Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

A New Year's Wish From Psalm Twenty

Written by Rev. C Pronk
Like any other New Year we have entered in the past, the year 2001 also stretches out before us as terra incognito, unknown territory, and we wonder what it will bring us. Last year every one was worried about the havoc the Y2K bug might wreak on our computers and hence our economy, but thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm. This year no comparable scare scenario is troubling us. Things seem to be quite stable and most people are cautiously optimistic.

Politically, the nightmare of the U.S. presidential election has come to an end with George W. Bush emerging with a very narrow win. By the end of this month a new Bush-Cheney administration will have replaced the scandal-ridden team of Clinton and Gore, while Canada looks forward (!?) to a third term Liberal majority government under Jean Chretien. Internationally, things donÕt look too alarming except for the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and other potentially danger spots such as Kosovo, Indonesia and Zimbabwe, where violence could easily break out again. Economically, we seem to be headed for a recession, or at least a down turn, although the experts are hopeful that they will be able to manoeuvre a Òsoft landing.Ó

But while on the national and international scene things are relatively quiet and not too worrisome, when it comes to moral and social issues we have plenty to worry about. The liberal agenda re gay, abortion and freedom of speech rights, to mention only those, is being pursued relentlessly. Christians are increasingly being marginalized and held up for ridicule, especially in Canada. Add to this our own church problems and personal concerns, and you will agree that also this year we have reasons to look to the future with some apprehension.

But has it ever been different? Has there ever been a time since the Fall when GodÕs people were free from fears and forebodings about the future? Scripture bears ample testimony to the fact that from the human perspective the world has never been a place from which much good could be expected, because it is a world that Òlieth in wickednessÓ (1 John 5:19). Scripture also provides the only solution to any fears we may have and offers real and solid hope in an otherwise hopeless world.

In Psalm 20 we find these encouraging words: ÒThe Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from the sanctuary and strengthen thee out of ZionÓ (vv.1, 2). These words are part of a song that the people of Israel sang when the king went forth to battle. Before he went out to face the peril and uncertainty of war, they sang this psalm as a prayer for his safety and victory. It was a genuine prayer, an expression of their faith, and a song of trust in the power of the living God who would protect the king and his armies Òamid the battle shock.Ó

According to Revelation 1: 6, Christ has made every believer in Him both a king and a priest. So when we read about the experiences of kings and priests in the Old Testament, Christians are justified in drawing valuable lessons from the record of their struggles, fears and deliverances that the Lord gave them time and again upon their prayers. Their experiences are designed to teach us how kings ought to act and how priests ought to behave, and above all from whence they derive their strength and encouragement as they serve the Lord.

The psalm opens on an ominous sound: ÒThe Lord hear thee in the day of trouble.Ó Right from the start there is recognition that the king is headed for major trouble. Fighting the LordÕs battles is no easy matter. We are faced with many enemies and they are strong and resourceful. Paul says, Òwe wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high placesÓ (Eph.6: 12).

The year 2001 could prove to be very dangerous for all of us. War may break out. The economy could collapse. Death may strike down a loved one. Sickness may incapacitate us. It is quite possible that this year Christian-bashing will intensify. Days of trouble may lie ahead nationally, ecclesiastically and personally.

How are we going to cope with these difficulties? Well, the psalmist, king David, gives us the answer: ÒThe Lord hear [or answer] thee in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob defend [protect] thee!Ó That is where our refuge lies--in the name of the God of Jacob! Only God is adequate for the situation. Only He can tell what dangers lie ahead. Only He has the wisdom and foresight to steer a course through all the various perils. If you are not resting upon the God of Jacob, you will never make it. That is what this Psalmist is saying, and he drew upon a wealth of personal experience.

Why does he say, "the God of Jacob"? Because of what that name represents. Jacob means deceiver. As the story of his life unfolds, RebeccaÕs favourite son turns out to be a maneuverer, manipulator, wheeler-dealer, and Big Time Operator. He was what we call today Òstreet-smart,Ó relying always on his wits, wisdom and cunning to accomplish his goals. The result, for people like that, however, is that they end up short-changing themselves. The very thing they think they are securing they end up destroying. They always find themselves at the short end of the bargain because no man can ultimately succeed by using this worldly approach to life.

But God found a way to set Jacob free from that kind of strategy. After many a painful lesson, JacobÕs God finally taught him to abandon that way of thinking, and to come at last to trust Him fully and to worship Him acceptably. At Peniel the Lord threw his thigh out of joint and changed his name to Israel. Hebrews 11 tells us that Jacob was one of the great heroes of faith because he finally learned to lean on the top of his staff and to worship. By then he did not feel he had to manoeuvre everything; he could wait on God and worship, while God acted. That is why God is called here "the God of Jacob."

What do you and I do when we face a day of trouble? We tend to panic, don't we? We cast about for some kind of manoeuvre that will get us out of a bad situation. We start to manipulate people and events--just like Jacob. Have we learned to confess this as sin yet? Has the God of Jacob become our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble? (Psalm 46:1). ItÕs the only way to begin a New Year.

