Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths

 

Years ago, as many of you already know, my wife Laura and I served as missionaries in Canada’s poorest neighborhood. Despite being a very small inner-city neighborhood, it was home to three thousand homeless and five thousand crack and heroin addicts. During our three years there, Laura and I were part of a community of Christian missionaries who all lived together and strived to welcome our homeless neighbors into our home and treat them like family.

Now as a team of missionaries, we often looked to the monastic communities of old in order to learn from them about how to nurture and cultivate vibrant Christian community. And so, we ended up incorporating into our communal life some of the commitments that monastic orders have embraced for centuries. One of those, was a commitment to simplicity. We committed ourselves to lifestyles of inner and outward simplicity, in order to be free to serve both God and the poor.

Our commitment to simplicity took on many forms. We, for example, left margin in our schedules. We also carved out times throughout the day to engage in practices that re-centered our hearts and minds on God. And there were very tangible expressions of simplicity too, like choosing to have no television. Or walking and biking everywhere instead of owning a vehicle.

Admittedly though, we disagreed at times about what it looked like to live simply. I once bought a bulk supply of tea that cost less than a penny per tea bag. I was so proud of this find. I thought it was a beautiful expression of simplicity. My New Zealand colleagues, however, evidently took their tea very seriously. They thought it was a crime against humanity for anyone to package such a disgusting mix of decaying weeds and get away with calling it tea. They said to me, “Jason, there’s a fine line between living simply and being a cheapskate, and you have hurled yourself across that line!”

One cold winter night, I can still vividly remember sneaking out of bed in hopes of cranking up the heat all the way to 60 degrees. But in a classic case of passive aggressive behavior, one of my teammates had evidently anticipated my move, because when I got to the thermostat, it was covered over with duct tape and on it were written the words: “Wear A Sweater”.

Well one day my missionary colleague Craig and I decided that we couldn’t stand playing a guitar with two broken strings any longer. Surely it wouldn’t be a betrayal to our commitment to live simply if we walked down to the local music store and bought ourselves two replacement guitar strings. So that’s what we did. Or at least, that’s what we sought out to do. Craig and I walked to the music store, found the strings we needed, and were on our way to the cashier, when suddenly it caught our attention. It was breathtakingly beautiful. A work of art. Masterfully crafted. And it beckoned us with its irresistible call: “Buy me! Buy me!” No mortal man could resist its allure. And so we bought it.

Upon exiting the music store, Craig and I rushed back home, feeling both incredibly giddy and slightly guilty about our impulse buy. Once home, we threw open the front door, stepped inside and made our presence known by loudly playing our new musical instrument for all to hear: [Striking of Gong. 2x]

I love the sound of a ringing gong. It’s as if gongs take pure joy and convert it into sound waves!

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for our teammates to forgive Craig and I for buying a gong. In fact, soon the gong became an integral part of our community’s evening prayer routine. For you see, every evening at 9 o’clock our community would end the day together with a time of prayer. So whoever noticed first that it was 9pm, would go over to the gong and strike it for all to hear throughout the house. Upon hearing the gong, everyone would stop what they were doing and gather together in the living room for our evening prayer routine.

Now, our evening prayer practice contained the following three elements: First we’d sing a Taizé song. And Taizé songs are like really short hymns, usually just a line or two in length. They’re sung a cappella, without any instruments, and they’re repeated multiple times so that the meaning of the lyrics can really sink in. Then, after singing a Taizé song, someone would read aloud a chapter from the Psalms. After the assigned psalm was read, each person would then sit in silence and prayerfully reflect on their day, asking God to reveal how He was present in the day’s events.

So, for three years, almost every single day, Laura and I engaged in this evening prayer routine: a Taizé song, a chapter from the Psalms, and then silent prayer. Song, Psalm, Prayer. Song, Psalm, Prayer.

