Reading: Psalm 91:1 – 6 ; 14 –16 Preacher: Ann Martin
Part 1 verses 1-6
(Story) John was struggling with failing health, financial concerns and depression. In desperation he made an appointment to see the Vicar, wary of platitudes and dubious about the prospect of relief from his troubles. The young pastor listened to John’s concerns before opening the Bible at Psalm 91. The Word of God proceeded to provide healing and hope to John in a way that no medicine and indeed no minister ever could. John was like a different man afterwards because God had spoken directly to him. On the surface nothing had changed, but the knowledge that God was with him in the “deadly diseases” and ”the terror of the night” was enough to bring comfort.
Psalm 90 reminds us that the Lord is ”a dwelling place” throughout all generations (v1). Now Psalm 91 reminds us that He is also a ’shelter’ from the storms of life’ a ‘refuge’ when we are frightened and a ‘fortress’ that keeps us safe from attack.
Exodus 14 v 13-14 tells us: Fear not, stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.
When troubled times come our way, one of our biggest challenges is to stay calm. Our natural tendencies are to fear, to worry and to try to do something to fix the situation or solve the problem. But we must learn to get our emotions under control, so we can think clearly, act wisely and pray in faith.
Moses often had to help the Israelites calm down. When Pharaoh’s army was gaining ground on them, they kept running, but knew they were headed straight for the Red Sea. Death seemed certain. Exodus tells us the people were frightened and angry with Moses, and they decided they would have been better off as slaves to the Egyptians than trying to outrun Pharaoh’s soldiers. Moses said “Stop it! I know the situation looks hopeless, but don’t be afraid. Just be still for a minute and watch what God is going to do for you”. Before Pharaoh’s army reached the Israelites, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross over on dry land. When they were all on the other side, the sea closed again and Pharaoh’s fighters were drowned.
This same miracle working God is on our side still. He still fights for His people. Our job, if we belong to Him is to “hold our peace and remain at rest.
There are some things in the Christian life that we do not need to ask for—they are part and parcel of God’s provision for us as His children. And the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is one of them. But concerning some things in life, we would have to say in all honesty that we are not sure if we know the mind of God about them. Thus, before we can proceed, we pray for light and direction. But no Christian need be unsure of God’s promise to dwell in the hearts of those who are His children. He has put the issue beyond all possible doubt by assuring us that He is always with us.
Why then do we find ourselves so often praying for God to be with us, instead of simply affirming it? We need this to be a deep conviction so that, when adverse conditions develop, we will not be left wondering if He is still with us.
Opinions are something we hold. Convictions are something that hold us. So drop your anchor into the depths of this reassuring and encouraging revelation and never again raise the anchor. God is with you always. Let the truth pass from being an opinion, into a firmly held conviction. Behind it lies all the authority of heaven.
Psalm 91 v 2 tells us this: “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I (confidently) trust”
When we are frustrated, it is often because we are trying to do something in our own strength, instead of putting our faith in God and receiving His grace and help.
Little faith can become great faith when we see the faithfulness of God as He meets our needs. You can become a person who enjoys great peace by trusting God.
One thing that is clear about the area of relationships is this, ”relationships can hurt”. A friend of mine says “God calls us to relate to people who are guaranteed to hurt us and fail us”. Which is why we must find a source of security that is not in people, but in God, the unfailing One. This does not mean we must withdraw from people, but that we do not use them as the source of our life. Once we see that God and God alone is our true security then when earthly relationships fail we are shaken but not shattered. There will be a 5 foot drop and not a 1000 foot one.
How will secure people behave when in the midst of a broken relationship? Having reminded themselves that God’s grace is ever sufficient and having looked at any way in which they may have contributed to the difficulty and thrown themselves in utter dependency upon God, they will be strong enough to sit back and wait for God to show them exactly what to do. Once you move your point of dependency from horizontal to vertical and are following God’s direction and guidance in all things, then, though you may still hurt, you will not be destroyed.
Psychiatrist Leonard Zunin said: ”Loneliness is mankind’s biggest problem” and is the main reason behind the many and varied symptoms I see in the people who present themselves before me day after day. By loneliness I don’t mean aloneness. There is a great difference. It is possible to be alone and yet not lonely.It is also possible to be lonely in a crowd.
What is loneliness? It is the feeling we get when we are denied meaningful human companionship. It is a sense of isolation, of inner emptiness, deprivation and worthlessness. The poet Rupert Brooke tells how, when he first set sail from Liverpool to New York on 22nd May,1913, he felt terribly lonely because no one had come to see him off. Everyone else had friends waving then goodbye– but not he. Looking down from the deck, he saw a scruffy little boy and swift as thought he ran down the gangway and said to him “Will you wave to me if I give you sixpence”? “Why yes” said the little boy. The sixpence changed hands and that day Rupert Brooke wrote in his diary “I got my sixpence worth in an enthusiastic farewell.
