As some of you know, I’m a new father. My son, Q, is five months old. And he’s almost always happy, except for when we put him in his crib to sleep. He immediately loses his mind. He seriously thinks we’ve abandoned him to fend for himself against all the difficulties around him, such as tiredness and needing his diaper changed.
But one day he discovered the joy of sucking on his hand. It’s a self-soothing thing he has figured out. And when he puts his hand in his mouth – and he really shoves it in there – he forgets about all his troubles. It doesn’t actually change the fact that we left him alone in his room, but the hand makes him forget about it.
Well, I know that everybody here today has bigger problems than sleeping alone in a room. We have money issues, marriage issues, health issues, and so on. And similar to my son, we sometimes look for ways to cope with our troubles. We don’t want to feel that pain and distress. So we turn to things that make us forget about it. But is that the best way to deal with it? Distraction?
Absolutely not. We don’t need coping mechanisms, false gods, and self-soothing methods. We don’t have to turn there. Because even in the midst of troubles we can find everything we need in God.
Now I know we hear Christians say all the time that God is enough, that God is all we need, but it doesn’t always feel real. What does it really mean? We live in a fallen world, with big issues. So how does God meet all of our needs? What does it look like, practically, even when everything is crashing down around us?
This kind of trouble and distress isn’t foreign to God or His Word. We saw it in the Psalm from last week and we’ll see it again this week in the very next Psalm, chapter 142. David wrote this Psalm as well. And what we’ll see in this prayer of David is a troubled, helpless, desperate man crying out for help.
Before we read the text though, I want to give some background. We see the story of David’s life in the book of 1 Samuel.
David is one of the most well known men in the history of the world. He’s probably most famous for his scrappy defeat of Goliath. He basically just threw some rocks at him and slayed him. When David did that, Saul was still the king. But the Israelite people were becoming very fond of David. They even sung songs about how amazing he was, comparing him to Saul. He was becoming more popular than the king, and the king didn’t like it. So even though he had King Saul’s blessing before he killed Goliath, Saul now looked at David as his enemy. And he began to do everything he could to kill him. So when David writes this Psalm, he’s on the run. He’s a war hero who’s been turned into a fugitive. The king has made the death of David number one on his list of priorities. It’s David against the king and his entire army.
And so here in Psalm 142 we find David, hiding out in a cave. He fears for his life, and it’s in that distress that he cries out to God.
I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me. (Psalm 142, NIV)
We’re going to walk through this text. And we’re going to think about four specific things we learn about God in this prayer from David. And as we walk through it, we’ll see that even in times of horrible trouble, we can find everything we need in God. The first thing we see is that God is our friend in times of trouble.
I. God Is Our Friend In Times of Trouble
a. God Cares
The way David prays rests on the assumption that God listens. He assumes that He has a relationship with God and that God actually cares about what’s going on his life. It’s actually pretty remarkable when you think about it. The God of the universe cares about this shepherd fugitive. Skeptics may think that God caring about our troubles doesn’t really matter or make much of a difference. Who needs an invisible friend, when everything in your life is chaos? But they’d be very wrong. The fact that God is a friend, that He cares, makes all the difference in the world. Whether or not someone cares about your situation changes how they respond when you tell them about it.
For example, what would happen if my cable went out, and instead of calling my cable company I called my Internet provider. Well I can call and tell them all of my issues with my cable. I can remind them how I’ve been a faithful customer, and impress on them how appalled I am at this atrocious service. But because I called the wrong number, they don’t care. And they’re not going to try to do anything about it. Actually I’m pretty sure they don’t care even when I call the right number, and they never do anything about it, but you get what I’m saying. It matters whether or not someone cares.
Now I want you to imagine what it would be like if God didn’t care about our troubles. We could cry out to God all day long, but it wouldn’t make any difference at all. Ask David if it matters that God cares. Look back at verse one.
I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.
This is a man in urgent danger. His life is in jeopardy. It’s like he’s in a burning building. It’s like he’s being chased by thugs with guns. And he’s earnestly crying out for help. I can imagine David in the cave, sweating as he prays this prayer.
And as David prays, he understands that God is his friend and He cares. And that truth drives the way he prays.
