a belief in the basics. Look at what David says in verse five: “But I am afflicted and needy. Hasten to me, O God. Thou art my help and deliverer. O Lord, do not delay.” David understands who he is, and who God is, in the midst of his crisis. He is afflicted and needy. God is his help and deliverer. David admits, recognizes, that he's helpless without God. He needs grace.
That great theologian, Jay Leno, recently asked his audience, “Name one of the Ten Commandments.” A hand quickly went up, and the answer was “God helps those who help themselves.” Another question: “Name one of the apostles.” No answer. He went on and on and on, and finally gave up and said “Name the four Beatles.” Everybody knew. Everybody knew.
We know about the recent presidential candidate who said that his favorite book in the New Testament was Job. But what you might not know, what you may not know, is [that] he followed that up with this statement: “It sort of explains that...” —the book of Job–“...it sort of explains that bad things could happen to very good people for no good reason.” ...It sort of explains that bad things could happen to very good people for no good reason. We live in a culture that does not understand the basics! We live in a culture that does not understand that they are afflicted and needy, and God is the only help and deliverer. David does not say, as many today do say, “God, this is Your fault; therefore, I reject You. God, You must be so transcendent, I won't even bother communicating with You.” Or, “God, You may be so immanent that You are simply an impersonal force that animates the universe— not a personal God, a personal help and deliverer.” David does not say, ‘You must, God, because of this crisis, because of these circumstances, not exist at all. Maybe–maybe I'm called to courageously forge my own reality in the midst of meaninglessness.’ No. That's not what David does. I am weak. I am a helpless sinner, and I need the grace of God in this urgent crisis.
Luther says of this passage, “It is the aim of this psalm that all should be turned backward to self-knowledge.” It is the aim of this psalm that all should be turned backward to self-knowledge. He goes on: “If the Lord is magnified, it is necessary that I be made smaller and become nothing. And the more I become nothing, the more I become truthful; and the more I become truthful, the more I become great.”
Where do you turn in times of crisis? What is your first instinct? Real priorities emerge in times of crisis. Several years ago, following a doctor's appointment, I was sent to another doctor. And I'd been not feeling very well for a while, in fact, several months. And he sent me to another doctor, and he didn't tell me exactly who the doctor was or where he was, and I called and got directions and pulled up, and there the sign was, right on the front of the building: East Texas Cancer Clinic. And when I walked in, I was handed a pamphlet. I was all by myself. At first when I got out of the car and started walking toward the building —it must be around back...surely it's not the East Texas Cancer Clinic. But no, it was the right address. I walked in, they handed me a pamphlet that said “Facing the Challenge Together.” And it was for couples dealing with cancer. And I opened it up and looked at it, and walked in and sat down and began to think maybe this is serious. And there were obviously other cancer patients in the room. And I went in to see the oncologist, and he said, “According to your blood work, there's a good chance that you have lymphoma.” And I had been feeling bad for several months, and I went through numerous days and hours, and actually, months of tests. And they never found anything, and eventually I felt better. I think they tested it out of existence, I think! But when I walked into the East Texas Cancer Clinic, and when I saw an oncologist, and when I was having tests–I would have a test and I'd get the result the next week or in two weeks–but that first day, when I walked out of that building, I saw everything differently. Two thoughts came to mind: Where do I stand with Jesus Christ; where do I stand with my family? Where do I really stand with Jesus Christ? Where do I stand with family? It got real basic in the context of this crisis. Sometimes that's what it takes.
This psalm offers us a prayer for times when thoughts are confused and our own words fail and in times of desperation. In reminds us of who we are, and who God is. We see David here, more than anything else, evidencing, fleshing out, poverty of spirit.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way: “If you are truly Christian, you shall not rely upon the fact that you belong to a certain family. You shall not boast that you belong to a certain nation or nationality. You shall not build upon your natural temperament. You should not believe and rely upon your natural position in life, or special powers or gifts and talents that have been given to you. You shall not rely upon money or wealth. The thing about which you will boast will not be your education or particular school or college you attended. You shall not rely on any gifts like natural personality, or intelligence, or special ability. You should not even rely on your morality or conduct, or good behavior. Poverty of spirit is to feel that we are nothing, that we have nothing, and that we look to God in utter submission to Him, and in utter dependence upon Him and His grace, and His mercy, not only in times of crisis; not only when enemies are coming at us, but all the time.
As David says, “Magnify the Lord at all times.”
Oh, that we would be able to say with David, “I am afflicted and needy. Thou art my help and deliverer.” Let's pray.
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