What Are You Crying About?

Joel May, Speaker

Psalms 28 | January 7 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
January 7
What Are You Crying About? | Psalms 28
Joel May, Speaker

It’s not looking good for the waterworks tonight so far. I was fighting back tears that whole song, so bear with me. Also bear with me, you guys might know the Mark Twain quip that says I wanted to write you a short letter but I didn’t have time, so I wrote you a long one instead. Well, replace letter with sermon and let’s see what happens.

We’re going to be in Psalm 28 tonight and before I pray for the Spirit to reveal His Word in a significant and special way in our hearts, in ways that only He can, I would actually love if I could, would you all pray for me beforehand? I’m going to leave a moment of silence. Would you pray for me?

Father, we need Your help tonight. As we study Your Word, we need the humility to allow You to afflict those of us who are comfortable and comfort those of us who are afflicted. We pray these things in Your Son’s name. Amen.

Let’s jump into Psalm 28. If you’ll follow along with me. This is a psalm of David.

“To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if You be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward Your most holy sanctuary.
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of His hands,
He will tear them down and build them up no more.
Blessed be the Lord!
For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to Him.
The Lord is the strength of His people;
He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Oh, save Your people and bless Your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”

I’m imagining that not many of you set a New Year’s resolution for 2024 to be a year where you feel weaker and more dependent and more needy. It’s probably a reasonable resolution to not set, but here’s something dangerous, and that’s one of my prayers for us as a congregation this year. I’m worried that He’s going to do that for me, which I am not really excited about.

But as we look at Psalm 28, I want us to look at two things that David is doing here, two particular things. The first thing that we see David doing is he’s fighting against the lie of independence. The second thing he is doing is he’s finding life in dependence.

This is a really challenging passage for a guy like me because dependence and neediness is my least favorite thing. I hate it. So this was a hard passage to let the Lord work on my heart prior to preaching this, but I’m excited to see how He uses it in your lives as well.

So let’s look at this first thing that we see David doing. He’s fighting against the lie of independence, so he’s fighting this lie of independence and look, first and foremost, right here. Let’s start with the passage, the verses, that focus on the wicked. So verse 3 he starts to talk about the wicked and then he starts to describe the wicked. What we see here is that the wicked are living a lie. The wicked have bought into some sort of lie that’s permeated the way that they operate, the way that they think, the way that they act. But externally they’re still trying to act like they’re peaceful. They’re speaking peace to their neighbors except evil and wickedness is in their hearts. Moreover, the way that they act is wicked. They’ve bought into this idea that they get to be the ones who establish the purpose of life and who get to establish the parameters of morality. They get to establish the standards of what is right and wrong. They’ve bought into this lie that the work of their hands is actually more significant than the work of the Lord’s hands.

There’s a really interesting dichotomy here drawn out between the work of the wicked and the work of the Lord. You see it in verses 4 and 5. David says, “Give to them according to their work, according to their evil deeds, according to the work of their hands.” Then verse 5 he turns around and he says and the reason that they work evil, the reason that they are wicked, the reason they do this is because they do not regard the work of the Lord and the work of His hands.

So they’ve completely disregarded and cast aside the things of God, His world and His work and His Word, and they’ve said, “You know what? That doesn’t matter. We have no regard for that. That has no place in our lives.” Therefore, they bought into the lie that they’re independent, they’re autonomous, they get to call the shots, they’re self-sufficient, they’re self-determining.

Look at how that results. It results in works of wickedness. The lie of independence says that we determine everything. The lie of independence says that we replace God. What David is crying out here for is for God to keep him from falling prey to that lie. He says, “I do not want to become like these people.” In fact, he says it very clearly in verse 2. He says, I’m sorry, verse 1, even sooner, good stuff. Verse 1, he says, “Hear me, do not be deaf lest if You are silent, if You do not hear me, if You do respond, I will become like them.”

The reason that he’s crying for mercy and for help in the first place is because he doesn’t want to be like them and he knows that the only thing keeping him from becoming like the wicked is the work of the Lord. The Lord’s response to him as he cries out for mercy.

This is an incredibly difficult lie to fight for us in this room. In our modern world, everything is set up to try and convince us and compel us to live for ourselves. There are three reasons that I think this is particularly difficult.

