Our message today is taken from the books of the Psalms—Psalm 77:11, 12, “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
We should love the Bible the way we love our eyes. We love our eyes because without them we cannot see what is lovely and what is beautiful. Without the Bible, I could not, by faith, see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 4:6). Without the Bible, I could not know the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). Without the Bible I could not know that I am a great sinner and that Jesus Christ is a great Savior: “God, be merciful unto me, a sinner.” The Bible is the gift of God that makes me wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. By the Bible the mighty promises of God are brought to me. I see them all flowing from the cross of Jesus Christ.
Would you live without your eyes? Can you live without your Bible—the book that opens a world unseen and glorious, the treasures and the splendors of the love of God in Jesus Christ to you?
We should love the book of the Psalms in the Bible because the Psalms show the experience of a child of God. The experience of the psalmist is your experience as a child of God. God puts the Psalms in the Bible not only to call us to great heights of faith and praise. But God puts the Psalms in the Bible to give to us also a strategy of fighting against the darkness of despair. Certainly God puts the Psalms in the Bible in order to teach us great heights of praise and worship. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me; bless his holy name.” “Unto thee, O Lord, do we give thanks, for thy wondrous name is near.” “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.”
But God has put the Psalms in the Bible not only that our experience be one of praise. He has put them in the Bible also to comfort us in every dark moment of discouragement and doubt. In the Psalms you have an arsenal—an arsenal for fighting the giant Despair. The Psalms in the Bible give us a strategy for fighting the darkness of depression and despair. Says the psalmist in Psalm 77, “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
Christian living, then, is a living on the Word of God, reading, believing, hearing the work of Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures, hearing the promises of God in Jesus Christ. That is Christian living. Cut the Word, cut now specifically the Psalms, out of your daily life, and God becomes to you a blank zero. If I need fellowship with God, I will have it in the Word. If I want to hear Him, I must go to the Word. If I want Him to speak to me in my despair, I must open the Psalms. For, in the Holy Scriptures God tells me of His mighty works of grace in Jesus Christ my Lord. And in those mighty works, my soul is lifted from darkness to His light.
Asaph is the psalmist of Psalm 77. And Asaph tells us that he writes out of an experience in which he was deeply depressed and was overwhelmed and had settled down in deep darkness and despair. Listen to him. He says, “My soul refused to be comforted.” In other words, he was saying to others, “Leave me alone. Nothing can help me.” He found himself withdrawing from the company of friends and associates. Listen to him. “I complained,” he writes, “and my spirit was overwhelmed…I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Has that ever happened to you? So down that you cannot even talk?
Then he says, “Thou holdest mine eyes waking.” He could not sleep at night. Asaph believed that God had forsaken him, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” (vv. 7-9). God’s mercies and God’s promises, God’s grace—none of these things did he feel in his life. The thought of God brought him no peace, but rather made his fears increase. He was held in the grip of dark despair.
Life has not changed for a child of God in 2008. The idea that the Christian lives on in a constantly triumphant level and never knows moments of sadness, darkness, despair, or depression—that type of idea is nonsense. To deny depression in the life of a Christian; to say a child of God never will feel that way—to say those things means that we do not read the Bible. For that experience is related to us by Asaph in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is unblushingly realistic. Oh, we stumble and we struggle all the way to glory. God is faithful. We need Him. We are weak.
I am a pessimist on human nature. But we are optimists—believing, realistic, absolutely-certain optimists—in the promises of God. We know His love, power, and wisdom will reach down into any darkness. He will see and He will hear. His arm is not short that it cannot save. He will bring us up.
Let us look at Asaph’s strategy in contending with his depression. That must be our strategy as well. You cannot fail, if you read the Psalm, to see a change, a marked difference, in Asaph’s outlook. I read from verses 7-9 of his questioning of God’s presence. But if you go to verses 14, 15, he says, “Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.” At one point he is believing that God does not love him, that God has pushed him aside. And then, at the next point, he is talking more soundly, more positively: “Thou art the God that doest wonders…thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people…thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron,” he says in the latter part of the Psalm.
Now what accounts for the change? How did he get from the despair of verses 7-9 to the confidence of verses 13 and following? Well, it began in verse 10. He writes, “This is my infirmity,” in a reference to his depression. “I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.” He begins to think of the right hand of God, the hand that doeth wonders. He remembers that Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God, his Savior. From the right hand of God comes God’s wonderful works. By His right hand, God opened the Red Sea and parted it for Israel. By His right hand He preserved Israel for forty years in a wilderness. By His right hand He performs mighty deeds of faithfulness. “I will remember the works of the Lord, His wonders of old. I will meditate upon Thy works; I will muse,” he says, “upon Thy doings.” He begins to think of God’s mighty works proceeding from His own right hand. He begins to contemplate the truth of God—God’s faithfulness, power, love—and the great, great work of God in Jesus Christ and the cross.
What was his strategy? His strategy was this: “Look not on self and the impossibility of your way; but fix your gaze upon the wondrous works of God shown in the Holy Scriptures.”
Christian living is living on the Word of God. If you do not read the Word of God, if you do not linger over it, if you do not memorize parts of it, if you do not meditate and muse upon it, if you do not steep your mind with it, then you have no answer to the giant Despair.
