#PracticingThePresence, Week 3 — The “THROUGHs and TOs” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was actually written in India, on my (relatively new) laptop, in November;
  • Started at a landing point and then meandered through the rest of Psalm 55 to see how it arrived at that landing point;
  • Pointed out that it’s not only the verses of Scripture that are inspired by the design and the structure … in this case, the flow of Psalm 55;
  • Taught that getting to the conclusion of Psalm 55:23 — “as for me, I will trust in You” — requires going through the turbulence of Psalm 55:1-22;
  • Had this bottom line that we distributed on a memory card:  To get TO trust you have to go THROUGH trauma.


Have you ever noticed that in order to get TO something, you usually have to go THROUGH something else?  And the longer the THRU, the more rewarding the TO?  The more difficult the journey, the more satisfying the destination?

            Very likely, I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.  Maybe I’m just giving you a perspective and some language for this thing you lived through and experienced dozens if not hundreds of times.  Lord, I know of many among you who have studied, who have sweat, who have borrowed, who have tested, and now finally, years later, you HAVE it:  that ever elusive but deeply rewarding degree.  Could be undergrad or Masters or even Law or Med School and then for the very smartest, I mean, the brainiest, it’s the M. Div. & you’re ready for ministry!  Long THROUGH, deeply rewarding TO.  It’s why graduation is such a DEAL … because matriculation was such a burden.

            And then others of you, maybe it was a bit different.  You planned, you borrowed, you saved, you planned, you dreamed, you met, and it was all around a WEDDING.  I’m there a lot and it’s always astounding how quickly the ceremony is done when compared with how lengthy the buildup was.  Hopefully, it’s all a really good THROUGH to TO.  If not, there’s another lengthy THROUGH to TO … THROUGH litigation to get TO divorce.

            And goodness, women again, a lot of you know what it’s like to go THROUGH labor to get TO delivery.  And baby.  Thought about that name, “labor”?  They don’t call it ease, not vacation, not even management.  Labor.  To get TO that baby you gotta go THROUGH that pain.  And guys … I’m not going to forget you because it all applies to summiting a mountain, reaching a weight loss goal, finishing a building campaign!!  It the TO was EASY it would not be nearly as rewarding!  So the harder the THROUGH the more exuberant you when you get TO.  THROUGHS and TOs.

            Well, I kinda love this little bible journey we’re going to take together.  Because there is a much overlooked and yet thoroughly beautiful Psalm loaded up in #55.  And we’re gonna start at the end!  Look how it ends up in 55:23c:

But as for me, I trust in you.

 As for me, I trust in you.  So that’s the landing place, the TO.  David and his songwriting team (I’d love to know the identity of the Lennon to his McCartney, the Henley to his Frey) end the long strange trip of Psalm 55 at a simple (not simplistic) declaration:  they can do what they want, I’ve decided I’m locating my trust in you.  It’s a good place to be.  Maybe you’ve never quite thought about it in those terms, that trusting God is a good place to be.  But have you considered the alternative?  If you don’t trust God, who you gonna call (trust)?  Because the god that is you will always let you down … and you are always your first choice on the WHO TO TRUST list.  So that won’t work.

            And in a way, trusting God – BOTH AS THE DECISION OF A LIFETIME AND IN THE DETAILS OF THE MOMENT!!! – makes me think of those times when Taylor (now 28; that’s why you almost never get baby stories) was about two and she’d run around the house with her hands up in the air like this (DO), saying this:  Daddy hold you!  Daddy hold you!  (Of course, I’d answer, NO, KID, FIGURE IT OUT YOURSELF!)  But that’s what it’s like – the joyful certainty that you don’t have it figured out and you need someone bigger, stronger, and, um, more experienced to take over for awhile.  That’s the TO and it’s quite alright when you get there.  Even if you’re not sure about God yet, or you’ve even decided, “nope, not for me,” I know you’re slightly envious of those who have such confidence that when they call out, someone is answering. 

            But the fascinating thing about Psalm 55 is that to get TO 55:23, you have to go THROUGH 55:1-22!  Not just on paper but IN LIFE!  And the thing that looms large over the entire psalm is betrayal.  Look at 55:1-3:

Listen to my prayer, O God,
    do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
    because of what my enemy is saying,
    because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
    and assail me in their anger.

Now: can you imagine having the NERVE of 55:1?  And by COMMANDING God “do not ignore my plea” that strongly suggests that David & his cohorts feel that in the past God has done precisely that: ignored his plea.  But after that sort of abrupt, nervy opening, we get to the betrayal in 55:3 and still more at 55:12-14:

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

So he is betrayed by a friend.  Man, I have had a friend leverage a private conversation for public gain and it’s infuriating.  A betrayal of the kind of familiarity that I certainly never signed up for.  I bet a lot of you know what that’s like … someone WAS a friend and now, if they’re lucky, they’re a FRENEMY.  It’s betrayal and it cuts deep and bleeds easily.         

