In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” These words were written in a pamphlet entitled: “The American Crisis” — and America was indeed in a time of crisis which would determine our future for generations to come. I believe those words “These are the times that try men’s souls” could be applied to our country again today, for our nation is again engulfed in a crisis — perhaps not as overtly as during the war for independence from England, but one which is being waged for the heart and soul of our nation. From all outward appearances, it looks like the battle is being lost, on multiple fronts. Many of us might also say that we personally are in “times which are trying our souls.” How should God’s people respond in such times?
It has been said that there is a Psalm for every situation you face; that if you are ever looking for a scripture which addresses a need in your life, look in the Psalms, for you will find something that speaks to your situation there. I want us to turn this morning to Psalm 11, where David was experiencing a time which was trying his soul, and look together at how the Bible describes those times, and how the people of God should respond in them:
I. The Crumbling Foundations
:3 “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The Bible tells us in the introduction to this Psalm (which is a part of the Hebrew text) that this was a Psalm of David. We don’t know in exactly which of the many difficult times he faced during his life that this Psalm was written, but it was one of them, and it was a most trying time. In fact, he says, people were saying to him (:1-3) “flee as a bird to your mountain; for behold the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.” And then they add an important sentence in :3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Whatever the situation was, it was desperate. It appeared that the very foundations of their world were being uprooted.
A. Unfortunately, these words pretty accurately describe the state of our beloved country today. One after another after another of the foundational moral and spiritual pillars of our nation are being destroyed:
— — You can hardly look anywhere in our nation today without having your senses assaulted by moral impurity: you get it from billboards when you are driving down the road, or in ads on sidebars on your computer, or in magazines at the grocery store checkout counters. It is ubiquitous; it is everywhere. The souls of righteous people in America today are like the Bible’s description of Lot, who had his righteous soul tormented by by the sin of Sodom.
— Anyone who dares to oppose the homosexual agenda is pilloried by the media. Look at what happened to Dan Cathey and Chick-fil-a a couple of years ago. He never said he hated homosexuals. He never said he wouldn’t serve gay couples in his stores. All he said was that he was “guilty as charged” for supporting the Biblical view of marriage, and he was crucified in the press, and the mayors of 3 the largest cities in our country said the wouldn’t allow any more Chick-fil-a stores in their cities.
— So-called “gay marriage” has now been approved in state after state. Even those states in which the citizens HAVE risen up and passed laws stating that marriage is solely between a man and woman, are finding their laws overturned by the federal courts. Kentucky is the most recent example (Feb. 2014). They have been told that they MUST recognize these marriages from other states. The same thing is undoubtedly going to happen here in Oklahoma as well. And you can see the handwriting on the wall: this will open the door to gay marriages originating in our state as well. Those who oppose it are going be labeled as using “hate speech” and churches are going to lose their tax-exempt status if we proclaim what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality. And before long, anyone who shares what the Bible clearly teaches about homosexuality will be arrested on “hate crime” charges and thrown in prison — which has already happened in other countries!
— On the other hand, many Americans are not even bothering to get married any more. USA Today reported that couples living together outside of marriage have increased by 25% in just the last 10 years! Births of children to unmarried mothers have increased over the last generation from 5% in 1960 to over 30% in 1995 — and it is continuing to climb (government stats say it is now “holding steady” at over 41%!). Roughly half of all births to new mothers are now to those who are unwed.
These are foundational issues: marriage, the family, our children, basic morality. They deal with the very moral fabric of our country, and these foundations are being destroyed. It is just as Psalm 11 says: “The foundations are being destroyed, and what can the righteous do?”
