Psalm 74 “Faith in Crisis” (COVID crisis Sunday #4, 4/05/20)
The verses we find here in Psalm 74 are not going to make many “verse-of-the-day” Bible calendars:
“O God, why have You rejected us forever?”
“The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary.”
“Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?”
Those are some tough things to read, aren’t they? Psalm 74 is not one of the “fun” Psalms. It is not “warm & fuzzy” like Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and others like it. None of those little devotional books are going to be quoting Psalm 74 for their “devotion of the day”! And that’s exactly why we shouldn’t depend on little devotional books for our spiritual food, and why we need to be committed to read God’s word for ourselves every day. Because there are many times when what we need to hear from God is not going to be found in anyone else’s devotional book, but only in one of these (what we consider to be) difficult passages in His word — like Psalm 74. It may not be a “fun” passage – but it’s what we need.
I’ll be honest: when I first saw that Psalm 74 was “next up” in my morning daily Bible reading, my first, honest thought was, “Oh no … this isn’t any good. It’s all about the Asaph complaining about the destruction of the Temple; I don’t want to read about THAT today! That’s not what I need on Monday morning!” But as it turned out, it truly WAS what I needed — and it has some things that I think a LOT of us may need today too! So let’s look at what Psalm 74 has to say to us about “Faith In Crisis,” keeping our faith, during the crisis situations we face in our lives:
I. The Crisis That He Questioned
In the opening verses of Psalm 74, Asaph asks God some of the most difficult questions you find anywhere in all of the Bible:
— :1 “Why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” He’s saying, God, we feel like You’re angry with us. And he goes on to describe their situation in the next verses — and it’s all about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem:
— He says in :3 “the enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary.” He says in :6, “and now all its carved work they smash with hatchet and hammers.” Verse 7 says “They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground”! He is describing the total destruction of the Temple of God in Jerusalem — which the people of Israel had regarded as their “security blanket.”
God had told Jeremiah to stand before His people in Jeremiah 7:4 and tell them: “Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” They thought that just because this was God’s temple, that it was invincible — and those who took refuge in it would always be safe. But they didn’t listen to God’s warning about their sin — and so now here in Psalm 74 they were seeing that just because it was “The Temple of the Lord” didn’t mean they could get away with their sins. God would indeed allow His judgment to reach them there! His judgment DID come. There was no help from God. The Psalmist said in :11, it was as if God has “withdrawn His hand” from helping them. And so he says, “God, why are You doing this?” He didn’t understand — (maybe, from Jeremiah and elsewhere, he SHOULD have understood … but he still had these questions about this difficult situation he found himself in). Why did God let this happen?
Well, Psalm 74 is so applicable to us today, because we too have our questions, about which we ask God: Why are You allowing this; why is this happening to us? Just like the Psalmist was disturbed at what was happening in the Temple in his day, many people today are disturbed by what they see happening around US, in this COVID-19 crisis. We are beginning to see cases add up, and deaths are beginning to crop up – even in our area. There is a real concern from medical professionals who are having to deal with this.
A friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma shared with me an interview the Tulsa World did with a doctor in the ICU at St. John’s Hospital there, and he talked about what he was seeing as he dealt with this situation “up close and personal” there. He said “at the beginning, people were talking about this like it was no big deal,” but he said, “This is … Yeah … This is serious.” He said, people have no resistance to this virus because it is new, and when it gets into a person’s lungs, there is nothing the staff can really do about it. He said the nurses and medical staff don’t always take precautions at the hospital, because they’re exposed to so much — but he said when you see THEM taking such care, robing up, and putting masks on, you know they are taking it seriously. He was asked if we are containing the virus, and he said no, that boat has sailed long ago. It IS spreading. He said he wakes up every morning, wondering if he might have caught it in the ER the previous day. The interviewer asked if there was anything he wanted to close with, and the doctor said: “The big thing is I just want you to know that up close and personal, this is terrifying.” (Tulsa World, 3/30/20)
That’s quite a sobering testimony, isn’t it? That doctor in Tulsa is disturbed by what he is seeing there; and many of us have the same concerns about this virus. Others of us aren’t as concerned about the virus itself, as we are with the EFFECTS that it’s having in our society as we try to contain it: it has devastated the economy and our investments; people are losing their jobs — we’re starting to see that in our own church family now; some of us are having our hours and benefits cut — or we have loved ones who have that happening to them. And it’s disturbing to us. Why is this happening? What is God doing?
Or maybe it’s another situation in your life that is not even related to this virus at all. But there’s something in your circumstances, that makes it seem like God’s hand in your life has been withdrawn, and like the Psalmist here, you’re saying — maybe not even out loud to anyone, but maybe even just in your heart — you’re saying, “God, WHY have You allowed this? Why does it seem like You have withdrawn Your hand from me? What is going on?”
