On Tuesday night, Hannah, John and I went to Invercargill to hear Rasik Ranchord, a pastor from Wellington, speak about disciple-making. While introducing his talk, he mentioned that he had been on the Wahine on the day that it sank. He had gone to bed, on the ship, the previous evening quoting to himself, “In peace I will lie down and I sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Hold it! That’s the verse we just read! What are the chances of that? There are about 31,103 verses in the Bible. What are the chances he would quote one from the psalm we would consider this week?
Rasik said that he knew nothing of the danger until he heard the graunching down below the next morning. Standing on the deck with people screaming all around him he couldn’t believe the peace he had. He wondered to himself why his heart wasn’t racing but he was perfectly calm and he said that it felt as if he had an invisible shield around him, keeping him perfectly safe. Psalm 3 describes God as a shield around us.
Being on the Wahine disaster must have been terrifying and yet Rasik’s experience illustrates the truth of these psalms. It is not just nice theory. It is real-world reality. It really is possible to not be afraid. Rasik said that he knew he was experiencing that peace of God that is beyond understanding. We can take the word of God very seriously. We have to understand it correctly but, if God says it, we can believe it.
This psalm is possibly a companion to the Psalm 3; Psalm 3 being a morning psalm (I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the lord sustained me) and Psalm 4 being an evening psalm (In peace I will both lie and sleep; for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.) And it possibly comes from the same period of David’s life, when David was fleeing from his son, Absalom, and all those who had rallied to depose David as king.
I had a little bit of trouble writing this sermon because the translation I was using was significantly different from the NIV. I don’t have time to show you the details but I compared a number of translation and they seemed to confirm the ESV so I want to use that today.
Let’s follow the psalm through briefly. David starts by addressing God. He says, “Lord, I need you. You have been good to me in the past, please hear my prayer now.”
Then he addresses the people who were persecuting him, so we can picture Absalom and his troops. “How long, O men, will you keep making my life miserable? How long will you believe lies?” Or maybe it is: “How long will you tell lies?”
“Be aware that God sets apart the godly for Himself. God answers my prayers.” In other words, there are two types of people: mankind in general and those whom God has made His own. The implication is that they are not God’s people and when David says, “The Lord hears when I call to Him” it could sound like a threat. Watch out. God is on my side. You will be in trouble when He acts.
But maybe it is not that way because David goes on to appeal to them to stop and think. “When you lie on your beds, ponder these things. Turn away from sinning. Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in God.” He appeals to them to change direction and become God’s people. They too can be God’s people.
It then (in v.6) seems that David is simply reflecting or is talking to God again. Many people are waiting for a better life. They call out to God to look favourably on them. They are defying God and living sinful lives but they think God should bless them. I am more blessed than they. I have more joy in my heart than they do at the most joyful times, when their grain and wine abound. I have more joy than they do during the harvest or times of great feasting. In peace I lie down and sleep. God protects me.
There are therefore three main components to this psalm: 1) Life is tough and I need God, 2) I belong to God and He does bless me wonderfully, and 3) You, my enemies, can also be God’s people and be blessed.
We can see how the psalm reflects David’s situation but, it seems to me, it is a psalm all of us can easily use. It describes our lives. Can you not say life sometimes is hard? Lord, please help me. But, at the same time, as a child of God I am richly blessed. People may hurt me or I might feel envious of them but, actually, I am blessed more than they.
Christians are not exempt from the pains of this world. This world is messed up because of our sin and in its messed up state it is full of pain. Christians experience that pain just like others do. In fact, the Bible promises trouble.
Acts 14:22 Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.
John 15:20 If they persecuted me, they will persecute you
1 Peter 4:12 Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But, in the midst of that pain, Christians also experience God’s goodness. Like David, we can look back and say, “You have given me relief when I was in distress.” We can say, “The Lord hears when I call to Him. I have more joy than the people of the world have even when they are happiest. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Perhaps the key truth in this psalm is that God sets apart the godly for Himself. God says, “You are mine.” That is not true of everybody. It is the privilege of the godly. And, of course, Christians know that none of us is godly except through putting our faith in Jesus. When we choose to follow Jesus, God says, “I set you apart. You are mine. You are my child. I will care for you and protect you and provide for you. I will hear your prayers. You are mine”
So, every Christian can say both, “Lord, I am struggling. Help me” and “You have been faithful in the past. You know who are yours. You have answered my prayers. I am blessed to be yours.”
When Rasik Ranchord stood on the sloping deck of the Wahine, he could say both: “Lord, this is bad. I need Your help. But I am Yours. You have been faithful in the past and even now I have a peace that I know can have come only from you.”
