PSALMS OF ASCENT: Waiting  Psalm 130

This summer when my family and I were on vacation, we went to Legoland in San Diego.  They had a new ride there, Ninjago ride that my son was really excited to go on.  It was a 4-D type of ride where you’re karate chopping things that are flying at you, and there’s mist and smells…..   It was pretty epic!  We chose our time wisely as to when we wanted to get into line, because the line was long.  It got shorter as the day went on and so around 6 o’clock, when most people with little kids had done the wise thing and left, we were still there.  We got into line.  There was about just five minutes of waiting out front and thought man, we have chosen wisely.  We got through that part of the line and then went into this other room.  There were ropes set up in the next room and there were about five lines back and forth through this room.  The music started to get a little bit louder—that’s when you know you’re in trouble—they want to distract you.  We got through that room and entered….ANOTHER room!  Music got a little bit louder and we’re waiting a little bit longer.  We got through THAT room and entered ANOTHER room!  Finally, we get to the front of the line.  Somebody with what they call a FastPass….which means they spent a ton of money to buy this little device that allows them to cut in front of regular paying customers like us.  They just flashed this FastPass and cut in front of us!  I thought, “What in the world is going on? I’ve spent 45 minutes in this line now, in these rows, with the music getting louder and louder and somebody cuts right in front of me!!”

I started to think that life just feels like that, doesn’t it?  Right when you think you’re getting to the “front of the line,” there’s another room.  Right when you think you’re at the end of the tunnel and you think you see the light, it turns out the light is off far more in the distance than you ever could have dreamed.  So many of us spend a lot of time in our lives waiting.  I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this before, but my guess is, every single day you spend time waiting.  Whether it’s in traffic on the way to or home from work; or in the grocery store…..anyone have an equation they work in their mind as to which checker is going to be the fastest so you spend the least amount of time waiting!  We hate that waiting period, don’t we?  We all experience it.  If you have kids, my guess is, like me, every single meal you eat involves waiting….not because you’re at a nice restaurant, but because you’re begging your kids to eat the food that’s in front of them!!  We spend so much of our lives waiting.

Here’s how I’ll define waiting for us today—waiting is that space between REALITY (where we’re at in actuality, in real life) and DESIRE (where we’d love to be).  The space between reality and desire.  The space between addiction and recovery…there’s waiting there.  The space between joblessness and employment…there’s waiting there.  The space between desperation and depression and joy…there’s waiting there, isn’t there?  The space between hurt and health…there’s waiting there.  In all of our lives we will, and probably ARE on some level and in some way, be waiting, aren’t we?  It’s not unique to any single one of us, it’s a condition of being human.  There’s a space between reality and desire, where we currently are and where we wish we would be. Or when we let ourself hope and let ourself dream and let ourself pray, where we envision life eventually heading.  Maybe it’s a relationship for you, so this {chair} would signify singleness and the desire is dating or marriage or whatever.  All of us have these things in our life, don’t we?   {Will you look up at me for a second?} The question is NOT whether or not you will wait in life.  The question is whether or not you will wait WELL. Whether or not you wait well will determine the fruit that’s birthed in your life in the space between reality and desire.

If you read through the Scriptures, there’s so many stories about waiting.  There’s whole books devoted to the people of God, the nation of Israel, waiting.  If you read Numbers 13, you see this invitation from God.  The people of Israel are invited to enter the Promise Land.  If you’ve been around the Scriptures a little bit, you probably recognize that story.  They go and survey the land and come back and report, “Listen, there’s giants in the land.  It’s flowing with milk and honey, yeah, you were right there, but there’s giants in the land and we could never go into that land.”  So God says, “Alright, that’s fine.  You’re going to wander around in the desert for forty years.”  The space between reality and desire was forty years.  In that waiting time, the nation of Israel started to reimagine what life was like back in Egypt.  They started to push back against Moses, who was their leader.  They started to develop this holy angst in the their soul, where they just weren’t okay with where they were at.  Have you ever felt those types of feelings in the waiting?  That ‘God, are you ever going to come through?’ type of feeling?  For them, it was are we going to eat manna for our entire lives?  Forty years living at the grain section of the food pyramid!!!  An entire book, an entire narrative—forty years devoted to waiting. But it’s in that waiting time that they also received the Law of God, they received the Ten Commandments and they started to recognize what it meant to become the people of God.  What it looked like to live free under His rule and His reign.  What it looked like to not only become the people of God in a civil way, but they built the Tabernacle during that waiting time and they became this worshiping community.  The waiting time for them wasn’t just time to kill, it was time for them to develop, it was time for them to grow, it was time for them to become the people that God was intending for them to become.

