17th May 2020 APC
“Songs of Experience” Psalm 139
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our worship this morning.
Today we begin a series looking at some of the wonderful songs and poems we have recorded in the bible. These Psalms are the prayers of God’s people and have been used for centuries as a vehicle for expressing our feelings to God. We will begin by looking at one of the most famous of all the Psalms. Psalm 139. I hope this Psalm will inspire you to contemplate the mystery of God and that you will take time to read this Psalm for yourself over the next few days. But before we read it, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Loving God, all good, all true, all powerful, almighty, we worship you
Gracious God, all loving, all merciful, all faithful, all compassionate, we thank you.
Mighty God, always active, always leading, always calling, always knowing, we commit ourselves to You.
Saving God, always forgiving, always restoring, always teaching, always encouraging, we confess our faithlessness to you.
Sovereign God, all in all, now and always, we praise you, we worship you, we lift up our hearts before you.
Father God, we celebrate your goodness, we rejoice in your blessings, we marvel at your mercy, we thank you for your guidance, we offer our lives in response to you.
Living God, take this service, this day, our church, our lives. Use them for your purpose and your Kingdom. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Psalm 139 and Romans 8 v 28-39
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand--
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Romans 8 v 28-39
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Reflection “The Mystery of God”
In Union College where ministerial students are trained for the Presbyterian Church there is a library. It’s a good library, with lots of different theological books, nicely arranged so that everything is easy to find. It has some tables and chairs socially-distant enough to allow you to study in relative peace and quiet. But aside from that, when I first started my ministerial studies, there was nothing about the library that made me think ‘wow, this place is really special.’ Nothing that is, until a few months into my ministerial studies, out of the blue, I decided to focus my eyes away from my assignments and books and look up at the ceiling.
I nearly fell off my chair at the sheer beauty of what had been there above my head for weeks. To be honest, I felt a little bit embarrassed! How could I have missed such a thing of beauty all this time? The truth was, I had been so focused on my to-do list and my next assignment deadline that in my busyness and stress, I had neglected to look up. And in that moment, I heard the soft whisper of God’s spirit saying to me, “Michael, Don’t forget to look up!”
Over these last few months we have all been under a lot of pressure. We’ve been concerned about how we can stop ourselves contracting the Covid 19 virus. We’ve been worried about keeping our elderly parents safe. We’ve been anxious about our children and their school work. We’ve been struggling to juggle the almost impossible task of working from home and looking after our children. We’ve been distressed about how we are going to pay the bills and if we’re going to be unemployed by the end of all this. All of these fears are completely normal. As time goes on the stress and strain of these fears has begun to take a toll on our emotional and physical health. So where can we turn, what can we do to safeguard our wellbeing in these difficult days?
Well there are lots of practical things we can do. We can keep structure to our day. We can try to keep ourselves and the kids busy. We can limit our consumption of alcohol. We can exercise daily and zoom our friends. We can read or listen to music, bake or paint. We can try something new. All of these are really good strategies to employ. But this morning I want to remind us that as spiritual people one of the most important things we can also do is to remember to look up.
In the midst of all the stresses and pressures, it’s essential to raise our eyes and hearts heavenward and take time to think of God, who he is and what He is like. For when we get a fresh glimpse of who God really is, and what He has done and can still do, it can help to put a whole new perspective on the challenges we are facing. That’s what I want to help us to do this morning using the words of the beautiful poem that is Psalm 139.
This is probably the most famous of all David’s poems. In it, he reminds us of 3 very important truths about God. The first is this- God knows everything.
You know as the years go by we begin to notice a few changes about ourselves- a bit of extra fat here, a wrinkle there, a few more grey hairs, the odd lapse in memory, a stiffening of the joints. We can usually make such a good job of covering these things up that other people simply don’t notice. It’s almost as if we’re afraid to let others see what we are really like in case they decide they don’t like us anymore! I’ve found that even during this Pandemic people are afraid to let their guard down and admit that they or their children are struggling. The thing is, no amount of cover up works with God because God knows absolutely everything about us. David says, “God knows when we sit down and when we get up. He understands what we are thinking. He knows when we go out and when we lie down. He even knows what we are about to say before we open our mouths!”
But the good news is, no amount of cover up is necessary with God either! Because even though God already knows everything about us, He still accepts us and loves us! I want to encourage you this morning, whatever blemishes you feel you may have. Whatever things you may have done and wished you hadn’t, whatever weaknesses you feel you have that always hold you back, whatever characteristics other people have made you feel bad about, God knows all about it! And He still loves you as if you were the only person that He had ever made. You are still useful to Him and to other people in this world.
