Who You Gonna Call?
Bible Text: Psalm 17 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Psalms – Songs of Praise | Psalm 17
Who You Gonna Call?
Who you gonna call?
Well 2016, was the year that brought us, the 3rd movie in the Ghostbusters franchise!
Maybe you’re a fan! Or maybe you’re not!
I was thinking about the Ghostbusters movies this week, because, of course, the tag line for those movies was, “Who you gonna call?”, which became a popular catchphrase after the first movie was released in 1984.
Do you remember the theme song?
If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call (ghostbusters)
If it’s somethin’ weird an it don’t look good
Who ya gonna call (ghostbusters)
Don’t get caught alone, etc, etc,
Who you gonna call?
And if you open up your Bibles to Psalm 17, you’ll be able to see why I was thinking about Ghostbusters this week!
Psalm 17 is a call for help,
It tells us who Israel’s King David is gonna call, when things don’t look good.
David prays for justice because he’s been obedient (v 1 – 5)
And in fact this Psalm doesn’t just tell us who David is going to call, when, well, actually, when people are trying to kill him, that’s about as bad as it gets isn’t it?!
But he also tells us exactly why it’s God who he turns to for help,
He tells us why it’s a good idea to pray when we need help,
How we can have confidence to pray when we need help.
I don’t know what kind of pray-er you are, or even if you’re much of a pray-er at all,
But maybe you’ve wondered whether there’s really any good reason to pray,
Whether there’s any point to it?,
Whether God hears, cares, or responds.
Well, if you’ve ever wondered those things, Psalm 17 is for you.
Out of all the Psalms we’ve looked at, as we’ve worked our way through the first 17 Psalms bit by bit over the last 7 years, this is the first one that is explicitly called a prayer of David.
Those little italic headings at the top of some of the Psalms, like this one, they’re not paragraph headings put in by the publishers of whatever Bible we’ve bought. That title, “A prayer of David” is actually part of the text of the Psalm.
So Psalm 17 is a great place for us to turn to get an example, not the only example by any stretch, but a good example of prayer, that we could use to shape our prayers.
We have a short course for people who are new here, it’s called God, Church & Me, we’re going to be running it in February, so if you’ve joined us in the last year or so you’re most welcome to be involved in that, and find your place in our church.
But in the Bible study discussion we have there, one of the things people have a chance to share about, is what are some of the things they’ve found helpful in listening to other people pray.
It’s a great way to shape and enrich your own prayer life, listening to the prayers of others.
And so today we get to over-hear David pray,
We get to eavesdrop on his prayer, and I’m sure it will be helpful and enriching for the way that we pray.
So quite early on we see that this prayer is prayer for justice.
See how it begins,
A prayer of David.
1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right
Maybe you’ve prayed urgent prayers before,
Someone you love is sick,
Perhaps some pressing need in the world, the situation in Aleppo, or one of the tragedies we saw unfold in 2016.
Maybe you’ve prayed for someone here in our church family, and you were convinced, that if God was going to act,
If God chose to intervene in whatever that situation, in response to your prayer, then he would need to do it soon, otherwise it would be too late.
I reckon most of us, even if we don’t pray too much at all, probably have some experience with the urgent prayer.
Now, we’re not told what specific situation in his life is causing David to cry out for help.
Almost certainly it came at some point after David was first anointed as the king of God’s people, Israel. As the leader of the nation, there were plenty of people out to attack David,
There was no shortage of people who spoke evil of him.
David, as king, was entrusted with the responsibility of exercising God’s rule over his people, and so when people where opposed to God’s rule over Israel, it meant they were attacking David, God’s representative.
And so whatever the specifics of the situation, David prays that God will bring justice, and bring it urgently.
To put it slightly less eloquently, it’s “What we do want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Do you feel his urgency? Twice in the first verse he calls on God to hear, and one extra time he asks God to listen.
It ratchets up a notch or 2 in verses 9 to 12 as David starts to describe these people who are opposing him.
They are out to destroy him,
They surround him,
They have tracked him down,
Again he says, they’ve got him surrounded
The pressure is on!
The clock’s ticking.
