Psalm 120:1, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord and He heard me.” Actually from Psalm 120 – 134 they are known as the Song of Degrees. As God’s people journeyed, they would sing these psalms that portrayed the different feelings of God’s children in every age and speak of the different difficulties that His people faced. I wondered as they journeyed whether the terrain would be difficult, maybe they faced storms, sometimes the heat of the day. And I wondered if it went through their minds that this is a picture of life’s journey because we are all journeying and making a pilgrimage. Truly, we are all on a pilgrimage and Convention is a stopping place in this pilgrimage journey.
Last year you would have been through difficult patches; faced storms. Everyone has come through different experiences and it finds us here at this stopping place. We will go out in a few days time ready to journey on. Pilgrims have an object and a definite goal in view. Some of our young people sing hymns, and one that isn’t in our book, “A Pilgrim was I and wandering.” But we’re not supposed to be wanderers: we are on a journey! So we have a definite objective and goal in view.
Verse 1, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord and He heard me.” David had a very distressing experience. He was a fugitive and hunted by Saul, so he went to the priest. He was the king’s son-in-law and Doeg knew all that had taken place and went and told Saul that Ahimelech the priest had given him the sword. So when Saul asked Ahimelech about David he said, “Yes, he was a good man as far as he was concerned.” Then Saul said, “Thou shalt surely die.” Doeg killed 85 priests with their wives and children; so ruthless, and you can imagine how David would feel – “I am responsible for their deaths indirectly,” and in his distress he cried unto the Lord and said, “The Lord heard me.” This Psalm can be read in conjunction with Psalm 52 because he was writing about Doeg. But who was David? He was a fugitive, hunted and Doeg was a chief man: a man of power, a man of influence, a man of might.
David felt he was nothing but when the Lord heard his prayer – verse 8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” David could see that Doeg was in the king’s house but “I am in the Lord’s house.” And what does a green olive tree speak of? Green: speaks of life and he knew he had the better part. “I am in God’s house and I am cared for by God and have a better part than he has.” A green olive tree is peculiar as it has to be grafted, has to be pruned and if left unattended it will revert to a wild olive tree. We have to be in the Lord’s house, and in the Lord’s care, otherwise we would revert to what we are by nature.
I remember a young lady in India who seemed to be doing very well yet during the time I was away overseas she stopped going to meetings. She heard I was going on a home visit and she wrote to me saying she would like to see me and wish me farewell. Well I couldn’t believe this was the same young lady: in her speech, in her appearance – so totally different. I couldn’t believe she had gone back to what she would be by nature: and she had gone out of the will and way of God; not bearing any fruit. It’s the chief thing for the olive tree to bring forth fruit. Doeg couldn’t do that, he had his human nature.
There’s a parable in 9th chapter Judges that says when they went to the olive tree and asked it to reign over them, the olive tree said, “Shall I leave my fatness wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” So after going to the fig and the vine they went to the bramble and said, “Come thou and reign over us.” And the bramble said unto the trees, “If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” So any old bramble could be a king? No. Another Psalm of degree 128:3, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” What is it about the olive plant? Not the tree but the potential for bringing forth fruit is there and given the right circumstances that plant will develop and bring forth fruit. That’s just speaking of God’s children, but that plant has to receive new life and come under the control of the husbandman.
We know parents do very well in their responsibility of bringing up children in admonition of the Lord. There’s no guarantee but if the parents do their part they will be like this olive plant. We love the children of God’s people. There’s a little family in Bangalore where the husband and wife heard the gospel a few years ago and they made their choice. The young man came to gospel meetings before he was married and had been playing in a dance band. He was greatly moved but never made a start. Then he married a girl from a strong Pentecostal background. Well, he had a place in the choir etc, and his wife was sincere in what she believed to be right but distressed that she never received the gift of tongues. She tried to speak in tongues and different preachers went and tried to get her to speak in tongues but she knew she couldn’t pretend. One day a preacher came from Australia and he was a powerful man. Well he prayed and prayed and he went on, and then asked her, “Can you speak in tongues yet?” And she said, “No.” Then finally he said, “You just copy me,” and she knew the whole thing was a sham. Then her husband just came saying, “I don’t belong here but I belong in the meetings.” Well she didn’t know what he was meaning so after a while she said to him, “I’ll go to just one of the meetings you are talking about.” And the one meeting was enough for her and she saw it all very quickly and very soon afterwards they made a start with their 2 girls and a little boy. Her husband is teaching now in Dubai and she has a position in the bank and both are very faithful.
One Sunday she was unable to get to the meeting as she had a special class to conduct for the bank employees and she asked her brother to go and look after the children. At 9:30 that brother and his wife found the children together in the lounge room and they said they were going to have a meeting. So they came into the lounge room and the children with their hymn books, had their little meeting together. Well this man was absolutely stunned and said, “I have never seen anything like this before.” He said, “If there was a TV in the home those children wouldn’t be doing this.” They had a little son, so he turned and said, “And now I’m going to take the TV out of our home.” We are grateful for parents who put the very best before their children.
Our parents did the same for us. We lived in a small town where there were 2 picture cinemas and the whole town went along and on Monday back at school they would talk of what they saw and we would be teased. Our parents were good and took us on picnics and tried to make up in other ways. We met with a lady who had 2 adopted children and she was going to give them a taste of the world. Well, it’s like giving things to your children and hoping they will get used to it. But there was failure one after the other and the boy died because he went right into the world. Sad when parents weren’t faithful in putting the best before their children and sheltering them. We are grateful for those who bring up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
Psalm 122, this is gratitude for the perseverance of God. How often we hear at Convention – I am glad for this Convention: people feeling weary with the journey and now it’s Convention and they’re glad to be in the presence of God. Not one foot inside and outside but our feet standing within the gates in the city of God’s people.
