The world can be a stressful place, can’t it? Its easy to be anxious, and sometimes the demands of life threaten to overwhelm us. Like the storms that swept over the Caribbean this month, storms of life can sweep over us personally, prompting stress and anxiety. We all know what sort of things can cause us stress, don’t we? Ill health, bereavement or a relationship breakdown. Unemployment or a low income. Nagging guilt or clinical depression. Pressures at work or advancing age. Worries about our children’s education or our ageing relatives. The stress list goes on and on!
The author of our psalm this morning was David, the king of Israel. He may have been a King, but he was still well-acquainted with the stresses of life. Like any political leader he was a man with many opponents who wanted to bring him down. Many enemies who would love to see him fail. David summarises his situation in verses 3 and 4 today. Listen to them again: “How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down – this leaning wall, this tottering fence? They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.”
David’s position is under threat, his enemies want to topple him, and he admits he is tottering under the pressure. Maybe you yourself are tottering this morning? Perhaps you’re in a state of anxiety, worried about one thing or another? If that’s the case, then please take the message of today’s psalm to heart, because it will keep you from falling. Today’s psalm has been described by David Jackman as ‘a poem to help you keep your poise’. A psalm that should calm your nerves.
But even if you are feeling unstressed and satisfied this morning, you still need to listen to this psalm! You still need to make sure that your contentment today is built on a firm foundation - a foundation strong enough to survive future stresses and strains in life.
But before we look at our psalm, let me pray: Heavenly Father, source of all security, speak to us through Psalm 62 this morning, so we may build our lives on your sure foundation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- God gives contentment
People look in all sorts of places for contentment, don’t they? People look to all sorts of things as an antidote to anxiety, as a source of comfort, as a source of security. They look to things like a big bank balance, loving relationships, a relaxing holiday, a healthy diet and regular exercise. Or good insurance policies and a large pension pot! Now none of those things are necessarily bad, but at the end of the day they are all inadequate to avoid anxiety. None of those things can truly stop us ‘tottering’ under stress.
In verses 9 and 10 today, David dismisses some other potential sources of security. In verse 9 he says: “Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.” In other words, he’s saying don’t seek security in power or status. Your social standing or class can’t insulate you from anxiety and stress.
Even money and possessions can’t provide total contentment. That’s why David writes in verse 10: “Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”
You see, all earthly sources of contentment will ultimately fail. As CS Lewis once observed, it takes real wisdom to recognise this. After some stressful event, it takes wisdom to realise that you don’t need a better earthly source of security, but a totally different source altogether. To cope more successfully with the strains of life you don’t need a bigger house, a better car - or even a better spouse! What we need - or rather, who we need - is God. Don’t look around you for a cure to anxiety - look up instead!
That’s the truth Psalm 62 urges upon us, and it’s a truth that has been repeatedly discovered through the ages, by Christian believers of every background. For example, as Saint Augustine famously said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
As we read through today’s psalm it describes for us the personal contentment that God alone can give. Using a multitude of metaphors, David describes the inner security that only God can provide. So in verses 1 and 2 he says: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.” The same metaphors appear in verses 5 to 7 as well. They say: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”
- Gaining contentment from God
If you are anything like me, those words will be music to your ears. I want a rock to build my life upon. I want someone to securely place my hope and trust in. I want someone who can offer me salvation from my sin and my mortality. And that someone, says David, is God. The God of the Bible. The God who made Heaven and Earth. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But how do we gain this contentment from God? Well the good news is David tells us in this Psalm. Because in verse 8 he urges us to pray for inner peace. And in verse 11 he tells us to pay attention to God’s word. Let’s look at both in turn.
a) Pray for peace
We are used to praying for world peace, aren’t we? It’s a regular feature of our intercessions here at St. Michael’s to pray for our war-torn world. So we continue to pray for peace in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We rightly pray for an end to conflict in countries like Yemen and South Sudan.
But today’s psalm says we should pray for our own inner peace as well. As Christians we should pray for a contentment that only God can give. An peace that only Christian believers can truly know. Listen again to the words of verse 8: “Trust in him at all times, O people - pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
In times of stress, every Christian is encouraged to pray to God for his peace - for a heaven-sent contentment that is ‘over and above’ every earthly circumstance. Christians are to ask for a God-given sense of security that no earthly stress can take away - an inner peace that only God’s Spirit can give.