He knows God is listening. Look at verse six. He says, “Listen to my cry for I am in desperate need.” Now I don’t think this is him trying to convince God to switch it up and listen for a change. David says this over and over in the Psalms. I think David is saying, “You’ve promised to listen to your people when we talk to you. So hear me. I’m talking.” It’s like he was tapping him on the shoulder. Like, “Lord, listen to your beloved. I have something to say.”
David knew about God’s track record. He knew that God had made a covenant with this people. He knew God had promised to be with them. He knew about how God had heard their prayers and delivered them over and over again. And he expected that this God would hear him this time as well.
Christian, do you pray with this knowledge? Or do you imagine you’re just saying words? Do you pray with a sense of God’s intended care and love for you? Is prayer a real interaction with God or are you just throwing words up at the ceiling? Is it just a ritual? It matters that God is a friend who cares.
We can learn from the way David prays. David is actually airing his complaints to God. Now we know that in Scripture God commands us not to grumble and complain. But here David shows us the right way to voice our complaints. He doesn’t grumble and complain AGAINST God like the Israelites in the wilderness. He doesn’t complain in a way that puts God’s character or judgment into question. He doesn’t put God on trial.
He actually does the opposite. As we’ll see later in the psalm David affirms God’s goodness. It’s OK to air your complaints to God, but do it with full confidence in Him. It’s OK to tell God you’re having a rough time. But when we accuse him of being unjust – whether out loud or in our hearts – that’s when it becomes sin.
But prayer is hard to understand sometimes. One rapper, in a song called Dear God, talked about prayer like this.
“I think He’s busy hold the line please/ Call me crazy I thought maybe He could mind read.”
He brings up a good point. God already knows what you’re thinking before you tell Him. If God knows everything, what’s the point of telling him? Is it just an exercise in discipline? It bothers me when Christians talk about prayer as if the main goal is aligning your will with God’s. That’s untrue.
We tell him because He hears us, He delights in hearing from us, and He cares and He always responds in love (more on that later). But please do tell God your troubles. Cry out to him. Pour out your complaint. Lift up your voice. Learn from David here.
He keeps going. Look at what he says in verse three.
When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me.
Everywhere David looked, Saul was hiding snares for him. Twice he tried to kill him when he played the harp for him. He threw a spear at him and tried to pin him to the wall. Saul gave him his daughter purposely, as a snare to him. He tried to convince his son, David’s BFF, to kill him. And now Saul and his armies are pursuing him. There’s danger at every turn.
I know some of us feel like we can relate to David here. We feel like no matter where we turn there’s trouble. We feel like our entire lives are a mess. That’s why we’re distressed. This is how David feels.
But he’s saying that when his spirit is faint, when his spirit is feeble, when he’s overwhelmed, it is God who knows his way. It’s God who knows what He’s going through.
In verse four he keeps telling God about what’s going on.
Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.
d. No One But God
David is separated from his wife and separated from his best friend, Jonathan. He’s unwelcome in the kingdom. He feels like nobody cares about Him, like nobody can save him. Yet he goes before God. David knows God is his friend and that God will care for him.
What a difference that makes when friends have turned their backs on you. And family has shunned you. And co-workers don’t care about you. And your neighbors don’t even know who you are. God knows you and God cares for you. God hears your prayers. God knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows the pain and turmoil you’re experiencing. And in this sense, the believer in Jesus is never alone.
Often we spend our lives trying to be noticed by other people, wanting their attention and respect. We want them to care about us. God cares! There’s no remote island or abandoned building where the believer will be alone. God is with you. And He loves you. And He cares.
Truthfully, without God as your friend you would be abandoned. It would be depressing if this Psalm ended here. And many of the world’s laments do end there. But David knows that even when he feels the most alone and abandoned, God cares. And He knows that when He needs someone to care for him, he should run to God.
So we can find everything we need in God, even when it’s rough. But surely God as our friend isn’t all we need.
II. God Is Our Protection in Times of Trouble
I want to bring your attention to one more thing he says in verse four. He says, “I have no refuge.” Now when we hear the word refuge, we automatically go to this metaphorical sense. We think he means he has no one to run to. That’s not what he means here. He means I have no home. I have no shelter. I have nowhere to sleep. I am literally physically exposed. He didn’t have the option of checking in to a Motel 6. Which is why he’s hiding out in a cave.