If God is going to act to save David, he’s going to have to do it quickly.
I was on the phone, trying to sort out some insurance the other day, and as they do, they put me on hold, and what do they tell you? “Your call is important to us.” And I get that sometimes there’s lots of people ringing all at once, but you can’t help but think, can you, if my call really was important to you, you’d have answered it by now!
Well, David doesn’t have any such concern with God, does he?
He’s not afraid that, actually, if he can’t rouse God, then this is all just a waste of time. There is an urgency, yes. He is surrounded by people who want to destroy him, verse 9.
But he’s absolutely confident that God will hear, and that God will respond.
He’s asking for justice, for God to decide between him and his enemies, to vindicate him, which will take the form not just of a statement “I find for the defendant”, but the justice David wants is action;, God will rescue David from his enemies.
But notice that David asks for justice because of his obedience.
See verse 3, though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
He’s resisted attempts at bribery
A couple of months ago I told a story about Abraham Lincoln, from the time when he was working as a lawyer, and a man came to him, offering him a bribe in order to throw a case.
And the man kept on increasing the price that he was willing to pay, until Lincoln physically threw him out of the office.
“What’s the matter?” the bloke cried, “Every man has his price!”
“Yes” Lincoln replied, “and you were getting too close to mine.”
Well, that’s David! Except the bit about physically throwing the man out of the office might not count as keeping myself from the ways of the violent verse 4! But you get the idea!
If you are willing to be dishonest, then there are plenty of opportunities for you to go down that path.
But David says, “I’ve done none of that.”
And so, we might wonder, “How on earth can David describe himself in these kind of terms?” I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled, verse 5.
Can people who aren’t perfect pray like this?
He sounds like he thinks he’s pretty good!
His argument at this point essentially sounds like, “God, you should grant me justice, because I’m completely without sin!
And so the question then is, is that what he’s saying, and can people who aren’t perfect, people like us, can we ask God to intervene also.
See I know that even when people treat me appallingly, I’m never entirely free from blame.
Or sometimes I look back and I see, “yeah, you treated me pretty badly, but I’ve treated other people pretty badly, so I can’t really label you as guilty and me as innocent.
And David, well he was a good king. But he wasn’t perfect.
There were some occasions in his life where he disobeyed God.
On one occasion he lusted after a married woman,
He committed adultery with her,
And when he found out she was pregnant, he had her husband murdered, and covered it up to look like he was killed in battle.
And David’s acknowledgment of his sin and rebellion against God as demonstrated by that sorry tale is what we read in Psalm 51, which, I guess at our current rate of working our way through the Psalms, we’ll get to that in another 15 years or so.
But Psalm 51 is the evidence that David knew he wasn’t perfect.
So what’s going on here?
Well David isn’t claiming innocence full stop, as much as saying he’s innocent of the accusations being made against him.
God himself used this kind of language to speak about Job. In chapter 1, verse 8 of the book of Job, the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?, he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
God’s not trying to say that Job’s perfect,
That out of all the people who have ever lived, Job was the one man who didn’t need Jesus to die for his sin
This isn’t a claim to be entirely without sin, but about being able to stand before God with a clear conscience.
David here is saying, “when I look at my heart, when you, God, probe my heart, we can both see that I’m not asking for this for selfish reasons;,
I’m not asking for justice so that I can lord it over those who oppose me,
I’m not asking you to defeat those who are my enemies so that I can reap the spoils of their loss;,
I’m not asking you to act because I’m too lazy to do anything myself.”
You absolutely don’t have to be perfect to pray!
But if we’re going to ask God for justice and deliverance like we see here in Psalm 17, it’s certainly appropriate for us to first examine ourselves, and to confess whatever part if any, we have played in creating this situation.
It’s not always the case that we’ve contributed to situation that we want to be rescued from;
There is all kinds of violence, and hurt, and relationship breakdown that people don’t contribute to themselves.
