The Heartbeat of Faith (Sermon)
I want to start with a question: Do you have great faith? I wonder if there is anyone here who would answer yes. I’ve never heard someone describe their own faith as great. In fact, no one describes their faith as sufficient. The refrain I hear year after year from person after person is about a lack of faith. We see ourselves like the first disciples of whom Jesus said: “O ye of little faith.”
But I think we’ve got a wrong view of faith, and I’d like to spend time this morning correcting a popular misconception about faith. We often think of faith like an account that’s usually pretty empty. Because there’s little in there, we don’t think God will do anything for us. We view faith like currency with the power to purchase God’s blessing, but unfortunately we rarely have enough to buy anything worthwhile.
But is that how faith works? Do we need to have a lot of faith in order for God to respond? Jesus doesn’t think so. He says to His disciples that all they need is faith the size of a tiny little seed (Mt. 17:20; Lk. 17:6). We shouldn’t look at faith as something so easily quantified. When Jesus mentioned the disciples’ “little” faith, He wasn’t talking about how much they faith they had in their account. He was showing them that though they trusted Him in some ways, they didn’t trust Him in every way. The issue was not that they trusted Him with too small of an amount of faith to accomplish anything, but that at that moment they didn’t trust Him at all. “Little faith” had nothing to do with quantity, but everything to do with consistency. They only trusted Him at certain times and in certain ways.
Faith is confidence in God’s care for us, and like everything else in life, we struggle to maintain that confidence. At times, our confidence is sky-high, while at other times it comes crashing down. We want our faith to be consistent, and we get discouraged that it doesn’t seem to stay that way.
If we were to go to the doctor and run tests on our faith, we would want it to look like a straight line, but it often looks more like an EKG. Brothers and sisters, if you have a heartbeat, your faith will as well. Living faith has a rhythm to it. It’s not flat-lined. No follower of Jesus ever mastered faith. This is why the book of Hebrews encouraged us over and over to keep trusting, keep believing, keep walking in faith.
Life is difficult. It’s filled with challenges. Since life isn’t always easy, trusting God isn’t always easy either. When life is tough, it’s harder to hold on tightly to the promises of God. But wrestling with God’s faithfulness during difficult seasons is part of faith. It’s the living part, the heartbeat part of faith. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle to trust God at times. This is part of what it means to follow Him in a difficult world during difficult seasons.
We see this in Psalms 9—10. Many OT scholars believe these two psalms were originally one. Not only are they grouped together in many early translations, but together they make up an acrostic poem in Hebrew. Now some don’t believe they should be considered one poem because of the difference in tone between Psalm 9 and Psalm 10. But the difference is instructive. The difference helps us better understand what the heartbeat of faith looks like. It helps us identify how living faith is really confident at some moments and in crisis at others. It assures us that having faith is a fight, and it reveals what we can use to fuel our faith.
In the overall structure of these two psalms we see:
The Fight for Faith
Together these two psalms begin and end with great confidence in God, but they don’t keep that same tone of confidence throughout. Listen to the confident faith expressed in the first two verses.
Psalms 9:1-2 (CSB) I will thank the Lord with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous works. I will rejoice and boast about you; I will sing about your name, Most High.
This is what a Christian says when their faith is strong, when they are confident in God’s promises. The confidence is oozing out of them; it’s a volcano of confidence erupting in gratitude, praise, and song. Here the psalmist is thinking about all the good works God has done, the miracles He’s performed, the kindness He’s showed, and so he looks at whatever he’s facing and thinks, “God’s got this. He’ll take care of it. Nothing to worry about.”
Maybe we think he’s got this level of confident faith because everything is going his way. He’s chilling in his palace, carefree, sipping lemonade on the veranda. But that’s not the case. His confidence is not because everything is easy. He’s in a battle, facing a line of enemies, but he’s not worried because he knows God will protect him.
Psalms 9:3 (CSB) When my enemies retreat, they stumble and perish before you.
He trusts God’s protective care and knows these enemies are powerless before God. Since God is righteous and just, he has nothing to fear. Since God has promised to care for His people, then there’s no reason to be afraid. He is confident in the outcome because of God’s power and righteousness. Can you hear his confidence in God?
Psalms 9:4-10 (CSB) For you have upheld my just cause; you are seated on your throne as a righteous judge. You have rebuked the nations: You have destroyed the wicked; you have erased their name forever and ever. The enemy has come to eternal ruin; you have uprooted the cities, and the very memory of them has perished. But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for judgment. And he judges the world with righteousness; he executes judgment on the nations with fairness. The Lord is a refuge for the persecuted, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you because you have not abandoned those who seek you, Lord.
The rest of the Psalm continues in the same way. The psalmist expresses confidence in God. He knows God reigns. He knows God is just. He is aware of God’s promises, and so he doesn’t worry or fear. He is confident in God’s justice and God’s care. God will judge those who do wrong, who harm and hurt the innocent, who take advantage of the weak and powerless. AND God will care for those who are weak and powerless. He will not forget the needy and oppressed.
The psalm ends with a plea for God to act, to put an end to evil and injustice, to remind people that they are just human. They are not God.
Psalms 9:19-20 (CSB) Rise up, Lord! Do not let mere humans prevail; let the nations be judged in your presence. Put terror in them, Lord; let the nations know they are only humans.
With the way Psalm 9 ends, the opening of Psalm 10 comes as a bit of a shock. The confident faith of the psalmist has evaporated, and in its place we find a crisis of faith.
Psalms 10:1 (CSB) Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide in times of trouble?
Something has changed. The wind has blown and carried away the psalmist’s confidence in God. This reminds us how quickly things can change. We were on vacation a couple weeks ago at a lake house in Northern Wisconsin. The day we arrived at the lake house it was 85 degrees and sunny. The next morning it was in the 50’s and windy. We went from playing in the water to sitting around the fireplace.
Life changes quickly. What changed so drastically in the Psalmist’s life? What caused his confidence in God’s justice and care to dissipate like the morning dew? We don’t know for sure.
Maybe it was because God didn’t answer him as quickly as he hoped. This happens to us sometimes, doesn’t it? Something traumatic happens, like a cancer diagnosis, and we respond immediately in confident faith. We say, “God’s got this. I’ll trust Him. Everything is in His hands.” But after the 5th month of chemotherapy, our confidence is gone. We wonder where God is and if He really cares.
Or maybe the issue seems to keep coming up, even intensifying, and nothing ever changes, and we’re simply worn out. We’re beat down. Surrounded by so much injustice, we have trouble believing God is just. I know this is how some of our minority brothers and sisters feel right now.
I think the crisis of faith happens when God seems to be absent. That’s what the Psalmist reveals in these verses. The wickedness of the wicked is increasing, and nothing ever seems to happen to them. They are not only getting away with it, but they seem to be prospering. He lists what they are doing:
They victimize people (verse 2)
They openly celebrate their wickedness (verse 3).
They act as if they are god (verse 4).
They completely ignore God’s commands (verse 5).
They destroy lives with lies and slander (verse 7).
They hurt the innocent and helpless (verses 8-10).
And what is the result? What consequences are they facing? There appear to be none. Faith is always hardest in times of waiting. When we don’t see immediate results. When we don’t understand why it’s happening. When we wonder if it will ever change. This is when faith is a fight. This is when we struggle to believe that God is just, that God cares for us. Have you been in this place before? The place of difficult waiting? The place of wondering where God is and why He isn’t acting? The place of wondering why wicked people seem to be successful while you suffer?
Verse 11 captures the mindset of the wicked:
Psalms 10:11 (CSB) He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he hides his face and will never see.”
The wicked says God is both unjust and impotent. He forgets injustice, and He is unaware of their actions. In this crisis of faith, the psalmist faces a moment of decision. Will he agree with the wicked? Will he give up and say, “You’re right. God will never act”? Brothers and sisters, this is a key moment. This is the moment where some walk away, where some give up. They agree with the wicked that God is either too cruel or too weak to deal with the evil around us.
But the Psalmist’s struggling faith is not gone, and in this moment he chooses to believe. He turns his eyes away from the apparent triumph of the wicked and refocuses on God. He then acts in faith. He calls on God to fulfill His promises to His people.
Psalms 10:12-15 (CSB) Rise up, Lord God! Lift up your hand. Do not forget the oppressed. Why has the wicked person despised God? He says to himself, “You will not demand an account.” But you yourself have seen trouble and grief, observing it in order to take the matter into your hands. The helpless one entrusts himself to you; you are a helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked, evil person, until you look for his wickedness, but it can’t be found.
He affirms God’s justice. God has been observing the injustice in order to deal with it personally. He is the helper of the fatherless. He will break the powerful hold of the wicked, and He will one day remove all wickedness from the land.
These two psalms end on a high note. Though his faith wavered, the psalmist’s confidence in God has returned. God reigns and He will accomplish His purposes.
Psalms 10:16-18 (CSB) The Lord is King forever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble; you will strengthen their hearts. You will listen carefully, doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed so that mere humans from the earth may terrify them no more.
These psalms teach us about faith. They remind us that faith is not a flatline, but it has a heartbeat. At times it’s easy to trust God, and at times it’s hard. We can’t grow discouraged or quit when it gets hard. We hold on tightly even in those dark times.
But we don’t just see the fight for faith in these psalms. We also see:
The Fuel for Faith
When faith is hard, when we fear our faith will fail, what should we do? What fuels faith that is only an ember and turns it into a roaring flame? Here are two things we do when we’re fighting for faith. Two actions which are accelerants to the flames of our faith.
