Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Will You Choose Bitterness or Joy?

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Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth nearing her sixtieth birthday.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The best preparation for getting older is to trust Him and lean on Him when you’re younger.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A Place of Quiet Rest, for Thursday, August 30, 2018.

Nancy: I have a friend who’s going through some excruciatingly painful circumstances. She’s not an older woman, but she’s dealing with years of childhood trauma and sexual abuse as an adult. She knew that I was preparing to teach on Psalm 71.

She sent me a text a couple of days ago, and she said, “I don’t remember what Psalm 71 is, but you should make it to be about how we just need Jesus to come rescue us fast.”

Well, actually, she couldn’t have come up with a better description of this psalm. It is about how we just need Jesus to come rescue us fast. In this psalm, as we saw yesterday, the psalmist is getting older, and he’s facing weakness, adversity, and opposition, and so he turns the challenges into prayer. The whole psalm is a prayer.

So I want to read this psalm. I’ve been meditating on this, as I get ready to turn sixty next week. I’m not feeling depressed or despondent or discouraged—well, some days I do, truth be told—but that doesn’t have as much to do with aging as just the fact that some days are harder, and some days it’s more tempting to give in to discouragement. But I am wanting to be intentional about growing older, to be intentional about a grace-filled, Christ-dependent life as I get older. I figure there’s no time like a sixtieth birthday to be thinking about that.

So let me read this psalm. It’s a little lengthy, but I want to just wash you with His Word no matter how young or old you may be, whatever birthday you may be facing, because this psalm has beautiful, rich insight for us as every season of life. And then we’ll talk a little bit about it after I read it.

This is the Word of the Lord:

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me . . . (vv. 1–2).

That’s what my friend said, “I need this psalm to be about how we need Jesus to come rescue us fast.” And you’ll see this theme throughout the psalm.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, "God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him." O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! May my accusers be put to shame and consumed; with scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt.

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come (vv. 2–18).

And then we see here what I think is one of the turning points in this psalm where prayer and praise become steadfast hope, confidence in the Lord. Verse 19:

I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt (vv. 19–24).

This is the Word of the Lord.

Oh Lord, even as we look to You, and we look to this psalm, this is the inspired Word that You have given us for every season of life. But especially for some of us, as we’re getting older—well, we’re all getting older—some of us facing maybe older old, and we thank You for how You speak to us in this every season of life. So give us ears to hear and hearts to receive what You would say to us by Your Spirit this day. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

I want to focus on just two primary things today, and then we’ll wrap up our meditations on aging from this psalm tomorrow. But we see that the psalmist looks up, and he looks back. Tomorrow we’ll talk about how he looks out, but today, he looks up, and he looks back.

As you read through this psalm, there are fourteen references to the Lord by name, and twelve of those references are directly to the Lord. He’s not just talking about God, He’s talking to God. So in his adversity, in his diminished strength as he’s getting older, he lifts his eyes upward, and he cries out to the Rock of Ages.

He uses different names for the Lord. He uses twice, O Lord, YHWH, Jehovah—that’s capital L-O-R-D. Then he uses once, O Lord, with lower-case L-o-r-d, that’s the word Adonai. So he’s familiar with these different names of God. He talks about God, Elohim, the powerful one—six or eight times in there.

Then he talks in verse 16 about Lord GOD, that’s Adonai YHWH, that’s a phrase there—so he combines those names. Then in verse 22 he talks about the Holy One of Israel.

Isn’t it a sweet thing as we get older to know God by name, and to know what His names mean and what they promise us and how they strengthen us? “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to him and are safe,” says Proverbs 18:10.

Where do you run when you find yourself afflicted, worn out, needing encouragment, needing strength? Where do you run first? Do you run to the Lord?

As you read this prayer, this psalm, you see that he looks up. He looks up to the Lord. And he does this in two ways: He does it in prayer, and he does it in praise. You see that throughout this psalm.

This psalm is a prayer. That is just an observation about this psalm. But I think it’s a beautiful insight about how to age with grace, and that is to keep talking to God about it. Keep telling Him what you’re going through. Be honest with Him. This is his first line of defense, not his last option when he’s run out of all other options. He cries out to God. He pleads with God.

Verse 2: “In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!”

Verse 3: “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.”

