Who are you going to trust?

Who are you going to trust?

Psalm 146


If I’ve been your pastor for any length of time at all, you’ve likely heard me tell this story. The author is unknown, but it paints a beautiful picture of the transformation that happens when you place your faith and trust in Jesus, and slowly begin to orient your life around him.


I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn’t really know Him. Later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn’t know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.


But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, “Pedal!” I was worried and anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I’d say, “I’m scared”, He’d lean back and touch my hand.


He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.” So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.


I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus. And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more, He just smiles and says… “Pedal.”


What a beautiful picture of the transition from the “self”-controlled, “self”-driven, “self”-focused life to the Christ-controlled, Christ-driven, Christ-focused life. When you became a Christian, you didn’t just commit to attending church regularly, or at least occasionally, reading your Bible every once in a while, and praying before meals. When you became a Christian, something very real happened at the core of your being. When you became a Christian, you went from being a “self”-centered, “self”-controlled person to a God-centered person. And this Psalm describes in vivid detail what the Christ-centered life looks like. Look at Vv. 1-2 and also V. 10.


The first characteristic of the Christ-centered life is that it is a life of praise. This Psalm begins and ends with praise. But we aren’t just talking about singing songs of praise to God during a worship service or prayer meeting. It includes that, but the Psalmist is talking about so much more than that. He’s talking about life lived in such a way that life itself becomes an offering of praise to God. And that praise originates deep inside you. “Praise the LORD, O my soul!” He isn’t talking about giving God lip service while you go about your business, doing your own thing. He’s talking about praise that wells up like a fountain from a heart centered on and led by Christ.


These days people find it odd that God desires our praise, even commands us to praise him. One person said “The whole idea that there’s a God who cares whether people believe in him or not, like why would God care if people believed in him or not? That was one of the many things that I found so shocking reading the Bible. First of all, how insecure God is. I mean, God is so insecure he needs everyone to say, “You’re the number one, you’re the number one over all the other god’s, you’re the top god.” And like, it’s the most insecure character.” C.S. Lewis has another take on it. “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment … It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with … Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”[i]


But the life of praise doesn’t just happen. It involves an act of the will. The psalmist says “I WILL praise the LORD … I WILL sing praises to my God …” A decision is being made. But it isn’t just a decision to praise God. It is a decision to allow him to steer the bike. It is a decision to follow wherever he leads. It is out of that decision, to give up the control, that the soul can really begin to pour forth praise, to enjoy Jesus and life with him. Authentic praise, praise that bubbles up from your inner being, is not something you can manufacture. It gushes forth from a live lived enjoying God and the ride he is taking you on. But it involves a decision not to manufacture some feeling or sentiment but to allow Jesus to steer, to direct. It involves a decision to give up control. It acknowledges God as king. “The LORD will reign forever” declares the Psalmist. But then he goes on. “YOUR God, O Zion, to all generations.” YOUR God. Not just THE God. YOUR God. YOUR king. Not sitting on the back seat giving his energy to your plans and direction, but sitting in the front seat, steering. It is when he is acknowledged as king, when we make the decision to give him control, that praise gushes from the depth of our souls.


But that decision, that resolve, that act of the will, requires trust. And that is the second characteristic of the Christ-centered life. It is a life of trust. And this is the crux of the entire Psalm. This Psalm pivots on these two verses. To really praise requires trust. Look at Vv. 3-6.


Humans rise and fall. Even great leaders die and their plans and initiatives die with them. When we place all of our hope and trust in human leaders, even godly ones, we are placing our hope and trust in finite, limited, imperfect people who will not last forever. And this verse isn’t just talking about political leaders. It’s talking about people of means and influence in whatever realm they may be found. Political leaders, community leaders, business leaders … even church leaders.


“One day we were prayer walking through a large Buddhist temple, when I witnessed something heartbreaking,” says pastor and author J.R. Vassar. “A large number of people, very poor and desperate, were bowing down to a large golden Buddha. They were stuffing what seemed to be the last of their money into the treasury box and kneeling in prayer, hoping to secure a blessing from the Buddha. On the other side of the large golden idol, scaffolding had been built. The Buddha had begun to deteriorate, and a group of workers was diligently repairing the broken Buddha. I took in the scene. Broken people were bowing down to a broken Buddha asking the broken Buddha to fix their broken lives while someone else fixed the broken Buddha.


The insanity and despair of it all hit me. We are no different from them. We are broken people looking to other broken people to fix our broken lives. We are glory-deficient people looking to other glory-deficient people to supply us with glory. Looking to other people to provide for us what they lack themselves is a fool’s errand. It is futile to look to other glory-hungry people to fully satisfy our glory hunger, and doing so leaves our souls empty.”[ii]


Broken people looking to other broken people to fix our broken lives, and our broken world. And it is never more prevalent in this country than in an election year. Every four years we each find ourselves placing our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, our businesses, our prosperity, in the hoped-for electoral victory of the candidate who most represents our own view of the way things should be. And every four years a portion of our population is disappointed. In recent years, as a deep political rift has appeared in our country, that disappointment has given way to disillusionment, despair, even anger, with threats by representatives from both ends of the political spectrum to leave the country should the other side’s undesirable candidate take office. Every four years we hear a steady patter of “If so and so takes office, this country is done for.”


