But God Has Surely Listened – Sermon Rev. Alex Moir – 9 May 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.

— Jeremiah 31:33-34 

Prayer

As we gather on this special day, gracious Father, we do so gratefully, as recipients of this wonderful new covenant arranged by Your Son’s sacrifice.  We humbly ask that You would continue inspiring us, that we may be a source of care and encouragement to those around us.  We pray in Jesus’ strong name … amen.

Song

Today's Message

Scripture Reading: Psalm 66

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2     Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”[a]

5 Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
    they passed through the waters on foot—
    come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
    his eyes watch the nations—
    let not the rebellious rise up against him.

8 Praise our God, all peoples,
    let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
    and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, God, tested us;
    you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
    and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of abundance.

13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
    and fulfill my vows to you—
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
    when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
    and an offering of rams;
    I will offer bulls and goats.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
    his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
    and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
    who has not rejected my prayer
    or withheld his love from me!

A funny thing happened on the way to worship for the Psalmist.  To be sure, it was a service in the usual sense of the word … it started with praising the Lord God for the magnificence of the created order (see verses 1-3, “How awesome are your deeds”); it quickly moved to a second item of gratitude, for the deliverance of the Hebrew nation from their Egyptian oppressors (verses 5-7, especially “He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot”); and it ends with thanksgiving for the most recent victory for Israel, that of their return after the exile (verses 8-12, particularly “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.)”  For the ancient Hebrews all these elements would form “part of a complete worship experience.  They would all have walked away satisfied that their time together in synagogue or Temple had been well spent …

But that wasn’t exactly the case for this worshipper, the one writing this psalm.  We see something is different as we read the next paragraph …

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you …
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.

— Ps. 66:13, 15

If you are familiar with Old Testament scripture you would notice immediately that this person’s response to God’s blessing in his life is unique, shall we say.  While many worshippers might respond in a worship setting with the bringing of a burnt sacrifice, it would be one such sacrifice, as outlined in Leviticus.  As you can see from the above text, this person is bringing many burnt offerings to worship, which would have been most unusual …

Before we try to surmise what drove this exorbitant reaction, we might look at our own lives.  Have there not been occasions for us when we have been so thankful to God that we have responded in just this way?  Are there not times when we cannot wait to gather together with other believers in the presence of God?  Such is the reason for the continued relevance of scripture … we share the same challenges and joys as those whose lives are chronicled within its pages.

As we read a little further, we see the situation that has prompted such a response.  The psalmist has just survived a harrowing experience:

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you …
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.

— Psalm 66:13-14

As we see this word trouble, we have identified the reason for this intense worship experience … a reason to which all of us can relate!  The word used here can also mean straits.  Knowing that, it would not be a surprise for us to learn that the adjective, taken from the same root means narrow or tight … and the verbal form of the word means bind, tie up, be restricted.  The word we might use is stress, a condition that has received much attention during our time for its impact on our health and well-being.

A great way of understanding this word might be to call upon some colloquial renderings, descriptive phrases we would use to describe the stress we experience.  We might say we are in a “tight spot” or “between a rock and a hard place.”  These experiences happen in a variety of ways … “too much month at the end of the money”, I heard someone say once, in describing the financial “straits” many of us find ourselves in now and then; we mentioned last week the challenges we face as parents; in the case of the psalmist, it might have been an adversary who was making life difficult for him.  Even in our relatively more peaceful time, we all face people from time to time around whom we don’t feel comfortable.

But the psalmist is sure of one thing … God has surely listened (v. 19a)!  His joy almost jumps off the page at us!  The scholars Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich in their Greek/English lexicon encourage us that the adverb surely is to be used “with a strong assertive force (p. 38).”  The psalmist isn’t kidding … this intervention by the Lord God has made the difference.  And it all came about so simply …

But God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.

— Ps. 66:19

Of course, the main way of translating the crucial word here is indeed voice … but it can also mean sound.  As we consider all the attributes of God, could the one we appreciate the most be the attention paid when the sound of prayer is heard?  Further, it is the type of prayer described here.  We know it as “intercessory prayer” when we assess our situation and realize that we are in great need of the guidance and wisdom beyond ourselves, which this word for prayer implies.  And it is the way we often feel when we find ourselves in tight spots …

The psalmist was a realist in all of this.  He understood that he himself could have limited the effectiveness of God’s help “if I had cherished sin in my heart (v. 18a).”  The word cherished can mean gaze at, become acquainted with.  Our desperate friend had the presence of mind and faith to realize that his approach to the Giver of every perfect gift had to be sincere with no other options being considered.  He sought no other source for his relief … and the sound of such a prayer was sweet to the Father of Lights!

Prayer

As we ponder the message of the Psalmist this day, we are reminded that this idea of the listening Father is not a new idea but has existed from the very beginning in Your care of humankind.  We read throughout scripture how, from the very beginning, You have sought those with whom You could share rich fellowship.  Indeed, we admit to following in this fine tradition, having been the grateful recipients of Your warm fellowship.  Thank you for the initiative You have taken in our lives …  

In pondering all of this, we recognize that You have called us to be Your emissaries, to adopt the ministry of being available to those who need to be heard.  Yet, we know there are times when our own busy lives have stood in the way of providing such a listening ear.  Help us to live in such a way that we are always sensitive to Your Spirit when there is one in our midst in need of special care.  

We close this prayer by thinking of the parents in our lives, both mothers and fathers, who have personified Your example of nurture.  We realize that this is not an easy task and that those of us who have assumed this role rarely feel that we are adequate.  Remind us all, whenever we act in this capacity, that we do so not alone but with Your presence and strength.  We pray in the name of the One who called You Father, even Jesus … amen. 

Song

Benediction

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah; “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind.  Is anything too hard for me?” 

— Jeremiah 32:26-27