Really good article on a very common problem.
“Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:1–2)
The Psalms are filled with comforting promises and convicting precepts. The more adversity and affliction we face, the greater the need for the Psalms. We have opportunity to see that truly no temptations have overtaken us except those which are common to man (1 Corinthians 10.13). If God was faithful when David was overwhelmed, then He will be faithful when we are overwhelmed. We need refuge and relief.
Life presents plenty of opportunities for you to feel overwhelmed.
We are overwhelmed by the difficulties of this life.
David faced plenty of these difficulties. Think of the overwhelming feelings when his son, Absalom, rebelled against him and was killed. David was moved deeply. Overwhelmed, he cried bitterly, “O my son Absalom – my son, my son Absalom – if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18.33). Physical pain is also overwhelming. If it is constant, it will wear you down and leave you feeling overwhelmed with depression. I’ve had other times in my life when I’ve been caught in a lie or some other embarrassing situation. Even though God forgives, I’ll think back on those times and cringe. Sometimes we are so caught up in our past regrets, we are overwhelmed. My relationship with Jesus Christ gives me victory over these over difficulties in life, but I often find myself just settling for getting by day to day. I just sort of become resigned to feeling overwhelmed. The goal is to grow closer to God when I am overwhelmed. The difficulties of life tend to leave us overwhelmed; it becomes a way of life.
We are overwhelmed by the battles in our inner lives.
My sin is always before me. God convinces me to confess it and move on toward the mark set before me. However, often the pangs of conviction leave me in deep anguish. If I did not understand the mercy and hope God offers, I truly would have destroyed myself long ago. I look at the inward condition of my soul at times and say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24) Add to this that I feel God is so far away. Sometimes “my soul refuses to be comforted” (Psalm 77.2) and my spirit is overwhelmed (77.3). Perhaps the Lord has cast me off forever (77.7). Has his mercy ceased forever when it comes to me (77.8)? Has He forgotten to be gracious to me (77.9)? His anger toward me has stopped the flow of His tender compassion and mercy. Of course, nothing is further from the truth, but it doesn’t change the way we feel. Life presents external and internal opportunities for us to feel overwhelmed.
We are overwhelmed by the finality of death.
I live under the constant prospect of death. Of course, all of us do. But I’m reminded of it daily. My body has changed. Cancer has crept in and made me aware of just how brief life truly is. I struggle with the ability to maintain my schedule. I feel overwhelmed. There are times and seasons when I say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain …I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1.21-24). Death holds no sting for the believer. I welcome it in some respects. It cannot come soon enough when my heart is overwhelmed! However, deep depression and loneliness makes death dreadful. Ungodly and ungrateful people die like animals; they have no understanding of eternity. But we know the terrors of death’s finality. Our hearts are severely pained within us. The terrors of death fall upon us. Fearfulness and trembling come and horror overwhelms.
The Lord presents plenty of opportunities for you escape being overwhelmed.
Prayer stabilizes life like nothing else can.
When God sees that we are finally looking to Him alone for our strength and comfort, He is pleased. We look to the Creator not His creation for these things. No one else can help me. No one else knows me. The person I think will help me will eventually abandon me. I fall …he falls. We all perish together (see Isaiah 31.3; reminds me of “Ring Around the Rosie”). But before the throne of God’s grace, I find Him answering before I call …hearing and acting before I speak (Isaiah 65.24).
Prayer will prolong my physical life in order to accomplish the will of God. Prayer will deliver me from my rebellious spirit. Prayer will stabilize my chaotic inner life. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jam 5.16).
God delivers us through prayer so that we might glorify Him. He turns grief to joy in a season of prayer. He gives peace through prayer. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)
Prayer leads me to the Rock higher than I.
Jesus Christ is the Rock. He is sufficient to meet our every need. If we really were convinced of that, we would pray. We pray, “Lord God lead me to the Rock!” The Rock upon which we have a secure foundation …the rock that crushes guilt, composes our thoughts, dissipates temptation …pours forth grace to go through affliction and wind up closer to God than we ever have been! “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!”
I am sure that some readers cannot really relate to what I am writing, but the storms of life are coming. You misunderstand Christianity if you think that you will always be in safe harbors and of sound mind and body just because you trust in Jesus Christ. All of us are dying. Life is very brief. The best way to prepare for the inevitable is cling to the Rock higher than you. The terror of judgment awaits us all. The believer is judged for his life-work. What is enduring and eternal? What is vaporous and temporal? Jesus Christ will declare it from His Bema Seat.
Other readers are overwhelmed by acute personal turmoil. Realize that your natural tendency is to go to the creation rather than the Creator. No pastor …no mother and father …no friend will stand in the place of God. God is always faithful, and God will never fail you! Overwhelming times present themselves to drive you to the Savior. If you lived a constantly prosperous life, you would not see your need. You would neglect the Lord Jesus. As you mature in your relationship with Christ, you will recognize the purpose of affliction and be grateful for it. There is great opportunity for the overwhelmed and great glory for the God of the overwhelmed.
