Text: Psalm 85
Icebreaker: Have you ever created an expectation about something that was not even close to reality? Can you share it?
Scholars generally agree that this psalm was written after the Israelites were exiled in Babylon. They were returning to their land; however, things were not as they expected – things were far from what their “imagination’ led them to believe they would be.
There are 3 sections that we can see in this Psalm:
1. Remembrance of God’s Mercies (85:1-3)
The psalm starts with a reminder which brings to the people’s memory their source of hope. The amazing truths about God and about what He has done for His people are summarised in verses 1-3. The author exalts the Lord for His favour, forgiveness, and pardon and for the withdrawal of the wrath which was a consequence of their sin.
But with this remembrance two problems become apparent: Firstly, the people have a skyrocketing expectation of how life will be, which is based on a “romanticised past” and secondly they fall into an unthinking, automated thankfulness towards God, which leads them to take things for granted. – Both are complicated attitudes and if we fall into the same trap, both can be very dangerous for us.
As a missiologist, I have seen many good people romanticising their home country or city of origin. With time away from it, they have forgotten what real life there was like, and have come to create a romanticised past that certainly doesn’t reflect the reality of how things are now and which maybe never did reflect reality.
The other danger is that we put our lives on automatic pilot – we say the ‘right words’ or do the ‘right things’ but it is just an ‘automatic ritual’ that may not have much substance. Like the child who was asked to pray in the Sunday evening service and who ended up thanking God for the meal that he was about to eat instead!
The problem is that if we approach God (or the end of a crisis) with these attitudes, then this phase of everything being good will be short and will lead us into a difficult time ahead.
2. Disillusion with the Present Anger – Let’s blame others (or God) (85:4-7)
There is a turn-around here, almost like the introduction and the well learned verses had finished – and now the psalmist is saying ‘Let’s get real.’
A theologian says that this part of the psalm means: “Lord we have made such a mess of our life. God make us different.”
The major problem with becoming disillusioned is that we will tend to blame someone else for how we are feeling. It is rare that people will recognise that it was their EXPECTATION, or wrong assumptions, which took them to that place of disillusionment. This leads to them blaming God and to them blaming other people around them.
The truth is that God changes people and God is working to change everything, but that is a process with us and within us. We have to recognise that God has no commitment to meet our expectations or to accept what we think He should do. I know that this may be difficult for us to accept, but that is the reality. God is God, His ways are perfect, His glory is Amazing and if we want the victory and amazing future that he offers to us, then we need to LISTEN to Him and to LEARN from Him.
3. Listening to the Lord – the Key to a mature relationship (85:8-13)
Another change in direction – and with it, a key to understanding this psalm and to living our lives! Now it is possible to see a more mature reflection of a relationship with the Lord.
Let’s hear the Lord – that is the KEY. God is still speaking today, but some don’t listen. (Prayer is a two-way thing). Phil Meadows said “Prayer is a relationship and not an activity”.
To listen to the Lord is to have our interior nourished, our nature changed, and our lives restored to His will. And this process will lead us to have right expectations when the world changes or the crisis comes. It leads us to have hearts that are not hard, but that can be shaped and moulded by God’s influence, teaching and guidance as we journey through life with Him.
In v.10 the author uses 4 key words “Mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace” – 4 spiritual characteristics of the Kingdom to come, of Jesus, and of treasures that can be found in the here and now by anyone who is willing to listen to and walk with God.
I remember when my son read Mark 16.1-8 and made a devotional (he was 10 years old). He came to 3 conclusions about the women in the story and about our lives. When we don’t listen, Jesus says to us that we:
a) Spend money for nothing (they bought the spices?)
b) We get concerned for nothing (they worried about who had rolled the stone away)
c) We work and spend energy for nothing (they walked there unnecessarily).
Let’s listen and have the right expectation of the Lord in our lives.
Conclusion: We can’t be too nostalgic about the past as this will lead us into a wrong expectation of the present and the future. Let’s pray and seek God in order to be changed and reshaped so that our hearts are not hard, but are soft and malleable enough for God to shape us for His purposes.