The cords of death encompassed me … In my distress I called upon the LORD … Then the earth reeled and rocked … Psalm 18:4-7
How do the above words grab your attention? Are they relevant to our present situation? In the midst of a pandemic with the loss of life, economic instability, political turmoil, legal issues, and spiritual questions, where do we turn? Amidst the constant appeals of social media, network news, cable news or blogosphere with all of the “breaking news” and opinions, are we taking time to read and hear the Word of God? Are we taking time to pray? Who of us is not affected by the global impact of Covid-19? The continual news of infection rates, of deaths from the virus, of competing views on whether or not we are to wear masks, of job losses, of increasing indebtedness personally, regionally, nationally and globally Added to that is the escalating battle for the survival of our nation’s heart. The impact of years of indoctrination in the classrooms and by the communications industry has spilled over from the classrooms and is seething in the streets of the cities of our world.
In a recent appeal for prayer Christopher Ash wrote:
“Here’s a wonderful thought to encourage you in your prayers. In verses 4 and 5 we see one lonely drowning man being pulled down into the place of the dead – four lines of intense distress. In verse 6 this man prays. And then, from verse 7, the whole cosmos shakes! One lonely man, one desperate prayer, and the earth is shaken by the righteous anger of its Creator who flies (as it were) with terrifying speed and power to draw this Righteous One “out of many waters” (verse 16). Nothing makes God more angry than the distress of his Righteous Son. He shakes the foundations of the world to rescue and raise Him from the dead. AND – this, I think, is most wonderful – He does the same for all who belong to His Beloved Son when we pray in the name of His Beloved Son. That happened literally in Acts 4:31.”
You may be aware that Psalm 18, a Messianic Psalm, teaches about the coming Messiah, Jesus. Psalm 19 is a Torah Psalm that summarizes the teaching provided in Psalm18. Palmer Robertson, in his book The Flow of the Psalms, explains: “a Torah Psalm, speaks of a wholesome approach to life that comes from a full apprehension of the will of God for the well-being of human beings made in the image of God.” Psalms 18 & 19 introduce five psalms (Psalms 20-24) that tell what the promised Messianic King, Jesus, would endure before the victory promised in Psalm 18:49-50:
For I will praise You, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to Your name.
Great salvation He brings to His King, and shows steadfast love to His anointed, to David and his offspring forever.
Rev. Ash is correct in calling us to believing prayer that lays hold of the very thing God calls us to embrace. Because God rescued Jesus from the grave, He has arisen. Forty days later He ascended into Heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. One day He will come to judge the living and the dead, but in the meantime He calls us to active hope-filled obedience as He speaks to us in His Word, the Bible, and we respond to what He has written by praying.
What should you say to God? Believers throughout the ages have prayed Scripture back to God. Perhaps an example will be of help. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Dr. Dennis Cahill, pastor of the Christ Community BFC in New Jersey, a state rocked with Covid-19 infections and deaths, called upon pastors to pray. He launched an online, 30 minute, midweek prayer meeting, inviting all pastors in the Bible Fellowship Church. The format calls for us to pray through a Psalm, taking time to work through the varied details the psalmist addresses and pray those to the LORD.
In a recent prayer meeting, Pastor Mike Walker from Faith BFC in Harleysville, PA, led us as we prayed through Psalm 61. The psalmist, David, appeals to God for help, Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer, from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. You can pray something like, O God, You are an awesome God, the true and living God. Thank You that You listen to prayer, not only in_______, but in Mexico, China, Alaska, Australia and everywhere people are. You know that right now, I am ________ (tired, fearful, unwell, ready to give up …). Thank You that You do not abandon us in our distress.
The psalmist then prays that God will lead him to the rock that is higher than he is (v. 3). You might pray something like, “Thank You God that You are more knowledgeable than our best technology or systems. You are a safe refuge, able to defend me and protect me against the volatile people who despise You and me. Let me rest in Your care and protection (v. 4). You, God, know who I am. You know the commitments I have made and the vows I have taken before You. You have made promises to care for my family and me (v. 5).”
Even though times are difficult for the psalmist, he does not request to be excused so he can quit and go for a new career. He makes requests of God: “Please extend my life. Continue to love my family and me (v. 6). Watch over us, especially in the volatile times we are living in. Whether we are sheltered at home or out on the streets and highways of our area, grant us safety. Protect us from all evil (v. 7). Keep me going in the race and battle of life (v. 8).”
Rather than appealing to escape responsibility, the psalmist pledges, “God I want to sing praises to you, even if the government says I cannot sing in the worship context. Keep me faithful to the vows I have made. You call those who make vows but then do not keep them, fools (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). Empower me to faithfully perform my vows, whether in marriage, ministry, employment or service in government.”
Then the psalmist concludes with the note of continuing worship. Without losing sight of the long term commitment, he understands that finishing well, requires one to remain faithful to his/her vows day-by-day.