In many ways, Psalm 130 echoes that Israelite declaration that we will not just get through the waiting, but we will flourish in the waiting.  That the space between isn’t just a time to endure or a time to persevere through. Actually, it’s a time where God wants to sink some seeds deep within our soul that eventually will bear fruit for the glory of His name.  Turn to Psalm 130.  It’s a Psalm of Ascent.  It’s a psalm the nation of Israel would sing as they were heading up to Jerusalem for one of the three pilgrim feasts that they would go and celebrate on an annual basis.  Remember, Eugene Peterson said that these Psalms of Ascent are the dog-eared Hebrew songbook.  You could imagine that as you were walking on this hike—however long it took you depending on where you left from—when somebody called out Psalm 130, it was a psalm about waiting.  Inevitably, as you were walking along this path to Jerusalem, you would be able to relate to this psalm.  Listen to what the psalmist says:  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  

If you’re looking for the point or the thesis of this psalm, it’s found in verse 5.  The psalmist says:  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.  When the psalmist says ‘in his word I hope,’ don’t think first and foremost ‘in the Bible I hope.’  Think in the presence of God I hope.  In the speaking of God I hope, because on this pilgrim path to Jerusalem they most likely didn’t have a big scroll they could roll out.  They weren’t talking about the Bible as we know it, they were talking about the presence of God, the voice of God, the real impact of God’s presence in their life.  The psalmist says listen, there’s this space between where I’m at and where I’d love to be and God, in that space, I want to surrender my desires, I want to surrender my timelines.  God, I want just not my body and not my mind to wait in you and for you, but look, I want my SOUL to wait for you. Here’s what the psalmist knows.  He knows that all of us wait.  The question isn’t whether or not we’ll wait, the question is whether we will wait well.  Our response to God in the waiting….in the space between….in the mean time….determines whether we experience significant growth in our life or whether we enter into a season of spiritual decline.  {Our response to God in the waiting determines whether we experience significant growth or spiritual decline.} My guess is you’ve probably experienced both in your life, haven’t you?  Times when you’ve been waiting (maybe it was with your kids or a job) and you grew more bitter and anxious and worried and there was just some angst in you and the space between sort of just ate you alive.  You would say yeah, yeah, yeah, no, that’s possible, Ryan, for decline—spiritually, emotionally, our health, in every way, shape and form to happen.  Then, if I also did a straw poll and asked you to raise your hand…have you seen God move and have you seen God work in the mean time, in the waiting…my guess is so many of you would raise your hand and say oh yeah, that’s when God started to birth a new dream in me.  That’s when God started to meet me in the pain and in the questions.  That’s when I started to actually hear His voice like I never had before.  You see, the question in life is not primarily or only what happens TO us, the question is how do we RESPOND to what happens to us.  How do we respond to the space between where we are and where we would love to be.  Everyone waits, but not everyone waits well.

God does some of his best work in the waiting.  As you read through the Scriptures, the people of God are distinctly people who have to learn, who are forced to learn how to wait on God.  Abraham, the great patriarch of the faith, receives a promise from God that he’s going to be the father of many nations.  He receives that promise at the age of 75.  He becomes a father at the age of 100!  That’s a little bit of a wait.  David is anointed as the next king of Israel at the age of 15-16.  It’s not until the age of about 30 that he actually takes the crown. Roughly 15 years for David, in between the reality and the desire….the promise and the provision.  In that space between, God develops him, God grows him, God makes him into the type of man that they would want to have as king.  He has a work to do.  I don’t know what you’re walking through in life today.  I don’t know what type of waiting you’re involved in, what space lies between the reality and the desire.  I only know that God does not waste the waiting!  In fact, here’s the way that John Ortberg, the great pastor and author, puts it: “Waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want.  Waiting is part of the process of becoming what (or who) God wants us to be.”

The prophet Isaiah would say it like this: They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…(Isa. 40:31)  In the space between, there’s a strength that’s built.  There’s a fortitude that develops.  There’s a character that starts to take hold in our life and we would love to hit fast forward in between reality and zoom to desire, wouldn’t we? But Isaiah says no, that’s not the way it works.  As you’re waiting, one of the ways you wait well is by holding on and in that holding on God strengthens you and develops you and makes you into the type of people He is inviting you to become.  What are you waiting for?  What’s the space between in your life right now—-the desire and the reality.  Wouldn’t it be great if the Scriptures taught us how to be people who wait well?  I agree, it would.  And you’re in luck!  Psalm 130 is all about how to be people who not just wait, but who wait well.

