by Eric Elder
Note from Eric: I shared a message this week at our church that I thought you might like to hear on the topic of “Expectancy,” being expectant that God will show up, especially when you feel like He might be farthest away. You can listen to the 20 minute message at the link below, or read the transcript that follows. Also, if you’re thinking about coming to our Ranch Retreat next month, will you send me a quick note? I have some special instructions for you, plus a way to attend at no cost or a lower cost if that will help you. Just reply to this email. Thanks!
ERIC: Thanks, Will. Great worship. A nice transition from busy days or whatever you’ve been doing today, just to come into the presence of God.
My name is Eric Elder, and I’ve been part of Care Groups for a few years, helping leading care groups and being in care groups. I know what it’s like to come on Thursday nights and sometimes it’s really a hard thing to get here, and other times it’s what you’re looking forward to and can’t wait to get to all week. Regardless, I’m just glad you’re here. I’m glad you made it.
I want to talk to you tonight about “Expectancy,” just really expecting that God will show up and speak to you tonight, that He will really give you what you need, that He’ll help answer the questions that are on your heart. I think a lot of what Care Groups is about is giving you that hope, hope that God will continue to walk with you through whatever you’re going through.
I’m not here to compare my struggles with your struggles and I don’t want to get into that kind of battle, but I can say that I’ve had enough, enough to know that sometimes you lose hope and you just wonder, “Is God going to really be here for me today, and tomorrow and next week?” And I want to tell you He is, and He will be.
I want to look with you at Psalm 73 tonight and look at this man named Asaph who got really ticked at God; and how God met him. If you have your Bible you can read along. Psalm 73, starting in verse 1:
“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me…” (Psalm 73:1-16).
I’m going to stop there. I’ve had a chance to look through this and to get a feeling for what Asaph was feeling and he was pretty ticked. He was saying, “Look at all the people who aren’t following God and how they seem to be prospering. They seem to be doing fine. They’re getting promotions. They’re getting everything. They’re increasing in wealth and all kinds of things and here I’ve tried to keep myself pure. I’ve tried to do what’s right, and all these terrible things are happening to me.”
In verse 2 he sort of gives away how he’s feeling. He said: “As for me, my feet had almost slipped. I had nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
He said he almost lost it. He almost lost his grip on life, his grip on God, because he didn’t think that things were working out fair for him.
As Jason’s introduced to you last week, we’re going to be going through this fall this book on Psalms. It’s by Chip Ingram, it’s called, “Finding God When You Need Him Most.” So on Thursday nights we’re going to be talking to you about it before you go to your smaller care groups. Tonight, the Psalm that Chip Ingram talks about is Psalm 73, and how God met him and spoke to him through this Psalm. This is part of the expectancy that I’d love to instill in you tonight, too.
Chip was at a point where he was about ready to give up on God. He had been a new Christian, a fairly new believer, when he was in high school. He had been dating a girl for two years. He thought this was the woman he was going to marry. He had done everything right. He had met with her parents. He had stayed physically pure. He had done everything he could in those two years.
But as he saw the relationship developing, he saw that his “future wife” was wanting to stay at home and live across the street from her parents and never move away. He on the other hand, knew that he was being called to be a missionary, to move far away, to do all kinds of traveling around the world. He just kept feeling like God was not matching them up, that it just wasn’t right. So he did the hardest thing in his life and he finally broke up with her, not because there was any incompatibility in their relationship, but because he saw they were going in different directions.
He said it was so hard for him, so difficult, and the next year of his life was terrible. He talks about how hard that was, but he thought, maybe it would be like Abraham and Isaac: he was going to sacrifice her, give her up, and then he’ll get her back. God would see how pure and honorable he had been and he’ll get her back. So I’ll just read you this passage from the book, as he was thinking this. He said:
Surely God will reward my faithfulness, I reasoned. Instead, God did the unthinkable.
It was late and I was tired. I played basketball on my college team, and a humiliating home game had just ended. I was emotionally down, physically fatigued, and spiritually frustrated as I trudged up two flights of stairs from the locker room to the exit. With my hair still wet and my jacket over my shoulder, I looked up to see a sight I hadn’t seen in months. Standing at the top of the stairs was my former girlfriend. She was waiting in our spot, next to the railing where she always used to meet me after home games. I could hardly believe my eyes! Instantly I thought, “God has answered my prayers! She is standing there waiting for me, just like the good old days.” As the adrenaline and joy surged through me, I started making plans. We’d go get a bite to eat, and she’d tell me how God had changed her mind about our future.
As the distance between us shortened and my eyes met hers, I sensed something was different. There was no warm smile, no step toward me, no arm around my waist–only an uncomfortable, “Hi, Chip.” Before I could fully grasp what was happening, another player on our team bounced up the stairs, brushed past me, and grabbed her hand. The cold air rushed through the open doors and rolled over my wet hair and numb mind. I watched in stony silence as she put her arm in his, and they walked across campus into the night. Then it hit me: She wasn’t waiting for me. She was waiting for someone else. As the glass doors slowly closed behind them, I felt frozen in time.
