What Should We Do When The Wicked Are Winning?
Wicked is winning all around us. There are mass shootings close by, whether it is Baltimore leading the nation or senseless shootings in Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Annapolis, or down in Shady Side. There are terror attacks across the world (recent this weekend #LondonBridge and here at home. There are violent protests and likewise there are even situations of police brutality. My heart aches at the division and racism that exists in our nation. America is in a tense and turbulent time. It seems each week and month is a transition from one trial or tragedy to the next.
Fretting and fear rather than faith are shaping our attitudes and actions toward one another. People do not know whom to trust. I’ve said this before and it’s worthy of being said again:
– when we rely upon individuals, we get what people can do.
– when we rely upon experiences, we get what the world can do.
– when we rely upon schools, we get what education can do.
– when we rely upon government, we get what politics can do.
– when we rely upon human laws, we see the depth of human depravity.
– But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.
Today’s message is about trusting God in tumultuous times. Too often when we hear or speak about trusting God we mean in a vague or general sense. We flippantly say “Let go, Let God” as if life were not complex, circumstances weren’t challenging, and faith in Christ was always comfortable. None of that is true.
Here are some examples of living in an unfair world where the wicked are winning:
– When a teen is a good student academically, works hard athletically, but they still don’t start; while another student doesn’t get good grades, has mediocre discipline for practice, but high talent so they start. Is that fair?
– When a wife believes in God, reads her Bible and attends church, loves her husband, but she and her husband are undesirably infertile; but another couple who’s faith has little visible spiritual fruit but they have several children, of whom it seems they have little attention or affection to care for them. Is that fair?
– When a man has studied hard for several years in graduate schooling, paid thousands of dollars in education loans, works hard at his job but with little advancement in career or financial promotion. But, another man goes unemployed from job to job because he doesn’t show up due to laziness, yet he wins the multi-million dollar lottery to enable his idleness. Is that fair?
– When two men are advanced in years. One led a manipulative and abusive life of relationships, with a variety of substance abuse addictions. The other man was a person of faith with the average lifestyle. Yet, the man of faith is diagnosed with cancer and suffers the last three years of life while the man of sin continues a lifestyle adrift and separated from his family and from God. Is that fair?
If our eyes are focused on earth, the wicked are winning. So, how should people of faith respond?
Psalm 37 is our text today as we begin a few week series in the Psalms. I’m tempted to linger in this book to line up with our Bible Groups throughout the summer, but I also have had a long desire to study the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10) and believe that series is coming soon.
In all, the Psalms are greatly relevant for a nation in turbulence and transition. Allow me to introduce Psalms to you before our main text.
Psalms were songs and prayers. The word Psalm in Hebrew is tehilla, which means “to praise or to glory; to make music”. When the Psalms were translated into Greek, the title Psalmos was given, which means “songs; or ψάλλω: means twanging or striking with the fingers on musical strings, making melody”. So, the Psalms are a book meant to be prayed & praised to the glory of God.
The Psalms became the early church’s hymnbook. After about 1500 years of the same songs, some reforming Christians broke from singing only the psalms to creating new hymns that spoke of their current day’s context. The new hymn writers often utilizd tunes from culture and created similar rich harmonies with distinct meter and set them to new godly lyrics that were sung in the church. How dare they!?!. And the church continues singing a new song to the Lord (Psalm 96:1; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).
Psalms are poetic. They are part of the Wisdom literature with descriptions about life, faith, hope, good, evil, and of course the Lord. I’ll be one of the first to say that poetry does not always excite me, yet the Psalms are engaging. They engage me because they instruct and inspire me about the character and work of God. The psalms encourage me because they cover the range of life experiences and emotions that we all face in our variety of circumstances: lament, thanksgiving, praise & celebration, penitential, wisdom/didactic.
Psalms were prominent in the nation. The psalms are a collection of material over the course of 1200 years written by different authors: 73 by David; Asaph (50, 73-83); Solomon (72, 127); Heman (88); Ethan (89); Moses (90); and Sons of Korah (42, 44-49, 84-85, 87). Psalms is divided into 5 Books with each concluding with a doxology: 1: 1-41; 2: 42-72; 3: 73-89; 4: 90-106; 5: 107-150.
Some psalms were personal journal-like entries, while others were used for corporate worship settings. Let that sink in for a moment – a nation’s king writing hymns to be sung by citizens of the kingdom.
