Psalm 31 verse 15 is our portion for consideration this morning - one verse which is probably memorised, if not already, certainly by this morning, I'm sure by all of us if not most of us. It has been immortalised in what will be our closing hymn later, and the Psalmist David says this out of his experience and times and circumstances: "My times are in thy hand" - my times are in thy hand.
I don't know whether you've ever had the experience of looking up in the face of a surgeon, but sometimes the patient is heard to say: 'Doctor, my life is in your hands, be very careful!'. On the human level that is true, our lives are in the hands of surgeons and physicians when we go under their care and discipline. Parents could easily say, and should really in the day and age in which we live, to teachers: 'My child is in your care'. Both of those two scenarios are expressions of trust on our part, we are trusting something valuable to another, we are giving them responsibility over something that we cherish - whether it be our life in the case of a surgeon, or our child in the case of a teacher. So what we are doing is we are giving another, trusting another with responsibility of something that is inestimably valuable to us.
Now there is entailed within that an element of risk, we are risking our lives in a sense when we go under that anaesthetic, we are closing our eyes and we're taking a risk. It is the same when we send our children to school, especially in these days even if they walk to school, there is an element of risk in trust. It is, in a sense, the same with God; because - not that in any shape or form God cannot look after us - but there is this feeling within us that when we let go of control of our own lives, that there is a risk that it may not work out the way we would have it work out if we were in the driving seat. The Psalmist said this when he expressed in verse 15: 'My times are in thy hands'. He was saying: 'Lord, in the situation that I find myself, I'm going to trust You' - and he actually says that in verse 14 - 'But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God - I'm going to let go, O Lord, and trust You as another with something that is valuable to me, my life, my circumstances, my plan, my future in what seems a very dark situation'.
I wonder are our lives in the hands of the Lord? Our lives are probably the most valuable thing to us, if not the lives of our loved ones, it's probably the most precious possession or possessions that we have. The question I'm asking you today in the light of this verse as we go through, very shortly, this Psalm: do we trust the Lord with our lives, and with the lives of our loved ones, and with the things that are so precious to us - do we trust the Lord with them, to look after them? The test of that is how much we worry about them. Now I'm not setting myself up here as a potentate, I worry as much as the next man - but the fact of the matter is this: worry is an act of unbelief. One man has said, and I think said so rightly, and it has taught me so much: 'Fear and faith cannot inhabit the same heart'. Fear is the antithesis to faith and belief in God. Fear is doubt.
Now the fact of the matter is, we are fearful - and thank God, God remembers, as the Psalmist says, that we are dust and we are frail creatures of the clay - but even as believers we don't always attribute our times as being in the hands of God. What am I talking about? Well we sing and we talk about the providence of God, that is that God is in control, that my times are in God's hand - but do we actually, experientially, in a practical way day by day attribute by faith, when things come along our pathway that we don't like and we can't handle, do we say: 'Lord, I'm in Thy hands, You know best'? I'll tell you what often I do, and probably many of you do as well: we think that we've fallen out of God's hands. Is that not the case? Because, perhaps, of our actions we think that we've fallen out, we've done something wrong, we've gone a little bit too far and we've gone over the edge of God's fingertips. Other people doubt God and His goodness, and they feel that they've slipped through His fingers because of His negligence - 'Lord', like Mary and Martha, 'if Thou hadst been here my brother would not have died! How can you be there, Lord, how can you be for me, how can all things be working together for good if this is what happens to someone who trusts in You?'.
Some are afraid of God and feel that they've been thrown out of His hands because of failure and sin. Things are going wrong in your life because of your disobedience to God, and you think God wouldn't have you back, God wouldn't accept a backslider like you. There are others who think of God as some kind of great dictator in the sky, a despot who is crushing all of us with His hand in judgment because of the things that are in our past, He's punishing us. In other words, you feel that you're going through what you're going through now because of something you must have done in the eyes of God, even though you're ignorant of it. Perhaps I'm talking exactly into your situation, where you are now you just do not feel in the hands of God? Now be honest, and God appreciates your honesty if you can say: 'Lord, I just don't feel that You are in control of my life, in fact the opposite seems to be the case - everything's out of control! Chaos has been unleashed in my experience, my whole world has crashed in in disaster on me - Lord, how can You be in control?'. You're doubting His providence.
