Dear radio friends,
Turn with me today to the Word of God in Psalm 43. Please read the entire Psalm.
There are two reasons why this little Psalm of five verses is very precious to us. The first is that it deals with the ultimate goal of life: God. Verse 4: “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.” God, the true God, the glorious God, our God by grace—He is everything. To know and to serve and to worship and to belong to Him through Jesus Christ is exceeding joy.
You can have the world and all that is in it: money, things, friends, power, booze, sex—but if you do not have God, the true God in Jesus Christ, you are dead, you are miserable, and you are guilty. You can today have trial, disease, setbacks, sorrows, troubles, but if you have Him, then you live, you have exceeding joy.
This Psalm reminds us of Jesus’ words when He said in John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
The second reason why this Psalm is so precious to us is that it gives us practical help when we feel distant from God and when, in fact, we fear that we are being rejected of Him. In verses 2 and 5 the psalmist says, “Why dost thou cast me off? Why go I mourning…? Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” He is under the experience of oppression. He is under attack for his faith. He is enduring setbacks. We, too, sometimes, believe that everything is contrary to the promises of God. There are slanderous words being flung at us. In that situation we are led by the psalmist to see that God, our exceeding joy, is the One to whom we must go and in whom is life and comfort.
Let me show you, first of all, that the psalmist is writing out of a very common experience. If we go to verse 1 we see that he tells us what is going on in his life. And then in verse 2 he tells us what is going on in his soul. We read in verse 1: “Judge me (or vindicate me—show me to be true), O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.” This psalmist has enemies, men who misrepresented him, men who slandered him, men who falsely judged his motives, so that the general opinion was against him. Ungodly folks were making his life miserable, making many problems for him. That was his external, his outward, situation.
Verse 2 tells us the inward condition of his soul: “For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? who go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” Inwardly he believes that God has cast him away. And what is very striking about the verse is that we see that his heart is divided. The first clause of verse 2 sounds very hopeful. Here he is feeling the need to be vindicated against his enemies and he begins his address to God: “For thou art the God of my strength.” In other words, he has not let God go. He is still saying the right things. So he begins very positively. But then, in the very next clause, he complains of being rejected. “Why dost Thou cast me off? Why hast Thou turned Thy back upon me? It seems as if Thou hast forsaken me, O God. If seems as if Thou hast allowed the enemy to have the upper hand. I am oppressed, I am agitated. I have come many times to Thee for relief and vindication. Thou art my strength. Why hast Thou cast me away?” He has a divided heart. That is a very common experience. He believes, on the one hand, that God is his strength, but on the other hand he thinks that God has forsaken him. There are two things tugging inside of him. “I know that Thou art my God, my strength. But I feel, under this prolonged oppression, that Thou hast cast me away.”
I believe the Scriptures often bring to us this common experience of the people of God. Often in the Psalms we read of it. Psalm 86:11: “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.” My heart is split—part of it is going one way, part of it is going the other way. Take hold of my heart and make it one. Also in Mark 9:24, the father of the demon-possessed boy said with tears: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” So also the psalmist in Psalm 43. He has not given up, he has not thrown everything away. He has not said, “Forget it. I don’t believe in God anymore.” No, God’s grace has kept him back from that step. But he is struggling with a divided heart. “Lord, I know that Thou art my strength. But why then do all of these things happen to me?”
As he cries out of these circumstances, we see in verse 1, he at first focuses on vindication, personal vindication. “Vindicate me, O God, plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me.” “Be a lawyer,” he asks God. “Set the record straight. Be my lawyer. Give me a public vindication. Show that I am right. Elevate me. Take away the opposition.”
Now, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is not necessarily wrong to pray that way—to pray, “Lord, deliver me from people who misrepresent. Deliver me from cancer. Deliver me from illness. Deliver me from the hurricane. Deliver me from problems. Deliver me from difficulties.” But as we read this Psalm, we see that the psalmist begins to understand that this is not the main point. If you glance ahead to verses 3-5, you will see that he never comes back to this point of vindication. He begins: “Vindicate me.” But as he draws closer to God, he loses sight of that petition when he sees more important things. Yes, you may ask God, “Vindicate me from my problems, my woes, and my illness.” But, you see, one does not need to be a Christian in order to pray that prayer. There is nothing spiritual in itself about that. In fact, the devil wants that. The devil wants to be vindicated, too. Everybody wants that. That is a natural desire. Anyone desperate enough will pray: “Change this. Deliver me. I don’t want this anymore.” The devil and the world can say that.
