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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 13, 2009
Psalm 42 & 43 and Selected Scriptures
Warren Wiersbe wrote a little book many years ago entitled, Bumps Are What You Climb On: Encouragement for Difficult Days. The title comes from a story of a young boy taking his little sister on a hike up a hill. The little girl complains and says, “Why, this isn’t a path at all – its all rocky and bumpy.” Her brother replied, “Sure, the bumps are what you climb on.”
Human existence is accompanied by the basic fact that there will be problems in life. For the most part, people take their problems in stride by simply solving one problem and then going on to the next one. After awhile though, this can begin to weigh on you and get you down. There was a Peanuts strip in which Charlie Brown is complaining about losing yet another baseball game. Lucy comes over to try to cheer him up and says, “Remember, Charlie Brown, you learn more from your defeats than you do from your victories.” Charlie Brown replies, “That makes me the smartest man in the world.”
It can be enough of a strain to solve one problem after another, but when defeats come one after another, a person can become blue or even get depressed. It is at times like that when we most need someone to come alongside to encourage us. What do I mean encourage? Webster’s Dictionary defines encourage as 1: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope; Hearten. 2: to spur on; Stimulate. 3: to give help or patronage; Foster. With this definition we can see that encouragement also carries with it aspects of “comfort,” which is to inspire with hope, and “admonishment,” which is to spur on, and “assist,” which is to give help. The real question comes down to how can you encourage someone who is disheartened and discouraged.
The World’s Encouragement
Well, there are a lot of answers to that question depending on to whom you are talking. The world has a variety of methods to try to give courage, provide comfort or assist someone who is down. But are the ways of the world truly encouraging? Do they really do any good?
One aspect of encouragement can be to bring comfort. I stopped at a store to look at bereavement cards one day and took notice of how the world tries to bring comfort to those who are in sorrow. The cards generally fell into four categories. 1. The most common method could be described as, I hope the fact that I am thinking about you will bring you comfort. While the fact that you care is very nice, the problem is that your thinking about me does not alleviate my sorrow or help me deal with my emotions and turmoil. In fact, I already felt bad enough, but now that I know you that feel bad because I feel bad, I feel even worse because I am causing you sorrow and dragging you down with me. The second most common method of encouragement can be stated as: I hope that the good memories you have of your loved one will comfort you now that they are gone. The problem with this is that part of the reason I am sad is because all I have left of that loved one are the memories and what I want is to have that loved one with me again. A third category of efforts to comfort can be summarized as follows: I hope that time will help heal the hurt. While I am glad for your wish for me to heal, the fact is that time cannot heal. Time only fades the memory and I don’t want to lose those memories. A final category of encouragement can be stated as follows: I have been through what you are going through, and I made it, so will you. The problem with this is that though you may have been through something similar, you have not been through the exact same thing I am going through, and while I appreciate your confidence that I will get through it, at the moment I am not so sure about it.
The weakness of the world’s comfort is well seen in these lines from one of the bereavement cards I read:
If only there were something friends could say or do.
Some way they might express their thoughts and help comfort you.
And yet, perhaps, just knowing that there are those who care.
Will help, at least in some small way, to ease the loss you bear.
At least with this one there is a recognition of the inability of the one seeking to encourage to bring any real comfort to the one bereaved.
Consider the objective of the encouragement. Encouragement must be toward the right direction and decisions or the consequences can be tragic. For example; A young man climbs out onto the ledge of a building. He is despondent. His girl friend just left him because he was a real jerk, and he just lost his job because he was incompetent. He sees no reason to continue life any longer. He is suicidal. How is the world supposed to encourage him? We would expect the goal would be to give him hope and a reason for living, and there is some fireman or policeman trying to do just that. However, we live in a perverse world and the crowd down below is also encouraging him with their own depraved desires. They are trying to inspire him with the courage to do what he went on the ledge to do. Who will be successful in spurring the man to action? The crowd to jump or the fireman to come back inside?
True encouragement must inspire and stimulate you in the right direction otherwise your end could be worse than your current condition. To be truly helpful, encouragement must also assist you in carrying out the right decisions.
Let me give you another similar example. There was a woman named Janet Atkins who was diagnosed with Ahlzhimers disease. She wanted to avoid the disease process, so she and her husband flew to Chicago to meet with a particular doctor who said he could help her fulfill her wishes. She and her husband went to a nice place for dinner the evening they arrived in Chicago. He sought to persuade her not to go through with her plan, but the next morning she met with Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He assisted her to carry out her desires by setting her up in an old VW bus with a medical device he created. He put in an IV tube and told her all she had to do was push a red button and she would be automatically injected first with a drug to dope her up and then with a poison to end her life. The helpful doctor said, “Have a nice trip,” and then left. A short time later, Janet Atkins pressed the button and ended her life. It took years to finally put Dr. Kevorkian in jail for assisting people to commit suicide, but now both Oregon and Washington State have laws allowing doctors to turn their back on the Hippocratic oath and enable people to end their lives.
Not all encouragement is proper encouragement. These examples may be extreme, but they bring out the point that just because someone tries to encourage you does not mean that it is the best or right encouragement. Just because someone tries to inspire or comfort you does not mean that they will do so or that it will be in the proper direction. Just because someone comes along side to assist you does not mean their help is good for you. Their effort to encourage may even be to the wrong direction, dangerous or deadly.
The Biblical idea of encouragement is much different from that of the world. What then is proper encouragement and how do we give it? Proper encouragement involves coming alongside someone and assisting them toward godliness by any or all of the following; Inspiring their courage to do what is right and follow after God; comfort with hope in God; stimulating them toward good deeds; and coming alongside them to assist as needed towards those goals. This is often done by other people helping us, but it can also be done on your own. In Psalm 42 & 43 we find David encouraging himself. He is in the midst of a terrible situation, and yet he finds courage, comfort, inspiration and hope. Turn there and look at some of the elements of encouragement.
These two Psalms are actually one Psalm which can be outlined as follows:
Joy Lost . . . 42:1-4
Chorus . . . . 42:5
Joy Rethought 42:6-10
Chorus . . . . 42:11
Joy Restored 43:1-4
Chorus . . . . 43:5
This Psalm was probably written when David had gone into exile during the rebellion of his son Absalom. If you recall that part of the life of David from 2 Samuel 15-18, Absalom had developed a conspiracy to take the kingdom away from his father. Absalom would be at the gate of the city every day and speak good to the people. Eventually he won over the hearts of many of them. At a certain time he proclaimed himself to be king. David fled from Jerusalem to avoid a civil war within the city. David is now on the east side of the Jordan river. Absalom is on the west. David is grieved over his son’s rebellion and over those who he had counted as friends that have turned against him. He is also greatly grieved that he cannot worship God in the Tabernacle which was in Jerusalem.
Joy Lost. So David begins this Psalm: Verse 1,2 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee O God. My Soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” David’s first words express his deep longing for God in a strong metaphor. He was as thirsty for God as a deer in the desert would be thirsty for water. Why such a longing?
Verses 3 & 4 tell us that God seemed very distant to David at that point in time. “My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.” David is in great despair. He has been crying both day and night. There were mockers like Shimei who treated David with contempt as he left Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:7f). We will see in verse 9 that their words stung David. But he also had those with him that would have had genuine wonder and would ask him “where was God?” They believed David to be God’s servant. Had God forsaken David? And if so, why? David had put his trust in God, but where was God now? Those thoughts and questions would have weighed heavily on David’s mind and heart. David’s longing is for those times he remembers when God seemed so near. Things were going so well. He used to lead the procession to the house of God and praise God with a voice of joy and thanksgiving with a multitude of people. But now those things are just a memory. Where was God now?
Maybe you have felt like that at times. I certainly have and we are all susceptible to it. David Brainerd, a missionary to the Indians in the early 1700’s described a time like that in his life when he was battling severe sickness and apparent failure in his work with the Indians as his “dark night of soul.” There are times when God seems distant. Everywhere you turn you face more problems. Financial setbacks, problems at work, problems in relationships, people you thought were friends turn their back on you. Physical health declines and physical pain adds to the emotional pain. You ask yourself, and maybe even those around you, “Where has God gone?” Yet, you remember times when everything seemed so good. Life was great. Things were progressing positively. You praised God with joy and thanksgiving, but now it seems like a long time ago.
The chorus in verse 5 gives us a peek at how David was able to overcome his situation. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.” David is honest about the condition of his soul, but he also seeks to encourage himself with a reminder to hope in God for the present condition will be changed with the future reality of God’s help resulting in David praising God once again.
Joy Rethought: In the next section of the Psalm, David rethinks his situation. He again acknowledges his despair, but he also begins to turn his thoughts back to God and bring his case before the Lord.
Psalm 42:6, “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” The references to the land of Jordan, the peaks of Hermon and from Mount Mizar are far from Jerusalem where David desires to be, yet David is turning to God even while in despair in the land of his exile. Notice his statement that
“therefore I remember Thee”
though he is in all these places instead of Jerusalem.
David continues in verse 7, “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls; All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me. The LORD will command His loving kindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.” Though David is in despair and feels the Lord has troubled him, he begins to return to the LORD as his hope for future loving kindness for which David would sing in the night.
David also recognizes that God is the God of his life and so he will pray to Him. He continues in verse 9, “I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten Me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” David’s prayer includes His complaint which is essentially, God, I trust you, why are you letting all these evil people get away with such things? The greatest confusion he has in this is that he recognizes that God is his rock. His source of stability and security, yet David feels as if God has forgotten him.
The chorus is given again in verse 11. It is basically the same, but there is a slight, but significant change. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. The help of my countenance, and my God.” The change here is that David now says he shall yet praise the Lord. The reality of praising God is becoming more apparent even though David feels the full weight of his despair. In addition, the praise in the first chorus would be for the help of God’s presence. Now David declares that God is the help of his countenance and that He is his God.
Joy Restored: David continues in Psalm 43:1-4 to brings his full case to God and asks for His help. David finds encouragement as he places his trust in God. “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For Thou are art the God of my strength; why hast Thou rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy? O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Thy holy hill, And to Thy dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise Thee, O God, my God.”
David pleads with God to vindicate him even though he still does not understand all the reasons behind what has occurred, yet his hope is still in God. People err when they think they have to have complete understanding to look to God for hope. God is David’s only hope. If he is to be restored, it will have to be God that will restore him. But God is a sure hope and David asks God to lead & guide him, for if that be the case, then David will return and praise God. There can be no doubt about it.
David ends the Psalm with a repeat of the second chorus. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. The help of my countenance, and my God.” David would again praise God because God was David’s hope. David’s soul had been in despair and was disturbed, but because God was his hope, David’s soul did not remain in despair. David would move back to praise with a changed countenance reflective of his trust in God.
David’s example is what we need to overcome discouragement. We acknowledge the despair we feel and we will wonder why our circumstances are as they are, but we cannot stay there. We must move back to the fact that God is our hope. He is the one that will vindicate and He will do so in His timing and not ours. As we place our hope back in God and trust Him again, we find that there is the hope and courage to continue on. True encouragement is always based in God and moves us back into hope in Him. Hope in any other place just leads to more despair. Jonathan put it well last week in his sermon on Philippians 4:6-9. The cure for anxiety is to praise God, pray to Him, ponder what He wants us to think about, and practice righteousness. That will set our feet firmly back on our rock so that we will be unmovable in the midst of the storms of life.
Encouragement in the New Testament
I want to briefly look at a few New Testament passages to show you the same idea carried out there. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Paul tells us, “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” The “therefore” points back to the preceding verses to find the source of encouragement, and that source is none other than our hope in Jesus Christ’s return (verse 2). The world will do many things including proclaiming false hope (verse 3), but it will eventually be destroyed (verse 3). We have hope because we belong to God (verse 5) and are living His way (verse 8). Therefore He has destined us for salvation, not wrath (verse 9).
Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” Comfort, which is the same Greek word here as used in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 for “encourage,” is based in God. The comfort that we can give is the same comfort God has given us. This passage became very real to me the first time I had surgery which was to have my appendix removed. I had several people encourage me with their hope and trust in God. Through that experience I learned to trust God even more as my hope was solidified in Him. I was in pain. I was getting father behind in my classes, and I was racking up a huge bill without any income, yet I trusted that God would see me through it all and He did. As the years have progressed and I have experienced many other trials of similar or worse nature, I have learned more of the presence of God’s comfort and encouragement as my trust and hope in Him has deepened through the trial. I can then share that same comfort when I visit people who are sick or counsel those who are discouraged. I can empathize with their circumstances and emotions, but more importantly I can also point them to the comfort I gained by placing my trust in God and encourage them to do likewise.
This comforting aspect of encouragement is seen most clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. What a contrast to the comfort that the world tries to give when someone dies. In this passage Paul tells them that he does not want them to grieve as those who have no hope (vs 13). He goes on and tells them that they will one day join again with those who have already died when the Lord returns and they all meet Him in the air. That is why in verse 18 Paul tells them to “comfort (encourage) one another with these words.” Their hope is in a reunion with Jesus and their loved ones. The world cannot offer anything but shallow words and thoughts such as: “I’m thinking about you,” “Enjoy your memories,” “Time will help,” “I made it, so will you.”
Proper encouragement is always based in God and our hope in Him. There is an aspect of admonishment in it as someone comes alongside and helps us see the truth again. There is an aspect of comfort as someone restores our hope in God. There is an aspect of assistance as we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1), and “spur” each other on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
Practical Tips on Encouragement
Let me leave you with some very practical tips.
- Galatians 6:2, Matthew 7:5, 1 Corinthans 10:9 and many other verses tell us that we need to be humble before trying to “encourage” someone. You cannot help direct a person back to the right path and restore their hope in God unless you know why the person is discouraged. Here is the tip. Listen before you talk. Do not assume you know “exactly” what they are going through. You don’t regardless of how similar your circumstances may have been. Let the person talk it out before you speak. Proverbs 18:2 states, “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” Proverbs 18:13 states, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” Don’t be a fool committing folly and shame.
- Think before you answer or give advice. Do not speak either harshly or with flattery. Ephesians 4:29 tells us to “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Proverbs 15:1,2 warns about harsh words saying, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. the tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.” Proverbs 28:23 warns about flattery, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue.“
- Use God’s Word. Romans 15:4,5 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” Notice that Scripture gives encouragement and that encouragement comes from God. There is no means of encouragement that is greater.
- Keep the proper goals in mind. First, comforting encouragement brings a person back to our only source of hope which is Christ. Romans 5:3-8 makes it plain that Christ is our hope and that because of that our hope never fades since the assurance of His love for us has been demonstrated for all time and eternity on the cross of Calvary. If it is the encouragement of comfort, point them to the true hope of Christ. Second, if it is encouragement that is trying to inspire them on to do something, then make sure you are inspiring them on to do something that is Godly. The goal of a Christian is to be conformed to the image of Christ! (Romans 8:29b) Third, if you are coming alongside of them to assist them, then again, make sure you are helping them toward godliness in action.
Listen first. Think before you speak. Use God’s Word and keep godly goals in mind. May each of us be diligent to do these things as we fulfill God command to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).
Sermon Notes – 12/13/2009
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times the words “encourage” and “comfort” are mentioned. 3) Talk with your parents about how your family can encourage and comfort one another.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How do you normally approach the troubles and trials of life? What do you do when you start to feel blue or are descending into depression? What does it mean to “encourage”? How does the world seek to encourage one another? Do you find those efforts encouraging to you? Why or why not? Why is the direction of encouragement important? What are the dangers of being encouraged in a wrong direction? How does Biblical encouragement compare with worldly encouragement? What is the background of Psalm 42 & 43? Why had David lost his joy and found his soul in despair? What was David’s response to this? Have you ever felt like David did in these Psalms? How was David able to regain a proper perspective and regain hope and joy? What direction can you find in Philippians 4:6-9 for dealing with anxiety? What the basis of Paul’s command to encourage one another in 1 Thess. 5:11? What is the comfort that we are to share with each other according to 2 Corinthians 1:3-5? How & why can Christians grieve differently from the world when a loved one dies? What is the source of our comfort? Why is it so important to listen before you speak when you are seeking to encourage someone? Can you really know exactly how someone else is feeling? Why or why not? Why is it so important to think before we give an answer or advice? Why is it important to use God’s word when seeking to encourage someone? What are the proper goals when seeking to encourage someone?
Encourage Me – Psalm 42,43 & Selected Scriptures
Human existence is accompanied by the basic fact that there will be ____________ in life
The strain of striving to solve problems followed by continued ______can result in the blues or depression
Encourage: 1: to ____________ with courage, spirit, or hope; Hearten.
2: to spur on; ______________.
3: to give ____________ or patronage; Foster.
The World’s Encouragement
I hope the fact that I am ______________ about you will bring you comfort.
I hope that the good _____________you have of your loved one will comfort you now that they are gone
I hope that ____________ will help heal the hurt
I have been through what you are going through, and I made it, so will you.
Encouragement must be toward the __________direction and decisions or the consequences can be tragic
Encouragement must assist in carrying out the ___________ decisions
_____________ their courage to do what is right and follow after God
_____________ them with hope in God;
_____________ them toward godliness
Coming alongside to __________ as needed towards those goals
Psalm 42 & 43
The Psalm occurs when David ___________ Jerusalem after Absalom’s rebellion.
Joy Lost – Psalm 42:1-4.
David’s ______________________ for God – vs. 1 & 2
David’s _____________ in feeling separated from God – vs. 3 & 4
Chorus – Psalm 42:5 David is _________about his condition, but seeks encouragement with hope in God
Joy Rethought – Psalm 42:6-10
David acknowledges his despair as he __________________ God from his place of refuge – vs. 6
David begins to turn his thoughts back to God as his ____________ for the future – vs. 7-8
David’s ____________ God, his rock – vs. 9-10
– Psalm 42:11 The reality of ______________ God becomes more apparent even while in despair
– Psalm 43:1-4
David pleads for God to ______________him though he does not understand his circumstances – vs. 1-2
David petitions God to ______________ him so that he worship & praise Him again – vs 3-4
– Psalm 43:5 David will __________ God because He is the help of his countenance and his God
The cure for ________is to praise God, pray to Him, ponder what He says and practice godliness (Phil. 4)
Encouragement in the New Testament
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – this encouragement is firmly fixed in our __________ in the return of Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 – We comfort others with the comfort we have received from _________ ourselves.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – The world’s _______pales before the promise of Jesus’ return for all his people
Proper encouragement is always based in __________ and our hope in Him
Practical Tips on Encouragement
- ____________ before you talk – Proverbs 18:2 & 13
- ____________ before you answer or give advice – Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 15:1,2; Proverbs 28:23
- Use _______________ – Romans 15:4,5
- Keep the proper __________ in mind – Romans 5:3-8
- Comforting encouragement must point to the source of hope which is ____________ (Rom. 5:3-8)
- Inspiring encouragement must stimulate a person toward _____________ (Romans 8:29b)
- Assisting encouragement must help towards godliness in ____________ .
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