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Taste God’s Goodness

November 22, 2020 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Psalms

Topic: Expository Passage: Psalm 34

 

Introduction

I always like to preach a Thanksgiving sermon the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And some years, it’s easy to come up with an idea or text, but the big question this year is what do you say about Thanksgiving in 2020?

Afterall, 2020 was circling the toilet from the start. It was a year of harsh, nasty, and divisive politics. 2020 was a year of riots and violence.  And COVID and COVID restrictions have created all sorts of hardships.

All of it has hit close to home for many people. Maybe you lost significant income this year. Maybe distance learning about drove you crazy. Maybe you struggled with loneliness and despair during quarantine, or it strained your marriage. And none of this stopped the normal challenges of life. Maybe you lost a loved one, or you endured a major health scare. It was a tough year for a lot of people.

So, how should we approach Thanksgiving in 2020? To answer this question, I’d like to consider a familiar psalm that gives valuable perspective on difficult times (read). The heading states that David wrote this psalm after a very anxious time. David was on the run from Saul, and he fled to the Philistine city of Gath. David must have felt pretty desperate, because Gath was the hometown of Goliath!

Unfortunately, the locals recognized him and brought him before the king. David was probably headed toward either slavery or death, but when he appeared before Achish, David pretended to be mad. Thankfully, the king bought it, and David escaped with his life. However, David was surely pretty nervous for a time.

Therefore, v. 19 acknowledges, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” And David mentions hardship several other times. However, Psalm 34 is overwhelmingly positive and thankful. Why? Because rather than focusing on the hardships, David chose to focus on the goodness of God. And he challenges us to do the same. Verse 8 invites us, “Oh taste and see…”

I want us to accept David’s invitation and see God’s wonderful goodness, even when there are “many afflictions.” David makes this point in 2 distinct sections. Verses 1–10 have the feel of a thanksgiving hymn, as David rejoices in God’s blessing. In light of this, vv. 11–22 transition to wisdom literature and challenge us to walk in faith and obedience. Let’s begin in vv. 1–10, which give thanks for the wonderful truth that…

I.  God is good (vv. 1–10).

Call to Praise (vv. 1–3): The psalm begins with a bang in vv. 1–3, as David invites his readers (including us) to join him in praise.

In v. 1, David joyfully states his intent to praise the Lord at all times, both good and bad (read). David understood that no matter what else is going on, God is always good; therefore, we always have reason for joy and worship.

Therefore, he wants all of God’s people to share this joy (v. 2). Even the humble must share his gladness. As a result, notice the invitation in v. 3.

It’s always a blessing to be around people with David’s attitude. I’m sure that at some point we have all found ourselves in the middle of a negative conversation. Everyone is venting their frustration about this and that, and you can feel your joy shriveling like a prune.

Finally, someone graciously turns the conversation. He doesn’t dismiss genuine hardship, but he graciously turns the focus toward the goodness of God and to reasons we can be thankful even in the darkest of times.

Similarly, this psalm is not blind optimism. David is running from Saul, and he just escaped death. Psalm 34 repeatedly acknowledges the real hardships we face. But even in this moment, he urges us, “Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”

I hope you will follow David’s lead this week and help others to do the same. Do not succumb to negativity and bitterness. No, see the goodness of God, praise him continually, and be someone who “boasts in the Lord” and leads others to “be glad” in the Lord as well Take intentional steps to mimic vv. 1–3 this week. Then in vv. 4–7, David offers a specific reason for praise.

God answers prayer (vv. 4–7). Verses 4, 6 both reference David’s scary moment. He had faced “fears” and “troubles.” Again, David was in the hands of his worst enemies, who were probably demanding that he either become an ally of the Philistines or die. David could not imagine committing treason against Israel, and he didn’t want to die either. Both options would destroy any hope of fulfilling Samuel’s prophecies about him.

So, David “sought the Lord” (v. 3). “This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (v. 6). God marvelously preserved David’s life. As a result, he rejoices in v. 7, “The angel…”

That is a powerful picture of the Lord’s protection. This world can be very dark and dangerous. We often face many threats to our physical but especially our spiritual well-being. It’s as if we are encamped in the middle of a dangerous battlefield.

But it’s okay, because “The angel of the Lord encamps all around…” With the Lord beside me, I am invincible until he has something better for me. There truly is no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will.

Therefore, notice David’s joy in v. 5. Allen Ross says of this verse, “People who are looking intently to the Lord reflect the joy of his presence.” The world can be falling apart around us, but when our confidence is in the Lord, we can radiate with hope and joy, because we know that God is good, and God will be faithful.

I hope that you will take some time this week to reflect on how God has delivered you this year. It may be that you faced some dark and uncertain days. You didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills or if you could take another day in quarantine. Maybe you had to work though some extraordinarily heavy decisions. It was hard, but God was faithful.

