Hope in The Midst of Sin and Despair

Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

The responsibility of any preacher in a sermon is two fold. Whether it is Pastor Dave, Matt, myself, or anyone else that stands before you, we have two things that need to be in the forefront of our minds and hearts in preaching. We need to get the passage right and we need to get it across. We need to get it right by rightly understanding what God has revealed in the passage, and secondly we need to rightly help you understand what God has revealed in the passage.

God has given us a tremendous gift in that he has revealed himself through the Scriptures. We should never come to these texts in a cavalier or casual way. We hold the very words of God here.

The book of Psalms is a tremendous gift to us as a church from God. The uniqueness of these 150 chapters is that it talks about a range of emotions that we experience as humans. The psalmists write about joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil, life and death, loneliness and friendship, darkness and light, anger and love, guilt and forgiveness, and on and on. To be human is to have emotions. While some experience more intense emotions than others, we all experience them on some level and to some degree.

The uniqueness of the Psalms though is that it deals with the volatility of human emotions within the constancy of God’s sovereignty. The psalmists never treat human emotions as the ultimate truth that allows them to do whatever they want to. The Psalmists describe how they feel and then remind the reader of the truth of who God is and what he will do for his people. How we need this.

The Psalms are a gift to us. Become familiar with them. Use them in your prayers. Read them in the midst of trials and after you have sinned. These 150 Psalms were written over a period of 1,000 years. Seventy-three were written by David. One hundred and thirteen of them are referenced in the New Testament. So get these into your life. Let God’s Word conform your emotions upward towards God in worship and not inwards towards yourself in sin.

A few weeks ago Pastor Dave talked about different couples within a short period of time that had come to him for marriage counseling and were dealing with some major issues. One person said to him during one of these meetings that Grace Church wasn’t the right church for them because it didn’t seem like anyone else was struggling with the problems they had.

I think that feeling is more prevalent among people in our church and not just isolated to that one person. It is the feeling of looking around at other people or other families at Grace Church, thinking they have it all together while your life is messed up. You may look at other family’s kids and think they are so well behaved. You may look at another couple’s marriage and think that everything is great for them. You may look at another person’s job and think they must have a great life because of it. You may be in a family’s home and think they look so put together.

These feelings of being the only person that is struggling with sin or trials is a lie. All of us will go through the depths at some point in our life. For Johanna and I, we went through over a year of hard struggles in our marriage. It seemed to come from nowhere. We had a hard time feeling like we were connected. Having meaningful or spiritual conversations was like trying to break through concrete with a plastic spoon. We would be short and snap with each other.

We couldn’t figure out what was going on. We didn’t know what the problem was. For a year we went through this. There were hard conversations, silent nights, and forgiveness that needed to be asked and granted. I remember one night all I could come up with in prayer to God for us was, “Please, help us God.” We went through the depths.

Your perception of other people here at Grace Church may be wrong. To be human is to experience trials, suffering, sinfulness, and emotions. That is why the Psalms are a gift. They reveal God to us in the midst of these depths.

This chapter has eight verses that are split up into four different parts. Each part has two verses to them. The first part is about a cry for help in the depths and the second part is an acknowledgement of sinfulness. The writer needs saving in both of these circumstances. Those first two parts deal with the state of the Psalmist’s circumstances. The last two parts deal with how the psalmist responds in those circumstances. Let’s walk through these verses together.

The first two verses in this Psalm describe the first circumstance that the writer is asking God to save him from. The depths. In the context of this chapter it is most likely talking about the effects of sin on the soul, but these depths could also be hardships or trials.

You’ve all been here before and if you haven’t been here yet, you will be. The depths are the times in your life when something isn’t as it should be. Something is wrong and you feel the crushing weight of the circumstances bearing down on your soul. It could be sin you’ve committed or it could be someone who has sinned against you. It could be a hard marriage, a job loss, a financial hardship, and deep rift in a friendship, a wayward child, and the list could go on and on.

Psalm 69:1-2 describes it this way: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me.” You can’t get a sure footing on life. You are being swept away. At times the reality of this is great and sinks us into the depths of despair and misery.

I spent a couple weeks scuba diving in Florida when I was a teenager. One of the things I found out quickly was that we had to learn to equalize as we get deeper underwater. Equalizing is the process of opening up the tubes that run from your throat to your mouth to relieve the pressure they experience from the water that is on top of you. I was having problems the first few days of diving in being able to get these tubes to open. When I got down to 10-12 feet the pressure on my ears was so painful that I had to ascend back up to the surface.