Those who have never felt the pangs of loneliness will find it hard to understand a story like that. But to others it will carry a world of meaning. It is a desolating experience to be lonely. Yet the Presence of God can become so real as to dispel all feelings of loneliness. We need never feel lonely, or in danger or afraid because God’s Word assures us of His protection and company whenever and wherever we are.
Deuteronomy 31 v 6 “Be strong, courageous and firm; fear not nor be in terror,…….. for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”.
If we know by faith that God is with us, we can take on any challenge with confidence and courage. We may not always feel God’s presence, but we can trust His Word and remember that He said He would never leave us or forsake us.
God encouraged Joshua again, saying, ”Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Basically, God was saying to Joshua, ”You have a big job to do, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fear not. Do not be afraid, because I will be with you.”
In the Bible, the basis for not fearing is simply this; God is with us. And if we know God’s character and nature, we know He is trustworthy. We do not have to know what He is going to do; simply knowing He is with us is more than enough.
Isaiah 41 v 10 Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you, do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God, and I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties.
What does this mean? It means God makes us stronger and stronger as we go through things. It means that over time, we become less affected by the difficulties and challenges we face. It is like exercise. When we first do it, we get sore, but as we press through the soreness, we build muscle and gain strength. We must go through the pain to get the gain.
If God removed all challenges, we would never grow and overcome obstacles. He often permits difficulty in our lives because He is trying to reveal something that needs to be strengthened or changed in us. Our weaknesses are never revealed in good times, but they quickly show up in times of trial and stress. Sometimes He shows us what we are afraid of because He wants to deliver us from that fear and strengthen us for things that will come in the future. In those times, we need to say, ”Thank You God, for allowing me to see that fear in my life. It reveals an area that needs to be dealt with in me.” Once that particular area of fear is dealt with, the enemy will have a very hard time bothering you—and succeeding—in that area again.
Think of a situation that once made you fearful but you now handle without fear. Some things you go through in life may not feel good initially, but they will work out for your good if you keep going forward and trust God to strengthen you each step of the way.
The Psalms are full of references to God’s saving grace, His presence and protection. I did a little study and before I had gotten halfway through the book of Psalms, I had found more than 24 places that tell of God being with us to save and to protect us and to be a fortress for us.
Let me read Psalm 91 verses 1– 6 again, but this time in the first person. “If I go to the Lord for safety, if I remain under the protection of the Almighty, I can say to Him, ”You are my defender and protector. You are my God, in You I trust. You will keep me safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. You will cover me with Your wings and I will be safe in Your care. Your faithfulness will protect and Defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.”
An incident, while on holiday recently, illustrates God’s care rather well. We were staying by the Lake at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga. We saw several families of ducks. One mother had fourteen ducklings. Brian picked one up. The Mother duck made such a fuss. When Brian put it down it made straight for Mother and she fussed over it and kept it close under her wings.
Part 2 Verses 14-16.
This portion of Psalm 91 is like an echo of the first part but this time from God’s point of view.
(story) On a chilly March afternoon (Northern Hemisphere) before going home for dinner Pastor Walter Klempel fired up the church furnace in preparation for Choir Practice. When it was time to return to Church with his family they were delayed because his daughter changed her clothes. At the same time student Ladona Vadergrift was struggling with a geometry problem and stayed at home to work on it. Sisters Sadie and Royena Estes’ car wouldn’t start. Herbert Kipf lingered over a letter he’d put off writing. Pianist Marilyn Paul fell asleep after dinner and her Mum the Choir director had trouble waking her. Pals Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were late because of a radio broadcast. Every single choir member was late; something that’s never happened before or since. Was it just a fluke? No! At 7.30pm that night the West Side Church was flattened by an explosion from a gas leak ignited by the furnace….directly below the EMPTY Choir Seats.
God’s looking out for you, when you don’t even know you’re in danger! As His child you, ”live within the shadow of the Almighty”…..sheltered by …God…He rescues you from every trap. He will shield you with His wings….His promises are your armour….He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go (Ps 91 v 1-11). The Bible says, “the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence Him (Psalm 34 v7) To trust in God means safety (Psalm29 v 25)
You can call it coincidence, chance, fate or you can call it what it really is—divine protection.
After the September 11th Twin Tower disaster many people told of why they were late that day and so survived. And I am sure you have heard of other occasions when God demonstrated His protection over us.