Apart from Scripture, we will be weak. We will be vulnerable to false teaching and all kinds of trendiness. There are all kinds of trendiness in the church today. And we will be blown away with the trends unless we are rooted solidly upon the basis of Holy Scripture. And without Holy Scripture we will be blown away in the trials of life. A house will burn; a child will require constant hour-by-hour care; depression will live on the border of your soul seeking to get inside. We must go constantly to the Scriptures. We must be like the tree rooted and grounded in Holy Scripture. What is the believing strategy for the Christian life? Christian living is living on the Word of God. It is seeking confirmation constantly in the works of God.
Asaph’s journey out of discouragement was a conscious effort of his believing mind to remember the works and the wonders of God. The doings of God, you understand, and the wonders of God, did not just pop up or come to him. Yes, we have had the experience at times when, apparently for no reason, God’s wondrous works pop into our minds. God can and does do that. But normally, He calls us to the conscious effort of faith. It is not automatic. Asaph fought for delight.
Notice three words that he uses, words of conscious, intense effort. “I will remember,” and then he repeats that word, “surely I will remember.” Secondly, “I will meditate,” and that word means “roll it over in my mind.” And thirdly, “I will talk,” or muse: “I will ponder the word, I will look into the word.”
You do not have there the account of passivity. You do not have simply sad resignation. But you see there a fight, a fight for delight. It was a battle for peace. It was a taking hold of God and of His promises with both hands, taking hold of the Bible with both hands, and through teary eyes reading the wonderful Word of God. Christian living is a conscious effort to live in the Word of God. It is to meditate and to ponder God’s work, so vast and so gloriously portrayed to us in the Word of God. There are so many who are placid in the way that they live the Christian life. There are so many who treat the Word of God indifferently, apathetically. They coast, they drift. And then, perhaps, we ask, “Why is none of this Christianity real to me?” We even have the boldness to say that sometimes. “Why is none of it real? Why don’t I get anything out of it?” All the while we know that we are not in the daily practice of reading God’s Word.
Christian life is an intense life. Christian life is to say, “I have seen a glorious land, a land beautiful, a king mighty, a truth fabulous, a Christ who is the only treasure.” John Bunyan, in his great work The Pilgrim’s Progress, has it right when he portrays Christian leaving the city of Destruction and plugging his ears as he flees out of the city and he cries out, “Eternal life, eternal life, I must have eternal life.” Remember, meditate, muse, look into the Word of God. Look unto Calvary. Consider God’s Word. Consider God’s works. Let those works roll over your soul. Think hard!
I will, I will, I will. We find that in those verses in Psalm 77. The psalmist says, “I will meditate…I will remember…I will remember…I will.”
We have all had times when we have said, “I know God’s Word in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart. I just don’t seem to have what the psalmist had.” We feel unworthy at that time and unacceptable to God and, maybe, some past, horrible sin mounts up in our mind. Or, maybe a horrible sin committed against me now causes me to reproach myself. And we say, “I can’t rise up above this despondency. The knowledge of Christ and of His great deeds of old, the mighty works of moving the whole world of guilt from me and crowning me with eternal glory—that is true. But somehow it does not seem today to make a difference.”
What will you do? Does feeling that way justify you in being passive? Listen. “This is my infirmity,” says the psalmist. “But Christ is at God’s right hand. I will meditate, I will muse, and I will ponder.”
It goes like this: I will call to mind that my Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, on a day in history hung on a cross of torture and pain. And He did so to bear away the wrath of God against my sin. I will remember that there was next to Him a man who also was being crucified, who had lived a life of sin all of his life and was on the brink of eternal damnation. I will remember that for some wonderful reason of God’s grace, found within God’s own heart, this man who first cursed Jesus Christ when He hung upon the cross, later on confessed Him and cried out to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” I will muse on God’s grace that brought that wonderful change into that man’s heart, and on how unlikely and how hopeless this man was of himself. Then I will pursue that memory. I will track that memory down. I will ask, “What did Jesus say to him?” I will look it up. Where is it found? It is found in the gospel of Luke. What chapter? Luke 23. What verse? Track it down—verse 43: “Verily, verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” I will pause and I will think and I will not hurry off because I am very busy today. I will shut out all other voices. What does that mean? What do Jesus’ words means? That is a wonder. Here Jesus is dying. And He tells a dying man who deserved to burn in hell that he will on that very day see Him in Paradise. What does it mean? It means that the grace of God in Jesus has swept away in one moment all this man’s sins. Death has been pried open. There is forgiveness in the blood. There is acceptance. There is acquittal in Jesus Christ. And then I will say, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary. Who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God who doest wonders. Thou leadest Thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron—no, by the hand of Jesus. God has led Thy people by the hand of Jesus—the good Shepherd of the sheep.”
And the living God will bring me out of my despair to marvelous light of love in Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. And we would ask that it may be again sealed to our hearts by the working of the Holy Spirit. May our Christian life be a life based upon the Word of God. May we read the Scriptures and may we acquaint ourselves this very day with the beautiful Psalms. In Jesus’ name, Amen.