So we can find everything we need in God? Can God be a house for us? Look at verse five.
I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
First he was saying, I don’t have a friend, but you’re my friend. I don’t have anyone to listen, but you’ll listen to me. I don’t have a caregiver, but you’ll take care of me. Now he’s saying, I don’t have any shelter, but you’re my shelter. You’re my refuge.
While I was working on this sermon I really zoomed in on this verse. I wanted it to be more to us than a cute coffee cup verse. What does this really mean in real life?
We saw this refuge language last week in Psalm 141 too. And we see it all over the Scriptures. He’s not saying that God is his literal physical shelter. But he is saying in the midst of his lack of physical shelter, God is another kind of shelter for him. God is his refuge.
What does it mean for God to be your refuge? I think it means He is your protection from all the things that threaten you in the outside world. Though we’ve made our homes into our own little heavens on earth with comforts and entertainments of all sorts, protection is essentially the purpose of shelter. It’s to protect us from harm – from weather, from thieves, from attackers.
Listen to what David says in another Psalm he wrote while he was in the cave.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (Psalm 57:1)
David is saying he will hide in God. God is his protection from the destruction. More specifically, He’s saying in God his soul takes refuge. At the deepest part of who he is, at his core, he finds his refuge in God.
Is God your refuge today? What are you trusting in for protection? What is there in your life, that if you lost it you would feel exposed and open to destruction? Is it your money? Is it your status? Better yet, where do you run in times of trouble? Where do you feel safe? Is it in that relationship or that job? If so, then it doesn’t sound like God is your refuge.
Making God your refuge is a posture of the heart. It’s a deep trust in God as our protection. It’s knowing that with God we are safe. David knows his life is in danger, and he’s distressed, yet he feels safe. What a strange place to be, yet this is where every believer in a fallen world should find themselves. Distressed, yet peaceful. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Now am I saying, that because God is our protection, He won’t allow us to be hit with any trials? Not at all. Think about it like this.
This watch I’m wearing today is waterproof. Now that doesn’t mean that if I walk outside in the rain or leave it on while I’m washing dishes, it won’t get wet. What it does mean is that even if the watch does get wet, it won’t be destroyed. This is similar for the believer. God hasn’t promised to keep us from being in a storm, but He’s promised that we will not be destroyed. We can get hit by the storm, but we cannot be destroyed.
What does that mean? Romans 8 lays out the most awful things we can imagine happening to us, including death. And it says even in the midst of all these things, we’re more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. Romans 8 also tells us that everything will turn out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
So look, as our protection, our God will protect us from everything that will turn out in the end for our harm or destruction. And that should comfort us. Because we know if He lets it hit us, it’s for our good and for His glory. He is our protection. So David’s like, “Who needs physical shelter, when I have God!” God is our greatest need, and when that one need is met, all the others look much smaller.
So again I ask where do you run in troubled times? I’m asking both the Christians here today and to the non-Christian. Where do you run? Many of us have been running to the wrong things. We’re running to false shelters. And to be honest, that’s foolish. No matter what that false shelter is, whether it’s a person or an addiction – it’s dangerous. False shelters lie to us. They seem safe, but in the end they only leave us more exposed. They will not protect us from destruction.
In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks of how God will respond to His people’s idolatry.
Then he will say, “Where are their gods [speaking of their idols], the rock in which they took refuge… Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection.” (Deuteronomy 32:37)
God’s people were attacked by other nations, and the false gods they put their hope in – their false shelters – weren’t able to protect them. Don’t make their mistake.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just make God your refuge when it’s time. You’ll just wait until it gets bad and then you’ll hide in God. That makes no sense at all. You don’t wait until the storm comes to build a house. You live in the house, and you’re protected when it starts to rain. You don’t have to panic when it starts drizzling, because you’ve already hidden yourself in Him. That begins with turning from sin and trusting in Him, that you would be protected from His righteous wrath. And it continues by running back to Him day after day after day.
Now as we talk about God’s protection, we can’t overlook the fact that a couple days ago a horrible thing happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Another one of these mass attacks on a school. It was very young kids five and six year olds. That should anger us and grieve us. And tragedies like this make people ask questions.
Christian, what are you going to say to your friend at work who says, “Where was your God in the midst of this? Why didn’t He protect those innocent kids? Why did He let that happen?” What do you say to that?
