Criticism is a hard thing to deal with. This past week as I was digging through some old files on my computer I found a file that I had labeled “problems.” I currently have a paper file labeled the same in my desk drawer where complaint letters are kept. Thankfully it doesn’t have too many letters in it…yet.
Going back to the other day, I knew that I shouldn’t open the file and look inside, but curiosity got the better of me and I did. Inside I found some letters from when I was a pastor in California. The memories of those occasions had mercifully faded, but the letters instantly brought back those difficult days.
In his famous hymn “This is My Father’s World”, Maltbie Babcock wrote these comforting words:
This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget/ That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heav’n be one.
This stanza pulls together two truths that confront us in this world—“the wrong seems oft so strong” and “God is the ruler yet.” In the next three post I want to address this from the biblical perspective of Psalm 75. Over each of the next three posts I will lay out a total of Nine Ways in Which the Sovereignty of God in Dealing with the Wicked Affects Our Attitude Toward our Present Circumstances. Let’s begin…
1. It Makes us Aware That God is Always Near Us (v. 1A)
Psalm 75:1a “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.”
The reason for the psalmist’s thankfulness was that the “name” of God was near. The “name” of course, points to the presence of God himself. David wrote about this nearness in Psalm 139:1-12 when he spoke of the Lord intimately knowing mankind from when he knit us in our mother’s womb as well as every other aspect of our lives. There is nowhere that we can hide or be hidden from his presence.
This is a comforting reality in times of need and pain. God really is right here with us. He hears your prayers. He sees your enemies as they attack. He sees it all.
2. It Gives us a Thankful Heart (v.1b)
Psalm 75:1b “We recount your wondrous deeds.”
Along with his nearness was a legacy of remembering that brought forth a thankful heart.
Remembering and reciting aids in developing a thankful heart. We are forgetful people, aren’t we? The Lord knew this, and so he constantly calls his people throughout the Scriptures to remember, even instructing them to set up memory aids, special dates, rites, and festivals. In the Church Age, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper to be done “in remembrance of him.” Why? Because as monumental as the cross of Christ is for our eternity, we still forget about it if left to ourselves.
Psalm 78:4 speaks about the need for parents to recite these memories to their children. It says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
We can grow anxious and weary when we forget that God is in control. We can begin to see ourselves as helpless, awash in the chaos of the world, victims of chance. But if you sit down and read through the pages of Scripture, you will quickly begin to see that God has always been in control. Reminding yourself of this fact will change your outlook radically.
3. It Teaches Us Patience (v. 2)
Psalm 75:2 “At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity.”
Here we have a change of speakers—the song has moved from Asaph speaking (or the priest who led the singing) to God himself speaking. The Lord says that “at the set time that I appoint…” This language in Hebrew refers to seasonal time, not clock time. Clock time spins fast. Seasons don’t work by a clock. Fruit doesn’t ripen according to your watch. God doesn’t punch-in to work.
Let there be no mistake, God will judge—he says so. But he will judge at the set time that he appoints. We can’t say “Amen” to God’s sovereignty and then be impatient when he doesn’t act on our schedule, can we? We can’t be like Martha, Lazarus’ sister, who got so upset that Mary wasn’t helping her prepare the food in the kitchen that she stomped right into the middle of Jesus’ teaching time and demanded that the LORD command her sister to help her! It appears Martha thought Jesus needed a little help leading the world. He doesn’t.
When you become impatient and wonder when God will judge, remember that God is in control as he has always been. Be still and know that he is God.
Ministry can be a lonely place. Sometimes there are very few people that could understand what you re going through, and there aren’t many that you can share your thoughts and struggles with. Ministry partnerships and fellowship can definitely help alleviate this, but there is still the reality that the road of ministry leadership is sometimes still fraught with times of isolation and discouragement.
Finally, The Lord Provides for ministry when he gives us encouragement.
He Gives Us Encouragement
“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10, NASB95)
Think about the English word, “encouragement.” It has the word “courage” right in the middle of it. This English word originally was, in-courage, and it meant “to give courage.” And that is what the Lord is doing in verses 9-10. In a vision one night, the Lord reminded Paul what he often told his prophets in the Old Testament, “do not be afraid!”
In Exodus 3:2, as God called Moses to redeem his people from Egypt, He told him that He would be with him. In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses told Israel to trust the Lord as they entered the promised land. In Joshua 1:5, 9, the Lord encouraged Joshua that he would be with him as he was with Moses and that he needed to be strong and courageous. In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord told the prophet Isaiah that he is not to fear or be dismayed, because the Lord God will strengthen him, help him, and uphold him. And in Jeremiah 1:8, when Jeremiah was called to go out as the prophet of the Lord, God told him that he was not to be afraid of them because the Lord was with him to deliver him from all dangers.
