Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on August 19, 1979
“The hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from
the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.”
“Fret not thyself. . . Trust in the LORD. . . for the end of that man is peace.”
WE ARE PREACHING THROUGH THE BOOKS OF Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra and 9,000 of God’s people were at the river Ahava getting ready to make a four-month journey to Jerusalem. They were returning to strengthen the hands of those who had been there for many years doing His work and had completed rebuilding the temple. We have identified with them as the type of all God’s people anywhere, anytime, who see His work falling short of what He has promised. They were determined to make themselves the instruments to make what God had promised come to pass.
I want us to reflect on the concept of God’s care for those who commit themselves to Him and His work. It says in Ezra 8:31, “We departed from the river of Ahava,” and in the next verse, “We came to Jerusalem.” That is all that is said about the trip, yet it was four months of extremely dangerous and difficult travel. The key to the trip is found in the second part of verse 31: “the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.”
In the New Testament, Paul writes to the church at Rome and you can hear the hope in his words as he talks about wanting to come to see them. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it was “the power of God unto salvation.” He wanted to go to that seat of earthly power, although some had accused him of being afraid to go there. He had written this letter at Corinth and sent it by a businesswoman who was going to Rome. He begins his letter by saying how he longs to be with them, and toward the close of the letter he is on that same note again: he intends to go to Spain and preach the gospel, and en route he expects to have joyous fellowship with them at Rome.
V. Raymond Edman preached a message about adjusting the reality of our experience in God’s hands to the naivety of our expectancies. Between the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans and the time of his final letter to Timothy years later, lay “the wrath of men,” as Paul was falsely accused and imprisoned at Jerusalem. Then away in prison at Caesarea, waiting to be taken to Rome. When he was finally put on a ship bound for Rome, again in the words of Edman, came “the waves of despair.” The ship was tossed violently by a storm, and when all hope was lost, and only then, after all hope was lost, was the will of the Lord revealed. The Lord spoke to Paul and said that no lives would be lost.
Again we see the wiles of the devil. After Paul escaped from the shipwreck and from the sea, as he was picking up sticks to build a fire to warm himself, a snake bit him. All the onlookers whispered that Paul must be an evil man because so many bad things had happened to him. But Paul just shook off the snake into the fire, and felt no harm. When he finally got to Rome, he was in chains, instead of experiencing joyous fellowship and freedom on a bypath en route to Spain. But as Edman stated so aptly, Paul made it to Rome.
I could camp on Moses’ words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8. Moses preached a sermon that was remembered and quoted by the generation that was spared, those under 20 years of age, who would enter into the Promised Land. He told them to remember all the way that the Lord their God did lead them. God made them to hunger, that He might feed them and teach them that man does not live by bread alone. He led them into the great and terrible wilderness that He might prove them, to find what was in their heart. If you read on in the chapter, Moses says that God led them that way that He might humble them and prove them, to do them good at their latter end.
God has a purpose and He will make it come out His way. Things did not work out the way Paul intended, but he made it to Rome and his teaching went forth to affect the whole world. Today the power of ancient Rome lies in ruins, but as you look across the cityscape, you can see it is highlighted by church towers and monuments to the faith that Paul wrote about. He made it to Rome! The hand of God was on Paul.
The hand of God was also on the 9,000 people returning to Jerusalem. They faced a serious problem, so much so that Ezra “proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” In his case, Ezra said, “I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.” That was Ezra’s statement of faith.
So they got it together at the outset at that river. They were facing a dangerous journey and an enemy in the way, so they proclaimed the statement of God’s promise. Then they “fasted and besought our God for this,” specifically, “and he was entreated of us.” You only have to read down eight verses to see the answer: “We departed from the river. . . And we came to Jerusalem.” Why? “The hand of our God was upon us.” Simply stated, God became to them what His word had promised them. They had declared it as their hope, and they sought it from Him as their possession to claim. They “fasted and besought our God for this” promise, and it became theirs. That is the backdrop of today’s message.
In a previous message, we looked at a Psalm where the circumstance did not change until you changed your viewpoint and began to realize that God was with you in the circumstance. Today we are going to look at another Psalm related to this concept. I go to the principles of this Psalm as an expansion on the theme of putting yourself in the Lord’s hands. Sometimes we have to walk a tightrope. In times of trouble, how much do we use our own strengths, our own abilities and our own training? How much of our energy is to be expended and how much must be God’s? Christianity should not be oversimplified. It is neither all God nor all us. It is that balance where we trust God, but we still do all that we can, and having done all we stand on the promises of God.
