Part of a series I preached in the summer of 2019. This was pre-Covid, so this is just audio with the PowerPoint.
When God seems distant, can we still worship? A six point battle plan for how to deal with seasons in the wilderness.
Good morning. If you have your Bibles, please turn to Psalm 63. You know, we have had some awesome worship experiences over the last few weeks as we’ve worked through some of these Psalms. The week we talked about Psalm 100 was just an amazing time of worship. Last week, when we prayed through Psalm 103 and meditated on the character of God, I had a number of you tell me what a meaningful time that was for you as we simply prayed God’s Word back to Him. One person said it was almost as if they could feel God’s hand on their shoulder.
But if we are being honest, we have to admit that there are times when we don’t feel like rocking the rafters in worship. There’s times that God seems distant. When we don’t hear the brush of angel’s wings and see glory on each face. There’s times when faith is hard and doubt is easy. When frustration flows but God’s power doesn’t. When doubts grow and confidence shrinks.
And let’s be honest: if every week we come into this room and all we get is rah rah, pep rally, faith is the victory marching band, then we can walk out wondering if there is a place for us. Not just at Glynwood. In Christianity.
This month there have been two high profile defections from Christianity. A young pastor named Joshua Harris who made waves back in the late nineties with a book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” now says he is no longer a believer.
This was followed up this week by a social media announcement from Marty Sampson, one of the principal songwriters and worship leaders for Hillsong Worship (“What a Beautiful Name It Is;” “O Praise the Name”). Sampson posted that while he wasn’t renouncing his faith, he admitted that it was on very shaky ground. He writes,
How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point..
And before you think that that’s just a problem “out there,” realize that I had been here for a week when a man from the church came into my office and told me he was no longer a believer. I’d preached one sermon. My first thought was, “My gosh—was it that bad?” And this man wasn’t leaving because he was caught up in some sin. His marriage wasn’t falling apart. He wasn’t (and still isn’t) a bad person. He just got to the point where he realized he no longer believed the words that were coming out of his mouth.
What do you do?
More recently, I’ve had conversations with parents whose kids are frustrated with how hateful and bigoted Christians seem to be. They have LGBT friends and they wonder why the church says the way they were born is sinful. And they wonder if our church—or any church—could really be a safe place to ask those questions.
What do you do?
What do you do when you don’t feel like praising God? Maybe you’re not at the point of renouncing your faith, but you’re kind of wishing God would give you a break. Maybe you’re like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?
Maybe you are in a season of doubt. You might even be here this morning and you’re about ready to give up on Christianity yourself. If that’s you, I am so glad you are here, and I am so glad that there are chapters in the Bible like Psalm 63.
I want you to turn to Psalm 63, and before we read it, I want you to notice the title. Psalm 63-A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. Now, you probably have some idea of who David is, but you may not know much about the wilderness of Judah. We here wilderness and we think trees and mountain streams and deer stands, and we think, man, that sounds great. But that’s not what David meant when he talked about the wilderness.
The wilderness of Judah was the dry, desolate area between Jerusalem, 2500 feet above sea level, and the Dead Sea, which is 1400’ below sea level. Its also referred to as the Negev, which means south country. And it’s just desolate. [picture]
Very dry, very barren. Now, you might be asking, how did a guy like David wind up in the desert? That’s a great question. There’s two different times in David’s life when he was forced to flee Jerusalem and escape into the Judean wilderness. The first was early in his life, before he was king. He was in the service of King Saul, and Saul became jealous of him and decided he was going to kill him. That story is in 1 Samuel 11-21.
The second was late in his life. He had been king for around thirty years, and his son Absalom became jealous of him, staged a coup, declared himself king, and formed an army to try to kill him. You can read about that in 2 Samuel 15.
Scholars are divided over which of these two times Psalm 63 is talking about. Personally, I think its talking about Absalom, mainly because David refers to himself as “king” in verse 11, and he never would have done that when Saul was alive. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to the point of the psalm. Either David’s mentor was trying to kill him, or David’s son was trying to kill him. Either way, man—that just sucks. It sucks even more if this really was the second time, because then David had to be feeling like, “Man, this is déjà vu all over again. I’ve been here before, and here I go again.”
So now, if this was you, and you were on the run from either the most powerful man in the country (not good) or your own son (worse), what would be on your mind? Let’s say this was the second time David was in the desert. Now he’s an old man, and he finds himself back in the same place he was twenty or thirty years before. What would you expect to come out of his mouth? Think about your answers to those questions as we read the Psalm together. If you are physically able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word:
63 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
So, let’s start by looking at Four reasons we might find ourselves in the wilderness:
Why we’re in the wilderness
- Sometimes it’s circumstances (1 Samuel 11). That’s how it was the first time David found himself there. David hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he’d done a lot of things right. The reason Saul was jealous of him in the first place was because he had killed Goliath and became a national hero.
- Sometimes it’s sin (2 Samuel 15). You can pinpoint the moment David’s life went off track. We talked last week about David’s sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. And even though God forgave David of that sin, the prophet Nathan told David that from that point on, the sword would never leave his house. And that prophecy was fulfilled. David’s son that Bathsheba was carrying died. Later David’s son from one of his wives raped one of of David’s daughters from another wife, and her brother Absalom killed his half-brother over it. It was a mess, and it all related back to David’s sin with Bathsheba. We’ve talked about it before—God will always forgive sin, but He will not always reverse the consequences that sin sets in motion. And sometimes when we are dealing with those consequences, we find ourselves in the desert.
- Sometimes it’s Satan (Job 1-2, Luke 22:31) We can forget sometimes that there is always an element of spiritual warfare to our lives as believers. Remember Job
- Sometimes it’s the Spirit (see Matthew 4:1) even Jesus spent time in the wilderness.
Something to keep in mind—David often did his best work in the desert. Sometimes it takes a desert season to help us realize that God is all we have. In his commentary on Psalms, Donald Williams pointed out how often God speaks to people in the wilderness.
It was there that Moses * and Israel received most of the Pentateuch before entering the Promised Land. It was in the wilderness that the word of God came to both Elijah * and John the Baptist *. Even our Lord himself, filled with the Holy Spirit, was driven into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). The wilderness strips us of our defenses and reveals our vulnerability; it quiets us before God. Now we are ready to hear Him and to do battle with ourselves, and with the devil.³
What we do in the Wilderness
- Define who God is to you at this moment (v. 1) David’s declaration had three parts: O God (Elohim); you are; My God (Eli)—first step to dealing with the desert is to determine that no matter what, God is still going to be your God.
O GOD: Acknowledges God’s existence. Hebrews 11:6 says whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who seek him.
YOU ARE: Not “You Were”
MY GOD: It’s personal.
- Desire God more than the things of God (v. 1)—Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. More than water and food. More than comfort. More than healing. More than answers.
- Dwell on God’s faithfulness in the past (v.2,7): This one ought to be easy for Baptists to do, because we get accused of dwelling in the past all the time. The old joke: “How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Change??? We Iiked the old one” . But this isn’t just dwelling in the past. It’s dwelling on God’s faithfulness in the past. David says, “I have seen you in the sanctuary (fun fact—when David talked about the sanctuary, he wasn’t talking about the temple, because that hadnt been built yet. He was talking about the tabernacle. When was the tabernacle built? In the wilderness!
In verse 7, David says, “You have been my help.” Remembering what God has done for you in the last goes a long way toward restoring confidence in his ability to help you in the present.
If you can remember a time when you had 100% confidence that God was with you, then realize that God doesn’t change. You weren’t delusional at that time. You weren’t using religion as a crutch. God was with you. And God doesn’t change. Maybe you’ve heard about the old married couple that was driving down the road in their 70’s Buick. The kind that had a bench seat. The wife said, “I remember when we first got this car, we use to sit so close together on this seat. What happened? And the husband says, “I don’t know. I never moved.”
If you don’t feel close to God anymore, who moved?
- Declare what is true even when it feels like it isn’t (v. 3, 5)
Verse 3: Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
What’s David doing at this moment? He’s running for his life. So read between the lines. On the surface, the most important thing is living to fight another day against Saul (or Absalom). But David says, no, your love is better than life.
Same thing in verse 5: my soul will be satisfied with fat and rich food. Really? You’re in a desert. Fat and rich food is in short supply. But David is confident that God will provide and that God alone satisfies.
This is not a name it, claim it theology. This isn’t “calling those things which are not as though they are.” Many people in the word of faith/prosperity gospel take that verse (Romans 4:17) completely out of context and say that all they have to do is speak a word of faith over their circumstances and they will be changed. That’s not what this is teaching. Romans 4:17 is talking about what God does.:
17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
[Illustration: Facts / Faith / Feelings]
On this table, we’ve got three cars of a model train. The engine—which has all the power to pull the train. The passenger car. This is where you live. Where you rest. Where you ride. And the caboose. This is where you put your baggage. The stuff you bring with you on the journey.
And I want you to think about this to help you uderstand the relationship between FACTS, FAITH, and FEELINGS.
FACTS: What you know about God. This is what pulls the train. You might be tempted to think that FAITH is the engine. But FAITH is only as strong as its object. R Kelly sang “I Believe I Can Fly” He couldn’t then. He sure can’t now.
So FAITH is gonna be where we live. It’s the passenger car. Its where we walk, sit, stand, move, rest, work, relax, talk, laugh. Sit back and watch the scenery.
So what do we do with our FEELINGS? Our feelings, as powerful as they are, can’t pull the train. There is no power in our feelings. And I think the enemy has convinced us in a lot of areas that our FEELINGS are where the engine of the train is. Or that our feelings are the passenger car. They aren’t. Our feelings have to stay in line with our faith, which in turn has to be pulled by what we know about God. FACTS. FAITH. FEELINGS.
- Determine to focus on God (v. 5-6): I will meditate on you in the night watches.
So during the dry times, what are you meditating on? Let me just speak a word of caution: when you are feeling dry and distant from god, I promise you that if you aren’t careful, the enemy will lead you to meditate on things “in the night watches” that will leave you feeling even more dry and more distant.
Rick Warren—if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. Christian meditation isn’t clearing your mind and achieving perfect nothingness. It’s clearing your mind so you can make room for God.
- Express confidence in God’s ultimate justice. (9-11)
David expresses his confidence both in what God would do to his enemies (vs. 9-10) and what God would do for him. Those who seek his life will lose theirs (as did both Saul and Absalom).
In stark contrast to those who lie with their tongue, David and those like him, who are satisfied in the Lord, honor God with theirs. The mouth of God’s enemies will be stopped, but the mouth of God’s servants will shout and sing forever, never to be silenced throughout all eternity.
How many times do I see an “enemy” and tell God to sit it out? He won’t be mean enough to satisfy my need for justice. He won’t do anything. Justice will not be served.
But David declared that he would wait on God. Waiting was worship.
Andrew Brunson was an American missionary in Turkey who was imprisoned for his faith in 2016. He spent 735 days in prison and was finally released after President Trump threatened economic sanctions against Turkey if he wasn’t released. He wrote a book about the experience called God’s Hostage.
Earlier this year, Pastor Brunson spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention pastor’s conference. I’d like to play about two minutes of his sermon, and I want you to listen for how Brunson defined who God was to him: [play video]
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