B. But it’s not just about what we are facing corporately in our country. There are many of us who can hardly think about what is happening in our nation, because we are personally facing times which are trying our very souls. Someone might well say of us: “The foundations of their lives are being uprooted; what can they do?” Some of us are facing times which have shattered many of the assumptions that we have built our lives upon:
Take for example my own situation. I pastored Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma & Louisiana for the last 27 years. I have always been healthy and strong — and I assumed that it would always continue that way: that I would always be as healthy as I had been; that I could always get out and run 4 miles; that I would always be able to pastor; that I would continue in my ministry to 75 and 85 and perhaps 95 years of age; like the people in Isaiah’s day said, I assumed that “tomorrow will be like today, only more so.” But all my assumptions were shattered, when one Wednesday evening in February, 2012, I stood up to lead prayer meeting and was not able to finish, becoming sick with the illness which would put me on medical leave, and eventually take me from my pulpit, force me to resign my church, sell our dream house and 2/3 of our possessions, and move to Norman to convalesce, with no promise of ever getting well. MY “foundations were destroyed”, all my assumptions of continued health and prosperity had proven to be false — what could I do?
And I know that many of you find yourselves in similar situations today. Some of you are in circumstances today which have left you feeling like you have “had the rug pulled out from under you.” Your health, which you have taken for granted, has been compromised. Your family, which you had always assumed would be solid, is disintegrating. Your career, or your finances, or your home, or something else you relied upon, has taken an unexpected turn for the worse. “The rug has been pulled out from under you”, and you find yourself saying of your own life like Psalm 11 does here: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Just like David experienced, YOU are in the times that are trying YOUR soul! What can you do?
II. The Sovereign Lord
:4a “The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven”
The next words of the Psalm are so significant. How do you respond to “the times that try men’s souls”? “If the foundations are destroyed,what can the righteous do?” Look at how David responded: “The Lord is in His holy temple.” These words, inspired by the Spirit of God, are not here by accident. It is a complete shift of emphasis, but it is there for an important reason. When we find ourselves in “The Times That Try Men’s Souls”, we need to stop looking around at how difficult the times are, and start looking up to see the God Who is on His throne! David was saying, it IS bad here; the foundations ARE being destroyed — but I haven’t forgotten: “The Lord is in His holy temple.” He says, things may look bad here — but God is sovereign. He is still on His throne. And this is not just any generic “god”; the Hebrew word here for “LORD” is “Yahweh”, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of The Lord Jesus Christ. The God of this Book; the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; is on the throne of the universe. And nothing will change that. In the times that tried his soul, David lifted up his eyes and saw God on His throne!
It is like in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah wrote, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD …”. A lot of people just “skip over” that part, “in the year that King Uzziah died”, due to the glorious description of God that follows, but that little historical note is significant. King Uzziah had become king when he was 16, and reigned over Judah for 52 years. He was a good king; his reign had been benevolent and prosperous. It has been described by scholars and historians as one of the most prosperous times in the history of Israel since the time of Solomon. But now King Uzziah, who had reigned so prosperously, and for so long,was gone! You can see how, in a sense, the people might feel like “the rug had been pulled out from underneath them”, and like Psalm 11 says, “the foundations” of the king and his benevolent monarchy were destroyed. What were the people of God to do? Isaiah writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I SAW THE LORD — lofty and exalted; the train of His robe filling the temple … seraphim called out to one another: ‘holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory”! When the foundations of Israel were destroyed, what were the righteous to do? When their king had died, and the benevolent reign was taken away, and there was so much uncertainty, what was their course? Look to heaven: God is on His throne! “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD”!
David faced the times that tried his soul by looking to the Sovereign Lord on His throne. Isaiah did the same thing. So in the times that try our souls, we need to make sure that our response is that we lift up our eyes to heaven too.
When I first got sick in Louisiana, I was unable to stand for very long without getting dizzy and nauseated. My brain wasn’t working right, and my words wouldn’t come, and at first, we didn’t know why. I had to stop preaching; I was consulting with some local doctors, but I had a LOT of people saying: “You need to go to Houston.” When they meant “Houston”, of course, they meant the diagnostic centers and world-renowned medical doctors that are based there. And that was not bad advice, except that I noticed that so many people seemed to have the attitude that if I would just go to Houston, all my problems would be solved, almost as if “Houston” was going to be my salvation: “Go to Houston; go to Houston; they’ll help you!” I heard that so many times that I finally told someone: “Salvation doesn’t come from Houston; salvation comes from Heaven!” That is not to say that it was necessarily a bad idea for me to go Houston — in fact I DID eventually end up going, and they confirmed the diagnosis that I had POTS — but they also said they couldn’t really do anything about it; that there were no POTS specialists there, and that I would have to find help elsewhere! That only confirmed the lesson to me: my salvation wouldn’t come out of “Houston”; it would only come from heaven!