But if there is a contribution that we’ve made,
If we’ve exacerbated,
Or been ungodly,
It’s entirely right for us to repent of that, and ask for forgiveness, so that we can do as David does here, and call upon God to act for us.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer from 1662, there are services, morning and evening prayer for every day of the week, and in the prayer of confession for both morning and evening prayer, every day, is this line, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;”
That’s a good prayer to pray so that we too can stand before God with a clear conscience.
Or in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians scattered across the Roman Empire in about 62 AD, and have a listen to one thing he says as he’s giving instructions to different groups of people in the church. I Peter 3 verse 7, Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, so that, nothing will hinder your prayers
Now, Peter doesn’t give any explanation for how a husband, failing to treat his wife appropriately might find his prayers hindered, but clearly there is a way in which failing to obey God’s commands,
Failing to honour God’s priorities,
Indulging in a life of sin, that is rejecting God’s rightful rule over us, only to then turn around and ask God for things,
Well, actually, that fellowship with God is broken,
You have cut yourself off from God,
So why would you expect God to act in response to prayer?
See, you absolutely don’t have to be perfect to pray!
That’s not the point of why this Psalm is in the Bible.
But this is a good reminder of how we can get to the point, of being able to pray confidently,
How we can get to the point of praying, and being sure that God will hear our prayer, because we haven’t allowed sin and disobedience and rebellion, to interrupt our fellowship with God.
And notice, really significantly, that David tells us what his measuring stick is;,
What evil and transgressions might block his fellowship with God,
He doesn’t just say to God, “Well, I did my best,” does he?
You know, “I thought long and hard about it, and I came up with a pattern for life that seemed to me a good choice, I did it my way!
You know that Sinatra’s “I did it my way” is the most popular song played at funeral services. It’s played at one out of every 7 funerals.
More than any other song, people want that as the last word on their life, as the words that will echo as they enter the next life.
But David is not so foolish as to stand before God pointing to his own standard, my way, how he’s measured up against his own set of criteria.
No, he says I’ve been kept from transgression,
I’ve been kept from violence, verse 4, through what your lips have commanded,
My steps have held to your paths;
David has turned his ear to God’s Word.
David’s confidence in prayer comes from God’s Word (v 4 – 5)
David is confident in asking for deliverance, for justice.
See verse 6 there I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
No doubt at all that God will respond.
He cries out to God, hear, listen, hear, and vindicate, and he absolutely believes that God will, because God has told him, how he ought to live,
God has told him how to avoid sin,
David had a sinful nature, just like us.
He was tempted, just like us, but obedience to God’s Word kept him from following the path of those around him.
I wouldn’t ever want us to think, “I’m too sinful to pray,
“God wouldn’t want to hear from me, because of how I’ve lived.”
I have friends who say, “I could never come to church, because the building would fall down! That’s how surprised God would be to hear from me!
And I think that applies to people’s prayers also.
We might be tempted to think, “I couldn’t pray and ask God for that, because of the sort of person that I am, or the sort of person that I’ve been”, or whatever.
I’d hate for us to think that praying to God depends on us being perfect. David certainly wasn’t.
But I would hate, just as much, for us to allow other things, to get in the way of our fellowship with God, to hinder our prayers, or stop us praying.
And the language of verse 7, Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand and so on, this is language that calls to mind Gods’ great deliverance of his people in the past.
This points us back to the rescue from Egypt,
The deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea.
David knows these things because they’re recorded in his Scriptures.
We’ve just come through the one week of the year, where it seems every form of media, has gone into “2016, the year in review”, mode.
And we’re given in replay, all the significant events of the year. Well, that’s what David’s done, except he’s not just looking back on the last 12 months, but on everything God has done for his people.
Everything that God has made known of his saving acts through his Word.
David knows he can pray to God,
He knows God will act in justice,
Because everything in the history of God’s relating to his people,
Everything God has made known about himself,
Everything contained in the Scriptures gives him that confidence.
If you were feeling, less than eager to pray,
You really weren’t convinced that it was worthwhile praying, or that it would make a difference, because, let’s face it, lots of us have felt like that at one point or another, or for extended periods of time.
But if you really didn’t have the motivation to pray, I wonder where you might turn in the Bible for encouragement.
Our willingness to pray, or un-willingness, is going to be shaped by what we believe about God.
