Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (chapter 18)
These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.
We are using the Psalms of Ascent to explore principles for growing in Christ-likeness. They symbolize making our way up to the holy place where God's presence dwells.
The more difficult aspects of pilgrimage occur, fittingly, near the end of this grouping (120-135). The closer you get to God, the more intense the light of His love shines upon the uncleanness in your heart. That is the paradox. In some respects, the nearer you come, the farther you feel from Him. Why? Because the closer you get to him and the compelling force of His love, the more painful is the recognition of that which separates you from Him—sin.
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! (Psalm 130:1-2)
In Psalm 129, we see an individual speaking, yet it is as if the nation is speaking. "Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth"—let Israel now say—"Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me." The psalmist speaks individually about Israel's communal experience of adversity. Indeed, this tiny nation has known hardship for generations, more than any other group.
There is an ominous prophecy in Genesis 15 in which the LORD puts Abraham into a deep sleep. Thick and dreadful darkness comes upon him, and God says: Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years (vs. 13). To my mind, this thick and dreadful darkness is something that has accompanied Israel throughout history.
Why have these people, chosen by God, experienced so much hatred and violence through the years? Because, as Paul reminds us, They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
The existence of the Jewish people reminds the powers of darkness that God keeps His promises and that their day of reckoning draws near.
Despite the Egyptians, Philistines, Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Persians, Israel endures. In times ancient and modern, through persecution and suffering, libel and slander, pogroms, and the ultimate heinous act of evil, the Holocaust, Israel endures. Yet they have not prevailed against me!
So it is for followers of Jesus, then and now. The church has known persecution: property confiscated, families imprisoned, bodies burned at the stake or thrown to wild beasts—and yet the Church of the Living God endures. All of this teaches that faithfulness overcomes the world. Enduring is victory. Not letting opposition, persecution, hardship, or even death stop God at work in your life as an individual and together as a people gives Him glory.
The principle of enduring applies uniquely in our 21st-century Western world. In a rather crude play on words, here is what I mean. Following Jesus means there are times of glory and times of gory. This idea directly contrasts what seems to have infected many of our Christian traditions: a health and wealth gospel.
This false, so-called prosperity gospel has taken a truth about the unshakeable nature of faith to such extremes that it is heresy. These mistaken teachers give the impression that if you have the proper belief or information and hold to it with enough determination, then all your gory will disappear, and life will be nothing but glory.
The more strident of these voices in our midst dare to say that if Paul had just had more faith, he would not have had to endure all his trials and sufferings. All the apostles and martyrs would not have undergone imprisonment, torture, and death if they had just had more faith.
Not only is this kind of thinking unbiblical, it is, in fact, harmful.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (Philippians 1:29-30). For Paul, these are not idle words but knowledge gained from experience; his and the psalmists, Greatly have they afflicted me.
The events in Paul's life (enumerated in 2 Cor 11:22- 28) were not due to his lack of faith. Just the opposite, they were due to his great faithfulness to God's call upon his life. Walking with God is not all glory. In the Kingdom, suffering can be honorable and transforming.
It grieves me to encounter people, as I often do, who are suffering from affliction and hardship. They hear this false gospel being preached (typically in America) and hope for a miraculous deliverance in whatever form they need. If it doesn't happen immediately, they are made to feel that it didn't because of their lack of faith or their unbelief.
It is maddening.
So they leave with feelings of condemnation, guilt, and inadequacy, all piled on top of the suffering they already bear. They feel they failed to receive the preacher's promises because they needed more faith. They are in worse shape than before. Is that the God Jesus taught us to call Father?
The issue is not how much you believe but how determined you are to follow Christ regardless of personal hardship.
It is not about the glory of your great faith but rather your faith in a glorious God. Our Father is looking for faithfulness in you. Make no mistake: He is your deliverer and will liberate you fully on His holy timetable.
We read Bible events and condense them, losing track of the enormous expanses of time. Moses gets a mighty call from God, but then what happens? He must go into the desert for forty years. How many of us would be willing to wait forty years in preparation before we go out and exercise our ministry?
My friends, Jesus' Kingdom movement would be dead if this heretical doctrine was taught and believed as orthodoxy through the centuries. History teaches that when this kind of theology comes up against times of oppression and testing, it fails every time.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.