Relational Hurt & Gospel Hope
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Bible Passage: Psalm 54
Psalm 54- Relational Hurt & Gospel Hope
June 13, 2021- Christ Fellowship Church
Horn Lake, MS
Good morning Christ Fellowship. My name is Austin Braasch, and I am the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) campus minister at Arkansas State University. I am originally from Birmingham, AL so my wife and I pass your city often when we go back to visit my family. It was a much more enjoyable drive when there were two bridges.
If you are not familiar with what we do as RUF campus ministers, we are essentially PCA pastors sent to campus to reach and equip students through evangelism and discipleship efforts. Those words, evangelism and discipleship, sound so grand and official don’t they? In reality, some of the best evangelism and discipleship in our ministry happens in surprisingly ordinary and mundane ways. Cups of coffee or shared meals with students where we talk about the grace of Jesus, and learn to apply His mercies to all of life.
Many assume that the biggest hinderances to students faith are big questions about the Bible or some fascination with secular culture. In my experience, sometimes that’s true. However, what I have found is that one of the biggest reasons that keeps students from trusting in Jesus is relational hurt. A roommate has gone behind their back, a girlfriend/boyfriend has cheated, a parent has manipulated or abused. They want to know: Where was Jesus in this? And what does he have to say to my relational hurt?
That’s a good question. And I don’t think its just a question that college students are wrestling with. The Bible tells us we live in a fallen world and one of the miseries we experience as a result of the fall is painful fractures in the various relationships we find ourselves in. What does Jesus have to say to our hurt?
Let’s us go to God’s Word together.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?”
54 O God, save me by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
2 O God, hear my prayer;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For strangers have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
they do not set God before themselves.
4 Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
5 He will return the evil to my enemies;
in your faithfulness put an end to them.
6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
I saw that last week where Blake preached on a portion of Psalm 119. If you were here last week, you may notice that how different the substance of this Psalm is than that one.
And this is one thing I love about the Psalms, they are prayers for every season and circumstance we find ourselves in. Whether you find yourself in a season of deep faith, desperate doubt, joyful worship, or utter despair…. there is a Psalm to meet you there. And this remind us, that our God meets us there too. Every season. Every circumstance.
Psalm 54 is a prayer about relational hurt and gospel hope.
As you noticed with text before verse 1, sometimes the Psalms place us in a very specific story to help us with our interpretation. The context here is from 1 Samuel 23 as it says, “when the Ziphites went and told saw, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”
At this point in David’s story, he was God’s appointed King, but he had yet to take the physical throne over Israel. King Saul, consumed in pride and paranoia, was desperately clutching to his throne, and was on a mission to exterminate David at all costs. While David was hiding in various wildernesses he eventually found himself in the wilderness of Ziph. The people that inhabited this land, the Ziphites, were of the tribe of Judah. David’s own tribe. His kinsmen. His family.
And yet, when given the choice to protect him or sell him out, they went to King Saul to tell him where exactly David was hiding. Relational hurt.
As we place ourselves in this story, we must ask: Where do we go when the people we rely on the most let us down, betray us, or forfeit their trust-worthiness? Where is Jesus in all this? This Psalm meets us in that hurt as a helpful guide with helpful truths.
We are going to look at three brief things we see in this Psalm: Reckoning, Remembering, and Responding.
To reckon with something means to come to grips with it. To grapple with its reality. Its the opposite of ignoring it, putting it on the shelf for later, or looking past it.
And one of the main themes of the Psalms is their commitment to see things as they truly are, however broken and messy that might be. In Psalm 54 we see this with David as he reckons with the painful reality of his relational hurt. The betrayal of those closest to him.
I find it interesting that in verse 3 David calls his betrayers “strangers.” I’ve already mentioned that these people, the Ziphites, were of his own tribe. Yet by saying this, its as if David is admitting that, though he may recognize their faces, he does not recognize their character.
This situation reminds of the famous last seen of Julius Caesar, when Caesar sees his best friend Brutus stab him in the back. He’s dumbfounded. “E tu Brute?” You too? Of all people? I thought we were friends? It’s that all familiar moment when a friend or loved one harms us and we think, “I don’t even know who you are right now.”
David continues to reckon with his situation in verse 3 saying, “Ruthless men seek my life, they do not set God before themselves.”
As I was reading this verse David’s description of these people reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s description of mankind apart from God in Romans 1:29-31.
“29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Ruthless is the same word David uses in verse 3 to describe his own kinsmen.
What am I getting at here?
When we encounter God’s Word we must reckon with the reality that we encounter a picture of mankind that is not as pretty as we wish. That person we live or work with. The person we love and care for. And even the person we look at in the mirror…. in sin, is capable of inflicting great harm. Many of you already know this from personal experience.
Knowing this, how does this change how we live and interact with others?
Growing up my family would occasionally take trips down to the beach. Sometimes on those trips my dad would get a guide to take us fishing in the bay. The last time I went fishing in the bay, we caught a ton of fish called “Sail Catfish.” A Sail Catfish is different from the catfish you find in pond in Mississippi in that it has a big, sharp fin on its back that contains poison. Our guide had to handle them very carefully because if that spine pierces your skin you have to go to the ER. I asked him if he ever got stung by one of these. He said, “Plenty of times. If you fish in the bay everyday its inevitable that you will get stung.”
I tell this story because I think it helps us the important truth we see in this Psalm. As we navigate life in a world full of men and women that don’t know God, it’s inevitable what we will get stung.
The question for all of us is not if we will get hurt in relationships, the better question is how do we operate in the world where hurt is inevitable and unavoidable.