All of these things are “the crises in which we question” — and Psalm 74 shows us that it is ok to ask these questions. Asaph did here. Job did too, and so have God’s people all through the ages. God doesn’t promise us answers here on earth to every one of our questions, but this scripture shows us that like Asaph we can ask them; that’s ok. It’s not “heretical” to ask God about these things. But we should also imitate Asaph in the next thing that we see from him here:
II. The Commitment That He Held
To me, verse 12 is the “key” verse here; a crucial turning point in this Psalm. Asaph has been questioning God, asking why He seems to have deserted them, and so on — but then here in :12 he says “YET …”. “YET God is my King from of old.” This “yet” is so important. It is a vital turning point.
There are other places in scripture like that:
— In Psalm 22 David is lamenting, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” — and he details how it feels like he has been abandoned by the Lord. But then he comes to :3 and he says, “YET You are holy; You are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” He feels forsaken; “YET,” he says, I still believe You are the high and lifted up, holy God!
— Job says the same thing; afflicted like few people in all history have ever been, YET he says: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)
— When Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were ordered to worship the Babylonian idol or be cast into the fiery furnace, they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire …”, but then they said: “BUT even if He does not … we are not going to serve your gods …”. (Daniel 4:17-18)
All these are the expressions of God’s people, who, despite all the things they didn’t understand about their circumstances, decided that they would hold to their commitment to God, no matter what.
And that is the kind of commitment that God is looking from US, as His people today. Do we have circumstances in our lives that we don’t understand? Many of us do. But will keep on serving God regardless? YES. WE. WILL. That word “YET” is the key word. “YET GOD IS MY KING”! That is the commitment of the real child of God.
See, this is what a lot of people don’t really understand about becoming a Christian. Many people think it’s just a matter of “saying a prayer” or “asking Jesus into your heart” and then going on with your life basically as it was, only now you’re going to heaven. But that’s not Christianity at all. Real, Biblical Christianity teaches that God made us to serve Him as our King. But starting in the Garden of Eden, Man decided to go his OWN way instead of obeying God. Ever since Eden, man has basically said to God, “I am going to be my OWN king.” And we turned our back on God. That is what sin is. God the King could have, and SHOULD have, just wiped us all out and sent us straight to hell; that’s what we deserve. But instead, He miraculously loved us, and had mercy on us, and the King Himself came down to earth, and died on the cross to pay for our sin against Him. And He offers forgiveness to whoever will “repent” — turn away from their rebellion — and come back to Him as their King. So to be a real Christian, you DO have to make Jesus your King. THE most basic Christian confession is “Jesus is LORD.” “Lord” means “master, boss, King.” The Bible says in Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as LORD … you will be saved.” So the genuine Christian is the person who has made a commitment that Jesus is now the KING of their life.
THE most important question of your life today is: “Have I made Jesus my King?” Is He really the Lord of my life? Or have I just “mumbled a prayer” or joined a church, and not really changed anything? There is forgiveness and salvation, for whoever who will call Him their Lord. And all of us who do call Him our Lord, don’t always live it out the way we should. But call Him your Lord you must. If you haven’t done that, you need to do it right now! Ask Him to forgive you for going your own way; for trying to be the king of your own life. And tell Him that He will be YOUR King from this day forward. And if you’re doing that today for the first time, tell someone about it. Confess Jesus as your God and King.
But if you already are a Christian, then Jesus IS your king. And your commitment to Him will be like that of Asaph here: there may be some things that He is allowing in your life, that you don’t really understand — but one thing will not change for you: that He is indeed your King! You will say like Asaph here: “YET YOU ARE MY KING FROM OF OLD”! And nothing will ever change that.
I love the quote from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, where the senior demon Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood and says:
“Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
THAT is the kind of commitment we see from Asaph here. Why have You forsaken us? Why has the Temple been smashed and burned? Why is Your hand not with us? “YET You are my King from of old …”.
And that’s the kind of commitment God is looking for from us today, too:
He doesn’t promise anywhere that none of us will get sick with this virus.
He doesn’t promise that none of us will lose our job or business
He doesn’t promise that none of us will ever suffer financial losses
He doesn’t promise that nothing difficult will happen to us or to our loved ones.
In fact, He basically promises in John 14 that we WILL have tribulations in this world!
But when all our supports have been stripped away, and when we seem to have been forsaken by Him, He wants us to say with C.S. Lewis, with Asaph, with Job, and with the Hebrew children, “YET”!”
— YET I will praise Him
— YET I will trust Him
— YET I will serve Him
— “YET YOU ARE MY KING FROM OF OLD”!