Number one is the one that I just pointed out. Everything in our modern world is trying to convince you that everything around you exists to serve you. Everything around you exists to serve your personal self-interest and your comfort. Sometimes, it says, even your family, even your church, even your Scriptures are ultimately meant to be self-serving. They’re ultimately meant to give me self-satisfaction. The world is built on this presupposition that we have independence and autonomy and we get to decide what to do with that.

The second thing is that everything in the world is trying to give us a sense of, an experience, a false experience of that self-sufficiency. iPhone, streaming services, grocery stores, everything around us, all these things that are blessings in the right context, when we take them out of context, what they promise to us is that we have unlimited resources at our disposal and nothing can stop us. We’re completely self-sufficient. We just go, we buy whatever we want, we need whatever we want, we get whatever we want immediately because we can make that happen.

Isn’t that ironic that the things that try and make us think that we’re independent are actually the things that we then become servants of? The things that promise independence and self-sufficiency, like your iPhone, have every single thing you need in the palm of your hand, well, now that is your idol. It does the opposite of the thing that it patient promises. It promises independence and autonomy and it actually chains you to itself.

The third thing, I think, is that competency and productivity have become almost the single and sole measure of success in the world. You all probably know this from school and from work and even from these weird transactional relationships. Competency and productivity now are the measure of growth and success.

Unfortunately, that lie of independence, and specifically that lie of competency and self-sufficiency, has even permeated Christian culture in some ways. It’s gotten to the point where many people, especially younger Christians, think that what it means and what it looks like to be a mature Christian in the future is that I finally get to stop struggling. I finally never have to ask people to pray for me. I finally get to not confess my sins anymore because I’m going to become older and mature and self-sufficient and I don’t need anybody’s help. What it means to grow in Christ is to grow out of Christ.

That’s not the case. It’s actually antithetical to the Gospel. We all know that the requirement for receiving mercy and grace from the Lord is to acknowledge that we need it. The line in “Come, you sinners, all the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him,” and then that next like is so, it’s like a one-two punch, it’s like a weird sort of ninja-jujitsu move. It says “all the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him,” and then what? “This He gives you.”

So even the fitness to feel your need of Him you can’t muster up in yourselves. He has to give it to you. That’s how dependent we are.

This is what we see going on in Psalm 28, is David fighting against this lie of independence that he knows is going to send him on the downward spiral of sin.

Then the second thing we see is he is finding life in dependence. David is modeling in many ways here the total, unashamed, radical dependence on the Lord. It doesn’t make sense really and it kind of feels weird when you read it a lot of times in these lament psalms. He’s like, “I need you, I need you, I need you,” but then you hear the call of Christ in the New Testament that says you want to know what Christ-likeness looks like? Childlikeness. Which doesn’t mean immaturity and pettiness and frivolity. No, it means dependence. No one out there is more dependent than a child.

David is saying, “Lord, if You do not hear me, if You do not respond to me, then I have absolutely no hope. I don’t know what to do. In fact, I won’t even be able to do it even if I know what to do.” He’s radically dependent and I think he knows it and I think he loves it because he knows that childlikeness is what is called of him.

This past Christmas break when I was with my family, Maddie and I and our boys were visiting our family and we, our family is so big that we have to rent a conference center pretty much. So we found one sort of in rural western North Carolina and it’s got a bunch of rooms and it’s in the mountains. It’s great. But one of the days we decided you know what would be a really good idea is take all of these, the 20 kids under the age of 16, and just hike straight up a mountain that has no path and just kind of see what happens.

So my wife is carrying our 5-month-old Barrett, I’m carrying my 2 and something, 2 and some change year-old son Jack, on the Ergo looking awesome and manly. We’re doing this hike and he’s loving it and it’s so much fun. We get to the top and we’re adventurous, I’m like awesome. So I put him down for just a second and he’s kind of crunching the leaves and it’s about all he can do because he’s going to fall off a mountain. Then we start hiking back down so I put him back on. We hike back down and I’m trying not to fall with him and we get to the bottom and finally we find that pavement once again and it’s solid and it’s flat for just a second. So I get Jack back out and I put him down and then we start walking, I’m holding his hand, and then he kind of looks up at the hill in front of him, and he goes, “Carry me, carry me, carry me, carry me.” I’m like, “Dude, it’s paved. Come on. Grow up. Do you have no shame, my man? Like, what’s the deal? You are so needy.”

But obviously in that moment we know that the right thing to do is to carry your child. He feels no guilt about asking his father to carry him.