Let me just break up this statement for you this morning: 'My times...Thy hands', and help us to understand what our times can be like - and sometimes we underestimate them, and we come off with cliches from pulpits, and tell people to just go away and have faith. We underestimate what people can go through, but we also underestimate the wonderful providence and care of our God. Let's look at our times first of all. The Hebrew word 'times' here means the aspect of time that is in view, an event or a season of life. It's not the chronological time of the clock, it's the time, or could be translated 'circumstances'. We could say that this reads 'the circumstances', or other translations put it like this, equally valid, 'The fortunes of human life are in Thy hand'. Now we fear fortune because we think it's got something to do with luck, and sometimes that's the connotation, but he's talking from a human perspective - that 'the things that come into my life that I cannot or do not anticipate, Lord they're in Your hands', in other words, 'Lord, You're sovereign over my circumstances even when I cannot see Your planning and Your purpose in it'.
So we're seeing in this verse that God does not just rule over cosmic time and history, but God is a God who is personal to our lives, who actually rules and overrules the times and the seasons, the fortunes and the events of our individual lives. Now let's face it - we've heard a lot about the lottery these days, one woman with cancer that won it last week, and a man who is a rapist that won it this week - but many unbelievers, when they look out onto this world, see it as filled with fortune. You could say it's just that everything that happens is down to luck, it is to some - as you would hear them describe it - the lottery of life. Napoleon was one man who could say: 'I make circumstances', and there are some people in life who think like Napoleon - they think that they determine circumstances before them with their acumen, whatever it may be. But many believers feel that they are liable to circumstances, that they're passive, that they're like pawns in the hands of fate - these things happen to them, and there seems to be no determining influence or intelligence behind it all, and life is just a chaos, it's a lottery. If you get rich, well that's luck; if you're poor, well that's bad luck. It's all in the roll of a dice, or the lifting out of a ball in a machine.
Now you've heard Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1 to 8, that there are many times in life - a time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to dance, a time to mourn, and all the rest - but can I ask you honestly: are there not times in life when you look at what God seems, or is supposed to be doing in your experience, and you think 'This is all just a lottery! Why did this happen then, when maybe I wasn't so obedient, and now I'm more obedient and this is happening now? It just doesn't seem to make sense, it has no order whatsoever - is God really in control, or is my life a lottery? Is it determined by chance and fate?'. Now don't lie to me that there haven't been times in your life when there has been disorder, chaos, and even anarchy, and things just don't seem to be working together for good, and you've doubted God's providence. We can look at our present circumstances as well, and think: 'Well, I can remember days when it was better than this!', and we wish we were in the past. The grass is greener in the past, and we reminisce of the good old days, we just long that we could turn the clock back.
Do you know Job? I haven't got time to go through everything that he went through, but Job when he went through his tragic trial of experience before God, in chapter 29 and verse 2 he said the same: 'Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me. I wish I was rich again, I wish I was healthy again, I wish I had my family again' - and it seemed, this is the inference, when God preserved him, as if God was not preserving him when he was going through his trials.
This week I was reading Spurgeon's 'Morning and Evening', and on the morning of the 11th August he touched on that verse, Job 29:2, and he commented like this: 'Numbers of Christians can view the past with pleasure, but regard the present with dissatisfaction'. Is that the way you are? Your times have changed, God in some way has overlooked you, or passed you by?
Let's look at the different times we can have in our life, you will notice that the word is plural which describes the many experiences that we have. In fact, what we are really saying is that the circumstances in our life, we fret over them because our lives are valuable, we fret over them because our lives are liable to all sorts of problems. I looked up that word 'liable' in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it defined it like this: 'exposed and open to things undesirable'. We worry about our life, we fret about it because our lives are open to hard times, open and exposed to things undesirable - what are they?
Well, there are times of death - life-threatening times. In the Bible death is described as a shadow, our lives are described as being consumed like smoke, withering like grass, like the weaver's shuttle that goes around so quickly you can hardly see it, like a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes, like a hand's breadth that is so narrow, like a tale that is told, like a little story or a rhyme. The Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said: 'Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit onto his stature?', the inference is that you can't add another day to your life by anxiety and worry, yet we do it. Paul the apostle said: 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand'. The time of departure that all of us will face, if the Lord doesn't return before it, many of us have faced in the eyes of a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord or gone into eternity without Him. What times these times are! Times of death, life-threatening times.