That’s the type of experience we have in our soul from the depths of being in trials or experiencing the guilt of sin. The depths feel like they are crushing our soul.

That’s the emotion the psalmist is experiencing. What does he do? He cries out to the Lord to hear his voice. Who or what are you turning to in your despair? There are a million things that can compete for your attention in your despair and they will tempt you into believing that they can bring comfort or escape. Entertainment, movies, music, vacations, isolation, pornography, anger; all whisper into your ear for you to cry out to them for relief.

Entertainment and movies provide a mental escape. Unhelpful music can carry away into your own world. Isolation removes the people from you they may be causing the hurt. Pornography is like the drug addicts needle giving you that quick stimulation. Anger justifies your emotions and reminds you that you were right all along.

The psalmist turns to the self-existent God. That is the name for God he is using here. The One who needs no one else to depend on for existence. The One who always was and always is, who has no beginning and no end. Out of the depths he pleads for God to hear him. What are you crying out to?

He goes on to ask God to be attentive to his pleas for mercy. He is pleading for the audience of God. He is asking God to listen and turn his attention to him because what he is going through right now is unbearable. He needs to know that God knows what he is going through. This isn’t just an asking. This is a pleading. It is an earnest and desperate cry for the ear of God.

The Psalms are packed with phrases like this. Time after time we read about cries for help and asking for God to hear those cries. We see that this isn’t just a plea (singular) for mercy but pleas (plural) for mercy. The writer is coming to God again and again, persistently asking God to save him from his situation. In his emotions of being in the depths he is directing his his need for help to God asking him to act. He will not go to another.

He wants God to show forth his goodness toward him in his misery and distress. That is what mercy is. Misery and distress are upon this man’s soul and it feels like he is being crushed by it. The emotions he is feeling are real and painful and this verse is a prayer, a cry, a plea for God to hear him and rescue him. This is the first situation.

What are iniquities (which is another word for sin)? We tend to think of them as being things that we do such murder, stealing, or adultery as the most serious ones. We may think even think of sins as not reading our Bible, or neglecting prayer, or yelling at our spouse, or not spending time with our kids. Yet, the Bible makes it clear that our external sins are rooted in internal sins as well. Murder is born out of hatred for another human. Stealing is born out of a heart that covets. Adultery is born out of a heart that lusts. Anger and yelling is born out of a heart that wants its own way. These states of our heart are also sin for they displease God and are not honoring to him. God sees our heart.

Not only do we commit sins of the body and the heart, but our very nature is corrupted by sin. Psalm 51:5 says that we were born with sin in our heart. Ephesians 2:3 gives it to us in a crystal clear way. “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

So we are corrupt not only in what we do and what we think but in who we are. Our sin problem goes down into the core of who we are. It goes down to our very soul.

Here’s where it gets really heavy. The psalmist is aware of his sinfulness. He tells God that if God were to mark all his sins he wouldn’t be able to even stand. Imagine if we were to compile a list of all the sins you know that you’ve committed in your lifetime. Now imagine if we were to put that list up on Sunday morning for everyone in this church to see. What would you do? How would that make you feel knowing that other people could read about the most sinful things you have ever done that maybe no one knows except you?

You would feel deep shame and embarrassment wouldn’t you? Yet, these are sinful people reading about your sins who also committed shameful sins of their own. God, who has no sin in him, has the ability to compile that list and hold it against us. The shame that we would feel from other sinners seeing our sin on display should be magnified times ten thousand when it is a holy-loving, justice-pursuing, wrath-avenging, self-existent God that is seeing it! Every unkind word you said to your children, every hate-filled thought you had about another person, every moment you wasted and didn’t use for good purposes, every pornographic image you’ve clicked on, and every time you neglected to put God above all things. This would make for a list that would fill your local library.

That’s not the end of the verse though. The “but” in this verse is massive. With God there is wrath but there is also forgiveness. This is a pardon. With God our sins are removed from us. To be with God means to be in a right relationship with him, for he does not extend forgiveness to his enemies. Forgiveness is extended to those that are with him- to those who are his children and have cried out for mercy.