Verse 4: “Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.”

Verse 9: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.”

Every season of life has its challenges, and some people can face a lot of challenges—physical challenges, emotional challenges, relational challenges—that can happen when you’re fourteen. So whatever season of life, the psalmist brings his problems, his concerns, and his challenges, his needs to the Lord.

Now, I don’t want to belabor this—it seems so obvious—but why is it so often the Lord is the last place we turn? Why not turn to Him first? Where do we turn when we’re in trouble? Where is the first place we look? Do we go running to a friend? Do we go running to a counselor? Do we go running to a pill? Do we go running away from the problem? Where do we run?

Now, thank God for friends. Thank God for godly counselors. Thank God for meds that can help us with certain issues where there are physiological things involved. But the first place we need to learn to look in all of life is up—up. “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Remember that old song? "Oh what needless pain we often bear because we forget to take it to the Lord in prayer."

Now, praying doesn’t mean all your problems go away. This psalmist still has problems. He’s still got enemies. God’s not just going to, in most cases, wave a magic wand and all the problems are gone. That’s what keeps him praying.

You’ve heard me say many times over the years here on Revive Our Hearts that anything that makes me need God is—what?—a blessing. And don’t you think that maybe it’s out of the goodness and kindness of God that, as we get older, He keeps us needing Him so we’ll keep crying out to Him?

And maybe when all other means of help and support have failed, they aren’t available, we don’t know where else to turn, what else to do—look up. Oh Lord, oh God, oh Lord God, Elohim, Adonai, YHWH—each of those names say something precious about who God is and how He cares for His people. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

I’m preaching to myself at this point because I can think of a lot of things I do before taking it to the Lord in prayer so often. Now I have a sweet husband, and I can take it to him. But my husband is not God. He wants to hear about what’s on my heart, but the wisest thing he does is take my hand and say, “Let’s pray about it. Let’s take it to the Lord in prayer.” I watch him do that with circumstance after circumstance. As I get older, that’s what I want to do—look up in prayer.

Now, he also looks up in praise, the psalmist does. He praises when it’s not easy. He offers the sacrifice of praise in the face of mistreatment and abuse and false accusers.

So how do you praise God when you’ve got cruel and unjust men and the wicked around you? With all these things conspiring against you, how do you praise God then? Well, Scripture is filled with examples of people who did that.

Paul and Silas in a Roman cell, bleeding from their wounds. And what are they doing in the middle of the night? Singing hymns to God. It’s amazing.

I’ve watched Joni Tada do this from her wheelchair, praising the Lord. She’s a woman who knows how to overcome the enemy with praise to God.

Praise causes Satan to flee. It changes our own perspective. When our eyes are filled with tears and we lift them up, and we say, “God, You are faithful; You are good; You are true,” we’re counseling our own hearts with what is true. And God comes racing, I believe, to the scene of our praise.

The Scripture tells us that “God inhabits the praises of His people.” So as we get older, as we have these enemies and these adversities and these adversaries, we need to lift up praise to the Lord.

And the psalmist does this. He praises the character of God. You go through this psalm, and you look for the character of God. You see, five times here, I think, His righteousness is mentioned.

Now, the righteousness of God in this psalm is in contrast to the cruelty and the injustice of men. So you may be surrounded by cruel and unjust people, and that’s where you need to lift your eyes up and say, “I praise You, God, that You are not cruel. You are not unjust. You are righteous. You are not wicked. You are righteous.”

So as you look at the hard circumstances, the hard people, the character of God is just the opposite of that. So the psalmist praises God’s righteousness.

  • He praises God’s glory in verse 8.
  • He talks about God’s salvation in verse 15.
  • He talks about God’s wondrous works in verse 17.
  • In verse 18 he talks about the power of God and the strength of God.
  • In verse 22 he talks about the faithfulness of God.

He praises the character, the works, the salvation of God, and then in that opening paragraph, verses 3–5, he says God is: My strong refuge. He is my rock. He is my fortress. He is my hope. He is my trust.

What’s the word that appears with each of those different descriptions of God? My. He’s mine. He isn’t just all these things for other people. He isn’t just all these things for the whole world in general. Of course, God is a strong refuge. He’s a rock. He’s a fortress. He’s a hope. He’s a trust. No! He’s MY strong refuge. He’s MY rock. He’s MY fortress. He’s MY hope. He’s MY trust. He’s all those things and more for me.