Turn in your Bible to Psalm 37. It begins, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers.” Then in verse 7, “fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” When God says something more than once, pay attention. We are told to “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath,” and for the third time, “fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” What a command! Then verse 37 closes with, “for the end of that man is peace.” Peace is “cessation of againstness.”
Three times we are told, “Fret not. . . Fret not. . . Fret not,” but how in the world do you stop fretting? God lays out a formula for us to make this journey. There are five simple things that we must do and five big things that God does, which eliminate the fretting and bring peace.
The first thing we are to do is “Trust in the LORD.” The word in the original means to put your whole weight onto Him. Nothing has changed in your path: the rocks are still there, the incline is still as steep and there is still a threat of slipping on all sides. But in your circumstance, you just shift the weight off of you and onto Him. The Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament uses a derivative of the word pistis to translate that word “trust.” It means to take the mind and the emotions and fasten them, and add the will and grab hold. That means you settle it.
The mind can focus on many different things, the emotions can rise and fall in confidence and vacillate in reliance on various sources of strength, and the will can follow the mind and the emotions. But this verse says settle it. Fretting is a fact of life and nobody is exempt from fretting. This Psalm does not say that peace comes only after you can eliminate fretting. You don’t attack the fret, you displace the fretting. You grab hold of yourself and take a new fix and ask, “Is the Lord the proper object for my trust?” That is why I reference Paul’s life at the beginning of this message. Paul had his route to Rome mapped out. God took him there. We might think it would have been better for Paul to have taken a joyride to Spain with only a brief stopover in Rome, but two-thirds of the New Testament would not have been written and had its impact had God not taken him the route that He did.
The issue is what to do when fretting hits us on all sides. We look at our path and see only clouds and darkness, rocks and the threat of stumbling. That is when you focus your eyes on Him. I believe that faith-walking is like being a mariner in a storm who takes out a compass. It is not enough just to show up in church on Sunday and sing a song. The life of faith drives you into situations that are so threatening that you must stop and ask yourself, “Is God trustworthy? Can I trust Him?” I believe that everything that happened to Paul was in the will of God. He was in God’s will when he was thrown into prison in Jerusalem, thrown into prison in Caesarea, shipwrecked after he got out of jail, snakebitten when he escaped the shipwreck, and imprisoned again in Rome.
How do you stop fretting? Take out the compass and ask, “Is this God’s word or not?” Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do?” And Jeremiah 1:12 says, “I will hasten my word to perform it.” You take control of your mind, your heart and your will, and you decide, “Can I trust that the Lord is capable of holding me up?” And you lean on that staff.
You have to decide, “Can I trust the Lord?” Would He lead me if He weren’t going to take me through? That is the question. I have to put my full weight on that staff or I am not going to make it! Don’t have one hand on Him and one hand on something else. It is commitment time. Settle the trustworthiness of the Lord.
The second thing to do is “Delight thyself also in the LORD.” I always used to read this verse and race to its latter half: “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart!” So I interpreted it like many people do: if you throw a kiss at God, He will give you mountains of pleasure. That is not the way it works. This verse is saying that if you make the Lord the desire of your heart, He will give you the desire of your heart.
In essence, God is saying to you, “If, I,” the Lord, “can become the desire of your heart, it doesn’t matter what your circumstance is, I can fulfill that desire right now.” You not only need to reevaluate the focus of your faith, you need to go to work on your attitude. Ask yourself: what means more to you than anything else? The Lord? If the Lord is the delight of your life, if having Him means more than anything else, He will give you that. The reason why some people in poverty are more joyous than the richest man in the world is because the Lord is their joy, and He is with them!
God does not require that every person’s delight be limited only to spiritual things. God gave you desires and He intends for you to have certain things. But the ceiling on your desires should begin and end with the question, “Is the Lord enough?” Every time things do not go your way, are you angry at God because He hasn’t answered your prayers? That is what produces fretting. If we are going to stop fretting and displace it, we must settle some things. Is the Lord trustworthy? Is His strength enough? Is the Lord sufficient to satisfy the desires of my heart? Psalm 16 says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy.” New Testament Christianity deals with a Living Presence, a Person, and it is persons, not circumstances, who make joy. Is He trustworthy? Is the Lord Himself the source of my delight? If I can delight myself in Him, He will give Himself to me.
