This morning I’m going to do something a little different, or maybe a lot different, in a few different ways. First, I’m going to start at the end, which might sound crazy but I think it will make sense once we get going. Second, this is probably going to feel more like three small sermons that are linked together, rather than one cohesive sermon. And the reason for that is the third different thing, that even though we started with a scripture reading, and we heard an entirely different passage earlier, my sermon is not really about either of those passages, but it’s about a hymn. We sang it a few minutes ago, number 517 in our red hymnbook, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
This hymn is a repeated admonition to pray. The phrase ‘Take it to Lord in prayer’ is found four times, and ‘Everything to God in prayer,” shows up twice. Clearly it is about prayer.
I planned this sermon before it was decided that we would look at the topic of prayer for Tuesday evening Bible study this fall. So if this happens to overlap with some of what we are going to look at over the coming weeks, that was not my intention, but even so, that\s hardly a problem. Prayer is a topic that we could all certainly learn about, and if we have already heard all of this, then a refresher is always helpful.
As I mentioned, we’re going to start at the end, well, not quite the end, but we’ll start with verse 3.
Are we weak and heavy laden / Cumbered with a load of care? / Precious Saviour, still our refuge / Take it to the Lord in prayer. / Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? / Take it to the Lord in prayer / In His arms He’ll take and shield thee / Thou wilt find a solace there.
Speaking of cumbered with a load of care, let’s look at Martha. We read about her a moment ago, how she received the Lord and presumably His disciples into her house as they came to her village. We know from elsewhere that this village was Bethany, not far from Jerusalem, and we know that she had a brother named Lazarus, who of course later became ill and died, and the Lord raised him from the dead, we could read that account in John chapter 11. We also know that she had a sister named Mary, who we read of in John chapter 12 of how she washed the Lord’s feet, but in this passage, rather than washing His feet, she sits at them and she listens.
Much has been said elsewhere about the contrast between Mary and Martha, how one listened and one served, and how the former was commended for her choice, while the later instead receives the mildest of reprimands: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. This is what the Lord says to her, He does not agree that Mary should go and help, He does not say thank you for preparing what was presumably the best feast that she could pull together. He instead remarks on how she is stressing about her priorities, and how that is not the most important thing right now.
Martha was cumbered with a load of care, just as it says in the song. Specifically she was cumbered with much serving, which is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, we are called to serve and to be servants, this is the behaviour that Christ directed His followers to do, this is the example that He provided for them to emulate. Martha served, there is no question about that. But Martha overburdened herself, which is a problem. Sometimes we take on way more than we should, and maybe it’s all good and important things that we do, but we overdo it. This can lead to exhaustion, to burnout, and to resentment of those who are not doing as much.
Back in the height of summary there was a Sunday afternoon when I decided to be particularly ambitious. There was a small bench that we had in the porch that had broken, and I decided that was the day to fix it. I took the pieces out on the deck to reglue some parts of it and to drive screws into other parts of it to rebuild it. And then while the glue was setting I decided it was a good time to finish putting toe rails on the deck, so I went and got the supplies for that and cut the needed pieces and did all of that, even though it was pushing 30 degrees plus with the humidity and the sun was beating down. By the time the job was done, I was done. I had to go and crash, because I did too much in the hot weather without taking a break, without stopping for water, and I likely threw my blood sugar out of whack and I think I missed evening meeting because of it. It’s not that I couldn’t do those tasks, but I did too much all at once, and it was too much for me.
That’s what Martha did here, she chose to do too much, and she ends up complaining to the Lord about her sister’s inaction. She missed the point entirely. She made her service the important thing, that the feast she was preparing was what mattered, not the fact that Jesus of Nazareth had come to her house and was teaching in her living room. She effectively made her service into an idol, because it took her attention away from the Lord of Creation who had come to visit her.
What’s more, Martha did this all to herself. No one demanded that she serve a feast. We don’t read that anyone insisted they be fed at all. It’s only one chapter prior to this we could read how the Lord fed 5000 with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. It was not essential that Martha cooked, not at that time. She was overburdened because that’s what she chose.
Do we do this sometimes? Maybe not in such a literal sense, but do we overload ourselves, overwork ourselves, thinking that we are doing good, thinking that we are serving the Lord, and we lose sight of the Lord in doing it? Do we find ourselves weak and heavy laden, do we feel that we are carrying the weight of the world and we hang on to that weight, rather than turning it over to the Lord? And then when it becomes too much do we lament that no one is helping, no one does as much as we do, and that if we don’t do the work, then no one else will?
I know that sounds familiar, because I’ve heard it, and I’ve said it myself. I’ve done it myself. At work, I have taken on tasks that no one has asked me to because otherwise they won’t get done, or won’t get done right, or at least won’t get done the way I want them done. No wonder I often feel tired at the end of the day.