A wave of anger swelled up from within the depths of my soul. The emotions shot through me, like pinballs bouncing indiscriminately off every object in sight. But they soon found their target. How could God let this happen to me after the great sacrifice I’d made for him? And of all the players on the team, how could God let her get hooked up with him? I knew what this guy was like. I knew his intentions with girls because of how he bragged about all his former conquests. And God had just let him walk out the door with the girl I loved?
I was livid. Worst of all, I felt betrayed. As I stood motionless in that doorway, I had a mental conversation with God: “Let’s go over this one more time, God. Because of my commitment to you, I broke up with the beautiful girl I love, the girl I want to marry; and that snake is with her right now! You took her away from me and let her go off with him? Our relationship was the best thing you ever gave me, but I can’t have it? Instead, he gets to be with her? And where is her mind? What is she doing? I don’t get it!”
He goes on and on, fuming, livid, feeling like a beast. He was about ready to give up on God and everything that has to do with God. But he had been reading his Bible, reading through the book of Psalms, and he said, essentially, God, I’m going to give you three or four chapters to speak to me and if I don’t hear from you, I’m done. I’m done with You.
So he picked up the Bible where he left off, about Psalm 70, and he read a chapter. Nothing happened. He read another chapter. Nothing. He read another chapter, and his mind was wandering into all kinds of other things. And then he got to Psalm 73. He said it was like a script of what he was going through right at that moment. The Bible said: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet almost slipped. I nearly lost my foothold. I envied the arrogant… I envied these people with their bodies so strong… with pride as their necklace.” And he went on.
Even in the middle of the Psalm, Asaph said:
“I was senseless and ignorant, I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22).
Chip says those were the very words he was using to describe himself as he was walking across campus: “I’m like a beast.” He didn’t know what was wrong with him. Then he continued reading the Psalm. And here’s what Asaph learned, in the middle of the Psalm. In verse 16 he said:
“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:16-28).
He said that turned him around. He felt like God was speaking directly to him. And he said it was going to impact a lot of people. He had a Bible study of six guys that he was leading; he had led several of them to Christ. And he had tried to think what would happen to them when I walk away from God? They might all walk away too. He tried to think of all the different influences this was going to have.
But God did show up and He did speak to him.
I’ve had this happen to me so many times, and especially in the book of Psalms. I’ve heard other people say this, that the Psalms run such a range of emotions. When you’re most excited, that’s what some of the Psalms are. They’re songs, so there are songs of excitement, there are songs of anger, there are songs of frustration, there are songs of victory. There’s so much in there. If you’ll just start flipping through the Psalms, and I encourage you to do that this week, if you’d at a point where you’re not sure what to do, just start reading through the Psalms. Flip through a few: 4, 5, 6, 7, I don’t know how many, but there will be a point where you’ll say, “Wow, I can really identify with this.” Whether it’s David going through the struggles of dealing with the sin in his own life, things he’s done to himself. Or someone else who’s been beat or hurt by others and mistreated in the wrong way. Or someone else who is just ecstatic because something great has just happened to them.
If you’ll just read through the Psalms, you’ll be amazed that you’ll find something that you can latch onto.
And typically the Psalms end on a high note. Even as angry as people are when they come and pour forth their stuff to God, by the end of the Psalm, on most occasions, people come back and say, “OK God, I’ve had it out with You, I’ve vented, and now, come and speak to me and help me through the next day.”
This particular passage spoke to me, even a few years ago. That very first sentence spoke to me about how God speaks to us in our moment of need.
I was asked to preach a sermon at a church where I was living up in Gridley, Illinois. I was down in St. Louis at the time. I was driving back that same morning and was going to pick up my wife and my kids and run them over to the church where I was going to speak.
It had been sort of a chaotic time. I had flown to Israel. I had been praying for a lady in Houston who was dying of cancer. I had been doing a lot of things and ended up in St. Louis, then I had to get back to this church to preach by 9 o’clock that morning.
So I was up early and I got in the car and I had no idea what I was going to say at the church. But God just kept saying, “Don’t worry about it. I will give you the words to speak.” But that’s not the way I am! I usually write it out word for word. It was like a very scripted thing for me because I just felt more confident that way and I think God honors that as well.
But there was another church in Gridley where they actually don’t prepare the messages. They’re lay people and they get up and do the messages; they’re not paid staff. And they get up, they open the Bible, and whatever page it lands on, they read the scripture and they preach from that. And I just thought, “All right, I will try that this morning.” There are other godly people in the world who do that, and I’m going to do that.
