When I was in seminary a missionary in Colombia, South America, was kidnapped by guerrilla forces. His name was Chet Bitterman. Immediately word went out around the world to pray for Chet Bitterman's release. He was a young family man in the prime of his life who grew up not far from here in Lancaster County. And he had dedicated his life to serving the Lord on the mission field.
And I can remember special prayer meetings held all over campus to pray for Chet Bitterman's safe release. We prayed and we waited. We prayed and we waited. And then we prayed some more until we heard the answer 48 days later. It was an answer that none of us expected. Chet Bitterman was dead, executed by his captors. I'll never forget the day or the classroom where I was sitting when I heard that awful news. I was stunned, so was the campus, and so was the Christian world.
Why God? Why didn't you save your servant? Why didn't you answer our prayers? People all over the world were praying for the safety of this man. He has a wife and two young daughters. I don't get it. Are terrorists more powerful than prayer? Why did you let them put a bullet through his chest?
Anyone who's honest about life has to admit that there are times when good men and good women pray good prayers for good things and find no good answer. So what do we conclude? That God is dead? Or maybe God's a little deaf?
This morning we continue our series called Teach Us to Pray. Last week, we talked about unanswered prayer and our need to be persistent with God. And today I want to show you what a persistent prayer looks like. If you have a Bible turn with me to Psalm 22, a Psalm of David.
Psalm 22 is a lament Psalm. Lament psalms are prayers of sorrow and grief, complaint and despair. Out of the 150 psalms in the Bible, at least 65 are lament psalms. Almost half. And Psalm 22 is the most famous. It's one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament.
I love what D. A. Carson says about the lament psalms, "There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God. They complain to God. They weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God." And in Psalm 22, David is wrestling with God.
Look at verses 1-2, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
David's in a faith crisis and is getting "no" for answer, over and over again. We don't know the circumstances that defined David's faith crisis. Yet it's clear that this guy's at the end of his rope. He feels like God has checked out. He feels alone and betrayed. So he cries out in great emotional pain, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been at the end of your rope desperate for God to show up? You've prayed and prayed for God to deliver you and yet all you hear is silence. The problem won't go away and God just doesn't seem to care. And you start to doubt whether he's there at all. That's where David's at. He's in a faith crisis. For how long? We don't know, but long enough to be exhausted by it. Then he remembers something.
Look at verses 3-5, Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Just when David is about to lose his grip on the rope he remembers something. He remembers stories of God's faithfulness, stories from the past of how God rescued others when they were at the end of their rope. God's track record of faithfulness in the past gives David hope for the future.
Church, when we feel like God has checked out and forsaken us, we need to turn around and look back at how God has been faithful to others and to us in the past. Years ago my friend Gary Baggaley said something I'll never forget. Gary likes to hike and so he used this analogy about the struggles of life.
He said, when I look at the mountains in front of me I can get real discouraged. But when I turn around and see the mountains behind me, I remember that the same God who brought me over the mountains behind me will get me over the mountains in front of me. Remembering God's faithfulness in the past can give us hope for the future even when it seems like God has forsaken us.
This is why community is so important. This is why groups get together during the week so we can hear each other's stories. Last week, I spoke with a guy who was thanking God that a family member had been drug free for one year. He was so excited about what God had done. This is why some of us keep a journal so we can look back when we're at the end of our rope. Persistence in prayer remembers that God is still on his throne.
But then again, he's honest about his feelings. Look at verses 6-8, But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8"He trusts in the Lord," they say, " let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
David's in a bad way. Not only does he feel forsaken by God, but he's being ridiculed for his faith. He's being mocked. Where's God when you need him? You're a fool to trust in him. Ever heard that? Ever feel like a fool for trusting God?
David feels exactly the way Jesus felt on the cross when he cried out, My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Jesus is taunted by the crowd with these same words. Come down and save yourself. He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. That's what they yell at him. Psalm 22 is the prophetic backdrop for the crucifixion. It's the persistent prayer that Jesus is praying during his faith crisis on the cross.
But then David remembers something else. Look at verses 9-10, Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. 10From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.
In the heat of David's greatest faith crisis he turns around again and remembers how he was raised with a faith in God who has cared for him from birth. Church, this is why we have Valley Kids. This is why we invest in Orange and why many of you volunteer to come alongside parents and help us raise our kids with a well-grounded faith in a loving, creator God.
Because when life falls apart, like it is for David, we can go back to the foundations of our faith that were laid at an early age. Once again, he looks back at God's faithfulness to give him hope for the future. We remember. We remember. We remember.