And I wonder where you might turn in the Bible, to be encouraged in your praying.
Friends, new year, time for resolutions, all of that!
Why don’t we resolve, to not let sin creep in, and cloud our conscience before God?
Why don’t we resolve to turn our ears to, verse 4, what God’s lips have commanded?, to regular and deliberate reading of his Word?
Today, we’re beginning something new and inviting everyone to become involved. You’ll see inside the leaflet 5 short sections of the Bible, for us as a church family to read this week.
We’re using the acronym SOAP, to help us remember what to do when we read God’s Word.
S. Scripture. That is, just read the passage.
O. Observation. What’s one thing, a couple of things, you observe?
What stands out?
What surprises you?
What makes a lot of sense?
What doesn’t seem to make much sense at all? Some people like to journal, and write down their questions and observations.
When I read the Bible each morning, I write down in a little book, what I think is the key verse, and what it means.
A. Application. How do we put God’s Word into practice as David has done in his life? Simply knowing the words from God’s lips, wasn’t going to do David much good, was it?
He needed to put it into practice, so he could say, verse 5, My steps have held to your paths;
And then P. Pray.
Pray and ask God to help you apply his Word to your life.
Pray and ask God to help you understand what you’ve just read.
Pray and ask God to give you a hunger and thirst for his him, his kingdom, and his Word.
SOAP. It’s simple.
It’s not a special technique, there’s no magic to it. But numbers of us are going to spend a few minutes, 5 days a week, looking at the same part of God’s Word, and we’d love you to be involved too.
You might already have a pattern for reading the Bible regularly. And that’s great. We’re not trying to stop you doing that. We’re just trying to create opportunities for all of us, to listen, as David says, to what God’s lips have commanded.
I would love for all of us, in 2017, to have David’s confidence before God, shaped as it is by God’s word. And SOAP is maybe a little step in that direction.
Well, we’re going to have to pick up the pace a bit for the second half!
David prays for God’s judgement (v 10 – 14)
Having called out to God to intervene, and then describing for us why he’s so confident that God will act to save him, David now prays for God to judge the wicked who are opposing him.
There’s that picture we saw earlier of just how terrible things are for David, They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
Some of it is obviously metaphor and simile, you know, they’re not actually lions hungry for prey.
But there’s no missing the point, is there?
This is evil at work.
This is the power of evil.
And we saw this in different ways in 2016, didn’t we?
We might not have described anyone as a fierce lion crouching in cover, but the effect is the same;
The year had barely started when Islamic terrorists attacked a hotel in Burkina Faso, killing 28.
For the first time ever last year, the International Criminal Court convicted someone for using sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Later, computer hackers tried to still a billion dollars from the US Federal Reserve,
Islamic State bombers killed 140 people in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus, to say nothing of the ongoing and systematic persecution of Christians and other minorities that’s been unfolding there,
We witnessed from afar, the Brussels bombings,
75 people were killed and hundreds injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Pakistan Park where Christians were celebrating Easter,
Suicide bombings in Turkey, drug cartel riots in Mexico, and that’s not even past March of last year.
We see evil working itself out all around us,
And so it’s right to call on God to judge evil just like David does.
Verse 13, Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down;
with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
14 By your hand save me from such people, LORD,
bring them down;,
with your sword rescue me
For us to be saved, evil must be destroyed
David’s not just asking to be removed from this particular situation, just “Get me out of here.”
To be rescued from evil means the evil needs to be dealt with and destroyed.
You might have heard that there was a young guy from the US named Mason Wells, who got caught up in the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013,
And the Paris attacks in 2015,
And then got injured again in the Brussels airport bombing.
I mean, if you find yourself in the same room as this guy, run the other way!
But see, simply being removed from the proximity of those who do evil isn’t enough!
Mason Wells will tell you that loud and clear.
To be saved, for God to save those who take refuge in him as David says in verse 7, evil needs to be dealt with, destroyed.
And as I say, there’s a lot in this Psalm that we can look at, and we can, we can see parallels in our experience.
There is plenty here that speaks to our experience, that reminds us of how and why to pray to God, the reasons we can have confidence that God will act for justice.