Materialism is the dependence upon and stockpiling of stuff. Consumerism (materialism) has powerful sway of us. We remain ignorant of the warning Jesus gives in Luke 12.15. Materialism is a problem in the human heart. It is not so much the stuff around us as it is the stuff within us.
Coveting is desire stuff too much or desiring too much stuff. Stuff can be a tremendous resource for God’s purposes. However, covetousness is a form of idol worship (Eph 5.5; Col 3.5; Lk 16.13). It’s not that we have stuff; it’s that our stuff has us. The availability of stuff ignites covetousness. We must battle this at the level of our desires.
God’s remedy for sin stands before us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Covetousness is powerful but no match for a benevolent Savior.
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16–21)
The rich man, inspired by he own genius, comforts his soul. But the only audit that truly matters is God’s. His new name in eternity is fool. He is completely impoverished. Every object you see is confined to this world. You cannot take it with you.
Four Chains Binding Us to Stuff
- My stuff makes me happy (Lk 12.19). But stuff stokes desire and doesn’t satisfy. Discontentment forges chains which binds us. Purchasing becomes a very elusive pursuit to happiness.
- My stuff makes me important (the ‘I wills’ in Lk 12.16-21). Pride and covetousness are intertwined. This is inevitable and destructive. We obtain our desire and then feel superior. Our purchase is a sacrifice of worship we offer to ourselves.
- My stuff makes me secure (Lk 12.16). The prosperity in our lives is a test of trust. 95% of believers who face the test of persecution pass it; 95% of believers who face the test of prosperity fail it. Prosperity moves us away from depending upon God. It fosters false security. But where we fail, Jesus succeeds. When we are tested, we can go to our Savior.
- My stuff makes me rich (Lk 12.16). But you can measure wealth by what fits in your barns. We accumulate more than we need to become blind and bloated by our prosperity. Don’t make decisions that protect yourself or keep the best for you. The stuff we own can soon own us. We are not rich but impoverished.
A man finally gets what he wants only for it to become the source of his destruction. Don’t allow covetousness to chain your heart to that which is passing away. The Holy Spirit empowers us to resist the seductiveness of riches found in this fallen world. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Jesus is the King of the Kingdom. We must hunger for God more than stuff. The Gospel is the key to seeking that which never passes away. How do we cherish Gospel freedom by being on guard against the bondage of covetousness?
We must post a guard of gracious resolve:
- Consider the true riches you possess in Christ (2 Cor 12.9).
- Confess covetousness and repent (1 Jn 1.9; James 5.16).
- Express specific gratitude (1 Thess 5.16, 18). Gratitude subverts greed. It is not a feeling or based upon circumstances; it is a recognition of our dependence upon God. God is always good and right in His dealings with us.
- De-materialize your life (1 Tim 6.18-19). It is painful. Take stock of your real needs and give away the stuff you don’t need. Grace doesn’t make things easy, but it does make hard things easy.
- Give generously (Lk 16.10).
- Guard and guide your children. Dig covetousness out when it appears in your children. Don’t accommodate children to bring peace. Defend children when it comes to branding and advertising. Teach children to share. “Let Johnny have it first and enjoy the act of sharing.”
Is your happiness so closely tied up with what you own? Is Jesus Christ enough? Perhaps he will put you in a place where you have nothing and no one and find out that He indeed is. Jesus is not merely enough; He is abundantly more than we could ask for and think of. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3–4)
We are saturated by a perpetual media lifeline. We live in the ‘mediasphere’. We cannot take the pervasiveness of media too lightly. It is having a devastating impact on culture today. Everyone is influenced chiefly by television. In television we live and move and have our being.
The world in which we live has the same desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and the pride of life as the world of John’s day. We are no different. Our calling as Christians is to resist the seductive calling of this fallen world. To do this, we need to sharpen our biblical discernment and wisely evaluate our media intake.
The hazard is thoughtless watching of media. We don’t gradually drift into holiness. We take countless steps and each step matters. A lifestyle of careless viewing reveals an ignorance of the media’s power in temptation. Critical thinking leads to costly action ….to work. Our minds must be engaged to travel against the cultural current. It is a battle.
Is pop culture as deadly as persecution and plagues? Yes, because it lulls us into apathy and passivity. Christians must watch on purpose. We are not immune from the danger of thoughtless watching. We have a conscience that must be re-sensitized not desensitized. Ignoring your conscience may lead to shipwreck when it comes to your faith. We are “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having [our] own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4.2).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our battle is with the flesh. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Galatians 5:17) Our hearts are deceitful and our flesh is tempted. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Legalism and liberty often come to the fore in this discussion. Those stricter than us are legalistic; those more lenient are libertines. The risk lies in our motivation not in having standards. Are you lowering your standards while not reaching anyone in the culture? You don’t need to immerse yourself in the latest entertainment to reach people for Christ.
We live before the face of God. He watches everything. This is the fear of God …our beginning place. A fool excludes the reality of God (Ps 14.1). We watch media in God’s presence. We are accountable to Him in all things – including our entertainment. God is holy; we are not. We are in trouble. Our eyes have lusted, our imaginations have trespassed, and before the face of God we find grace. Grace that leads us to desire obedience. Obedience must be motivated by grace.
