Last week we talked about the fact that when it comes to prayer, Jesus wants us to keep at it and not give up. These are encouraging words, but sometimes we would like to have a little more. We would like to know that we are not alone in our struggles, because let’s face it, sometimes life gets very difficult. Yet, our burdens become somewhat more bearable when we know that we are not alone. And, of course, we are never alone, because God is always with us. Yet, I wonder if, when we are going through difficulties, there is part of us that would like to have a little evidence that God is indeed with us. I wonder if there is part of us that would just like to have a sign from God, to reassure us that we are not alone in our struggles. That was the desire of David as he prayed to God in Psalm 86.
In Psalm 86, we see that, for David, life has become hard. He has encountered a difficult situation in his life. We are not sure exactly what the problem is, because he doesn’t go into that kind of detail. Yet, what is very evident to us is that because he has come face to face with this hardship, he turns to God and simply pours out his heart in a prayer of supplication that is just absolutely beautiful. This prayer of David is really a model prayer for us when struggles come upon us. And, what really grabbed my attention is that at the end of the prayer, David asked for the one thing that I think we all want to ask, when the road we walk becomes hard. David asked for a sign. “Give me a sign of your goodness.”
Now, when we first read this request of David, we might be tempted to think that perhaps David has lost faith in God because he is asking God for a sign, for proof of God’s goodness. You see, in our day, we have been taught, that to question the things that are happening in our lives, or to ask God for some tangible evidence of his goodness, is a sign of weak faith, or lost faith. The reality, however, is that for David to ask God for a sign is not evidence of a lost faith, instead it is evidence of a secure faith; because if David had lost his faith, then he never would have prayed to God in the first place. If David had lost faith, he would have simply turned his back on God and tried to face his difficulty alone, without God. The fact that David prays this prayer at all, shows us that his faith is there, because he turns to the only one that he can turn to, he turns to the only one who can answer him, who can give him a sign. He turns to God. And, there is nothing weak about turning to God, nor is there anything weak about asking God for a sign.
You know, as you look through the whole of Scripture, you will find many instances where either God’s people asked for a sign, or God gave a sign to his people. When God called Abraham and Sarah, God gave them circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Moses, when he was told that he was going to lead the people out of Egypt, he asked for a sign. So, God caused Moses’ staff to become a snake, and his hand to turn leprous and then clean. Of course, all ten plagues were a sign to the people. Gideon, when he was called by God to be a judge over the people of Israel, he wanted to be sure that God was going to grant victory to the people; so, Gideon asked for a sign, and God gave him the sign of the fleece. When the angels announced to the shepherds that Jesus had been born, they gave a sign, “you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Even Jesus was asked for a sign, and he said, “destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Finally, Jesus told his disciples that before he returned, there would be signs in the heavens.
The asking and receiving of signs from God is evident throughout the Scriptures. So, it is not unusual, or an indication of weak faith, that David made such a request to God; and, that is good news for us, because when we want to approach God in the same way as David, asking for a sign, we know that we can. We can ask in faith, not from a lack of faith.
If you are like me, then you can look back over your life and you can see the evidence of God’s faithfulness to you, as a matter of fact, looking back is probably the best way to see how God has been gracious in your life. When I was on a retreat in high school, we did an activity where we drew a time line of our lives and on this time line we placed the events of our lives. If the events of our lives were happy and joyful, then we placed them above the time line; if they were sad or difficult, then we placed them below the time line. By doing this exercise of looking back, we were able to see the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God, both in the happy times, and in the sad times. That time line was a clear sign that God had been with us through the good and bad times of our lives. I am sure that if you filled out a time line of your lives you too will be able to see the faithfulness and goodness of God in your own lives. Yet, when we come face to face with a new challenge, with a new and difficult situation, with a new hardship, we want to know that God is still walking with us. We know what God has done for us in the past, we can see the evidence; but, that was the past. This is now, and we want to know that just as God has walked with us in the past, so God will still be walking with us in the present situation. That is what David was saying to God in Psalm 86. “God, I know that you have been faithful to me before, that you have walked with me before; but, I have to know that you are still walking with me. I need a sign to know that you are still there.” David knew what we all know, which is that if God is not walking with us, then we have no hope. Without God walking with us, there is nothing to cling to as we face new storms that blow into our lives. So, in faith, David says to God, “Show me that you are still there.” When in faith, we too ask God for a sign, we too are asking God to show us that he is still there; because, then we will have the hope and the strength to face whatever hardship it is, that comes our way. Of course, knowing that God is with us is not the only reason we might ask for a sign from God.
