Scripture: Psalm 62:5-12
“[God] is my rock and my salvation; …my fortress, I will not be shaken.”
I want to have faith like that.
No matter what obstacles come my way……
No matter what tragedy befalls our world……
No matter what hell breaks lose in life……
“[God] is my rock… I will not be shaken.”
In truth, most of us do not feel rock-solid deep down inside. And far too many of us–no matter how long we may have travelled this Jesus path–still exhibit the kind of immature faith described by Paul in Ephesians 4:14. There he calls such spiritually immature folks “children” who are “tossed around here and there upon ocean waves, picked up by every gust of religious teaching spoken by liars or swindlers or deceivers” (Ephesians 4:14 VOICE).
Sometimes, the gulf between here and there–between immature and unshakable faith–seems insurmountable. But I think today’s psalm suggests three hallmarks of unshakable faith–three smaller pieces and practices that we can work on to make bite-sized advances in our spiritual life.
(1) It takes the long view.
First, unshakable faith takes the long view; it is able to put the experiences and realities of this life into the appropriate context of what God is doing eternally.
In the psalm, a component of this is found every time the psalmist expresses hope and trust in God (such as in v.5), but it is most fully expressed in verse 9:
“Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.” (Psalms 62:9 NIV11)
In this life, economics and power and prestige can seem like the be-all, end-all. Those at the top take pride in their position, often deceiving themselves into thinking their success is entirely due to their own abilities (and thus forgetting everyone who helped them along the way). In contrast, those at the bottom can feel like they are unfairly disadvantaged from the start–which they have been.
But a life that demonstrates unshakable faith is one that recognizes that such advantages don’t add up to much in the long run, if by the long run you mean eternity.
Jesus offered us some teaching along these lines too, of course. Perhaps the most obvious is found in Matthew 6:19-20:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (ESV)
The point here is of course that this life is short, and things like wealth (but also power and prestige) are things that corrode and erode. If you have the decision between investing in something that lasts a short time and something that lasts forever, is it really that difficult a choice?
Paul builds on this in 1Timothy to demonstrate why greed just doesn’t make any sense for Christians. The false teachers Timothy needs to correct have come to believe that the life of faith should produce wealth (1Tim 6:5) and that belief has led them towards greed (as it always does). Just like Jesus, Paul frames the issue eschatologically–in terms of the big picture of what God is doing. He reminds Timothy that wealth is limited to this life (“We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” [1Timothy 6:7 ESV]) and so it makes absolutely no sense for someone to imperil their eternal soul to make a few bucks or live in a nicer house.
Of course, taking the long view applies to more than just money and power. The book of Revelation, for example, repeats promises over and over to “the one who overcomes.” Endurance is a key virtue of that book, written at a time when Christians faced very real persecution for their faith. The whole point of the book is to encourage followers of Jesus to remain steadfast in the faith, trusting that God was in fact going to sort it all out in the end.
Good will win; evil will lose.
The oppressed will be lifted up; the oppressors will be punished.
The weak will be strengthened; the strong will falter.
Wrongs will be righted; rights will be rewarded.
What Revelation envisions is nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Mary in what we have come to call the Magnificat (found in Luke 1):
“[God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51–53 NRSV)
Taking the long view involves remembering that the end to this story has already been written. But it also requires that we persist in choosing to work for the wining side.
(2) It depends on God alone.
The second characteristic of unshakable faith that I want to suggest today is that unshakable faith depends on God alone.
This is seen most clearly in verses 6-7 of our psalm today;
“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:6–7 NIV11)
Now, maybe you think we should have started here, and you’re probably right. But there is a method to my madness, and it involves the transition to the third point. But more on that later.
Trusting in God alone is a big deal in the bible. Almost all the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs (you know, folks like: Abraham & Sarah & Hagar, Isaac & Rebekah, and Jacob & Leah & Rachel)–anyway, all these stories have at their core the issue of trust: they communicate that God is a God who can be trusted……who can be depended on.
When the Israelites began demanding a king in 1Samuel, it’s a problem because God is supposed to be their king.
When they form political alliances with their neighbors for protection, it’s a problem because they are supposed to trust God for protection.
And the psalms, of course, are jam-packed with reminders that we are to trust in God alone.
If we put politicians or other leaders in the place of God, depending on them for our well-being and life, we will be disappointed, because as Psalm 146:3–4 read:
“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.” (NRSV)
If we believe we can trust ourselves for these things, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps” as the American myth claims, then we will likewise fail. Our trust must be in God, and even trusting in ourselves for life and wellbeing and security is destined to fail. As the psalmist confesses in Psalm 44:6:
“For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.” (NRSV)
When we place our trust in someone or something, we expect that we will be taken care of……that there is nothing more to fear because we have security. But as the Psalmist again reminds us (this time in 56:11), if our trust is truly in God, what do we really have to fear?
“In God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?” (NRSV)
We could spend days–weeks and months even!–just exploring the psalms. But as a Christian, I’ve just got to jump to the New Testament too.
The prayer Jesus gave as an example to his followers–“The Lord’s Prayer” (cf. Matthew 6:9-13)–is at it’s heart a prayer of submission to and trust in God. Its intention is to teach us to depend on God alone for everything we need.