The first three chapters of Ephesians doctrinally lay out the grace of God for us. Commands do not come until Paul writes three chapters of grace. Then this command: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,” (Ephesians 4:1) Then, we come to Ephesians 5:
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:1–14)
All that is good, right, and true pleases God. God’s grace leads us to live out these verses.
The more subtle the message, the more demand for perceptive viewing and critical thinking. God plainly identifies what is displeasing. Paul’s world and our world has much in common. But we were once darkness and now we are light. We are to no longer take part in the unfruitful works of darkness. We are different people and must live different lives.
Avoid impurity in light of Christ’s love and sacrifice (5.1-2). There shouldn’t be even a hint of sexual purity in our lives. Does a program tempt me to be sexually impure? I shouldn’t have a hint of it in my life. Fallen people sin sexually. But the visual and verbal details of immorality should remain in secret. We learn nothing by learning the lurid details.
Let no one deceive you with empty words. The wrath of God is indeed coming upon the sons of disobedience (5.6). God prescribed stoning for adultery in the OT (Lev 20.10). This seems extreme to us because we don’t have a healthy view of the blazing holiness of God (Hab 1.13). We also see immoral people prosper in our media and, thus we are deceived. Where is God’s wrath in immoral, romantic movies? Maturity is not steering clear of immoral acts only; it extends beyond our thoughts and deeds and even to our words (Eph 5.4). Foolish talk mocks and ignores the Word of God. Crudeness and filthiness should not proceed out of our mouths, but it also shouldn’t come into our ears through films we watch. What we say and what we listen to reflects upon our holy God. Grace changes us from the inside out.
We have a high and holy view of sex as God’s good gift. We don’t want to see it cheapened into a joke that degrades sex. Sitcoms, stand-up routines, and comedy movies lead us to laugh at what we should weep over. Thank God for sex; don’t joke about it and demean God’s good gift. Watch what you watch. Steer clear of impurity. Christ died for the impure sins of impure people.
How do we decide what we will watch? Hopefully not by the world’s rating systems. The rating system doesn’t use a biblical criteria to evaluate films. And what about the stewardship of our time and the motivations of our hearts? Ask these questions:
- Am I skipping or delaying something important to watch this right now?
- What are my other social and entertainment options besides going out to watch a movie?
- How much time have I already spent on media today?
- How much time have I spent on spiritual disciplines, building relationships, or serving in my local church?
- After investing the time to view this, will I look back on it as time well-spent?
- Why do I want to watch this program or film? What do I find entertaining about it?
- Am I seeking to escape from something I should be facing by watching this?
- Am I seeking comfort and relief that can only be found in God?
- What sinful temptations will this program or film present?
- Do I secretly want to view something in it that is sinful?
- Am I deceiving myself by saying, “I’ll fast-forward over the bad parts”? Am I telling myself, “I’ll just visit this website once, and I won’t click on any other links I find there”?
- Am I watching because I’m bored or lazy? What does that say about my heart?
- Am I watching because others are …to be relevant or fit in?
- How have my online relationships impacted my face-to-face relationships? How has it impacted my soul – for better or for worse?
- What motivates me to create and maintain a blog or a Facebook/Myspace presence? To impress others? Am I being sinful and proud?
- Is sin identified as sin in this film? What is being glamorized? Who are the heroes? Is sin glorified and rewarded? What is humorous in this work? Is violence used gratuitously to entertain? Is sinful self-sufficiency honored? Does it portray materialism as the good life? Does it help me to understand my culture without tempting me to sin? Does it reflect truth, beauty, and holiness?
- What’s my speech like online? Does it reflect grace?
Discernment is hard work but worth it. Watching something might be acceptable, but is it beneficial? “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) What if your standard is that which is beneficial rather than that which is permissible?
To forewarned is to be forearmed. How do we view entertainment for the glory of God? Act as if you standing before the face of God because you are. “Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
Promoting an evil message is presenting sin in a favorable light. An evil method is employing sin itself to entertain (e.g., reality programs with slander and gossip). Turn to the Lord and away from sin even when no one is watching. View proactively. “I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.” (Psalm 101:2–4) Grab the remote or click the mouse when something worthless appears.
View with accountability. God has given us families and local churches to support us. Defeating temptation requires exposing temptation. Television viewing usually occurs in private and is not talked about in public. Many do not know about the quantity or quality of our viewing habits. We remain ignorant to the devastating impact to our media viewing habits because we rarely invite others to help us. Turn to Christ for repentance and to a brother or sister for accountability. God’s help often comes in the form of a fellow believer.
Parents must keep children accountable. Internet filters and monitored computer use is a must. We must be aware of when, where, and what our children watch. We cannot be passive. If we have been, we must repent and ask our kids to forgive us. Kids who sin in this area must confess their sin and ask parents for accountability. Accountable viewing is a blessing and not a burden. It is protection and not legalism.