Now, there are people who don’t do anything, or at least try to do as little as possible, and that is not the right approach either. Christ calls us to be servants, and very often what it looks like to be His servant is to be a servant those around us. We should be working, but as servants, not as slaves. In Matthew chapter 11, Christ says (28) Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There is still a yoke to bear, but there is also rest. There is still a load to carry, but it is not burdensome, not when we share it with the Saviour. Even a tremendous burden is far more manageable when the weight is shared and divided. At my work at times we load pallets unto trucks, and we also ship individual products in boxes. It feels far heavier carrying a single 40 pound box by yourself then it does lifting a 140 pound pallet with someone else. How much better off we are with help! And how much better off we are when we trust our worries, our troubles, our mental and spiritual burdens, not just our physical ones, to a God who cares for us and who is infinitely stronger than we are?
It’s not only our burdens and our cares that we need to bring to God. If we look at the second verse of the hymn, we read:
Have we trials and temptations / Is there trouble anywhere? / We should never be discouraged / Take it to the Lord in prayer / Can we find a friend so faithful / Who will all our sorrows share? / Jesus knows our every weakness / Take it to the Lord in prayer.
It’s not difficult to find someone in scripture who endured trials and temptations. It is more challenging to pick one character to focus on when there are so many potential options. I considered several candidates, but opted for David. He had more than his fair share of difficulties, and far more than his fair share of enemies. If anyone had to deal with trials and temptations and troubles anywhere, or for that matter, everywhere, it was David. We know him best as the shepherd boy who fought the giant Goliath, but that was only a small part of his life.
As a youth, David was the overlooked youngest son, the little brother who was treated as an afterthought when Samuel came to town and asked to see Jesse’s sons. He ran errands and tended sheep, and had to deal with wild animals while doing so. He later worked for King Saul, and had to deal at first with Saul’s paranoia and jealousy, then later fled into exile from Saul’s outright hatred and enmity when the king repeatedly tried to kill him. Later on, after he ascended to the throne of Israel, he dealt with civil wars and rebellions, not to mention multiple foreign wars. There were many who counted David as their enemy, many who actively opposed him and sought to take his life, including his own son Absalom. That is very much the condensed version, but David had himself some trials, to be sure.
He also had had some failings and some shortcomings of his own. He was at times impulsive and he was not a particularly good father or husband, in fact, you could definitely say that he would be a bad example to follow when it comes to parenting and marriage. He married multiple wives and he failed to properly discipline his children even as their misdeeds escalated to include rape and revenge killings. Most notably, his lust for another man’s wife lead him to commit adultery, deception, and finally conspiracy to commit murder. He may have been a man after God’s own heart, but he had plenty of weaknesses as well.
I don’t know that this verse of this hymn was written with David in mind, but it certainly describes him. We read from Psalm 69 earlier, but we could have read from half a dozen or more different Psalms where David complains of the state he finds himself in, the enemies that oppress him, or the danger that is on every side. If there ever was someone who had fair reason to be discouraged, it was David.
In the hymn, it says that we should never be discouraged. Upon reflecting on that, my first thought was that this is impossible and not realistic, to never feel discouragement when things go wrong. However, it is one thing to feel displeased with a situation, with how events have unfolded, or at a lack of progress and success. It is quite another to live in a state of dejection, feeling defeated and depressed, and to remain that way. That is what it means to be discouraged, to be down and to stay down.
I would never say that a believer cannot experience discouragement or depression. That can and does happen, it happens at times to the best and brightest of us, to the most cheerful and optimistic. But rather than dwelling in sadness, we must take our cares and concerns, our troubles and struggles, all that knocks us back and breaks us down, and bring them to God in prayer. That is what the hymn is talking about, and what David describes in this Psalm.
In those verses we read from Psalm 69, we see David’s lament, he feels as if he is drowning. The waters are rising, and he is stuck in the mud with no way to get himself out. At the same time, he feels wearied and parched from crying, his body fails him, and his enemies are plentiful and powerful, and he feels that it is wrong that they are out to get him, they are his enemies wrongfully.
And beyond all of that, he knows that he has made mistakes, and he realizes that God knows this as well. In verse 5 he notes how God knows his foolishness, and that his sins are not hidden from Him.
In short, David is a bit of a hot mess, and he knows it. Things have gone sideways, and so he has turned to God for salvation. That is how the Psalm opens, with an immediate cry for God to save him.
David may have been a bad example of how to be a father and husband, but he is an excellent example of how we should respond when the tide is against us, when things have gone wrong. So many times in the Psalms we see how David called on the Lord when he was in trouble, and so many times God did indeed save him, and preserved him from unfathomable dangers, from enemies on all sides.
What’s more, David is also a good example of confession and repentance when he sinned. He made mistakes, and at times he compounded his errors with more and greater ones, but he did turn to God sooner or later when he realized and admitted the his wrongdoings.
Obviously, it would be better if we did not make those mistakes, if we did not commit transgressions as David did, particularly not on as serious as scale as David did, but when we do go astray, we must acknowledge it, we must repent and seek forgiveness. If we do not, our troubles will only increase, the harm will grow, and the suffering will continue.
If we hang on to our troubles, if we retain our problems instead of turning them over to the Lord, well, that brings us to the first verse of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which I’ll read now.
What a Friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear / What a privilege to carry / Everything to God in prayer! /O what peace we often forfeit / O what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer!