Sometimes you have to tell yourself those things when you’re not even sure you believe it. Certainly when you don’t feel it. You counsel your heart accordingly with truth. This is what praise does. Praise exalts who God is because it’s objectively true even when we feel that it’s not true.

So, “Lord, You are my strong refuge.” This is speaking the truth to combat the lies of the enemy.

I think about that song I’ve heard the Gettys sing, you probably have, too:

Lift high the name of Jesus,
Of Jesus our King.
Make known the power of His grace,
The beauty of His peace.

Remember how His mercy reached
And we cried out to Him.
He lifted us to solid ground,
To freedom from our sin.

“Oh sing my soul,
And tell all He’s done,
Till the earth and heavens are filled with His glory!”1

How did the earth and heavens get filled with the glory of God? Well, one way is the people of God singing and telling the praises of God. Do you ever think about that? You say, “God, fill this earth with Your glory.”

And God says, “Why don’t you do that?”

When we speak the praise of God, when we tell, when we proclaim, when we lift it to God, when we share it with others, when we say, “He is my refuge. He’s my fortress. He’s my rock. He’s my hope. He’s my trust,” we’re filling the earth, or at least our little space of earth, with the glory of God.

“Oh sing my soul, and tell all He’s done, till the earth and heavens are filled with His glory!”

Praise lays hold of the promises of God. It thanks God in advance that His promises will be fulfilled.

The opposite of praise is—what?—mumbling, grumbling, complaining, bitterness, resentment, anger, fear.

I was meeting with a group of women recently. They had been studying my Adorned book. It was at the end of their study, and they were sharing some of the things God had spoken to them about in that study.

There was a woman, maybe a little older than I am, who spoke up, and she said, “I am the product of a really, really bitter mother.” I don’t know what all the circumstances are, but she said, “I’ve been through some really hard things in my life. I’ve been through some hard things in the last couple of years.” And some of it seemed to center around her mother, and she said, “I want my mother to read this book.” (laughter)

And then she said, “Here’s what I have learned: Bitterness is a choice, and so is joy.”

Bitterness is a choice, and so is joy. So here she’s been given this inheritance of bitterness, an angry spirit. And she said, “Now I have kids and grandkids.” And that’s what she would be passing on to them, that bitterness that she got from her mother. “But (she said) I realized I don’t have to be bitter. Bitterness is a choice, and so is joy.”

And what she was saying was, “I choose joy. I choose joy. I’m going to praise the Lord. Yes, my circumstances are hard." (Somebody told me afterwards, "She’s been through a lot in the last couple of years.") I don’t know what the details are. I don’t know what her circumstances are, but she has a lot of reasons that, humanly speaking, she could be resentful, angry, but she said, “I’m going to choose joy.”

How do you do that? You give thanks to God. You thank Him for being your strong refuge, your fortress, your protector, your keeper, your hope, your trust.

So the psalmist looks up. He looks up in prayer and in praise. And then he looks back—he looks back. Look at verse 5:

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

He clearly is not young anymore, but he’s looking back to his youth, and he’s saying, “Lord, You were true to me back then.”

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb (v. 6).

He said, “I’ve thought, I’ve pondered about all the ways throughout the course of my life that God has been present. God has been involved. God has been faithful. God has been trustworthy. I couldn’t have been born if the Lord hadn’t taken me out.”

You say, “It’s your mother who gave birth to you. It’s the doctor who assisted at your birth.” But he’s saying, “Oh, but God was there. I wouldn’t have lived if God had not been there, if God had not been faithful. You are He. I’ve leaned on You.

“When I realized it, I was leaning on You. When I was two-days old and I had no awareness of You, I was still leaning on You, even though I didn’t know I was.” And then, as he got older, there were days when he consciously leaned on the Lord. “You were faithful. You were true.”

And he says in verse 17, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.”

I’m just curious—how many of you here would say that you grew up in a Christian home, and you have followed Jesus pretty much since you were a child? Maybe half of us in this room—a good number.

