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At Wits' End

A sermon by Coty Pinckney on Psalm 107. Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 7/7/96


Are you at wits' end? Not, you kids, at John Avery Whitaker's "Whit's End," although you adults who have never listened to "Adventures in Odyssey" should do so. But, are you at your wits' end: Where you don't know what to do, when you've hit bottom, and you feel as if there is no way to get out of the mess you have made?

We sang this hymn this morning:

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word
What more can he say than to you he has said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled.

In God's word are found all the answers to the problems that face us when we are at our wits' end. The Psalm we are going to look at this morning -- Psalm 107 -- is particularly written for people at their wits' end. It is a Psalm of restoration, a psalm of hope, a psalm of testimony. As I stand up here, and as I was contemplating the words we were singing earlier, I was thinking, "I'm not telling these brothers and sisters anything they don't already know." And I remembered what Peter says at the beginning of his second letter, where he writes: "I shall always be ready to remind you of these things even though you already know them." You have heard about the faithfulness of God, you have heard about his lovingkindness, you have heard of his mercy -- I will remind you of all of those this morning. We need to be reminded, don't we. We need to be reminded because Satan tries to tell us that these things are not true. But they are true -- and we will proclaim them this morning.

Let's begin at the end of the Psalm:

Let those who are wise give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Let us be wise this morning, give heed to these things, and consider God's love for us.

Let us turn to Psalm 107. I will read through all of it. Note and consider the structure of the Psalm as we read together. The first three verses constitute an introduction, giving us an overall theme. Then there are testimonies from four groups of people. There are testimonies from people who are frantic and restless, there are testimonies from people who are bound in slavery, there are testimonies from people who are discouraged and hopeless, and then testimonies from those who are hit by storms. We will focus on these testimonies. Then from verse 33 to 42 the Psalmist speaks more generally of the way that God works in the world, concluding with verse 43, which we just read. So note that structure as we read through the Psalm.

Psalm 107:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say this-- those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. 5 They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. 6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. 8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, 11 for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. 12 So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. 13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. 15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 16 for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18 They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20 He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. 21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

23 Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. 28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. 32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, 34 and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. 35 He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; 36 there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. 37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; 38 he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish. 39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow; 40 he who pours contempt on nobles made them wander in a trackless waste. 41 But he lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks. 42 The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths. 43 Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.

Let us pray:

Lord, this is your word to us this morning. Help us to meditate on it, to consider it, to give heed to it, to take it to heart. I pray for those here this morning who are at their wits' end, that they may hear your word, and cry out to you, and that you would rescue them in their distress. In Jesus' name, Amen.

We will structure the rest of our time together by looking at:

THE PEOPLE WHO HURT

The Psalm tells of four different types of persons, all of whom are hurting. The first category of people who give a testimony here, beginning in verse 4, are those who "are wandering in a wilderness, in a desert region." They are looking for a city of habitation -- or we might translate this more literally as they are looking for "a place to sit." They are looking for a guarded place. One of the words that is translated "thirsty" here could also be translated "frantic." These are frantic people, searching for something to put their trust in, searching for something to hold on to. Do we have people like that today? People who are wandering from one thing to another? Perhaps something that is sinful, that they are holding on to, but perhaps not: perhaps they are looking for fulfillment in careers, they are looking for fulfillment in marriage, they are looking for fulfillment in relationships with others, and they can't find it. They are looking again and again, they are frantic, they are restless. This is the first category of hurting people.

The second category, that described beginning in verse 10, those who are dwelling in darkness, in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains because they had rebelled against the word of God --these people clearly are suffering the consequences of their rebellion. They have heard God's word, they have heard it spoken, they have seen it work, perhaps in the lives of others. But they have rejected it, and they instead have chosen to seek other ways of finding fulfillment in this world. And where do they find themselves? They find themselves prisoners in chains. How can we apply that today? Who today is in chains, is a prisoner of some type? I suggest that there are lots of types of chains that can bind us: we can be slaves to different types of sin; we can be a slave to alcohol; we can be a slave to bitterness and anger in our heart -- we want to get out of it, and we can't; we can be a slave to sexuality -- to sexual sin or to pornography; we can be a slave to all sorts of sinfulness. We can also be a slave to good things: we can be a slave to our family, being bound to our family in such a way as to make us avoid activities in which God wants us to participate. But this category of people discussed in verses 10 to 16 are those who are bound, and they have tried to get out, and they can't. They can do nothing to free themselves from their bondage.

The third category of people is described beginning in verse 17. These are fools; they are involved in sinfulness; it says their iniquity has caused them to be afflicted. These people are discouraged and hopeless. It says that they abhor all kinds of food: what could give them sustenance they now reject. They have bought the devil's lie that there is no hope for them. They are ready to give up and die. David Wilkerson tells a story of a man in this situation, a pastor that he knows, who had been having some difficult times in his marriage. He and his wife ended up going over the brink one night, and he yelled at her, ran out, and went back to the alcohol habit which, by God's grace, he had whipped many years before. He returned in the middle of the night drunk. The next morning he went to see David Wilkerson, and told him, "David, I just need to leave the ministry. I cannot continue in a life like this. I've lost it; I am worthless; there is nothing that I have to offer any more." This is the type of person described in verses 17 -22: the one who has indeed sinned, but who then is believing Satan's lie that because of that sin, his life is hopeless and worthless, and there is no way that God can use him anymore.

