Experiencing the Presence of God
An Examination of Secularism
A. The Petitions unto God (Psalm 20:1-4)
B. The Thanks with Petition (Psalm 20:5-8)
C. A Cry of Petition (Psalm 20:9)
The world that we so closely see condemned and judged in the Book of Revelation is the same secularism that we see today. She is characterized by immorality, pride and most of all a spirit of independence. Do you know what this is called in that book? It is the harlot, Babylon.
The great city Babylon is opposed to the city of God. We see the climax of history unfold before our eyes as these cities come and make their demands upon one another. What we have not realized is how the tentacles of Babylon have cleverly infiltrated the church. This is what she is accused of here in Revelation 14:8. She has released her poison into the world.
Psalm 20 is rare in the way it so commonly speaks of God. We can calculate how many times God or His name, LORD, is used. We can then add into the sum how the many verbs that have the subject as God. The theme of God's presence flows through the nine verses of Psalm 20.
If secularism describes a heart or society operating without God's presence, surely Psalm 20 proves to be the opposite. Here we find God. There is no place we cannot find Him. Indeed this is the hallowed place that His true believers have been searching for all the time. So while we investigate the mindset of the godly man, we can also clearly discern the marks of the world.
As we start scanning the verses of Psalm 20, we instantly notice the pattern that prevades over the whole Psalm. There is possibility that this poem is broken apart in places that it shouldn't.
It is first a whole entity. The "May He" in one form or the other is repeated seven times! (1) Let's note them.
We will notice that some of these are double petitions. The "May He" clause is used only once but two petitions are brought to mention connected by an 'and.' Most of the time the Lord's name is not used but a pronoun. Perhaps we can look at this more closely if we look at all the Psalmist's wishes.
All these verbs use the Hebrew imperfect tense indicating something which is yet completed. English would put them in the future tense though the NASB puts it in the petitional form of "may." Prayer for the most part is based on the needs of man. He recognizes that without God's special grace, he will suffer. Prayer is the expectation that things will change for the better. It is not yet completed, but having God hear their prayer. there is hope of its completion.
For this reason prayer is based on faith. We do not need much faith to see what has been done.(2) However, we need a lot of faith to shape our expectations and confidence to face the future. The context here speaks of a prayer and offering before David's army went out. Whether it is going into a battle or stepping into a new job, we must realize the importance of our trust in God.
The reason for the above emphasis is chiefly to help us realize that though these men stood ready for war, the battle would depend on God rather than them. We might think this demeans the efforts of the valiant soldiers, but on the contrast, it places the soldiers in the right heart where they: gain a vision of God's mission, see their part in God's mission, and then wholeheartedly commit themselves to it.
New Testament faith is the same as in the Old Testament. Our main battle weapons is a holy life by which the enemy loses ground. But first we must gain a vision of God's call to share His holiness, see how we can do it and then commit ourselves to the task. Like the soldiers, we gain a true understanding of what it is to live in dependence upon God. We are not to sponsor any movement, hold any thought, or voice any words that come not from God's heart. These soldiers were fighting God's war, but they realized God actually went with them.
How many of us know what God wants to accomplish through our lives? How many of these individuals have committed themselves to accomplish it? Those that do are the men and women of prayer. They know it cannot be accomplished apart from God's power.
There are many people who simply say prayers. Although Psalm 20 could become liturgical in the lips of others, it was not a liturgical prayer of these who called upon God. This original prayer was said by and depended upon David's faith as indicated in the Psalms first line. The strong faith of David radiates through the scriptures. He depended upon God and observed God's awesome works. We need to check our prayers too. Many say their prayers, but few know and believe God hears their prayers like David did.
Let's note several ways they prayed.
1) They prayed to the True God
They came to the true God, Yahweh, who had consistently revealed Himself to His people. We will not go into detail as to how He revealed Himself to His people for that would be a summary of the whole Bible! Instead we wll note five times LORD or Yahweh, God's Name, is used in this short psalm. If His name is not familiar to the reader, the psalmist describes this more by the phrase 'God of Jacob.' Clearly He is the God who revealed Himself to Jacob at different times in His life. Jacob was his old name which reminds of his desperate sins of deceit. The LORD remade him and gave him a new name, Israel.
2) They depended upon God
We see their dependence upon God through their recognition that He could and desired to help them. Their repeated petitions shows how they needed God's help from on high.
3) They sought God's blessing (3)
Their words were not empty words of petition. They made the needed special offerings before they went off to war. They remembered prayer was not magic. They went according to God's prescribed ways. These offerings had more to do with readying their hearts than manipulating God. We are sadly reminded that many people think that 'saying prayers' makes the difference. What deception! They do not understand the relationship between God and His covenant people. They walk boldly into God's presence without faith and without necessary heart preparations.
4) They depended upon God's wisdom (4)
They understood how God worked. Many people do not. They think that God would work out any foolish thought that a person might have. This verse might be understood this way out of context, but the context is much more demanding. David went out to war in the LORD's name. He fought God's battle. As he spent time with God, God would so speak to his heart. We can see what a man of prayer David was from all the Psalms. He was a man who worshiped God. From defeating Goliath to the many large enemy armies spread across the fields, David knew it was God who empowered him. God made him such a general. Yes, King David had ideas and counsel, but he found this by being close to God.
Summary and application
And so we conclude this first section by seeing faith, prayer, intimacy and obedience are all wrapped together in this psalm of dedication. We understand that the Lord wants to bless us too, but we need to first be revived and reformed. We seek God not to do our will but to have Him do His will in and through us. These are the men of God He seeks to rise up.
Anybody can ask but few are able to give thanks. Many people cannot figure out God's solution for anxiety and worry. Paul says it goes beyond stating your requests. It must come down to giving thanks.
