Troubled People Helping Troubled People

Sept. 20, 2013 Paul David Tripp

Session Transcript

Paul David Tripp: Elyse, I want to say two things to you. First, thank you. I was thinking as I was listening to Elyse, I've been working on an everyday devotional, and there are times in the midst of writing the devotional that remorse just wells up inside of me, because I think, I can write this stuff. Why can't I live it? But that remorse leads me to Jesus.

I think that remorse is God's doorway to Jesus. Don't fight that remorse. Don't cover it; don't deny it. Thank you.

Can we talk mustaches? I couldn't start and go where you went, Elyse, because I'm a man in a room of women. You don't just go up to a woman and say, "Nice mustache." (laughter) I mean, I know there are female mustaches, but I can't talk about it. But I'm going to! The difference between yours and mine is mine's intentional.

Please forgive me! All of you! (laughter) Luella will say to me tonight, "You didn't. You didn't, really?" Occasionally, she's still willing to be seen with me in public. That's grace!

Well, I received the call that no parent ever wants to receive. Steve, my assistant, and I were about six hours away from home, doing some recording. Luella, my dear wife, called me. Now Luella's very emotionally level; I'm a passionate man. I'm up and down, all over the place. She's very, very level, but I could tell by the shakiness of her voice, by the strength of her emotion, that what I was about to hear was going to be very bad.

She said, "Paul, you need to get home as fast as you can, because Nicole has been in an accident. Come quickly." Nicole was walking home from work and a drunk and unlicensed driver driving an SUV careened up on the sidewalk and crushed her against a wall.

She had massive injuries. The doctors told us if it had happened in the suburbs (we live right in the heart of Philadelphia), she wouldn't have made it to the hospital. There were eleven breaks to her pelvis alone—it just destroyed the central part of her skeleton.

I had no idea what I was facing. It seemed like forever for us to get to that hospital. We swung by Maryland and picked up my son from college, because we knew we just all had to get there. I walked into that hospital room to see the broken body of my daughter now sustained by machines.

And I did what any father would do who has a twit of love inside of him. I fell apart. I couldn't think what else to do but to get myself up on the edge of her bed, as close as I could to her. I put my cheek against her cheek. I didn't know how conscious she was; I didn't know what her awareness was. But I whispered in her ear, "Nicole, you're not alone. This is Dad. I'm with you, and God's with you, too."

She couldn't talk at that moment, but tears streamed down her face. Now no parent ever wants to go through something like that. But if I could have chosen one of my children to go through something like this, it wouldn't have been Nicole. Nicole seemed particularly vulnerable.

As I was next to her cheek, wanting to be strong (I wasn't strong), my heart was saying, "God, why? Why, why, why? Why her? Why now?" That kicked in four years of—I can't think of any other word but "travail." I didn't go to my office for three months, because there was no position Nicole could be in where she didn't experience horrific pain. We literally sat, for months, with our hands on her.

I don't know when I felt in my life so helpless. Luella and I would end emotionally wrenching days sitting on our bed at night just weeping. It just came out of us. And it wasn't, for Nicole, just the physical pain; it was a horrible thing that she was going through.

But the city of Philadelphia, wanting to get things through the court quickly, plead that down to "reckless driving," and she got no justice whatsoever. And in the process, she lost every one of her friends. They could not deal with her suffering. They forsook her, one after another after another, until there was no one left. That kicked in deep emotional, spiritual battles for her. It was very, very hard.

My wife, Luella, tells me that when I tell this story, I don't finish it, and I leave crowds of people in utter trauma. So I'm not going to do that for you. By God's grace, Nicole has had a miraculous physical recovery—I mean, it's just miraculous. And if you would see Nicole, you probably would have no idea what she's been through.

But I want you to hear me say this: When you're in that moment, when you're in that place you never thought you would be, when a phone call changes your life, you will preach some kind of gospel to you. I say this all the time, and when I say it, people tend to laugh, but I'm really quite serious.

No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do. See, you laughed. Most of us have learned it's best not to move our lips, and don't ever change places. They'll put away. (laughter)

But you're in a constant conversation with yourself. Everyone in this room is a theologian. Everyone in this room is a philosopher. Everyone in this room is an archeologist who will dig through the mound of her existence and make sense out of your life. I would ask you this evening to be honest in this moment. Don't be afraid of that honesty. The cross permits us to be the most honest community on earth.

We should be known for our honesty—we don't need to "front" anymore. What gospel do you preach to you in those moments? What do you say to you about you, about God, about life, about others? The embarrassing thing, probably, for many of us—I know it is for me—is that it doesn't even take real trouble for me to lose my way.