It’s no secret that our trust in government has hit an all-time low. But that lack of trust hasn’t always been a part of the American experience. A study by the Pew Research Center shows a dramatic decline. The collapse began during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which overlapped with the Vietnam War. The 1970s—thanks to Vietnam and Watergate—sped up the loss of faith in the government. After a slight resurgence during the 1980s, the trend line for the past few decades is quite clear. With the exception of relatively brief spikes that overlap with the first Gulf War and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of people who trust the government has been steadily declining. As of February 2014, just 24 percent said they trust the government “always” or “most of the time.” I would be surprised if that number is even that high today. Sadly, this lack of trust is the new normal.[iii]


This lack of trust has led to despondency and despair. They say that hope springs eternal, and every four years we place our hopes and dreams on the outcome of another presidential election. Sadly, that despair has penetrated the church. The same fear, frustration, despair, and anger that permeates our society has permeated the church. Instead of permeating our society with the light of Christ, we have allowed the hopelessness and despair of this world to permeate our hearts. But this Psalm has something to say to those of us who follow Christ. This Psalm asks a penetrating question, and it is a question very relevant during this election year: who are you going to trust?


It is perfectly fine to be interested in, even passionate about politics. And as Christ-followers we should seek to permeate every aspect of society, from politics to business to education to recreation with the light of Christ. But we have to be very careful as followers of Christ. In his book Vanishing Grace, Phillip Yancey writes about a Muslim man who told him, “I have read the entire Koran and can find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in society. I have read the entire New Testament many times and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.” Yancey comments, “Christians best thrive as a minority, a counterculture. Historically, when [Christians] reach a majority they have yielded to the temptations of power in ways that are clearly anti-gospel.”[iv] This doesn’t mean Christians can’t or shouldn’t hold office or seek to support those whose positions align with their own belief system. But we must recognize and guard against both the temptation of power and the inherent limitations of government. Chuck Colson, who was very involved in American political life, warned: “Many Christians, like most of the populace, believe the political structures can cure all our ills. The fact is, however, that government, by its very nature, is limited in what it can accomplish. What it does best is perpetuate its own power and bolster its own bureaucracies.”[v]


When God is truly our king, when we truly submit to his authority, allowing him to steer, to direct and control; when the prayer of Jesus “THY kingdom come, THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven” truly becomes our prayer, we can engage in business, in education, in culture and society, and yes, we can engage in politics, and we can, should, and must vote, without giving in to hopelessness and despair, regardless of whether Donald or Hillary carry the day on November 8. Because we know that families, businesses, schools, communities, even nations rise and fall, but “the LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” And when the one who reigns over all creation reigns in our hearts, we will be able to join with those who have lived faithfully for him in the best and in the worst circumstances that life has to offer, under the burden of ruthless dictators and extreme poverty, with hearts filled with joy and hope.


Now look! Look at Vv. 7-9. The Christ-centered life is a life of praise that flows from the depth of our being as we place our trust in the only truly trustworthy one. And when we really trust him, he becomes not just our traveling companion but our travel guide, not just pedaling with us but steering. And when that happens, our lives become lives of love. That’s the third characteristic of the Christ-centered life. It is a life of praise. It is a life of trust. And it is a life of love. When we are placing our ultimate trust in Christ, we are set free to love even those we disagree with. Now, notice the things God does. His actions. God executes justice, gives food, sets free, opens eyes, lifts up, loves, watches over, and upholds. God is an active God. But notice also the objects of God’s activity. The oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, those who are bowed down, beaten down by life, the righteous (these are the ones who have placed their trust in Christ regardless of their human circumstances), the sojourners (these are those who are displaced from their homelands), widows and orphans (those society doesn’t see and doesn’t protect).


These verses are intended to do two things. First, they serve as a source of hope for us, that no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, no matter how beaten up and beaten down we may find ourselves, in Christ we are never outside God’s loving embrace. But they also serve as a guide, for those who place their trust in Christ and allow him to steer are marked by his love. Because he is steering, we love those he loves. And over and over again throughout both the Old and New Testaments, he keeps drawing our attention back to those human society tends to forget about: the oppressed, the poor, the person from somewhere else, children and the elderly. That’s why I’d use great caution in fudging your theology to fit your political persuasion. It doesn’t work that way. And neither party has the complete picture of what it is supposed to look like to follow Jesus.


In his book Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado tells this story. He says “A few months ago I was sitting at the red light of a busy intersection when I noticed a man walking toward my car. He stepped off the curb, bypassed several vehicles, and started waving at me. He carried a cardboard sign under his arm, a jammed pack on his back. His jeans were baggy, his beard scraggly, and he was calling my name, “Max! Max! Remember me?” I lowered my window. He smiled a toothless grin. [He said], “I still remember that burger you bought me.” Then I remembered. Months, maybe a year earlier, at this very intersection, I had taken him to a corner hamburger stand where we enjoyed a meal together. He was California-bound on that day. “I’m passing through Texas again,” he told me. The light changed, and cars began to honk. I pulled away, leaving him waving and shouting, “Thanks for the burger, Max.” I’d long since forgotten that meal. Not him. We never know what one meal will do …. When we provide food stamps, we stave off hunger. But when we invite the hungry to our tables, we address the deeper issues of value and self-worth.[vi]


Who’s steering? Who will you trust? That’s the question this Psalm asks of us. Are we placing our hope and trust in people, in “princes, a son of man,” as the psalm says? Or are we placing our ultimate hope and trust in Christ, resting in his peace regardless of who is in office? The Christ-centered life is a life of praise surging forth from deep within; it is a life of trust in the only one faithful enough to handle our lives; it is a life of love marked by the love of Christ who loved us first.


“The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” Now … pedal.

[i] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

[ii] J.R. Vassar, Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel, and Our Quest for Something More (Crossway, 2014), pp. 35-36;

[iii] Chris Cizzilla, “The remarkable collapse of our trust in government, in one chart,” The Washington Post (12-4-14)

[iv] Phillip Yancey, Vanishing Grace (Zondervan, 2014), page 258

[v] Charles (Chuck) Colson, advisor to President Nixon, writer, and founder of Prison Fellowship

[vi] Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 2010), pp. 53-54