The film “Bruce Almighty” is mainly an excuse for a series of plastic explosions from Jim Carrey, but there is some pretty good sermon material in there too. Bruce keeps hearing voices building up. He discovers they are people’s prayers waiting for an answer. He attempts to answer them individually through email, but finds he just can’t keep up with the demand, until finally he sets his email to automatically respond, ”Yes” for every request. Good idea he thinks. Everybody gets what they want. The film goes on to illustrate the pandemonium this care-free, couldn’t-care -less approach to prayer has. It makes an important point. Prayer is not about having God as your personal ’genie in a bottle’. Prayer is about living in a relationship with God. Prayer is a gift, not a duty. Prayer is about getting close to God. Yes, sometimes He will give us what we want, but sometimes He won’t. God loves us so much that sometimes He gives us what we need and not what we ask.
Sometimes, it will seem like He’s not even answering. God is your Father, and the time you spend with Him is the point.
Psalm 145 v 18 reminds us: “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to Him, to all who truly pray to Him.
Similarly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is hooked up to the Internet. Using the Internet, subscribers can send email to other internet users. So when “The New Yorker” magazine published Bill Gates email address, he quickly got into Trouble with email overload. Now, anyone on the Internet was able to email the computer genius. In no time he was swamped with thousands of messages– he simply couldn’t handle it. So he armed his computer with software that filtered his email, allowing important messages through and sending all the others to electronic oblivion.
We are limited, we can handle only so much and do only so much— God on the other hand, never tires of Smail, (spirit mail). His ear is always open to our prayers. And He has an unlimited capacity to help. You’ll never hear Him say. “Due to an unusually high call volume I am unable to take your message at this time. Please call back or leave a message.” No! The Bible says, ”he shall call upon Me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. Psalm 91 v 15.
“The desire of the righteous will be gratified (Proverbs 10 v 24)
“The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15 v 8)
“Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33 v 3)
“If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15 v 7)
It’s impossible to be a healthy Christian without a good prayer life.
So let’s check:
- How’s my consistency? If you can’t remember when you last took time to pray, you need to do something about it. Without prayer you’re uncovered and unprotected.
- How’s my sincerity? Are my prayers more liturgy (ritual) than life? Daily, but dull and dry? That’s because you don’t know enough about who you’re talking to, or how He feels about you. The better you know Him, the more time you’ll want to spend with Him.
3. How’s my faith? Do you wonder if prayer really changes anything? Or why on earth a God in Heaven would want to talk to you, or hear anything you had to say? (If He already knows it all, what can you tell Him anyway? And if He decides everything, why even bother?
Prayer is not for God’s benefit—it’s for ours. Where else can we go to bare our souls without fear, and walk away cleansed, comforted, counselled and corrected? Our Prayers work, not because of how well we say them, but because of how well He hears them.
We don’t have to understand prayer to enjoy it’s benefits, any more than we have to understand aerodynamics in order to fly. Just do it! Pray! Get on the plane and trust the Pilot to take you where you need to go. Forget about the wrapping, and just give the gift. It’s better to pray awkwardly, than not at all.
“He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him” (Psalm 91 v 15) There it is in black and white. God’s invitation to ask and His promise to answer. What more do you need?
Prayer is an unnatural activity! From birth we’re taught the rules of self-reliance. Growing up we struggle to achieve self-sufficiency. Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values! It’s an indictment of independent living.
To people in the fast lane, prayer is an embarrassing interruption, totally alien to our proud human nature. Yet all of us reach the point of falling on our knees and praying. We may look both ways to be sure nobody’s watching; we may even blush’ but in spite of the foreignness of the activity—we pray. Why? Because the most intimate communion with God comes only with prayer! Ask people who’ve faced tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or fear, loneliness or discrimination. Ask what happened in their souls when they finally fell on their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord; ”I can’t explain it, but I felt like God understood me. I felt a comfort and peace I’d never known before.”
And isn’t that what God promised? (Philippians 4v6-7) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” You won’t believe the changes that will occur in your life once you are convinced to the core of your being, that God is willing, that He is able, and that He has invited you to come before His throne to do business in prayer.
We love to be generous to our children. That’s why Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” Think how brutal this would be if it represented your attitude as a parent, (a) I’m too busy, I don’t want to hear about your lost bike, or your school problem. (b) don’t bother me with your personal requests. I’ll take care of everyone else but you. If you love me you’ll survive on bread and water. (c) sure I’m rich, but why should I give you anything –back off! Good parents don’t talk like that because they don’t feel that way about their children; they want only the best for them. So take a good parent’s feeling for his or her child, multiply it hugely, and you’ll have a slight idea of how your Heavenly Father feels about you. Nobody’s voice sounds sweeter to Him than yours. Nothing in the world would keep Him from directing His full attention to your requests. So come to Him every day in prayer.
An enemy had just arrived, intent on wiping out Israel. So Moses says to Joshua. ”Take your best soldiers and go out to meet them. I’m taking two men and I’m going to climb that hill that overlooks the planes, raise my hands toward heaven and pray for victory.” As Moses hands stretched heaven ward, Joshua’s troops prevailed in battle. But when Moses’ arms grew weary, and he dropped them to his side the tide of battle shifted before his eyes. Joshua’s troops were being struck down. Again Moses stretched his arms towards heaven bringing the matter before the Lord. Immediately, the battle’s momentum shifts back to Joshua. Then Moses realises—if he wants to open the door to God’s supernatural intervention here on earth, he must keep his arms stretched toward heaven in prayer.