We are free to pursue entertainment within biblical parameters. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) This verse affirms; it does not restrict. It leads us to view with gratefulness that which is God-honoring and God-glorifying. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
If I cannot thank God for whatever I am watching, I shouldn’t watch it. But if it is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, we should thank God for it. We can watch television and movies and glorify God in the process. But remember the ‘mediasphere’ will dictate watching less than we actually do. Each step in the right direction counts.
Robert Browning wrote, “The proper process of unsinning sin is to begin well doing.” Perhaps this is lyrically beautiful, but it is theologically rotten. It is, however, the natural man’s response to guilt within. We cannot handle guilt or internalize it very long. Therefore we seek to erase the past by building over the decay of our sins without ever really doing anything about them.
Psalm 32 has been categorized as a penitential psalm of Israel’s King David. It is penitential because of its content not format. The telltale sign is found in a deep sense of guilt on the part of David. So the enemy is not external but internal. But the internal struggle finds evidence in outward results as well, namely sickness. So as we relate with God through prayer and Bible intake, we must keep in mind that access to the throne of God hinges upon acknowledging our need to be forgiven.
Using the pauses built into the psalm by the word Selah, we see the testimony and progress of the power of forgiveness:
- “My [David’s] vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (4).
- “You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (5).
- “You shall surround me with songs of deliverance” (7).
Then finally, let all God’s people rejoice and shout for joy (11).
The Psalm divides neatly into two parts. The first division is where we learn the process of forgiveness (verses 1-5). Once we learn, we cannot contain ourselves. We teach the process of forgiveness to others (verses 6-11).
The Process of Learning Forgiveness
It all begins with confession mentioned in verse 5: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Blessed is such a man. His transgression is forgiven; his sin is covered (1). The LORD does not impute iniquity upon this man. He’s come clean as witnessed by the phrase, “In whose spirit there is no deceit” (2). Our happiness rests in the fact that our sins are forgiven. Only misery awaits those who cover or hide their sin. We can speak in terms of salvation and the misery of Hell or in terms of sanctification and the misery of chastisement.
The Apostle Paul quotes these verses in Romans 4: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.’” (Romans 4:5–8)
Thus combining these passages, you have the fact that God will not impute sin to our account and the fact that He will impute righteousness apart from works. You might want to reread that sentence! Imagine if you could have complete control over this world and all its resources. That’s pretty attractive …until you die. What good will temporal possessions and power do at that point? A man’s life certainly does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses! There is a great reversal once we die and come face to face with our Creator. Many lacking health, wealth, and prosperity will be carried by the angels into the presence of God because they trusted in Christ. Those who had much of what the world offers are driven to distraction right up to their death bed. Some will awake in torment (cf. Luke 16).
God will impute His righteousness. Can anything be more of a blessing than that? To be forgiven is wonderful; I’m not going to be punished! But to have the Lord’s righteousness credited to my account – that tells me that I will have a great reward waiting for me in eternity and for all eternity.
The word transgression means willful and deliberate sin. It is crossing the boundary God set. The word sin means missing the mark. Finally, the word iniquity means distortion or crookedness of character. All three words for sin are used in verses 1-2 in order to indicate that a thorough cleansing of all sin takes place. Hence, this man is blessed or happy. But if we won’t come clean, we won’t be forgiven. Is there deceit in your spirit? We must see the tendency in each of us to harden ourselves to sin. Only then will we learn how to have peace even after committing the greatest of transgressions.
Perhaps we can see from verses 3-5 that our struggles come from remaining silent about our sin. We keep attempting to cover it, when only God can do this. If we attempt to bury sin, then God’s hand will be heavy upon us (4a). The physical ramifications are found in bones growing old and vitality turning to drought (4b). Not all physical illness results from personal sin, but such illness should get us thinking!
All of us must come to verse 5 before we are able to release inner guilt: “I acknowledge my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (5). This is the key. God covers our sin, iniquity, and transgression or we attempt to cover it. Proverbs 28.13 states, “He who covers his sin will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Once we personally learn this process, we are able to teach it to others.
The Process of Teaching Forgiveness
The operative words here are, “For this cause” in verse 6. David is saying, “Look, I’ve gone down the road of trying to cover my sin. Don’t go there.” Instead, everyone who is godly prays to the LORD. They too find the blessedness of forgiveness. In a flood of great waters, there is only turbulence. But God is our hiding place! He keeps us from turbulent trouble and causes us to sing songs of deliverance (7).
The LORD teaches us to not be like a horse that needs a whip to move him or a mule that needs a bridle to pull him. Both of these animals can be stubborn and have a need to be harnessed. If you don’t harness them and make them go, they will not move (9).
The wicked are stubborn and hard-headed; the upright are teachable and tender. Those who trust in the LORD are surrounded by His loyal, faithful love. You can continue to resist the LORD or yield to Him. Your life is shaped by whether or not you choose to cover your sin or fly to God so that He might cover it (10). Once you make the right choice, gladness and rejoicing are yours (11)!
It is important to note that three elements work together in order to have a liberating sense of freedom from guilt: 1) acknowledgement of sin; 2) forsaking sin; and 3) choosing to obey the will of God. This is important for individuals, families, and especially for our nation. God cannot and will not bring healing without this taking place on all three levels.