There are times, when we might ask for a sign from God, not because we want to be sure that God is walking with us; but, so that we can be sure that we are walking with God. In other words, we ask God for a sign, so that we will know, that we are doing God’s will. I am not sure if I ever shared this story or not, but Denise and I coming here to this church is a story filled with signs. When we were in North Carolina and knew that God was calling us to begin searching for another church, we made a few requests of God. We wanted to be closer to a city, because in Carolina we lived in the middle of two corn fields. We wanted to live in community of other young families, because on the street that we lived, everyone else was old enough to at least be our parents, if not our grandparents. And, we wanted to live no further than a days drive from our family in Virginia Beach. So, when we got the information for Montours, we looked on the map and sure enough, it was closer to the city, it was only nine hours from Virginia Beach, and we learned that there were new communities being developed in the area. So, the nominating committee invited us to come up to preach and interview, which we did. We had a good interview, and everything felt very positive; but, we still wanted a sign from God that this was were God was calling us. Well, as we were driving back down to Carolina, we stopped at a book store, and I bought a book. When I got back my change, I discovered that I had been given one of those new state quarters. This was when the new quarters were first coming out, and I had never gotten one before. So, I turned it over, and low and behold it was the Pennsylvania quarter. We kind of laugh and thought, “Isn’t that funny, we were just there.” Further on down the road as we were going along, a car passed us with a bumper sticker of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Isn’t that funny, we were just there.” Even further down the road, we stopped to get some gas, and I went into the convenience store to buy a snack or something, and as I was standing in line, I was looking at this thing that I was buying, and I noticed that it had an address for the company that had made this product. The address was Pittsburgh. I showed it to Denise, and we both said, “I wonder if God is trying to tell us something.” There are times when we need a sign from God, so that we can follow in God’s way; because if we are not following God’s way, then things can get rather messy. For, example, in the story of Abraham and Sarah, God promised to give them a child. Well, twelve years later, Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands. They can up with a plan where Abraham would have a child, not by Sarah, but by her maid, Hagar. Sure enough, Abraham did have a child with Hagar, but this child, who was called Ishmael, was not the child of God’s promise. The child of God’s promise was Isaac, who was born thirteen years later. Of course, Isaac’s birth presented a problem, because now there were two children of Abraham, living under the same roof. Abraham and Sarah, by not sticking to God’s plan, found themselves in a real mess, and God had to bail them out. There are times when we need a sign from God, so that we can follow God’s will.
As I spent time this week with David’s prayer, I came to appreciate the honesty with which he approached God, because it told me that we too can be honest in the prayers that we bring before God. Of course, we are not told the results of David’s prayer. In other words, David does not reveal to us the sign which he received from God, and I think that this was intentional. Because, if David had told us what sign he had received from God, then we might be tempted to think that if we approach God, in the same manner as David, then we should expect to receive from God the same sign as David; but, that is not the case. If we ask a sign from God, then God will give us a sign that corresponds to the situation that we are facing. For example, after prayer, we might find within us, a strength that we never knew we had. We might get a call or a card from a friend letting us know that we are being remember. The peace of God which passes all understanding might just fill our very souls. Or, all of a sudden, we might finding ourselves humming the tune of a favorite old hymn. There are a number of ways, in which God can be letting us know that he is walking with us. And, there are a number of ways in which God can show us how to walk with him, all we have to do, like David, is ask.