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"Character of Christ: Waiting"

Psalms Logo 2022

Each summer for the past seven years we have been looking at the Psalms.   I was reminded of the Psalms this week as one of you shared the playlist you listen to at work.  Listening to a playlist is personal. It reflects the person’s hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles.  In a similar way the Psalms are the ancient church’s playlist.  The Top 150 you might say.  The playlist (hymnbook?) of the church!  The Psalms are Israel’s playlist.  And they are Jesus’.  They reflect the hopes, fears, joys and struggles of Gospel-living because at their core they reflect the hopes, fears, joys, struggles of Jesus Himself.  They reflect yours and mine too.

In the fourth-century Athanasius reminded the people that the Psalms were an “epitome of the whole Scriptures”.  Basil of Caesarea noted that the Psalms were “a compendium of all theology”.   Martin Luther called the Psalms a “little Bible” in the midst of the big one.

More recently, Tremper Longman has said, The Psalms appeal the whole person, the demand a total response.  The Psalms inform our intellect, arouse our emotions, direct our wills and stimulate our imaginations.  When we read the Psalms with faith we come away changed and not simply informed.{1}

I need to be changed and not simply informed.  I need to learn to drive my mind, emotions, desires, and will to God and you know that you do too.

Let’s listen to Psalm 40, a favorite of many.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

[1] I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
[2] He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
[3] He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

[4] Blessed is the man who makes
the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
[5] You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.

[6] In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
[7] Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
[8] I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”

[9] I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD.
[10] I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.

[11] As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
[12] For evils have encompassed me
beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.

[13] Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me!
O LORD, make haste to help me!
[14] Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
[15] Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

[16] But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
[17] As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God! (ESV)

Like life, Psalm 40 is messy.  It’s complicated.  Many Psalms have fairly clear structure according to genre.  This Psalm doesn’t.  The Psalm opens the way an individual thanksgiving psalm would; it speaks of past deliverance.  Yet Verse 4 has wisdom connections.  And the verses after verse 11 sound much like an individual lament.  This Psalm is all over the place.   It is highly emotional.  Sort of like your experience on any given week.

Many of us have contrasting experiences simultaneously that creates confusion:

  • the excitement of a new child on the way >> helplessness when our children cry late into the night 
  • the joy of a new video game >> frustration when mom or dad ask us to wait to play it
  • the news of a good report from the doctor >> despair as a family member struggles with an illness
  • joy of a new job with good insurance >> a sense of being overwhelmed with financial demands
  • joy of a church community >> loneliness at home when our spouse travels for work
  • gratitude for the new house >> frustration when unrealistic expectations greet us at the office
  • excitement of a vacation with family >> anger we feel at the foolish decision of a relative
  • solidarity you feel with a close friend >> confusion when that relationship grows tense
  • security we have in Christ >> insecurities about how God made us
  • And on and on…

Good when He gives, supremely good;  Nor less when He denies:
Afflictions, from His sovereign hand, Are blessings in disguise

We try to maintain sanity without looking to God, but grow even more confused.  But this Psalm teaches us that waiting for the Lord paves the way for transformation. 

Verse 1: I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined and heard my cry. 

When we hear he word waiting, we might think of waiting in line. Sociologists tell us the average human being spends six years waiting in line, five months of which is spent waiting for traffic lights to change.{3}  But this of course is not the kind of waiting David is talking about.  The language here is not sitting in your car waiting for a traffic light to turn, but lying down in the operating table bleeding to death as you waiting for the surgeon.  It is a watchful-waiting.  Verse 1 literally reads, I waited, waited for the Lord.  In other words, “I waited and waited and waited for God.” Waited patiently in the ESV and NIV is a too placid.  David is actively waiting, actively looking to God to deliver him.{4}

To wait in Scripture means to look in hope for God to act.  The idea of watchful-waiting is seen throughout Scripture.  It is a waiting for God to act. God’s initiative to rescue us in the midst of our need (rather than His waiting for us to rescue ourselves) is the primary difference between the God of the Bible and all other religions.  Jonathan Edwards said in the History of the Work of Redemption that God’s pursuit of His own glory in His movement to move toward and act on behalf of His people is the chief uniqueness of the Triune God.

Isaiah reminds us of this when he prophesied to Judah:

Isaiah 64:4 - From of old no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen a God like you, who acts o behalf of those who wait for him.

Elsewhere we are commanded to wait for the Lord:

Psalm 27:14 – Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

And we should make it our prayer:

Psalm 62:1-8 – For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Watchful-waiting is a waiting with hope.  

Psalm 33:21-22 We wait in hope for the Lord, for he is our help and our shield.  In him our hearts rejoice for we trust in his holy name.  May your steadfast love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we hope in you.”

