Psalm 20For the director of music. A psalm of David.
“May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. Selah. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!”
There’s a fascinating incident recorded for us in the twentieth chapter of II Chronicles. At that time Jehoshaphat was the God-fearing king of Judah. The holy land was being invaded by a vast army of Moabites and Ammonites, and some men hurried to Jerusalem to tell the king. What did Jehoshaphat do? His instinctive reaction was to seek help from the Lord and also to urge the nation to fast and pray. The people came from all over the land and gathered in Jerusalem around the temple, men, women, children and even babes in arms. The king led them in prayer: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no-one can withstand you . . . We will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir . . . O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20: 6, 9,10,12). Then, we are told, a Levite stood up and he spoke in God’s name to the king and to the people, “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17). That is exactly what happened. The little army of Judah went out to the Pass and there they watched the invading army of Moabites and Ammonites destroying itself. They fell upon one another. No one escaped, and the result was that, “The fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel” (2 Chrons. 20:29), and on that note of the honour God gained from this victory the episode ends.
It is a very encouraging lesson for today as the religion of humanism and post-modernism so powerfully spread during the last century so that it now dominates Wales. It threatens to extinguish historic Christianity, and we are exhorted from this passage to be looking to God and crying to him for help. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” The incident described in 2 Chronicles 20 casts light on Psalm 20 in which the king and the people of God have to deal with an enemy invasion (you see the reference to chariots and horses in verse 7) and David is getting ready for battle. Once again the people gather together and first of all they cry out their prayers to God for the king as he leads the people into battle. They express their best wishes for his success. I want us to look at this psalm asking this question, what should we want for our leaders today. How should we pray for them? Five things we should pray for our leaders.
- WHAT WE SHOULD WANT FOR OUR LEADERS TODAY. (vv.1-5).
i] May the Lord hear your prayers. You immediately are confronted with that longing, that God would give to their leaders what they were praying for. It’s clearly very important to them, because it’s both the beginning and the end of their good wishes. It’s the book-ends of these requests. They pray; “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress . . . May the Lord grant all your requests” (vv.1&5). Then we must ask what are their requests? What are our leaders praying for? They are certainly not praying for their lottery numbers to come up, because they know that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. They’re not praying that they’ll get members of the opposite sex to sleep with them. They’re not praying that they won’t get caught as they cheat the government out of taxes they owe. What are their requests? Themes like this, victory over the world, the flesh and the devil, triumph over the sin that so easily besets them, deliverance from laziness, time-wasting, injustice, and greed. They are asking positively for constant nearness to God by the blood of Christ, more love for God, being filled with the Spirit, loving their neighbours as themselves. They are praying that they will fulfil their chief aim in life of glorifying God and enjoying him for ever. They are praying that the name of the Lord would be exalted and his kingdom will come with power. Every real leader in the church of Jesus Christ is making requests like that, as Christ did himself. They are praying for lives whi
ch won’t be frittered away doing the second best, but lives that will count for Jesus Christ. They want to go to heaven and take many people with them.
Think of Amy Carmichael’s prayer in her poem Flame of God;
Ian Hamilton of Cambridge wrote a letter to his congregation this month on this very theme, and as I read it some of his words touched me. He said, “Surely every right thinking Christian longs to be ‘useful to the Master.’ We owe him everything. Our longing to serve him is not that thus we might ‘repay’ him. We could live ten thousand times ten thousand years and never begin to repay him. No. We long to serve him, and be useful to him, to express our love to him, the deep gratitude of our redeemed hearts for his great grace to us in the gospel.” That is the stuff of the prayers of holy men, and you would want me to make from my heart requests like that. You would feel safe and blessed if you knew that that was what I longed for night and day. That’s what you believe every gospel preacher should be praying about, and so you could add your ‘Amen’ to this congregation of people here in Psalm 20 who prayed for David longing that the Lord would answer the king and grant all his requests because they would be God-honouring prayers and Messiah-exalting prayers.
ii] May the Lord protect you. Here is a leader and he is going into danger. He is being sent out as a sheep amidst wolves. “Lord, protect him!” ‘God of Jacob’ as he calls himself, that is the God of cheats and liars who yet have received his mercy, may the king receive protecting grace from him. Even the apostle Paul asked the Philippians to pray for him because a great door for usefulness had been given to him – what wonderful opportunities lay before him – but there were many enemies. “Protect him, Lord,” they prayed. We are always praying for the protection of our missionaries, for Keith in Kenya, and Malcolm in Latvia, and Mark in Ecuador, that God will be with them and deliver them.
