Series: Psalms for the Summer
Lead Me to the Rock
July 16, 2023 | Peter Rowan
Passage: Psalms 61:1-8
Life is full of times of great difficulty, times when we are faced with deep tragedy and sorrow, times when we wonder if we will make it through and if the foundations of our lives will be shaken to their core. We long for a strong stability, a place of comfort and stability. We might run to all kinds of things for this stability, or even to run away from feeling how deep the need is. But the Bible, and Psalm 61 specifically, tell us that God is the Rock, the fortress, the high tower, the tent (home). He is the one that is above us and able to be secure and strong in the midst of all the instability.
A few years ago a friend gave me a set of golf clubs. In the few years between then and know, some of you will know that golfing has become one of my favorite hobbies. But I want to tell you something that happened a few years ago. I found a little driver over at the Lemoyne Antique Mall for $3 and took James and Lillie over to Dauphin Highlands to the driving range. We split a bucket of balls and I set them between us, pouring out balls as we needed them from this large bucket. Well, we’re swinging away occasionally with some success and occasionally not so much. I’m kind of in the zone, just trying to figure out this painfully difficult game when I hear what everyone has at least thought who has tried to hit a golf ball. James yells, “I hate this game!” Lillie and I just start laughing, because there is little cute four-year-old James thinking the same thing we’ve thought. Why bother? We want to do things that kind of suit use, that come rather naturally and even Tiger Woods shot a 10 on a hole the last time he won the Masters!
In his brilliant book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says that we always take ourselves as a starting point for our desires and interests. We admit that we there is something else - call it “morality” or “decent behavior” or “the good of society” - that has claims on the self; claims that interfere with our desires. Some of those things interfere with our desires and interest so we call them “wrong” and others don’t and we call them “right”. He says that we are always hoping that when all of these demands are fully met there will still be a chance to get on with our lives. It’s like a man who is paying his taxes and hopes that after he does so he will still have enough to live on. He says that when pursuing “morality” or “descent behavior” or the “the good of society” we take ourselves as the starting point.
He says two results are likely to follow: we either give up trying to be good or we just become very unhappy. He says if you really do try to meet all of the demands put on you, you will not have enough to live on. Your natural self, as it seeks to obey every single demand put upon itself will be starved and hampered and worried at every turn and you will get angrier and angrier. This is what he says, “In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, ‘live for others’ but always in a discontented, grumbling way - always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself.” He adds that once you become this, you will be more difficult on anyone and everyone than if you had just tried to be selfish from the get-go.
You know, James yelling out “I hate this game” could produce a couple things: He could really just through that $3 driver up in the air and never pick it up again. Give up. He could also decide that he is going to get at it and show up all of the time and put in all of the work and not have any time for anything else. And that life would almost certainly make him out to be very good at it, but also very difficult to be around.
David cries out to God from a distant place in this psalm:
1 Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
He’s far away from God.
And for us who are sitting in church pew and church seats this morning, well, maybe our first thought when we think of those who are far away from God is to think not of the people in church. Distance from God makes us think of those outside the church. Maybe we think of those who just ridicule God, really want nothing to do with him. They gave up long ago, or maybe they gave up rather recently. Maybe we think of those who have “deconstructed” their faith, or the neighbor who really does not want to talk to you about Jesus, or those who make the house of God some place to go on Christmas and Easter, Chreaster Christians.
And sure, if for some reason you are hearing this sermon this morning and that describes you, consider what you look to for strength and security and refuge and please consider Jesus. Please.
But what struck me while studying this psalms is that this distance that is described is followed immediately by “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I”! And this is written by David. This is written by and for the community of Faith and David is saying he needs to be with God who is greater than him, who is stronger than him, who is safer than him. He needs to be on the rock that is beyond himself, the true refuge and the strong tower.
