A Song of Distress, 22 July 2018

A Song of Distress
D6 Series—More Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
Psalm 44

Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song.

Big Idea: God is good and faithful…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Last Sunday in a skit, I played the part of a man tempting someone toward self-harm, first through cutting, then with a gun. I must admit it was a fun part to play as we performed the drama in the Dominican Republic, knowing how the skit would conclude, with Jesus pushing back the temptations and bringing freedom to the lead actress. The greater the evil, the greater the victory when satan is defeated (and one day he will be defeated for eternity).

But although the acting was fun in the DR, I struggled to reprise the part last Sunday. Just hours before—late Saturday night—I was trying to stop a loved one from committing suicide. 911 was called. EMS and the police were involved. It was one of the worst nights of my entire life.

Have you ever had one of those nights? Days?

What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you call? How do you cope?

Let me be clear, some of life’s pain is the result of our disobedience to God. Poor choices do not deny us the right to seek grace and healing, but we know where to place the blame.

But what happens when you obey God and your life is turned upside down?

When you devote your life to serving God overseas and find yourself unexpectedly returning to the States due to a health issue?

When you pray for your children before they are even conceived, take parenting classes, invest in Christian schools, model a Christ-like home, …and they abandon your family and/or faith?

When you exercise, eat healthy, prioritize sleep, …and the doctor delivers an incurable diagnosis?

When you utilize every resource at your disposal in making a project succeed…and it collapses?

When you do the right thing, tell the truth, refuse to compromise…and you find yourself in the unemployment line?

What do we do when we pursue Jesus, obey God, and our world falls apart? When we find ourselves dialing 911? When God seems asleep? When we can’t find God? That’s our subject for today.

Today we’re looking at Psalm 44, a passionate plea from God’s people in the midst of distress.

The word
distress means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” We’ve all experienced it one way or another, and let me restate there are two types of distress: those that are the result of our poor choices and those that are the result of…life.

I must confess when someone comes to me in self-inflicted distress, I’m tempted to judge…and I often yield to the temptation in sin. You need money for your prescription and you just bought a bunch of Mountain Dew? You verbally abuse your girlfriend and she broke up with you? You skipped class every day and failed your exam?

But what about when you do the right thing and suffer?

Let’s turn to Psalm 44.

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.

This is not a psalm of David, but nevertheless it appears to be related to music, perhaps lyrics to a song or poetry. A maskil is a Hebrew term found in thirteen psalms with an unknown meaning. We do know a group of people, the sons of Korah, wrote it.

We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. (Psalms 44:1-2)

This is sounding like a psalm of praise to God.

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalms 44:3)

These are accounts of God’s faithfulness to Israel. So far, so good.

You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. (Psalms 44:4-7)

God is their King and God. He has led the Israelites to victories. The writer says His trust is not in his bow or sword, but in the LORD…where it should be!

In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.
(Psalms 44:8)

I’m sure the psalmist wanted to end here. Don’t we love to sing songs of worship and praise? Our God is an awesome God. How great Thou art. Praise to the LORD the Almighty. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. To God be the Glory. How Firm a Foundation. Crown Him with Many Crowns.

And then comes that word…that small word which slams on the brakes and makes a u-turn.

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. (Psalms 44:9-11)


You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. (Psalms 44:12-14)

These are strong accusations against God. Look at the results.

I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. (Psalms 44:15-16)

Okay, what happened? Did the people abandon God? If you’re going through Mission 119 with us, you know in the book of Judges—and throughout the Bible—the people follow God, forget God, suffer, and return to God…over and over and over again. So this shift must be God’s punishment for their disobedience, right? Not so fast.

All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. (Psalms 44:17-18)

They were faithful to God, …

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Psalms 44:19-22)

Have you ever felt crushed by God? I have. I hate it! I don’t like pain. I avoid discomfort. I like safe, simple, and secure. I don’t like darkness, facing death all day long, or the idea of being a sheep to be slaughtered.

What do you do when you feel crushed, abandoned?

My Story: Lynn Kampfer

When in distress, I hope you’re honest—with yourself, with others, and most of all with God.