There are times of trouble, times of personal trial. The Psalmist in Psalm 9:9 said that he had times of trouble, literally; in Psalm 10:1 he said: 'Lord, why standest Thou afar off' - that's the way people feel at times - 'Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?'. Are you going through times of personal trial as we speak, and you feel that God is afar from you, that God has overlooked you, that God has passed you by in the crowd and is not finding or seeing your need, or solving it?
Times of death, times of trouble, times of ignorance - there are times that things go on in our life that we just haven't got a clue why they're going on. In Acts 17, in another context, the apostle talked about the times of ignorance that God winked at - but you know we all have times in ignorance, don't we? Because God, let's face it, is beyond us, and His workings are above us! We think we have Him worked out! But He says: 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways; my plans are not your plans'. Job, when he was going through all he went through - the death of his family, the death of his cattle and his produce, and all of his wheat and crops, and then the death of his wealth completely - as he stood there before God with no health, Job was not aware of the cosmic drama that was the backdrop to his disaster, he wasn't aware that Satan was talking to God and God to Satan, and everything that was going on - and right at the very end God doesn't make him any the wiser. It was a time of ignorance, he was suffering, and as you read his deliberations with his friends, he's asking again and again the question: 'Why am I suffering? I don't know why!' - who does know why?
Some of us know why, some of us think we know why - usually for other people. Paul could say in Romans: 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out'. Times of ignorance: are you going through something today, and you just don't know the reason why?
Fourthly, there are times of persecution. Paul said that there were those in Galatia who persecuted them in times past. Maybe you're in the workplace, maybe you're in the home, maybe you're a student and you're being persecuted for righteousness' sake, because of your stand or because of the choices you make and the things that you will not do no matter how hard the boss commands you to do them. We can go through persecution, times of persecution - and then there are also, fifthly, times of peril. I think you would agree with me that we are living today in perilous times. The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 3:1-5 said: 'This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good' - and we could go on and on, and it's a caricature of our modern day. We are suffering because of some of this in our own lives - he tells us perilous times will come into our experience. Are you suffering because of this today? Sin in your family, sin in your life?
There are prophetic times also, which touch on Timothy that we've read, but the Lord Jesus told the Pharisees that they could discern the skies but they could not discern the signs of the times. The Lord Jesus said that at the end times many people's hearts would fail them for fear - we have elderly folk who are fearful of going home alone, of opening the door when the doorbell rings, when the phone rings they're even terrified, because we live in a generation that is dominated by fear, because we are living in days that are approaching the apocalypse - apocalyptic times - before our Lord Jesus comes again.
Now I don't have time, neither do I have all knowledge of the difficult times that David went through, the Psalmist, but in a casual reading of the Psalms you will know that David faced difficulties of all shapes and sizes. He was persecuted by his friends and his loved ones, he was lied about, in fact this Psalm says that his enemies spread a net to catch him. Perhaps even, some think, in this Psalm that he was suffering for his own sins, certainly in Psalm 51 in his confession we find that. Others see this Psalm as a response to the rebellion of Absalom, his own son, his own son stabbing him in the back and trying to take the throne. David had difficulties, who wouldn't know that in reading the Psalms? But can I take you a step further to see that this is a Psalm that is a prophetic Psalm, it is what we call a Messianic Psalm - and you can see this in verse 5, look at the verse: 'Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth'. Now who else said that? 'Into thy hand I commit my spirit'? It was the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross as He gave up the ghost. This is a Psalm, as you read through it, that speaks to us of the Lord Jesus - and it seems to open in verse 1, as if the Lord Jesus is looking from the cross to His Heavenly Father, and is exclaiming: 'In this time, O Lord, I put my trust in Thee; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness'. He is praying to the Father from the cross.
We read in Hebrews 5 that many times in His life, with strong crying and tears, He was heard by God in that He feared. Now remember this: the Lord Jesus is perfect man, absolute perfection, He always lived in total obedience to God. Now in His hour of deepest need and anguish, what is He doing? He's turning His eyes heavenward, and in His experience, in this hour that was to come upon Him, that was a shadow over Him all through His life, He still reaffirms His trust in God. This is not something you do when you're saved and that's the end of it, this is something that comes daily as our times change. He reaffirms His trust in God as His sole and sufficient sanctuary, and He asks the Lord that He might never be ashamed for having relied upon God. Now perish the thought that He could be ashamed, He couldn't be ashamed if He trusted in God - but please grasp this: the Psalms are a human book, and the Lord Jesus Christ was a human being, and the cry on the cross: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' was a human cry! You can't tell me He didn't know why He was on the cross, of course He did, He had been teaching the disciples though they couldn't see, but it was a cry from the depths of His dark times to His Father.