But we do have to remember where the differences are, between us and David.
As I said, he was the man whom God had anointed as leader of his people Israel.
David was the one to whom God promised an eternal dynasty, 2 Samuel 7.
It was to David that God had, one of your descendants will reign, forever,
David, the great great great great great great grandfather of Jesus,
When people opposed David, they were opposing God’s chosen leader.
When they made accusations against him, they were making accusations against the one whose job it was to maintain God’s Law.
When David’s enemies tried to kill him, they were trying to kill the one from whom the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, would eventually come.
Setting yourself up against God’s anointed one, is not the same thing as setting yourself up against Clayton.
And there’s a danger that we read ourselves in to parts of the Bible like this, and we imagine that it’s all about us in the first instance, when it’s not.
It is about us, but we have to wait until closer to the end of the story.
For Christmas we bought our daughter Abigail one of those books with her name in it. But as the story goes along, it’s just a story about a little girl. Her name doesn’t get a mention.
But bit by bit the little girl in the story finds the letters of her name, and eventually, on the very last page, there’s her name;, Abigail.
That’s a bit what it’s like with this Psalm and others like it.
It is a Psalm about David.
And we can see in it, some of the letters of our name, but it’s only when the story is complete, that we see really where we fit, where our name comes in.
David knows that the evil he faces must be destroyed.
In his case that could well have been happened by God taking the lives of those who were opposed to God and his king.
But actually, evil will still linger after that, won’t it?
And God’s unlikely to come in with a sword, verse 13, to deliver us from the wicked people around us.
But God will make an end of sin.
In fact God has made, an end of sin and evil, and God is making, an end of sin and evil.
The Bible tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, he defeated the power of sin and evil.
And while we still see evil at work in the world, as we wait for Christ’s return, that sin and evil have been defeated forever.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, speaks of Jesus triumphing over the powers of evil through his death and resurrection.
And so this is the bit with our name in it.
This is where we come into the story.
We can pray confidently
We are the ones who receive the benefits of Christ’s victory over sin and evil.
We can be, if we trust that Jesus’ life and death was enough to be brought into right relationship with God.
If we trust that Jesus died for the evil in our hearts, just as much as the evil out there.
And since Jesus died to take the punishment for our sin, then all that guilt and stain is removed.
See, we really can be, innocent in God’s eyes.
We really can bring our prayers to God, knowing that when he looks at us, he sees the sinless spotlessness of his Son Jesus, who died in our place.
If you trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship with God, you absolutely can have the confidence that clearly David has.
I mean, the last verse for me, is, is almost funny!
He started the Psalm with his cry for justice and vindication.
He described the awful danger he’s in, and then verse 15,
As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
It kind of reads like, “I’ve asked God for this, and now I’m going to roll over and go to sleep, and when I wake up, I know everything is going to be OK!”
How relaxed can one person be?!
Truth be told, there’s probably a deliberate hint at the resurrection. David knows that for him, evil will be a thing of the past, when he enjoys his new life, with Jesus.
But even so, David’s confidence that God will hear his prayer and answer it is, well it’s appealing isn’t it?
And friends, it’s a confidence that we can have, thanks to David sharing his reasons, for his confident praying.
I so long for us to have this confidence,
This year, when we pray;,
As a church,
In our Bible Study Groups,
In our church-wide prayer gatherings, which we’re planning 4 of this year,
This kind of confidence, that God hears our prayers.
Charles Spurgeon was a preacher in London in the 1800s, and he realised that he was hearing Christian people saying things like, “God, we know that you hear prayer, and we know that you answer prayer.” And Spurgeon said this kind of expression, and I quote, “contains a superfluity, that is, it’s superfluous, since for God, to hear is, according to Scripture, the same thing as to answer”.
For God to hear prayer, is for God to answer prayer.
It’s not always the answer that we would choose,
But David, like Spurgeon, is absolutely confident, for God to hear is for God to answer.
And with what David says about the importance of keeping our ears tuned to God’s Word, perhaps the greatest issue, is not that God won’t hear us, but that we might not hear him?