Back to series

Good morning, church. Go with me, if you will, to the book of Psalms, what we just read, Psalm 20.

We’ve been in a series through the Psalms since Easter, and I’ve spoken over and again about the beauty of the Psalms, and our need for beauty as humans. I’ve talked about the medieval belief that the soul had three parts: knowledge, emotion, and beauty—your mind, your gut, and your heart. I’ve gone over that medieval belief again and again because I think we can learn from it, because progress is not always forward progress, and I believe there are many things we should learn from the history of our church. I see us, in our time and faith tradition, pursuing information. We’ve created seminaries and publishing houses, podcasts and streaming. We’ve developed systems of discipleship and we gather for sermons and for Bible studies. We’re spending money on these things—thousands of dollars on tuitions, books, subscriptions, studies.

I see us pursuing information, and I see us pursuing gut emotion with church services and worship music often driving towards an emotional response. We hold rallies to raise awareness about political concerns, parties, issues, and platforms, and we argue all of this with conviction. In prayer, we often drive towards genuineness. We plan fellowship events and staff retreats to build emotional connections. But what about beauty?

As I’ve pastored, and tried to shepherd people into faith in Jesus, into better relationships, into better lives, I’ve met some people who needed knowledge. I love pastoring people who know very little about God, because exploring the character and work of God is like watching a movie I love with my son, him seeing it for the first time. Discipling people who want to learn about God is like exploring a good bookstore or the menu of a good restaurant. They find unknown treasure after unknown treasure, and as knowledge of God grows love of God is renewed.

I’ve met people who needed knowledge, and I’ve met people who needed emotion. Some people know the Bible backwards and forwards and yet they seem to hate the people of God, hate his church. And I think everyone from time to time go through seasons of just feeling dry, like what was a vibrant faith and relationship with God has turned into wrote action, going through motions.

But even though I’ve met people from time to time who need knowledge, and others who need emotion, the vast majority of the people I’ve pastored—most people I’ve met—have needed beauty. It’s a symptom of our time. C. S. Lewis says it this way: “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility, there are three who need to be awakened from the cold slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts. The right response to false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.”

What he means is, we do a lot as a church in the modern era to teach people not to act on some desires—not to drink too much, not to be sexually promiscuous, and on and on—but instead of suppressing desire, we need to awaken it. We are too easily pleased with a faith that is a list of rules, or a series of stories or platitudes or convictions. We can’t settle for believing that God; and it’s not going to help us or anyone else to separate into tribes of people with strong emotions and convictions about various things; in order to thrive in Christ, as individuals and churches, we need to live in awe of him, in awe of his creation. We need beauty in our time.

The psalms can give us that. I’ve argued for beauty, because my hope for each of you is that you would learn to thrive in Christ, and thriving involves way more than just knowledge of the things of God, or even a strong emotional response to God.

Psalm 20, go with me. And if you will, please stand as we read God’s word. [Psalm 20] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Please be seated. Pray with me.

What does it mean to trust in the Lord? This psalm is thought to be written for armies going out to war. They’re asking the Lord to protect the men going into battle, to protect the king. They’re asking God to remember their faith, their sacrifices. I imagine the families of the soldiers gathering on the streets of Jerusalem to see them file out of the gates singing this psalm, asking God in v.5, “God, let us shout for joy when they come back, because you’ve saved them, because you’ve given them victory, because only then will they come home again.”

No one in my immediate family has ever gone to war—there have been several soldiers, but they were all lawyers. Jag corps in WWII, logistics administration work in Iraqi Freedom. I don’t know what it’s like to pray for a safe return of a soldier from the front. But I will say, regardless of how I felt about the war, regardless of if I agreed with the conflict or the leadership or felt we were on the right side, this would be my honest prayer for a loved one going into battle. God, bring them home. Bring them back. Let me sing joy when this is over.

I love how this prayer doesn’t mince words about what they want. Sometimes people feel a need to qualify their prayers with comments of “Lord, if it’s your will,” and I get it. You never want to be on the wrong side of God’s will. But at the same time, I think we can trust God’s will to be done regardless of whether we pray for it or not. Think about it in terms of children. In healthy families, kids don’t try to figure out what it is their parents want from them when they make requests or even demands.