The other I thing I want to say is that however difficult you are finding life right now God also knows about it. He already understands the depth of pain that you are feeling. He cares deeply about the anxieties, fears and frustrations that you have about Covid 19 or anything else. So let me encourage you not to despair in these times, but in faith to tell God exactly how you’re feeling. Find a quiet place, even if you have to go for a drive to do so, and unburden everything to Him as if he’s sitting in the seat beside you. You can be certain that He who endured the cross will know how best to comfort you. You can be sure that He who created the universe will have the ability to guide and sustain you.
The second important truth that David reminds us about God in this psalm is that He is everywhere.
When we’re busy, which is pretty much all of the time for most of us, our minds are caught up in the important details of living and working and enjoying life. All this is good, for all of life is God’s gift to us to be enjoyed. But at the same time, in the midst of it all, it’s easy for us to forget about God. But, although we can forget about Him, the truth is we can never get away from Him. When we wake up in the morning, God is there. When we are driving in the car, he is there. When we reach the office we discover He has already arrived. When we come home from a walk God is waiting for us. In fact, there is nowhere we can go where God is not there already. To some extent that can be a little disconcerting. It’s like having the boss’s eye on us 24-7. Then again, that can be a good thing for us.
Knowing that God is always near me hearing what I say, knowing all my words and deeds, all my work and play, can be one of the greatest motivators to helping us to live in ways that are morally upright. It’s always a great safeguard against temptation to know that even when other people can’t see or hear what we are saying or doing that God sees and hears us.
In Psalm 139, David reflects on this truth about God. He says, “Wherever I go God is there. There’s no where I can escape from his presence.” But as David contemplates the fact that God is everywhere he doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, it seems to bring Him comfort and encouragement. He says, “Even if I have to go and live abroad, God’s hand will be there to guide me and keep me secure.” He also says, “Even when the darkness closes in around me God will still be able to see clearly because day and night are just the same for Him.”
I want you to remember that. Every morning when you open your eyes say to yourself, “God is with me.” Whenever you are trying to help your children with their online work remember God is beside you. When you are scrubbing up, putting on your mask and getting ready to enter the frontline again, remember that God is with you. Whatever difficult decisions you have to make about the future of your business, remember that God is there in the boardroom, waiting to give you His wisdom. Even though, like me you find it difficult being separated from members of your family because of the restrictions, remember that God is with them. Whatever fears you have about the future and what life will look like when we do return to work and church, remember God will be there too. Whatever trials or uncertainties you have to endure, please don’t try and go them alone. Remember God is beside you, so talk to Him, tell him your concerns, allow Him to help, guide and sustain you, not just today, but tomorrow and the next day and the next.
The last thing David reminds us about God in Psalm 139 is that He is somehow sovereign over all of life’s details.
3 God is sovereign
Having thought about the amazing realities that God knows everything about him and is always around to help him, David moves on to contemplate the mind-blowing idea that even before he was born, God was planning every detail of his entire life. He says, “God put me together in my mother’s womb. Even before my parents or others could see me, God knew me! But he didn’t just know me, He designed me and mapped out an entire life for me before I was even one day old!”
David just can’t get over how much God thinks about him. He suggests that God planned every little genetic detail that made him who he was- his eye colour, his height, his talents, his weaknesses, his intelligence, his temperament, his gender and so, so much more besides. Yet he believes that God’s thoughts about him didn’t just stop at the planning or manufacturing stage! David goes on to say that from the moment he was born God has continued to think about him and has planned so many details of his day to day life. In fact, he says, God loves him so much that he thinks about him more than there are grains of sand on the beach!
I’m going to be honest with you. There is great mystery and paradox contained in this part of David’s poem for me. On the one hand I take great comfort to think that God made me and that I am very precious to Him. It gives me great reassurance to think that, He has a plan and purpose for my life whatever comes my way. Plans that are good. Plans to help me to enjoy being human despite all its limitations. Plans to enable me to deepen my relationships with Him and with other people. Plans to help me learn new things and encounter new experiences. Plans to help me change for the better so that bit by bit I might become more like His Son Jesus. And ultimately plans to bring me through death into a new and everlasting existence in heaven when we will experience humanity in all its fullness and joy.