Psalms were prophetic. From the early church we have inherited a new perspective of reading the Psalms in the light of Jesus’ mission and work. Our Lord frequently quoted the Psalms and taught His disciples to interpret the Scriptures in the light of His coming (Luke 24:46–47). From the apostolic usage of the Psalms, it is abundantly evident that they figure prominently in the preaching and teaching of the early church. The apostles established Jesus’ suffering (Ps 22; 35; 41; 55; 69; 109), His messianic claims (Ps 2; 72; 89; 110; 132), His priestly ministry (Ps 95), His being the Son of Man (Ps 8; 16; 40), and the coming judgment and redemption (Ps 18; 50; 68; 96–98; 102), and so many other references to Jesus as our Savior, Shepherd, Strength, King, and God.
Psalms display the path of blessing. The word blessed [eh-sher] means happy and is used 26x in the Psalms.
And one of those times is in Psalm 37:22. Psalm 37 is an acrostic poem with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet for each stanza, in a poetic structure communicating wisdom for God’s people on what it means to trust God when the wicked are winning. In this psalm we can see __ applications for how we are to trust God when the wicked are winning.
Trusting God implies our faith overcomes fretting (Ps 37:1-8).
The Psalmist gives multiple commands for what it means to have faith and trust in God. The first is negative, while the remaining are positive.
The first command repeated three times: fret not (37:1, 7, 8).
The Hebrew word for fret = khawraw (to glow warm or be hot, or burn with anger and fury). So, the Psalmist implies for us not to be controlled by emotions. People of faith must be reminded to breathe before we emotionally respond with words or actions that we would later regret, or worse that would dishonor God.
– Illus: Emotions / Do you like scary or even suspense movies? If you watch one of these movies the plot becomes where the characters enter intense circumstances that their life is often in danger. The music gets faster and frantic. The actions become fearful and panicky. AND sometimes people who are watching the movie feel like they are in the scene themselves! The movie manipulates your mind so that your feelings overcome reality.
o Fretting is a threat to faithfulness and joy in God.
o The principle of the psalmist is to not act and live with fretting but faith.
- Our faith tells us God protects the righteous (Ps 37:11, 18, 22, 28-29, 34a, 39-40; 1Jn 2:15).
- Our faith tells us God is in control (Ps 115:3; 135:6).
- Our faith tells us God condemns evildoers (Ps 37:2, 9-10, 20, 34b; 2Thess 1:9; 1Pet 4:18).
- Our faith tells us God cares for you (Matt 7:9-11; Rom 8:32; Eph 1:3; Jm 1:17; 1Pet 5:7).
Another command to exercise our faith is a string of actions of trusting in the Lord, doing good, dwelling in the land, and befriend (pasture/feed) faithfulness (Ps 37:3).
It is here the psalmist teaches us the meaning of what it means to have faith. The series of exhortations provides us the path and practicality of trusting the Lord. Trust (bawtach = confidence/hope; Proverbs 3:5-6).
– Illus: Trust / Imagine a lifeguard noticing a drowning man who is large (tall & stocky). The lifeguard dives in the water and swims out to the struggling swimmer, but stops three feet from him. He notices the drowning man is struggling to save himself; he’s wildly swinging his arms and legs and unwilling to receive help. The lifeguard notices the man’s condition and treads water at a short distance away. He is waiting for the man to drain his energy and stop the effort of trying to save himself. As long as the man insisted on his own strength, and relying on his own ability, his approach would hinder the lifeguard and his cry for help would contradict his desire to be saved. When the drowning man ceased leaning on his own understanding and using his own methods, the lifeguard was able to enter and take over. The lifeguard worked his way around the man’s back to reach over his shoulder and cupping the chin under his hand to enable breathing, and then sidestroked to safety.
o Trusting God means our confidence and hope is in Him and not ourselves. Our understanding will lead us to act in ways that are contrary to God’s ways and will. We must trust that God has a rescue plan and it often doesn’t involve our preferred methods. When God saves a person through His gospel, He must get the glory and not us.
o Trusting God also means we live and do good. In other words, we obey what we know God has specifically called us to do. Too often we concern ourselves with what others should be doing and how God should be working, when instead we should simply keep our eyes on Jesus and follow who He has called us to be and what He has called us to do.
