Scripture: Psalm 77
Title: Doubt and Perseverance
Have y’all ever seen the movie, “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days?” Some of the humor is a little blue, but the concept is simple. A magazine columnist takes it upon herself to write a column about how to lose a guy in ten days. She then finds a victim to date, and for ten days she does all of the “stereo typical” things women do to run guys off. The reason I bring it up is because she uses this phrase that is very appropriate for this morning’s message. The columnist says to her victim, “I love you, but I don’t have to like you right now.” Have y’all ever heard someone say that to you? Have you ever felt that way about someone else? I think the Biblical Author of Psalm 77 is feeling those same feelings. The Psalmist is in pain, and can see no way out. What is worse they cannot understand why God, in all of God’s steadfast love, has not saved them from their current trials and tribulations. Clearly the Psalmist loves God, but I think they feel hurt and wounded by God not answering their prayer. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt lost and alone wondering why God would not answer? Have you ever felt angry when you didn’t hear God answer and thought, I love you God, but I don’t have to like you right now?
On Thursday November 11, of 2004, I was discharged from my position as a product designer for Herff Jones Yearbook Marketing. I had moved 400 miles from my family to take this job, and sad to say it had not been going well for some time. I had been praying and praying to God wondering why things weren’t working out. What did I need to do differently? How could I do the job better? I could see the writing on the wall. I knew if something didn’t change I was going to be fired. I had known this for a year and a half and I had carried the stress of it all the time. Like the Psalmist I looked to God and very often felt alone in the dark. Then it happened. I made the mistake that broke the camel’s back, and they fired me. It was a Thursday afternoon at the end of the day. I packed up my desk after everyone had left and gone home. I absolutely did not know what to do with myself. Then a friend came over to pick me up. That was the night I was to leave for a spiritual retreat called the Walk to Emmaus. For the next three days I was encouraged and supported by the people around me and by letters from church friends, and family from out of state. In a word, it was wonderful.
However, when I returned home Sunday night all of life’s problems waited for me. The bills needed to be paid and I didn’t have a job. Everyone I knew was at work during the day, or had money to go do things at night. I had no where to go during the day and no money to catch up with friends at night. I was so lonely. I filed for unemployment and spent my days creating resumes and cover letters. I mailed one to every Graphic Design and Advertising firm in Charlotte once a month for nine months. I was starting to get the message. God was closing a door. I was not going to be a graphic designer any longer. You might say I went through a period of mourning. I didn’t know what to do with myself. The days felt very long. I lived on peanut butter sandwiches, and I prayed. I’m not gonna tell you I heard God when I prayed. There were no miraculous signs and wonders. There were many days I just hurt so in my prayer time I tried not to complain I just tried to allow myself to feel my pain and to allow God to be present in that moment. There were plenty of times I felt, “God I love you, but I don’t like where this is going.”
To make it through I began kind of forcing myself to remember the way I felt, and the experiences I had on the Walk to Emmaus. For me the Walk to Emmaus was kind of like my Exodus experience. The Walk to Emmaus was the time God brought me out of a place of pain to give me hope – a powerful hope that was strong enough to pull me through a very difficult time in my life. God parted the red seas of pain and doubt in my life to bring me through with hope on the other side. Now, y’all know I can be as stubborn as a mule and only half as smart. At this time in my life I was every bit as dumb and stubborn as an old mule. It took three years to work it out, and by the end I finally realized God had in fact closed one door to open another. God had called me to be a minister.
Psalm 77 speaks to the pain of those times in our lives. They come when we make choices which move us far from God. These moments come when God makes choices we are meant to follow, and we miss the clues. In the moment the situation is agonizing and painful. Doubt slips into our mind so easily. For the Psalmist the doubt they feel is not the absence of faith. In Psalm 77 doubt becomes the motivating force behind an earnest search for God. The Psalmist searches their heart and mind with questions. Has God’s steadfast love forever ceased? Will the Lord never again be favorable to me? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Doesn’t God love me anymore? However, when the Psalmist does not find what they are looking for they pull away from their emotional pain to look for a rational explanation as to why God feels so far away? When has God been there?
Now, my son Evan is at that age when he is starting to have those kinds of thoughts. Sometimes when he doesn’t get his way or when his mother or I have to tell him, “No”, Evan will start to say things like, “You don’t love me any more!” or, “Why don’t you love me? If you loved me you would do this,” or, “you would not do that” … It doesn’t work. Evan doesn’t get what he wants when he has these outbursts. Instead, when he has calmed down, his mother and I remind him of all of the things he does get, and the things his is allowed to do. We take the opportunity to remind Evan of all of the ways we have shown him love. Psalm 77 is similar. Perhaps the Psalmist was brought up right. When the Psalmist is struggling with the question where is God in all of this the Psalmist looks back on all of the wondrous things God has already done.
God is the author of creation. When God spoke the waters separated into the waters above and the waters below. The waters above are called the sky. The waters below are called seas (Gen 1:6-8). I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those images on TV of the vast and powerful storms at sea. I don’t know if you have wondered as I have; “What is man in the face of the raw power of an angry sea?” And yet God stood before the waters and even the deep waters trembled. At God’s command the clouds poured out water. The thunder shook the earth, and the lightning filled the sky (Psalm 77:17-18). It was God’s outstretched hand which parted the Red Sea to provide a safe escape on dry land for the Children of Israel. God even chose two human beings; Moses and Aaron, to lead God’s chosen people to safety through the parted waters of the Red Sea (v19-20). Then it was Jesus who calmed the winds and tamed the seas with but a word (Matt 8:23-27). It was Jesus Christ who did what no other human being could do. Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man, gave Himself as a sacrifice to pay the price for all of our sins. Jesus was crucified, died and buried. The third day He arose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Jesus rose so we can rise. We don’t have to remain sitting in the fear and doubt which crushes hope. We can choose to turn our doubt into impassioned, driven, and devoted longing to be closer to God. This is what we were created to do.
Church, what would it look like if we as a church gave ourselves a pause? What would it look like if during our hot dog lunch we took the time to talk with each other about the times when God has been present in our church? Can you remember back when we had a thriving youth program? Can you remember the times when it was hard to find a seat in the sanctuary? Did y’all know Cotton Grove used have a vibrant clown ministry? Did y’all know Wesley Heights used to have a day care? These were times when God blessed the life and health of the ministry of our churches. Yes. Our attendance is down. No. We don’t have quite as many programs as we once had. However, what we do have is nearly unheard of in the life of most churches. Where most churches have 80% of the work being done by 20% of the people; we have 100% of the work being done by 80% of the people. This is HUGE! Do you know what this means? God is at work in the life of our church right here, and right now. God is here. God is working through each of you. For the last couple of years God’s work seems to have been focused on shoring up our foundations. Now God is calling us to look beyond our doors and out into our community. So now I need y’all to do me and your church a favor. I want you to dream and dream big. What is God calling us to do now? What goal is too big for us to do alone? What ministry is only possible with God’s help? It’s something worth thinking about.
In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen