Psalm 124 & Psalm 127:1-2
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 21, 2024
With our two scriptures today, we have a father-son pair of Psalms. The first the Bible attributes to David; and the second, to his boy, Samuel. Their Psalms team up to clarify the truth in Augustine’s saying, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”
God desires to act in collaboration with us; but the collaboration is never a partnership between equals. God could always do things faster and better without us; but He insists on our participation because He loves us, seeks our company and hopes our collaboration with Him will develop our character and our happiness.
God doesn’t need our contribution but He wants it. In that way, God and my father the atheist has something in common – when he’d enlist my “help” as a boy in, say, fixing a plumbing problem – though I’d do no more than hand him a tool he could grab himself and yell down the hall to Mom not to flush the toilet for a while.
If we heed the Bible’s wisdom, we realize that, to accomplish what most matters, we have an essential job to do, but it is God who gets things done and done right. If we trust God, we will fulfill the tasks He assigns us but we will expect success thanks to His involvement.
The Bible introduces Psalm 124 as a Psalm “of David”. Many scholars believe David is referring in it to the time right after he assumed the throne of Israel and had good reason to fear that the Philistines would soon destroy his nation and perpetrate genocide against its people. David at the time had little confidence in his ability to thwart this threat, but he kept his trust in God. So he inquired of the Lord as to how to respond to this imminent danger. By his trust of the Lord, he obeyed the Lord when the Lord told him to engage the Philistines in battle (a seeming suicide mission) and to expect victory against all odds because God had promised it.
When triumph followed David’s faithful trusting of God, David gave God all the credit. David repeats in this Psalm how, “if it had not been for the Lord who was on our side”, Israel’s enemies “would have swallowed us up alive”. Because God kept that from occurring and in fact made Israel better off than before, David “blesses” God with laser-like focus. For God made it all happen.
David knew to place his trust in the Maker of all things rather than in anything or anyone He made, and David viewed God’s grace as more decisive than any human force. That’s why in this Psalm’s last verse David exclaims, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” David attributed Israel’s success entirely to God and made little of his own contribution. David saw that God alone did the crucial, clinching work.
In his book, Not a Fan, Pastor Kyle Idleman makes a confession. When he started a LA church, he worked around the clock under intense pressure and stress. He put in 80 hours a week; and, when his wife told him to take a day off, he refused. The strain of it all made him an insomniac. But one night, after finally falling asleep, he woke up with a start feeling as if God were laughing at him. As he lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, he wondered, “Why would God laugh at me?”
Five years later, he got his answer. He was moving his huge, heavy home office desk. When his four-year-old son saw Dad sweating and straining to pull the desk along, the little guy came over and asked if he could help. So the two of them started sliding the desk across the floor together, with Dad pulling and the four-year-old “pushing”. The boy grunted and panted as they inched the behemoth forward. Finally, he stopped, looked up at his father, and said, “Dad, you’re getting in my way!” When Kyle stepped aside, the boy put his shoulder to the desk, pushed with all his might, and looked shocked when it didn’t budge. Suddenly Kyle realized his four-year-old thought he could do all the work all by himself. Kyle couldn’t help but laugh. But as soon as he did, he recalled that middle-of-the-night incident, and it came to him why God was laughing at him. Kyle thought he could pull the church forward, when in truth its progress depends on the Lord’s power and not his own.
When we mean to collaborate with God, it is laughably foolish to trust in our own strength, diligence, ingenuity or talent. While without us, God will not; without God, we cannot. Whenever any progress is made, God deserves the praise.
“Unless the Lord builds the house,” said David’s son Solomon in his Psalm, “those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” Yes, we have an essential contribution to make, but without the Lord’s making His contribution our making ours, even to the best of our ability, is futile and fruitless. All our work is pointless in serving what most important, a waste of time and energy. We can only succeed with supernatural help.
Ahead all other help, we must look to the help only God can provide. That means we must prioritize calling on “the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” As John Wesley once said, “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” By praying first and foremost we put our trust and hope first and foremost in the God who can do everything and anything for those who can do nothing apart from Him.
Without God, we cannot. We are called to assignments we cannot fulfill on our own. While we need to be diligent in doing our part, we need even more to be dependent on God to supply what is lacking in us.
Still, without us, God will not. Our little contribution is crucial, as a catalyst is crucial when it sparks an explosion whose force far exceeds its own. We set off an explosion of God’s grace when we just do our small part faithfully. We can’t fill the church with people, but we can fill it with love for everyone. We can’t persuade the whole world, but we can proclaim in word and dee the whole Gospel. We can’t win anyone over to walking with Jesus, but we can show them what a difference doing so can make. We can’t give anyone a new birth, but we can act as a mid-wife. We can’t feed many, but we can fill the Lord’s hand with all we have, be it no bigger than a little boy’s modest lunch, and provide Him a next-to-nothing out of which He makes something miraculous enough to feed five thousand folks at once. In tasks beyond our capabilities, the Lord is a present help for us – as individuals and even as a community together.
In his book, Healing the Masculine Soul, Gordon Dalbey notes that when John translated Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit, he selected the Greek word, paraclete. That word had various meanings contingent upon whether the context was a legal one or a military one. Greek warriors spoke of pairing up soldiers into twosomes to go into battle together so that, when an enemy attacked, they could stand back-to-back and cover each other’s blind side. Battle partners were called each other’s paraclete. God is our paraclete. He covers our blind side and fights alongside of us. And He is mightier than any enemy against us.
Let us then faithfully do our small part, even as we rightly place our trust and hope “in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth”!