You know, you're in one of those afternoons where you've been assigned to just get one thing from the grocery store that you need for dinner. Now, it doesn't seem much to ask of God that that could be done quickly. He's the Lord Almighty—He can handle grocery store traffic.

You get to the store, and it's fairly empty, and you think, There must be a God. You run to get your one can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and you sprint to the one lane that actually has a clerk there. There are seventy-two, but they're empty. (laughter) What's up with that? Don't they know that having that many and only having two people there discourages us?

You're sprinting down the aisle, and out from another lane comes this woman with 150 items. Already you're halfway to atheism. (laughter) She begins to slowly pull out items as if she doesn't know how they got there. She's reading ingredients—"Oh, I didn't know they had that in that!" Doubt of God has been replaced with utter rage. You'd like to share something with that woman, but it wouldn't be Jesus.

So she's finally through the basket. Words of the "Hallelujah Chorus" are coming to you and you think, I'm getting close, when she pulls out of her pocket 120 coupons, which now have to be carefully matched to the items. I'm a psycho-killer at that point. Forget God and His glory—I need to be put away.

She finally gets through the coupons. I'm like this now . . . and she pulls out her purse. It's the size of a camping tent for a family of six. (laughter) When she looks into it, the whole top half of her body disappears. She's not pulling out makeup items to find her purse, she's pulling out children and small dogs. (laughter)

At that point, I've forgotten who God is, I've forgotten who I am, I've forgotten what life is about—my theology is gone! Why? Because I've been delayed ten minutes. How shocking is that? Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about.

You're always preaching some kind of gospel to yourself. It's a gospel of aloneness and poverty and partiality and injustice and a graceless world—or it's the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that orients you in these moments where everything seems like sinking sand.

Turn to Psalm 27. I love the Psalms. I am persuaded that the Psalms are in the Bible to keep us honest. I'm serious, because faith is messy in the Psalms, not pretty. The blood and guts and dirt of the struggle of faith are splattered on every page of the Psalms.

Psalm 27 is a psalm of trouble. I just want to read a few verses of this psalm and then think through them with you:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
   whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
   of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
   to eat at my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
   it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart shall not fear;
though war rise against me,
   yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
   that I will seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
   all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
   and to enquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
   in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
   he will lift me high upon a rock.

"Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war rise against me, yet I will be confident. When evildoers assail me, to eat up my flesh. . ."

Here's the first thing that I want to say to you, and then we're going to look at the beginning of the psalm. Oh, please hear me say this: Biblical faith never requires you to deny reality. You do not have to deny reality. If you have to establish momentary personal hope by denying reality, you are not exercising biblical faith.

What I love about the Bible is that it's shockingly honest and gloriously hopeful at the same time. And the honesty doesn't negate the hope, and the hope doesn't diminish the honesty. There are stories so shocking and tawdry in the Bible, if they were in a paperback book at your local CVS, you wouldn't pick it up.

Why is that so? Because God wants you to understand that the deepest depths of the darkness of a fallen world are not deeper than His grace. So He's going to stick fallen-ness in your face. I love what Corrie ten Boom said, again and again: "There is no pit so deep that Jesus isn't deeper." Amen!

Can I say this to you, ladies? Stop denying reality, stop putting a saccharine smile on your face. Stop giving platitudeness answers to one another. Stop telling stories that make you look better than you actually are and make life look better than it actually is.

Listen, Jesus doesn't need you to defend His reputation with your functional lies. That's not the gospel! If you're lying about your life—if you're real good at non-answers—it's not faith. It's shocking religious selfism. I'm sorry, but it's true, and I know because I'm good at that. I'm an expert at it. No one in this room is a better self-swindler than I am.

Very honest—a psalm of trouble. But notice where it begins. This psalm of trouble doesn't begin with trouble. "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" Let me say it this way, and then I want to unpack this for you.

Peace in times of trouble begins with rich scriptural theology. You are called by God to be a theologian. Everyone in this room is called to be a theologian. You must love, you must embrace, you must eat up, you must hug the theology of Scripture. You must bask in it.

The Lord is light. What is light in Scripture? It's what's pure, it's what holy, it's what's just, it's what's right. In this world, there is One who is pure, One who is holy, One who is just, One who is right, who rules over all things. The Lord is salvation. In its broadest sense, what does that mean in Scripture? It means He is the One who delivers me from evil—all forms of evil, external and internal. There's deliverance from evil.

