Yesterday in the church where I was guest-preaching, the worship leader confessed to the church he had a sin problem. “A major one,” he emphasized.
And no one blinked an eye.
That minister was on safe ground, surrounded as he was by a hundred or so people who also had sin problems.
It was a typical church filled with normal Christians.
I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear, and will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)
This is a unique scripture. To my knowledge, there is not another like it in all the Bible. No wonder since it’s as sweet and powerful as it’s possible to get. (Get the impression I like this text?)
Those of us who came to the Lord at an early age–I was 11–sometimes say we have no testimony to speak of, nothing dramatic about the change the Lord effected when He saved us. Maybe not, but I’ll tell you something we may be in danger of missing: In the life of any believer who has grown in Christ through the years, God has performed this very same feat, transitioning us from the bad to the good, the low to the high, the binding to the liberating, darkness to life. Life to death.
It’s a continual process for as long as we are in this body and in this world.
I have sinned far more as a Christian than I ever did before coming to Christ. And, if I may be permitted to say so, the Lord has forgiven me for far more since I was saved than He did at the time of my conversion.
Time and again over the 60+ years of my Christian walk, the Lord has heard my cry, lifted me up, set me on the solid rock, put a new song in my mouth.
The gospel hymnwriter clearly loved Psalm 40:1-3–
“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more.
Then the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry.
From the waters lifted me; now safe am I.
“Love lifted me. Love lifted me.
When nothing else could help, love lifted me.”
Three things strike me about this passage; three aspects to the treasure it contains, the radiance it beams forth.
1. Psalm 40:1-3 is the testimony of the saints through the ages.
You can almost hear David singing–shouting a little, maybe?–these sparkling words.
This is the personal account of one who has been down and out and who has been picked up and pulled up and redeemed by the living God. (I’m recalling the fellow who said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and rich is better.”)
Up is better than down.
Living is better than dying.
Standing is better than mired.
Singing is better than crying.
Praise is better than anything.
The Psalmist literally overflows with appreciation for what God has done in his life. No one had to coax this testimony from him; it bursts asunder. “My cup overflows,” David said in another place (Psalm 23:5).
Notice he gives God all the praise and glory and takes none for himself. Unlike many testimonies we hear, David goes into no gory details about his failures, the sorry choices that put him here. He has left it behind and cannot praise God enough for getting him out of that hellhole.
I have known sin enough in my life to understand when you tell how your bad choices were sabotaging God’s wonderful plan and how His grace hoisted you out. I’ll not be needing your sordid stories, having quite enough of my own, thank you.
Enough with the National Enquirer mentality in church that wants to hear the details of what people did in their rebellions against God. Make the story about Him, not you.
2. Psalm 40:1-3 describes the redemptive stages of the rescued.
Consider the chronological progression of the workings of God in the life of the redeemed….
a) First, my part. All I brought to the miracle was a great need.
— I was in the pit of destruction, in the miry clay.
Ever been there? It’s a miserable feeling. The bizarre thing about it is that generally we put ourselves in that position. That low place looked so enticing, so inviting, so promising. Only after we had burrowed in did we learn that we were caught, trapped, and helpless to get out.
It ain’t called “depression” for nothing, friend.
— I cried out to God.
A friend said to me, “I cry in the shower where no one but God can see.” But see He does, I assured her. The tears of a believer are precious to the Father (see Psalm 56:8).
Remembering what James 5:16 says about “the effectual fervent prayer” being heard by God, we do well when we pray intense prayers. I love the story of blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18:38, who called out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The more people tried to shush him, the louder he called. Judging by what happened, we have to say the Lord liked that prayer also.
You’re stuck in a hellhole, caught and trapped and addicted. All you can do is cry out to God.
So, do it. He wants to hear from you.
You’d be surprised how many people say, “No, I didn’t call on Him in the good times, so I’m not going to run to Him when things go bad.” But that plays right into the hands of the enemy; it’s the very thing he wants you to do. It locks you into the despair. God says, “Call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).
— I waited patiently for God.
I wanted no one but Him. He alone is the answer to my need. The government is not the answer to my needs, it doesn’t come from the pharmacy, and my spouse is not responsible for my happiness. God alone is my refuge.