Yet as we see Him here in this Psalm, He asks never to be ashamed, and this powerful prayer reminds us that God had to honour His name; and the honouring of His name was inseparably linked with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on the third day. What the Lord is saying here is: 'If I laid down my life here, Lord, You have told me that You will honour me by rising me again from the dead the third day - let me not be ashamed in death!'. We heard around the table about the shame that was in His death, but the Psalmist tells us: 'Thou wilt not suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption', and the third day He rose Him from the dead again. It was an act of righteousness, this Psalm says, for the Father to raise the Lord from the dead. One writer puts it like this: 'Were He not to do so, the Saviour would be exposed as a victim of misplaced confidence, and would thus be humiliated' - putting His trust in God, yet God didn't save Him. Remember the cry at the cross? 'If you trust in God, let him save you' - but He did save Him, not from Calvary, but from death, and after death brought Him back!
Now what's the point of all that explanation? It's simply this: if the Lord Jesus at Calvary could put His time - and there has never been a time like that time in all history, neither will be - why can't we put our trust in God? But added to that: God is duty-bound, if we put our trust in Him, not to make us ashamed, as much as He with His holy power brought the Lord Jesus back from the grave. Do you get it? Now the difference between us and the Lord is that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power - but I'll tell you this: they are a liability if you keep them in your hands. No matter how precious they may be, no matter how ignorant you are of what God is doing, the only safe place for your times - whether they be times of death, or troubles, or ignorance, or persecution, or peril, or prophetic times - is in the hands of Almighty God. Are they there?
Let's look at 'Thy hands', let's look at God's hands. Well, the Hebrew word is the word for an open hand. There are different words in Hebrew for 'hand', and the open hand indicates the power of God, the means by which God moves, the direction by which God pushes. It is in distinction from a closed hand, like the hollow of your hand or the palm of your hand; and you know that open hands are often, even to us today, an expression of acceptance, concern and compassion. But here the point of the Psalmist is that God's open hand is strength - now mark this, this is what he's saying: God is not in control of our circumstances in some airy-fairy way where we think He's just going to weave it all together in the end, He is in absolute and total, strong, almighty control of everything that is going on! Not saying, as we do: 'Look, I'll sort all that out, and it'll all fit in the end' - no, every step of the way! C.H. Spurgeon put it: 'We are not waifs and strays upon the ocean of fate, but are steered by infinite wisdom towards our desired haven. Providence is a soft pillow for the anxious head, an anodine for care, a grave of despair'. Listen to what Matthew Henry said in his commentary on this: 'Our times (all events)' - all events! - 'that concern us', and secondly, 'and the timing of them, all of them are at God's disposal. They're not in our own hands, for the way of man is not in himself, not in our friend's hands, not in our enemies hands, but in God's hands' - and this is how he ends, and it's tremendous - 'They could not be in better hands!'.
Do you believe it? Do you not say: 'Lord, it would have been better this way'? Or 'Lord, it would have been better if it didn't happen, or hadn't happened that way'? Or 'Lord, why did that have to happen just now, just here?' - can I assure you today of God's ability, if you put your life in His hands? Job said why seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty: we are ignorant, yet He sees what we cannot see, He knows what we do not understand, and there are times - I'll tell you, in my life, and in others lives if you testify and are honest with it - that you feel you're literally in Satan's hands! Do you remember what the Lord said to Satan in the book of Job? The Lord said unto Satan: 'Behold he', Job, 'is in thine hand, but save his life' - and God put him into Satan's hands. Do you feel like that at the minute? I'll tell you this: even though God had given Satan measured power over Job's life, Job was still in God's hands. I tell you why: because Satan was in God's hands - Satan was under God's control, not by trust, but in the act of His sovereignty.