It was this daily routine that grew in me a deep appreciation for the spiritual practice of praying through the Psalms. When I struggled to find the words to convey to God how I felt, the psalms helped my heart find its voice. And when I felt uneasy about telling God how I truly felt, the psalms gave me permission to pray the full range of human emotions.

If you’ve been journeying with us this fall, then you know we are in the middle of a sermon series that’s studying the Psalms in hopes that they might enrich our prayer lives. Now, we usually think of the Psalms as a collection of songs to be sung. But from its start, the Church has also used the Psalms as a prayer book. So when we pray the psalms, we are joining that great cloud of witnesses who prayed these very same prayers in centuries past.

The assigned Psalm for today is Psalm 130. And this morning I want us to practice praying this psalm together. So here’s how things are going to unfold: I’m going to spend about 8 minutes teaching on Psalm 130, and we’re just going to walk through it, verse by verse, and discover together where it takes us. While I’m teaching on the chapter, something magical is going to happen. You won’t notice it, but by the end of the teaching, we will all have been magically transported to my old home in Vancouver. And when the teaching is over, Bobby will strike the gong and we will then all participate together in the prayer routine we use to do in Vancouver each night. We’ll sing together a Taize song that’s actually based on Psalm 130; then Steve will read aloud Psalm 130 for all to hear, and finally we’ll close with a time of silent prayer.

That’s the game plan. OK? So, Heavenly Father, speak to us now through this psalm, and use it to direct our prayers to you. Amen.

Psalm 130, verses 1 and 2 read:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

Immediately, from the start, with its opening words, we discover that the psalmist is in agony. He is crying out from the depths. Or as The Message’s translation reads: “The bottom has fallen out of my life!” Now, the Hebrew for depths refers to the depths of the sea. The psalmist feels like the sea is about to swallow him up. He can’t hold on much longer. He’s about to go under. Similar imagery opens Psalm 69: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. … I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever found yourself in the depths? If so, let me ask you, Where do you turn when you are in the depths? To whom do you look for solace when you are in the midst of suffering? For the psalmist, he begins by voicing his pain, but then he quickly focuses his attention on God. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord.” Oftentimes, the suffering itself is not nearly as painful as the feeling that God has abandoned us in the midst of our suffering. Yet here, the psalmist reminds us that not even the depths are out of bounds from God. And so he says in essence, “I have cried only unto you Lord. Nothing, not even my present suffering, could turn my gaze to another.”

What’s more, did you notice the psalmist’s request? He said, “Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” So often when we pray, we bully God. We don’t just ask God to hear our prayer. We demand that God answer our prayer, and we tell Him both how and when to do so. But the psalmist says, “All I ask is that you hear my prayer Lord.” Charles Spurgeon, a renowned British preacher from the 19th century, he said of this verse, “If the Lord will but hear us we will leave it to his superior wisdom to decide whether he will answer us or not. It is better for our prayer to be heard than answered. If the Lord were to make an absolute promise to answer all our requests it might be rather a curse than a blessing for it would be casting the responsibility of our lives upon ourselves, and we should be placed in a very anxious position: but now the Lord hears our desires, and that is enough.”

In verses 3 and 4, the psalmist goes on to say:

3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

Now we discover the true nature of the psalmist’s agony. It is not a case of deep depression. It is not physical illness or injury. Nor is it homesickness or persecution. All of those forms of suffering are found in other psalms. But here, in this psalm, in verse 3, we discover that the psalmist is crying out from the depths because of his own sinfulness. “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord who could stand?” And the obvious and intended answer is: No one. No one could stand if God kept a running tally of each person’s sins.

You know, I’m not sure we can pray this psalm, that we can truly understand this psalm, unless we too recognize that if the Lord were to keep a record of sins, we, you and I, could not stand. We are sinners all. And for the psalmist, this is not mere head knowledge. This is not simply a propositional truth that the psalmist affirms. No, the psalmist feels and experiences the reality of this fact deep down in the very depths of his being. And so he cries out to the Lord for mercy.