In another generation, the hymn writer Lina Sandell, after watching her father tragically drown, penned the hymn we know as Day by Day:
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
strength I find to meet my trials here.
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
gives unto each day what He deems best,
lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
mingling toil with peace and rest….
How do we love our neighbors day-by-day when they may be very different from us? No two families operate the same way, even from the same extended family, living on the same street. With the effects of mass media we increasingly hear the same voices providing the same narrative across the English speaking world. Perhaps as much as half of the world’s social communication is controlled by a handful of powerful elites. Couple that with the “retailization” of our shopping practices. We have come to expect “Big Box” stores to be uniform in their layout and pricing for groceries, home improvement items or tools whether in Newark, NJ, or Newark, DE. We expect the coffee to taste the same in a particular restaurant chain, whether in Seattle, WA, or Scranton, PA. Particular styles of clothing, brands of shoes, and viewpoints on life and government become the symbols of conformity, pro and con. Everyone who intends to be included in the “civilized world” must observe the accepted narrative or face exclusion, rejection, or cancellation. With the 24/7 access to media indoctrination, one can easily assume that everyone, including our neighbors, views things alike. However, the past few months have demonstrated how differently our views may be of those who share in this “uniform” culture. How should we respond?
In many of our communities we have people from very different cultures, who speak different languages, prefer a different diet, and have very different ways of looking at life. Do we invest time to get to know them, to serve them and build relationships with them? We can and must learn from history. In our own denomination we have the benefit of having lived through global pandemics including the influenza of 1918. In 1992, reflecting on the first century of the Spring City, PA, congregation, R. Stanley Weidner told of the great loss they experienced when their young pastor, Horace A. Kauffman Sr., who had enthusiastically begun preaching there on October 21, 1917, died on October 28, 1918 as a result of faithfully visiting the sick during the influenza. Families viewed his coffin through the window of the church.
All churches in the area were closed for four weeks to lessen the impact of the pandemic. Pastor Kauffman left behind his wife and a son, Horace A. Kauffman, Jr. who faithfully served in our denomination. But in that same season of ministry, the Spring City congregation, according to the late Jansen Hartman, was the first of our denomination to become integrated with a black family by the name of Coleman in 1910. After Mr. Coleman died in a railroad accident his widow, Rachel Coleman and their son Leon continued to worship there the remainder of her life. She enriched their perspective on worship singing songs like, We’re Marching to Zion as the congregation marched up and down their only aisle.
During the past four centuries millions of people left their homes in Europe, Africa, and Asia, because they were forced to serve in other places because their tribal groups were conquered and they were at the mercy of their new rulers. Others were brutally marketed. It behooves us to read more deeply on the history of these practices in the Americas. The practice of enslaving Whites, Africans, Asians, and Native Americans, by Whites, Africans, Asians, and Native Americans in the Americas is putrid evil against God and humankind. Many changes have taken place but many more changes need to take place.
Let us kneel before God and repent of any and every sin in our own hearts. Let us seek to reach out to all those who have suffered under the horrific practices in the past, often overlooked in the politically correct narrative. The practices of yesteryear are no less evil than those in our own day. People work in deplorable conditions to produce goods that are marketed to the world. Check the tags on your clothing. Where were your clothes made? In what conditions were they made? As the recent European movie title, “GREED: The Devil is in the Retail,” implies, the problems we are encountering today transcend national and continental boundaries, as well as ethnicities. They have been going on since the early chapters of Genesis. God was patient in the days of Noah and Lot, but the day of His judgment arrived, as it will again in coming days (Luke 17:26-30). Are we now seeing the handwriting on the wall?
How can we hope to make a difference in our world? We need discernment to know what is right and true. As the Children’s Catechism asks: Where can we learn how to love and obey God? Answer: In the Bible alone, only there can we learn how to love and obey God. Well said. We must learn and teach the storyline of the Bible. Without the Bible we are left to our best guesses and those of the “experts” trying to cope with the pressing needs of our day.
Jesus our Saviour and King has called us to make disciples for Him wherever we are (Matthew 28:18-20). All authority has been given to Him. He is the Sovereign One who has commanded us to make disciples. Let us actively pray day-by-day that He will send us into the harvest fields of our community and beyond to the very remote parts of the earth, as the psalmist noted in Psalm 61. Whether you are going to Wal-Mart, WAWA, Washington, Turkey Hill, or the nation of Turkey, God is present there and is still adding to His church all over the world.
We can lose heart and become distracted from the opportunities and responsibilities before us. Let us actively pray that the Lord of the Harvest will direct us to people in whose hearts He is working so that we might introduce them to Jesus. Jesus has promised to accompany us to the very end of the age. Our responsibility really comes back to the day-by-day obedience and love to our Lord and the people He places before us.
Dr. Carl T. Martin, a BFC pastor and a college professor.