Sunday, 12 April 2015

When God turns things round

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. Psalm 18:16

Turn-around psalms - that’s how I think of them.

There are quite a few in the Book of Psalms as a whole, but perhaps 18 is the most dramatic. You only have to read the early part of the psalm to see what the writer was going through: “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me” (verse 4). Things could hardly have been worse.

But then there is a turn-around: God intervenes, he acts with power and decision, and suddenly everything is different. It's as if dark storm clouds have rolled away, and the sun shines again. “The Lord lives!” says the psalmist in verse 46, “Praise be to my rock!”

Are you desperate for a turn-around in your life? Is your situation near to rock-bottom? Well, the message is clear: please don't give up hope. God is the master of the turn-around, and what he has done for others he can do for you, if you cling to him during the hard times and cry out to him like the psalmist.

This is something I have seen on various occasions over my forty-plus years as a minister. I have seen people in truly “deep waters”, where any kind of change seemed quite impossible. And then I have seen those same people, some time later, at peace and happy, rejoicing in God's goodness.

Thinking about this, three great Bible turn-arounds come to my mind.

First, the Israelites' crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). The people have come out of captivity in Egypt under Moses and Aaron. This was truly a miracle. But the Egyptians come thundering after them in their chariots. The people arrive at the sea. But what are they to do? What possible way of escape is there: the uncrossable sea before them, their ferocious enemies behind them?

But then, just when there seems to be no hope, God acts, the waters divide, and all is well. Some turn-around!

Second, the return of Israel from the captivity in Babylon

The people have been languishing there for seventy years - "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion (that is, Jerusalem)," they say (Psalm 137). They are under the thumb now of the Persians, the new super-power of the time.

Just when they must have been despairing of ever seeing their homeland again something truly amazing happens: the King of Persia, Cyrus, issues a decree (just listen to this!) giving them his express permission to go home, even commanding them to rebuild their temple (2 Chronicles 36). Cyrus, bear in mind, is a pagan king... Again, some turn-around!

The third example is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus. We can hardly begin to imagine what his disciples felt on that terrible Friday of his crucifixion. And what about the Saturday? Have you ever stopped to think what a long, grey, miserable, dreary, hopeless day that must have been? But then on Easter morning - well, I don't need to tell you what happened. The turn-around of all turn-arounds!

The point is simple and clear: we never know when God is going to act. Or how. We haven't the remotest idea of the resources he has up his sleeve. True, our turn-arounds don't tend to be as dramatic as the ones I have mentioned. Often they are gradual and undramatic. But they do happen - and God doesn't change, so why shouldn't they happen again?

Psalm 27 isn’t exactly a turn-around psalm, but it has something to say to the person longing for a turn-around - the simple, almost homely advice: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord". Easy to say, sometimes hard to do. But good advice nonetheless. 

So as I said earlier, don't lose heart that there will be a turn-around for you also - that the Lord will draw you too "out of the deep waters".

Dear Father in heaven, I badly need a turn-around in my situation. Sometimes I find it hard to trust you or to see your hand in my life. Please help me to hold on to you, however long it may take. Please, please help me! Amen.

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