Verses 23 to 32 describe people who are doing business on the sea, and in the middle of their business they are going out and encounter a terrible storm. Now it does not indicate that these people have done anything wrong; they are simply engaged in the normal acts of life. But in the middle of those acts, a storm comes up. Who sends that storm? Verse 25: "GOD spoke, and raised up a stormy wind which lifted up the waves of the sea." GOD sends a storm into their lives not in consequence of sin but perhaps to get their attention. So these people are those who are involved in careers, in work, or anything in the normal course of life. And a tragedy hits, a trial comes upon them that they cannot handle. They think that they are in control of their lives, they think that their businesses are firmly established, and suddenly -- snap! -- there it goes; it's gone. What they trusted in, what they thought was set up for them, what they thought was a sure thing, no longer is. And they come to our theme in verse 27, they come to their wits' end. There is nothing more that they can do. These are the four categories of people who hurt: The frantic and restless, looking for some security; those who are chained and bound in slavery to some type of sin; those who are discouraged, who feel hopeless, and are ready to quit; and those who think everything is going well, and then suddenly are hit with a tragedy or a storm, or some unexpected occurrence that drives them to their knees.

THE PEOPLE WHO CRY OUT

In this Psalm, wonderfully, all four categories of these people respond to their crises in the same way. The people who hurt become the people who cry out. They cry out to the LORD in their trouble, the psalmist repeats four times, and God answers them, and reaches out to them, draws them out of their distress. In Charles Spurgeon's commentaries on the Psalms -- which I commend to you highly-- he writes this: "Some men will never pray till they are half-starved; and for their best interests, it is far better for them to be empty and faint than to be full and stouthearted. If hunger brings us to our knees it is more useful to us than feasting; if thirst drives us to the fountain, it is better than the deepest draughts of worldly joy; and if fainting leads to crying, it is better than the strength of the mighty." Sometimes we need a tragedy, we need slavery, we need to come to our wits' end for us to cry out to God. And that is why God sent this storm for the people on the seas, so they would come to their wits' end, so they would see their utter dependence on him, and they would turn from the people who hurt to the people who cry out.

THE GOD WHO HEARS

Each of these testimonies begins with a description of the people, tells of their crying out, and then the focus turns to God in each case. The theme becomes A God Who Hears. They cried out to the LORD in their trouble, he saved them out of their distresses, in verse 14 "He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart." The God Who Hears. I want to bring out 3 of the characteristics of the God Who Hears that the Psalmist highlights. First of all, this is a God who can give us his undivided attention. Sometimes we think of God as having to hear all these important prayers that so many people are offering up, and we think, "maybe I really shouldn't bother him with this, maybe he is too busy with other matters." Sometimes we think of God as our natural father, a harried father, a harried mother who doesn't have time to deal with all of his children. Now, some of you think that any family with six children always must have harried parents. It usually is not that way in our household, but we do have days like this: we are trying to sit down to read with one child, then the phone rings and we begin to get up, then we hear the baby crying in the bed, and then the 3 year old cries out, "Mommy, come wipe my bottom!" and we begin to think, "Aaaah, I can't do all these things! I can't meet all the needs of six people! I can't answer six questions all at the same time!" Well, we humans are limited in this way: we can't wipe bottoms and read books and answer telephones all at the same time. But what about God? God is not the harried parent. God is always there to listen to YOUR call. He can always give you his full attention. Calling on him is never a burden that he cannot handle; rather, it is a sign that you trust him, and that you love him. When I am in that situation, when all of my children are calling out to me at the same time, I wish that I could read to one and help another with his schoolwork and feed and comfort the baby and wipe the bottom of the 3 year old and do all of these things at the same time. But God can: he can listen to Christine, and he can listen to me, and he can listen to each one of us out there and meet each one us exactly where we are, giving each of us his undivided attention. The God Who Hears is the God of undivided attention.

Secondly, God, in addition to giving us his undivided attention, gives us his unqualified acceptance. Remember the first and fourth categories of people -- the frantic and those hit by storms. There is nothing in the Psalm that tells us that these people were suffering because of their sin. We don't know that there is any sin involved -- there may have been, but we don't know of any. The second and the third are very clearly suffering because of their sinfulness -- they are rebelling against God, they are fools. But in every case -- whether sin is involved or not involved -- when these people cry out to God, how does he respond? He answers them! He comes to them in the middle of their distress. He welcomes them with open arms. He is the loving Father who is seeing his prodigal child return, who is waiting with open arms, who celebrates that return, who brings to himself all who do return. God's steadfast love, his covenant love, the love that he gives to those who belong to him, is never qualified, is never subject to standards of behavior. Whenever we turn to him, he welcomes us -- no matter what sin we may have committed. The God Who Hears is the God Who Gives His Unqualified Acceptance.