There is that never to be forgotten scene in the life of James Paton as he leaves home to become a missionary in the South Sea islands. He has to walk the first 40 miles from his remote home to the railway station to get the Glasgow train where he is going to be studying, and his extraordinary father walks with him for the first six miles. I can never read of that journey of the father and the son without tears filling my eyes and a lump in my throat. It will be so now I know. Paton wrote;
“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence, my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: ‘God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!’
“Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return—his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as he had given me. The appearance of my father, when we parted – his advice, prayers, and tears – the road, the dyke, the climbing up on it and then walking away, head uncovered – have often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example” (John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, 1889, reprinted by Banner of Truth, p.25&26). So, how do we pray for our leaders? May God hear your prayers . . . may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
iii] May the Lord send you help and support. Is there something that a Christian leader can do without the Lord? Is there one thing that a preacher can do by himself? One thing? Just one little thing he can do all by himself? No. Not one thing. Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Nothing means nothing. Can I give a cup of cold water without divine help? I cannot. It would be below me, or I would do it proudly. Can I humbly wash the feet of my friends all by myself? I cannot. So the congregation prays to the Lord saying, “May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion” (v.2). Heavenly help, because God reigns in heaven, the Zion that is above, may help come there. “Help him Lord! He can do nothing without you. He is being tempted, help him; he has some special needs, help him; he has to inspire and lift us, help him; he has to lead us against our enemies, help him.” Never stop asking God to help and support your leaders. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.
To whom do you go for help? When you labour and are heavy laden, to whom will you go? When you are troubled by guilt and shame, when you are filled with fear, when you are anxious and worried, to whom will you go? When you discover the lump, when the pains run across your chest and down your arm, to whom will you cry for help? When you are filled with doubts, when you need guidance at the fork in the road, to the left or the right, to whom will you cry, “Help me!”? When you need strength, when you lose your job, and when there is no food
on the table to whom will you go? If your house should catch fire, if your car breaks down and fails its M.O.T. to whom will you cry for help? Go to him for the protection of everything that is yours. There was a man who once had borrowed an axe-head. It fell into a lake but when a prophet asked God for help the axe-head floated. The shoes of the Israelites did not wear out in the wilderness. God rules in the material things of our world; he will help you.
When the weakness of old age comes upon you or your husband, then where will you get help day by day? If your marriage is on the rocks, if your children start staying out late or don’t come home at all, if they ask you how they should live, to whom will you go for help? When death is drawing near, then go for help to the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He has taken away the sting of death; he has tasted its bitterness. He has warmed the bed of the dying by lying in the tomb before us. Go to him for help.
Where will you look for help – in the pub, or will you turn to alcohol or to drugs? Some go on the road, some think of emigrating, some join a cult. To whom will you go for help, in every crisis, in every need, material or spiritual? Jesus tells us, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Why do you refuse the help of God the Son? Go to him for forgiveness. He has come into the world to deal with its greatest problem, man’s sinfulness, guilt and rebellion against its Creator. He has sent his Son to become the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world.
Go to him for he has all the resources of heaven and earth at his command. What can other men do for you? Most of them are more helpless than you. The Lord Christ can help you in any need. By his power you can overcome any army, defeat any enemy, ford any river, climb any mountain, bear any burden. You can do anything he asks of you with the strength which he supplies. He can help you to forgive seventy times seven. He can help you to turn the other cheek. He can help you love your enemies. If it’s hope you need, he can help you. If it’s gentleness you need then go to the one who says, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” His resources are never exhausted. If the whole world should go to him then he can cope with them all. Go to him in days of trouble. Here is a congregation and this is what they are praying for their leaders, “May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion” (v.2). This is what we pray for you.
iv] May the Lord remember all your sacrifices. David went to the temple and made sacrifice. He sacrificed the very best and offered it to God. He made a whole burnt offering, a holocaust, and he dedicated it to God. It was a symbol of his life being sacrificed to the service of God day by day. God saw it; God knows what we sacrifice for his sake. Didn’t the apostle Paul start almost all his letters to the churches telling them how he remembered what they were doing for the Lord? I thank God, he tells the Romans, that your faith is being reported of all over the world. He tells the Corinthian church that in Christ they have been enriched in every way – in all their speaking and all their knowledge. They did not lack any spiritual gift. They eagerly awaited the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He tells the Philippians that he thanks God every time he remembers them. He prays for them with a joyful heart because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. He tells the Colossians that he knows of their faith in Christ Jesus and the love that they have for all the saints. He thanks God for the Thessalonians for their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. You have become a model to all the believers in Macedonia, he tells them.