Second, the confession stage has worked best for me verbally. There is just something about putting a voice to guilt. I usually try to make sure I’m in a very private place. However, when I try to confess my sin with my inner voice, there is a sense in which I feel like I’m still hiding something. Verbally expressing it to God helps me get the shock of it all out there. Also, I think that accountability to a person that is close helps as well. The sum is that when we confess our sins, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9).
Finally, allow me to offer a word of caution. It is a mistake to associate all sickness with personal sin. There are other causes when it comes to illness. Also specific sin does not result in specific illness, and healing will not necessarily come once you identify sin in your life.
Psalm 32 is wonderful because it offers liberation from guilt and sin. And since that is true we rejoice in the LORD always. Borrowing Browning’s phraseology: “The proper process of unsinning sin is to begin confessing.”
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised. -Song of Solomon 8.6-7
Many believe that the LORD is not mentioned by name in the Song of Solomon. But if you read the verses above in a NKJV, you will find a marginal notation. Mine explains that the phrase, “A most vehement flame” in v. 6 is literally A flame of Yah, or a poetic form of YHWH, the LORD.
The primary application of the Song of Solomon is physical intimacy in marriage. However, many of the older commentators applied the book to the church’s relationship with Christ. Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on the Song of Solomon is replete with these parallels.
It is true that we are reading the church back into the Song of Solomon because it was written some 900 years before the church was established. But I believe there is warrant for us to do so when we consider Ephesians 5.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
So I am applying these verses in a secondary way as we consider the new year. Not as a wife to a husband but as a church to Christ. I would ask that you look to your Savior at the beginning of 2013 and make one resolution and one affirmation.
Resolve to be the object of Christ’s affections and continual care (8.6). Affirm that you cannot bear the thought of having less than a supreme unalterable love for Christ (8.6-7).
Our New Year’s Resolution
“Set me as a seal upon Your heart, as a seal upon Your arm.” This is a two-fold seal. A medallion over the heart is akin to a locket with the picture of someone you love. It is worn on a necklace close to your heart. The seal on the arm is visible. It is something that tells the world that I belong to Him. The wedding band is useful for this purpose in our culture.
We cry out to our Lord that we are resolved to be close to His heart and we desire that He keep us visibly before Him and the Heavenly Host. What better way than to make manifest the scars from His death on the cross. They will be visible for all to see when He returns in the revelation of His glory. All the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him (Rev 1.7).
Is Christ close to your heart? Is He the object of your adoration? His love is as strong as death for you. Seems odd to say this, but when we pause to think about how death is irreversible, it makes sense. We can do nothing to call a love one back from the grave. And the pain and sorrow that causes is terrible. But the love Christ has for His bride, the Church, is irreversible as well. Nothing can take us from Him.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.
Our prayer should include adoration such as calling to God to set us as a seal upon heart and arm. We should express our delight in His unchanging and unwavering love for us. While a wife yearns for the love and devotion of her husband, it is infinitely more important that we yearn for the love and devotion of our Savior – even though we have it.
“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…” (Isaiah 49:16) Open your mouth wide this year, and God will fill it. Ask what you will, and it shall be done for you. Resolve to be the object of Christ’s affections and continual care!
Our New Year’s Affirmation
The text goes on to tell us that jealousy is as cruel as the grave for us as the bride of Christ. There is no escape. It is like a devouring fire. Our God is a consuming fire! We remain unsatisfied with where we are and who we are. We yearn for the day when we are with Him. It is a flame which cannot be quenched or satisfied until we see Him!
Many waters cannot quench our love for Him. The floods cannot put out the flame He has ignited in our hearts. If an exchange were made for wealth, such love would be despised. But our God’s love is unchanging!
Let me challenge you to set your hearts and your adoration upon Christ this year. Count all things loss for the knowledge of Him. Don’t allow the floods of persecution, trial, sickness, or sorrow drown it. Love the LORD Jesus Christ!
All your security and happiness depend upon the unchanging love that God has for you. God is love!
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)
This past year we marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic. About 1500 people died when the ship that not even God could sink sank. But perhaps the greater tragedy was that the Titanic had lifeboat space for almost 1200 people.
20 lifeboats were lowered and only a few were filled to capacity. Only a little over 700 passengers and crew were rescued, and 40% of the total lifeboat spaces remained unfilled. Hundreds of people floated in the open icy waters wearing life jackets. Only one lifeboat went back to search for survivors. The rest remained a safe distance from the horrific tragedy. They comforted one another and even praised God for being spared. All the while people were dying.
As a church, does our outreach ‘make room’ for the lost and dying in this world? Or do we lack the compassion needed to weep for the lost. Perhaps we are safe in our redemptive lifeboat comforting one another and praising God for being spared as we read our text this morning.
The truth is that the wicked are being turned into hell and the nations are forgetting God. The need of the hour is for compassion for the lost. But to get there, we must understand a subject we often avoid. Pray for a clear understanding of this text as I preach. Pray for compassion to reach a lost and dying world.