Finally, the God Who Hears is the God of Unequaled Power. In verse 20, to those who were discouraged, the Psalmist says, "He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. " He sent his word, and they were set free. Remember when Jesus says something much the same? He says in the book of John "If you continue in my word, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." The God Who Hears is the God of undivided attention, unqualified acceptance, and unequaled power. He has the power to shatter the gates of bronze, to burst the bars of iron asunder, to free us from whatever enslaves us, to lift us up out of our discouragement, to rescue us from the storms of life: a God of unequaled power.

GOD'S PEOPLE WHO WORSHIP

So we have discussed the People Who Hurt, the People Who Cry Out, and the God Who Hears. In each of these testimonies we come then to God's People Who Worship. These people who hurt and cry out respond to God's answering their cries with unequaled power by worshipping. What is worship in this Psalm? I suggest that three facets of worship are brought out in the Psalm. First of all, and most obviously, there is a phrase which is repeated in verses 6, 15, 21, and 31: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his lovingkindness, and for his wonders to the sons of men." The first type of worship is THANKING him for what he has done for you; thanking God and praising him for the great work he has done in answering your prayer and drawing you out of the troubles that beset you. That is the first type of worship, and we frequently think of worship in these terms.

A second type of worship in this Psalm is found in verses 22 and 32: Verse 22 says "Let them tell of his works with joyful singing;" verse 32, "Let them extol him also in the congregation of the people and praise him at the seat of the elders." How is this different from thanking God? In these verses the people are also telling others of God's wonderful work in their lives. One part of worship is thanking and praising God individually, on our own, but a second aspect of worship is telling others the great things that God has done in your life -- how he has been faithful, how he has rescued you, so that you may encourage others and bring glory to God through what he has done in your life. We will have an opportunity to worship in this way during Sunday School, to share with others about how God has broken our bonds and lifted us up out of despair.

But there is a third type of worship that takes place in this Psalm. This is frequently not considered worship at all, but I would like to suggest that the crying out itself is an act of worship. By crying out to God we are acknowledging our own inability to do anything for ourselves. We are saying, "God, YOU are the one who has the power and the ability and the love to lift me out of this situation; You are the one who can do this." We are acting out what we have learned through the Scriptures: that we can accomplish nothing on our own, and that God has all power. When we cry out to God we are worshipping him. True worship is humbling oneself before God, admitting that you are powerless to do anything, and pleading for his help. Then, when help comes, worship is acknowledging that it is God and not you who lifted you out of the trouble, and so offering him praise and thanks.

We have looked at the people who hurt, and the people who cry out; we have talked about this God who hears, and our proper response of worshipping him. We sang this morning:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow,
for I will be with thee thy troubles to bless
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress (that is, set apart or make holy the distress that you are in).

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
my grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume and they gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes.
That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

Have you been at wits' end? Have you cried out in your troubles? Has God proven faithful? If so, then please do share it with us, help us to hear, so that we can rejoice with you, so that we can see a bit more of the way that our God works. Some of you are in the midst of this now -- you have cried out and may have felt that God has not answered. God does not always bring us out of troubles just like that, but he is there with us in the midst of them. That is his promise to us. Remember Paul writes, "I have learned to be content whatever my situation " because he knew that God was with him. God's promise to us in this Psalm is that no matter where we are, even at wits' end, God always answers when we cry out to him, regardless of our fault in getting ourselves into the mess.

Remember the pastor I mentioned earlier? David Wilkerson told him, "I want you to go and read Psalm 107, and meditate on it all night long, then come see me in the morning." When they got together the next day, the pastor said, "I get your point, David. This God is a God who takes broken people and restores them; I want him to restore me."

If you are broken, if you are at your wits' end, remember this: Our God takes broken people, he redeems them, then uses them mightily in his work. So if you are one of these restless and frantic people looking for that place of refuge, that city of habitation, if you are in bondage, if you are discouraged and feeling that God can never use you, if you have been hit hard by an unexpected tragedy or failure, Psalm 107 is for you. God's promise here is that he will never leave you nor forsake you, that he will always answer you, that he will give you his undivided attention, give you his unqualified acceptance, and answer you with unequaled power.

Let us pray:

Lord, thank you for this great Psalm, for this beautiful piece of poetry, for the wonderful promises contained within it. Lord, we praise you that you have given your word to us, and it has the power to break the bonds of canceled sin. So, Lord, we pray for all here this morning who find themselves at wits' end. We pray that you would help them to understand that when we come to our knees, we are where you want us to be. That when we are humbled by our difficulties, we are then in a situation where you can use us and make us new. Give us faith, Lord, in your unqualified acceptance, in your faithful love, and then help us to go forth to worship and praise you, and to call on you in future days of trouble. Help us to share that with others . In Jesus' name, Amen.


This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 7/7/96. This sermon draws even more than usual on the wisdom of Ray Stedman; see his sermon on this passage at the PBC web site.

Copyright © 1996, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, tpinckney@williams.edu, c/o Community Bible Church, Harrison Ave, Williamstown, MA 01267.

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