Now, I knew this because I had trusted Jesus as my Savior. This is a vital element. IF you have come to a time in your life in which you have repented of your sins, and trusted Jesus as your Lord & Savior, then you can know that He is causing everything to work together for good in your life. I could know because Jesus was my Savior that I could trust the lesson God had given me in Psalm 3:3, that He would be my Shield, my Glory, and the Lifter of my head: that if this was happening to me, He had allowed it through His shield, and that in that time, I was to keep my eyes on HIM as my “Glory”, and that in His time — whether here on earth, or one day in heaven — HE would be “the lifter of my head.” As it so happened, I am now indeed completely well, but it is God who has done it. In the time that has tried my soul, He reminded me that HE is to be my Glory, and that HE would lift my head. My eyes were not to be on Houston; they had to be on heaven.
I believe it is the same in many of our situations. When we come to “the times that try men’s souls”, we need to make sure that we respond like David did, and lift up our eyes to heaven, and say, “The LORD is in His holy temple.” Let us look to heaven, and not to men for our answers.
— The foundations of our nation are being destroyed, so what shall we do? According to the scripture, we need to recognize that salvation for our nation is not going to come from the statehouse or from the White House. We need to take II Chronicles 7:14 seriously, and seek what only God can do for our country. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do whatever we can in the political realm; we should — but our eyes need to be on heaven! The greatest thing we can do is not vote, or organize, or protest, but pray. Our most crucial response is not political meetings but prayer meetings. We need to keep our eyes on Him: “The LORD is in His holy temple.”
— The same thing is true for you personally in the time that is trying your soul. Your greatest need in your own personal trial is NOT to find the right doctor, or the right boyfriend or girlfriend, or the right job, or the right benefactor — or the right anything else! If you are a Christian, you HAVE the right one on your side: “The Lord is in His holy temple” and it is to HIM that you need to look. God may use people in our trials: doctors and pastors and counselors and friends and others — but our eyes must be on Heaven, whence our ultimate help comes.
It IS bad; the foundations ARE being destroyed — but what the righteous can do is to lift up our eyes and remember like David did that God is on His throne: “the LORD is in His holy temple”! We must keep our eyes fixed on Him!
III. The Test of The Times That Try Men’s Souls
But I think we need to notice another thing from this Psalm, and that is the test that happens in the times that try men’s souls. There is a test going on. We see it in: :4b “His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.”
I remember reading that verse and wondering, what does it mean, that “His eyelids test the sons of men”? I mean, it makes sense that “His eyes behold” what is going on here on earth; God sees and knows everything that happens here, and we are accountable to Him. But what does that mean, “His eyelids test” us?
Several renowned Bible commentators have indicated that they don’t really know, but some think that “eyelids” are just a parallel expression to “His eyes behold”, or some think that perhaps it is referring to how you “squint” with your eyelids to really scrutinize something. I’m not really happy with either of those, and I think there is a better answer:
Just think about it for a minute: what do you do with your eyelids? You close them, and they cover your eyes, and you can’t see, right? When you see someone with their eyes closed, you know they aren’t looking. As a child, if you wanted to sneak a piece of candy without your parents seeing, you might look over on the couch and see your father was taking a nap, and if he had his eyelids closed, then you might think you could get away with it — his eyelids were closed. In fact, that might be a big test of your obedience — would you still obey if you thought your father had his eyelids closed?
I believe this is actually very close to what :4 is saying here. When all the world around us is saying, “The foundations are destroyed; what can the righteous do?”; when all the moral standards of society are crumbling and falling around us; when it seems like everything is falling apart, and for all appearances, it looks like God doesn’t know or care — His eyelids are testing the sons of men. God is not “asleep.” The Bible says “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4) But it says here “His eyelids test the sons of men.” There will be times when it APPEARS that His eyes are closed. There will be times when it SEEMS that He is not looking. There will be times when it FEELS like God doesn’t care — and things are falling apart, and it doesn’t look like He is answering our prayers — WHAT DO WE DO IN THAT HOUR when it looks like our Heavenly Father’s eyes are closed? THAT’s the test.