I don’t know where we get the idea that life is supposed to be easy. I do think it’s a western thing, maybe even a USAmerican thing. After all, we’re promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of…happiness, right?

We don’t suffer well, or at least I don’t suffer well. I moan and complain. I get bent out of shape. I wonder what I did wrong, which is not necessarily a bad step to take, by the way, since sometimes we do reap what we sow.

But we’ve believed the lie that following Jesus means life will be happy, happy, happy. But that’s hardly biblical.

Abram and Sarai suffered for nearly a century waiting for a promised child.
Noah was mocked as he spent decades building a floating zoo.
Job lost everything. Everything.
Joseph is thrown into prison and forgotten…for saying no to sin.
John was boiled alive.
The other disciples died as martyrs.
Paul…he had lists of his distress, including shipwrecks and beatings, and stonings.
And most important of all, Jesus, of course was crucified.

It’s a long, long list. What do you do when you are in distress? I hope you’re honest, like today’s scripture reading passage.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

I love these verses. I’m glad the psalmist didn’t stop with praise. He kept it real. He got messy. He poured out his heart to God. We can, too. Here’s another translation of the Hebrew text:

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression? We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt. Rise up! Help us! Ransom us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

I especially love the final sentence: ransom us because of your unfailing love. He is reminding God of his love! “Don’t forget, LORD, You love me! You wouldn’t sleep while I suffer. You can’t forget Your children.”

I remember “reminding” God of His goodness and faithfulness as I drove to and from the hospital countless times to see our daughter. It was a good reminder for me, too, for God
is good and faithful and His love is unfailing.

So What?

But what do we do when we are in distress? How are we to respond to crisis?

pray. I know, it sounds cliché, but prayer works. It changes circumstances. It changes us. Sometimes all we can do is pray, and that’s both frustrating and liberating, knowing some things are simply beyond our control. If you are in a place to make a decision—such as choosing a hospital for a friend or seeking a job after an unexpected loss—pray for wisdom. Psalm 44 is a prayer to God. The Bible is filled with prayers. God loves to hear your voice. Always. Sure, He knows your heart, but He loves to hear your voice.

Have you ever been so distraught you didn’t even know what or how to pray?

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

Last weekend in the midst of despair, I didn’t even know what to say except, “Help!” I said, “Holy Spirit, please groan!”

As we pray, we need four things:

We need
perspective. This was Sue Trumbull’s word this past week, emerging from her lips multiple times as she dealt with a variety of people and situations. It’s not always helpful to think, “It could be worse,” but then again, I’ve often found it comforting. As Rev. Thomas George says, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Does God want us happy? Sure, but His higher priority is to make us holy. He uses trials and suffering to grow us and shape us to be used for His glory. I don’t always understand why He gives sometimes and takes away at other times, but I know He can be trusted. He’s God. He’s perfect. No matter how challenging life becomes, a hundred years is a blink compared to eternity. That’s perspective!

We need to
look back. God has always been good and faithful, and He never changes. The people of Israel were constantly forgetting God’s past activity. A prayer journal is a great tool for building your faith, seeing what God has done.

We need to
look forward. Your story is not over. Your breakthrough may be just days away…or even hours away. It’s easy to become discouraged or even depressed about this moment, but God is in control and there’s more to come.

We need
one another.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Family, there’s two parts to this. First, we need to be willing to serve and support our brothers and sisters in need. Pray. Visit. Buy gift cards. Deliver meals. Babysit. Be present. We have some incredible shepherds in our family who are quick to respond to the needs of others.

But there’s a second part to this, and it is asking for help. I’m sick of hearing about people who tell the world nobody cares, yet they never bother to join a small group, reveal their pain to others, and swallow their pride and ask for help. Family, we can’t carry your burdens if we don’t know what they are!

We have a team of deacons and deaconesses who provide resources—visitation, skilled labor, and even financial help through our benevolence fund which they oversee.

We’re not a perfect family. No family is, but we are committed to helping one another on the journey. We have a benevolence fund to help with financial matters, but a deacon or deaconess needs to know of the need. Call or e-mail the office. Share your situation with your small group. And if you’re not in a small group, you’re missing out on community, relationships, and care. There’s a list of groups on our website, the weekly
Focus e-newsletter, and the information kiosk in the lobby.