Paul knew all about the churches, the energy they expended, the suffering they endured for the gospel. He prayed for them and encouraged them with his words of appreciation. If an apostle was so aware of the work and sacrifices of Christians everywhere, then would God be one to forget them? Didn’t Jesus say, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6&7). That’s a figure of speech saying how tremendously important you are to God. He who remembers sparrows will certainly not forget you. Sometimes we might feel neglected by God. “Doesn’t he see the trouble we are in? Why isn’t he helping me? Why does he seem to make things worse?” Christians in New Testament times were also tempted to think like that and so the writer to the Hebrews assured them, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebs. 6:10).
The Lord remembers all your sacrifices. All you have done for your husband or wife, and your children and your parents – God remembers it all. All you have done to make this congregation a New Testament congregation, the pillar and ground of the truth, an assembly of the living God. Establishing a word-centred church is not a matter of luck. God thinks the world of how you have given and all your prayers for this church for many years. Can I say that if angels rejoiced at your salvation then they are certainly rejoicing in your sanctification? Your life matters to heaven. When Stephen was sacrificed in a martyr’s death God sent angels to escort him home. God doesn’t miss a cup of cold water given in his name. I have given help to people who proved to be taking me for a ride. God knows my sacrifice. I should have given many other people help but I hardened my heart against them and I grieve over it still. “This is what we are praying for you,” says this congregation in the psalm, “that you may be assured that nothing you have done for the Lord will be ignored.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11&12). God knows all about your sacrifices.
v] May the Lord give you the desires of your heart. Now we all know that there are some things that we could never ever share in a church prayer meeting, though everyone there loves us and we love all of them. We will talk of illnesses, and meetings, and needs on the mission field and needs in our families. We share those things with 30 people on a Tuesday night, but there are desires in our hearts which we cannot share even with the person we love the most, our own spouses. They are so secret and private that we will bring them to God alone. We are all aware of that.
Are we also aware of those desires that we find it hard to express in words. Should we ask God for this or not? How can we pray about this matter? At times like that aren’t you glad that the Holy Spirit knows exactly what is best for you and that he is praying within your heart and soul with inexpressible longings? We could be praying, “Lord, do this and this and this.” Meanwhile the Holy Spirit is saying, “Lord, what he means is this . . . Don’t pay any attention to that. He said thus-and-so. If he could see the bigger picture, he’d really ask for such-and-such.” Our desires come from a very limited perspective; don’t worry about them. The Holy Spirit will take our desires and make them acceptable to God, so
that God’s will is done even in some wrong-headed prayers. Since the Holy Spirit knows what God’s will is, and since God searches our hearts, the Spirit is able to pray for us in ways that always correspond with God’s will. One sign that this is happening is that we are praying for one thing and God does the opposite.
We all have some restless desires, but we know that they are just a little part of our whole lives. The Holy Spirit sees the whole. We see one little piece of a jigsaw, the Holy Spirit sees the big picture. We pray according to the little bit, holding onto it, the Holy Spirit prays according to his perfect knowledge. Shouldn’t we be encouraged to pray with great confidence? God is not judging our words so much as listening to the desires of our hearts and they come to him, thank God, filtered to him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We pray to a God who can discern the prayer within the prayer. He hears the words we say, yes, but he also understands the heart cry and the hidden desires that lie underneath our prayers. He can give us the substance of what we ask for even while refusing the form they take. That is, he can say yes to our deepest desires even while he says no on the surface. Thus, we get what we truly desired even though it’s not what we asked for. Martin Luther commented that it’s not such a bad thing if you occasionally receive the opposite of what you pray for because that’s a sign the Holy Spirit is at work in your life.
These are famous words of someone called Henry Viscardi;
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.
