Click here for a print-friendly version
Praise God for Past Deliverance
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 2: Called to Praise God
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 17, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Key Scripture (NIV):
“They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Psalm 107:6
- To understand the importance of spoken testimony.
- To understand the importance of the redeemed community.
- To understand the experience of being lost and wandering.
- To understand the experience of being found and led by God.
- To rejoice in the experience of walking in the Lord’s promise.
Psalm 107 is believed to have been written between the 15th
century B.C. and 400 B.C. Consequently, it is impossible to know the author. The psalm is concerned with the redemptive history of Israel. The author is describing the wandering after the Exodus, or a period of wandering during a period of the Judges. It is also concerned with God’s salvation and the blessed living in Canaan. Therefore, like many psalms, the content of the psalm is very important to Israel. Israel’s journey is always the story of moving forward, but only with an eye toward the past. For Israel, the past gives meaning and purpose to the present and future.
I earned a degree in marriage and family counseling. I quickly realized when someone came to me with a struggle, it was important to know from where they had come. I also realized the arms of the past reach forward and never disappear. In Israel’s case, the arms of the past are precious. They represent the right arm of God moving in and through Israel’s history. In our personal faith journey we need to frequently visit the past. God has led through difficulties and blessed us in a myriad of ways. We learned from both. Thus, we walk forward with greater wisdom, understanding, and confidence. God in our yesterdays is the same God of our today and tomorrow. Journaling is a great, useful discipline in our Christian walk. Keeping a record of God’s working in our life is of beautiful value. Though the psalms are poems and songs, they represent the collective journal of the Israelite people.
Can you share significant moments in your yesterday? Can you identify the thread of redemption that runs through your life? What have you especially learned from your past that enriches you today?
As usual, this psalm is a Hebrew poem/song. Psalm 107 opens the fifth and final section of Psalms. We do not know many of the authors who penned these psalms. However, their message proved invaluable for the Israelite community and now for the Church. Psalm 107 contains the same message as other psalms. We will read of God’s redemptive history in the life of Israel and the blessing God brings. Many of the psalms call us to pray, praise, or both. This psalm uniquely calls to testify. The author calls the congregation to testify, using the memorable phrase, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Again, parallelism is used by the author, the second line of a couplet enriching the meaning of the first. The reader of this lesson is encouraged to write out and explore the couplets of this psalm. However, in order to offer a broader understanding of the psalm, I offer reflection upon the psalm’s major messages.
For the purpose of best understanding our lesson, I have created the following framework:
- Spoken testimony (1-2)
- The redeemed community (2-3)
- Lost and wandering (4-7)
- Struggle, redemption, and blessing (8-9; 29-43)
Psalm 107 opens with a majestic call to offer thanksgiving for God’s goodness and love. This call is followed by the call to testify to it. Each of us has a testimony of God’s love and goodness. However, sometimes we forget to thank God
for that testimony. We have a story! The church has a story! Thank God we have a story!
When I received a new church or preached a revival at another church, I always studied their history. I wanted to know from where that particular church had come and their major ministries in the community they served. My first church was actually a one room Presbyterian church in rural Kentucky. They had struggled over the years regarding attendance. Many of the people struggled financially, but they had heart. One day I noticed a ceiling door leading into an attic. One Sunday, after arriving early, I climbed into the attic. I was stunned. Every wooden beam had axe cuts. They had hewn the beams with axes. There wasn’t a single nail in the framework. Wooden pegs had been cut to hold the beams together. As a young green minister, I had contemplated the means to move the little church forward. However, I had another idea. I informed the current congregation of my finding and we began to research our past. We discovered the original church, built in the early 1700s, had been burned by Native Americans who believed the church encroached upon their land. The church was rebuilt, again with axe-hewn beams and pins. We also discovered that we were the oldest Presbyterian church in the state of Kentucky. The more we understood our past, the more we felt a part of something special. We stood in the line of a great crowd of witnesses. When we left that church, we had more than tripled the attendance.
Notice the psalmist reminds us we are redeemed “head to toe.” God’s mercy and grace in Jesus has touched every facet of our being. We see differently. Our eyes see God at work in life, and we see the value of every person in the world. Our hearing is enlarged. We hear the cries of the weak and hurting. We listen to music differently and our conversations occur on a more meaningful level. We often intuitively “hear” the whisper of God in our heart. We smell the sweet fragrance of sacrifice in life. We feel differently. Of course we emotionally experience faith and life. However, we feel differently about everything. Life is new and is becoming newer each day. We are indeed redeemed from head to toe. Christianity isn’t a “part of our life.” It becomes our life. All living occurs with the knowledge that we are never alone, and no moment is wasted. We belong to another reality greater than this life alone. Each person has a story, and each church has a story. Give thanks!