The first question we must ask concerning this verse is simple…
Who are the wicked?
I would venture to guess that most of us would not define ourselves as wicked this morning. We generally reserve this adjective for really evil people …people like Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler. We usually use ourselves as the standard and measure wickedness accordingly. We always end up outside the sphere of wickedness as we think of it. Other people are wicked but not me. Yet God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways.
The parallelism in this verse makes it clear that the wicked are those who forget God. While some are more culpable than others, the wicked have three characteristics which define them…
First, wicked people don’t care about God’s commands as written in their hearts and communicated in His Word. Wicked people choose instead to think only of themselves.
Is there anyone who has ever lived on this earth who hasn’t thought only of what would please himself at some point in his life? There is One. His name is Jesus. Thus, everyone else is wicked. We have rebelled against God and have set up thrones over our own perceived dominions.
Second, wicked people actually work at forgetting God. It takes work to forget the mercies and lovingkindnesses of our God …to drain your life of compassion and gratitude. The redemption of God offered in the Person and Work of His only Begotten Son is the greatest gift we will ever receive. But what if we choose to forget it? What if we treat it as something despised? If so, we are deemed wicked by God.
Third, wicked people treat God as if He was not here. God has given us a way to not only be mindful of His presence, but to actually walk with Him. But we act as if He is not here. It simply doesn’t bother us to think this way hour after hour and day after day.
We speak as if He will not hold us accountable for every word. We act as if only what is seen and felt matters. We have no desire to be with those assembled in churches praying and worshipping.
We live without God in the world, and we are wicked. It is not just the adulterer or murderer who is wicked. All who are without Christ have no hope because they are without God in the present world (Eph 2.12). When we act as though God is not here, we have much in common with those without Christ and without hope.
Now, we ask yet a second question…
Where will the wicked end up?
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)
Where will they wicked end up? It’s stated pretty simply: They shall be turned into hell.
The word hell in this verse is the English translation of a Hebrew word which basically means the grave (sheol). While it it true that in other OT contexts, sheol simply means grave, it means something more here. Why? Well, because righteous and wicked people end up in the grave. So, this verse must include a more comprehensive understanding of the final destination of the wicked. Thankfully we have a complete revelation of God. The progress of revelation provides for us an more informed understanding of Hell.
The NT references to Hell are found mostly in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Two words in the NT are translated Hell: Gehenna and Hades.
1) Gehenna (12 times) is a word derived from a place known as the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. This valley was a notorious site of idolatry and child sacrifice in the OT. God’s own people participated in this wicked practice. The NT imagery adds to the horror of this place. It was a place of constantly burning refuse in Jesus’ day. Occasionally, a murder victim would be dumped in Gehenna with the refuse. Here is what we find this out from the dark history of Israel regarding this valley…
- King Ahaz was a wicked king of the northern confederacy of a divided Israel. He sacrificed his own son in the flames of this valley to show his allegiance to a false god (2 Kings 16.3). This was done by placing an infant in the stone arms of a statue of the false god Molech. Flames had heated the statue and were stoked to consume the child in an act of human sacrifice – beyond anything tolerable for us to imagine. It is akin to the heinousness of partial birth abortion.
- King Ahab did the same with his son (2 Kings 21.6).
- Mercifully, King Josiah ended this abomination. He defiled “the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, so that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech” (2 Kings 23.10).
Jesus used the images of Gehenna and the constant burning of the dead in many startling ways.
- He said that whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of Gehenna (Mt 5.22).
- He said it would be better to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand in order to stay out of Gehenna (5.29-30).
- He warned, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mt 10.28).
- He confronted the Pharisees by pronouncing woe upon them for their hypocrisy. He accused them saying, “You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves” (Mt 23.15). Jesus rhetorically asks of these hypocrites later in the same passage, “How can you escape the condemnation of Gehenna?” (Mt 23.33)
- Mark 9.43-48 state that Gehenna’s fire is never quenched.
- But there is a second Greek word for Hell as well.
The second word translated Hell in the Scripture is…
2) Hades (11 times) is the common Greek term for the world of the dead. The Hebrew word, Sheol or grave, is translated in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew OT, the one Jesus used) as Hades. We do well to note the specifics regarding this word in the NT…
- Jesus condemned the people of Capernaum to Hades because the mighty works He did in their presence were met with rejection. As a matter of fact, the degree of Capernaum’s punishment in Hades would be greater than that of those in the city of Sodom. The reason for this is that Capernaum’s culpability was greater. They knew more and were thus more responsible for what they knew.
And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:23–24)
- Jesus also said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the onslaught of His church (Matt 16.18). This certainly indicates that Hell is a place.
- The rich man was in torments in Hades after he died (Lk 16.23).
- The term is used in connection with the resurrection of Jesus. Using the words of David, Luke quotes, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades” and explains later that God would raise up the Christ to sit on David’s throne. The soul of Jesus was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. See Acts 2.27, 31.
- Hades will be robbed of a victory because Christians will rise. See 1 Cor 15.55.