So I walked into my house about five minutes before it’s time to be at the church. My wife was not exactly happy with me, but this was what we were doing. I drove across town and she said, “What are you going to talk about?” and I said, “You know, I really don’t know. I’m going to open my Bible and see what it says.”
So I stood up there. I had never done this before. I opened the Bible and it landed on Psalm 73. Now I told you I had just been to Israel; I had just been praying for this woman who was dying of cancer. I actually happened to pray for her on Valentine’s Day and it turned out to be a lot of heart issues, so I was praying for her heart, and prayed that God would heal her heart on Valentine’s Day.
And I opened up to Psalm 73 and the first line said: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” And I had just been thinking the whole time about my trip to Israel. I had been thinking about this woman’s heart. And there were “Israel” and “heart.” I just said, “All right, I’ll talk about Israel and I’ll talk about this woman’s heart.” I spoke for about 25 minutes and God said, “That’s it. Stop.” I hadn’t even finished all the stories. But I said, “All right, that’s what You want me to do.” And I sat down. It was one of the most powerful messages that I had ever given, with people’s responses and what they had to say about that.
It was incredible, how God can speak to you, in the moment, when you need Him.
I just want to give you that hope and expectancy, that God really can meet you.
One last story before I go, even this week. Some of you that know me from before, my wife passed away of cancer two years ago this November. I’ve got six kids and I still homeschool the three younger ones. My wife homeschooled all of them and so I’ve taken over that duty. She wanted me to do that as long as I could.
So I’ve gotten out all the books the last couple of weeks. She had them all nice in boxes for all their grades, so we’ve got books from past years, but you always have to buy workbooks and other things to fill in what’s missing. And yet they update the books all the time, so the old workbooks don’t go with the new curriculum, and it’s always a little bit of a hassle.
So I had the books and we’ve been going through with the kids this week starting school and my eighth grade curriculum, the whole thing, I was missing workbooks for all of the lessons. I was starting to add them to my shopping cart on the website where you buy the books. But they were the wrong edition so they weren’t going to match with all my solution keys and test keys and teacher’s keys. It’s like $600 to buy the whole thing for a year and I really wasn’t looking forward to spending that. But I’ve got this child and I’ve got another one that’s in sixth grade that’s going to be in eighth grade soon.
So last night I was adding all these books to the cart and saying, “God, help me. Lana, help me. I don’t know what to do.”
This morning, I got an email. I had even searched on the Internet to see if I could find this “Fourth Edition, A Beka, Grammar and Composition II,” and I couldn’t find it. But this morning and email came through the Bloomington homeschool list and a lady said she was selling all of her A Beka Eighth Grade curriculum. The kids hardly went through any of it. She thought it was going to work but it didn’t work out for them. So I called her up and asked, “Now what edition is it?” She said, “I’m not sure. It’s an older one.” And I said, “As long as they all match, I don’t care! The teacher keys and the answers and everything, as long as they match!”
So I stopped by her house tonight on the way over here. Not only did she had the curriculum, but she had twins, and so she had two workbooks of everything, so it will be enough for my kids. It’s the Fourth Edition, just what I was needing this week. And she had two workbooks, so I’ll have one for this child and another for in two years for my other child, with the same edition.
It’s just things like that, you could just say, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing that that worked.”
Or you could say, “Oh, God! You’re more incredible than I could imagine. I need You so bad. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this year. I don’t know how I can do it without my wife. But God, You know what I need. And You know that this woman lived in Bloomington. And You did it on this day, this morning, Thursday morning, after I had been adding hundreds of dollars worth of stuff to my shopping cart that I didn’t want to spend. And I just say, God, thank You.”
It’s not about money, it’s not about saying, when things work out, you say, “Praise God!” It’s about being expectant and saying, “God, I can’t go forward without You.” It’s like Chip Ingram saying, “God, I’m going to give you three more chapters, then I’m done.” (I’m not sure that’s the right approach all the time, just keep going, it may take six or seven! Don’t give up after three!)
But God is there. He works. He’s alive. He’s active.
“Lord, thank You. Thank You for people like Asaph who lived how many thousand years ago and he was frustrated. He was ticked. He was hurt. And yet You met him. Thank You for people like Chip Ingram, who didn’t give up on God in college and now touches thousand of people all over the world. Thank You God for speaking to me a few years ago when I was giving a sermon and didn’t know what to preach on. Thank You God for speaking to me this morning and even tonight, just the double blessing that there are two workbooks of every lesson. God, I thank You how you care for us. I pray You’d give hope, give inspiration to the people in this room and the people listening later, that You’re real and that You love us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
We’re just one month away from our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat! If you plan to come, sign up now! It all starts on Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12. Also, if you’re still thinking about coming but haven’t let us know, will you send me a quick note? I have some special instructions for you, plus a way to attend at no cost or a lower cost if that will help you. Just reply to this email. Thanks! Click here to learn more or to register.