Psalm 124 mentions the gratitude of the Lord being with them and escaping the snares of the devil. They had gone down into captivity because of their disobedience against the will of God.
Then Psalm 126:5-6, they that sow in tears shall reap in joy. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” That fits in nicely for the workers but that’s not what it’s written about. It refers to the people who went into captivity and returned again.
Psalm 137:1-6, they were weeping going forth because as they went forth they remembered Zion – they couldn’t sing the song.
Psalm 131:1-2, this is a psalm of acceptance of the Will of God; it’s speaking of a child who has learned to accept the will of another. David had a lot of victories in his life. Sometimes people dwell a lot on their failures but we don’t like to talk about them and God didn’t either.
In Kings 14:8, notice God never said a word about David’s sin, but “Only that which was right in mine eyes.”
In Psalm 51, David said, “Blot out my sins and iniquities,” and God did that. David got wonderful victories in the battlefield, physical victories and some in the spirit. He had one desire: to build the house of God. He was told it was good it was in his heart but he wouldn’t do it.
1 Chronicles 28 we read of David giving counsel to his son Solomon. If he had decided to rebel he would not have got ahead but it was because he submitted to the will of God: in submission and acceptance there’s victory. There was wonderful victory that day. But, sad to say, Solomon, and I’m not going to pass judgment on him, but in his old age he took wives and horses of the Egyptians and they were told in Deuteronomy not to do that. And he didn’t get away with it. Sometimes people think they can do what they want to do. But no friends, you can’t do it and get away with it. Solomon put a cloud over his testimony.
In acceptance, there’s victory. David didn’t exercise himself in matters that were too great or too high for him. Yet he wrote some amazing things concerning Jesus and God used him in a wonderful way because he behaved himself as a child.
Psalm 133 all 3 verses, this is something very precious to God’s people and to David, “How good and pleasant when brethren dwell together in unity.” We could put that in the negative – how bad and unpleasant it is when brethren dwell together. He says it’s like the ointment in the 30th chapter Exodus verse 23 onwards. I made a study once of the ingredients of the ointment – pure myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia mixed together with olive oil. Some of those spices were brought from Sri Lanka and India. Think of God’s people from different backgrounds and different nationalities and how they can be planted together. If one part didn’t want to be mixed in with the others – we read of that in John’s 3rd epistle. Some were prospering in the truth, but then there’s a jarring note of a man who loved to have the preeminence. He wanted to be the big person and it was causing problems. We can be mixed together and we can live together as one.
Sometimes people ask me about India, of the castes there – the Hindu people in particular. They have an outlook and background that will take some working out. It’s there, it’s their heritage and people ask us, “Do you have any difficulty with the friends?” Because we have friends from the high class and the lower class, but we can’t say we have any difficulties because we accept our brothers and sisters from the upper class and the lower class. Sometimes the lower class aren’t used to mixing but wonderful to think that the gospel has brought people together as one no matter what their backgrounds or what their language was. So these were songs that God’s people were singing and it was the desire for them to dwell together in unity and we all have to pay the price.
We are all on a pilgrimage. Abraham said, “I am a stranger and declare plainly.” We read in Hebrews 11 he sought a country: he was a pilgrim when he asked for a burying place. He made a plain declaration and they said, “Thou art like a prince of God amongst us.” Because he made a plain declaration he was seeking for a city which had a builder and maker that was God. The people could see there was something in this man that made him vastly different. If we make a plain declaration, we are seeking for a city and living for better things, that we don’t belong to this world, we are pilgrims and strangers here. Abraham said, “I am a stranger.”
When I first went to India, I was conscious I was a stranger because people seemed to be looking at me. My mannerisms and colour were so different and people seemed to stare at me but it doesn’t worry me a bit. I was traveling in a train with a local companion when I noticed a man observing me. Then he asked me a strange question, “Excuse me, are you an Indian or a foreigner? Your colour is of such but your mannerism is of India.” I was glad he said that because subconsciously I was gaining the mannerisms of India. I had just absorbed those mannerisms over the years. Wouldn’t it be sad if we accepted the ways of the world or absorbed the mannerisms and the ways of the world and ceased to be strangers and pilgrims? Every time I go back I see deterioration and I don’t see a lot of improvements – I am talking about the world, not God’s children.
When I left New Zealand over 40 years ago things that we wouldn’t even whisper about are talked about and accepted. But friends, we are glad we aren’t part of this world. What God says is wrong is still wrong. We don’t want to absorb or be affected by the thinking of the people of this world. We go by what God’s word shows and we accept it: that’s what is right as far as God was concerned. These things were and are an abomination to the Lord and we want no part of it.
I remember some years ago when my Mother was alive and a lady came down to see us and talked about a baby being born and Mother didn’t show any enthusiasm which I thought was a bit strange. Well this lady was going on and on about this grandson who had been born but Mother was not moved. So later on I said, “Mother, you didn’t seem interested in what she had to say.” And she said, “Why should I? This girl is not even married.” And I got a jolt! That’s the way of the world and this lady was proud of it but we don’t want to be part of immorality, we are living for something better.
“Live above the gloom and darkness and walk in God’s eternal light.” Those people who are honest will see something in us, so may we carry on in our pilgrimage journey. It’s always a joy the first day of a Convention, but when the last day comes I always feel a touch of sadness. We have to leave this beautiful setting, but that’s God’s plan. Wonderful if along our pilgrimage journey, we get rest at the stopping places and a vision of the home land. Like the little donkey journeying home and getting weary climbing up the hill. The owner took him to the top of the hill and took the load off his back and he had a vision of the home land. We can have a vision of the homeland as we bow our shoulders again.