To be forgiven of our sins means that the defilement on us has been removed and we are cleansed and made whole (Psalm 51:2). God doesn’t give us what we deserve (Psalm 103:10), and Isaiah 43:25 says that he even chooses to not remember them anymore.

Sin blocks a clear view of God’s beauty and glory. If sin blocks this what does forgiveness do? To put it another way, what happens when we are forgiven? What changes? “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

The greatest benefit we experience in being forgiven is not removal of the feeling of guilt. It isn’t event the removal of the punishment that we deserve. The greatest benefit of being forgiven is that we have a fear of God. An awe, amazement, and wonder that happens in our heart in which we see the glory of God. Sin blocks a clear view of God but forgiveness brings clarity to our heart of who God is and restores our relationship with him. Psalm 63 describes how our souls should long after being in the presence of God.

You know what it is like when there is a rift in a relationship with your spouse or brother, or parent. There is tension and separation and distance. That is what sin creates between us and God. You probably know what it is like to have a relationship repaired that has resulted in forgiveness. To be in right relationship with God is to have forgiveness which removes that tension and separation and distance. Instead of God’s wrath being upon us we experience his steadfast love and plentiful redemption. That is what gives us awe and fear in our heart for God.

The greatest truth about God’s forgiveness is that it brings an awe and amazement of who God is and brings us into his presence of steadfast love and plentiful redemption.

Here’s the question that stands before us. What do we do when the depths will not lift? What do we do when the guilt will not leave? The Psalms deal with the reality of human emotion but never treat emotion as the ultimate factor. It never justifies actions as a result of human emotions. All our emotions are to be subject to the rule and authority of God and God will never justify our sinfulness because of our emotions. The Psalms acknowledge and deal with emotion but never justify sinful actions as a result of them being present in our hearts.

The psalmist is still in the depths and crying out to God to hear his pleas for mercy. The darkness has not lifted so what does he do? He waits for the Lord with his whole being.

The first question we need to ask is regarding what it means to wait. Biblical waiting is the state of the soul that is longing for God to do something. It could be a rescue from our trials or it could be a rescue from the results of our sinfulness. Whatever the situation, this is not a passive waiting that he is writing about.

This is not the waiting that happens when you’re at the Department of Motor Vehicles getting your license renewed. This is the type of waiting that happens when you are a husband at the hospital with your wife and your baby is about to be born. At the DMV you stand in a line, not doing anything, waiting for your number to be called. You are passive and inactive. A husband who is waiting for his wife to give birth to their child, the waiting involves encouraging his wife, and putting cold cloths on her forehead. It involves eager anticipation and action.

A father waits for the anticipation of the birth of his child with his whole soul (the essence or core of who you are, that which makes you unique). Your soul is what makes you alive. When you are staring at a dead person in a casket the reason they look dead is because their soul has departed from their body. Your soul is that which makes up your life. The husbands inner being is eagerly awaiting the arrival of this child and you are doing all you can to help that happen. So it is with our waiting on God to act.

There are two things we see the psalmist doing in being an active participant in this waiting. The first is that he is praying. This Psalm is a prayer. This is why the psalms are so valuable for you in suffering and sin. You can turn them into prayers by reading them to God and letting your heart lift them up as an offering to God. We wait by praying, crying, and pleading for God to hear us and act.

The second thing we do in the active waiting of our soul is hope in his Word. “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever (Romans 11:33-36).” You will never get to the bottom of the ocean of God’s richness and wisdom and knowledge, but you can start wading into it the water of it through his Word.

The Bible is the clearest revelation we have of who God is. In his Word we find promise after promise for his people and blessing after blessing. It is where we find out what he expects of us and what the path of life is. Live in it. Eat it. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Study it. Talk about it with others. It is like honey to the tongue and a hammer to the heart. It is a light to our path and a sword in our hand. This is where we bank our hope on.

Our emotions are real but they should find their rest in God’s Word. We do not hope in fat bank accounts, dream vacations, escape from people or enjoyment of people. We do not hope in fancy cars or big houses or perfect spouses or high paying jobs. We do not hope in well behaved children or a new church addition or fancy clothes. We hope in the Word and the Word is God. We hope in his promises, statutes, laws, commandments, precepts, and testimonies. God is the object of our hope and his revealed Word is the way by which we see him more clearly.