To watchfully wait is to wait with hope.  Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  We bank our happy future on that which holds our hopes.  And right off the bat the Psalmist is waiting with hope. Watchful, looking in hope for God to act.

Once my daughter was at a birthday party for one of you.  And she walked too close to the pool and fell in.  Immediately her head goes under and when she comes up she looks in terror and hope for daddy to act.  She couldn't find me because I was already in the pool holding her up. 

There are two types of unbelief typical in believers:  1) “Intellectually self-confident” Christians. We would say we are a Christian, but we have not yet allowed the Gospel to saturate our lives.  The gospel remains primarily an intellectual exercise.   We’ve heard the story of redemption.  We know the creation, fall, redemption, glory paradigm of Scripture.  We’ve been to the theology conferences, maybe even taken courses at seminary.  But in the midst of the existential crisis we struggle to know how to apply the Gospel story at the level of their heart.  We’ve over emphasized the intellectual component of the Gospel.  You know this is true because when you experience stress you handle it the same way you did before you became a Christian.  If things get really, really bad, then you will finally turn to the God. But the gospel is like the net beneath the tightrope walker.  It’s important but you really use it unless you fall. 

Now, on the other hand, we have 2) “morally self-sufficient” Christians. We might know our Bibles very well!  And apply passages with ease.  For example, when we get angry about the decision a relative has made, we claim a verse like Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over the door of my lips, O God, let not my heart be drawn to what it evil.  And we deal with the anger by obeying what the Bible says. Not bad!  Except it’s deadly if not driven by faith.  We can obey out of a self-reliance that is another form of works-righteousness.  Using the Bible as a how-to manual can destroy you.  It destroys you because you’ll run, run, run and never rest, not rest in the righteousness of Jesus to change you.  John Bunyan knew this danger when we wrote, 

“Run John Run the Law Demands, 

but give us neither feet nor hands.  

Far better news the gospel brings, 

it bids us fly and give us wings. 

The “morally self-reliant Christian” looks good, but his self-reliant obedience is cancer of the heart.  Anyone who’s been in that situation knows it is only time before self-reliant people have a bigger mess on their hands.  

The intellectually self-confident and the morally self-reliant method is not the gospel.  The “cognitive” road and the “moral” road can lead you away from Jesus. 

But there is a third kind of person here.  3) The “curious, cynical, skeptic.”  You know this in your own life, too, don’t you?  You’re tired because you’ve tried the intellectual route and you’ve tried the moral route, and found both disappointing.  You feel able to see the holes in the arguments better than the intellectual self-confident and the hypocrisy more clearly than the morally self-righteous.  Maybe now you’re on the cynics road.  Or the skeptics road.  Or the protestors road.  Or the justice-seeker road.  Or the figuring-things-out road.  Whatever road you’re on, welcome!  The Gospel’s appeal is found in our experiences of helplessness.  Sometimes we feel that helplessness in our depression, or our shame, or our cognitive dissonance.  You know you’re unable to save yourself because you can’t seem to be able to pull yourself out of the muck and mire.  You’re stuck.  

These are moments when we see how God enters into our pain in the person of Christ to bring us through these death moments to life.  That is where David found himself in verse one.  He understands that God is the only one that can help.  He trusts this to be true and he calls out for help. Beneath his knowledge and his obedience is a trust in someone outside of himself!  

By the way Christians are aren’t necessarily better people.  We are just utterly dependent upon grace -- a grace that is given to us; a righteousness that we didn’t earn.{5}  And that marks us throughout our lives. 

Notice that this Psalm does not end at verse 11.  The same sense of dependence upon God that justified David before God in his conversion is the same sense of dependence that will sanctify David.  Verses 12-15 are in the present tense.   David remembered how God delivered him when he was once at the end of his rope.  And now he finds himself there again!  And the constant sense of dependence upon the Gospel is the only thing that brings us confidence, for our confidence is not in ourselves but in God.

So, Christians and non-Christians in the room, what does waiting look like and what does it feel like. The hinge verse is verse 11, the promise that God will “not restrain your mercy from me; your love and steadfast love will ever preserve me!” Good. News. Indeed.

What does waiting like this looks like? 

Waiting looks like verses 1-10. 

  1. Witness: 1-3.  David is confessing his utter dependence upon the Lord.  When others see it, “many will see and hear!”  David’s vulnerability is one of the chief marks of his integrity.  He neglect his need (like so many intellectually self-confident) nor hide his need from others (like so many morally self-reliant).  Instead he tells his story of need that finds it’s need met in the Lord.  That story has power.
  2. Wonder: 4-5. David begins to wonder at the beauty of the Lord.  “You have multiplied your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them.”  In David’s wondering and meditating on God’s wondrous works, he becomes an evangelist.  What beauty!  “Oh, see it with me!” he calls to us. 
  3. Will: 6-8. David’s will is sanctified, changed, redirected toward that which pleases God. No longer do I operate with a striving will to please you through sacrifices, but I please you through my faith in your ultimate sacrifice, the coming Lamb of God.  