I think a lot of times as Christians we forget that we’re also children of God. We think if I ask God things, if I ask Him for help, if I ask Him for mercy, I’m going to come off as like clingy, I’m going to come off as needy and like high maintenance. Everybody knows that the last thing you want to be in today’s world is high maintenance and needy, so I’m just not going to do that.

So instead of embracing and enjoying my dependence upon my Father, as His child, instead of doing that, at the risk of looking needy, I’m just going to ignore Him and prove that I can do it without Him.

Look again verses 7 and 8. David says very clearly. So verse 6 he said, oh, by the way He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy, and then he explains how He’s responded.

Verses 7 and 8. He says He has become my strength and my shield, my salvation and my stronghold.

This means that if we want strength, if we want salvation, if we want any of these things that God Himself is, we have to have God Himself. There is none of this outside of Him. There is no life outside of Him. We need to draw near to the only thing that has life and is our life.

David says, “Lord, I’m crying out to you and I’m stretching my hand out towards Your holy sanctuary.”

Think about one of those really cheesy either Western movies, like a cowboy movie, or a soldier movie where the rugged guy got left behind and there was a sandstorm, then he wakes up and he’s all alone. He can’t find which way to go and he uses the sun and a rattlesnake tells him, or something, so he starts to walk. As he goes, it is progressively harder and harder to walk and he’s dying, he’s in the process of dying. Then finally, you know what’s going to happen, you guys can jump in here and finish this illustration, finally the blurry horizon, the heat, you see the buildings, a silo or something, peeking up on the horizon. He sees it and then he starts running faster and faster and he reaches out. He’s reaching out for the only thing that he knows in that moment can save him, the only thing that promises life. Then usually he collapses and then another shadow, like a horse, shows up and then a love story starts.

But in that moment, we know it would be so silly if he was stumbling through the desert and then he sees the buildings and he goes, “Actually, I’m going to go the other way.” No. Draw near to the thing, the only thing that promises you life, the only thing that has life. God Himself is our life.

David is like a dying man, stumbling through the desert. He knows he’s absolutely, totally dependent. He’s so needy. All he can do is reach out and cry out for help, and the Lord responds.

What’s amazing is that David is reaching out to God Himself and it makes me think, we don’t want to analogize too much here, but like we reach for a lot of things in day-to-day life and I wonder how much of that reaching for certain things should actually be directed towards God and His holy sanctuary. What are we reaching for that is misplaced? Is it a remote? Is it reaching for the refrigerator door after a long day? Is it reaching for the iPhone? What is it that we replace with something lesser?

Reach out towards the Lord in His holy sanctuary. He is the only One who can give you life.

As I was preparing this sermon, I thought I couldn’t get the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour” out of my head. It was too late to send that to Nathan because the bulletins had already been printed, so we’re not going to sing it. We’re going to sing another one which I love, which I also couldn’t get out of my head, which is “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” But there’s a line in “I Need Thee Every Hour.” They’re short verses, they’re so concise, and here’s what it says: “I need thee every hour, in joy or pain. Come quickly and abide or life is vain.”

Now I think we understand that in the moments of pain we need the Lord. In the moments of pain we might feel like this is pointless if the Gospel isn’t true, but what about that first word? I need thee every hour in joy or pain. Do we truly believe that even joy that we feel here on earth is futile unless we have God? That’s a huge challenge. Do we believe that both our best, most joyful moments and are worst, most painful moments in life in the midst of those, what we need more than any other thing, what we need more than a change of circumstances, or a platform to shout it from the rooftops, what we need more than anything else in that moment is still the abiding presence of the Lord and giver of life? Nothing else will do. Both sides of the spectrum have the exact same need.

Here is the beautiful truth that we see in this passage, is that God meets us in that need. He gives us what we need most. He gives us Himself. He doesn’t give us Himself holding tools and says, “Hey, I heard ya. Here’s this, now go fix it.” No, He gives us Himself as our strength and shield, as the salvation of His people, as our stronghold. Such a beautiful, beautiful statement.

You already know how He does this, but let’s rehash it anyway. How does He give us Himself? He gives us Christ. Christ comes full of power, full of strength, full of light and life to reveal God’s all-sufficient mercy and to convince us and to manifest and to exhibit His life for His children how much He loves to carry us. How much He loves to hear us and respond to us. He comes and He exhibits all of this truth actually by enduring what David is most afraid of. David is afraid of being dragged off with the wicked. David is afraid of being rejected and unheard by God. David is afraid that he will be treated like the wicked, that he will be considered evil, a sinner.

