How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 2)

When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.’ ” For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

(Psalm 75:3–7, ESV)

When I read passages like Hebrews 11, I can’t help but think that the Christians of yesterday were made of different stuff than today’s Christians. Do you sense that today’s churches are filled with Christians who say they’d die for Christ, but begin fidgeting in their seats when the sermon goes long? If my observations are correct, then how can we hope to endure true and sever trials? I think Pslam 75 goes a long way to helping us see the benefits of resting in the sovereignty of God.

Yesterday’s post demonstrated that trials and difficulties 1. Make us aware that God is always near us, 2. Give us a thankful heart, and 3. Teach us patience. You can read the full post here: How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 1)

4. IT ALLOWS US TO RELAX (v. 3)

When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah” (Psalm 75:3, ESV)

Jesus warned us against the sin of anxiety in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:25ff). When we become anxious over anything, we really put aside the fact that God is sovereign—he is in control.

Look at verse 3 above—that is not describing you!! But how many times do we feel like the world will stop and all the plates we are spinning will come crashing down if we don’t do it all?

Here’s a reality check. In Acts 17, Paul is describing our God who was unknown to the Greek philosophers in Athens. In verse 24-25 he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Did you make the world and everything in it?

Are you the Lord of the heaven and earth?

Do you need a place to sleep, food to eat, and water to drink?

Do you give to all mankind life and breath and everything?

No? Then you aren’t God, and you can relax. God is in control.

5. IT HUMBLES OUR PRIDE (vv. 4-5)

I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.’ ”” (Psalm 75:4–5, ESV)

The sin of Satan that brought about his fall is also the sin that his children excel in. It is amazing that in the end days, the arrogance and pride of Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet will manifest itself in leading a proud and arrogant world to face the King of Kings, the Creator of All in battle! We wonder how such blind foolishness could exist, but pride blinds us from the truth!

In verses 4-5, it refers to “lifting up your horn” and this is a metaphor for stiff-necked rebellion. It pictures a beast of burden that refuses to allow the owner to place a harness or yoke upon his neck. He refuses to allow his master to control him in any way.

Speaking with a haughty neck is similar, except the picture is of a human who speaks with arrogant pride that seems to be oblivious to the existence of God who will take into account every word spoken (Matt 12:36).

As one Scottish Pastor wrote,

“Pharaoh reacted to God’s command to let his people go by saying, “Who is God that I should obey him?” Nebuchadnezzar endeavored to set his throne and kingdom above him whose throne and kingdom are forever and ever. Herod listened to the adulations of his degenerate admirers: “It is the voice of a god and not of a man.” Coming nearer to our own time, we have read of how Adolf Hitler gazed at a picture of himself riding proudly on a white horse, a picture which bore the blasphemous title, “In the beginning was the Word.” Then in a voice that deliberately mocked Christ, the eternal King, He exclaimed, “I am providence.”

But Pharaoh and his hosts are swept to destruction; Nebuchadnezzar becomes the companion of “the beasts of the field”; Herod is devoured by worms, and Hitler becomes a suicide. “Those that walk in pride God is able to abase.” “He shall cut off the spirit of princes; he is terrible to the kings of the earth.” “All the horns of the wicked will I cut off.”

-Murdoch Campbell as quoted in Boice, 628-29.

Although the Lord is clearly speaking to the wicked, we cannot allow the application of this truth pass us by as if we also do not struggle with pride at times as well. When we are going through deep waters and hard trials, we can begin to practice a sort of pride—similar to what Job exhibited. Job was a righteous man, but he was not perfect man. He was so convinced of his righteousness that he went too far. He began to call upon God to judge him! Look at Job 23:1-7 when you have some time.

When we come under severe trial, it is important to put aside your pride and see your need. Look to Jesus, not to your own righteousness. Only in Him will you find your help and relief. Pride seeks to “un-God” God. Humility in trials sees Him sitting upon His throne as He is.