I just want to point out four things in this passage for you this morning, in how to become people who wait well. Psalm 130:1-2 — Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  Here’s what the psalmist is saying.  The space I inhabit right now is a space of pain, is a space of affliction and is a space of unmet desire.  So, God, since you’re my God, you’re going to hear about it.  He even goes so far as to say (or to write) would you be attentive to me.  Have you ever felt like, in the midst of walking through the space between, God was just silent?  That he was distant.  That he was uninterested.  The psalmist can relate to you.  He gets it and is so bold as to say back to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, “Let your ears be attentive!  Come on!”  Can you be that honest with God?  You and I will never navigate the space between well if we are not able to be honest with God about the deepest pains, the deepest desires and the deepest cries of our soul.  Here’s what we do:  first, we express ourselves honestly. He cries out!  When was the last time you did that?  {We (Kelly and I) have three young kids which means somebody in my house is ALWAYS crying out.  Sometimes it’s even the kids!}  Just that honest desire of going back to God—God, I long for this.  Here’s the hard part about honestly crying out:  It’s allowing ourselves to honestly feel the deeps of the emotion that are stirring in our soul.  When we are in the space between, where reality and desire do not come together and do not meet, isn’t it easier to just sort of ignore that, rationalize it, fantasize about what’s coming next, but really, in a way, try to push back reality?  What if we learned, first and foremost, with God how to be just unfiltered honest?  {Ryan intros a clip from the movie Liar, Liar with Jim Carey.  Jim Carey’s character is unable to tell a lie.}  What if we were that honest with God?  “Is that all?”  Actually no, God, it’s not.  There’s more going on.

Here’s why honesty is so important, especially when it comes to our interaction with God.  Here’s why it’s so powerful:  because it begins the dialogue that we would often times rather distance ourselves from.  Even when it’s negative, even when it hurts, even when it’s painful.  God says I love the dialogue.  Listen to Moses, one of the great leaders of the nation of Israel as he’s leading them through the desert, wandering.  Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant?  And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? {He’s like God, I don’t get it.  Why are you messing with me?  Why aren’t you showing up?}  I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.  If you will treat me like this, kill me at once…  {How’s that for brutal honesty?!  If this is the way you want to deal with me, God, just take me down!} ..if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness. (Numbers 11:11, 14-15) That’s an honest prayer, is it not?  You’ll have a hard time making it through the Psalms without seeing the psalmist just go God, I’m a mess and I need you to show up.  We’ll never navigate the space between unless we’re honest with God, because honesty opens the dialogue, it deepens the intimacy.  Inviting somebody into your pain is one of the best ways to deepen intimacy with them.  So the psalmist says back to God, “God, I long to know you.  I long to hear your voice, so I’ve got to be honest with you.”  Not only that, but it’s the way, this honest declaration back to God, an invitation into our pain, that God meets us and provides for us.  Listen to Psalm 40:1-3 — I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  I waited….I cried out honestly and he heard me.  If we’re going to navigate the space between, the first thing we’ve got to do is express honestly our heart, our soul, our thoughts, our feelings to God.

The psalmist continues in Psalm 130:3-4 — If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.  The psalmist is going to a place that you and I will often go when we’re in the space between.  We’ll start to think, “Alright, am I walking this road, am I waiting because it’s me?  God, are you upset with me?  God, are you angry with me?  God, I grew up in a household where one of the methods of getting what we wanted was giving people the cold shoulder.  God, is that the game you play?” The psalmist wants to cut that off at the pass and declare unequivocally, so clear, no, that is not the way that God plays games.  Oftentimes, we think God has turned his back on us because of some of the sin in our life, because of the things that we’re walking through, because of some of the decisions that we’ve made, so we’ll rationalize…..the space between is a space where I need to get my act together.  Or, in order to get God’s attention, I’ve got to perform and I’ve got to do something and I’ve got to some how stir up these good deeds in me in order for God to turn back towards me and be back in relationship with me.  Our thought is listen, I’m in this space because God, you’re giving me the cold shoulder.  Immediately as he starts to think that, he goes no, no, no, no, no, that’s not the way my God works.  In fact, He washes us in the truth of the gospel.  Listen to what he says:  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?   {It’s a rhetorical question, because the answer is…no one!  It’s….God, you’ve been ridiculously good to us.}  But with you there is forgiveness…