            But there’s more than friends.  Someone here was betrayed by a company – the same company you’d stood by for years didn’t stand by you.  Someone else here was betrayed a school.  And then several someones have been betrayed by a church, a ministry, a pastor.  And then more than a few someones have been betrayed by a spouse.  And wherever you are along that spectrum, there’s something deep inside you that thinks “how can I trust invisible God when I can’t trust his visible people?”  I know it, you know it, and all in all betrayal is pretty thoroughly traumatic.

            Then look at 55:6-7:

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
    and stay in the desert;[c]

I love it!  If it was up to me, if I was trusting myself, I’d ESCAPE.  I’d AVOID.  I might need to address this betrayal and this relationship, but I’d prefer not to.  The great irony is that this verse is at least partially responsible for two songs:  I’ll Fly Away and The Wings Of A Dove and yet BOTH SONGS express a longing CONTRARY to the heart of the psalm!  In 55:6-7, David DOES “want to get away” but that’s because he is depending on himself.  By the Psalm’s end, where his trust has been relocated, he has a different perspective on engagement & escape when it comes to this betrayed relationship.  Which brings up something fairly obvious, at least to me:  if you are a chronic avoider, if you HATE confrontation of any kind, then you know how traumatic & difficult it is to confront the betrayer & engage the betrayal.

            Look at 55:17:

Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.

You know what that is?  Practicing the presence!  Not only as the DECISION OF A LIFETIME BUT IN THE DETAILS OF THE MOMENT!  Especially the details of the moment.  Since we’ve started this series I have been MUCH MORE conscious of this throughout the day and you know what?  I am amazed at how of the ANSWER TO THE QUESTION, “Lord, what would you have me do or say right now?” is “Don’t bring the convo back to YOU, Talbot.  Don’t try to impress with your wit, your experience, your anything.  Just leave it be and let me take over.”  Whew!  Devastatingly needful words for a narcissist! And hearing those words, not just occasionally but repeatedly, has been more than unsettling; it’s been borderline traumatic.

            And then look at 55:20-23b:

My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

Opposition, betrayal, frenemy.  Twenty-two verses pile on top of each other and with the inspired design of the whole thing, it is obvious what God is doing.  Getting to a place of AUTHENTIC trust is not easy or quick or painless.  God knows if you get there that way, then the trust won’t have built up any muscle along the way.  And it will be a fleeting and ineffective trust.  That’s not what God or you want.  God wants trust that endures so he has masterplanned a process to get there that is both arduous and challenging.  Here it is:  To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma.  Yep.  It’s God’s plan, design, gift.  He loves to be trusted so much that he will ensure you have to struggle to get there.  He will.  He absolutely loves it when you trust him.

            I know that because do you remember Daddy hold you! ?  How do you think I felt?  There’s a reason I still remember it 25 years later.  I LOVED IT.  Same with God.  And he knows, in his way of invading our lives that’s not always pleasant but is always for our good, that we get there a lot better in the long run.   To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma. Because I’ve trusted myself and it doesn’t work.  I avoid, escape, dance around betrayal and nothing gets resolved.  I’ve been obsessed by my grudges and my betrayals and you know Facebook just makes things worse, and I’ve decided I am so over my preoccupations of how in my mind I been done wrong.  I’ve lived 1-23b enough that I am ready for the sublime simplicity of 55:23c.  To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma.

            It’s all kinds of trauma. Relational trauma.  Health trauma.  Faith trauma.  Self-inflicted trauma.  And isn’t that the most common kind?  Ha!  Our main betrayers are OURSELVES!  But you know what one of the best parts of my job is?  To hear my AA friends tell me how they wouldn’t trade their experiences for anything.  That includes the DUIs.  The nights in jail.  The lost jobs and broken relationships.  All of them this incredible, unforgettable reminder that the god who is you will always let you down.  The God who is never will.  To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma.

            And because betrayal from others is pretty much at the center of this psalm, can I have a word with those who feel that betrayal acutely today?  It’s this: it is so easy to be obsessed with those who have betrayed you.  And so many sources of conflict these days!  That toxic combination of politics and social media (and a president who, face it, is sort of a lightning rod), and even church.  Listen: what better day than today to give those grudges to God.  Because focusing on them hasn’t helped you one bit.  Psalm 55 moves so skillfully from OBSESSION with a grudge to becoming the POSSESSION of God himself.  And he might CAUSE, and he certainly ALLOWS betrayal into your life so you will fall at the feet in deepest trust of the One who himself knows the pain of betrayal but who cannot himself betray his children.

To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma.

            So, here:  we have a card up here, laminated and such.  It says simply To get TO trust, you have to go THROUGH trauma and then Psalm 55:23c on the bottom of it.  I want to invite those of you who ready to head down the arduous road to enduring trust, come, pick one up, and feel free to stay up here and pray ….