But when I think of the devastation and suffering that this Covid 19 has caused around the world. When I think of little children who have been buried. When I think of the suffering caused to millions of the poorest people in the world because of natural disasters I’m left with many questions. These things don’t cause me to doubt God’s existence. If you take God away these things are still there. But these things do create tensions for me when considered in the light of David’s Psalm. If we are honest, therefore, I think it is normal for us to ask, if God is all powerful, loving and in control why does He not do something about these things and swiftly? Why won’t He just come and take this Covid virus away? How does delay fit into His plans?
My honest answer is I don’t know. There will always be mystery in life and that includes the spiritual. One of my greatest personal searches at the minute is trying to formulate at least some answers to these questions in my mind. The God I believe in is a God of love. So I don’t believe that he answers the prayers of a desperate couple to have children only to have the baby killed in childbirth! That would be cruel. I don’t believe he causes a Tsunami in order to destroy the lives of the poorest people.
But I do believe he gives people freedom of choice. That means that we can choose to cut down rainforests and burn fossil fuels to feed our lifestyles but at the price of creating weather conditions that can be catastrophic for some of the poorest on our planet. So some of the answers to my questions point to human freedom and choice. I also believe that the world has somehow been broken by the fall of humanity. This has resulted in the existence of diseases that despite our best efforts will inevitably bring suffering and death. So babies will die, people will be diagnosed with cancer and periodically Pandemics will strike. How these things marry with the concept that God is in control and has a plan for us as David says, I still can’t explain. All I can say is that within His control, God still gives us freedom to choose, and that evil and suffering are still present. How these things can co-exist will always be a mystery. What I do know is that one day God has promised to right all wrongs and to create a new heaven and earth where we will be able to live without pain or suffering, disease or disaster. Until that day we still have time to turn to Him and to do all we can to do what’s right and good.
As we continue to face uncertainty let me encourage you to refocus on who God is. Read Psalm 139 and reflect on 3 mysteries of God that David describes in his song-
God knows all things.
Whatever comes your way remember God knows, He understands, and He loves and cares about you.
God is everywhere.
Whatever happens remember that God is with you. He will guide you and sustain you.
God is sovereign
He made you, He loves you and has plans that are good for you. How that dovetails with the suffering and brokenness that is part of this current world will always be a mystery. But be assured God is for you and not against you and ultimately His plan is to restore the entire universe to its original perfection and through Christ to allow us to be part of that too.
Prayers for Others
Living God, we pray for all those who feel that they have lost control of their lives –
Overwhelmed by the pressures of work, burdened by financial responsibilities, overcome by personal tragedy or relationships that have broken down, battling against the rigours of old age or wrestling with chronic illness; in pain of body and turmoil of mind.
Lord remind them gently that you are present with them.
We pray for the victims of other people’s lack of control – wounded in body or mind, abused children, broken homes, victims of burglary, assault, domestic violence, and political conflicts.
Lord remind each one that you love them very much.
We pray for those who struggle to control aspects of their character – lust, temper, greed, impatience, envy, intolerance. Lord remind them that you are a God who can give them the power to change.
Living God, give to all who are near the end of their tether the assurance that you are ultimately in control, to those who are hurt the comfort of your healing love, to those troubled in mind the inner peace which you alone can give, and to those discouraged by their repeated failings the gift of self- control.
Lord we bring to you those who are sick, who have been bereaved recently and those we know who are struggling with life at the moment….
Lord we also bring to you our Taoiseach and political leaders and ask that you will give them great wisdom in all the decisions that they have to make each week….
Finally we pray for ourselves and our families…
Lord whatever problems we are currently facing, help us to look up and to remember that you are a God who loves us, who is with us, who understands everything we are going through and who ultimately has plans and purposes for us that are good. Lord give us the faith to trust you and the grace to carry us through. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. I hope you have been blessed and motivated to take time to read some of Psalms for yourself. It’s my prayer that as you do so, that God give you the confidence to be totally honest in how you really feel to Him. I’m also delighted to announce that Alison is coordinating another musical item from our virtual choir to go online as part of our service next Sunday. It would be lovely to have as many people as possible to contribute to that so if you haven’t already joined our choir please do click the button on our website to pass on your interest and contact details to Alison. Please do tune in again on Wednesday morning when I’ll be sharing a few thoughts from another wonderful Psalm.
In the meantime, do keep everyone in your prayers and look out for anyone you can help. The government date for church reopening is currently 20th July. We hope to share with you some updates about what exactly that will look like for us a little closer to the time. For now, let me close with a benediction after which I invite you to join me in sharing the words of the grace together…
Sending and Benediction
Our worship has not ended, it has only just begun, for God is with us every moment of every day. Go then and offer the worship He desires- to act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with Him every step along the way…
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.”
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