We are to wait on the Lord as a watchmen waits for the morning. The psalmist gives us a picture of what it looks like for our soul to wait on the Lord in the hope of his Word. A watchmen was given the duty of posting himself on the walls of a city and looking for any impending attacks from the enemy. If an enemy was to attack, the watchmen was to sound the alarm to make everyone aware of it. The likelihood of an ambush was at night under the cover of darkness so at daylight his watch would be over and he could go home. For anyone who has worked a night shift, you know the desire you have for that sun to come up because that means your work is over.

That is how we are to eagerly hope in God. As a watchmen who waits for that sun to break over the horizon. When it does he knows his watch is over and he will be able to rest soon.

Something interesting happens in verses 7 and 8. The psalmist moves from the personal to the corporate. Instead of talking about himself, he now moves to his nation, his people Israel. He is now reminding his people to do what he has just told himself to do. Why is this important to take note of?

What happens when we are in the depths of despair or in the wake of our sinfulness? We tend to think about ourselves and what is happening to us. Yet here we see the psalmist understanding that this isn’t just about him. He is aware of others around him that need to be reminded to hope in God.

Isolation and continual introspection (just looking at your sinful heart over and over) will be deadly for your soul. Yet the emotional response in hard times and sinful times can be to pull back and remove ourselves from other people. We tend to want to isolate ourselves from those around us and just stare into the abyss of our heart and either feel sorry for ourselves or wallow in our guilt or do any number of destructive, God-dishonoring actions.

Have you considered that God can use the time you’ve spent in the depths and the forgiveness you’ve experienced from sin as a way to encourage others to hope in God? I’ve been encouraged by seeing some of you go through hard times or deal with sin head on and hope in God through it.

We need flesh and blood examples of what it looks like to live out hoping in God and being obedient to God. This is why Discipleship Groups are so critical to your relationship with God. They are opportunities for you to be honest with one another about where you are struggling and to help others or be helped by others to hope in God.

As I was starting to prepare this sermon I went through a tough struggle in my life over the course of a week. I didn’t want to meet with the guys in my DG that week but wanted to be by myself and wallow in my sinful emotions. That night I shared with these guys my struggle and was prayed over. I didn’t learn anything new that night about God, but was encouraged to hope in God as I was prayed for. I needed a human to remind me to hope in God that night and there was a unique encouragement that came with that.

The psalmist concludes his song with two specific reasons as to why we can hope in God- his love and redemption. Why does God’s steadfast love and plentiful redemption fuel our hope?

God’s love is the display or the pouring out of himself on his people. He displays his love to his people through his kindness, mercy, goodness, favor and pity. He shows his children his favor on them and it is steadfast; it doesn’t end or stop or sputter. Like the constant beating of your heart so is the constant love that God shows to his children even when we can’t see it in our lives or feel it in our hearts.

Not only does God show love to his children but he demonstrates plentiful redemption towards them. Redemption is a buying back of something and making it whole. It is the taking of a bad situation and making it into a good situation. God has the ability to take our sinful actions and redeem them. He takes what is evil and turns it into good. While that is never an excuse for sinning, let that be a reason for hope in God. Your sin is not ultimate. God’s redemption trumps sin’s power.

Note that this redemption is described as plentiful. If I were to invite you over for dinner tomorrow night, you may get excited that you get to experience Johanna’s cooking. But if I were to say to you that we are having a lavish dinner, your excitement should increase. So it is with God and his redemption. There is no sin too great that he can’t redeem you from. His redemption is plentiful.

Grace Church, this room is full of people like you. We have sins that we would all be ashamed to have exposed. We experience the depths of despair in life. Stop comparing your life to those around you. Instead, let your entire being wait on the Lord through hoping in his Word and taking awe in his forgiveness. Plead for help and fight against sin. Be honest with people in your DG about your struggles. Look for ways to call others into this hope as well.

Psalm 130 is a combination of boldness and humility. It’s bold in the fact that the prayer is pleading for God to do something, yet it is humble in acknowledging sinfulness. This humble boldness comes from a hope in God.

This is a God who took on flesh and took the punishment for our sin so that we would not have to stand before him and have him mark our iniquities. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20).”

Let these verses be an anchor for your soul. Our hope is not in vain, our hope has a name. It is Jesus Christ, our great high priest. Let all your emotions feast on this great reality. Jesus Christ is the anchor of our soul.