Out of the Slimy Pit (Psalm 40:1-11)

He Lifted Me by Nate Owens

I put all my hope in the Lord.
    He leaned down to me;
    he listened to my cry for help.
He lifted me out of the pit of death,
    out of the mud and filth,
    and set my feet on solid rock.
        He steadied my legs.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise for our God.
Many people will learn of this and be amazed;
    they will trust the Lord.
Those who put their trust in the Lord,
    who pay no attention to the proud
    or to those who follow lies,
    are truly happy!

You, Lord my God!
    You’ve done so many things—
    your wonderful deeds and your plans for us—
        no one can compare with you!
    If I were to proclaim and talk about all of them,
        they would be too numerous to count!
You don’t relish sacrifices or offerings;
    you don’t require entirely burned offerings or compensation offerings—
    but you have given me ears!
So I said, “Here I come!
    I’m inscribed in the written scroll.
    I want to do your will, my God.
    Your Instruction is deep within me.”
I’ve told the good news of your righteousness
    in the great assembly.
    I didn’t hold anything back—
        as you well know, Lord!
I didn’t keep your righteousness only to myself.
    I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness
    from the great assembly.

So now you, Lord—
    don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.
Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me. (Common English Bible)

Every follower of the Lord has a powerful story of God’s grace in lifting them out of a slimy pit experience. 

We live in a profoundly broken world; and no one is exempt from its effects upon us. Whether physical problems, emotional trials, or relational hardships, there is always something going on in our lives – with the added pull toward trusting in things other than God. 

The temptation to say unjust words and do unjust actions is always over-promised and under-delivered. 

It’s easy to get sucked-in to poor decisions and be stuck in an empty hole with seemingly no way out. We often find ourselves slipping into a slimy pit because of our own bad decisions, as well as by no fault of our own. 

Living in a fallen world means that we inevitably experience troubles and hardships.

So, what do we do if we find ourselves in a slimy pit?

Look for Hope

David, the psalmist, waited patiently for the Lord. With great expectation, he fully anticipated God to act on his behalf. The sort of patience he practiced was an intense waiting – a waiting filled with longing and expectant hope, a patience that kept looking and praying and seeking.

The reason believers in Jesus keep hoping beyond hope is that we know that God is ultimately the One who delivers from the pit. 

But what if you have been looking for deliverance from the slimy pit experience and you have not seen it come to pass? 

Expectantly expect God to act. Wait patiently. Do not give up. Keep praying and watching. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, keep looking out the window, waiting for the son to return, and picture the deliverance coming – because our waiting is not in vain.

flickr.com/photos/joshtinpowers

The psalmist, David, was eventually delivered. The Lord leaned down to him. God listened and lifted him. The Lord God set him on a firm place to stand and put a new song in his mouth. 

This was not only a personal matter for David; it was also an occasion that other people needed to know about.

Look for God

We all must finally come to the end of ourselves and look up. Whenever the deliverance doesn’t come quickly, we may look to other people or things to give us the freedom we long for. It’s easy to become impatient and begin searching for answers in everything else but God. 

Yet, if we will let patient hope have its way, we are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

In all my years of churchgoing as a kid, I had never read my Bible. But God was gracious to me. I remembered all those sermons I heard about Jesus. I gained a newfound sense of my own inner darkness, as well as the desire to read God’s Word. And God saved me. 

My circumstances did not change, but I did. My loneliness turned to joy; my aimlessness turned into purpose; and my selfishness became a deep concern for others. My heart had been black, and what God did to change it was nothing less than miraculous.

Look Within

The person who looks for hope and seeks God is also a person who looks into their own heart and there finds the attitude which God will bless. 

Blessing does not come from great sacrifice, but by syncing one’s heart with the heart of God. 

The Lord cares little about how much money or stuff you have, or how many sacrifices were made for God; that’s because God wants your heart, your mind, your will, and your emotions. In other words, God wants you! 

And God desires you because the Lord made you with a heart that beats for the same things God cares about: justice, mercy, and humility.

If you and I will but look within at the very spirit God has put within us, we shall find resources beyond what we can ask or think.

Look to Bless Others

We possess more than a personal faith which is to benefit ourselves; we also have an equal responsibility to bless the community with our experiences of what God has done in our lives. 

The telling of stories about what God has done for us is a necessary part of building up the church and helping others move forward in faith, hope, and love.

