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TEXT: Psalm 123
SUBJECT: Songs on the Way to Heaven #4
What do you do when the world looks down on you? Perhaps you feel this way because you're a baby; you're so self-centered that you take everything personally, you magnify ever little mistake into a capital crime, and you think every whispered conversation has got to be about you. Psychologists call this a Persecution Complex, I think, and if you've got one, what you need to do is to repent of it and have a long laugh at your own vanity. The world is probably not out to get you.
But what if it is? What if your wife holds you in contempt? If she's a talker, she tells you what a loser you are, that she has no respect for you, and wonders whatever possessed her to marry such a sorry excuse for a man. If she's not much of a talker, she still has that look, that ever-present look of disappointment, of disapproval, or disgust (in the corners of her mouth).
What if your kids have no respect for you? Your son contradicts you, your daughter rolls her eyes, even the little ones are becoming defiant. You try to be gentle and they take advantage of you; when you crack down, it only makes things worse. Your family looks down on you.
What if the people at work look down on you? You know what you're doing and you try hard, but the promotions always go to someone else. When you walk into the cafeteria, your colleagues stop talking and glance up at you nervously. While others go out to eat or spend weekends together now and then, you're never included. The people at work look down on you.
But at least things are better at church! Or are they? Everyone is nice and polite, but nobody ever wants your advice because nobody thinks you've got anything to say. Of course you hear the prayer requests made in public, but privately, people don't ask you to pray for them because they assume you don't have much of a prayer life. Even your church looks down on you.
Some people look down on you personally-it's you, in particular, they don't respect. But others look down on you-not so much because of what you are-but because of what group you belong to. Maybe the group is identified by skin color, or accent, or education, or the kind of work they do, or because of their religious convictions. Maybe the unsaved look down on you because you're a Christian, or Christians look down on you because you don't homeschool!
Contempt may come from a great many places and for a great many reasons, but whatever the source or the cause, you're feeling it. The world looks down on you.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Now, what do you do about it?
You can pretend you're not being looked down on, but because you're pretending, and you're pretending to yourself, this option won't be very effective for very long, and then.
You'll feel sorry for yourself. Or you'll strike back, looking down on the people who look down on you. Or, you'll punish innocent people by looking down on them because others look down on you. Or maybe you'll blame God or wonder if He looks down on you too.
These are the things we most often do-and every one of them is wrong. What we ought to be doing is what the people in Psalm 123 did.
Before we get to what they did, let's have a quick look at what they were facing. Starting at the bottom, v.4--
Our soul is exceedingly filled
With the scorn of those who are at
With the contempt of the proud.
Our friends are being looked down on, and by people who should keep their mouths shut because they're at ease. There's something odious about a healthy person telling you your sickness is all in your head! Or a young person wondering why you're so slow or deaf or forgetful. Or, someone with a job saying you must have lost yours because you're lazy. And, worst of all, people without kids piling on when things go wrong with yours.
They hold you in contempt because they're proud, and they're proud because they're at ease. Things won't always be so good for them, but that doesn't help you at the moment.
If these people were your sworn enemies, they wouldn't hurt you so badly because-after all-what do you expect from people who hate you? But, in fact, the people most likely to look down on you are the people who say they love you. Some will go so far as to say they're doing it for your good!
I'm not making this up. If you've lived a while, you know I'm not. But if you haven't, read the Book of Job this afternoon, and look at the three men who think of themselves as Job's bosom buddies, and who spend fifteen or twenty chapters kicking the man while he's down.
If Christians were allowed to hold a grudge, I'd hold one against Zophar, who looking at Job, covered with boils, children dead, fortune wiped out, and wife counseling suicide, telling the poor man,
Know, therefore, God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves.
Contempt is in the heart, but if you're careful and well-bred, you can of keep it inside you--sort of. But these men had no class or dignity. Instead of just thinking proud thoughts, they let them spill out of their mouths and come through their body language. They were scornful.
To scorn someone is to mock and laugh at his misfortune. I went to school with a boy named Tony. He was small and shy and poor, a bad student, not much of an athlete, and he spoke with a heavy accent. One hot day, he came to school wearing a big thick coat. Our teacher asked him to take it off, but he wouldn't. Instead of letting it go, she had to have her way, and finally the coat came off-and he had no shirt on under it. Of course the teacher was embarrassed and most of us felt the same way. But there was one kid in class who started laughing at Tony and kept at it till the end of the school year. That's what it means to scorn.
If this is inexcusable in a twelve-year old boy, how much worse is it in a full grown man? And not just one man, but a slew of men? These are the kind of people the Psalmist had to deal with-boorish people, proud, boastful, people who cut you dead with every look and word.