Rather than looking back with bitterness and disappointment at how difficult it was, choose to see how the Lord was near. You experienced his grace and faithfulness. See that, and choose to let your face radiate with joy and thanksgiving over what God did. In sum, David rejoices at how God answered his prayers; as a result, notice the invitation he gives in vv. 8–10.

Invitation to trust the Lord (vv. 8–10): Verse 8 is the heart of this psalm, and it is a beautiful invitation to all people. At the center of the invitation is David’s declaration that God is “good.”

I think that goodness is one of God’s most underrated attributes. It means that he isn’t just righteous and pure; he is also benevolent, generous, kind, and compassionate. It’s a stunning attribute for sinners to ponder, because everything we do is clouded by some level of selfishness and pride. We can’t shake it; our motives are never entirely pure.

But God’s every thought, affection, and deed toward us stems from pure goodness. God is good! Not just that, he is good to broken sinners like us!

And as David reflects on the Lord’s deliverance, he understands that God didn’t have to deliver him. In fact, it’s possible and maybe even likely that David had sinned by going down to Gath. He leaned on his wisdom to protect himself from Saul rather than trusting the Lord. So, God could have made David squirm or even removed his blessing, but instead, God graciously delivered him. Now, David stands amazed at the goodness he received.

Maybe you came to church today feeling down on your luck. Maybe you are bitter about how your year has gone, and you don’t feel any gratitude toward God. Remember that God is good! If God gave me what I deserved, I would be in far worse place. But he is rich in kindness.

Take a moment to recognize all the graces you have enjoyed this year. He has forgiven you of more sins than you can imagine. He has met every need. You’ve experienced that grace of worship and fellowship. Your family, your home, your friends, and so many other things are manifestations of God’s goodness. See them, and rejoice.

Christian, God is good! As a result, David invites us, “Oh, taste and see…” This is such a beautiful and descriptive statement. In particular, tasting something speaks of an experiential knowledge.

For example, I like blackberry pie. But let’s suppose that you are a deprived soul and you have never experienced the bliss of blackberry pie. I can tell you that pie is good, and I could even describe to you as best as possible its texture and taste. And you would know that blackberry pie is good. But we all know that even the best descriptions can’t equal tasting it for yourself. Experiential knowledge is something very different.

So, here in v. 8, David invites us to experience his goodness just as he had in God’s recent deliverance. David knows that head knowledge can never equal personal experience. You know this, if you have ever taken a big step of faith and seen God answer your prayers, or you’ve sinned against him, confessed it, and watched God restore you. It is a marvelous grace to experience the goodness of God.

Therefore, notice how David describes the joy of experiencing God’s goodness (vv. 8b, 9b, 10). “Young lions” are the epitome of strength and self-sufficiency, but even they go hungry. But David says that God is always faithful to those who “seek the Lord.” They “shall not lack any good thing.”

Of course, God’s definition and our definition of good things are not always the same. Sometimes what is truly good is not convenient or easy. But even when life hurts, we know that God only gives good gifts, because he is pure goodness.

So, Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to reflect on how we have tasted God’s goodness this year. I hope that you will take time to humbly reflect on what you rightly deserve and then to see all that God has given you instead.

Yes, 2020 may not have turned out like you expected or hoped, but God was good. It’s up to you to see it. In sum, vv. 1–10 are a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s goodness, but maybe you’re wondering, “How can I taste the goodness of God more fully and deeply?” David is glad that you asked, because in vv. 11–22, he urges us to…

II.  Walk in God’s goodness (vv. 11–22).

David is going to tell us in these verses that God’s goodness is not “grab ‘n go,” like freebies on a display table that you can take without any cost. No, if you really want to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” you must invest in godliness.

David first mentions this investment in v. 9, where he invites us, “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints.” And he repeats the idea in v. 11b, where he says, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” So, I will only fully experience God’s goodness as I invest in developing the “fear of the Lord.”

If you are wondering, “How do I do that?” David is glad you asked, because he spends the rest of the psalm teaching us how to fear the Lord and thereby experience God’s goodness. First…

Obey God’s commands (vv. 12–14). Verses 13–14 mention some pretty basic aspects of godliness. First, avoid evil speech. Don’t use your tongue to tear down or destroy others. Refuse slander, gossip, complaining, perversity, and every other type of evil speech.On the positive side, always speak the truth clearly and honestly.

Second, “Depart from evil and do good.” So, it’s not enough to say the right things; you must also do the right things. Live in submission to God through obeying his will.

Third, “Seek peace and pursue it.” This means that you aggressively pursue peaceful relationships. You aren’t divisive, and you don’t ignore broken relationships. Instead, you work hard to build and maintain healthy relationships with friends, family, and the body of Christ.

Frankly, you may be surprised that David mentions these seemingly trivial aspects of godliness. You’re wondering, “What does a broken relationship with my brother have to do with tasting and seeing the goodness of God?” The answer is that it’s never just about you and your brother; rather every refusal to submit my heart to God opposes the fear of the Lord. I must not expect God’s nearness, when I refuse to obey what he has said. Or how can I say that I want to taste God’s goodness, when my actions say that I don’t believe his commands are good?