Boy, there's one thing that I embraced as I watched my daughter struggle five days in. They kept upping her medication, trying to give her relief, and they OD'd her. They called, and they went running down the hallway, and they were reviving her. It's like you have no handholds.

But I held on to the fact that there's salvation in my God. This kind of evil will end; Jesus will win! The Lord is a stronghold. A stronghold is a safe place. I always have a place to run. There is, in this world, a place to run. Don't ever tell yourself there's nowhere to hide, there's nowhere to run. There's a place to run.

Now, you think that I've been giving you good theology. Well, you're wrong. I've been giving you disastrously bad theology. Are you confused? It's okay to admit that you're confused. I can see enough to see some of you. You look confused.

Because I left out a word. I said, "The Lord is light; the Lord is salvation; the Lord is a stronghold." That's bad theology, that's bad abstract, academic theology. And we're good at that theology. Notice what David says, "The Lord is my light; the Lord is my salvation; the Lord is my stronghold." He's now depicting something awesome and glorious.

This One who created it all, this One who rules it all, this One of holiness and glory has by grace, now connected the awesomeness of His glory to me—that glory is mine! My light, my salvation, my stronghold, but by grace! I could have never earned it. I could have never achieved it. I didn't have the sense to desire it. I would have no power to acquire it. It's all of grace! Grace has connected me to light and salvation and stronghold.

Now, who doesn't need that theology? What do you say to you in those times of trouble, be it grocery store atheism or when the disasters of life in a fallen world break into your door? What do you say to you? What kind of gospel do you preach to you?

Or let me say it this way—when your sister in Christ calls you and she's shaken to her core, and you're the first number that she thought of calling, what gospel do you preach to your sister? How do you grab her hand, and where do you run her to?

I just think we could stop and just meditate on what we've talked about—but I won't, because this psalm gets very, very radical. The radical nature of this psalm is the juxtaposition of verses 2 and 3 with verse 4. Look at your Bibles. I know everyone has a Bible here; if you didn't bring yours, it's probably because you've memorized yours. (laughter) I'm just going to think of it that way, because that helps me. Now listen to this, "When evildoers assail me, to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes . . . though an army encamp against me . . . though war rise against me."

Now, let's think for a minute: "One thing I desire . . ." If I have an army encamped against me, to eat up my flesh, what one thing would I desire? How about weapons? That would work. How about just, "Get me out of this situation!" Now, let your heart run there—don't be afraid of running there, because anything that will now be exposed in your heart by what I'm saying has already been covered by the precious blood of Jesus. So let your heart run there.

When you're in those moments, what is it that you crave? What is your one desire? What kind of Messiah do you long for in that moment? Listen to what David says: "When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes . . . though an army encamp against me . . . though war rise against me. . . . One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple." What?! What?

Now, this man is either delusional or ridiculously super-spiritual and sort of other-worldly, or David is onto something—something precious and important and transforming. Let me read the words, because the words here are very important: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, [to do what?] to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD."

David is onto something, and here is what he is onto—Oh! Get these words!—that there exists in the universe a greater beauty, a greater and more glorious beauty than any ugly thing that you will ever face in your life. There exists in God a grand and glorious, stunning beauty that is way more beautiful and way more glorious than any ugly thing that you could ever face between the "already" and the "not yet."

God is glorious in His wisdom, He's beautiful in His power; He's beautiful in His sovereignty; He's beautiful in His faithfulness. He's beautiful in His tenderness; He's beautiful in His mercy; He's beautiful in His love; He's beautiful in His grace. He's beautiful, He's beautiful, He's beautiful, He's beautiful, He's beautiful.

Here's what David understands: You will never see and understand your trouble properly unless you look at your trouble through the window of the stunning beauty of your Savior. Did you hear what I said? You will never ever understand all those hard and troubling details—you will never see them accurately, you will never understand them properly—unless you look at them through the lens of the stunning beauty of the Lord.

You see, this isn't a theological exercise for David. This is his only hope of ever dealing with life in a fallen world. This is it. Listen, if you don't have this, the fallen-ness of this world will get you. And your life will be this ebbing of faith, this weakening of faith. You'll lose the joy of your salvation.

You'll become—and the church is filled with this—a scary, sterile, cynical Christian. If peace in times of trouble begins with sound theology—hear what I'm about to say—peace in times of trouble is rooted in the worship of God. The solution to devastation of heart is worship. It's worship; it's worship.