There are a number of scripture passages that immediately came to mind when looking at this verse. We recently looked at Isaiah chapter 53 on Tuesday night, and in fact I happened to lead the study when we looked at verse 4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, that verse says, and I don’t doubt for a second that the writer of this song had that in mind when he wrote this, as well as the rest of the passage, where we read how Christ would be wounded and bruised for our wickedness, and how our iniquity was laid upon him. He carried our sins to the cross, and there He paid the price for all of them, paid in full, once and for all time.
We know this, we remember this at the first meeting week by week, and if we have trusted in Christ then we enjoy the salvation which He purchased on that day two thousand years ago. If you do not know that salvation, if you do not have the assurance of your sins paid for and dealt with, then please listen carefully to what I’m going to say next:
I can’t save you. Your family can’t save you. Your friends can’t save you. Your good works can’t save you. You can’t save yourself. Only Christ can save you from sin, there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. There is no other way, no alternate route, no plan B. If you have believed on the Son of God, then you are not condemned. If you have not believed, then you are condemned already. It’s that simple.
For those of us who do believe, and I trust that you have, then your sins are taken care of, He has borne them and taken them away. As much as that is absolutely vital, I trust that we know this already. That being said, I want to focus not so specifically on salvation, but rather on the fact that there is more to it. There is more to the Christian life than escaping the punishment of sin and obtaining the promise of eternal life.
The hymn and Isaiah 53 verse 4 talk about not just our sins being carried, but our griefs and sorrows as well. And then the further down in the hymn, O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
In 1 Peter, chapter 5, there is a familiar verse which addresses this. I won’t have you turn there, but I’ll read at verse 5 for context. (5) Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (6) Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (7) Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
Are you weighed down with worries and cares? Are there a thousand and one things that trouble your heart, vex your mind, and cause you to lose sleep at night? Maybe you don’t have an extensive list, maybe there are only a few cares which bother you. Maybe you don’t have the thousand, but have only the one, and that is enough. I don’t know what causes you grief and sorrow. I don’t know what causes you pain. I don’t know if it’s big or small or if it’s unimaginably vast and overwhelming. But I do know that you can’t hold on to it, not without consequence.
We don’t like to admit that we can’t carry the load ourselves, that we are not strong enough, that we can’t manage our problems and our struggles and our suffering. We don’t like to admit that we need help. It’s a big hit to our pride to say that.
So often we try to keep going, to march forward through the difficulties and the trials, we push through the pain, until eventually we can’t anymore. We hold on to our cares and let them damage us, rather than giving them up, rather than giving them to the Lord.
So many people end up turning to some other answer, and look for some other way to manage. People try self-help programs, they try exercise, they try meditation, they try support groups, they try counselling, they try willpower. All of those may offer a little respite, a temporary reprieve, but for the most part that’s all they do. They don’t provide lasting solutions.
Some people try to mask their pain and struggles, whether by putting on a brave face, or more commonly by using something to distract and numb it. That’s why there’s a cannabis store two doors down from the liquor store, with the Dollarama in-between. If the one doesn’t seem to work, then maybe the other will, or maybe give the junk food a try. Some people try all of those and more, maybe as a last ditch effort after they’ve tried the meditation and self-help, or maybe numbing the pain was the first stop. It’s different for everyone. But we have a lot of pain, a lot of needless pain, because we don’t bring it quickly to God.
Last time I preached I opened with a Star Trek reference. This time, I’m ending with another one, also from one of the movies. A particular character was using telepathic abilities to take away the pain of others, and thereby exert a measure of control over them. He attempts this on Captain Kirk, who doesn’t let him. He yells in response “I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”
Kirk’s logic is that his pain is part of who he is, and without it, he would not be the same person. And maybe there is some truth to that. But for the most part, that is not how pain works. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. You lift something too heavy and your back hurts, you touch the wood stove and your hand burns, those are clear indications that we should not do those things. Sometimes it’s more subtle and less immediate, such as a headache from too much caffeine or not enough sleep. Sometimes, quite often in fact, it’s not physical pain so much as it’s mental and emotional pain from past mistakes and misdeeds that we have done or that have been done to us.
We don’t like our pain. We do all manner of things to moderate it, to control it, to keep it at bay. But all too often we live as though we need our pain, because we don’t let go of it, or we don’t want to let go of whatever is behind the pain in the first place.
Pride. Anger. Resentment. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. Greed. Desire. Addiction. Selfishness.. These are behind so much of our pain. And these are the things we need to bring to the Lord. These are the difficulties that we should bring to Him, the cares that we should cast on Him, the pain that He will take.
It’s not easy. It’s not fun. Nothing involving pain and suffering ever is. That is part and parcel of living in a fallen world. It requires humility to say “I need help, I can’t fix myself, I need you to take care of me, Lord, to take my issues and my struggles and my pain and my worry. Those challenges that I cannot overcome, those problems that I cannot solve, those relationships that I cannot repair, I entrust them to you.”
God cares for us. He gives grace to the humble, so let go of your pride and come to Him in humility ready to surrender your troubles to Him. He cares. He cares about what is wrong with you, He sent His Son to die for you. Let him take your pain. Let him bear your grief. Let Him be your friend. Take your troubles to Him, He will gladly accept them.