This will be my 10th sermon from the Psalms. Preaching a couple times of year, at this pace I will finish preaching through the whole book in 70 years. I will only be 109 years old. Even if I am still alive at 109, I know the book of Psalms will still be satisfying truth that I will need to cling to, until I take my last breath.
There are many things I’m eager for in heaven. One reality that I am most eager to experience is no longer having the disconnect I too often feel between what I know is true in my mind and what I feel is true in my heart. In heaven, there will be no more disconnect. Our hearts will have continual, growing, fullness of joy as we experience a perfect relationship with our heavenly Father.
This book reminds us of the struggle we have with the disconnect between what we know is true in our minds, and what we feel is true in our hearts. Too often when I’m struggling with trials or sin, my head knows what is true and right, but my emotions are having a hard time syncing up with that. What is true in my head doesn’t feel true in my heart. The psalms deal with emotions.
Emotions can be used for great good or great evil. Proper, God-exalting feelings find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. And Psalm 77 is one of the clearest Psalms that addresses a situation that you are either currently in, have been in, or will probably be in at some point in your Christian life. You will most likely go through the low, dark valley of the shadow of death, wondering where God is, feeling like he has turned his back to you. What do you do in those moments? That is what Psalm 77 is about.
The 150 Psalms are split into five different books, each with its own theme. Psalm 77 is in the third book of the Psalms and the theme of this book is very dark and bleak. After finishing on a high note in book 2, the darkness has set in and the light has disappeared. That is our lives. We will experience times of great joy and goodness, and we will experience times of thick darkness and weighty doubts.
Psalm 77 goes back and forth four times between expressing heaviness and doubts, and a reminder of the truth of who God is. This psalm is a lament. It is unclear what specific situation the author of this Psalm was experiencing.
It is a Psalm of Asaph. Asaph was one of three clans of musicians (Jeduthun and Heman were the other two) that David had put in charge of writing songs to be sung by God’s people, some of which have now been added into the Psalms as Scripture.
This song is given to us to illuminate our path when we are faced with the day of trouble. It is a light to our path, that we may cling to truth when our emotions are pulling us to doubt the steadfast love of God.
THE SITUATION (1-4)
Verses 1-4 lay out the situation the psalmist is in. We don’t know the specifics of the situation, but we know there is an intense sorrow for what he’s going through. He is in trouble and it is deep trouble. Where does he turn and direct his cry to? “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me (v. 1).”
This is an audible, out loud cry directed towards God, and he is reminding himself that God hears it. Yet, he’s struggling with believing that. As we will see in just a few verses, he lays out question after question as to whether the Lord has turned from him. God hears him, but will God do anything to rescue him out of the trouble? Where is God in this situation he is facing?
He is longing and looking for God to show up on his behalf. “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted (v. 2).” This trouble is keeping him up at night and he’s on the laid out on the floor, arms outstretched, pleading with God to bring comfort to his soul. But it is not coming. Everything seams bleak to him.
He’s fighting to see God’s promises though. “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints (v. 3).” He’s trying to think about God and meditate on his promises. Yet the darkness will not lift. He’s fighting to see the goodness of God, but the fog is thick and his spiritual vision is blurred. He’s still feeling faint and his soul is still groaning.
The relief is not coming. “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak (v. 4).” He wants to escape from the trouble he’s in and run from it, but he can’t. Have you ever wanted to close your eyes from the heaviness of a situation? To pretend it is not there? Have you been so burdened with guilt of sin or heaviness of trials, that you feel like your brain is scrambled and you can’t even form words to come out of your mouth to speak to another person, or to God?
I know some of you have been in this place. Some of you will be in this place and you have no idea that you will be there. I have been in this place. A place of trouble so deep that you’re audibly crying out to God for help, you’re being kept up at night, and even God’s promises do not feel comforting.This is the situation this Psalm is addressing. This is Psalm 77.
THE FIRST RESPONSE (5-6)
The first four verses really lay out a darkness of the soul the psalmist is experiencing. Pay close attention to the fact that he is trying to meditate and remember the goodness of God, but it doesn’t feel like it is bringing any comfort. What does he do? He keeps considering and remembering God. This is the fight of faith. A fight to have God bring the connection again between believing with the mind and feeling with the heart.
In verses 5 and 6 we see the first response to the situation. “I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search.” He is getting into the pulpit of his soul, and preaching to himself.
We go through times in our lives when the darkness is so deep that our souls refuse to be comforted. What do we do with that? After high school I did a lot of hiking in the upper peninsula of Michigan. There are areas up there that are gigantic swamps, and there’s no way around them. The only way is through it. I remember mucking through swampy water up to my knees, with a 40 pound backpack on. If I kept my eyes downward, on the next step in front of me, it was discouraging because all I saw was nasty, mucky swamp water. But if I fixed my eyes on the next plateau, that would take us out of the swamp, I found it easier to take another step, and another step, until we were back on dry ground.