What would I say? I think I’d say, I don’t know. Why not me instead? I don’t know. I don’t want to give some philosophical answer about the problem of evil. No one wants to hear that. I think I would just say I don’t know why, but I do know God. And He’s good. God hasn’t told us all the specifics about why He allows certain things, but He has told us what He’s like. We know He’s good, and wise, and perfect. He’s already proven that. So all I can do is trust Him, pray for those victims, and remember that no situation is so horrible that we can’t run to God.
Because even in the most heart wrenching of situations, we can find everything we need in God. He is our friend and our protector, but there’s more.
III. God is our Treasure in Times of Trouble
I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
David calls God his portion. This word portion means a share. So this could refer to your share of an inheritance – your portion of what was left behind. It could mean a particular reward that’s rightfully yours. So in his current situation, David has nothing. He’s away from his home and no longer in the king’s good graces.
So he’s saying, “I don’t have a portion, an inheritance, a reward. God, you’re my reward. You’re my treasure. You are my everything!” God was His everything.
My wife and I were watching this documentary on ESPN this week called Broke. The documentary was about athletes who at one time were millionaires, but found themselves absolutely broke. Some of these guys literally made hundreds of millions, but blew it all on houses, cars, clothes, and an expensive lifestyle. They lived as if things, possessions, materials were their treasures. And when they lost all of it, they didn’t know what to do. Their portion was gone.
Then there’s a guy like Paul the Apostle. Who in Philippians says he’s learned to be content, whether he’s rich or he’s poor. Do you want to know the secret? He knew that all he really needed was Christ. All he wanted was Christ. He was willing to throw everything away that he might have Christ. God was His treasure. Don’t you want to get to that point?
As A.W. Tozer put it in his book The Pursuit of God, “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.”
b. Joy Not Based on Money
In light of this, our joy cannot be contingent on our bank accounts. Our joy and peace can’t go up and down with how financially stable we feel, which is a temptation sometimes. We need the kind of rock solid confidence in God, that works hard to provide, but that also trusts God more than money. You can trust in money, but it’s a bad idea. There is no amount of money that can’t be blown or stolen. Money won’t last, but God will. He should be our treasure, even in times of trouble.
How can you do your work in a way that prioritizes God over money? Does your desire and pursuit of money, make your pursuit of God look lame and lackluster? If so, God may not truly be your treasure. You may not see Him as your true reward.
Now saying that God is all that we really need is not to say all of our other needs disappear. And this isn’t a call to begin to neglect all of your other needs. But it is a call to depend more on your greatest need.
c. The Land of the Living
You notice that David says God is his portion in the land of the living. He’s saying God is all that I have and all that I need right now in this life. So he’s not saying God is only his treasure in the next life. He’s saying right now, God is all I need.
I know there are some of us here today who don’t have everything we want, and maybe not everything we need. But if you have God, be encouraged. And praise God that your greatest need has already been met in Christ.
Even when we feel like we’re lacking, we can find everything we need in Christ.
IV. God Is Our Deliverer in Times of Trouble
Superhero movies are a big deal right now. Every day you look up there’s a new superhero movie. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Monkeyman… just seeing if you were still paying attention. Then you have other kinds of action movies like Taken and James Bond. We like these kinds of movies, because we’re fascinated by larger than life heroes who can save the day when all looks helpless. Well David paints a similar picture here of God. Look at verse six.
Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.
b. Desperate Need
David again is telling God how he feels. He’s in desperate need. David is at the end of himself. There’s nothing that he or anyone else can do to save him. He’s in trouble. And it’s in this trouble that he goes to God. Once again David knows about God. He knows that God does the impossible. He’d already seen God do the impossible in his own life with some of the battles he’d fought. If God can give bears, and giants, and armies into his hand, then surely he can deliver him from one self-obsessed king.
But look, you don’t ask for something if you don’t know you’re in need. My son cries out for food, because he feels the hunger and knows he needs food. David feels that desperate need and it leads him to cry out to God. He knows that those who pursue him are too strong for him. He knew that only God could set him free in this particular situation.
And you notice how David asks. David doesn’t ask as if he’s entitled to this help. In verse one he says he’s asking for “mercy.” He’s asking that he would not get what he deserves, but instead something he doesn’t deserve: deliverance. And all of our prayers should be the same. Humbly recognizing that you’re too weak. We don’t deserve anything. But we’re asking God to mercifully deliver us.