Does that end it? No. The third thing we are told we must do is “Commit thy way unto the LORD.” How do we do that? The word in the original is from the camel-driving days. You would pick up your burden and carry it to a camel that is kneeling, and you would roll that burden onto the camel and let him carry it. In the New Testament, it says, “With the heart man believeth. . . and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The way you roll your problems onto the Lord is by first believing with your heart, and then with your mouth you confess it, you proclaim it. You take that problem that is causing you to fret right now, and you wrap it up and tie it up in a tight little bundle of words. You; tell God what it is. You don’t have to tell me. You could whisper it now and say, “Lord, this is it. This is the whole mess, the whole problem. And in accordance with Your word, I speak it forth and lay it on You.” You ask, “Is it that simple?” Yes, the commitment is that simple, but it has to be a commitment that turns loose of it. You have to give it to Him.
The fourth thing we have to do is the tough part: “Rest in the LORD.” Most of us go to God the very next day and say, “Well, Lord, I gave You my burden yesterday. How long does it take You to work it out? I gave You my burden on Sunday and here it is, Monday, and it’s still here.” I can imagine God saying, “When I created the world I started with nothing, but untangling your mess is a bigger job!” Give Him some time. Rest in the Lord.
V. Raymond Edman preached on this Psalm and used a ludicrous illustration of the way that most people commit their way to the Lord. Picture someone mailing a letter at the post office. Can you imagine a man standing in front of the post office with his arm inside the mail slot? You ask him, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m mailing my letter.” “Why is your arm in there?” “Well, I don’t want to let go. I can’t really trust the post office.” He finally turns that letter loose, but then he starts pounding on the door of the post office. You ask, “Now what are you doing?” He says, “Well, I gave them my letter and I want to know how they’re taking it. I heard there was a storm in Denver and I want to make sure they take it to New York through Houston.” That is how too many people commit their way to God. Now it is one o’clock in the morning and the man is still standing outside the post office worrying over his letter. You don’t do that; you just give them your letter. Turn your problems over to the Lord and rest in Him.
Here is the fifth thing we are told to do: “Wait patiently.” This is the hard part. I can wait, but not patiently. How many times have I waited “patiently” saying, “Oh, Lord! Why don’t You answer?” Wait patiently! Why? Because the Lord already started working on your problem. God back to verse 5: “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him.” It reiterates the first criterion: “trust also in him,” lean on Him, and then it says, “he shall bring it to pass.” That simply means “The Lord worketh.” That is the first thing the Lord does for me.
The King James Version translators added some words to that verse and changed the meaning. By saying, “he shall bring it to pass,” they translated a statement of God’s action by interpreting the results of His action. The King James Version is essentially saying, “Because God goes to work, He will bring it to pass,” but that is not what the original Hebrew says. It literally says that when we commit our way unto the Lord and trust in Him, “the Lord worketh.” That means He goes to work. This is where the camel analogy breaks down. When you roll your burden onto a camel, it may take that camel a while to stand up. But the minute you put your burden onto the Lord, He goes to work on your problem at that very moment.
How does the Lord go to work? Verse 18 says, “The LORD knoweth.” That is the second thing the Lord does: He goes to work with knowledge. For man to solve my problem, I would have to unravel all the details. But God goes to work instantly with all His power and knowledge. He knows exactly what is coming around the bend because He is there ahead of me. The Lord knows how to unravel the mess.
Like a shepherd, He knows how to lead us. But we know that He leads us in ways that may sometimes look bad. Who would have thought that chains and bondage and lies of Potiphar’s wife would put Joseph in the place that would ultimately result in his being made ruler over Egypt? Yet Psalm 105 says that “God sent a man” to Egypt that way. Who would have thought that Paul’s taking the gospel to Rome was to be via prison in Jerusalem, prison in Caesarea, shipwreck and snakebite? The Lord knows. He got Paul there. The Lord works with knowledge.
