Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 1999
Dear Friend in Christ:
I trust that this letter finds you and yours well. We are in a most significant season as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus and as we come into a new millennium. Now, more than ever, we need to hear from God.
God’s Word comes to us at the point of our need. We may “know” a particular truth, or verse of scripture, but when God gives it to us in our need, it becomes life to us. Psalm 27 came to me that way, and I hope this letter comes to you for a time of need.
It was 1970; I had given up my salary and stepped out into a “faith ministry.” A series of crises and opportunities arose, almost simultaneously. I was invited to teach in a country far away. At the same time, I discovered serious problems in another ministry with which I was associated. Then another problem arose: I realized two men who had become involved with my own ministry, were in fact “con artists.” The local newspaper editor told me that they were going to run a story about these men that would also hurt my ministry.
Then at the same time, a man who called himself a prophet, gained influence with some of my closest friends and prophesied against me, and the work that I was doing. Because I confronted him, he said that I would “not die a natural death.”
All of this was happening in the space of three months. I was financially broke, going abroad, leaving my wife with two small children, leaving a divided church, and facing the possibility of scandal. I could spend the rest of this letter telling you how God brought me through those trials, but what I want to tell you is what God gave to me in that season of fiery trial.
During those days in 1970, I went away to seek the Lord in fasting and prayer, and the Lord led me to Psalm 27. It became my confidence, and He became my Rock. Let’s look at some lessons from Psalm 27 that have stayed with me through the years.
VERSE 1: DAVID’S FAITH
The Lord is my light and my salvation.” David saw that God was the Light of the path that led to salvation. We cannot know God’s light until we know darkness without Him. We can only know His strength if we know our weakness. David was in a time of extreme vulnerability. But, as David saw the goodness, mercy, and love of God, fear left him. The first enemy that God defeats is the fear of the enemy.
LESSON: Salvation is in God – not ourselves or circumstances.
VERSES 2-3: DAVID’S TRIAL
When my enemies came to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.” David could have written this at many times, especially when he was being chased by Saul’s army. But the bear, the lion, and the giant also sought to destroy him, even before Saul did. Then on other occasions, it was the Philistines or some other group that tried to kill him. David knew danger many times, totally surrounded by enemies; but he also knew salvation many times.
He said, “My enemies stumbled.” David watched God defeat his enemies. It was God’s salvation. God is God, even over our enemies. He can frustrate the plans of the wicked, who seek our destruction.
LESSON: Don’t look at the odds – look to God.
VERSES 4-5: DAVID’S KEY
One thing have I desired and that will I seek, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord.” David’s key-and ours-to God’s house is to be able to say, “One thing I desire.” The key to finding God’s salvation is to seek Him with our whole heart-to be single-minded.
David said, “I want to dwell in the House of the Lord, behold the beauty of the Lord, and inquire in His temple.” There are four key words here: seek, dwell, behold, and inquire. Too often, we inquire without seeking, dwelling, or beholding. We want God’s answers, but not God Himself. Answers come after we have fellowshipped with Him. He wants us to want Him.
LESSON: God’s presence is a secret, solid place.
VERSE 6: DAVID’S PROMOTION
David understood promotion. In Psalm 75, he said, “Promotion comes from God.” He was promoted from shepherd boy to lion and bear killer, to giant killer, to king’s minstrel, to warrior, to shepherd-king. At each step there was a crisis, and then there was God’s salvation.
David’s praise was not perfunctory. He praised God joyfully and exuberantly, because he knew it all came from God. His praise was proportionate to his awareness that God had delivered him from certain destruction.
LESSON: Promotion in crisis comes from God.
VERSES 7-10: DAVID’S PRAYER
David said on several occasions, “I cried unto the Lord.” “Hear me when I cry.” David’s prayer was not perfunctory. His prayer was heartfelt and passionate. “Hear me when I cry for mercy!” The word mercy in that text means, “to show kindness to an inferior.” He looked up to God, knowing that only the mercy of a loving God would save him.
It is important to note also that God prompted David to pray. “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said, ‘Your face I shall seek.’” When the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray – it is wise to respond. The Scriptures say that we have not, because we ask not. God wants to save us, and He will, if we call on Him and set our face to seek His face. Prayer is not just seeking answers; it is seeking God. When we find His presence, we find His answers.
I would also remind us that David was not seeking revenge on his enemies. He was seeking God. His presence belongs to us, if we let revenge belong to Him.
LESSON: Heartfelt prayer touches God – anything less is inadequate.
VERSES 11-12: DAVID’S PATH
Many want to see God’s work, but are not zealous for God’s ways. Great leaders and great Christians know God’s ways. “Lead me in a plain path.” A plain path is level, straight, simple, and progresses toward God’s purpose. It is straightforward.
In the book, Pilgrim’s Progress, “Pilgrim” comes to a place on the path that goes between two lions. His companion, “Christian,” points out that the lions on either side are chained. If he and Pilgrim stay on the path, the lions cannot harm them.
This is true of life. There are enemies on either side. If we stray, there is a devouring enemy who will seek our destruction. Many “bones” lie just off the path. But there is safety on the plain, level, and straight path.
Many years ago, I was complaining to my father about enemies who seemed to want my destruction. He said, “Son, thank God for your enemies; they will cause you to seek God far more than your friends ever will.”
LESSON: Danger is good if it causes us to seek God and walk straight.
VERSES 13-14: DAVID’S ADVICE
David said, “I would have fainted unless I had believed.” Many have fainted because they failed to believe. Our society as a whole is very prosperous, yet also most depressed. Even multitudes of Christians suffer depression because of stress and disillusionment. Doubt and fear “dog” our steps. We work hard to be secure rather than to trust God. We battle situations and circumstances. We walk crooked paths and find little rest. We trust in people who let us down, or in ourselves, only to become weak. David’s advice would be to believe what God has said and seek Him, rather than fight our own battles.
I notice that David believed that God is good and that we could see His goodness in this life – “the land of the living.” Heaven is real, and heaven’s joy and peace are for this life as well as in eternity. David would also say, “Wait for the Lord.” The word “wait” in this passage means, “bound together.” Don’t move without God. Move with God or do not move.
David advises one more thing: “Be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart.” Courage is to have heart. Exercise your courage, even if you only have a little. Keep believing God, and He will add His courage to yours. He will encourage your heart. God is an Encourager…and I hope that we can all be encouragers.
LESSON: God has a time to deliver you; wait for it in faith.
David was a victorious follower of God. He is a good model. He didn’t always do the right thing, but he knew where to go when trouble came. As I said in the beginning, God delivered me in 1970, and He continues to. My prayer for you is that whatever your battles, you will know His salvation.
Praise the Lord! We recently dedicated the new Ern Baxter Memorial Library, and it is beautiful. We have also appointed Dr. Michael McCarty as President of Covenant Academy, our new School of Ministry.
As I write this, I am preparing to travel to Slovakia, where we recently had The Covenant and the Kingdom translated. Other translations, including Spanish, are pending. At this time, as much as ever, I need and appreciate your generous support. This Autumn has been lean financially, while at the same time, filled with opportunity and outreach.
May God bless you with His salvation and grant you a most blessed Christmas and New Year!
Scripture Reference: Psalm 27 & Psalm 75