- Successful sport teams often have a motto: Do your job.
o Trusting God means we dwell in the land with God’s faithfulness. The psalmist uses language implying God is faithful and we need only to look at what we have, instead of don’t have to see it. Specifically, I believe this means gratitude should be a preeminent characteristic of our faith. Gratitude for God’s grace around us gives us perspective when the wicked are winning.
- When we recognize God’s owes us nothing, then we become grateful for everything.
- Psalm 9:1; 34:1; 92:1-2; 95:2-3; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1
- What if you only woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?
Another set of commands is to delight in the Lord, commit your way to Him and to be still, waiting patiently for Him (Ps 37:4-7).
Here the psalmist is casting a vision for a person to immerse themselves in knowing and following the Lord. Delighting in God is a daily discipline that will produce depth and dynamic to your faith. Commit (galal = roll) carries the idea of moving with God – like the meeting of a large stone rolling together with the ground, or perhaps like food ingredients rolled together – so faith in God is integrated in every area and fabric of life. Further, the psalmist exhorts us to be stillness and patient waiting on the Lord, believing that He will act – bring it to pass (judging evil and bringing forth righteousness).
– Illus: Immersion / Some schools teach learning multiple languages through an immersion method. It is where at least 50% of all instruction is spent in the language trying to be learned (ex. non-English). The immersion method advances student learning because they learn how the language applies in every subject and not just isolated to one aspect of education.
o Likewise, our faith must be immersed into every aspect of life. This is what it means to delight in God; not viewing faith as a burden but all His commands and conduct as a blessing.
And another action command is to refrain from anger and forsake wrath (Ps 37:8).
The psalmist is a realist. He understand that when the wicked are winning, we are tempted to grow irritated and infuriated. He beckons back to the opening command of “fret not”. The command to forsake wrath is a reminder to not take vengeance into our own hands
– Psalm 37:14-15 “The wicked draw the sword… their sword shall enter their own heart”
– Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord. To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’” (cf. Prov 25:21-22).
– James 1:20 “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
– MLKJr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Trusting God implies looking forward to eternity and not just the present earth (Psalm 37:9-22).
The ultimate aim of Psalm 37 is to point God’s people beyond earth to eternity. God is the vindicator of the righteous and will avenge injustice and unrighteousness. “In just a little while” (Ps 37:10) is a reminder that life on earth is short comparative to eternity. The psalmist notes his advanced age has achieved perspective for God’s present and future faithfulness (Ps 37:25). He points us forward reminding us several times that God’s people, the meek, shall inherit the land (Ps 37:11, 22, 29, 34; cf. Matthew 5:5; Romans 4:13; Hebrews 11:10).
We must not have grace-amnesia or be heavenly-unaware, but instead “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4). Russell Moore says, “If we don’t see how the ‘kingdom come’ informs this life now, we become frantic about the things of this life, wanting to make them ultimate… The goal of history is not, after all, escape to heaven, but the merger of heaven and earth” (Onward, 52, 61).
è Therefore, if eternity is our aim and heaven is our hope, then we should make every effort to view circumstances and people – all people from every background, status, race – through the lens of Jesus’ Great Commission.
o So, when the wicked are winning, we do not seek to trumpet short-term earthly victories in comparison. Instead, Christians are called to lose their life on earth through serving and sacrificing in ways that put the gospel of Jesus Christ on display.
o We may lose political races, presidential power and influence, and perhaps even our nation and the lives of loved ones, but we must never lose our integrity of faith.
Hope, rescue, and salvation belong to the Lord (Psalm 37:39).
– Christ is already victorious. We are not striving and struggling through this world for victory, but from victory. Therefore, we can live with confidence, courage, and the charge of Jesus to follow Him whatever circumstances we face.
– Christ is coming. We must be ready and not preparing for regret. Our current culture is ripe with victim mentality to make excuses and sense entitlement. When Christ returns, it will be too late for second-chances and excuses will be empty. Our only entitlement is deserving the payment and penalty for our sins, but by the grace of God. Today is the day of salvation…
 Psalms 1:1; 2:12; 32:1, 2; 33:12; 34:8; 40:4; 41:1; 65:4; 84:4, 5, 12; 89:15; 94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1, 2; 127:5; 128:1, 2; 137:8, 9; 144:15, 16; 146:5.