Our family has done some family therapy. In our minds, we were going in to get some help walking our son, who is adopted from foster care, through some emotional work he was doing related to that, but really it ended up being beneficial for all of us—I think Annie would say the same thing. I remember one therapy session that surprised me, our therapist was laying out some goals for our relationships, just quickly in a list, and she stated as one of her goals that our son would start throwing temper tantrums. He was about five years old at the time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I kind of liked that he wasn’t doing a whole lot of tantruming at age five. When I was coming up, temper tantrums were not exactly recommended. My parents never sat me down before we went into the store, like, “OK, Alex, it’s pretty crowded in there. What we’re really hoping for today is that you will scream and fall down and get everyone looking at us, and then we’re going to leave our shopping cart on aisle five and drag you through the store back to the car, because we’re good parents.” I don’t know a single parent who has ever encouraged their kid to have a tantrum, so I thought that as a goal was a bit odd, and I asked her. Why is a tantrum a good thing?

And she explained. Kids who have been left before only throw tantrums when they feel safe enough with an adult that, even on their worst behavior, that adult is going to love them, not hurt them, and not leave them. As unpleasant as it is, a tantrum is a sign of trust in kids. Tantrums are healthy. So next time you see me at Costco carrying a screaming child to the parking lot, think to yourself: healthy. Healthy children don’t try to guess and do everything their parents want them to do; healthy children believe that if they make a request of a safe adult, that adult will listen to them and consider their desires, even if often the adult has to say no.

In the same way, I would say if you’re in a healthy relationship with the Lord, you should be able to tell him what you want, even cry and plead, scream at him. If that’s honest, I would see those prayers as a sign of trusting, healthy relationship with the Lord. It may not be pretty. The other Christians may stare at you while you leave the store, assume I’m a bad pastor because of such protest, but still, that’s my goal. Some of the times I remember being closest to God are the times I’ve disagreed with his will the most. Those are also the times I’ve grown the most in my faith.

I want us to able to pray like this. There is no, Lord, if it’s your will, please bring my husband home alive from this battle. No, instead, they pray asking God to give them everything they ask for, then David prays confessing his own fear, v.9 he writes, let me come home safe, and let my men come home, back to their families, too.

So when some of you have been sick, and I’ve visited you, prayed with you, the prayers are for healing, because I know God is able, and that’s what I want. I don’t think God is going to heal everyone I pray for right then and there—I’ve lost too many people to believe that—but I do trust God to hear me. I trust him to answer me, and I trust that whatever he is doing in the midst of all the sin and brokenness of our lives and this world, I may not understand everything he does, but I trust that it’s good.

This idea of trust is where I want to spend the rest of the sermon, so I’ll ask again, what does it mean to trust the Lord? I want to steer clear of vagary and magical thinking. By magical thinking, I mean the health-wealth gospel hocked by televangelists—God as a vending machine, you put money and faith in, and you get things out. Don’t buy it. The Lord’s character and work don’t really depend upon you. He’s not waiting on your faith to work in your life. God is able to work in and through any failure of yours. His specific actions may depend upon your prayers—we see that many times in scripture, people asking God to move and he does because they ask. Assertive, responsive relationships are healthy relationships with other people and with the Lord.

But his character isn’t going to change because you prayed the wrong way. His work isn’t going to change because of your lack of faith. The way he works may change, and if you want to go deep into the role of faith you can come to small group this week and ask all your questions, but for now I’ll say it this way: God’s love and faithfulness don’t depend upon your actions. Look at the lesson of Jonah—You can disobey God and he can still work powerfully through you. Just because you lack faith in his ability to change and heal a person or a city doesn’t mean he won’t. Oftentimes when my faith is small God’s work in and around me is enormous, because he’s giving me what I need to believe again in the midst of my doubts.

Don’t give in to magical thinking, because blaming yourself for God not working in your life is an easy path toward blaming God for not doing what you ask. This kind of magical thinking leads to bitterness. If God is your vending machine, the first time you put in two dollars and he doesn’t put out whatever it is you were trying to dial up, you start thinking the whole thing is broken. Don’t go down that road.

Magical thinking kills real trust in God. So does vague trust. Vaguely trusting God, without ever specifically trusting him, is near to useless. For example: I generally, vaguely trust my wife, but only because I specifically trust her for many things: to be a loving mom to our kids, to be knowledgable in her field of work and study, to be a loving wife, a faithful friend to our friends, to be honest and assertive, to include me in major decisions. I trust that when she says she’s going to be there, she will be there twenty minutes late. She’s proven herself faithful over and over again in all of these things.