- Revelation pairs Hades with death each time it is mentioned:
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18)
“So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:8)
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:13–14)
We are able to summarize these words fairly easily. Hades is associated with a place of punishment. Both Hades and Gehenna speak of torment. Hades does not end. But both death and Hades are cast into the final abode of all the wicked, namely the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is everlasting.
Fire is a common thread when Hell and final judgement are mentioned in the NT. The writer of Hebrews calls Hell fiery indignation (10.27). Peter states that the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire until the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet 3.7). Jude deems Hell the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7). It is a place of darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
I think we do well to pause now and really think of the horror of Hell. It’s beyond our imaginations, but there is something that I found that does the best job I’ve read so far in describing the terror of eternal Hell. The book Crashmaker: A Federal Affaire paints a graphic picture of Hell. The villain, Alan Stillwell, has a nightmare in which he meets the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire in Hell:
Voltaire’s countenance appeared white, not because it was dead, bloodless flesh, but because it was a mask of the most intense, living fire. So, too, flames enveloped his whole body—if, indeed, what Stillwell saw beneath the fire could properly be called a body at all. Twisted and deformed, it mocked the shape of a man. As black as charcoal, shimmering in reds and oranges with the incandescence of combustion, the thing seethed with ulcers of molten flesh that suppurated (festered) to a white heat, spit out jets of fiery matter, then collapsed upon themselves, only to burst forth in some other spot.
At the margins of these migrant craters emerged orange ribbons—no, Stillwell saw to his horror, worms. Standing on end, the creatures writhed in the flames, then melted into a translucent yellow liquid that poured back over the body and ignited, the bluish tongues of fire from this foul fuel spawning more of the awful parasites that then bored their way back into the body. As Stillwell watched, his mouth agape, chunks of Voltaire’s black flesh crumbled in showers of sparks, revealing bones almost transparent in their white heat. The fire all around consumed the flesh before it fell far. But when Stillwell looked again, the body was once more intact—always destroying itself, yet always whole. A fool’s cap of the most intense flames crowned the [philosopher’s] head, but not because his hair itself was alight. Rather, in the manner of a wick drawing on an inexhaustible reservoir, the follicles sucked from fissures in Voltaire’s skull liquefied brain that burned with a fury born of the unhappy combination of the intellectual brilliance of his mind and the perverse purposes to which he had put it.
Somehow, Stillwell could bear to look on all that. What he saw in Voltaire’s eyes, though, shook [him] to his core: all the depravity of man the philosopher had unleashed during and after his lifetime. And, underlying that monstrous crime against humanity, its true cause: Voltaire’s overweening pride.
[Voltaire confesses,] “My own reason enchained me, too, in disbelief. I ridiculed the Absolute. I imagined myself capable of giving new laws to the world, even of dethroning God. But what help were my pithy skepticism, my witty unbelief, all the blasphemies of my facile pen when at length I found my name inscribed in the Book of Eternal Death? Oh, then to erase, to amend! Alas, too late. I pulled down the Prophet, Priest, and King from the Cross without knowing that, in so doing, I would nail myself there in His stead, to become defenseless before the supreme tribunal, with no Savior to forgive my transgressions, no Church to reconcile me with my Creator.”
Stillwell shuttered, as if a dagger had been driven into the soul he knew he did not have. “Why do you want to save me?” he probed. “Save you?!” the spirit shrieked, shaking with fury. “I long for your damnation! To work for the salvation of souls my own sins have corrupted is part of my punishment. How it tortures me to fear that you might be saved, whilst I must remain forever [here].”
Victor Sperandeo and Alvaro Almeida, Crashmaker: A Federal Affaire; submitted by Jerry Cline, Upland, Indiana
The wicked will end up in Hell filled with great everlasting horror and unspeakable torment. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) Just as Stillwell looked at the body of Voltaire once more intact—always destroying itself, yet always whole.
Hell is eternal conscious punishment. The torment is spiritual, emotional, and physical. The Bible defines the fire of Hell, the punishment of the wicked, and their destruction as everlasting. People in Hell will not simply be annihilated, but rather they will suffer eternal destruction.
The judgement is eternal not temporary. Hell is real and horrific. But the greatest horror of Hell is the final, everlasting separation from God. The inhabitants of Hell will get their desire: God will not be a part of their existence anymore. Hell is the absence of God. And that absence is felt without a respite and without an end. We tremble at the thought of it.
“Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men….” (2 Corinthians 5:11a)
But some men will remain unpersuaded. The devil works hard at taking as many with him to Hell as he possibly can…
It is said that Satan once called to him the emissaries of Hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls.
He asked which one would want to go. One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.”
Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.”
Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”
Bruce Thielemann, “Tide Riding,” Preaching Today No. 30; submitted by Kevin A. Miller, Wheaton, Illinois
Some are blithe and ignorant about the truth of eternal perdition.
Paul “Red” Adair was the oil field firefighter first made famous by a 1968 John Wayne movie The Hellfighters. After the first Gulf War, he led the effort to cap the Kuwaiti oil wells set ablaze by Iraq. Adair was a brash, fearless fighter. He joked in 1991 that it would be no different after he died. “I’ve done made a deal with the devil,” he said. “He said he’s going to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won’t put all the fires out.”