Here's the temptation: I've already said to you that biblical faith never requires that you deny reality, but you must not make the harsh realities of life your meditation. If you make them your meditation, they'll hurt you. You'll begin to take experiences on as your identity. Experiences are not your identity. They're your experiences.

Divorce is a devastating human experience, but it's not your identity. Loss of a loved one is a sad experience. It reminds me that I'm still in a devastated world, but it's not my identity. So you face reality, but you don't meditate on that reality—that's the big temptation.

Some of you are good at doing that. You toss it over in your head—over and over again. You pick apart the fine-grained details. You put yourself to sleep worrying about it. You wake up in the morning considering it again; you hold it as a friend. You pack it with you and take it with you everywhere you go; you think about it in the car. You're constantly—what are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing?

You see, here is the truth: You don't just suffer the thing that you're suffering—stay with me—you suffer the way that you're suffering the thing that you're suffering. I'm serious. Because if your suffering kidnaps your meditation, that suffering will be worse. You'll trouble your own trouble, because your heart isn't being caressed—isn't remembering—the stunning beauty of the Lord. That is the only way of properly understanding who you are and what life is about.

Turn to Romans 4, please. You know the story. Sarah and Abraham had been promised a son; they had been promised that their descendants would be like the sand of the sea. No son, decade after decade after decade after decade. Verses 18–19: "In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, 'So shall your offspring be.' He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead, (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb."

Now, there's the not-denying reality. He looked reality in the face. Here's an old man. Here's a woman way beyond childbearing years. Abraham's not playing theological monkey-games with himself. No belief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.

That tells you something about Abraham. Now, isn't it true for us that when we're in trouble the longer we have to wait, the weaker our faith gets? Because we're not meditating on the beauty of the Lord; what we're doing is meditating on the details of the trouble. But Abraham didn't do that.

When the passage says he grew in faith because he was fully convinced that the One who made the promise was faithful, it's telling you what Abraham meditated on. And the more he meditated on God, the more he was encouraged that God could do whatever needed to be done. He grew strong in faith.

"One thing I desire of the LORD . . . that I may dwell in the house of the LORD . . . to gaze upon the [stunning] beauty of the LORD." What's your one thing? Tonight, what's your one thing? Do you run to the temple and remember? Or do you once again tell yourself how bad life is, compare your story to the story of the person next to you, rehearse how impossible it is, how overwhelmed you are, let yourself wonder about God? Or do you run and sit and gaze?

I want to give you four things to do. These are very practical. When trouble comes into your door—and it will—here's the first thing: Gaze—not on your trouble, but on the beauty of your Lord. Require yourself to gaze. And let your heart be filled with a sense of the expansive grandeur of His beauty.

Second: Remember. Remember what? That that beauty, by grace, is for you, that He unleashes that beauty for you. My light, my salvation, my stronghold. You see, as you gaze, you begin to see life with accuracy; as you remember, you begin to get hold of your identity again. I am connected by grace to this beauty. This is who I am. If this is who He is (are you listening to me?), this is who I am. Celebrate!

Third: Rest. Rest. You have reason for rest. Rest is never found in your understanding, because there will always be mystery in your life. Rest is not found in your ability, because you will always be in moments of inability. Rest is found in the One who rules it all and understands it all and has no inability whatsoever in His existence. Rest is found in a Person.

Don't run to your brain—it won't help. Gaze, remember, rest.

Now, watch. Now, act. Now you're ready to act, because you're living now in the glory of who God is; you're living in the reality of who, by grace, you are. You've got a heart at rest. Now you can make wise, good decisions—you can act.

Peace in times of trouble begins with sound theology, but it's rooted in the worship of God. Do you want peace in times of trouble? Stop trying to figure out your trouble. Do you want peace in times of trouble? Stop wondering why you have the trouble and somebody else doesn't. Do you want peace in times of trouble? Begin to worship God. Give your heart to worship God.

"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD." There exists, in our Lord, a beauty that is infinitely greater than any ugly thing we will ever face in our life, and the only way to understand your "ugly" is to look at it through the lens of God's beauty. May God help us, by grace, to do that. Let's pray.

Lord, what can I say but thank You, thank You, thank You for Psalm 27. Oh, I am so apt to forget who You are and who I am by Your grace. I'm so oriented to meditate on my trouble more than I gaze upon You. Oh, come to me, enable me—and all my sisters here—by your grace, in those moments to gaze, to remember, to rest, and then to act.

Thank You for hearing us. Thank You that you never turn a deaf ear to the cries of Your people. In Jesus' name, amen.