Paul needed that kind of supernatural encouragement as he faced the daunting task of the ministry the Lord had given to him. And so he gave Paul these instructions:
“Don’t be afraid any longer”…When we react in fear we are lacking faith in the Lord our God who is our strong tower. In our fear we must trust the Lord and turn to him by faith to accomplish his will.
“Go on speaking and do not be silent”…Fear of persecution often silences the faithful witness. Paul needed to be courageous and keep on speaking the truth, in spite of the high probability that he would continue to suffer greatly for the gospel.
And then he gave him three encouragements:
“For I am with you”…Paul was never alone. God was always with him. Just as he was with Moses, Joshua, Israel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Habakkuk, and so many others.
“No man will attack you in order to harm you”…No one can touch us if God’s protective hand is upon us. This would be limited to the time that Paul was evangelizing in Corinth until those God would save had been saved. It wasn’t a promise that Paul would never be attacked again. But it was an assurance that for a while, Paul would be able to do the work of the ministry without violence breaking out in Corinth for a while.
“I have many people in this city”…The Lord was saying to Paul, “there were many people left who would be saved. Go find them!” When the time to move on had come, the Lord would let Paul know. He was to be encouraged with the fact that there was a good harvest of souls right there in that city.
We know how the Great Story ends, don’t we? No matter how dark things get, no matter what twists and unforeseen trials we encounter, in the end, Jesus has already won! Therefore, we need to be encouraged and see with the eyes of the Ascended Christ. He is not dead and in the tomb. He is seated at the right hand on high. He is coming again. And he has given us work to do.
Let your hands be strengthened with this truth and carry on with the Lord’s work. Look at our last verse, verse 11: “And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:11, NASB95). Do you see the result of these provisions? God had provided co-workers, finances, focus, boldness, souls saved, and words of encouragement. And Paul continued on and so we must carry on as well.
“And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:24–25)
When you begin reading the book of Joshua, you can almost sense the fear and intimidation that Joshua was feeling. It starts with the announcement that Moses is dead. And then over and over again Joshua and the people of Israel are told to be strong and courageous.
After gaining some victories, assurance, and even a few tough lessons, Joshua has grown quite a bit as a leader by chapter 10. As five kings band together to try and stop the advancement of Israel into the Canaanite territory, it quickly becomes obvious that God is fighting for his people and they are unstoppable. The five kings in fear and desperation hide out in a cave, where they are discovered and sealed into the cave to await their fate.
After destroying the five kingdoms, Joshua returned to the sealed cave to deal with the kings. What he did next is worthy of note for leaders in the church today.
1. Joshua summoned all the men of Israel. The men were the leaders of the families and clans, as well as those who fought the battles. By Joshua summoning all the men so that they could be built up in courage, he was strengthening and stabilizing the whole nation. Similarly, when the pastoral leadership of the church strengthens and gives courage to the men in the church as a whole, they strengthen the whole church.
2. Joshua encouraged the chiefs of the men of war…[to] come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Joshua then turned to the leaders of the warriors—the commanders, and gave them the honor of this courageous symbolic act of victory. Not only did this act allow them to taste the victory for themselves, but it also strengthened their courage as the people saw not just Joshua as a mighty man whom God could use, but many mighty men God was using. Again, the local church should not be a place of pastor worship, but a place where the pastors are “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” This means that we should be producing multiple warriors for Christ, and among them many will rise to the place of “chiefs of the men of war.” How encouraging to know that your local church is a fertile growing place for mighty men of God!
3. Joshua finally spoke God’s Word to them to both focus and humble them: “And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight”” (Joshua 10:25). These are very similar words to those that the Lord said to Joshua when he failed at Ai (Joshua 8:1). Joshua had absorbed those words and was now living by them. He knew that the Word of God is a powerful two-edged sword, and he wanted to equip his men with the same weapon that he had received. Those words were more than simply true—they contained reminders of humility and focus—don’t be afraid or discouraged, be strong and courageous. But don’t forget that the Lord will be fighting for you. It is not you who has won these victories.
Locker room pep talks are strongly associated with sports, and so many men are familiar with them. But that isn’t what Joshua gave them, and its not what our churches need. Leave the pop psychology to Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen. Real leaders need en-couragement, meaning they need courage from God himself. Hype only lasts so long. Courageous leaders need to point up and coming leaders beyond themselves to God himself. Preach the Word and let the lion out!
A few nights ago I awoke with the aches and pains of a sickness I have been fighting for a few days. Unable to sleep, I started to reflect upon all the friends and loved ones that are struggling with pain and suffering to a much greater degree. I thought about those who are facing a crumbling marriage, the loss of a spouse, the onset of a disease that will take their life. I lay in the dark and considered the deep comfort that we have in Christ.