The psalmist proclaimed his testimony in the great assembly, that is, publicly. This isn’t about standing behind a microphone in front of lots of people; it’s about being so touched by God that we cannot keep our mouths shut about the Lord’s deliverance on our behalf.

So, let’s not shelve the idea of giving testimony to others as if it were only for pastors, missionaries, or other very religious people. 

When a person decides to play hockey in -20 degrees below zero weather, we might think that person is a little crazy;  but, hey, we reason, if they love hockey that much, more power to them. 

We must not think about Christianity in the same way, that if a person is passionate about Jesus and desires to tell others about what God has done for them, more power to them; just don’t expect me to go out in the cold and do that because it isn’t my thing. 

Christianity is a life, not a hobby; it’s about humble service, and not a means to look respectable; it cannot be reduced to a few practices, such as church attendance or putting money in an offering plate.

Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus. Try looking at marriage as simply showing up for supper and paying the bills and see how far that gets you.

Look to Get Lost to Get Found

We may become obsessed with getting out of our slimy pit of illness, infirmity, pain, adversity, hardship, or discord. If that happens, we will likely lose our proper focus.

Instead, get lost in the wonder of God. The Lord does wondrous things when we are immersed in God’s wonders.

“Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me will find true life.” Jesus (Matthew 16:25, ERV)

New life comes from a change of heart, not a change of circumstances. Wherever there is a firm reliance on God; a glad obedience to God; and a readiness to give testimony to God’s actions, then we are living into the spirit of today’s psalm.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace. Amen.

Future Hope (Isaiah 29:17-24)

Soon the forest of Lebanon
will become a field with crops,
    thick as a forest.
The deaf will be able to hear
    whatever is read to them;
the blind will be freed
    from a life of darkness.
The poor and the needy
    will celebrate and shout
because of the Lord,
    the holy God of Israel.

All who are cruel and arrogant
    will be gone forever.
Those who live by crime
    will disappear,
together with everyone
    who tells lies in court
and keeps innocent people
    from getting a fair trial.

The Lord who rescued Abraham
has this to say
    about Jacob’s descendants:
“They will no longer
    be ashamed and disgraced.
When they see how great
    I have made their nation,
they will praise and honor me,
    the holy God of Israel.
Everyone who is confused
    will understand,
and all who have complained
    will obey my teaching.” (Contemporary English Version)

We, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:23-25, NIV

There are better days ahead. And it is this hope which is to help sustain us in present – because the current reality for many people is hard and unforgiving. Malevolent and heartless people exist, and they wreak physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual havoc on those around them.

When in the throes of difficulty, it is good to be reminded that basic human kindness will once again be exalted and valued. Yet, meanwhile, we must endure the evil of dehumanizing behavior. Until then, we must do our best to connect heaven and earth by rehumanizing every space and place within our sphere on influence. We are to be agents of hope for ourselves and for others.

Every person (and I do mean every person) on planet earth is created in the image and likeness of God. Each individual human being is worthy of basic human kindness and deserving of respect. 

Unfortunately, people do and say terrible things every day. Yet this never means that God’s image has left or has taken a vacation, or that someone deserves a pejorative label which stigmatizes and ostracizes them from the human family. 

For the Christian, the supreme ethic of life is love. We hold to the Great Commandment: Love God and neighbor; all other commands of Holy Scripture hang on these two bedrock commands, upheld by Jesus himself.

Therefore we must all ask ourselves if we are living our lives and loving others in this world as intended by our Creator and Redeemer. Hate speech, unsafe working conditions, political gerrymandering, apathy toward another’s injustice, a lack of empathy, and vilifying particular people groups are just a few examples of dehumanizing behavior.

If ever we move down the path of claiming to know whom God judges or ought to judge, then we have gone the way of extreme hubris and are germinating the seeds of a future holocaust of killing, not a future hope of peace and goodness. 

There is no biblical precedent or place to dehumanize another person or group of people, period. Instead, we must actively build relationships with a broad spectrum of groups and individuals – especially with the ones we least know and understand.

The injustice of dehumanization will not always be with us. Confusion and complaints will give way to clarity, understanding, humility, and obedience. Darkness and deafness, poverty and petulance shall melt away. In its place, love and grace will forever be ensconced upon a new earth, free from crime and shame. Hope will be realized.

Our future hope is a living hope.