The author of Hebrews says that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a shadow of the good things to come.  And he quotes Psalm 40.  Hebrews 10:1, 4-7. [1] For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.... [4] For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

[5] Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;  [6] in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. [7] Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

“But a body you have prepared for me” is a paraphrasing the Hebrew text, which literally says, “ears you have dug for me.”  That’s the Hebrew metaphor for the incarnation, fashioning a body.  The Father says, “They’ve seen the shadows, but now that [4] the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Galatians 4:4).  I love verse 6.  The fact that the Father fashioned a body for Jesus, and Jesus took on flesh and gave his life for sinners like you and me is good news that we can have hope and salvation as sons and daughters of God. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Jesus said.{6} Jesus came [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Gal 4:5-7). 

That’s what waiting looks like, but what does it feel like? 

Waiting feels like verses 11-17.

  1. Confidence: 11-12  Even in the midst of trouble, David remains confident in God’s protection.  And this leads him in term to pray: 
  2. Cry: 13-15  David cries out to God at the start of his plight, not as the last measure.  
  3. Contrast: 16-17 What a contrast!  This produces not doctrinal pride (like the intellectually self-confident) or a moral pride (like the morally self-reliant), but a profound humility. 

Do you see what this does to David?  It humbles him!  Verse 17, “I am poor and needy.”  Not I WAS (but I AM!).  But the Lord takes thought for me.”  That’s enough for him.  You are my help and my deliverer continually.  “And what should I say of myself?  I’m a mess, a redeemed mess.  A saved and secure (have confidence in Christ!) mess (walk with humility)!  I’m nothing and have nothing (humility); make something of me, O God!" (security and confidence in Him!)  "You can do it; please God, don’t put it off!  Deliver me! Change me!”  Men, especially hear me:  lest we think this is ladies’ stuff, trusting in something other than yourself is the strongest thing you could ever do.  Faith is the stuff of strength.  Because the Spirit has given you the supernatural strength to do it.

In conclusion, let's embrace the main point.  David helps us in Psalm 40 see that we try to maintain sanity without looking to God, but grow even more confused.  But waiting for the Lord paves the way for transformation.  Look to Jesus, our Greater David, for our deliverance.  May we say as we come to this table, “On the cross, He bled and died, bled and died for me!”  Do not delay, O My God.  Wait with watchful-waiting!  O, Trinity, may we watchfully-wait for our King with hope!  And allow our doctrine and our obedience to adorn our faith, hope and love, rooted in Jesus our Deliverer.



Footnotes references are straight from my sermon notes and not formatted to any style.

{1} Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms, 13.

{2} Brother Lawreence, The Practice of the Presence of God (see original sermon notes for page.)

{3} This study is quoted in Elizabeth Vierck and Kris Hodges, Aging: Lifestyles, Work and Money, 220.

{4} William Lynch says, “The ability to wait is central to hope, and must there fore has an essential place in human wishing.  If hope directs us toward good things that belong to the future and that are often difficult to achieve, then it must know how to wait.  The kind of wishing that can wait is the mark of ongoing maturity...Two kinds of waiting must be carefully distinguished.  One waits because there is nothing else to do.  The other, which goes with hope, is positive and creative.  It waits because it knows what is wishes and wants. (William Lynch, Imaginations as Healer of the Helpless, quoted in Richard J. Nydam’s Adoptee’s Come of Age, 125.)

{5}  Augustine said when expositing Psalm 40:4, “Let our God be our hope. He who made all things is better than all things; he who made beautiful things is more beautiful than all of them; he who made all that is strong is himself stronger; he who made all greatness is greater than any.  Whatever you have loved, her will be that for you.  Learn to love the Creator in the creature, the Maker in what is made.  Do not let something he made so captivate you that you lose him by whom you were made yourself. “Blessed is the one who’s hope is the Lord, who has no regard for empty things and lying foolishness” [Psalm 40:4].  (Augustine, “Exposition of Psalm 39 [40]” in Exposition of the Psalms, 204.)

{6} Notice the way Jesus uses this metaphor in his teaching to refer to God’s initiative in our redemption because of our sin “plugging our ears”(as it were) to the truth: Matthew 11:15 - He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Mark 4:9 - And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Luke 8:8 - And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   Luke 14:35 - It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.