Are you acquainted with the history of your church? Are you aware of its struggles and accomplishments? Does your church understand itself as connected to a faithful lineage? How could your church benefit from understanding its past? What about your personal story? Are you grateful for God’s strength as you encountered struggle? Are you grateful for the many blessings in your life?
The Redeemed Community
In the western church we have placed, and continue to place, a high value on one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus. However, the Israelites and the early Church possessed a great understanding of the community.
Whereas we might say, “I have faith in Jesus,” the Old Testament people would say “We have faith in Christ.” It is extremely important to give one’s heart to Christ. It is important to personally accept Jesus and walk in the new life Christ gives. However, God not only redeemed us personally in Christ, he also redeemed the Church. Notice the psalmist wants us to testify out of the rich experience of being “together.” God has called us “from every land, east and west, north and south.” We often fail to recognize that gravitation toward the Church is a redemptive act on God’s part. Our mind awakens to our need of the Church, our heart longs to be a part of something bigger and meaningful. This is the drawing of God. God’s redemption through Jesus was more than saving us as individuals, he saved us to live together. There are two prepositions related to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are saved “from” our sins, and we are saved “to” live together in meaningful loving relationships. They are not exclusive; both are part of what it means to be saved.
Of course, the Church consists of individuals who are Christians. Still, we often fail to understand the importance of our “redeemed connection.” Many of the gospel songs we enjoy emphasize our individual experience with God through Christ. We love “Just as I am,” and “Nearer My God to Thee.” However, the great hymns also emphasize the community. “Bless Be the Tie that Binds,” and “The Church’s One Foundation” are two such hymns. Our lives in Christ are interwoven, and what affects some affects all in some manner. It is important to have a personal witness, but also important for the community to have a witness. Together we are the body of Christ, each part redeemed and called together for the purpose of revealing the Kingdom of God in the world. Many of us have worshipped with churches that possess great unity. Their story is not only experienced in worship, it is evident to those outside. The Church most powerfully and clearly reflects Jesus when in unity. Yes, thank God we are personally redeemed by God, and have a story. But, let us also thank God for giving us a place in the redeemed community.
Does your church have a clear understanding of who they are together? How do you perceive your church as it relates to other churches? Does your church place greater emphasis on the individual than the congregation? How do you think the church can do both? How do you understand your faith as it relates to others in your church? Do you clearly understand your place in the body of Christ? If not, what can the Church do to help you? Can you identify God’s drawing you toward the Church? What events or moments can you now see were used to bring you into God’s family?
The psalmist calls the congregation to “Say so!” For many, the idea of sharing one’s story is a terrifying thought. Thus, many like to claim, “I believe in sharing Christ with my life.” However, this isn’t a “one or the other” request. I cannot do justice to our faith with my life alone. My life remains flawed, and my journey is yet to be finished. Of course, speaking my faith also doesn’t come close to fully expressing my faith. I need to live my faith and speak my faith. Speaking and living faith are companions. One strengthens and enriches the other. Many perform good deeds out of genuine love and compassion. They do so because of their Christian faith. However, it is important for the one to whom we minister to hear that we care for them “in Jesus’ name.” If I help someone and they are most touched, they might say, “He is a good man.” Naturally, we love for people to think of us in such a manner. However, my love for others and my actions are birthed by God’s grace within me. I want them to know that it is Jesus reaching out through me. In the words of the psalmist, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Speaking one’s faith does not mean a long, planned, testimony. It is simply acknowledging what is true at the time. We can simply say, “I care for you in Jesus” name.” We have just allowed them to hear the intro to our story. The conversation may go further, or it may end for a later time. Our story is a natural part of who we are, and must be shared genuinely and naturally.
I once attended a weekend evangelism event in which we actually learned a printed testimony. We then were assigned addresses. We were to knock on the door, without knowledge of the person, and find a way to get that printed testimony into the conversation. Sadly, this “method” didn’t work. Each of us is in many relationships. Many cross our path. Sometimes a question allows us to share our faith. On other occasions we have the opportunity to help someone in Jesus’ name. These are great expressions of our testimony. We need to be a speaking people, a sharing people. Indeed, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
The Church must also have a shared witness. The Church must continue to find ways to share their story with the community. It isn’t enough to simply print statements in the newsletter or hang them in the hallways of the church. Together we have a witness! A church’s welcoming spirit, unity, and outreach speak volumes to those outside. When this corporate witness is united with personal witness, amazing things can happen. Again, it should never be “one of the other.”
Do you struggle to share your faith with another? Can you articulate your fear? How can the church help you become a “verbal witness” in the world? Have you shared your faith with another? Can you describe the experience? What were the positives, and negatives if any? What did you learn? What role did another’s personal story play in your life and faith? Does your church help you in sharing your faith? Can you identify a united witness to the community in your church? Does it include both the church’s witness and the personal witness? Why do you believe both are important?