What is the third thing the Lord does? Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” Literally, “The Lord ordereth.” You made your commitment to the Lord. You started out knowing that He is trustworthy, and you committed all your way to Him. God looks on the heart and He knows the heart. If He decides to fly through Denver instead of Houston, you just go along with the trip.
Our problem is that if we commit our way this afternoon and tomorrow things don’t go the way we think they ought to go, we are back at God’s doorstep saying, “Hey, God, I gave it to You and You didn’t work it out!” Yes, He did! Leave Him alone. “Rest. . . wait patiently.” That is the way He is working it out. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” When you commit your way to Him and you get up tomorrow morning and everything is a mess – the roof caved in, your neighbor ran into your car, and your lawn is flooded – say, “The Lord ordered it.”
Now don’t go to the next step and say, “Praise the Lord for this flooded lawn, caved-in roof and dented car!” Just say, “The Lord ordered it. I don’t see how He’s going to get me through it, but I committed my way to Him. Look out world, God is taking me through!” That is faith. Suppose someone says, “I had a heart attack and I committed my way to Him, and then I had two more heart attacks!” Well, the Lord is still ordering your steps. That is what commitment is.
What is the fourth thing God does? “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” Don’t think that just because you trust in the Lord, delight yourself in Him, commit your way to Him, and are resting and waiting patiently, that you won’t stumble and have second thoughts and fall. Glory to God, when we gave it to Him, He not only went to work with knowledge to order our steps, He also promised us that “Though we fall, He upholdeth us with His hand.”
What is the fifth thing God promises in this Psalm? “For the LORD. . . forsaketh not his saints.” It is interesting that the Psalmist uses the word saints, because saints mean “those who have given themselves to God.” When you put yourself in God’s hand, He goes to work with knowledge to order your path through the maze. He upholds you when you stumble, and “The LORD. . . forsaketh not his saints.” God is never going to forsake us! Hallelujah!
Re-printed with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
Prayer Requests for February, 2015
For Martha Burries (Illinois) who has cancer.
For Willie Grady (Pinckneyville, IL), that he gets an evidentiary hearing granted in his case.
For Mary (Oklahoma City), who has lost muscle movement in her legs and right shoulder. She is doing better since last month.
For Isaac Douglas (Illinois), that he gets approved for work release soon.
For Dennis Martin (Lexington, OK) who has had several heart surgeries.
For Willie Scott (Grady, Arkansas), that he will be granted clemency from the parole board.
For Michael Small’s Mom, Suzanne (Illinois).
For Anthony Grayson (Elmira, New York), that he finds legal assistance.
For Mike Long (Larned, Kansas), for health.
For Sister Ann & the Carmelite nuns in Little Rock.
For Freddie Lee Lott (Chicago, Illinois), to stay “cancer free.”
For Robert Heffernan , Grady, Arkansas.
For Pastor Scott’s health; & her ministry in Los Angeles.
For Margaret, who is recovering from another Glaucoma surgery.
For all of us at Wingspread.
In this month’s message Dr. Scott references a man by the name of V. Raymond Edman. The following is a short bio on Mr. Edman:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
V. Raymond Edman (1900-1967) was an American author and the fourth President of Wheaton College in Illinois from 1941 to 1965.
Edman was born in Chicago in 1900 as one of six children to Swedish immigrant parents. He attended Columbia University, but left to serve in World War I in 1918-1919. After the War, Edman returned to the United States where he attended the University of Illinois, Nyack College, and then Boston University where he received his B.A. Edman served as a missionary to the Quechua people in Ecuador from 1923 to 1928 until he was forced to return to the United States after contracting a tropical disease. While serving as a missionary, Edman married Edith Olson, also an American. In 1933 Edman graduated from Clark University with a M.A. and Ph.D. in International Relations focusing on Latin American studies. Edman was chosen as an associate professor of history at Wheaton College in 1936 and then became the college’s fourth president in 1940, serving until 1965. During this time he made various physical and financial improvements to the campus. In 1965 Edman became chancellor at Wheaton. On September 22, 1967, while delivering a chapel message entitled, “In the Presence of the King,” Edman suffered a fatal heart attack.
Dr. Edman spoke in various countries around the world and wrote nineteen books and various articles. Edman was a friend and colleague of Billy Graham who was a student during Edman's presidency of Wheaton. The Edman Chapel at Wheaton College is named in his honor.
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