If being scorned once is bad, a steady diet of scorn is even worse. This is what happened to our man. He and his friends had had a belly full of scorn; they were--
Exceedingly filled with contempt.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
What did they do about it? They asked God for relief-
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
The words imply two things about the faith of the ones who prayed them. For one, they believed in the mercy of God. Well, of course they did, who doesn't? That's a naïve question, a great many people don't, especially people who think they never got any of it. A man once told me-I won't use the bad word he did-'God never did a blankety-blank thing for me.' He went on to explain how abusive his parents were, how he was bullied in the neighborhood, how no teacher ever helped him, how his wife left him, on an on he went. His blasphemies were carried on the breath God gave him.
Our friends, however, didn't feel this way. They hadn't seen many mercies, perhaps, but they believed in them because they believed in the God whose mercy is sometimes invisible because it's too big to see!
They believed in the mercy of God and this kept them from despair.
They also believed in His justice. Theirs was not a thirst for revenge, but for justice. The oppressors should be punished because oppression is wrong and God is glorified when He overturns it. He is the Defender of the widow, the fatherless, the poor, for people who cannot defend themselves. The only recourse they have is to God, and the Lord hears them and sets things right in His own good time-
O God, how long will the adversary reproach?
will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?
Why do you withdraw Your hand,
even Your right hand?
Take it out of Your bosom
and destroy them.
For God is my King from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the
Earth (Psalm 74:10-12).
This is what you do when the world looks down on you. You plead you case to God and leave matters to Him. Vengeance belongs to Him-and not to you. You must wait for Him patiently and obediently and with malice toward none.
You're not allowed to become cynical either or bitter or indifferent to the injustices of the world. The Stoics did not believe in showing emotion; they could take anything (they said) without going to pieces or blowing up. Some people take them for sages and heroes, but I take them for what they were: fools and cowards. Fools because they pretended pain didn't hurt and injustice didn't matter. Cowards because they chose denying pain to accepting it.
Jesus Christ was not Stoic, for He passionately cared about injustice, about the little guy taking it in the neck. He wept over Jerusalem and felt for the poor and got mad when He saw the powerful oppressing the weak. But He did not bring down the judgment-even though He's the judge.
Because He is also God's Servant, and being a servant, He can wait for His Master to set things right in when the time is right.
HOW TO PRAY FOR MERCY
If you want mercy, pray for it, but not only once or twice, Keep on praying for it-
Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to
the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of
So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
Until He has mercy on us.
He makes a couple of comparisons. He and his suffering friends are looking to God as servants look to their master and maids look to their mistress.
The servants are probably field hands working on a long, hot summer day. Beginning at the crack of dawn they work on and on through the miserable heat, and without asking, 'When's quitting time'? In fact, they don't say a word to the boss, but every chance they get the steal a look at him, hoping he motions to them, 'Let's go home'.
The maid servants are women and girls working in the house and keeping their eyes peeled for the Lady's gesture that means, 'You can quit now'
What do the figures bring to mind? Desire, patience, and obedience. They want the Lord to answer they're prayers, they're willing to wait on Him, and-in the meantime-keep doing what He has for them to do. There's no bargaining with the Lord, pouting when He doesn't do what we want Him to, or wondering if He listens to us or not.
This is how our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. For three hours He prayed for relief, but He did not impose His will on the Father or threaten Him if He shouldn't get His way. He prayed, He submitted, and He did what He was told.
Did He get what He asked for? No, not exactly. What He got was something better. On the Third Day, He got more than relief.
Our duty is clear, if not easy to comply with: Keep on asking and you will receive, keeping on seeking and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened to you.
PRAYER TO THE KING
Who was our man praying to? To God, of course, but he doesn't use that name. He prays to-
You who dwell in the heavens.
This is an accurate translation, but perhaps it loses something. Most modern Bibles say, You who are enthroned in heaven. His world was full of gods and spirits, but He wasn't calling on these puny powers for mercy! He was calling on the King-not King David, but David's King!
The imagery is taken from the Ark of the Covenant and this ties it into what the Psalm is-a song sung on the way to the Temple. In the inner room of the Temple, there was a golden box flanked by two gold Cherubim (or angels). Above the angels a dim light glowed, and that light stood for the God who is light. Why was it above the angels? Because, in effect, they were carrying God on their shoulders, the way servants carried the king. A flicker of God's glory and Lordship shone from the Ark, but the Glory and Lord Himself was in heaven, sitting on the shoulders of the Real Cherubim.
He was high and lifted up and His train filled the Temple and the pillars of heaven shook at the sound of His voice. This is the God to whom suffering saints lift their eyes-the God who loves for them, the God who hates oppression, and the God who will answer their prayers!
How and when He wants to.
This is your God, not somebody else's God, but yours. Our Lord said, 'I am going to My Father and to your Father, to My God and your God'.
We don't go to the Temple in Jerusalem as the Psalmist did, but that's no loss for us; in fact, it's a gain, for that Temple shut God off from His People, but when Christ died, the curtain in the Temple was torn top to bottom, opening up the heavenly Temple to everyone who wants to be heard there.
That's where your prayers are going-not to the ceiling, not to the ears of the church, but to the King. The King now enthroned who once was crucified. For you.
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