We look to no One but Him, accept no answer but His, trust in no promise but His Word. Until He intervenes, we keep praying and looking to Him.
b) What God did for me– (6 things)
–He inclined toward me and heard my cry.
He hears all the time, we can confidently say. But you get the impression that sometimes He delays giving evidence that He does, perhaps to test our prayer or deepen our faith or strengthen our resolve.
We all have our favorite “God hears me when I pray” verses. Jeremiah 33:3 is as good as it gets: “Call unto me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.”
–He brought me up out of that pit, from the quicksand.
This is a metaphor–an accurate one, to be sure–that feels so right. In fact, we might go so far as to say that in the Incarnation of Jesus and His earthly ministry and death on Calvary, our Lord got down in the pit with us in order to bring us out. How good is that?
Scripture says Jesus “led captivity captive.” When He rose from the dead on that Lord’s Day morning, as He ascended, He took us with Him. (See Ephesians 2:4-7.)
Perhaps the songwriter had this in mind when he wrote:
Once my soul was astray from the heavenly way,
I was wretched and blind as could be.
But my Savior in love
Gave me peace from above
When He reached down His hand for me.
I was lost and undone,
Without my God or His Son,
When He reached down His hand for me.
–He set my feet upon the solid rock.
You were without a place to stand–the quicksand was pulling you down–and now you are on solid rock. What a great feeling.
So many songs celebrate this. “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” “I’m standing on the Rock of Ages.”
After Archimedes demonstrated the lever’s power to move large objects, someone asked what the limits were. He answered, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”
In Christ, we have a place to stand.
–He made my footsteps firm.
The Old Testament prophets spoke of God in His compassion making “my feet like hinds’ feet” (Habakkuk 3:19) so that I can “walk on my high places.”
A “high place” is anywhere of high elevation, a grand view, thin air, and the possibility of falling a great distance and hurting oneself badly. For some, great success or sudden fame feels like an extremely high place. Elevated above others, visible to everyone else, it’s a heady feeling. Like standing atop Everest, the air is thin, the spirit is exhilarated, and the sense of achievement is unlike any other. The danger of falling–falling hard, fast, and far–is very real, however.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart. Lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). He will make your footsteps firm.
–He put a new song in my mouth, all about praise to God.
Why a new song? Because the old ones–as good as they are–cannot sum up all you feel, everything you have experienced.
A new song, however, may be an old song made new by the fact that you have never sung it before. It’s new to God, so to speak. Your lips are praising Him as never before. So, it’s a new song.
–He is using me.
As a result of what the Lord has done in me, people see, they turn to Him, they fear, and they put their trust in Him.
For “many to see” what God has done in me, my life must be visible and lived out in the open. In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord tells the disciples three times not to fear the people around them, calls them to speak out publicly what He says to them in private, and promises that confessing Him down here will result in His confessing us up there.
I must live my life for Christ in public, and must speak words of faith in Christ in public. People must know that the raison d’etre in my life is the Lord Jesus Christ. That way, when things happen–anything, all things–they connect it with the workings of God.
3. Find the explanation of the immature on these pages.
Now, it would be tempting to stop with Point 2, the progression of God’s work in our lives. But we would be missing something valuable.
Some who follow Jesus (or say they do) have little or no testimony because they have not allowed the Lord to finish what He started. Perhaps He lifted them out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and they grew satisfied too quickly, too easily.
As the expression goes, they sat down too quickly after entering the gates of the city.
a) Some have no testimony because they are still in the slough, in the depression, the hole from which the Lord wants to lift them. Nothing has happened to them yet.
Has Jesus Christ lifted you?
b) Some have no testimony because their feet do not rest on the solid rock of Christ and God’s Word. Their feet are in slippery places, we might say.
Where are you standing today?
c) Some have no testimony because they have lost their song. What comes out of their mouth is complaining, accusing, blaming, and excuses. God puts praise on our lips. (See Hebrews 13:15.)
Only those with a solid story of the Lord reaching down and saving them, a sure standing on the Lord and His Word, and a sweet song of praise to the Saviour, only these will attract the attention of the world and draw people to Jesus.