So, If you’re willing to invite God to involve Himself in your daily living, you’ll experience His power in your home, your relationships, your career, and wherever else it’s needed.
But the other side of the equation is sobering, it is hard for God to release His power in your life when you put your hands in your pockets and say, ”I can handle this on my own.”
If you do that, don’t be surprised if you get the nagging feeling that the tide of battle has shifted against you. And that you’re powerless to do anything about it. Too many of us are willing to settle for lives like that. Are you one of them? In Psalm 91 we read of a God who responds to us. Check this out, (verse 15) ”When they call on Me, I will answer” Wow! That’s a wonderful promise!
Who is this God who will answer us? The psalmist tells us that He is the ”Most High the Almighty (v1) Both terms stress His position and limitless power. And in verse 2 we read that He is Yahweh, the great ”I am”, who is our Lord.
Psalm 91 calls for us to take shelter in the Lord. It assures us that God will protect us from danger.
In verses 3 & 4 it features the metaphors of a mother bird and of armour as our protection as it details the fullness of His power and presence. The picture of a mother bird safely tucking her young under her wings. There they are secure. There is a very tender touch stressing the warmth of God’s love and concern. But not only is there a tenderness in God’s care, there is also a toughness as is seen in the imagery of the armour. God Himself promises to keep in safety those who love Him and call to Him. He does reply and watch over us.
You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.
Do you know the ABBA song “Take a chance on me”? Well! I challenge you to take a chance on God.
Make the choice to take a chance on God and Your life will change for the better.
I leave you with Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call on me and I will answer you. I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.”
God bless you.
Readings: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21
The beginning of Lent – is often seen as gloomy time of repentance. The focus on human sin and frailty. Traditional Ash Wednesday liturgies focus on the brevity of life and remind worshipers that they came from dust and will soon enough return back to the earth, dust once more. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each person and speaks theses words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
I’m not sure that we need that reminder – most of us are quite familiar with our frailty and have experienced death in our family and friends circle. (I saw a sign in shop yesterday reminds us – Don’t take life too seriously – nobody gets out of here alive!)
The Gospel reading for tomorrow reminds us of some important things in our Christian disciplines however. There is a focus on the positive.
Mat 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Mat 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
Mat 6:4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
Mat 6:18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
Mat 6:20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Note the assumptions – when you give (v2), when you pray (v5) and when you fast (v17). These are a normal expectation for Christians and an ordinary part of the Christian life.
The text is set out as a serious of contrasts – not dos and don’ts, but don’ts and dos. In fact there is a lovely poetic rhythm to the whole passage.
If we have anything to repent of it’s the fact that we are not good at these things – not all of them at any rate. Giving, praying and fasting.
Our hearts are trapped in other worries. They consume our energy and time.
So after this reminder of the routine spiritual disciplines and how we should do them mainly in the secret place before God, Jesus gets to the heart of things – literally.
He talks about treasure. The things we cherish and value – which are vulnerable to moths, rust and theft. Either way they perish or land up in someone else’s house – only to perish there. They can only go to the op shop a couple of times really.
Investing time in giving, praying and fasting, is investing in heaven – in God’s economy. And he ends with this: Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In one of the hymns we will sing today there is the line – take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I behold. The writer of the hymn revisited that verse prayerfully and gave all her jewelry (except for one brooch) to the Church Mission Society of the day. She knew about treasures in heaven.
So where will your heart be over these next 46 days until Easter? (The 40 days excludes the 6 resurrection day Sundays which are not fast days historically).
I’m not even sure that we have to give up things. I think that misses the point as our whole life is meant to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12).
Maybe we can engage life more worshipfully – be more thankful – invest in some things that need attention – like appreciating the beauty around us, being thankful for the good people do even if we get irritated by their bad points. So we can give up grumbling, but not just for 40 days!
Maybe we should die to self more and take more risks – caring for those who are not easy to care for – reconnecting with people we have neglected (pick up the phone) – stopping to notice the good things that we take for granted. Praying more – criticising less. So we can give up criticising – but not just for 40 days!
Make your own list of 40 things – and you may find it’s not all dust and ashes. It’s a remarkable world – and it didn’t happen by chance. The people in your life are not an accident or there by chance either. God has put them there to teach you things! 🙂
There are too many wonderful things to celebrate – we should be much nicer to be with most of the time – with a revived attitude of gratitude.
Treasure the things that are treasure.
Make it a great 40 days – and it won’t matter that you and I will be dust one day. There is too much to be thankful for now and too much to look forward to when we die. Easter has settled that!