6. IT PLACES OUR TRUST IN GOD (vv. 6-7)

For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” (Psalm 75:6–7, ESV)

In verse 5, the Lord has finished speaking. Now, the priest or Asaph is speaking. He begins with a reminder to put our trust in God.

The wicked thought that their promotion and help would come from the surrounding nations. In reading through the books of Kings and Chronicles you can see the testimony of how many nations, Israel included, depended upon political alliances and partnerships. Some of these were useful for defending against larger and stronger nations. Some were used to overcome nations in acts of war.

But the Lord is saying to Asaph and his readers that defense and war do not come by the number of alliances and the sizes of your armies. Your resources are no guarantee of your success. After all, Egypt was the largest and most powerful nation on earth, and they were defeated by their Israelite slaves without raising a single weapon! 

So, who can guarantee our successes and our failures? Verse 7 tells us clearly. God executes judgment—putting down his enemies, and God raises up those whom he chooses to.

Thus we, his people, should not depend upon our resources apart from God as if they can lift us up or guarantee our success. This is the lesson that Jesus was teaching in his parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15-21). Right after this teaching, what did Jesus teach? About not being anxious, but to depend upon our good God—trusting him as our good heavenly Father.

When we are in need, which doesn’t necessarily mean financial need, we tend to depend upon God more. We should allow the trial to do this and cause us to grow in our trust in the Lord.

A Tool To Sharpen Your Preaching

If we want to improve in any skill, we must practice. This axiom is also true for preaching. If you don’t get many opportunities to preach, them you won’t be able to grow as an expositor. But there is an additional tool beyond practice that is also needed. As a matter of fact, it goes hand in hand with practice. It’s feedback. We need help with seeing our blindspots and our weaknesses in our sermons and delivery. One good place to get helpful feedback is from our church–those people that love us and want us to grow in our skills.

Now I understand that going to someone in your church and asking them to critique your preaching is a scary prospect because we are opening ourselves up to someone when we are very vulnerable. But we need the feedback if we are to get better and improve our preaching skills. So here is how you can being:

  1. Find two or three people you trust will be both kind and honest with you as they critique your preaching.
  2. If you have an idea of where you might need to improve, try working on this skill set for a month. Don;t try to change too much too fact or you will freeze up with the “paralysis of analysis” syndrome. Once you get a skill under your belt, you can move on.
  3. Explain to those people who are giving you feedback what they should be looking for. They need to know how to identify weakness in you beyond what they like and don’t like. It needs to be defined and measurable.
  4. After they give you feedback, thank them and assure them that you will take their comments into consideration and work on these things. Then do it!

I have created a simple form to give to those in a church with helpful areas for them to take notes. I would suggest that you not only explain what they are looking for, understand that they are helping you out, so don’t demand that they spend too much time distracted with the critique so that they get nothing from the message. In fact, you might want to rotate those that help you with feedback so it isn’t the same people week after week. Here are the questions I include on my form:

Sermon Evaluation

  • Preacher’s name: _____________________ 
  • Sermon title: _________________________
  • Sermon main text: ____________________
  • Date preached: _______________________

Introduction:

  • Did the introduction lead to the main idea of the text?
  • Was it interesting?
  • Did it include enough background info to give context without bogging down the sermon?

Sermon Body:

  • Was there a clear outline?
  • Was the outlining of the sermon choppy?
  • Did the preacher point us back to the text to prove his point?
  • Did he stray from the text or explain it?
  • Were there sufficient illustrations to make the abstract ideas concrete? 
  • Was there appropriate application given?
  • Was the main point of the text the main point of the sermon?
  • Was there doctrinal error?
  • Was the explanation of the main doctrines clear?

Sermon Conclusion:

  • Was the gospel somehow included in the sermon or conclusion?
  • Was this message God-centered?
  • Was this message overall clear, somewhat clear, muddy, or confusing?
  • Was the hearer given something to do or believe?

Outline:

(The one giving feedback should be instructed to write out your outline as they heard it. This should help you evaluate how successfully you gave out the outline in regard to repetition, and clarity.)