Adair died at age 89 on August 7, 2004. The devil, he may have discovered by now, is a liar.
Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois; source: Obituaries, Chicago Tribune (8-10-04)
Others believe the lie that their works will keep them from eternal perdition.
In a Reader’s Digest interview, Muhammad Ali stated: “One day we’re all going to die, and God is going to judge us for [our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell. If the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven.” How different that view is from the gospel!
“Ali,” Reader’s Digest (December 2001), p. 93; submitted by Robert Wenz
The Gospel means not forgetting God. It means not misunderstanding what He has revealed and not scoffing at it either. One day, men will yearn for the rocks to fall upon them and the mountains cover them rather than face the wrath of Almighty God. But they will be turned into Hell just as sure as the righteous will be secure in Heaven above.
The apathy so deeply rooted in our world today has lulled Christians into complacency and unbelievers into indifference. God is not a man that He should lie. He demands that we flee from the wrath which is to come!
A friend encouraged author Neil Cole to tour the Rodin museum while in France. Reflecting on Rodin’s most famous work, Cole writes,
Rodin was a French impressionist sculptor. Though many do not realize his name, most are familiar with his work. He created the Thinker. What you may not realize is that the Thinker was really a study he had done to sit on the top of his greatest masterpiece—The Gates of Hell. For years we have been wondering what it is that the Thinker is thinking about… What the Thinker is contemplating is an eternity of judgment separated from God.
Cole’s friend began to describe The Gates of Hell, which depicts innumerable beings writhing in agony on their way to judgment. As the vision of the work gripped Cole’s friend, she said, “Oh, I could just stare at The Gates of Hell forever.”
It was quiet for a moment as the significance of her words became clear. Cole writes, “All I could think of to say at that moment was, ‘Oh, I hope not.'”
Neil Cole, Cultivating a Life for God, (ChurchSmart Resources, 1999) p. 120; submitted by Dietrich Schindler, Otterbach, Germany
God has witnessed many generations preceding our own striving to forget Him. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17) God has been banished from our court rooms and school houses …from our homes, books, and media choices. He is not in our conversations or thoughts.
Yet we are not yet turned into hell. He patiently and mercifully seeks to receive those who have forgotten Him. He continues to pursue them in love. One day the wicked will be turned into a place where one drop of water will remain unavailable for the parched tongue. But today is the acceptable day of salvation! May God grant that you have found it. May God grant that we are able to persuade others knowing the terror of the Lord!
Prayer of Saving Repentance:
- Lord, I know that Hell is real and that I am wicked by Your definition. I have forgotten you and lived selfishly. I am deserving of the judgment spoken of today.
- But I know that salvation, righteousness, and Heaven are real as well. That they are gifts not earned but free to us, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.
- I understand that you will judge sin and the wicked one day, but that you are merciful and loving today.
- I believe that Jesus is God the Son. That He never sinned or knew sin, but became sin for me so that I might have the righteousness of God in Him. I believe that Jesus died, was buried, and is risen. Right now I place my trust in Him alone for eternal life.
- Please help me know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.
Perhaps David wrote Psalm 25 while languishing in the desperate consequences (vv. 16-17) of his great iniquity (v. 11), namely the murder of a faithful man named Uriah. David had Uriah killed to cover up the adultery with the man’s wife, Bathsheba. The adultery resulted from an abuse of authority and the king’s own idleness. And yet he prays the following in verses 6-7:
Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.
Remembering and Forgetting
David desires that God remember mercies and lovingkindnesses, but forget the sins of his youth and his transgressions. “Remember me …forget my sin!” Who wouldn’t want that outcome when it comes to prayer!
This is unadulterated boldness in prayer. David prayed for an outpouring of God’s mercies and lovingkindnesses (note the plural) even though he had been disobedient and was suffering the consequences from it. I don’t normally want to ask God’s blessing upon my life after I’ve sinned grievously; yet, that’s exactly what David is doing.
When you think about it, it makes sense. After all, who needs mercies anyway? Who is desperate for the lovingkindnesses of God once again? The answer is those whom need it most …those who have sinned greatly and are so needy. That’s good news for you and me!
For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. -Malachi 3.6
The same could be said of us. God hasn’t changed; therefore, we are not consumed (even though we deserve to be consumed). The essence of mercy is that God does not give us what we deserve because His character is constant …He is governed by His compassion and lovingkindness.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. – James 1.17
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. – Romans 11.29
So if David asked God to remember former mercies and lovingkindnesses, we ought to ask for the same. We ought to plead with Him that He will continue to grant them to us as individuals, families, and a church.
For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. -1 Samuel 12.22
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ – Hebrew 13.5
If Jesus loves you (and if He died for you, He loves you), you can rest assured that He will love you to the very end! So, are you in deep distress? Do you really think God has dismissed you from His presence? Do you believe that He will not extend tender mercies and lovingkindnesses toward you once more? Then, you don’t know much about His unchanging character. Throw yourself upon the mercy of God’s heavenly court!