That is what is going on here in verses 5 and 6. He is fixing his soul on very specific things as a way to get the eyes of his heart focused on what is right. He does it in two ways.
The first is by remembering specific times in the past when God’s work was more clearly seen and the second is using songs as a way for his heart to meditate on truth. We take up the Word of God and we take up the songs of God to fix our eyes away from the swamp and on to our sovereign God.
We see the example of this in verses 16-20. He recounts the specific situation in Exodus 14 of when God brought his people across the Red Sea and out of the grasp of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. When we are in days of trouble; general, vague reminders about God are not the way out. Specifically recalling to mind the wonders and acts of God are the way to fight. Turn those wonders into cries and prayers of help for God to cause you feel them in your heart. That is what is happening in this Psalm.
In the day of trouble, you may vaguely remember that God is sovereign over all things, and not go any deeper in your thoughts or prayers. That isn’t bad but that isn’t as helpful as it could be. You would do better to go to a passage like Isaiah 46 and preach this to your soul. “For I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…I have spoken, and I will bring it to to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
That is the first way. The second way is by remembering your songs in the night. Do you have a repertoire of songs that you can go to when you are in the darkness? Songs that are your songs. They are familiar to you and you know them well.
For me, one song I love to go to time and again is All Creatures of Our God and King because it is overflowing with lyrics filled to the brim with thanksgiving. In times of darkness, my heart is not feeling thankful and I need a song to fix my heart on what I should feel thankful for. “All the redeemed washed by his blood/ come and rejoice in his great love/ O praise him! Alleluia!/ Christ has defeated every sin/ Cast all your burdens now on Him!/ He shall return in pow’r to reign/ Heaven and earth will join to say/ O Praise Him!/ Then who shall fall on bended knee?/ All creatures of our God and King/ O praise Him! Alleluia!”
Go out for a walk in the woods, put your headphones in, and listen to some of the songs that we sing here on Sunday mornings. Get familiar with them and let them ring in your ears throughout your week, and ask God to help you feel the truth and beauty that are in the lyrics.
THE QUESTIONS (7-9)
Lest you think this is a formula where you plug in the numbers and get the answer, we leave the good reminders of verses 5 and 6, and go back into the doubting questions of verses 7 through 9. This is life. Our affections for God will rise and fall. There will be days when the Word and songs lift us out of our doubts and darkness, and there will be times when our souls refuse to be comforted.
We see six questions the psalmist asks God, which show clearly that he is not feeling what he seeks after in verses 5 and 6.
- Will the Lord spurn (reject, set aside) me forever.
- Will he ever show me favor (be pleased) again?
- Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
- Has God’s promises come to an end for me? (Have they dried up like a dusty river bed.)
- Has God forgotten to be gracious to me? (God, don’t you know what I’m going through here? I’m suffering. I’m hurting. You’ve forgotten me)
- Is God angry with me and cut off his compassion for me?
You have a biblical basis here to humbly and earnestly come to God with your doubts and disjointed, disconnected feelings. Do not bury them from yourself, or from others here at Grace Church. God’s kindness is big enough to absorb them in his vast ocean of grace and mercy. You may feel one of these questions or all of these questions. These questions can be a jumbled mess in our minds as we are in the darkness and the swampiness.
SECOND RESPONSE (10-15)
The six questions are followed by an appeal to the years of the right hand of the Most High (v. 10). He is going back to what he said in verses 5 and 6 in reminding himself of what is true. The questions are not the last say. They are not the end! They are not the whole story.
He makes a declaration here of what he is committed to doing. He will remember, he will ponder and he will meditate.
In verse 11 he says that he will remember the deeds of the Lord and his wonders of old. He is recalling to mind the acts of God towards his people. We are a forgetful people, which is a tragic result of living in a sinful world and having sinful natures. We forget what God has done and who he is for us. We need to recall the wonders of God to our mind.
And not simply recall them to our mind, but ponder them. Linger over these wonders and spend chunks of time thinking over them. This is not a rushed, quick fix. Get away, get alone and get quiet before God’s Word and ponder his wonders. The longer you look and linger over these wonders, the more you will see. Put down the phone. Turn off the news. Get away from the kids. Make it the top priority over all the other things you need to do. Linger over God’s Word.That is how you seek to make the connection between what you know in your mind about the wonders of God and what you feel in your heart about the wonders of God.