But what the psalmist says in the next verses the devil never would, the unbelieving world never will, and a mere outward Christian never does. For, as you go ahead in verses 3 and 4, you will see that he asks God to lead him, not out of his oppression, but to God’s holy tabernacle. He wants to appear before God, his exceeding joy. And as he considers God in his soul, the important thing comes to him: God, my exceeding joy. That is the important thing. He does not need so much the change of circumstances, but he needs God. The devil does not pray like that. Neither do pretended Christians who go to church merely out of custom.
Now let us go forward and see the very rich prayer that he makes in this Psalm: verses 3 and 4. I hope you have your Bible open to that. This is an amazing and rich prayer. It shows us how to pray when we believe that God has forsaken us. As we enter into the beautiful chamber of this prayer, let us look first of all at the whole.
“O send out thy light and thy truth,” we read. “Let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.”
That prayer reveals much rich spiritual experience with God. The vocabulary, the sequence of thought, the God-centeredness, the intensity, the adoration oozes from the prayer. It reveals a man who has known God, who has gone very deep with God, who has a deep and rich walk with God.
And yet, he could also have a divided heart. He was just like us—he could know moments when he was beside himself. He was upset. He was agitated. There are not two men in this Psalm. There is one man. The man who begins praying, “Lord, set the record straight. I believe that thou hast forsaken me. Put an end to all of this!”—the same man prays as he draws closer to God: “Send Thy light and truth, O God, my God. I will praise Thee.”
Notice, as I said before, that as he enters into the heart of his prayer in verses 3 and 4, there is not even a whiff of any desire for personal vindication anymore. As I said, if you want to pray for the vindication of the truth in your life, that is OK. But that is still not the main issue. Being proven right at work, being proven right in your marriage squabble, defeating cancer, overcoming heart disease, delivered from Katrina—yes, pray about that. But where is your exceeding joy? Being shown to be right … or loving God? Beating cancer … or knowing God? The devil wants to get well too. He wants to escape what is coming against him. Unbelievers want to be proven right. The world wants to beat cancer. Unbelieving couples want to overcome low income, move into bigger homes, have a boat.
That is not the main issue. We are all going to die. What will we have then? The psalmist says, “God, my exceeding joy. O God, my God.” Do you know something about that?
In twenty years, how many who are now listening to this broadcast will be dead? The main issue in your life is not vindication. It is not health. It is not what other people are saying about you today. The main issue in your life is not your figure and what it looks like. The main issue is not what things you have or do not have. The main issue is God. Who is God to you?
Now let us look for a few moments at some of the details of this beautiful prayer. It stands out in three stages.
The psalmist begins, “O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me.” He is asking for God’s Word to shine into his heart. He needs God’s light because he is in the dark. He is asking that the power of God’s Word and truth vitalize his heart. He is looking around. He does not see God. He has taken refuge in God: “Thou art my strength.” But he is in the dark. He knows that God is a refuge and a rock, but he does not feel that. He feels the opposition of the enemy. So he asks: “Send Thy clear, reinvigorating light, Thy fixed truth. Let it sink into the walls of my heart. I am blind to something, O Lord. I can’t see. I feel that I am rejected. Lord, open the eyes of my heart (not my physical eyes, but the eyes of my heart) that I might, through Thy Word, see the riches of Thy grace. I know all about that. My head understands all of those things. My pastor has come to me this week and said, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ I know that. But, Lord, send forth Thy light, send forth the power of Thy Word to illumine my soul. Send forth Thy truth,” he says, “the truth of the Bible.” That truth is real. The doctrines and the promises and the precepts are truth. You can get your hand on it. You can understand it. They are called creeds, confessions of the church. “Lord, flood my heart with Thy light. Baptize my soul with Thy truth.”
Then he goes on, “Let them (that is, let Thy Word, let Thy truth) bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God.” He says, “God’s light, God’s truth in the heart, pulls me to a place.” It is called a holy hill. It is called an altar. It refers to the cross. The altar was placed in the tabernacle on God’s holy hill. And what happened on that altar? Blood. Lots and lots of blood. It was all pointing ahead to Christ and Him crucified. The altar on which our sins are washed away and the covenant of God is established and confirmed. That is everything to us. The gospel, the cross of Jesus Christ, is the great and only good. That your guilt is purged away on the altar on which His blood was shed is all that matters. The psalmist says, “Let thy light and truth come, that it might reveal my sin. My sin—even in my prayer for vindication. And let it bring me to the altar of God on Mount Calvary, where He bled and died for me.”
Then he says, “Then will I go … unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.” “Bring me, O Lord, to Thee in Christ Jesus, that I might know Thee as my God, the God who is my exceeding joy.”
The final goal of the Christian life is not the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is a means to bring you to God Himself. God is the gospel. God is joy. God is exceeding joy. The word “exceeding” is joy of my joy, joy of my gladness. The psalmist is piling it up. No, he is saying, “I cannot really express who God is—majestic, glorious, lovely—oh, joy of my joy! God, my exceeding joy!”
Do you know God? The psalmist means that God is his root joy, his core joy. All other things, without God, are utterly empty. All joy without God is bubble joy. It is burst-on-the-first-sharp-thing joy. It is floating-away-like-a-little-bubble joy.
But God is the joy of my joy, the center of all truth. All other joys (good food, home, car, friends, money, fishing, booze)—are they the root of your joy? That is a hollow joy. No, it is worse than that. It is an addicting joy and it is going to leave you gutted. It is going to leave you empty. Not God. “Oh God, my God; my joy, joy of my joy. Strip all away from me and you have not taken away my joy,” says the psalmist. “I will go to Thy altar, O God, my exceeding joy. How precious is my God.”
Here is the man of God, now. He has been brought to prayer before God. He is surrounded by enemies. He is beleaguered. He has prayed, “Send forth Thy light and Thy truth. Bring me to the altar of Mount Calvary to see the forgiveness of my sins. Now I am brought before the issue of life—God, who is in Himself everything and, therefore, is everything to me.”
The issue in your life today is not your health. It is not your job. It is not your IRA. It is not the rumors that are floating round about you. It is not if you have enough money. It is not how you look. It is not how your house is or if it needs repair. It is not the state of the furniture. It is not whether you have a boat. The issue is: God. Do you know God? For if you do not, you have nothing. But if you have God through Jesus Christ, by amazing grace, then you have joy of joy.
The psalmist goes on to say, “I will praise Thee upon a harp.” Bring out the most sweet, the most celestial instruments, and I will enjoy God and I will praise Him.
But you say to me, “OK, but I’m still troubled. All you said is true, pastor. It’s God’s Word. I can’t argue with that. But….” If you read verse 5 you see that the psalmist was ready with his “but,” too. He leaped very high in prayer. He confessed that God was his exceeding joy. But his feet start coming back down to the reality of life, to those enemies, to the slander, to the woe, and to the problems. But then he takes himself to task. He says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” He has been talking to God. And now, after he has been in prayer, he comes back to talk to himself and to speak to his soul on behalf of God. He is talking to himself. He is talking to his soul back and forth. The soul says, “I’m disquieted. I don’t like this.” And he speaks to his soul and says, “Why are you disquieted? Hope in God.” The man is preaching to himself. Do you know that you can preach to yourself? You can preach the whole gospel to yourself every day. Do not be easy on yourself. Do not pamper yourself. Counsel yourself. Preach the gospel to yourself. Shall we do that?
As those who confess the altar of God as our exceeding joy, as the power of our salvation, shall we do that? Shall we counsel ourselves? Shall we confess that God Himself is exceeding joy? Soul of mine, you are burdened with forebodings today. You are stewing at the injustice of it all. Soul, you feel disquieted. You cannot seem to rest. You are driven. Soul, you are feeling sorry for yourself. You imagine there is no friend for you. Why? Is God dead? Has God left His heaven? Has God abdicated His throne? Has God laid down the reins of His sovereignty? Did Jesus Christ die upon Mount Calvary? Did God, in sovereign love, give you Jesus Christ to bear your curse, to wash away your sins? Having done so, will God now change? Will He go back?
Hope in God! Rely upon God. Depend upon God. Cast yourself, by a living faith, into the almighty arms of the living God. Soul, stop it!
Look to the cross. “Send forth thy light and thy truth.” Do you see it? Look to God.
Oh, my God! Joy of all joys. He has not cast you away, child of God. Rest in hope. This is the issue of your life. The most important thing is not, vindicate me. Here is the most important thing: Oh God, my God, give me to know Thee. Give me to love Thee. Give me to serve Thee. Give me to glorify Thee. Give me to rejoice in Thee, oh joy of my joy.
Let us pray.
We thank Thee, O Lord, for Thy Word. We pray that Thou wilt write it upon the walls of our hearts today. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.