Most of us are going to hate life, we are going to hate sports and we are going to hate the pursuit of the good of our society and morality and all of the rest if we take ourselves as our starting point or, quite frankly, if we take others as the starting point. We will either become miserable in how poorly we are doing or we will become utterly insufferable to be around because of all of the good we do and because we are always looking down on other and how poor they are doing in comparison to ourselves. As long as our view is down all we see is the mess of life. As long as our view is horizontally oriented, all we see is ourselves and others. But this psalm is calling us to look higher than ourselves, above ourselves, outside of ourselves.
This is somewhat easy to do when we are down and out. There is a reason why God is so sweet to us in our times of despair. He often comes closest in our suffering. He is our strength when we are week. I mean, there are times when it is a natural thing to look to that which is higher than ourselves.
But there are also natural times when we don’t look to that which is beyond us, that which is higher than us. And that is when we think we are on top, when we are tempted to think that we have it together, maybe when we have finally started to make good habits in life, attend church regularly, budget wisely, workout with diligence, turn all of your homework in completed. I mean, I used to tell students all of the time that if you just show up on time and where the right clothes, you’ll get somewhere in life because so many people don’t even do that!
David is writing from a place on top. He was the king and kings are at the top. And when we are at the top we both think that we can look down on others and we think that we can deal with whatever comes up. But David is saying that there is never a time when your vision should not be directed upward!
So, listen to verse 6-7
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
The kings life is dependent on the Lord. His length of rule is dependent on the Lord. There is never a day when the king does not need the Lord and there is never a day when you do not need the Lord!
So I want us now to consider the images of the Lord that we are given here:
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
God is a Refuge
This is often the image we have of God as a rock. Psalm 18:2 “my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge”; (Psaam 31:2, 71:3) “my rock of refuge”; “my mighty rock, my refuge” (Psalm 62:7); “the rock in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 94:22). God is the safe place. He is the secure place. God is the place David runs to when he is fleeing from Saul, God is also the place where David runs to when David sins and the guilt of his sin weighs him down. God is a refuge.
God is a Strong Tower
This is kind of similar to a rock in that is is said to be strong, but this invites us in to a greater security and a greater intimacy. A strong tower has walls. It’s a place of safety when under attack. A refuge seems to be a place out in the wilderness, but this is part of a walled city. David went to his refuge when he was fleeing from home. When the enemy seemed to be from within. But this is when the enemy is from without, coming from outside. And he is not alone in this situation. A strong tower would be a place where others are right in the battle with you!
God is a tent
The movement of the images is one that becomes more and more intimate.
We might think of a tent as a place where we came, but in the ancient world for many it was their home. And in fact here, some translate this as ‘tabernacle”. David never built the Temple. That was done by his son Solomon, so God would have still dwelt in the Tabernacle, his great tent. David knows that the safest place is right where God is. He wants to dwell in the house of the Lord!
God as mother bird
Here is the most intimate image. The safest and most secure place is under God’s wing, right up next to his breast.
Do you see the movement of this psalm?
It is one from being far off to being so intimately close that you are held by the very wings of God, embraced by the arms of God, up against the very breast of God.
The movement is from distance to intimacy. It is also from a place of living independently to living utterly dependently. The distance, the far off place, moves to the place of refuge, to the strong tower, to the tent, to the wing.
As long as you are out there on your own, whether you are really out there far away from God or right here in a pew far away from God, you will not really live, not live and bear life-giving fruit. You have to come close. You have to get out of looking just at others and yourself and you have to look up. You are naturally going to look at others and at yourself and when you do, you are just going to say “I hate golf” or “I hate life!” or “I hate myself”.
C.S. Lewis continued on in Mere Christianity this way:
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
God wants you. He wants you. And when you take up your cross and die to your self you will really live and you will find that his yoke is easy and his burden in light. You will find that he really is a Rock a refuge and strong tower a tent and wing that hold you dear.
Every summer Peter and an occasional guest speaker take us through the Psalms. Of the Psalms Luther said " the Psalter is a book of all the saints, and everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation and apply to his case so exactly that it seems they were put in this way only for his sake..."