Do you ever get discouraged? What situation have you been in that discouraged you? (Job loss, health issues, family matters). I’ve told you that I’ve been saying goodbye to co-workers lately. They stop by my office, shake my hand, say it’s been nice working together, and do I know anybody that’s hiring. As hard as it is to say goodbye, it pales next to being the person that’s leaving the company. I know, I’ve been there.
How do you manage during difficult times? As a church and as a class, we teach reliance on the Lord through good times and bad, but how do you do that when you’re wondering where God is in your life. He made promises to his people, didn’t He? Well, where is He?
We’re going to study Psalm 125 today and see how the Lord provides strength in troubled times. Psalm 125 addresses the discouragement God’s people have when wicked people are in charge over righteous people and it seems like God is not at work.
II. Trust in the Lord
Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways the LORD will banish with the evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel.
Let’s put aside our own discouragements for a while and see who is making this lament. Most commentators believe this Psalm was written in the time of Nehemiah, between 445 and 420 BC. The Babylonians occupied Jerusalem, and the evil rulers allied themselves with influential Jewish leaders. The righteous people, therefore, were rules by both corrupt leaders from both outside and inside their faith.
Psalm 125 helps us to put ourselves in perspective to God’s plan and helps us understand how God deals with both righteous and unrighteous people at the same time.
Verse 1 begins, “Those who trust in the Lord.” The Old Testament describes several ways we can relate to the Lord. We are to fear Him, to acknowledge God has the ability and the justification to punish us for our sins. We are to love Him, to understand His mercy and grace saves us, and we become His children. We are to know Him, to become personally intimate with the Lord and all He will teach us if we seek Him. And we are to trust Him, to understand that whatever our circumstances, He is in control.
Scripture has a lot to say about trusting in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” What does it mean to trust God?
Do we trust the Lord only in good times? If we are struggling with circumstances, is that reason to stop trusting in Him?
Louisa Stead, in the late 1800’s, along with her husband and daughter were enjoying the beach at Long Island, New York, when they heard a young boy calling for help. Louisa’s husband tried to rescue the boy, but the panicked boy dragged Mr. Stead under water. Both drowned. Louisa and her daughter were left without a husband or a father. In her grief, she penned the words,
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise, just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Louisa Stead and her daughter became missionaries to South Africa and died in 1917. Out of a early tragedy in her life, Louisa Stead learned to put all her trust in the Lord, no matter what happens.
It is the Lord’s will that we place our trust in Him. John 14:1-3, Jesus says,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
In the book The Peacemaker, a Christian guide to resolving personal conflict, there is this wonderful instruction regarding trusting in the Lord:
“Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts, or fears. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us to continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult times.”
III. The Lord Protects
Psalm 125:1-2 says that God’s people, those that place their trust in Him, are like Mount Zion, and God is like the mountains that surround it. Mount Zion is a relatively small hill in Jerusalem and it is surrounded by much higher mountains. Travelers that approach Jerusalem must pass through mountains, and until they cross the mountains, they cannot even see Mount Zion.
Just like the Lord surrounds us. We are not in a prison; we can easily leave the protection of the Lord. But when we are in His will, we are protected by the same mountains, and the troubles that come into our lives are only those troubles permitted by the Lord.
Why is this important to us? It means that whatever is going on in our lives, God has allowed it, God remains our protector, and even in our current difficulties, God is still protecting us from troubles we are not even aware of. He surrounds us and protects us.
In the time of Nehemiah when this Psalm was written, the Lord permitted Jerusalem to be overrun by the Babylonians. Why? Jerusalem had given in to sinful ways; the Lord desired something better for them. I’m always reminded of the prophet Habakkuk. Read chapter 1 sometime – Habakkuk cries out to the Lord, “why do I have to look at all this injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? The wicked rule the righteous.” And the Lord answers, “I’m going to do something amazing – I’m raising up the wicked Babylonians to crush Jerusalem.” And Habakkuk is like, “Wait… what?”
The Old Testament shows Israel’s relationship to the Lord, and it mirrors our own relationship to God. Israel repeatedly sinned against the Lord, through pride, stubbornness, disobedience, and ungratefulness. Sin must be defeated; defeat leads to repentance. Repentance leads to deliverance. But deliverance makes us lazy and take our God for granted, and we return to sin.
Sin –> Defeat –> Repentance –> Deliverance –> Sin
What the Old Testament makes clear is that the Lord uses evil to crush evil. The Babylonians overran Jerusalem, but God will not allow evil to triumph. Look at verse 3; “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” The “scepter of the wicked” is the rule of evil over the land of righteous; the Lord is aware that this must be temporary, lest the righteous be either tempted or forced to do evil.
In the Lord’s perfect timing, He will judge perfectly. Verse 4 says that the Lord will do good to the upright in heart, verse 5 says that the Lord will banish the evil. This may happen in our lives; this may happen in the end of time. Either way, the Lord is in control.
So, how do we apply this to our lives? When evil people seem to be in control, should we be discouraged? No, remember that our trials are given to us for a purpose. The Lord allows trials in our lives. Sometimes the trials are small – I have a leaky refrigerator this week. Sometimes they are big, like the loss of a job. And sometimes they seem overwhelming, like the loss of a child or a parent.
God is in control, but He allows us to experience trials because He is far more concerned with our character than he is about our job. The trials, whether we understand them or not, are designed by God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. We have the choice to struggle, or we can learn to trust the One who molds us.
What do we learn from trials?
• Faith. Trials purify and strengthen our faith for His glory. 1 Peter 1:6-7 –
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
• Patience. Trials develop our patience. James 1:2-4 –
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
• Trials teach us obedience to God’s Word. Psalm 119:71-72 –
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
• Trials teach us discipline. Hebrews 12:5-6 –
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
• Trials sanctify us. Hebrews 12:10-11 –
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
• Trials teach us important lessons. Deuteronomy 8:2-5 –
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
• Trials teach us humility, especially if we don’t know why we have trials. It makes us realize who we are before God. Romans 11:33-36 –
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
• And it teaches us to trust on God. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 –
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
Yes, that’s right. We trust God to protect us, and He allows trials to strengthen that trust.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give thanks to God for trials in my life. Trials are unpleasant, serious, traumatic, life-changing. But we can learn to give thanks to God for the character He is developing in us through the trials He brings. For the Lord is our protection and He wants us to learn to place our trust in Him.