In the second verse we have the procedure by which the help of the God of Jacob will come to us: [May he)] Òsend thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.Ó IsnÕt that wonderful? "Help from the sanctuary"! The sanctuary in Scripture is the place where God meets with His people above the mercy seat. In Israel the sanctuary was the tabernacle and later the temple. It was the place where the Israelite came to worship the Lord, but also where he got his thoughts straightened out and his thinking corrected. In the sanctuary the word of God was explained to him.

You will recall that in the 73rd psalm Asaph is deeply troubled by the prosperity of the wicked, that perennial problem which can still bother us: why do the ungodly prosper, while the righteous seem to be downtrodden all the time? Why do the wicked strut their way through the earth so that nothing ever seems to go wrong for them? This had upset Asaph, until he finally went into the sanctuary. There he began to perceive their end. There he began to see the whole story, the full picture, and his thoughts were corrected. This is what the sanctuary does.

For us the sanctuary is the Bible proclaimed by faithful ministers in church or read and meditated on at home. There is where we get help. It is there that our minds are illuminated, that we begin to see the world the way it really is. Life is filled with illusion; things are not what they appear to be. There is only One who can clear things up for us: God speaking through His Word.

It is sad but true that we often fail to turn to the Scriptures when we are in trouble. If our fridge breaks down, what do we do? We call for the service technician, donÕt we? We get him to come over right away so our frozen foods wonÕt thaw out. If our water pipes start to leak, what do we do? We send for the plumber. If we face legal action, we call a lawyer. If our tooth begins to ache, we make an appointment with the dentist.

We seem to know instinctively what to do when physical things go wrong. But the amazing thing is that we can suffer heartaches, depressions, guilt feelings, fears and anxieties, without opening the Word! We donÕt plead the wide assortment of promises, each one tailor-made for our particular situation and need. Sometimes we donÕt even bother to read them. Instead, we desperately cast around for some kind of help, when the help already provided is ignored. How foolish that is and how sinful!

In Psalm 20 the Lord promises help from the sanctuary and strength from Zion. Zion is another name for Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom--its headquarters. In the Scriptures it stands as a symbol of the invisible kingdom of God with which we are surrounded, made up of ministering angels sent forth to minister to those who are to be the heirs of salvation. In other words, all the invisible help that God can give you in the day of trouble, in the hour of need, is made available by prayer.

Remember that in the Garden in Gethsemane, as He was praying and sweating drops of blood, at the height of Jesus' agony an angel appeared and ministered to Him and strengthened Him. That angel was made visible to Him in order that we might be taught a lesson of what happens when we pray.

You and I have never seen an angel, I suppose, but I trust we have experienced the ministry of angels. Have you never gone into prayer depressed, downcast, discouraged and defeated, only to have your spirits lifted, changed, and strengthened? What happened? You received help from Zion, from the invisible kingdom of angels waiting to minister to those who are going through a time of trouble!

But that is not all the encouragement available. In verse 3 we have the basis and the guarantee upon which help rests: Ò[May he] remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.Ó The offerings of Israel were the meal offerings, the cereal offerings, and the sacrifices of bulls, goats, lambs, and other animals. What did they mean?

Those sacrifices are pictures of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great sacrifice! These offerings speak of the basis that He has laid, and of the guarantee which that basis gives us that our prayers will be answered.

How do you know that God will help you in the reading of Scripture and in prayer? Because of the sacrifice of the Son of God! He has given Himself to remove that which has plugged up the channels of GodÕs love toward us: our sin and guilt. By His sacrifice on the cross the Lord Jesus has paid for all our transgressions and iniquities. As a result, God can now pour out His love and grace upon us without restraint or limitation. That is wonderful. That is why the writer says, "Selah," at this point. It means, "Stop and think. Pause for a moment and think about this." I think the apostle Paul puts it so beautifully in Romans 8:32: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"

Is that not encouraging? There is your guarantee that God will be with you in the coming year. When you come to God in prayer on that basis, you are praying in Jesus' name. "In Jesus' name" is not a little magic formula you tack on at the end of a prayer to make it work. "In Jesus' name" means that you are praying on the basis of His sacrifice. You are resting on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that gives you the warrant for hoping that God will answer your prayers. That is why the Psalmist says, "May he remember those sacrifices!"

In verse 4 we have the extent to which this help is available: Ò[May he] grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.Ó Literally, may He make all your desires and plans come true.

What are your desires for the coming year? What are your plans for 2001? Prosperity? Health? Good relations with your wife and children? These are worthy objectives. But do your desires not go higher than these? When GodÕs people are in the right place they want only what God wants. And what does God want you to have? A holy walk; more devotion to Him and His cause; a growing sense of dependence on Him and His grace; peace and joy; assurance of salvation.

Are these the things you also want? Can you say with the hymn writer:

O for closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

The dearest idol I have known,
WhateÕer that idol be;
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

If that is our prayer and desire, we may be sure that the God of Jacob will hear and answer our request. He will send help from the sanctuary and strengthen us out of Zion, also in the year of our Lord 2001.

A blessed New Year to you all!

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