Protected

enemy within

This post is a sermon from August 2012, a few months after I was diagnosed with depression. The summer series was in the Psalms and focused on different postures of worship. I preached at the end of summer on Psalm 3: Protected.
Over this last winter, I’ve been struggling with depression, my constant companion. I’ve been thinking a lot about this message and the enemies within.

LORD, I have so many enemies! So many are standing against me. So many are talking about me: “Even God won’t help him.”  Selah

But you, LORD, are my shield! You are my glory! You are the one who restores me. I cry out loud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain.  Selah

I lie down, sleep, and wake up because the LORD helps me. I won’t be afraid of thousands of people surrounding me on all sides.

Stand up, LORD! Save me, my God! In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw; shatter the teeth of the wicked! Rescue comes from the LORD! May your blessing be on your people!  Selah – Psalm 3 (CEB)

My boys started football this month and we bought our school supplies for this fall. This is also my last semester in seminary. Last week, I thought, “I’m almost finished with graduate school, we should start focusing on the boys.” Trying to be efficient, I prepared a highlight reel we can send to colleges. That way we’re ready even before the recruiters start calling. You’ve seen a highlight reel before: It captures all your best moments, trying to tell the story of who you are and what you can do. Like a portfolio for an artist or writer or the Christmas letter many of us write each year. Here’s what I put together:

Only the best. That’s what you put in the highlight reel.

We’ve spent this summer looking at the life of David. Like most of the people we read about in the Bible, we tend to remember the good things about our heroes. If you open any children’s Bible, you will find stories of David defeating Goliath and David bringing the ark into Jerusalem. Part of David’s legacy is Solomon’s wisdom and building the Temple. There are no skeletons in the closet. Just like us, right?

But we’ve been reading our Bible and we know that there is more to David’s story than just the highlight reel. David is called a man after God’s own heart. As we read, we know that David is a man – he’s a human being. We know that he loved the Lord and we know that he was a mighty sinner. I love God’s Word for a lot of reasons, one of them is that there are real people in it. If the Bible was only full of stories that make the highlight reel, then what part would I – or any of us – have to play? What would our story be?

The highlights are true, but we also have a lowlight REAL.

In David’s story, we have the highlights and the lowlights. We have special insight into the man himself. We have been looking at the Psalms over the last several weeks, many of which are attributed to David. The beauty is that they are not censored. This is David’s personal prayer journal. We don’t just get the highlight reel, we get everything and we get his raw emotions.

If I was going to put together a highlight reel of the Psalms we would include Psalm 23, 30, 51, 62, 100, 103, and 139. We’d also include Psalm 119 because it holds the world’s record as longest Psalm and longest chapter of the Bible. But today, we are looking at Psalm 3. It’s a short Psalm – only eight verses. It’s not included in the Revised Common Lectionary – meaning that if we were a lectionary church, we would never hear this Psalm preached on Sunday. There aren’t any famous lines in Psalm 3.

Psalm 3 doesn’t make the highlight reel.

So why are we talking about it today? First, the text was assigned to me. But as I’ve soaked in Psalm 3 over the last few weeks, I think we should consider it for the highlight reel.

Psalm 3 is the “beginning” of the Psalms. Psalm 1 is about wisdom and Psalm 2 is a royal proclamation. Psalm 3 is not a public prayer of praise, or a recounting of Israel’s history and God’s mighty works, or a rote prayer said in the morning. Psalm 3 is a very personal lament.

Lord, I have so many enemies.

This is a heartfelt plea to God. David doesn’t butter God up with compliments or beat around the bush. This is not a proclamation of the king who brought the ark into Jerusalem but of a man with no other place to turn. And this wasn’t new for David. David knew what it meant to have enemies.

Consider the stories we know about David – his anointing and defeating Goliath. In these stories, David’s father forgot him – he was not even worth calling to dinner when Samuel came. His brother called him careless and arrogant. Saul said he was just a boy and not enough on his own and Goliath called him weak. (1 Samuel 16-17)

Then, David serves his king faithfully and successfully, but rather than endearing him to Saul, it makes Saul jealous. Saul responds by being a bully, trying to kill David and hunting him like a dog all over Israel. (1 Samuel 18-24, 26)

It should not surprise us by the time we get to David’s story in 1 Samuel 27 that it seems David has lost hope. With all these enemies and the threat of death, how does David respond to this seemingly hopeless situation?

  • David spares Saul’s life twice. (1 Samuel 24, 26)
  • David remains generous and compassionate to those around him. (1 Samuel 23, 30)
  • David remains faithful to God. (1 Samuel 24, 26)

 

And how does God respond?

  • Saul searches for David but God doesn’t hand him over. (1 Samuel 23, 24, 26)
  • David finds a loyal friend in Jonathon. (1 Samuel 18, 20)
  • Others who have been cast away join David as his Mighty Men. (1 Samuel 22)

David is faithful – and so is God. He learns that God specializes in hopeless situations when our hope is in God.[1] Finally, David becomes king. He is powerful. He makes Jerusalem the center of worship. David has a big family, and they all live happily ever after.

Oh that’s right. Life isn’t a highlight reel.

We know there’s more to the story. David’s enemies did not disappear when he became king. They moved closer and became more powerful. David’s enemies didn’t attack him from the outside anymore; David’s enemies came from within.