Do you know what he did? He went around other passengers and shared the gospel with them. He told them that Jesus could save them and give them eternal life.
That is the middle bit of this psalm (verses 2 to 5) and it is not as clear to me that that is a part of every Christian’s life. David turned from addressing God to addressing the people, calling them to repent and turn to God. How long will you keep doing what is wrong? How long will you continue deceiving, telling lies? Do not sin.
Then there is that key truth: “Look, there are two types of people – those who don’t belong to God and those who do. The righteous belong to God and experience God’s goodness. God hears their prayers.”
You are angry but don’t let that cause you to sin. Instead, stop and think. Just pause for a minute and think about these things. When you lie on your beds, ponder these things. Be silent. Don’t be all worked up and anxious to pursue what is wrong. Be still and think. Come before God without constant talking, and never-ending excuses and justifications. In the presence of God be silent.
David then urges them to offer right sacrifices and to trust God. You remember that David was king because Saul had been rejected. And Saul had been rejected because on two occasions he made a sacrifice but it wasn’t a right sacrifice. He was disobedient but still sacrificed. God said to him…
1 Sam 15:22-23 “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
Many times in the scriptures, God says, “You bring me sacrifices of bulls and lambs. You go into the temple and do what you are supposed to do but your hearts are far from me.” Going through the motions will do you no good. Being religious will do you no good. I want your hearts. I want your obedience.”
Both the righteous and the unrighteous could go to the temple and make a sacrifice. What God really wants is our hearts.
Romans 12:1 says “Offer yourselves as living sacrifices”. (In view of God’s great mercy…)
Right sacrifices are not so much the ritual sacrifices – the outward performance. Right sacrifices are the sacrifice of ourselves to God which results in obedience.
That is half of what David counsels in v.5. The other half is that they trust God. That is an interesting pairing isn’t it: trust and obey? Faith and works. Knowing Jesus as Saviour and as Lord.
David calls them to repent, turn from their sins, and to have faith in God and obey Him. Doesn’t that sound like evangelism? David shared the gospel with his enemies. He told them the good news using his own testimony. Like him, they could be God’s own people. They could know answered prayer. Instead of their current dissatisfaction they too could have the joy that exceeds even that of those whose grain and new wine abound, if only they would repent, trust and obey.
If we look at the life of any of God’s people in the Bible, I think we will see those same things. They all suffer, don’t they? But they also all are blessed by God and in the midst of this mixed up world, they appeal to others to repent, to trust God and to obey Him and therefore to also experience God’s blessing. Those three elements are always in the life of God’s people.
God continues to ask us to trust Him and to obey Him. Offer right sacrifices. Being religious won’t do us any good. Coming to church won’t do us any good. What God wants is the sacrifice of ourselves – our willingness to die to ourselves and to obey Him. Jesus said that we cannot even be disciples without taking up our crosses, denying ourselves and following Him. What God wants is obedience.
It is no secret that in today’s church one of those three elements in the psalm is largely missing. We face struggles and we cry out to God. We know that God is good and we are very blessed. But what about the third part: the appealing to others to repent and to also be God’s children and know His blessings?
David did it even in the Old Testament. His love for His enemies was seen in his appealing to them to repent. We have so many advantages over David. We know about Jesus and what He has done for the world. We know the gospel. We have the scriptures. We have the example of the early church which spread the gospel at an incredible rate. And God asks us to sacrifice ourselves and be obedient. We have been specifically commanded to spread the gospel.
You might find that scary but will you offer yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God? That is true worship. It is not about being religious. It is about being obedient. Large parts of the church are ignoring the mission we have been given. Large parts of the church are saying “No” to God – maybe still coming to worship but being disobedient. In fact, maybe coming to worship as a substitute for being obedient. Can I ask you: “Are you willing to be obedient to the mission God has given us – the mission of sharing the gospel? May it be that you can recite this psalm in all sincerity because all three parts are true of you.
Two people asked me, after this sermon, how Rasik had got off the Wahine. I didn’t know so I asked him!
He was in one of the last groups to leave the ship and where he was there were no wooden lifeboats so a rubber dinghy was inflated on the deck, the group got in and they were then winched down onto the water.
They drifted across the harbour to the Eastbourne side (where many of the dead were washed ashore.) His first response was to praise the Lord. He walked some distance and then realised how serious the event had been when he came across injured people. They were then bussed to the Wellington Railway Station.
Rasik says that he couldn’t doubt the power of God. “You cannot fake the peace of God.” He wondered why his heart wasn’t racing but God’s peace was real.