So our times in the hand of the Lord does not guarantee an easy ride - who said that? When did we start imbibing that, that to put your life in the Lord's hands, it will all be roses and smooth rides, and a peaceful journey - where does that come from? It doesn't come from God's word! Look at the Saviour, no one put their trust in the Lord God like He, and look at the ride He had! David said this is what it means: 'It is better to fall into the hand of God, than to fall into the hands of men'. Do you remember Job said to his wife, who encouraged him to curse God: 'Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips'. In the midst of Job's evil God was able to do mightily abundant, and bring good out of the midst of evil - like Joseph said. He had been lied about in Potiphar's house, he had been thrown into prison and forgotten about by the butler. He had been disowned by his brothers, His father thought he was dead, you know the story - but at the end he could say of God's sovereignty: 'You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good'.
Don't ask me to explain all this, I can't. Don't ask me to explain Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose - I don't understand how God does it, but I'll tell you this: He does it! He doesn't ask me to understand, He doesn't ask you to understand, He asks you to believe it! He asks you to put your faith in Him, and as Job said, listen to these words - you can say: 'What do you know about it?', OK I know very little, perhaps, compared to you, but I'll tell you Job knows a wee bit about it, and he said this: 'Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him'.
My friends, there is God's ability and there is His dependability to put your life in His hands. Listen to what it says of God's hands in the past, Psalm 95: 'In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker' - the ability of His hands! The dependability, He holds the planets in orbit - but see His responsibility, if we trust in Him He is duty-bound to take care of us though we go through the darkest experiences. Do you believe your times are in God's hands? That God is in control of all your circumstances? My friend, this verse teaches us we should trust in God even when things seem to be going wrong - like the Psalmist: 'I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth'. The Psalmist in 62 said: 'Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us'.
Do you believe in God's providence? As a Christian, as a non-Christian - are you saved? If you're not, and you wonder why things have happened to you in your life, and brought you even to this meeting this morning - can you not see God's hand in it to bring you to Himself? A man was questioning God's arrangement of the universe one day, and he said: 'Why does God make a big tree with small nuts, and a small part with large water melons? It doesn't make sense! Big tree, small nut; small tree, big water melon' - and just then a nut fell on his head, and he said: 'Thank God that wasn't a water melon!'. Isn't that what we're like? We question everything until we know the truth.
I've told you this story before, but I'll end with it again because it's a good one. A wise old Chinese man lived on the troubled Mongolian border in China. One day his favourite horse, a beautiful white mare, jumped the fence and was seized by those on the other side - the enemy in Mongolia. His friends came to console him, and to have compassion upon him - a bit like Job's comforters - and said: 'We're so sorry about your horse, that's really bad news'. The wee Chinese man answered back and he said: 'How do you know it's bad news? It might be good news'. A week passed, and the Chinaman looked out his window to see the mare running back to him at breakneck speed with a stallion along beside it. His friends saw it as well, and came running out, and as he was taking the stallion into his stable, they said: 'Why, that's tremendous - such good news!'. The Chinaman said: 'Well, how do you know it's good news? It might be bad news'. So they all went away again, and after a couple of weeks his only son was on the back of the stallion riding it through the countryside, and all of a sudden it bucked and he came flying off it and broke his leg. All the friends came round again, and said: 'Oh, we're sorry to hear about your son, that's such bad news'. I think you've got the ending, the Chinaman said: 'How do you know it's bad news? It could be good news'! Until one day the Chinese recruiters of the government came through the particular area, during the China-Mongolia war, where this man and his son lived - and all of the young men his age were taken for battle and all of them perished, except for the Chinaman's son who couldn't go to war because of his broken leg. The Chinaman was heard to say: 'You see, the things you considered good were actually bad, and the things that seemed to be bad news were actually good' - because, let's face it, who knows but God!
Hudson Taylor put it like this: 'Ill that God blesses is good, and unblest good is ill, and all is right that seems most wrong if it be His sweet will'. My times from my perspective are a liability, but from the perspective of putting them in God's hands there is invincibility. Will you trust Him, and put your times in His hands?
Our Father, we thank Thee that the hands that we are in are nail-pierced hands of a sympathising High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, who was tested at all points as we are apart from sin. If we ask the question: does Jesus care? Calvary tells us: O, yes He cares, I know He cares. Lord, may His care be tangible to those in our midst who are going through hard times today, for those in happy times may they prove the presence of Christ in their good things and in their joy - but may all of us, from this day forth, place our times in the hands of Almighty God. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "My Times In Thy Hands" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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