That is the commitment Asaph had — even as he saw the very Temple of God burning around him. And that’s the commitment that true children of God have today too. “YET You are my King from of old.” That is the commitment we hold to, no matter what!
III. The Prayers That He Prayed
Then starting in verse 18, the last section of Psalm 74 begins, with a closing series of prayers. BECAUSE he is still committed to God no matter what, Asaph pray several things in these verses:
— In :18 he asks God to remember what these evil people had done.
— In :19-20 he asks that God to remember His covenant promises to His people, and save them.
— In :21 he asks, “Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name”
And so on. BECAUSE he still believes in God, he continues to pray and seek Him, even in the midst of the devastation he sees all around him. And that’s the exact same thing that we need to do today too: if we still hold to our faith and commitment to God, then we should show it by continuing to seek Him in prayer. Let’s pray for ourselves, for our families, our church, our country, and others during this time. We can participate in what God is doing in our world today, through prayer.
Back in 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean in his little plane, “The Spirit of St. Louis.” The whole country was following his journey, and everyone who lived through that time, has their own remembrance of it. Forty years later, one housewife recalled how (as she described herself) ‘a little unattractive fat girl’ who had lost most of her family, she had prayed for (Lindbergh’s) safety, thus taking part in his endeavor.” (A. Scott Berg, Lindberg, pp. 120-121). Lindbergh’s flight was a BIG thing that was happening in our country, and this little girl, and literally millions of others, took part in what was happening, by seeking God in prayer.
One of the things that we need to understand today, is that this COVID-19 crisis didn’t throw God’s plans for our world off track! God is “King from of old!”, as Asaph said. His is the day; His also is the night, as :16 says. He established the boundaries of the earth; He made summer and winter, as these verses go on to say. The eternal plans of Almighty God have not somehow been “derailed” by the rise of this virus; it may have been unexpected to US, The Sovereign God knew it was coming, and He already had plans to USE this!
God used what happened in the Temple in Asaph’s day. Israel had fallen into idolatry, and generation after generation, God had sent prophets to warn them to stop, or be judged — but they would never listen. Finally He allowed this invasion of the Babylonians, who destroyed the Temple, and carried many of the Israelites off into the Babylonian Captivity, where they stayed for a generation or so, until they were allowed to return. But one crucial thing historians point out about this time: after the Babylonian Captivity, the sin of idolatry was never again present among the people of Israel — to this day! That devastation and the Babylonian Captivity finally cured Israel of the sin of idolatry. God was DOING something through that tragedy, that Asaph couldn’t understand then, but God was working.
And in the same way, we today may not be able to see or understand what God is doing in and through this virus episode, but I guarantee you: GOD IS DOING SOMETHING! He has a purpose, in our nation, in our world, and in our individual lives and families.
So in this time, make sure you don’t turn away from God; HOLD ON to your commitment to Him — and SHOW that you are holding on to your commitment to Him, by seeking Him in prayer. Just like every person in America could share in what Charles Lindbergh was doing in that famous trans-Atlantic fight, through prayer, so we today can participate in what GOD is doing in our country, and in our world, through prayer.
So let’s recommit ourselves to PRAY:
— Seek God personally every morning in prayer. Start every day by reading a Psalm, sing a worship song to God, spend some time giving Him thanks — and then lift up the requests you have on your heart to God.
Let’s commit ourselves to pray:
— Pray for your own family and the specific needs you have
— Pray for our church family during this time; for our pastors and deacons and teachers and members and offerings and outreach and ministries and our new building.
— Pray for our country’s leaders: our President, and Governor, and Judge Sebesta, and others.
— Pray for doctors and nurses and other medical staff, some of whom have to be “terrified” like that doctor I shared about a while ago — but who are nevertheless committed to remain at their post and minister in this crisis, putting their lives on the line, while the rest of us are quarantined in relative safety.
— And pray for God’s will to be worked out in our world, in ways that we may not be able to see now; but let’s trust that He DOES have His purposes — and let’s seek Him in prayer.
Do we have questions in this time of crisis? YES.
Do we understand everything that’s going on? NO we do not!
But do we believe that God is on the throne, that “He is my King from of old”? YES WE DO!
And so as an expression of our faith, let us seek Him in prayer, both right now as we close this time, and then every day this week as well …
Let’s bow our heads together and pray …
— As we pray, think about the situation in your life in which you may be questioning God — that’s ok, but affirm your faith: “YET you are My King”
— Spend some time seeking God for the requests I’ve just mentioned above: for your family, authorities, our country, medical personnel, others …
— Most importantly, if you’v never done it, ask Jesus to be your King, and then be sure to tell someone what you have done today!