So when we pray, and when I encourage you to trust the Lord, I want us to get specific, and our psalm gives us three things we can specifically trust the Lord to do. One, you can trust God to answer you. Vs.6, the psalmist writes, I know God will answer. When you call out to God, however you call out to God, you can trust the Lord to answer you. Jesus uses the analogy of a child coming scared to her parents’ room at night. He says, every time you knock, that door will be opened to you. Every time you call, God will answer. Even if you feel alone and scared in this life, you can call out and trust God to answer you.

I always think about parenting and teaching, all the requests that you get from kids, and they don’t understand your answers, they say you’re mean or cruel or ruining their life when really you just want the bast for them. Dad, can I stay up and finish the movie, no you need sleep. Can I use the string trimmer, yes but you’re not ready yet. You have to grow before I give that to you. Many times in my relationship with God I make the request, and his answers are this way. I’ll ask for a raise and he’ll give me contentment. I’ll ask for a new role, and he’ll take years growing me into it. I’ll ask for direction and he gives me wisdom, because he knows what I need more than I do, but he always answers, even if the answer is not always what I want. But like any good father, he enjoys saying yes, too.

Abbey is good about asking good theological questions, and we had a mini theological roundtable after church last week talking about praying to God for healing, which is a lot of my prayers lately. We talked about how God’s will for healing people is well-known. We don’t have to guess if he’s willing to heal someone. Throughout the Bible, our God is able and willing to heal any and every illness, redeem every suffering. God’s answer to prayers of healing and redemption is always yes.

If someone in your life this morning is battling illness, and your prayer is for the Lord to heal them, his answer is yes. Or if you’re struggling with some persistent sin, his answer is yes, he’ll free you from that. If you’re suffering from what has been done to you, yes, God will comfort you and bring justice. When the kingdom comes in full all of those things pass away. Those answers are always yes. The hard part is time, waiting for the fullness of what God will do. The psalms are filled with laments of this very thing, over and over again, the people of God cry out, how long, O Lord, will you wait forever? And his answer has always been, I’m coming soon. Generally in the world, but certainly in each of our lives, what you’re going through right now is a momentary affliction soon to give way to an eternal weight of glory.

But even if we have to wait, you can trust the Lord to answer you, and I would add, he doesn’t make us wait in vain. His timing is good, it’s just hard to understand, which leads into my next point, which is that you can trust God to be good. You can trust him to be good.

My son is very into Monopoly right now, and if you’ve ever played you’ll know there are two sets of cards. One set is a real gamble—the Chance cards; some cards help you, others hurt you. But one set of cards, the community chest—do you remember?—that set is always good. It’s a crude analogy, but God is that way. You’re not gambling bringing your faith into various parts of your life—work, family, intellectual life. You don’t have to be careful what you wish for with God. He’s not a djinn. Whatever God does, whatever you pray, you can trust he’ll do what’s good.

We get confused because the Church, his people, are like the Chance cards. Sometimes you interact with the church and it’s helpful, bank error in your favor, you get $75. Sometimes you interact with church folks and you go to jail without passing go. It’s not always good when you bring God’s people into different parts of your life. I’ve attended some awkward parties with folks introducing their church friends to their work friends, and have you ever tried talking about politics at church? That’s gets dicey. Romantic relationships? Get ready for way too many opinions. But even though his people are broken, God is always good. You can trust that. God is always good. Overall health, art, business, romantic relationships, family, political action, food, drinks—I’ve even been a part of someone blessing a bathroom. There is no corner of your life that you should be afraid to bring the Lord into. He’s always good.

You can trust God to answer you, you can trust him to be good, and lastly this morning, you can trust God to save you. Again, vs. 6, you can trust God to save you. That’s another place where his will is well-known. God came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it, and you can trust in your own life, if God is in it, even in all the mess of life and church and faith, if God is involved in your life he’s involved not to condemn you but to save you.

This life is incredibly hard. Suffering is everywhere, and no matter how disciplined you are or how smart, you’re going to face difficulty. You’re going to face uncertainty. You’re going to make mistakes and need forgiveness instead of applause. In Christ, you can trust, you are forgiven, you are welcome, you are loved. It is always his will to welcome people into his churches, to give them a home, to find love and community. That’s always a yes.

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