Often I ask myself how I can help a friend who’s in a position like this. Obviously, I don’t want to just say “God is enough” and belittle their situation. The only thing I know to do is help them get to the place where David is. As a church this a way we can serve each other in times of desperate need. Help them get to the end of themselves when they recognize their need for Him and trust Him more. Pray for them, love them. Often that’s all we can do.
c. Commanded To Ask For Help
It would be foolish for David to consider running to anyone else, when this situation was clearly out of his, and others control. The same is true of us, yet we run elsewhere sometimes. But calls us to come to him.
…call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:15)
God reveals Himself over and over again in Scripture as a deliverer. How about what God did at The Red Sea? What about in the life of Joseph? What about countless battles? When all looks impossible, God can still deliver. There is no enemy who can legitimately stand against Him. Armies fall over, mountains bow down, and winds and waves halt in His presence. And His track record is incredible. He even went to great lengths to deliver us from sin.
The prayer in this psalm, with its distress and urgency, reminds me of another prayer in the Bible. In fact, the person praying is a much later relative of the man of who wrote this Psalm. It reminds me of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knows He’s going to the cross. And He pleads with God, and basically asks him if there’s another way. He wants to be delivered from the pain that was ahead of Him. His anguish was so deep that sweated blood.
God did not deliver Jesus from the pain and unimaginable suffering that was ahead of Him. And Jesus did not try escape. He knew this was what He came to do. Jesus died on the cross. And when Jesus hung on that cross, He was suffering so that you and me wouldn’t have to. He was taking punishment for sins that He didn’t commit. He lived a perfect life, He hadn’t offended God. He wasn’t like David, or you, or me. We’re sinners who’ve offended a holy God. He wasn’t a sinner, yet He died a sinner’s death on that cross. He was given over to death, so that we could be delivered.
And He’s called us, not to deliver ourselves, but to trust in the Hero who came to get us. We don’t have to win this battle, we just cling to the One who already has. Believe on Him. Trust Him. Give your life to Him.
The truth is, if you haven’t truly trusted in Christ, God is not your friend in times of trouble. He has not promised protection. He has not promised to be your treasure or your deliverer. Christians do go through troubled times, but our story ends with deliverance. Does yours?
e. The Reason for Deliverance
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.
Here he makes clear why he wants to be delivered, why he wants to be set free – because He wants to praise God as His deliverer. He sees this as another opportunity for God to show Himself off.
Christian, how do you respond when God has delivered you? I can think of many, many times when I felt in distress and pleaded with God for mercy. I felt like it was literally the end of the world. And God answered my prayer. And I was so happy. And I totally forgot about God. I didn’t praise Him. I didn’t honor Him. I forgot about Him. And even forgot about what He did, which seems absurd.
When I was a little kid, the highlight of my year was Christmas. And my birthday was around this time too so it was extra special. At this point in life you don’t have much. You got cheerios, you got naptime, and you got Christmas. I saw the big wheel commercials on TV and I was like, “I gotta have it.” I got a big wheel. And I think I probably shed tears of joy.
Now wouldn’t it be strange if I asked for that for months and months, but when I got back to school and people asked me what I got, I forgot to mention it? How strange is it, that we can plead with God to have mercy on us, but days later forget as if it never happened?
We should do whatever it takes to remember God’s mercy and cultivate grateful hearts, whether it’s journaling or praying with others. Do whatever it takes.
At the end of the Psalm, David says the righteous with gather about Him. He means as he praises God for His goodness, other believers will join Him. This is what we do on Sunday nights as we share these testimonies of grace. We hear of God’s goodness and we gather around one another and praise Him together. What a great deliverer.
There is no situation so horrible that God is incapable of delivering you. When no one can deliver you, God is your deliverer. Run to Him.
I remember as a kid, thinking that my parents could solve everything. It really didn’t matter what happened, Mom and Dad could fix it. I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to the neighbors’ house, or calling a relative. I just went to Mom and Dad, because they got me. I didn’t know how, but I knew they had me.
We need this kind of childlike faith. The kind of faith that assumes, no matter what the trouble, I can go to God for what I need. Let’s pray.