Psalm 23 captures our imagination as children and does so today. We read it at weddings and funerals alike. Why? Because we all want to to be pursued with a love that is beyond comprehension. This is what Psalm 23 keys in on.
But it's hard to see the love of God in a world that feels surrounded by death. But we've all seen it. A loyal love like God's is perhaps nowhere more seen than in the sacrificial mothers we've known. I think of my great-grandmother, Ma Murphy, who raised my mother. Her table was always open to the homeless, pregnant teenage girls, and children in need of a home. Ma Murphy's love also pursued prodigal children. It was a loyal love, loyal beyond all reason, like the kind of love we see from God.
God's love is loyal even when fail to be loyal ourselves. God's love is like that of a shepherd's. It pursues us.
I originally delivered this sermon at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on May 12, 2019 (Mother's Day). This sermon was prepared in collaboration with pastor J.D. Elgin. Get more sermons like this one by subscribing to the Jesus' Economy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud.
One of the biggest challenges we’ll ever face as a Christian comes when God says, “Stay.”
We’ve all been there. And I don’t know about you, but that command only gets harder to hear the older I get.
It can be one of the most difficult things we have to do, especially when we see people all around us actively doing amazing things for the Kingdom. You probably know many people changing jobs, starting movements, and uprooting their lives across states, or even countries, to follow where God is leading them. Maybe that’s you right now. Whether you are in a season of action or not, you will undoubtedly come to a time in life when God says, “Stay.”
It makes you feel small. It makes you feel weak. It makes you feel unneeded. We get uncomfortable because we know that in order for big things to happen, people have to actually be doing things. And sitting on the sidelines feels wrong.
However, just because it feels wrong, doesn’t mean we are being punished for being bad servants or that it is wrong at all. Everyone needs rest sometimes.
Our job in these moments is to listen to what God is telling us. Why is he asking us to stay still? What are we supposed to do in the quiet? The answer is going to be different for everyone, so if you want to know what God is asking of you, you have to grapple with it yourself.
The biblical King David dealt with many moments of waiting on God. In his darkest turmoil and loneliness, he came to a deep understanding of stillness and quiet, and what God wanted him to learn from it.
Throughout the Psalms, he cried out to God continually because he felt alone, forsaken, and scared. One psalm (while not ascribed to David) is a reminder that it is alright for God's people to not constantly be taking action.
“Be still and know that I am God. / I will be exalted among the nations, / I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 ESV).
The silence does not mean God is telling us to be lazy or apathetic to his plans. Sometimes it means that he is doing something big and we just need to wait. David encouraged God’s people to find peace in the waiting. He says,
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, / all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 31:24 ESV).
But it’s not always easy for us to be at peace with the silence. And it wasn’t easy for David, either. At a time when he was facing intense depression and exhaustion, he says,
“I am weary with my crying out; / my throat is parched. / My eyes grow dim / with waiting for my God” (Psalm 69:3 ESV).
Yet in all his suffering, he learned that God’s timing would always be better than his own. In the same Psalm, when his throat is aching and his eyes are puffy with tears, he declares,
“But as for me, my prayer is to you, / O Lord. / At an acceptable time, O God, / in the abundance of your steadfast love / answer me in your saving faithfulness” (Psalm 69:13 ESV).
David, a man after God’s own heart, had to learn how to rest in God’s silence and find peace in his timing. And it wasn’t easy for him. While he valiantly waited about 15 years until his time to become king, at other times he made big mistakes.
David often despaired, as we all do. He cried out hundreds—probably thousands—of times for God to listen to him. The silence tore him up. But he waited on God, and he grew in faith because of it.
“But I am like a green olive tree / in the house of God. / I trust in the steadfast love of God / forever and ever. / I will thank you forever, / because you have done it. / I will wait for your name, for it is good, / in the presence of the godly” (Psalm 52:8-9 ESV).
Being grounded often seems like a punishment to us. It creates a crisis within us and we begin to question who we are and who God is. And that’s OK. Cry out. Struggle with it. Fall on your knees and really listen to God. Listen to the silence.
I had ran this trail dozens of times, but this time it was almost pitch black. As I leaned on my memory of the curves in the trail, I thought, “This is what it’s like to follow Jesus.”
When you set out on a faith journey, no one tells you how many times you will feel completely lost in the dark. I know this feeling deeply; I also know the God who has been there for me in the midst of it all.
My wife and I sold nearly all of our stuff, including our house, to dedicate ourselves full-time to creating jobs and churches for the impoverished and unreached. When you first set out on a journey like this, the whole thing sounds romantic; we’ve all wanted to start afresh. But the reality is not romantic: the journey is often more difficult than words can describe. This is where faith comes becomes reality—in the midst of the feelings of darkness and the ambiguity.
But what God has done in me through this journey is of immeasurable worth. Here are three faith principles God has taught me through this adventure.
If we fully understood all that God is doing, we wouldn’t be on a faith journey at all. It requires no faith to trust in what you can see and understand. God, in his infinite wisdom, is doing far more than we can anticipate. We cannot know God’s mind or understand his ways (compare 1 Corinthians 2:6–13). God has not been instructed by us, nor is he in need of our instruction.
“Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13–14 ESV; compare Romans 11:34).
We must learn to cherish the ambiguity, for it gives us ample reason to come before our God regularly. The truth of the matter is that we should come to him, simply because he is worthy of praise. But in our needs, we find even more reason to come before the throne of God. The ambiguity teaches us trust in his word.
Faith journeys begin with an understanding of who God is and what he is doing in our lives. When God calls us to a new adventure, it emerges out of his unique plan for our lives—and his collective plan for the betterment of all of creation (compare Romans 8:19–24). In the midst of the journey, though, it is easy to doubt. We doubt ourselves, our partners in ministry, and God’s plans. Sometimes, we even doubt God himself—or at least our understanding of him.
Pain gives us an opportunity: We can either give into the darkness of our world, or we can lean into our God. It’s a familiar phrase, but Psalm 23 describes this well:
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:3–4 ESV).
It is for God’s namesake that he leads us—through the valleys, up the hills, and through the darkness into the light.
We must acknowledge that we don’t know where God is leading and trust him anyway. To do so, we must remember what he has originally revealed to us—through prayer, in discernment with other believers, and through the Bible. It’s important to count the promises of God and rehearse them regularly. We will learn to be in awe of him and through this we will learn wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:2). This will naturally lead us to praise him more (compare Psalm 104:24).
When we feel broken, there is nothing more sweet to our spirit than to sing a song of praise. God stands with us in the darkness—he is the light (compare Psalm 4:6; 13:3). Let us sing praises like the Psalmist:
“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness” (Psalm 18:28 ESV).
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 ESV).
When we feel as if the path is clouded by the darkness, we must look to God like Israel did in the wilderness. God was a great fire in the darkness, leading Israel; he was physically in front of them as their beacon of hope (see Exodus 13:21).
God has already set a great light for humanity in his Son Jesus. Jesus once said:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV).
Jesus has lit our lives up with his light; he has renewed our hearts, restoring us out of the darkness of this world and into relationship with God the Father (compare John 1:4–9; 3:16–17).
Although darkness may feel like it surrounds our path, the reality is that we are not truly in the darkness. Instead, we have the light of Jesus. It just feels as if we walk in the dark.
The journey of faith is often ambiguous, but the God we serve is not. True light is already there for us in Jesus—we simply have to look ahead to him.
We may not know precisely where Jesus is leading us, but we must remember who he is. We must trust him to be the light in the darkness.