Now, I want to be clear that God’s goodness is always grace. I don’t earn it by achieving some higher plane of godliness. As well, I will never fully submit every corner of my heart to the Lord’s will. So, the point is not that if God seems distant, you necessarily need to go home and find that missing key that will unlock some full experience of God.

That being said, David is clear that my experience of God is directly tied to my obedience. And he mentions the “small things” like my speech precisely because that’s where we tend to sugarcoat disobedience. If I want to taste God’s goodness, I must submit to all of his Word, as his Spirit works.

So, if your spiritual experience is dry, and vv. 1–3 seem miles away from your Christian experience, you may want to examine your obedience. Is your heart yielded to God? Are you tolerating secret sins? Are you striving to obey all that God has said? As the Spirit reveals things, confess and forsake them. Draw near to God so that he will draw near to you. The 2nd way I walk in God’s goodness is that I must…

Trust God’s faithfulness (vv. 15–22). Verses 15–22 are filled with beautiful assurances that God is faithful to his children (vv. 15, 17). Both of these verses mention the fact that life is often very difficult. We have “troubles,” and when we do, we “cry out” to the Lord. I did that many times in 2020.

But praise the Lord that when we cry out to him, his caring eyes are always upon us, “And his ears are open to our cry.” We may not always feel some euphoric presence, but he assures us that he is there.

Specifically, notice the promise of v. 18. The objects in both lines are important. God is near to “those who have a broken heart” and a “contrite spirit.” These phrases describe someone who comes to God in humility and submission. When they sin, their heart is to repent and to get right.

I imagine that confession played a big role in David’s prayers on the way to see King Achish. He knew that he had failed to trust the Lord by going down to the Philistines. He humbled himself before the Lord, and God forgave.

Specifically, v. 18 says, “The Lord is near” to the brokenhearted. I’m so thankful for that promise, because I fail the Lord a lot. But the Lord sees when my heart is truly broken, and he is quick to forgive. Not only that, he blesses us with his nearness.

I’d say that some of my most intimate experiences of God’s goodness have come as I have rested in his grace after I sinned. This Thanksgiving, I’m sure that every believer can say, “Thank you Father, for your repeated forgiveness and reconciliation. I failed you a lot, but you were always faithful to forgive.”

Then notice David’s next assurance of God’s faithfulness in vv. 19–20. Again, David does not pretend that Christians don’t suffer. Rather, he says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” To this we say, “Amen.” “But the Lord delivers him out of them all.” That’s a great verse for 2020, because there have been a lot of afflictions and difficult days. But I don’t know that I have ever experienced the nearness of God like I have in 2020. It has been a rich year of growth for me. And the challenges have not always been easy, but we’re all here today. The Lord faithfully carried us through.

Of course, v. 20 provides a wonderful illustration of this truth. If it sounds familiar, that’s because John 19:36 cites this verse as being fulfilled in the fact that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs while he was on the cross.

Considering all that Jesus endured in his crucifixion, the fact that they didn’t break his legs after he was already dead seems like a small consolation. Jesus suffered on the cross! But John cites this verse as a reminder that God continued to be faithful even in the darkest hours of human history.

And David’s point for us in v. 20 is not that God will put us in bubble wrap and keep us from every hardship. Jesus had plenty of hardship. But he will carry us through.

Notice how David completes this idea in vv. 21–22. These verses are especially significant considering David’s failure to trust the Lord. He had sinned. But when he confessed his sin and cried out to the Lord, the Lord redeemed him. Therefore, David gives thanks, “None of…” God will forgive, and he will bring us to glory.

Conclusion

So, to pull all of this together, the fundamental challenge of Psalm 34 is, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.” So, how can you enjoy this experience? The simple answer is through developing a robust fear of the Lord in the school of obedience and the life of faith. Strong relationships are always forged in struggle, and it is the same with God.

You don’t really “taste and see that the Lord is good,” when life is a breeze. No, it happens as you struggle for godliness, as you fail and confess your sins, and as you walk by faith through life’s greatest challenges. Trials and temptations strip away my false sources of security, and they allow me to see God’s goodness in a way that I can’t when I feel self-sufficient.

This Thanksgiving, don’t spend your time meditating on all that went wrong in 2020; spend your time remembering God’s sustaining grace. Give thanks for how you “tasted and saw that the Lord is good.” It really is the greatest blessing you received.

And if you look back on 2020 and can’t say that you experienced the Lord this way much at all, then believe that God is good. Maybe you need to believe on Christ for the very first time and receive the salvation that Jesus provided that day he suffered on the cross. There is no greater taste of God you can enjoy than to taste salvation for the very first time. And if you are saved but stagnant, consider the challenge of vv. 11–22. Commit to fearing the Lord, obeying God’s Word, and walking by faith. Do not be content with a meager faith. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”