Rehearse Who God Is
Did you notice that throughout these psalms the psalmist is consistently rehearsing the character and work of God? The psalm starts out with him saying, “I will declare all your wondrous works,” and he does so throughout the psalm. For instance, in Psalm 9:7-10, he makes seven statements about God. He says God:
Sits on the throne forever
Established a place for judgment
Judges the world righteously
Judges all nations in fairness
Is a refuge for the persecuted
Is a refuge in times of trouble
Has not abandoned those who come to Him
Rehearsing who God is, what He has done, and what He promises to do encourages faith.
During this quarantine, I’ve been doing some woodworking. One of the tools I’ve been using is a table saw. When you’re using the table saw, you often put a fence in place parallel with the board. You then run the edge of the board along the fence, and it helps you make straight cuts. The key to straight cuts is to keep your eyes in the right spot, to look at the right thing. You shouldn’t look at the blade, but at the fence. Looking at the blade seems like the natural place for your eyes, but if you look there the cut will end up crooked. Instead you focus on keeping the edge of the board pressed against the fence to ensure a straight cut.
In times of difficulty and trouble, we tend to focus on the difficulty and trouble. This inevitably leads to poor decisions and wavering faith. The more you stare at your problem, the larger it will seem. We need to focus on God—His Word which reveals His character and works. When we look to Him, our lives start to align to what He says.
This isn’t something we just do when we’re struggling to believe. We need to do it constantly so it’s a habit when those times come. Friends, this is why we read God’s Word, why we study it, why we come to church, why we discuss it in our community groups. This is why we want to give you a book about the heart of God for sinners and sufferers. We want you to rehearse who God is so your faith in Him grows stronger.
But we don’t just take God’s Word in, we talk about it with others. In Tim Keller’s devotional on this psalm, he writes, “Recognize and tell of God’s daily, wonderful deeds, and you will have a note of grateful joy as the background music of your life.”
Are you regularly talking about God’s wonderful deeds?
Are you, like the Psalmist, singing about God’s name, His character? Have you ever wondered why we sing? We sing for many reasons: to praise God, to connect the truth to our affections, but also to strengthen our faith. Singing about God—His person and promises—reminds us that God can be trusted.
Are you sharing God’s salvation with others? Proclaiming his deeds among the nations (v.11)? Are you telling the weak and afflicted, the powerless and oppressed that God is watching over them? That God cares for them?
How are you rehearsing who God is? What habits are you building into your life to make sure you’re aligning yourself—what you think, what you love—to what God says? Faith needs fuel, and one way to fuel faith is to rehearse who God is.
Remember Where We Are
We live in two worlds right now. Our citizenship is in two kingdoms. This is pictured in a powerful way in Psalm 9—we stand between two gates, the gates of death and the gates of Zion. We can’t forget about either one.
Psalms 9:13b—14 (CSB) Lift me up from the gates of death, so that I may declare all your praises. I will rejoice in your salvation within the gates of Daughter Zion.
One one side stands the gates of death. We see them and recognize what they are. We are honest about what is plaguing this world. Most of the world runs to the gates of death hoping they will find life and happiness. We see them for what they truly are. They help us make sense of the world. The gates of death explain things like abortion, euthanasia, racism, bigotry, homosexuality, abuse, pornography, scandal, gossip, and assault. As much as we would like to put blinders on our eyes and mufflers on our ears, pretending they don’t exist, we can’t. We must be aware of their influence on us and those around us.
The gates of death remind me of one of the climactic scenes from The Lord of the Rings where the armies of men and elves march on the Black Gate. The gate is the embodiment of evil. It represents death and destruction, fear and terror. The gate opens, the forces of evil march out, and all hope seems lost. But with one act—an act of sacrificial love—the power of the black gate is thrown down, the forces of evil are overrun, and good triumphs over evil. The victorious army then marches back into the gates of the White City, where the King sits on the throne and the land is renewed.
The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus went outside of the gates, and there outside the gates, with one act of sacrificial love, He brought their reign of terror to an end. Outside the gates of death, He took on death itself and walked away in triumph. He now leads His people from the gates of death into the gates of Zion—God’s city where God dwells. He has thrown open the gate for us to enter. It’s where we, those who belong to God, will dwell forever, and the gates of death and hell can never prevail against it.
We live between the two gates right now. On one side is the stench of death and the other side is the fragrance of life.
My non-Christian friend, have you followed Jesus out of the gates of death and toward the gates of Zion? You cannot conquer death, but Jesus already has. You simply need to trust Him, to pledge your allegiance to Him, and follow Him as your King.
Brothers and sisters, trust our conquering King. Even when life is hard and your faith is small, trust Him. Trust Him. He has conquered the gates of death, and He leads us through the gates of Zion. Because of Jesus we know God can be trusted. Jesus entrusted Himself to God, and we can do the same.
If you’re struggling to believe right now, don’t give up. As surely as the sun cuts through the darkness each morning, the promises of God will cut through the darkness of unbelief. Keep your eyes focused on God, rehearse His promises, listen to His Word, and follow your King. Remember the promise He gave to His people, the promise He gave to us His church, that as we follow Him, telling others of His wonderful works, that even the gates of Hell cannot overpower us.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2020.