God can be trusted. He may feel distant, but His promise is to be with us always, to the very end of the age. Call out to Him. Cry out to Him. And let us love you, serve you, and support you, too.

Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Envision DR: Hospitality, 15 July 2018

    Romans 12:9-13

    Big Idea: All believers are called to practice hospitality—welcoming the stranger—as our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic demonstrated so beautifully.

    One of this month’s Mission 119 devotional readings included this passage from Romans chapter twelve:

    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

    Does anyone have a problem with that text? I doubt it. These words from Paul to the early Christians in Rome are filled with encouragement. Look at these words:


    What a vision! Surely this encouragement can be applied thousands of years later to us here at First Alliance Church. I know of nothing in the context which would suggest these instructions were only for that place and time.

    After dozens of conversations with our team, one of the most consistent things I heard involved our sister church in the DR which we served. It used to be USAmericans would arrive in a foreign country with Bibles and money and unknowingly do more harm than good, arrogantly creating us versus them scenarios resulting in unintended yet damaging consequences.

    The beauty of the Alliance family and Envision Teams in particular is how we work together as equals. Envision contacted an Alliance church in Reparadero, DR and asked how our team might serve them. I asked our team to go with a servant’s towel on their arms. By the way, many people love the idea of being servants until they’re treated like one!

    When we arrived at the church, we were literally greeted with open arms, warmly embraced, and deeply loved. Although some things were lost in translation, one thing was obvious:
    they practice hospitality—welcoming the stranger!

    We attended their weekly Sunday worship gathering on our first day in the DR. On Monday, we did prayer walks in small groups, visiting people who live near the church, inviting them to church events, and offering to pray for them. We prayed with some for physical healing. We prayed with some for relatives. Arguably the greatest joy was praying with a husband and wife as they accepted Jesus as their Savior and LORD. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we returned to the church to do VBS-type work with the youth, including music, skits, Bible lessons, and My Story segments.

    Thursday was our day or recreation at the beach before Friday’s finale in the evening. One of the most striking comments came from a team member who told me, “I wish we would’ve skipped the beach day and spent another day at the church!”

    Perhaps the two most distinct things about the Reparadero church were their passion for Jesus and their hospitality.

    When they sang, they sang…and smiled…and raised their hands…and danced. It wasn’t because they were wealthy or powerful, but rather they love Jesus and are fully dependent upon him for their daily bread. Their worship was inspiring, and I pray it is contagious!

    Their hospitality was also inspiring, and I hope it is contagious, too. FAC family, we are called—even commanded—to practice hospitality, to welcome the stranger. Romans does not say tolerate the stranger or let them in the door, but rather welcome them. Make them feel at home. Let them know they belong. If you’re new around here, I hope you’ve felt welcome. We’ve all had experiences at a business where we felt like an interruption to someone’s day…and then there’s Chick-fil-A! The church in the DR made us feel like Chick-fil-A…and that’s my desire for First Alliance Church. I long for guests to feel like family…and become family. That’s hospitality. That’s biblical!

    So What?

    Here are a few simple things I want to challenge you with, family. If you are able, please consider:

    1. a. Parking away from the church building, leaving the best spaces for guests
    2. b. Opening the door for others, which is actually just common courtesy
    3. c. Looking for people in the lobby who look lost or lonely and simply saying hello
    4. d. Sitting closer to the front of the sanctuary, leaving the back rows for guests
    5. e. Inviting a newcomer out to lunch at your home or a restaurant
    6. f. Avoiding the temptation to converse only with friends following the worship gathering
    7. g. Inviting a guest to your small group or Sunday School class
    8. h. Take someone out for drinks at Claro Coffee Bar, our hospitality outpost on Adams Street

    These are not suggestions for our ushers and greeters. They are for all of us. We are all called to practice hospitality, to welcome the stranger. You’ve experienced it at Chick-fil-A. We experienced it in the DR. It is a beautiful expression of God’s love. When we welcome, love, and serve strangers, we are doing it to Jesus.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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