  • David gave in to power and lust as he did violence against Bathsheba and Uriah – Even though Uriah was one of the Mighty Men who God provided as a source of community when Saul was pursuing David. (2 Samuel 11-12)
  • David gave in to selfreliance and pride when he took a census to determine the strength of his kingdom. (2 Samuel 24)
  • David gave in to apathy, favoritism and conflict avoidance when he did nothing in response to Amnon’s attack on Tamar. (2 Samuel 13)

Finally, David experiences the enemy of betrayal by his son Absalom. But even this began with an enemy within. You see, Absalom was Tamar’s brother. Because David didn’t act justly when she was violated, Absalom killed his half-brother Amnon. David banished Absalom, and though Absalom came back to Jerusalem after several years, he was never truly reconciled with David. In 2 Samuel 15:1-14, Absalom leads a rebellion against David, and David flees just as he once fled Saul.

Lord, I have so many enemies.

This is what brings David – and brings us – to Psalm 3. But what does this have to do with our sermon series on the postures of worship? Why is “protected” a posture of worship?

Worship isn’t about a service we come to on Sunday morning, a specific type of music or liturgical style.

  • Worship is about what we submit to.
  • Worship is about what we place first in our lives.
  • Worship is about our heart.

Worship is why David is a man after God’s own heart because David was a man of worship.

David’s life was full of difficulty, suffering and mistakes. David had a lot of enemies – sometimes he was his own worst enemy. But David didn’t submit to these things – he submitted to God. God is placed first. It is to God that David turns.

Lord, I have so many enemies.

David had learned that God brings hope to what is hopeless. Therefore, while this is a plea of desperation, it’s not a plea of hopelessness. David knows that God is sovereign over all of his mistakes and all of his circumstances. David knows that God is faithful, even when others are not.  David places God first – therefore, although this is plea of desperation, it is also a statement of worship.

We may not have known Psalm 3 before, but we were familiar with its message because we’ve heard it before.  If we turn to Matthew’s Gospel, we find the story of Jesus walking on water[2]. Now the situation for the disciples is that they are alone, in a boat, in the dark, in the middle of the Sea of Galilee and a mighty storm has come up. They have battled this storm for hours and when they think it can’t possibly get worse, they see a ghost walking on the water.  These grown men scream in fear.

But then they hear – and I don’t know how they hear since the wind and waves are roaring and the disciples are screaming – but they hear,

“Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

And then Peter calls out: “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

And Jesus said, “Come.”

Peter steps out of the boat and onto the water. If this were the highlight reel, the story would end right here. But remember, this is real life.

When Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

Just like David, just like us, Peter’s enemies were both around him and within him. The wind and waves did not sink the boat and they didn’t sink Peter. Peter sunk because he saw the strong wind and he became frightened. Fear, doubt, losing focus on Jesus and what Jesus called him to do – that’s what sunk Peter.

Just like David, just like us, Peter calls out to the only One Who can protect him from his enemies.

Lord, I have so many enemies.

Lord, rescue me!

This last year, I was diagnosed with depression. The truth is that I knew it for some time, but I didn’t go see a doctor.

  • Was it pride – not wanting to admit that depression had taken hold?
  • Was it fear – not wanting to admit I wasn’t in control?
  • Was it shame – that I was somehow too weak to fight it or had a faith too shallow to prevent it?
  • Was it a lack of self-respect – that I didn’t value my health and my relationships enough to take the time to address it?

My depression is not caused by my sin or shortcomings in my faith. But choosing to ignore or hide it and in doing so lying to myself and to those I love. These were my true enemies. Therapy and medication help keep the enemy of depression at bay. But it starts with identifying and confessing my other enemies: pride, fear, shame and lack of self-respect. Confession is followed by a simple prayer and act of worship:

Lord, I have so many enemies.

How do we ask God to protect us from our enemies if we don’t know what they are? As we read the Psalms, we can see that David spent time in reflection and prayer to identify the enemies within. In an act of worship, he brings this confession to God.

What are our enemies?  Certainly there are external forces such as losing a job, sickness, violence and oppression – as well as betrayal by those we trust and evil actions done to us. But what about the enemies within? In David, we see power and lust; self-reliance and pride; apathy, favoritism and conflict avoidance. In Peter, we see fear, doubt, and losing focus on Jesus and His call. I’ve probably struggled with all of these – as well as plenty of others.

The Good News is that God is faithful and that God brings hope into hopeless situations.

The Good News is that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection defeated even the enemy of Death. Jesus saves.

The Good News is that the Spirit empowers us to come in worship in praise, confession and prayer to our God Who protects.

The Good News is that we can pray together as an act of worship to God our Refuge, our Shield, our Savior, our Strong Foundation. Let us pray:

 

LORD, we have so many enemies! So many are standing against us. Open our eyes and hearts that we may know our enemies as we come to You in prayer. So many are talking about us and they lie about You saying: “Even God won’t help you.” But you, LORD, are our shield! You are our glory! You are the one who restores us.

We cry out loud to you LORD, and you answer us from your holy mountain. We lie down, we sleep, and we wake up rested because you LORD help us. We won’t be afraid of thousands of people surrounding us on all sides.

Stand up, LORD! Save us, our God!

In fact, hit all our enemies on the jaw; shatter the teeth of the wicked! We leave all judgment to You, because we know Your truth: rescue comes from the LORD! May your blessing be on your people! And may we worship You, our Savior and Protector. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

[1] 9 He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 10 Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

[2] Matthew 14:22-33

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