Crawling Back to the Cross


This is a re-post from last summer with a few slight edits. 

There are dark nights in the lives of all Christians. These can come because we have lost something or someone. They can come from burdens upon us. They can come from physical sickness or emotional distress. They can come from the darkness of the world, crisis in our church, or from our own sins. But perhaps no darkness compares to the silence of God in the midst of these dark nights. What do we do when he is absent? when we cry out and he does not answer? What do we do when it looks like he has cast us off? Not surprisingly, the Psalms give us the answer.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah.

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah. (Psalm 77:1-9)

There are few words in the Psalter as despairing as these nine verses. The author cries out to God repeatedly. He refuses to be comforted. He cannot close his eyes. He asks questions modern, sentimental Christians refuse to ask. Has God forgotten us? Has his love come to end? Have his covenant mercies, his steadfast love been forgotten? Has his anger overcome his compassion? Am I stuck in darkness, despair, and death? Is there any hope at all? But note the second line of the first paragraph, “In the day of trouble I seek the Lord.” And the middle of the second paragraph, “My spirit made diligent search.”  He is not going to passively slip into despair and darkness. He is going to pursue God despite the darkness.  Like a man clawing out of a grave he will keep digging until his breath runs out or he reaches the light.

And what is the answer to his distress?

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:10-20)

The writer’s hope is kindled by looking to God’s deeds in the past. “I will remember…I will remember..I will ponder…I will meditate.”  He looks backward to see a way out of the darkness. He focuses on the parting of the Red Sea. Israel, like this man, could see no way out. In front of them lay the sea. Behind them lay the Egyptian army. Listen to the words of the Israelites as they stood on the shore:

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12)

Moses we are going to die here. God has forgotten us. Where is God’s  mercy now? We told you to let us be. Despair. Darkness. Death. Now hear the words of Moses:

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

And that is exactly what happened. God saved Israel. The writer of Psalm 77 looked back to that great event and found courage, peace, and hope. He remembered the power of God, how even the great waters could not withstand Him. He remembered that the Lord made a path through the sea. He remembered that the armies of Pharaoh were drowned and their bodies washed up on the shore (Exodus 14:30-31).

Why could the author of the Psalm do this? Why could he look back to an event hundreds of years earlier and find hope? Because God does not change. He is in the business of delivering his people. He always has been. We do not know what was wrong when the Psalmist wrote this. Nor do we know how or when God delivered the Psalmist from his “day of trouble.” But we know that God did deliver him because he always does.

In our times of darkness, whether they are personal or corporate, we look back to a greater exodus, a greater deliverance. We look back to the cross and there we are reminded, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  We are reminded that God so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son to die on our behalf. We are reminded that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame so we might be sons of glory (Hebrews 2:10). As the Psalmist crawled back to the Red Sea and the God who saved Israel there, we need to crawl back to the cross. When darkness comes we need to meditate upon God’s “mighty deeds” and ponder His strength and works. We need to remember His “wonders of old.” For He does not change. He redeemed Israel. He will redeem us. He cast down Pharaoh. He will cast down our enemies. He led Israel to the promise land. He will guide us to green pastures and still waters. This does not mean that your life will be perfect, you will be rich and healthy. It just means that in then end all will be well.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18).

The Westminster Assembly on How to Preach

Here is as list from the Westminster Directory for Public Worship on how the minister is to preach the Word. There is a lot of wisdom in these few points. All bold is mine.

  1. Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
  2. Plainly, that the meanest may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; abstaining also from an unprofitable use of unknown tongues, strange phrases, and cadences of sounds and words; sparingly citing sentences of ecclesiastical or other human writers, ancient or modern, be they never so elegant.
  3. Faithfully, looking at the honor of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which may promote those holy ends, giving to every one his own portion, and bearing indifferent respect unto all, without neglecting the meanest, or sparing the greatest, in their sins.
  4. Wisely, framing all his doctrines, exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail; shewing all due respect to each man’s person and place, and not mixing his own passion or bitterness.
  5. Gravely, as becomes the word of God; shunning all such gesture, voice, and expressions, as may occasion the corruptions of men to despise him and his ministry.
  6. With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good. And,
  7.  As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all that he teaches is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock, as an example to them in it; earnestly, both in private and public, recommending his labors to the blessing of God, and watchfully looking to himself, and the flock whereof the Lord hath made him overseer: So shall the doctrine of truth be preserved uncorrupt, many souls converted and built up, and himself receive manifold comforts of his labors even in this life, and afterward the crown of glory laid up for him in the world to come.