Waiting on God: Jonathan’s sermon on Psalm 40

Psalm 40

Waiting on God

Jonathan preached this morning on Psalm 40, focussing on verses 1-3 and 11-13.  The theme of the Psalm, written by David, is on the benefits of ‘waiting for the Lord.’  This can be hard for us, Jonathan emphasised, given that our culture’s emphasis  on ‘convenience’ and instant access means that ‘waiting patiently’ is a dying art.

Waiting patiently

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him. 
(Psalm 40:1-3)

Waiting is important! Every good thing which David mentions in the Psalm – salvation, security, eagerness to worship God, confidence in God’s protection flows from his initial waiting patiently for the Lord. None of these things are the results of David’s own efforts: they are all graces, gifts from God.

So, Jonathan continued, waiting patiently is a necessary spiritual discipline. This is not a quiet resignation, he said – that’s the equivalent of giving up. Rather, we are called to active, eager, expectant waiting believing that God will respond.

God hears our cry

‘He heard my cry’ (v1) Waiting involves crying out to God, knowing that nothing will change unless God acts, unless God blesses us.  ‘I am in the mud and mire. I’m stuck here until God steps down,’ David says in effect. He is not literally in quicksand, but he feels powerless in the face of imminent disaster, his body about to be sucked under.

David’s words, Jonathan pointed out, can be applied both practically and spiritually. In practical terms, we find ourselves in a difficult situation, and we can’t see the way ahead. We feel overwhelmed by problems.  David’s experience encourages us to pray, to commit the situation to God, to cry for God’s help, waiting and expecting divine intervention.

In spiritual terms, Jonathan describes verses 1-3 as ‘a beautiful microcosm of the gospel.’  We are unable by our own efforts to do anything about our sense of guilt and shame. The Psalm encourages us to call out urgently, seeking  the blessing of God’s gift of salvation.

‘He turned to me and heard my cry.’ (v1)  God does not leave God’s people in their distress but bends down, listens.

All of God

The process of waiting, and crying out has always been ‘of God’ from the very beginning – it is God who implants in our hearts and minds the desire to seek God.  We can’t earn our freedom, we can’t earn our rescue from the pit of spiritual needs. We receive freedom only as a free gift of mercy and grace.

God turns, hears, lifts us, sets our feet upon a rock, gives us a firm place to stand, rehabilitates us, strengthens us, makes us secure.

It is, as Jonathan said, ‘all of God’

Our response

We begin to sing the new song which God has put in our mouths. We can’t flounder in the mud, and then, having been rescued, stand silent on the rock. As St Paul says:  ‘be filled with the Spirit,  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.’ (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Those who have been saved by God, have lives filled with the song which God gives, and the beauty of this  song will encourage others to reverence God, and seek God for themselves.

Times of lament

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
(Psalm 40:11-13)

Jonathan concluded by speaking about these three verses. He told us some scholars think this lament doesn’t make much sense at the end of a Psalm of rescue – perhaps they weren’t in the original text and were added later.

But, said Jonathan, Christians know that these verses make perfect sense. As Christians, we experience moments of great joy, when we are aware of God’s care and faithfulness. But because we are disciples of Jesus doesn’t mean that we won’t find ourselves struggling with problems, and with sins as David was (v12)

Jonathan encouraged us by reminding us of the ‘three tenses’ of salvation.

Past tense:  we have been saved from the penalty of sin. The theologians call this ‘justification’ – our sins have been dealt with and will not be held against us.

Present tense: we are being saved from the power of sin, and God helps us to overcome temptation. The theologians call this ‘sanctification’ – despite our failures, our lives should be marked by a growth in holiness.

Future tense:    we will be saved as we enter heaven, and are freed from the presence of sin. This is what the theologians call ‘glorification.’

So as we read verses 11-13, we can draw encouragement as Christians from the fact that we have been decisively, once and for all, saved from the penalty of sin. Day by day, though sin tempts us and sometimes we succumb, we are being sanctified by the power of the Spirit. And we look forward to a day when the we will be forever removed from the very presence of sin.  And it is ‘all of God.’

And so, day by day, may we learn with David to wait upon the Lord.

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