The Bible says His eyelids are “testing” us. The Hebrew word for “test” here means “to try metals by fire.” God is indeed “beholding” us; and sometimes perhaps He is even “closing His eyelids” to “try” us; to “test” us; to “refine” us and see how we will respond.
How the child responds when he sees the father’s eyelids are closed, tells a lot about his real nature, and his commitment to obey. And how WE respond in “the times that try our souls” says a lot about us: are we going to continue walking with the Lord? Are we going to keep living for Him? Are we going to hold to the standards we were taught? Or are we going to give in and live like everyone else, because it seems like God isn’t looking? God is testing us with His eyelids: will we hold to our faith, in the times that try men’s souls? Will we keep our eyes fixed on Him? These times are a TEST!
I know someone who was at the airport one time a few years ago, and as they went through the security station, all of the sudden the alarms went off, and security people started coming out from everywhere; he said it was a bizarre scene. He looked at the security agent next to him and said, “I don’t have anything illegal in there; I’m not trying to do anything.” He said the agent leaned over to him and said, “I know you’re not. Don’t worry; it’s just a test. I set the alarm off to see how my men would respond. It’s just a test.”
In the same way, in a very real sense, whenever you and I come into a time of crisis in our lives, we should hear the Holy Spirit whisper in our ear: “Don’t worry; it’s just a test.” That crisis, whether it is physical, or financial, or spiritual, whatever it consists of, is not as important as the way we respond to it.
We need to understand that the way we respond to what is happening in our nation today is a test. When it looks like God’s eyes are closed, and He’s not looking, and He’s not answering our prayers, and nothing seems to be happening, and “the foundations are crumbling, and people are saying ‘what can the righteous do?'”, are we still going to trust Him? Are we still going to live for Him, or are we going to “change with the times”?
I think of the old story of the man who was picketing Sodom, and someone came up to him and said, “Don’t you realize that you aren’t going to change Sodom?” He responded, “I realized a long time ago that I was not going to change Sodom. I’m out here because I don’t want Sodom to change ME!”
The times we live in are, in a very real sense, a test. Are we going to change with the times, or are we going to still live for the Lord? Are we still going to believe the Bible? Are we still going to look to heaven? Will we say confidently with David: “The Lord is in His holy temple”? Will we believe what God has said in His word, that it will not always be this way; that like this Psalm says in its other verses, that the wicked WILL be punished, that the righteous WILL see His face; that it is worth living a godly life, and believing in the Lord, and trusting Him?
During this time that I have been sick, I have been tested. I lost my job and our home and many of our possessions, but in a way it was a powerful test: was I just serving God when I had a position and a salary and all that goes with it — or would I serve Him if it were all taken away? It is a test. And it is a whole lot more important in the big picture of eternity how Cheryl & I respond to God, and trust Him, than when or where we get the next church to serve, or what house we have next, or what possessions we end up with. It’s a test. And the most important thing is that we pass that test and continue to walk with God even though the times are trying.
And the same thing is true for you and the difficult time that you are facing. In a very real way, it is a test, and the specifics of what you are going through are not as important as how you respond to it. Are you going to look to God in this situation? Are you going to trust Him? Are you going to believe what the Bible says about Him in Psalm 119:68, that ‘He is good and does good’?
Are you in a time that is trying your soul? It is a test! Be faithful to the Lord even when it seems like He is not looking, and not answering, and by faith look to Him in heaven.
Someone may say: Shawn, is that all there is? That’s all you’ve got to offer me in a time that is shredding my soul? “This is a test; look to God in heaven?”
— The only answer David gives here. In this time that tried his soul, he just rested in this: “The Lord is in His holy temple.” All he could do was look to Him.
— The only answer Job got from the Lord after all His trials — like Ryan said in his magnificent study on Job, we know more about why things happened to Job than he did! The only answer he ever got was to look to Him who “laid the foundations of the earth”, who “made the morning stars sing together”, who “told every lightning bolt where it should go.” Basically the only answer Job got was, lift up your eyes to heaven, and see that I am on the throne, and trust Me.
