Psalm 71- God is our Refuge- How does God help us?

Today we are looking at Psalm 71. It is a Psalm asking for help from God. The one praying is someone who is constantly praising God and constantly declaring God’s good deeds. … Some think he is an elderly man. He asks God, 
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (v9); “even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation”(v18).

The psalmist is dealing with people he calls “the wicked”, “the unjust”, and the “cruel” (v4). He seems to have been dealing with trouble without much relief, which leads his enemies to say, 
“God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him” (v11).
 They see his suffering as evidence that God has abandoned him.

The Psalmist cries out to be defended against these people. The opening line is, 
“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge” (v1)
 (which would be a good breath prayer to repeat). … What does it mean to “take refuge” in God? It isn’t a word we use very often. There are some images that might help. … 
Refugees are looking for a country to take refuge in because their own country isn’t safe. 
Or, imagine visiting another country when there is an unexpected revolt and you take refuge in the Canadian embassy. 
 Or, imagine a child taking refuge behind the legs of their parent when they get scared. 
Or, imagine a victimized woman taking refuge in a women’s shelter to escape her abuser. … 
God is described as a rock of refuge; maybe imagine you are hiking and an angry moose starts chasing you and you scramble on top of a big bolder. 
He also describes God as a fortress- if there are armed rebel militia roaming the countryside, most of us would sleep more soundly behind high, thick walls of stone.

I think most of us can imagine a time when we would pray this Psalm. Maybe someone is attacking our reputation by spreading rumors. Maybe someone is bringing us to court without good cause. Maybe a business deal goes bad and someone you trusted takes advantage of you. Maybe we are dealing with a breakdown of a relationship and things get bitter and ugly. At some point in our lives we end up in conflict with other people. and sometimes we feel unusually mistreated by the other people. … So we pray for help.

How does God help us? 
I believe that God rescues us in ways that are appropriate for the kinds of people he wants us to be. Sometimes we can think of God’s helping us in an overly simplistic way, so if we are uncomfortable in some way we cry out to God for help. But, what if God’s goal is for us to become a more patient person? What if the true danger we face has to do with being an impatient and an angry person. Is it possible that that is more of a danger to our soul than whatever we are facing? And if that is true, then what does saving us actually look like? What if the best thing for our soul is for God to be present with us through the difficulty, rather than taking us out of the difficulty.

In Mark 4:35-41 we have a story about Jesus being asleep in the boat when a storm suddenly arises. The disciples wake Jesus up and he calms the storm, but he says something interesting- 
‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (Mk 4:40).
 What are we to make of that? Surely Jesus doesn’t have a problem with asking for help. WE are commanded all over the Bible to ask God for help.0 His problem seems to have to do with their fear. (Which seems a bit harsh.) He opposes fear against faith. To be afraid is to lack faith. And so the opposite would seem to be true- To trust God is to diminish fear. … What did Jesus want them to do? … It seems like he wanted them to trust God even in the storm. … So often we call on God to stop the storm, what if God is wanting us to trust Him through the storm. Maybe there is something to be gained by enduring the storm.

A certain amount of strain on our muscles strengthens our muscles. Concentration on difficult problems can make our minds stronger. Sometimes we pray for God to change our circumstances when what really needs to be changed is us. … Now I’m not saying all suffering works this way, but I think it often works this way. … I often go to the words of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said, 
“life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. (Or something close to that.)
 In the moment we often don’t understand what purpose there could be for the circumstances we are facing, but often we look back on our life and our circumstances seem to have meaning. Not always, but often.

There is a story about a very saintly man who lived outside a village. Many of the villagers would go out to him for advice and to ask him to pray for them. He was very revered as a holy man. … One day a teenage girl in the village became pregnant. When the girl was pressed by her angry parents to know who the father is she said it was the holy man. Furious, the parents spread this news to the other villagers and the old man became despised. The old man said nothing to defend his honour. Eventually, the young girl gave birth and the baby was taken by the parents and given to the old man. They were going to make him live with the consequences of what he had done. The old man lived ignored and despised by the villagers, while he raised the child. … 10 years later the girl reveals that the true father was actually a boy in the village, not the old man. The parents came to the man and apologetically received their grandchild back into their home. The old man didn’t speak words of condemnation, just as he never spoke words to defend himself.

God could have exposed that truth earlier. And in our simple way of praying that is what we would expect, but the old man was taught a deeper humility, as were the villagers who now had an even more profound respect for the saint who was willing to endure wrong done to him in such a Christ-like way. Sometimes the help we ask for isn’t the help we need.

Christ is the prime example for us that suffering may be redeemed and transformed for good. … It is an ancient tradition to look at the Psalms through the lens of Jesus. The Early Church often saw the Psalms as the prayers of Christ. Tertullian, an early Christian who lived between 155-220 AD, wrote, 
“almost all the psalms that prophesy of the person of Christ, represent the Son as conversing with the Father- that is, represent Christ [as speaking] to God” (Against Praxeas II).
 They read the Psalms through the filter of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels, Christ is often facing unjust resistance and persecution. In our reading today we see Jesus being criticized for healing on the Sabbath. … We can Imagine Jesus praying 
“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge … Rescue me from the hand of the wicked” (v1, 4).
 No doubt many of his enemies who looked at him hanging on the cross thought, “God has forsaken him” (v11). And no doubt the Early Church couldn’t hear verses 20 and 21 without thinking of Jesus- 
“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again”.
 How could the church read that and not think of the resurrection? It is for this reason that this Psalm is often assigned for Holy Tuesday of Holy Week. 

Jesus understood that there was more at stake than his immediate comfort. That’s not a reason to stop praying. Rather that is a reason to keep on praying, because in situations like that we are the ones that need to be transformed and sometimes that is even harder than changing our difficult circumstances. Ultimately, God cares about what kind of people we are becoming. … He does care about our suffering, but like any good parent, He would rather be with us, encouraging us through hard times that help us grow, rather than merely rescuing us from those opportunities. 
May God rescue us from all that would prevent us from becoming holy. AMEN


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