We depend on God to advance God’s kingdom and make God’s desires known on earth.
We depend on God for the ordinary requirements of our day.
We depend on God for forgiveness when we’ve done wrong and worked against God’s desires.
We depend on God to lead us toward good and away from evil.
We even depend on God for God to be praised.
This dependence on God is a hallmark of the early church, not just for meeting needs but also for ministry in general. Paul confesses this in 2Corinthians 3:5 when he says:
“In and of ourselves we know we have little to offer, but any competence or value we have comes from God.” (VOICE)
(3) It insists on following the path of love.
It is this confession that we depend on God even for doing the ministry of advancing God’s kingdom which leads us to the third point: unshakable faith insists on following the path of love.
Today’s psalm offers this instruction in two parts: verse 10 and then verse 12.
“Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Psalms 62:10 NIV11)
This first part demonstrates the wrong path. It confesses that there appear to be shortcuts in life–channels that get you further faster. But those wander from the path of love. To put it otherwise: you can’t use the weapons of darkness to advance the cause of light.
In stark contrast to such corner-cutting stands our God. The psalmist confesses in v.12:
“And with you, Lord, is unfailing love; and, You reward everyone according to what they have done.” (Psalms 62:12 NIV11)
God’s way is the way of love. It is a way that gives a hand-up instead of a hand-out. It lures us into being better instead of “scaring the hell out of us.” And this is the way we are going to follow if we are in fact followers of Jesus.
Remember: Jesus is the perfect revelation of God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus himself tells us “If you [know] me, you [will] know my Father also” (John 8:19 ESV). And he says that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV). This is why in 1John we read that love is to be the hallmark of the Christian life–it is how we ascertain whether or not we are truly following the path of Jesus. There, in 1John 3, we read:
“The central truth–the one you have heard since the beginning–is that we must love one another… We know what true love looks like because of Jesus. He gave His life for us, and He calls us to give our lives for our brothers and sisters. If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him? My little children, don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love” (1John 3:11, 16-18).
(4) It knows the only power that matters is wielded by God.
Here at last we arrive at the final point: unshakable faith knows that the only power that matters is wielded by God.
This truth is confessed in today’s psalm in v.11:
“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God,” (Psalms 62:11 NIV11)
That God is a god of power could be shown by surveying another group of psalms and biblical stories. But I think we’ve already referenced some that reinforce this notion, and I’ve already gone a bit long today. So I’m going to aim for brevity instead.
First, after Jesus entered the scene, the bible speaks with striking uniformity about the victory of God over evil/darkness/sin/death/and fear. Whether you’re reading John 1:5, John 16:33, Romans 6:7, 1Corinthians 15:57, Colossians 1:20, 2Timothy 1:10, 1John 5:4, or anywhere else (and those are just my favorites!!), what we read is that the victory has already been secured. In the resurrection of Jesus, death has been defeated. Death was the greatest power wielded against us. Death is at the heart of our fears and our insecurities and even our sin. But in the resurrection, the overwhelming power of God has been demonstrated. And it has been proven to be a power far greater than any other in existence. Truly the only power that matters is wielded by God–a fact that grounds unshakable faith.
To finish this morning, I want to turn to one of those little-read books of the bible: Habakkuk. It’s in that grouping of short, prophetic testimonies that is found at the end of the Old Testament. In fact, moving backward from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, you’ll find:
and then Habakkuk.
Now Habakkuk’s book is actually a vision of God’s victory–the victory over Israel’s enemies, but also victory over the unjust, the violent, the cheaters and the selfish, those who profit unfairly off of others, those who capitalize off of debt, and pretty well everyone else that the bible says is opposed to the way God intends us to live. It’s a lot to pack into just three chapters.
But near the end, Habakkuk expresses unease about the world he’s in–a world where this vision of victory hasn’t yet been completed. I think it’s a description that sounds a lot like many folks I’ve talked with over the last couple years, as political and civil unrest plagues our nation and world, as we see folks keep profiting by unjust means that do real harm to others, as the famous or the wealthy keep escaping the consequences of their illegal actions or business practices, and as the world so often seems to be tearing itself apart.
In chapter 3, verse 16, Habakkuk says:
I listened and began to feel sick with fear;
my insides churned.
My lips quivered at the sound.
Decay crept into my bones;
I stood their shaking.
Now I wait quietly for the day of distress…” (VOICE)
But then, in v.17, there comes a turning–a turning toward truly unshakable faith. He continues:
Even if the fig tree does not blossom
and there are no grapes on the vines,
If the olive trees fail to give fruit
and the fields produce no food,
If the flocks die far from the fold
and there are no cattle in the stalls;
Then I will still rejoice in the Eternal!
I will rejoice in the God who saves me!
The Eternal Lord is my strength!
He has made my feet like the feet of a deer;
He allows me to walk on high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
No matter how rocky life gets……
No matter what falls apart or fails to produce……
No matter who’s getting away with what……
No matter how hellish things seem……
The crazier the world is, the more we trust God. The more our faith can develop that “unshakable” quality.
No matter what, we remember that there is still the well-trodden path of unshakable faith that we can follow: taking the long view and trusting God alone because only God’s power matters, and then (together) we take tender, gentle steps forward in love. Amen.