— That’s the answer that Hebrews gives us, as we run with endurance the difficult race that is set before us, just “fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith.”
— That’s the answer that Revelation gives to the suffering saints to whom it was addressed: you’re in difficult straights now, but look to heaven: the Lamb is seated on the throne, and He shall reign forever and ever!
That IS the answer in “the times that try men’s souls.” Look to heaven; “The Lord is in His holy temple.”
What we will find when we look to heaven in the times that try our souls, is that we will see the LORD on His throne in a clearer and more magnificent way than we ever have before.
A few minutes ago we referenced where Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD. There’s something else significant in that: Sometimes it takes “the times that try men’s souls” to get us to lift our eyes to heaven; to help us to see God like we never had before. Surely it is no accident that Isaiah says that it was in the year that King Uzziah died — when he lost his beloved king — that it was THEN that he saw the Lord! Sometimes it takes getting the rug pulled out from underneath us to get us to look to the Lord. Often we find that when everything else has been taken away from us, we can only look to God, and that is when we DO find Him, and see Him in a way that we never have before:
— It was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord
— It was when the foundations were destroyed that David saw that the Lord was still in His holy temple
— It was in the year I got POTS that I saw that God was my shield, and my glory, and the lifter of my head.
And it can be the same for you. When YOU come into the times that try your soul, if you will only look to Him, you will see Him in a way which you have never seen Him before — and never would have — if He had not allowed you to come to this “time that tried your soul.”
Greg Ogden is one of the premier disciplers in America, and the author of Transforming Discipleship. In it he wrote that years ago, he started discipling a guy named Eric, who after some time being discipled, and going on a mission trip, had his life changed for the Lord — but not long after, he got cancer. But he told some of his friends who came to visit him in the hospital: “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” He said, “It has made me realize Whom I have to depend on. And I have seen through these experiences that when I do call upon God that He really helps in His way. It may not mean that He will relieve the pain or that He will cure the cancer immediately. It may mean that I die, or live … that does not matter. What is important is that I keep my eyes on Him.”
That’s an incredible statement from that young man, and I don’t know how many of us would be able to have that same perspective. But he wasn’t saying that cancer was the best thing that had ever happened to him physically — it was the best thing that had happened to him spiritually: it helped him look to God like never before, and keep his eyes on Him. And that IS the most important thing any of us can do.
In “the times that try our souls”, no matter how bleak things may look, the most important thing we can do is to remember that our Lord is in His holy temple. He is on His throne — and we must keep our eyes fixed on Him!
— Some of you would say that you are in a time that is trying your soul. Don’t look away from the Lord in despair; this is the time — if your faith is real — for you to look to Him. You are being tested: how are you going to respond? Can Satan say of you: “Did they serve God for nothing? — they followed God when all was good, but they gave up on Him when they got sick, or lost their possessions?” It’s a test! Pass that test, and keep your eyes fixed on heaven! Be certain that you are walking with the Lord every day in His word and prayer, and keep your eyes on Him. (We are going to talk some more tonight about an important aspect of walking with Him every day …)
— Others of you aren’t in a personal crisis, but you are distressed about what you see in our country. It IS a time which is trying our souls — but do like David did: don’t give up; look to heaven, and believe that “the LORD is in His holy temple” and keep serving Him and hold to what the Bible says no matter who else caves in and compromises with the world’s standards.
— There may be some of you whom God has allowed to come to a time which is trying your soul, because you have never really committed your life to Him, and He is using this situation to get your attention. You don’t know what to do; you don’t know how to handle it — and it is just showing you that you need Jesus in your life. Today, God is saying to you like He did in Isaiah: “Look to me and be saved!” Look to Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Some of you need to come forward in just a moment and talk to someone about asking Jesus to save you today.
Some of you may just want to come and kneel and pray and seek God in a special way. There are many different situations represented here today, but really just one answer: “Look to Jesus”! “The LORD is in His holy temple”! Let’s respond to His word right now: