We’re focusing on Psalm 77 for a few weeks on the podcast. It’s a discouraged psalm written by a discouraged psalmist, who writes, for example (in verse 4, speaking to God), “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4). Painful. He seems to be enduring a season of discouragement. And as we begin this new year, maybe you’re carrying a discouragement in your own life. If so, it’s normal. Discouragements like this are, Pastor John will say, “typical Christian life.” They’re common, even at the start of a new year. And in those discouragements, we need our Bibles even more.
Psalm 77 reminds us why daily Bible reading needs to remain our priority in the dark seasons. Pastor John will remind us that our daily Bible reading is about habit, head, heart, happening. Four things: (1) the conviction to do it, (2) the discipline of getting truth into your head, then (3) the work of getting the truth from your head into your heart, and finally, (4) sticking to realistic practices that will make daily Bible reading possible. Today we look at point 2: getting truth into our heads even when life hurts. Here’s Pastor John to explain in his New Year’s sermon in 2000 on Psalm 77. Here he is.
I think of my preaching that way. Even though I’m talking to you, my whole concept of preaching is that this is done before God. Just like Paul says in 2 Corinthians — this is done toward God; this is worship of God, what I’m doing right now. And if you understood that better, you’d respond a lot more than you do, verbally. I will work on that this year. We’ll try to teach a little about meaning amen — “yes.”
I don’t want any artificiality or things outside your real self. But there are times in praying when a little mm-hmm wouldn’t hurt. That’s not in the manuscript here.
So this is a prayer, and all of our Bible reading should be prayer-filled and prayer-saturated. And that’s what we have in this psalm. Now, let’s look at it. This psalmist, his name is Asaph. He’s a musician, poet, saint. And he was really discouraged. He was really down. Let’s read it in Psalm 77:7–10:
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?
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
Now, I believe that’s typical Christian life. I don’t expect 2000 to be anything other than struggling with that. I know that, over time, some people hear me preach and they get the impression, somehow — and I just ponder how — that my sense is that the Psalms were given with the expectation and the demand that Christians will live at a consistently triumphant level. That’s crazy.
“Nobody lives at a consistently triumphant level. Nobody — period.”
Nobody lives at a consistently triumphant level. Nobody — period. The Psalms are written because nobody lives that way. And they are written by people who didn’t live that way for people who can’t live that way because we’re so frail, so fragile, so sinful, and full of so many struggles, and battered by so many hard circumstances. That’s reality.
When I think about the Christian life, I don’t think a lot about how to get Christians to live consistently triumphant lives. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t know if some of you believe that. I am an absolute pessimist with regard to human nature. And I don’t believe that Christ has entered into this world to sanctify us instantaneously overnight, but only over time, so that when we die, then in the twinkling of an eye, or at the last trumpet, we are changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). And when we see him, we become like him (1 John 3:2). And before that time, we’re stumbling all the way to glory.
Therefore, the Bible is so blatantly realistic about those kinds of things that it gives us great help if we will hear it for what it says. And verses 7–10 is pretty clear that this Asaph fellow is in the pit — doubting God’s compassion, wondering about God’s reliability, thinking God’s loving kindness has ceased, wondering whether he’s favorable at all, saying he’s changed and has become fickle, quite against Malachi 3:6: “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” And he says, “It is my grief that the Lord has changed.” This man’s in trouble, where we are a lot of the time.
So what’s the point, then, of the way this man lives? I want you to see his strategy for Christian living. I know he is not after Christ, but before Christ, but the strategy is the same, I’m arguing. The strategy to live the Christian life, a life lived on the word of God, is the same strategy then as now. Now, the strategy is in verses 11 and 12. I’m going to skip it and come back to it because I want you to see the fruit and effect of the strategy first. So you’ve got a discouraged, low, dismal situation in a man’s heart in verses 7–10. Now, I want you to read the same man with me starting in verse 13:
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.
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 77:13–20)
Same man? Same man. So what happened between verse 10 and verse 13?
Many of you this morning are in verse 10, and I hope you want to be in verse 13. So, all year long we must learn how to do this. We go in and out, up and down. I think the Christian life does go up. For following after God, you get above some things as you go along, but it’s not without its deep dips.
All right, let’s read the strategy:
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. (Psalm 77:11–12)
“The strategy is a life lived on the word of God, which alone mediates the deeds and triumphs and wonders of God.”
That’s the way to live the Christian life. The strategy is a life lived on the word of God, which alone mediates the deeds and triumphs and wonders of God.
Three words stand out, don’t they? Remembering, meditating, and musing upon the deeds and wonders of God in history. That’s what I want for 2000. That’s what I want. I want a church filled with people who remember, who meditate, who muse on the mighty deeds of God — day in and day out.
Remember, meditate, muse. The central biblical strategy for living the Christian life — to come out of darkness, out of discouragement, out of doubt — is a conscious effort of the mind.