We typically use the term “hope” in the wishful thinking sort of way. That’s because we aren’t quite sure if things will shake-out like we want. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that knows what is coming. 

Hope is like anticipating the seasons. In the dead of winter when it’s bitter cold with little sunshine, we hopefor Spring. It’s not wishful thinking. We know it’s coming. It might come in early March, maybe in late April. But it’s coming, and you can bet the farm on it. The trees will bud, the grass will turn green, and the temps will warm.

Hope in the Bible is a sure thing. Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is hope, the confident expectation that deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be fully realized.

Hope, inheritance, and salvation are all words that describe nearly the same thing. They all point to Jesus. We are saved from the slavery of sin through the cross and resurrection of Christ. We are delivered into an inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade. But an inheritance isn’t activated until death. Someday, when this present life of earthly brokenness is over, we have the hope, the confident expectation, of a permanent inheritance with Jesus forever. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Outwardly, we suffer in all kinds of earthly grief from others who don’t understand us. Inwardly, we have the silent pain and terrible wrestling of wanting to forgive but desiring revenge; of seeking to be gracious but seething with anger; of looking to express kind words but having hate speech blurt out instead.

But it won’t always be this way. We have a future living hope. In this season of Advent, we are reminded that God shall break into this fallen world with all of its dehumanizing behaviors and hate speech. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in a humble feeding trough, in a little baby.

Hope is as real as anything you’ll ever know this side of heaven. You might not always find what you’re looking for in this life; but in the next life, you can find the life that is truly life. For Jesus Christ is our hope.

God of hope, we seek you. During this holy season of Advent, help us to see you in all whom we encounter. We seek you in the crude manger, a child born to save the world. May your hope be a comfort to all who long for justice; and may that hope overflow in our hearts and grace our lips so that we might reflect your hope for all the world. Amen.

The Tension of Advent (Hebrews 11:32-40)

What else can I say? There isn’t enough time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Their faith helped them conquer kingdoms, and because they did right, God made promises to them. They closed the jaws of lions and put out raging fires and escaped from the swords of their enemies. Although they were weak, they were given the strength and power to chase foreign armies away.

Some women received their loved ones back from death. Many of these people were tortured, but they refused to be released. They were sure they would get a better reward when the dead are raised to life. Others were made fun of and beaten with whips, and some were chained in jail. Still others were stoned to death or sawed in two or killed with swords. Some had nothing but sheep skins or goat skins to wear. They were poor, mistreated, and tortured. The world did not deserve these good people, who had to wander in deserts and on mountains and had to live in caves and holes in the ground.

All of them pleased God because of their faith! But still they died without being given what had been promised. This was because God had something better in store for us. And he did not want them to reach the goal of their faith without us. (Contemporary English Version)

God has entered history through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In this season of Advent, Christians everywhere enter a time of anticipation, waiting, and hoping. Advent is meant to stir our awareness of God’s actions – past, present, and future.

During this time of year, we need to feel the tension between what is and what is yet to come. Christ has come, in his first advent, to seek and save the lost. And yet, not all things have reached completion. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been accomplished through the cross of Christ; yet this salvation isn’t here in it’s fullness. That will come when Jesus returns in his second advent to judge the living and the dead.

Which is why today’s New Testament lesson is perfect for the Advent season. It captures this awkward tension between already having something but not yet possessing it. It’s the tension of the Christian life. Celebration and hope are practiced together because we rejoice in what is, while confidently expecting what is not yet.

Throughout every era, people of faith have lived with the rubber band existence of feeling the extreme stretch without being broken by the pressure. Our spiritual ancestors didn’t break because of their hope. And the persons mentioned by the author of Hebrews inspire us to join them on this journey of perseverance until the promises of God are fully realized.

Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah all defeated large armies with just a few people because their robust faith melted circumstantial fear.

David, Samuel, and the prophets proclaimed truth, justice, and righteousness, knowing there would be adverse circumstances to speaking up and out.

People overcome dark times, establish what is just and right, gain what is promised, and do incredible things because they are looking beyond the present here-and-now of their difficulty to see something better. They know that their actions now will connect to better times ahead.

That’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in the face of overwhelming heat in a fiery furnace. It’s what Moses, Elijah, and David did by escaping the edge of the sword. They all refused to be thwarted in their mission and purpose for the world.

There were those who willingly endured torture and death rather than get sidetracked from their purpose. They were able to do it because they truly believed that their suffering and death was not the end of it. Better days were ahead and not even death could stop it.