And then, like a light bursting through the darkness of his agony, the psalmist declares with complete confidence: “But with the Lord there is forgiveness.” Even in the midst of his suffering, the psalmist does not doubt the fact that there is forgiveness with God. God, in His inmost being, is a forgiving God. This the psalmist knows with complete assurance. But do you believe that? Do you believe God is a forgiving God, or do you think God is always keeping score, divvying out what people deserve? When we hold on to the fact that God looks upon us with love and forgiveness, we can weather almost any storm. But suffering becomes unbearable when we doubt God’s merciful, forgiving love for us.

The psalm goes on in verses 5 and 6 to say:

5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Five times in just these two verses, the psalmist instructs us to wait. Learning to wait on God is crucial to our prayer lives, and it’s a lesson we need reminded of over and over again. It’s so hard for us to be still and wait when we pray. That’s why this psalm teaches us to “stop praying our endless prattling prayers.” To pause our incessant wordiness. We must learn to be still, remain silent and wait.

And what is the psalmist waiting for, after all? Well, he’s waiting to receive the forgiveness he spoke so confidently about in the previous verse. He’s waiting for God’s forgiveness to arrive. “With God there is forgiveness” and so “I wait”. But what’s there to wait for and how do you know when it’s arrived? I mean, isn’t God’s forgiveness just about God granting us pardon, removing our guilty status and refusing to keep a record of the wrongs we’ve committed? Isn’t God’s forgiveness just a legal declaration of innocence? Well, evidently the psalmist realized that God’s forgiveness means so much more than just this. He knew that our forgiving God does not just grant us pardon yet leave us to drown in the quagmire of our sins. God’s forgiveness does not just remove our guilty status yet refuse to pull us up from the depths our sins have placed us in. And so the psalmist waits. He waits with expectant hope for our forgiving God to lift him out of the depths and redeem his life.

And then there’s this whole analogy of a watchman waiting for the morning. The psalmist could not have picked a better analogy. It conveys both the earnestness and the certainty with which the psalmist awaits the coming of God’s forgiving work in his life. I mean think about it: A watchman waits earnestly for the welcome rays of morning light to break across the eastern sky and dispel the danger of night. There is an earnestness in a watchman’s waiting. But there’s also a sense of certainty in the way a watchman waits and hopes. For you see, the watchman knows without a shadow of doubt that dawn will come. Morning’s arrival is certain. So too, for the psalmist, the arrival of God’s forgiveness is never in doubt. It will come. Of this the psalmist is sure. And so he waits with expectant hope like a watchman waits for the morning.

In the closing two verses of this psalm, the psalmist steps back from his own situation and calls on all of Israel to place their hope in God. What began as an individual lament, ends with a call for the gathered community to trust the Lord.

7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is abundant redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Earlier in this psalm we are taught that with God there is forgiveness. Now we learn that with God there is also “unfailing love” and “abundant redemption.” To borrow Eugene Peterson’s phrase, this psalm teaches us that with God there are three “constant companions”: forgiveness, unfailing love, and abundant redemption. The next time you find yourself crying out from the depths, remember that Psalm 130 teaches us that God does not keep a record of wrongs. God’s love does not falter. And God’s redemption is not stingy.

So now the time has come for us to actually practice praying this psalm. Let’s experiment together and see how this psalm can aid our prayer lives:

Practice Praying Psalm 130

[Striking of Gong]

Taizé Song:
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord, keep watch take heart. (Repeat 4x)

Psalm 130 (NIV)
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is abundant redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Silent Prayer

Closing Benediction: Heavenly Father, the next time we find ourselves crying out from the depths, would you please remind us of this psalm. The next time we are suffering, and we begin to doubt Your goodness … when our agony causes us to wonder if You’re vindictive, and that your love has faltered, and that your redemption is stingy, please help us to pray Psalm 130. And use this psalm to remind us that with You there are always three companions: forgiveness, unfailing love, and abundant redemption. Amen.

0 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X