The New Testament equivalent of Psalm 62 is found in Philippians chapter 4, where the apostle Paul writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
b) Listen to God’s words
So to gain God’s contentment, we first must pray. But secondly, we need to truly listen to God’s words. We need to take them to heart and trust them. That’s what David urges us in verse 11 and 12 of our psalm today. He writes: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.”
Those verses are urging us to look at the Bible to discover two good reasons why God can be trusted. You see, Scripture shows us that God is strong and God is loving. The Bible gives us all the evidence we need to be certain that God can sustain us in stressful situations.
Because God is strong it means nothing happens in this world that is outside his control. Nothing takes him by surprise. Nothing happens that he can’t handle. Nothing happens that he doesn’t have the power to put right. We don’t need to doubt the power of a God who created the Cosmos, achieved the Exodus and called the worldwide Church into being. Scripture clearly shows us that God can make something out of nothing, can achieve the impossible, and stands sovereign over history.
These were some of the truths that John Calvin and other Reformation leaders reminded the Church of 500 years ago. God is utterly sovereign, utterly in control. For John Calvin, God’s sovereignty (or God’s “providence” as he called it) was a source of immense comfort in his life - and can be for us today too.
- So if you face uncertainty about your future, trust that God can see it clearly.
- So if you see no solution to a personal problem, trust that God can ultimately put things right.
- And if your life seems to be descending into chaos, trust that God’s good plan for you remains right on track.
And yes, do trust that God’s plan is good. That’s the lesson of verse 12, isn’t it? That verse says God is loving. So we can trust that any hardships in our life are permitted by a loving God for good reasons. We can trust that our bad times are being used by God for our ultimate good, even if we ourselves can’t see how. This truth is succinctly summed up in Romans 8 verse 28. A verse we would all do well to learn off by heart. It says: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. The author of Psalm 62 certainly trusted that truth - and so should we!
- Christ and contentment
Before I finish this morning, I want us to think for a moment about Christ and contentment. Because as Christians today we are in a far more fortunate position than King David was when he wrote Psalm 62. We are living this side of the Cross. We are living after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Looking at Jesus really should help us to trust God in tough times.
For a start, the life of Jesus shows us the power and love of God in action – the power and love we read about in verses 11 and 12 of our psalm.
- For example, look to the manger in Bethlehem to see God’s power - as a baby is born of a virgin.
- Look to the land of Galilee to see God’s love in action - as Jesus healed the sick and preached good news to the poor.
- Look to the Cross to see that God’s love is so great that he sent his Son to die for us.
- And look to the Empty Tomb, to see the power of God raise Jesus from the dead!
I mentioned a fortnight ago that I had read a good book on the Psalms over the Summer. It was by Christopher Ash, and one of its many helpful nuggets was to encourage us to imagine Jesus reading and praying the psalms. That’s not make-believe, by the way. As a Jewish man its almost certain he would have read and sung the psalms in the synagogue and elsewhere. And we are to see how when Jesus prayed the psalms he would have done so with total integrity - with total determination to trust God wholeheartedly.
So like David, Jesus too faced opposition, especially from the religious elite and from the Roman authorities. They were like those men described in verse 3 and 4 of our psalm today – men who wanted to topple Jesus, men who cursed him in their hearts and succeeded in killing him on a cross.
Yet Jesus’ trust in God never waivered did it? He lived out the sentiments of today’s psalm to the letter. God really was his refuge, his rock, his fortress:
- In hours of prayer in the open air, he asked his Father for the inner strength to complete his mission.
- Under extreme stress in the garden of Gethsemane, he still prayed for his loving Father’s will to be done.
- And even as he hung on the cross he trusted that his suffering would be used by God for good.
No one has ever lived out the lessons of Psalm 62 more fully than the Lord Jesus. As we look at Jesus in the gospels, we see someone who was the perfect embodiment of Psalm 62 in practice.
And as we read what happened next, we see that Jesus’ trust in God was well placed, wasn’t it? His hopes were fulfilled when he was raised from the grave and shown to be God’ Son. Jesus’ confidence in God’s power and goodness was vindicated when his death was understood to be the full and final sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. From Christ’s suffering and hardship came the salvation of the world.
So as I finish this morning, please don’t dismiss Psalm 62 as pure sentimentality, wishful thinking or ‘motherhood and apple pie’. On the contrary, it truly does contain the secret of contentment. So let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us a life of total trust and hope in God. Help us to seek our security in you, both in this life and forever. Amen.