This tends to make our own proclivities toward giving up when things are hard look really wimpy. Far too many folks have their focus in the wrong place – trying to change circumstances and other people – instead of focusing on simply being faithful to what God calls us to do.

We likely won’t have to undergo joint dislocations, torture racks, crushed bones, catapults, thumbscrews, branding irons, and a hundred other devious devices for trying to make a human’s spirit break.

Yet, we are presently enduring the subtly evil machinations of gaslighting, emotional manipulation, mental torture, spiritual abuse, and a hundred other sinister ways of attempting to break our will and commitment to what is right, just, and true.

The present awful consequences mean little whenever we’re able to connect what we’re doing to our coming heavenly reward. If the faithful people of the past could live and die in faith, no matter the circumstances, so can we.

Someday, everything will be made right by God. And when that day happens, we will experience it together as one people of God – all the believers of the past and us together. Right now, this present moment, the saints who have gone before us are patiently waiting for us….

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may all rise together to eternal life, through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.

Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

You love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him. So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him. (Good News Translation)

There’s no need for hope if everything’s going just the way you like it. I remember when I was a college undergraduate, I hoped for Christ’s return toward the end of every semester. The prospect of all those final exams and the pressure of grades had me longing for heaven.

But that’s life. Maturity, resilience, perseverance, and just about every virtue you can think of comes as a result of life’s trials and sufferings. The Christian has hope, precisely because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Faith has to be tried and tested. And hard circumstances are the way of purifying it. Like gold being purged of any dross by being exposed to extreme heat, so our faith becomes strong, robust, and genuine by the purgative fires of life’s many large and small sufferings.

The whole point of it all is to make us people worthy of our spiritual calling. Resurrection only happens because there’s been a death. Glory is only realized through suffering.

New life, the Christian life, isn’t a matter of making a new set of resolutions, as if it were nothing more than aspirations at the beginning of a calendar year. Rather, Christian faith is a response to the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

One of my all-time favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It’s a story of grace and new life, of a hopeless man given the chance at hope.

The main character is Jean Valjean, who spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter and cynical man. After his release, Jean Valjean has nowhere to go. 

In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit. In the middle of the night, he steals the bishop’s silver and skedaddles. 

The next day, however, Valjean is caught by the police. When they bring him back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Jean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.” 

After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.” In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken. Hope springs to life.

Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life. The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a redeemed life. Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop had done. Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life. 

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Throughout Jean Valjean’s new life, there are trials and temptations all along the way. Yet, mercy keeps his faith strong, and hope kindled. Whereas before, Valjean responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – he responds to each case of unjust suffering with gratitude, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.

Hope is kept alive because of suffering. Faith is strengthened by means of adversity. And both originate because of mercy and grace.

Christianity is a worldview perspective that enables one to rejoice in difficulty. For the Christian, there is no empty meaningless grief; there is the hope that our suffering means something. Like the athlete who endures all the painful practice in order to realize a future hope, so the believer in Jesus goes into strict training for the development of faith – all in the confident expectation of a fulfilled salvation.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, this seemingly weird alchemy of faith, suffering, hope, joy, and new life. And every generation of Christians needs to experientially discover it. Each believer eventually learns, in the crucible of hard circumstances, that the promises of God are the ballast to persevere in faith and patience throughout life.

Christian hope is a confident expectation that the promises of God will be completely realized.

A Christian’s salvation encompasses past, present, and future.

We were saved back there in the past when Christ died on the cross for us. We were crucified with him.

We are presently being saved from the world, the sinful nature, and the devil, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit in making us holy.

And we will be saved in the future when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, our salvation will be fully realized. Since that hasn’t happened yet, we have hope to sustain us.

It was hope that sustained me in college. I endured all the hours of study, all the exams, all the various courses taken, with the confident expectation that I would someday walk across that stage, receive my diploma, and graduate with my intended degree.

We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25, NIV)

The Christian’s hope for ultimate deliverance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or a year, or even decades, with spiritual endurance. Our goal shall come in all its fullness. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)

Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever. Until that day, let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith. 

Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.

Heavenly Father, you created us and lovingly care for us. We accept all our sufferings willingly, and as truly obedient children we submit ourselves to your holy will. Give us the strength to accept your loving visitation to us through adversity, and never let us grieve your heart by giving-in to impatience. We offer you our pains to be used for your honor and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.