In 1738, John Wesley, one of the great founders of the Methodist movement, was singing this Psalm in England. As he sang it, something in his heart just awakened to life and for the first time, he really understood the gospel.  Not that you fill the gap in the space between, but that God does.  So, whatever situation you’re waiting in, can I encourage you not only to express yourself honestly, but to acknowledge forgiveness consistently.  This is something we need to let wash over our lives on a daily basis.  The truth of the matter is that God is NOT silent or giving you the cold shoulder; the truth of the matter is NOT that he’s sort of just waiting for you to clean up your act so that you can be back in relationship with him; the truth of the matter IS that so much of the time in the waiting, God is pursuing us and we’re the ones with our backs turned towards him.  This sometimes looks like…alright, I’m going work my way out of this situation and God, I’m going to try my best to get back on good terms with you.  We run in contrary to the rhythms of the gospel when we think that it’s about what WE can do, instead of what Jesus has done.  The way God responds to us in those times is by coming and meeting us face-to-face.  That’s the gospel, friends!  Paul writing to his friend, Titus, says it like this:  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us {We didn’t close the gap between reality and desire.  He did!} in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5)  Man!  Tim Keller says it like this:  “For indeed, grace is the key to it all. {In the harvest and in the desert…and everywhere in between.} It is not our lavish good deeds that procure salvation, but God’s lavish love and mercy.”  That’s what does it.  So, friends, if your view of God is that he’s angry with you, that he’s giving you the cold shoulder, that he’s waiting for you to clean up your act before you can be back in relationship with him, can I assure you that is probably some religion.  In fact, it’s most religions, but it is NOT Christianity!  Christianity is that God pursues you, even at your depths.  That is the ONLY way we can explain the life of Jesus.

So the psalmist says: But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.  As you first read that, my guess is, like me, you sort of take a step back and go, “Well, I didn’t think forgiveness should stimulate FEAR!” In that we see that if you do a word study of “fear” throughout the Scriptures, there’s a number of different ways that it’s used.  In this case, it’s not that we should be afraid of God, as if we cower in fear not wanting to be in relationship, the relationship that He has purchased for us.  No.  In this case, fear is in awe and reverential worship in light of the fact that we are forgiven by Him.  That’s what it is.  Are you under the false impression that God is mad at you?  That He’s angry?  That He’s playing games?  That He’s giving you the cold shoulder?  I can assure, the psalmist wants to edge that off at the pass.

Express yourself honestly.  Acknowledge forgiveness consistently.  Listen to where he goes (Psalm 130:5-6) — I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.  If you were to ask, Paulson, what’s the deal?  How are we suppose to actively wait?  What’s our part in that?  I know we cry out and I know we remember that we’re forgiven and that there’s no gap between us and God, but what are we suppose to do?  The psalmist paints this picture of watchmen.  Watchmen were people that would sit on the walls of a city.  They would look out and declare to the city, to the army, to the kings, that there’s another army coming and they’re going to attack us. They were people who helped the nation of Israel, or whoever’s walls they sat on, be prepared.  I would say this back to you, if you’re in the season of waiting, take the disposition of a watchman.  Here’s the trouble with being a watchman.  The watchman gets to sit and they get to look and they get to wait and they anticipate what comes, but they do not get to control what comes.  They get to say hey, there’s an army at the gates, but they don’t get to create the army and they don’t get to initiate the counterattack, but they’re typically not a part of it.  What the psalmist would say is that’s how waiting feels sometimes.

That’s the disposition that we’re invited to take.  That waiting + watching = hope.  So we watch.  We watch patiently for God to show up. I don’t know about you, but my tendency is far more control than watch.  My tendency, especially in the space between, is I’m going to go out and I’m going to make it happen.  The psalmist says it’s way more like sitting on a wall and watching and anticipating and being alert, instead of feeling like you’ve got to make it happen.  Waiting and hoping does not mean we do nothing.  It means that we go about whatever our daily assigned tasks are….our jobs, our homes, our vocations….confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions.  That’s what it means.  It means that we act with confident expectation that our God is on the move and that he is at work.  Here’s the way that the great pastor and author Eugene Peterson puts it:  “The Christian’s waiting and watching — this is, hoping — is based on the conviction that God is actively involved in his creation and vigorously at work in redemption.”  So if this is the space you’re in, the space between, this morning, can I encourage you to be alert.  God is on the move!!