But David receives mercy in that moment. When David cries out and pleads to the Lord, the Lord responds to him with mercy. He says I hear you and I’m not going to drag you off with the wicked and I will listen to you and I will respond and I will give you Myself.

Now contrast that with Christ. The only reason that David could receive that mercy is because the Father knew that a day was coming when His Son would not receive that mercy, when in Christ’s moment of deepest and darkest despair and need, He cried out for mercy and He says, “Why have You forsaken Me?” Silence. He was wounded for our sins, He is crushed for our iniquities. He does it so that, like David, we might also receive mercy. Praise the Lord.

So why does this all matter? Or at least, how do we apply any of this?

Let’s start with a preliminary step. The first thing that I would suggest is just to ask. Let me explain. Ask someone in your life that you know loves you deeply and wants the best thing for you, ask them if there might be any major sin patterns that you have become blind to but that you think the Lord might want to draw out so that you can cry out to Him for mercy and receive the promised mercy. Just ask them how can I draw near to God and ask for this mercy in order that I might experience the joy of dependence. Start there.

Then once you know those things, cry out. Call out to Him in prayer. Reach towards Him in His holy sanctuary. We have access to the throne room of God. Through the mediation of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, cry out. Do it as sincerely as you can. Lament psalms don’t always jive with me in the moment, but do it as sincerely and as much as you can. At the very least, if you don’t feel any conviction of sin, if you don’t actually believe that you are in need of the mercy that you’re asking for, how about use that as your prayer? Say, “Lord, convince me and convict me and show me that I actually do need the mercy that I currently don’t believe that I need as I’m praying to you for mercy.” Cry out.

The third one is maybe the hardest thing to do. That’s wait. Be still. Put your phone down. Stop working. Don’t move on to the next thing. Be still. Whatever you do, don’t make pleading for mercy, don’t make dependence a task that you can master. Don’t make dependence yet another thing on your checklist that you can own. Slow down. Pray for patient endurance in the midst of crying out.

Pay attention that David doesn’t actually give any indication on what it was like between the time he cried out and when the Lord actually responds. We don’t have really any indication on the timing of any of that. All we know is that he cried out to God and then seemingly he waited. It might have taken a long time.

Many of you in this room right now, you have been crying out for a long time. That’s true. You feel it. You’re done waiting. Brothers and sisters, you need to know that you are not forgotten. You were not forgotten and you’re not in the wrong place. If you find yourself waiting on the Lord, you’re not in the wrong place. You’re not supposed to be somewhere else. That can be so frustrating, but it can also be a comfort. God wants to meet you right where you are in the midst of your waiting. He will not leave you there forever. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

The next one, number four, how do we apply this sort in this step in this progression. The next thing, after you cry out and after you wait, hear and listen. Hear God’s promises in His Word. Specifically, start hearing Psalm 28. Hear the promises and the truths that He gives us, that He is our strength and our shield, He is our salvation, He is our Shepherd who will carry us forever.

Then next, trust. Verse 7 says “in Him my heart trusts and I am helped.” It might be a somewhat unsatisfying answer for a lot of us, but ultimately I think the help that we receive from the Lord is the gift of more faith. In Him my heart trusts and I am helped.

We have a God who both cares and carries. He both cares for His children and He carries us. Embrace and enjoy being carried by God. Know that He delights, believe and trust in this truth, that He delights in kneeling down to you, condescending to you, as His child, looking you in your face, wrapping His arms around you and carrying you with Him.

Rest in the strength and salvation of your God.

Then the very last thing that we see here is worship. Again, verse 7. It says, “My heart exults and with my song I give thanks to Him.” Worship.

At the end of all of this, when you can look back, and even in the midst, maybe you can do it in the midst, even in the midst and especially after the fact, when you look back and see the ways that the Lord has responded to your pleas for mercy, He has responded to your cries, He has exhibited how much He cares for you and you see how He carried you through that, do not fail to worship Him. Pour out your love and your praise and your adoration to the fountain of life by exalting in Him and praising Him for His work of salvation.

Let’s pray. Jesus, we know that apart from You we can do nothing. Lord, apart from You we are nothing. It is sweet to trust in You, Jesus. Give us grace to trust You more and more and to know that You are with us and to know that You carry us. Help us to embrace and enjoy our dependence, childlikeness in Your presence. It’s in Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.