That’s my story. I’ve been in church since nine months before I was born. Now, being in church doesn’t make you a Christian, but I had the joy of growing up in a home—as did my husband—where God was feared and loved and worshiped and praised, honored. His Word was exalted. We grew up hearing the Word of God, hearing the gospel. Both of us came to faith in Christ as young children and have had the joy of walking with Him for many, many years.

Now, sometimes when that’s your story, it can be a little tempting to envy those have more of story—those who came to Jesus later in life, after they had tasted and experienced and gone their own way. They have a more dramatic testimony. They can remember what it was like to be an enemy of God. The story of their conversion is more like Saul on the road to Damascus.

Sometimes you hear those stories, and you think, Wow! Wouldn’t it be neat if I could have a story that’s more interesting?

That may be your story, and if it is, that’s your story. That’s the story of God’s faithfulness in your life. But there’s nothing small or limiting or insignificant about a story of God keeping you all your life, walking with you, leading you to love Him, drawing your heart to Himself.

So the psalmist looks back on his life, and he says he’s so grateful for a godly heritage. And because of that godly heritage . . . For you it may be all of your life that you’ve had that heritage. nd for you, maybe you didn’t come to that until later in life—but you still have history with God.

That’s what this psalmist says. “I have history with God. God has history with me.” He remembers, he reflects on God’s mercies and God’s grace in past trials. And this becomes the basis for his hope now as an older man, as he’s facing new challenges—weakness, affliction, opposition.

One commentator on this psalm, William MacDonald, said:

Happy is the man who can say that God has been his hope and trust from childhood. If he has leaned on Jehovah from his birth, he will not lack support in the sunset years of life.

I love that! Somehow, as I’m getting older, it seems like there are even more unknowns. Robert and I have been working on our wills. We’ve been looking for cemetery plots. (This is not an announcement. We don’t have any reason to believe this around the corner, but those are things we probably should have done some time ago. We’re doing them now. We don’t know.) As we’re doing these things we realize there’s more we don’t know about the future than what we do know—which is basically nothing.

We don’t know what God’s story is for us in the future, but we know what His story is for us in the past. We see Him writing our story, And places of that story have been hard. Robert lost his first wife to cancer after forty-four years of marriage, a two-and-a-half year battle of ovarian cancer. That was a hard season.

You’ve been through hard seasons. You look back, but you see the faithfulness of God. You see the goodness of God. You see the mercy of God. You see the protection of God. You see that He’s met your needs, His provision.

So I want to say a word to younger women—some of you teenage gals in here today and younger women listening to this podcast or broadcast. By the way, if you’re not thinking about getting older, you need to start. Everybody, no matter what your age, should be thinking about this. I’m not saying you ought to go walk through cemeteries every day of your life, but you ought to do it occasionally. Think about it.

The best preparation for getting older is to trust Him and lean on Him when you’re younger. The more you do that when you’re younger, the better the reservoir you’ll have to draw from of God’s faithfulness.

If you’re going to try to be self-sufficient and independent now, when you think you’re strong as a young woman, you will have nowhere to turn when your strength begins to ebb.

So honor God now when you’re young. Trust Him when you think you’re strong. And realize that, apart from Him, you have, and you are, nothing. As you learn the habit, the discipline of leaning hard on Him . . . Song of Solomon, “the bride leaning on her beloved,” that’s a picture that becomes more and more precious to me as I get older.

So years of knowing and walking with God can lay a foundation for old age. And, by the way, it’s not too late to start. If you haven’t been leaning, if you haven’t been trusting . . . You say, “I’m sixty-five years old. That’s awfully late.” Start today—leaning, trusting.

Trust Him when you’re young if you want to have the strength, the inclination, the heart to follow Him when you’re old.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been looking at the significance of trusting God to lead from your youth and into your later years.

This program is the second in a series she’s teaching on Psalm 71. You can find the audio and transcript of yesterday’s program on our website, ReviveOurHearts.com.

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As you get older, do you feel discouraged, like you have less and less to offer the Lord? As she nears her sixieth birthday, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will show you how to lean on the Lord in your weakness and use His strength to encourage others. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is spreading the hope of Jesus to the world. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1 Keith & Kristyn Getty, Ed Cash, Fionan de Barra. © 2013 Getty Music Publishling (BMII), Alletrop Music (BMI), and Fionan de Barra (All right admin. by musicservices.com).

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