Here’s how the psalmist ends:  O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  {That word redemption, in the Hebrew, carries with it the picture of somebody walking through a slave market and purchasing back a slave and giving them their freedom.  He goes God is on the move, hope in the Lord, trust in his love.}  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.   Here you get this picture:  Cry out to God.  Remember that you’re forgiven.  Take the disposition of a watchmen and wait with expectation and confidence.  And as you wait in the space between, for those who follow the way of God, those who know God, this space is definitively covered by his love.  If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the hope that allows us to continue to push forward in the midst of the space between reality and desire.  So, friends, express yourself honestly to God.  Acknowledge your forgiveness consistently.  Watch with confident expectation.  And rest in His love confidently.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  When you’re in this space and it’s so hard to see God’s hand….and there’s sometimes some significant and prevalent darkness that covers the space that we inhabit, isn’t there?  The reality of a lost love, the reality of a lost loved one, the reality of an unmet expectation and the reality that it may never come to fruition in the way that you want. Sometimes it is so hard to see God’s hand, is it not?  The psalmist would say to us is simply this:  when you cannot see God’s hand, trust God’s heart!  He’s good—we’ve sung it this morning.  He loves you.  He’s for you. He’s purchased the way of redemption.  Jesus would invite His followers to live like this:  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love. (John 15:9)   Remain in my love.  If you were to look at the Greek, it’s literally ‘make your home in my love.’  Wrap yourself up in Him!  In the in-between, in the space between, in the waiting, wrap yourself up in the love of God, so that everything that comes into your life, friends, if you’re a follower of Jesus, needs to come through the lens of the cross.  It means that whatever God allows to come into my life, we have to see it through….well, first and foremost He died for me.  First and foremost, He gave his life for me.  First and foremost, He forgave me.  First and foremost, He entered humanity, put on skin and bone in order to purchase my life!  Whatever comes at me in the space between comes at me through the lens of the cross.  So I can abide in his love.  I can walk in his love.  I can be confident resting in the fact that He’s for me and He’s good.

I don’t know what it is what you’re walking through this morning, I don’t know the space between for you, but I know there probably is one.  So my question back to you is:  What are you waiting for? ______________________ Maybe you’re waiting for the reawakening of joy in your life.  Maybe you’re waiting for the reawakening of hope. Maybe it’s a relationship you initiated to try to bring about some redemption in and to bring back some restoration; you’re sort of just waiting to see how the other person responds to that.  Maybe it’s the space between school and graduation, work and retirement.  What are you waiting for?  All of us will wait.  The question isn’t whether or not we’ll wait, the question is whether or not we will wait well.  Because in seasons of waiting, you either will enter into a season of significant growth, where life flourishes, or spiritual decline and you start to have a hard time hearing God, seeing God, trusting God.  South Fellowship, I want more for you! Will you be the type of people who don’t just endure, but who wait on God well?!

We had the chance to go to the beach on vacation.  We went four times and on the third day, my son Ethan was getting pretty courageous—you might read ‘stupid.’    He started to go out farther and farther and farther (away from shore).  He eventually got to where the ocean had this flat area where the waves were breaking and then dropped off really deep in this one area.  He accidentally stepped off that ledge he couldn’t see.  I was playing with Avery close to shore.  Ethan starts treading water.  I looked out to him and I see his face and his eyes are as big as saucers!  He yelled to me, “Help, dad!!!”  I start walking out to try to help him and he’s panicking.  I dove in and swam out there and grabbed him and said, “I’ve got you, buddy! I’ve got you!”  He says to me, “Dad, I was so scared.”  I think that’s the way so many of us live in the in-between.  I’m so scared.  God, am I going to make it or am I going to drown here?  I want to tell you this morning, you have a heavenly Father who says, “I see you and I care and I’m coming for you!”  Let’s pray.

Jesus, this morning, we just collectively cry out.  There’s things going on in all of our lives and you know exactly what it is.  Would you meet us in this space?  Would you allow us to shed the pretense and just present ourselves honest before you?  It may mean that we cry out in worry, fear, disappointment.  It may mean that we just open our hearts and express back the joy that you’ve given us, spoken over our lives.  Would you help us to be people that are honest with you and with each other.  Jesus, in those moments where we’re walking through difficult situations in life and our initial thought is God must be mad at me, he must be punishing me, he must be distant, he must be giving me the cold shoulder for some reason, would you remind us of the extent that you went to to purchase us back?  That forgiveness is ours in you, thank you.  God, as we inevitably walk through these seasons, remind us that you’re active, that you’re moving.  Give us eyes to see.  Lord, when we can’t see your hand, would you allow us to trust your heart?  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.