One option would be to become self-protective and overly suspicious. To become turtles. To try our best to hide in our shell from a culture and a people that could potentially harm us. But for the Christian, the option to become turtles isn’t available for us. We have been called by Jesus, equipped with the Gospel, and empowered by the Spirit to go out into the world. To actively give ourselves in love to sinful world and people, even if this makes us vulnerable.
Which brings me to our other option: to become wise. In Matthew 10 Jesus is preparing to send the disciples out to do his work in the world and he leaves them with this advice in verse 16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Being wise in our relationships means holding in tension our mission to give ourselves in love to all people while at the same time not doing so with a naive optimism that the love we give will always be received well. You will get stung. It’s inevitable. As wise people, we must reckon with the dangers of relationships. But even so, our great physician is with us to mend our wounds. Which brings me to my next point.
I mentioned earlier that one of the biggest hinderances to my students faith is the relational hurt they have experienced. How hurt becomes a hindrance to faith is that it we can often project the pain others have caused us onto God and make him the responsible for the actions of sinners against us.
In this Psalm David fights those urges to pass blame to God through the spiritual discipline of remembering. He remembers two things most of all here: 1. God’s Name 2. God’s Power.
The first line of the Psalm says, “O God, save me by your name.” What about the name of God was such a comfort to David?
In the Old Testament especially, we see that there is great significance in God’s name. Unlike us, God’s name is much more than just a simple and insignificant identifier. You may know my name is Austin, but to be honest that doesn’t really tell you anything about me, my character, my past, or whether you can trust me. To you my name is pretty meaningless. It is not so with God.
Biblically, God’s name is always attached to his character. When God told someone his name, he was not just saying, “Call me this.” He was saying, “This is who I am. This is how I will act. When you call on or remember my name it is inextricably attached to who I am as God.”
The key text where God attaches his name to his character is in Exodus 34:5-7 as he recommits himself to his people Israel at Mount Sinai. Here’s the scene:
“ The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”
By recalling the name of the Lord, David was reminding himself, even as he processes his deep hurt, that not only is God not responsible for it, but God is actively working in his justice to put an end to it.
That’s why David remembering God’s name also reminds him of God’s power. Verse 1 again, “… save me by your name, vindicate me by your might (power).”
Part of the temptation we face as we experience the wounds others is that we want to take things into our own hands. To get revenge. To harm those who have harmed us. Most of our craving to inflict revenge comes from the belief that we are alone in our pain. If we don’t execute justice, who will?
As David remembers God’s name and power he’s reminded that he’s not alone in his pain. He doesn’t have to fight his own battles.
Psalm 54 reveals the great truth that not only does our God meets us in our pain, he also does something about it. God is not indifferent to our suffering. He takes it upon himself to execute justice for it. As verse 5 notes, “He will return the evil to my enemies.” As he consumed the Egyptians, as brought an end to Saul, as he crushed the power of hell and sin on the cross… our Lord will vindicate all our hurts.
For me personally, this gives me great comfort. Knowing that the wrongs done to me will, in God’s good timing, not be ignored, but will be made right. Every insult, every abuse, every tear, every scar, every betrayal.. will be mended through the justice of God.
However, it does in the meantime leave us in a difficult place. Because while we endure relational hurt, we are not granted the liberty of inflicting it. Romans 12:19 notes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
So what is our response? What agency do we have in our hurt? This brings me to my last point.
This is the part of the Psalm that is perhaps the most peculiar. Part of the reason, I believe, is that there is large part of me still has so much room to grow with Christ to where I get to the point where I fully understand David’s response.
You probably noticed this, but David’s prayer of pain….. ends in praise. He says in verse 6-7, “With a free will offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord.” Why he is praising? “For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph over my enemies.”
What I find so perplexing about this is that, in the immediate context, this isn’t true. The story of 1 Sam 23, where David is betrayed by the Ziphites, doesn’t end with Saul dying and David taking his rightful throne. David’s life is spared, yes, but he’s still on the run, and his enemies are still in hot pursuit of his life.
So, what gives? How can he praise God for giving him triumph over his enemies when, in the present, he hasn’t?
For me personally, and perhaps for you, this is hard to make sense of because our praises of God are often confined to the things that he has already done for us. We praise him for our material blessings he’s provided, the relationships he’s surrounded us with, the cross he has taken for us, and the forgiveness of sins we have been graced with in Jesus.
But, as this prayer teaches us, our pain provides for us praise God not only for what he has done, but for what he will do.
In Christ, we have a resurrection hope. Because he lives, what is dead will be made alive. Because he lives, what is broken will be made new. Because he lives, what has been hurt will be healed. As Isaiah promised, “A bruised reed he will not break. A flickering wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice.”
Our relational hurt has a gospel hope. For this, we praise even as we persevere.
As we close I want to end very practically. There is a very interesting outcome to David’s story in 1 Samuel 23 that I want us to consider.
After David was delivered from Saul in 1 Samuel 23, we find very quickly in 1 Samuel 24 that an opportunity arose for David to take things into his own hands and kill Saul. When Saul was pursuing David, he ends up walking into a cave to relieve himself in the dark. It just so happens that David is hiding in this very cave. Within an arms reach David could kill Saul (and even be
justified in doing it!). Yet, in patient faith he relents. In patient faith, he waits for God to execute justice for him as he continues to meet his enemies in love.
The grace David showed Saul in this moment is rooted in his gospel hope, and it ultimately reminds me of the grace Jesus showed us on the cross. Not returning our evil for evil, but in patient faith he not only didn’t seek revenge against us, but took the justice for our sins upon himself.
This is the character of our savior. One who is able to bear the hurts of others by responding with patience, grace, and love. Through the power of the Holy Spirit may the patience, grace, and love of Christ more and more become our character too. Let us pray.