And not only remember and and not only ponder but finally, meditate. We remember because we are forgetful. We ponder because we don’t see things right away. And we meditate to make the connection between what we’ve remembered and pondered in our brains to cause our hearts to have right affections. We don’t want to stop at simply knowing. We don’t want to stop at merely pondering. We are after having our affections shaped by the sweet, beautiful wonders of God’s Word.
We are looking at the diamond of God’s Word here from three different angles. Remembering, pondering and meditating. This is the way we can start to see the various refractions of the glory of God’s wonders and mighty deeds and awesome works.
Verses 13 through 15 are an example of what this looks like. He’s remembering and pondering the holiness and greatness of God. He’s going after specific truths about God and lingering over them. There is a battle raging in this psalm over what he feels is true and what he knows is true. The battle is not won quickly and it is not won with a vague knowledge of God. It is won through slowly pondering and meditating on specific truths.
Consider what trial you are going through or what sin you are battling. There could be overlap in those two questions. You could be experiencing a trial that is stirring up sin that you have to deal with. Take time to consider what is going on in your life that is hard or sinful and ask yourself how you can remember and ponder and meditate on God’s wonders.
For me, the last few years have brought about sustained, deep times of darkness. I’ve felt all six of those questions we just went through. There were small tremors of doubting that started back in 2017 and 2018. Then, 2019-2021 the tremors turned into a full on earthquake in my life that caused a giant rift between what I knew was true in God’s Word and what I felt was true in my heart. The trials upon trials brought sinful reactions in my heart, and when I saw what was happening with my sin, I was confused and scared. I did not remember or ponder or meditate for some time. I sat in those six questions and doubted God. I knew in my mind that God was for me. I felt in my heart that he was against me.
After taking an assessment of what was the root of my doubt, God revealed that I had allowed discontentment to take hold. I didn’t want to be in the circumstances God was bringing me through, and was wanting things to be different and easier. I needed to do some serious remembering, pondering and meditating on contentment.
I started looking at all the passages in the New Testament that dealt with contentment, and I found I Timothy 6:6-19. I began remembering and pondering and meditating on this passage.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, this storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
As I started remembering, pondering and meditating on this passage, I started seeing truths and promises in it more deeply and they become more satisfying to me over time. This wasn’t days. It wasn’t weeks. This took months to memorize, but it has become like a familiar friend to me now. I have prayed it time and again when I feel discontentment creeping into my heart. First Timothy 6 became the sharp sword that God used to cut the head off the snake of discontentment. This passage has been pivotal in helping me walk through dark times and restore my joy in God, no matter what my circumstances are.
Get to know a passage of Scripture like you know the buttons in your vehicle. When you first get a new vehicle you have to think about where the A/C button is, or where the AM/FM radio button is, or how to set cruise control. After you do these motions over and over again, you don’t even have to think about it.
Get to know a passage of Scripture so well, that you can start saying it to yourself while you are driving, or while you are in the line at the store, or while you are in your bed and drifting off to sleep. Memorizing Scripture is a wonderful tool for remembering, pondering and meditating on the wonders of God’s Word.
- If you are struggling with feelings of guilt over past sin, and you are a Christian forgiven by Jesus, memorize Romans 8:1.
- If you are doubting God’s promises and have a weak faith, memorize Hebrews 11.
- If you have a quick temper, memorize James 1:19-21.
- If you have a shallow view of God’s greatness memorize Isaiah 40:9-31.
- If you lack zeal for missions and seeing God’s name brought to the ends of the world, memorize Psalm 67.
- Are you prone to depression and discouragement? Memorize Psalm 42.
Find a passage of Scripture that is applicable to your sin struggle or your trials and go after it with laser focus that you might remember, ponder and meditate. Over time, through prayer, and with the vital help of the Holy Spirit, you will begin seeing what you do not see. Run to the word and store it up in your heart. Pray it. Plead for God to help you see and feel its grandeur.
Psalm 77 closes with verse 20. It says, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Israel went through the wilderness, experiencing many dark days because of their sin and doubt. Yet in it all, God was a faithful shepherd to them by sending Moses and Aaron to lead them.
God continued being a faithful shepherd to his people throughout the times of the Old Testament. Whether his people were experiencing trouble, trials or were sinning against him, he remained a faithful shepherd.
And then, in the fullness of time, the Word became flesh. That flesh was the perfect, good shepherd, Jesus Christ. He came so that his sheep would know his voice. The shepherd became the spotless lamb that was sacrificed on the cross for our sins. No amount of Bible memorization can forgive your sins. Jesus did that for you. The Word, the Shepherd, and the Lamb is also the King of kings and Lord of lords. He calls you to hear his voice.
Look to him. Cry aloud to him in your day of trouble. Remember, ponder and meditate on his wonders. He went to the cross so you could know him and hear his voice in the day of trouble and experience his joy.