Lost and Wandering
Israel’s wandering in the wilderness was far more than a historical event. It is an existential event. Each person will wander in life at some time or another. Each of us understands the experience of feeling uprooted, directionless, and perhaps hopeless. Notice the psalmist’s phrase, “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.” Today, traffic, crime, and high prices have people beginning to shun the cities. However, in the day of the psalmist, a city meant togetherness. It implied community and the supplies needed for life. Early in life, God’s people learned the importance of living in connection. We survive more easily when we care for each other. Again, a rich facet of our salvation involves being connected. When we wander in our faith we tend to wander from people. We often live in greater isolation. Wandering implies fear. The world is frightening when we believe we are navigating it alone. In the Old Testament era, those who wandered feared starving and thirsting to death. Wandering meant the essentials of life were not present. When we wander in our faith we experience the loss of that which is essential to our life of faith. Again, we experience isolation and loss. The hunger and thirst of the wandering lead them to seek others. Little did they understand at the time that God was using their hunger and thirst to draw them into community. The same is equally true for those wandering today through life. Eventually, the heart, soul, and spirit will begin to sense lack. In response, the wandering person seeks that which is missing. Thus, we are being drawn by God toward the Church. It is imperative for the Church to provide that for which the human spirit longs. It is also important for those in the community to be thankful for God’s drawing us out of the wilderness and into the family of God. Notice verse 7: “He led them by a straight path to a city where they could settle.” God led them from their wandering and into a city/community.
Can you remember your personal wandering in the faith? Can you describe what you felt and what you believed? What called you to seek “another way?” Do you recognize the needs in your life as God’s drawing? Do you realize you didn’t just join a congregation on your own, you were drawn? Can you express how thankful you are for “being found” and finding your place in the family of God?
Struggle, Redemption and Blessing
The psalmist could very well be describing Israel’s life under the Judges. This historical period consisted of cycles. God would redeem and bless Israel only to encounter Israel’s rapid neglect of covenant and the consequences of that neglect. One judge would lead them, with the help of God, out of a dark period into life in the Covenant. The next could lead them to “do evil in the sight of the Lord.” Historically, as went the leaders, so went the people. Therefore, we hear the psalmist’s strong words of judgement: “He who pours contempt on nobles made them wander in a trackless waste.” Strong words indeed! Notice the vivid description of wandering in a trackless waste. The leadership led them to spiritual places that offered no direction and no life. However, God, as always, restores and renews his people. Certainly, God’s patience is far greater than our own. Israel, as a rebellious people, abused their salvation and ignored the fulfilling life God provided. Choosing self-gratification and ease, they always eventually found themselves in a dark, miry bog.
Each of us has experienced such wandering following God’s redemption in our life through Jesus Christ. How quickly we often revert to old patterns and destructive actions. Yet, God never forsakes us. God brought us into a sacred covenantal relationship through Christ, and God is not going to break his own promise. Such wandering is a part of our story. It is fine to share our story as long as it is not used to titillate. Many of us are familiar with wayward celebrities who found Christ. People would flock to hear their story, and sadly some were there to hear the dark side of their life. Our story should always point to God’s rich mercy and love. It is important to realize our wandering is a part of our story. However, whether we need to share that reality depends upon the moment. We do need to know for ourselves that our wandering is a part of who we are today. We know where we were, the behaviors in which we engaged, the thoughts we contemplated, and the actions we took. Remembering the depths of despair is helpful when remembering from where God has brought us through his love. Again, sharing it requires prayer and sensitivity.
The enlarging of our families and flocks is covenant language. These terms imply the blessing of being in relationship with God and one another. When our blessing is so evident in our life and through our words, those who dwell in darkness will “shut their mouths” and listen. A real, natural witness, from the mouth of one who is genuinely faithful, is a powerful transformative testimony. We can use our past to better understand the struggle of others. We can use our present to reveal the blessing of belonging to God and the Church.
Can you remember your time of wandering after yielding your life to Christ? Can you recall the events that led you to wander? Can you remember when you began to fell “lack” in your life while away from God? Can you attest to a moment of renewal? Can you identify the testimonies that influenced your life most? What about the testimony made it so attractive to your heart? What can you learn from other testimonies regarding your own personal sharing?
Revelation reveals the final triumph of good over evil. It reveals the coming reign of God. This prophesy isn’t afraid to mention the presence of struggle in life. However, we are told that the children of God will overcome. In Rev. 12:11 we read: “They (the redeemed) triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. . .”
It has always important for the redeemed of the Lord to say so. It remains important now and into God’s future. Knowing our story and sharing our story brings light into our life and light into the world.
Almighty God, in your great mercy you have lifted us from the miry clay, raised us to life, and filled our lives with purpose. We cried to you and you answered. We know where we chose to live without you and we bask in our life with you. Open our mouths to speak truth and light. Bless our words that they might be light and hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at email@example.com.