A sermon on Psalm 34 by Richard Keith on Sunday 11 March 2018
Why do we find stories of struggle and hardship so inspiring, stories of those who have found success or peace only after periods of testing and suffering? Why are we repelled, instead, by accounts of those who have had ever opportunity thrown at them, who were born with privilege and never struggled to succeed? Is it not because we are too well aware of our own hardship, and we are drawn to the stories of those who overcame their suffering, to inspire ourselves to overcome our own?
Psalm 34 is the song of struggle. The song of a man who suffered, who was put to the test, and in his desperate need, turned to the Lord for help. And he turns to us and invites us not only to praise God with him but to put God to the test to find him ready to help us in our struggles as well.
Psalm 34 is a song of David. The title says that it was inspired by David’s experience when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left. It was a low time in David’s life. King Saul had become increasingly jealous of David. He’d even tried to kill him. So David had run away. David escaped Israel to the land of the Philistines. Perhaps hoping to hide or thinking that his enemy’s enemy was his friend. But he was recognised and reported to the king. “Isn’t this David?” they said. “Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” That is, tens of thousands of Philistines. David was afraid. He was in a foreign land. He was in hostile territory and he didn’t know what else to do. He pretended to be mad. The king of the Philistines decided that David was harmless and let him go.
It is something that you might have been too proud to do. A different kind of person might boast that they’d rather die than escape in such a humiliating fashion. But David was glad to have simply escaped with his life. David had been driven to the edge. He had been pushed to his limits. But at the edge, at that point beyond his limits, David found that the only one left to turn to was the Lord. And he was rescued.
Psalm 34 begins,
“I will extol the Lord at all times, his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”
David had been in desperate need. He had turned to the Lord for help and he’d been rescued. And his gratitude erupted in praise to God his saviour and rescuer. And he added this intention: that it would not just be temporary like those who break their promises. They vow to God that they will change as soon as he rescues them, but when he does, they instantly forget what they have promised. David will not do that. He will not use his God like an airbag – nice to have in an emergency, but otherwise completely taken for granted. Instead, he will praise God today. And he will praise him tomorrow. And he will praise him every day after that. The Lord is not just our safety net who will catch us when we fall. He is our companion and guide, our master and our friend, our shepherd in all of life’s journey.
Every day is a good day to praise the Lord. Did you, for example, get out of bed alive this morning? Praise the Lord. Praise him not just for big things, but for the little things too.
In verse 2 David calls out to the afflicted. To those who suffer and struggle, to those who are under the pump and put to the test just like David was. And he says to them,
“Hear me and rejoice. Listen to what I say and be glad. Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together.”
We could well ask, why should they? Why should they join in with David’s praises? Why should they glorify the Lord with him? What has David’s experience got to do with the experience of others who struggle?
David goes on,
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man” – David means himself – “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him. He saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers him.”
David’s point becomes clear in these verses. The Lord helped him. He is able to help others. When David was brought to his knees and he had no other help, when he was alone without a friend in the world, the Lord rescued him. And so he can rescue you.
This is the testimony of the saints. This is the story of those who have trusted in God. And many of you know it. I mean, look at us. None of us were born with a silver spoon. None of us were born into a life of ease and privilege. Everything we have achieved has been the result of hard work. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve known heart ache and pain and loss. Many of us have known times when our life hung by a thread. But who was there when we needed him most? Our maker. Our creator. Our Saviour. Our Lord. Most of you, if not all of you, have a powerful testimony of how you would not be where you are today, except that God saved you. Saved your life. Saved your family. Saved your job. Saved your home. If nothing else, then saved your soul.
You have a story like David. And someone soon, maybe someone you’ve known all your life, maybe someone you’ve never met before, but you might meet someone soon who is driven to despair by their troubles. And they will need your story of how God saved you, so they might dare to hope that God could save them too.
To the rest of you, David has this message:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
It is a challenge to those who need help to see that their helper is within their reach, to put the Lord to the test in order to see that he can be relied upon. That he is as dependable as gravity. That he is as faithful as the sunrise. Taste and see that the Lord is as good as grandma’s roast lamb and as good for you as five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day.
Don’t take my word for it. Don’t just believe everything I say. Try him for yourself. Take the Lord for a test run. Put him to the test. Rely on him and you will find him reliable. Trust him and you will find him worthy of it.
“For the Lord is good. And the man who takes refuge in him is blessed.”
In verse 19 David concludes,
“A righteous man may have many troubles”.
It reminds us that no one is promising you an easy life. They crucified our Lord. The Scriptures say of him that he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He knew hunger and thirst and grief and fatigue. He was rejected and slandered and condemned. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. And we follow him. If they did all these things to our leader, what will they do to his followers? If they treated our teacher like that, how will they treat his students? The way to glory goes the way of the cross. Yes,
a righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.
It reminds us that the way of the cross leads to glory. The promise for those who take up their cross and follow Jesus Christ is not an easy life, but resurrection. Life from the dead.
“For the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and he saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
These are the stories that are most inspiring. Not the ones where nothing ever goes wrong. But the stories like David. The stories like Paul, who, according to his own testimony in 2 Corinthians chapter 4,
“was hard pressed, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, knocked down, but not knocked out.”
Because we who have been blessed to know God and to love and serve him through Jesus Christ and have received his Spirit, we have the privilege simply to be jars of clay full of the glory of God. We are mortal and fragile, but we bear the glory of the gospel of Jesus so that this all surpassing power may be clearly seen to come not from us, but from God.
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
To wrap things up: Don’t just be inspired by other people’s stories. Trust in God in good times and in bad and be the inspiration for others.