Why is this? Sincere thanks require a faith in God's promises and a confidence that He is able and willing to fulfill His promises. Notice the spirit generated in Psalm 20:5. It is full with confidence in God's ability.
Man is never so free then when he is able to ultimately trust God to do His best for him. As long as there is doubt, then worry leaks in and threatens to sink the biggest boat. It doesn't take more than one worry to chase peace away. Verses 6-8 continue in the same vain. They change from the previous requests style but still the same faith is relayed forward in a powerful way. Let's take a look at a couple of these ways.
Sensing victory before it comes (5)
Faith is the assurance of what is not. This practically shows up on how we are glad, joyous and even living in a spirit of victory. The greatest celebrations of God's works begin even before the great work is done. I did this once with our children. We were very low on cash - I mean we had only a few literal dollars left. We were using our coins to buy milk. No reserves. I decided to break protocol and have an ice cream sundae to celebrate God's good care for our lives. Fortunately, we didn't have to buy any of the supplies to celebrate!
We remember the story in the Old Testament. Once the king figured God was going to give the victory, he sent the singers in front of the army! 2 Chronicles 20:20-24 says,
Those who have faith smell victory before it is even there.
God is willing to save (6a)
We could not run into a more definite statement of faith than we have here in verse 6. "Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed." He is saying these things before the king comes back with the army. As long as the army is carrying out God's purposes in His way, they can trust Him for victory. The key to this is that God is on their side. Sometimes in a war, we might wonder which side God is on. It is an awkward statement but truly at times we have such times of revelation. No one should be fighting. We can have lots of false confidence that God is on our side especially if one is in a row of victories. But be careful and humble, God lets the foolish run ahead at times only to be able to show off their folly to all.
God is able to save (6b)
God's ability to save does not depend on how well trained the army is. Our battles as Christians depends less on experience and more on how much we have been close to the Lord. If experience counts, it will help shape our dependence upon the Lord. In this case we see God has extra resources. He "answers from His holy heaven." What can man say to this?! Nothing. God uses all the might He needs to accomplish His great purposes.
Revealing of our trusts (7)
What we boast in betrays our trusts. When we have races, it is "Wow, he ran like ..." When we have a sports game, it is "He was a terror." True enough we see men excel at times. But are we sensitive to what God is doing? Or is our confidence in what a batter has averaged through a season? Or have you ever been in a tough spot? Right after you get out, what do you say? "Sure am lucky!" Very few of us truly believe in God. The psalmist fully realizes what most soldiers put their confidence in - it is their weapons, their numbers, their advantage, etc. Few believe if is God. He says, "We will boast in the name of the LORD our God."
They win (8)
The key test is to see who wins. If God is really on your side, then you will win. One might face enormous odds against them, but this doesn't mean anything when God stands on one side.
In verse 8 we clearly see that one side falls and rises not. The other, the victors, rise up from the battle and stand erect. They have won. Yes, they fought hard perhaps. In the end, they stood up while the other stayed put.
Summary and Application
We can say we have faith but we never know whether we have true faith until it is tested and proved. We can never know what we really trust until after the battle and see what we say where we go. Do we go to a pub and tell everyone what happened or do we go and humble worship the Lord? Do we tell others the special way I got this or do we sit their humbled at the way God empowered everyone? We can make our petititons but most important is the way we believe. Do we really have faith or not? Faith can never be made up out of determination. Faith is a gift from God to accomplish His purposes we never could without.
Those who live by the grace of God often find themselves crying out to God. One might think that they really don't have faith. In fact, this is not true. Crying out to God shows that the person is in total dependence upon the Lord for help. The situation is that if the Lord does not come through, then they are done with. This is true in our passage no matter what translation you use. There are two plausible ones and in the end it doesn't matter.
Either one thinks that Yahweh is the king and the king is submitting himself to Him such as the NASB or in other traditions on how people say to King David, "Long live the King" or more accurately, "O Lord, save the king..." In either case they are crying out for God to give them victory. We do not deny Yahweh to be the true king but they only wonder if this is the meaning.s
The Christian life is like this. We do not work out of our strengths but our weaknesses. It is through our weaknesses that we are able to bring most glory to God. Who cares if we can do it on our own strength. But when God intervenes through some miracle, people are touched with God's presence rather than man's. Some people scoff at miracles as if they only happened back then if at all. Ironically, some of those that say such things boast of God's sovereign power. They only believe He did them back then. They cannot see that God wants to do so much more but that our faith constrains Him.
We tolerate a lesser life because we live in doubt and fear. God is looking for those who will fight secularism with its boasts that God is not real or applicable to their lives. The world taunts God just as the harlot of Babylon snorts at God's challenge.
The true Christian living by faith knows without delivery that evil will assume his place. He is desperate for victory not just for himself but also for others. God is looking for others who will stand the tide flow of secularism and cry out for faith. Crying out is not a sign of weakness but the complete giving of ones last hope on self to find a solution. No one likes to be in such situations but it is here that God creates situations that need miracles. God has never changed His ways. But unfortunately, there are so few to follow and believe.
Summary & Application
Have you cried out to God before? Have you been emptied of your own resources to which only God could save you? Those that truly depend on God often cry out to God out of faith. They see that their resources mean nothing and that if God doesn't hear them for some reason, then they will fall. This happened to the Israelites soon after they entered the Promised Land. They fought and defeated Jericho. But they failed to beat Ai. True faith is always built on obedience. It is our close and intimate relationship with God that we have the confidence in His Word.
Jesus has come into the world and destroyed the root of securlarism. God's people need to come alive and begin to allow God's extra grace to be poured forth on the earth just as in Jesus' day. We have too much man in church and too little God. Make sure that where you worship, God is there too.
Biblical Foundations for Freedom