That is how God makes all our plans succeed (v.4). We have to acknowledge he works all things after the counsel of his own will. Sometime our longings are so overwhelming that we can’t put them into words, and then we have a wonderfully eloquent Advocate who loves us and he will speak up for us. The Holy Spirit says, “My child, I understand. Let me take over. I’ll talk to God for you.” He speaks up with groans that words can’t express. Even when no one else knows or understands, even when we can’t share it with anyone, when the present is bleak and the future a dark mystery, we know this awesome reality that our great High Priest in heaven and the Holy Spirit on earth are interceding for us. The Number One Prayer Team in the universe is interceding for worthless people like us! One is in the control room of the cosmos up above, another is right within our own lives below. We are the focus of loving Son and loving Spirit as they both whisper our names in the ears of our loving Father. We ought to be mighty glad. What an honour, what a privilege, what a gift. What a God we have, who knows the desires of our hearts, and gives us always either what we ask for, or something better.
These are the good wishes of the congregation for its leaders and as God hears their prayers they shout for joy at these triumphs of grace. They wave their banners in the name of the Lord. We serve a mighty God who answers prayer. The psalm ends with two words of confidence in God, one from the King, and one from the people.
2. THE ASSURANCE OF THE LEADER THAT GOD HEARS PRAYER.
David says, “Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.” (v.6). Do you see how this wonderful verse builds up, so simply and powerfully? The Lord saves. Yes. So many of us have been saved by the Lord. The Lord saves his anointed. Not one who has been sealed by the Spirit of God – none of his anointed ones – will perish. I know that. I know that the Lord saves his anointed. I have the deepest assurance of that because God says it in his word. None shall pluck them out of my hand. Now I know it. This moment I have this confidence. I want to tell every one of you that “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed.”
How do I know? Because I have had so many answers to my prayers. I have spoken to God and he has heard me, again and again. I am such a beneficiary of the goodness and love of God. I could doubt many things. I could doubt global warming. I could doubt the benefits of the European Union. I could doubt that politicians know how to spend my money better than me, but I cannot doubt the goodness of God because I have experienced it so often. There has hardly been a day in my life when I have not been conscious of the goodness of God blessing and keeping and enriching and uplifting and protecting. I have spoken to God and he has changed everything for me. He answers me “from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand” (v.6). That is, he mightily and personally answers. What you see and hear and touch all around you is not the sum total of reality. There is the God who hears and answers from heaven. Finally . . .
3. THE CONFIDENCE OF THOSE WHOSE TRUST IS IN THE LORD.
Who are you going to put your trust in? On my one hand are chariots and horses, that is, all the power of man. All political power is there, tyrannical control backed up by the legislature, the police force, prisons, the loss of liberty, stringent fines, military power, armaments, battalions, contemporary weapons, from tear gas and roadside bombs to nuclear weapons. There is man. Big Brother. In David’s day, war chariots and horses, and one by one most of his descendants who sat on his throne put their trust in them. That is one choice open to you; all you have is men and your trust is in what men can do because you believe that’s all there is; a totally secular universe; a godless cosmos.
Then on the other hand there is the name of the Lord our God. There is the Bible, and there are the prophets, and there is the great consciousness of the God they serve and his many appearances. There is Jesus Christ the Son of God, his teaching, his holy and blameless life, his power over creation, over disease and over death itself. There is the resurrection of Jesus and the conversion of the people of God and their work filling the world with his knowledge; there are all the Christian people you know from all over the world. There are the holy loving people of every kind of
personality. There are the preachers and missionaries and elders and deacons. They are all on this other hand under the heading, “The Name of the Lord our God.”
Which one are you going to take? Chariots and horses? Man in all his power? Or are you taking everything that names the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? You have to choose. You must choose. Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. Who are you going to join up with in life and in death? Some trust in chariots and horses. Others trust in the name of the Lord our God. Those who trust in chariots and horses are brought to their knees and fail. The Labour party and its leadership have been brought to its knees and it has fallen, and one day in the next few years the next government of men will end up in the same way. Yes, we are often humbled, “but we rise up and stand firm” (v.8). I’m down, but I get up again. I ask God to forgive me. I get on with serving him. Take the living God! God save you! O Lord, save the people. O Lord save the king! Answer us when we call. Save this congregation, Lord. Save every reader of this sermon, Lord. We are calling on you. Answer us when we call. Don’t let our prayers go unanswered. Please be the God who answers from your holy heaven. Answer us when we call. Please answer . . . please answer . . . please . . . we beg you in Jesus’ name . . . have pity
16th May 2010 GEOFF THOMAS