In verses 11-21, David describes his suffering and pleads again and again for God to help him. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. 14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16Dogs surround me; a pack of villains encircles me, they pierce my hands and my feet. 17All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. 19But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly to help me. 20Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
Wow! This is more than a bad day. This is a life threatening crisis for David. We don't know exactly what he's going through, but he thought his life was over.
This is also a vivid description of what Jesus went through on the cross. Psalm 22 is quoted again and again in gospels as prophetic of the crucifixion. And what's amazing to me is that crucifixion wasn't used as a means of execution until almost 1,000 years after David wrote this psalm. That's like somebody describing the electric chair as a form of execution 1,000 years before electricity was invented!
David was at the end of his rope when he cries out to God in Psalm 22 and so was Jesus. Four times David prays for God not to be far off, to come quickly to help, deliver me, save me. He's all but toast. Now did God finally answer David's persistent prayer? Was he delivered from death? Look at verses 22-26.
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him -' may your hearts live forever!
Yes, David's prayer was answered. In the nick of time God rescued him. And he wanted all Israel to shout God's praises. He wanted to add another story to the portfolio of God's faithfulness.
Church, when God delivers us from some faith crisis he wants us to praise him publicly. He wants us to tell others what he's done so they can praise him too. But David wasn't content just telling other believers, he wants the whole world to know about his God.
Look at verses 27-29, All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. 29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-- those who cannot keep themselves alive.
David's consumed with passion that the whole world would recognize God's power, that rich and poor from every nation would bow down and worship him. And then he recorded his praise so future generations, like us, would worship the Lord too.
Look at verses 30-31, Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn. He has done it!
David's persistent prayer was answered. He was delivered from death and he wanted the whole world to know it. But what about Jesus' prayer? Did God answer his prayer from the cross? Was he delivered from death? No, he wasn't. He died on the cross. He wasn't rescued. So where was God when Jesus needed him most? Did he really forsake him? Did he really let him down?
Listen to me and we'll learn something about persistent prayer. Jesus wasn't delivered from death. Instead, Jesus was delivered out of death. And there's a big difference.
In Hebrews 5:7 we read, During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from ("ek" out of) death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
The word from comes from the Greek word "ek" and is better translated out of. Jesus was saved out of death. Jesus prayer was answered. He was heard by God the Father. He wasn't delivered from death like David. He was delivered out of death when he was resurrected on Easter Sunday. He didn't stay dead.
Jesus' persistent prayer was answered, but it was answered at a different time and in a different way than David's. David was rescued from death. Jesus was resurrected out of death.
God not only answered Jesus' prayer at a different time and in a different way, but at a better time and in a better way. If God would have delivered Jesus from death, then he wouldn't have accomplished our redemption on the cross. If he would have come down from the cross and saved himself, as he was taunted to do, we could never be saved. His death for us was absolutely necessary. So God let him go through it. It was a better time. And it was a better way, although it didn't seem like it at the moment.
Church, sometimes God chooses not to answer good prayers, prayed by good men and women, for good things at the time or in the way we would like him to. Because he has a better time and a better way that we can't always see or understand.
Is there a persistent prayer that you're praying right now that God doesn't seem to be answering? A good prayer for a good thing. God isn't dead. God isn't deaf. He just may have a different time and a different way in mind, a better time and a better way. And we need to trust him for that. We need to remember all that he has done for us and for others in the past. God's ways are not our ways, they are higher and they are better.
Was Chet Bitterman delivered from death? No, he wasn't. But he was delivered out of death and into the glorious presence of God. His suffering was over. His mission on earth was accomplished. In fact, he wrote this in his journal two years before he was killed, "Maybe this is just some self-inflicted martyr complex, but I find this recurring thought that perhaps God will call me to be martyred in his service in Columbia. I am willing."
Did his death cause pain for his family? Absolutely. It sure did. But his death also inspired a whole generation of Christian men and women around the world to serve God flat out. In fact, Chet's father said, "When we get our minds off ourselves and the here and now, we find things a lot easier to accept, because God doesn't make mistakes. His ways are not our ways, but higher ways. In the long view, it's been a privilege to be used by God in some significant way for eternity."
Psalm 22 is a prayer of persistence that God answered one way for David and another way for Jesus. A different way. At a different time. A better way. At a better time. So when our persistent prayers seem to go unanswered let's remember God's faithfulness in the past. It will give us hope for the future. And remember that God may have something even better in store for us. He often does. Let's stand for closing prayer.