THE SLIMY PIT - A MOST SPIRITUAL PLACE
Psalm 40:1-6

(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Psalm 40:1-6
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced ;
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."

People of God
This Psalm is a contrast in what we do well and what God does well.

Let me start this morning by pointing out what we do so well. We are good at getting ourselves into trouble. The psalmist uses very graphic pictures - he calls it the slimy pit, the mud and the mire. He is describing a place to be avoided, because once in it, it tends to become impossible to get out of without help.

I still remember well the lime pits next to the Christian School in Edmonton Alberta. We had clear instructions from the teachers and parents to stay away from those pits that spring. But before school starts without parents or teachers around - what can they do, and curiosity, and daring, and peer pressure and a little adventure, and a sense that nothing could happen to me made those pits irresistible. And so with some friends, I started wading with my boots into that brown mucky water, only to discover that about 6 feet from the edge, what looked like a bottom was very soft and gooey.  I tried turning back, but my feet would not turn with me. And the more I tried, the deeper my boots sank! And then of course the bell rang. The school yard emptied. I was discovering the limitations of community and the value of community. A friend stayed, first to see if I would survive. By the time my friend finally found a piece of wood long enough to pull me out, my pants were soaked, my feet were freezing, one boot was irretrievably lost, and finally getting pulled out of the water onto a pile of wood, I tore my knee open. Honestly, like many of us here, after falling in a well 12 years ago, deep muddy pits from which I need to be rescued seem to be a reoccurring story for me.

How do we get ourselves into these slimy pits out of which we can’t climb, out of the mud and mire that clings to us so that we cannot get out, out of situations like these? Very seldom do people slip and fall into trouble. Most often we walk right into it with our eyes wide open. How is it that we can do something like that?

Its called denial.
We deny that there are rules which we ought to obey for our own good. We seem to have thoroughly plugged ears when it comes to helpful advice from those who really care for us, parents, teachers, even God.
We deny that we are vulnerable, we deny that anything negative could happen to us, we pretend immortality.
We think we can tempt fate and walk away from it unscathed.
We deny that the problem is really as bad as it is, or we deny that the problem is something we have to deal with today, we procrastinate until the problem becomes undeniable.
We deny our limited humanity thinking that if we get ourselves into a pickle, we can get ourselves out of it again.
We deny our own weakness. If we have a problem, we can get out of it by putting on our ingenious thinking caps, pulling up our boot straps and putting in a bigger effort tomorrow.
We deny our need for community. We want to do it ourselves, we don’t need the help of others.

Behind all this denial is a profound theological truth - we want to be like God - self sufficient, all mighty, immortal, omniscient, that there is no law unless we apply the law to ourselves. No need to listen to some law outside ourselves, we are the law unto ourselves. Spirituality is for the weak minded.
We try to play god, and God said to us, “You will have no other gods before me!”

That is before the slimy pit, the mire and mud - we can afford to deny our humanity, we might dare to think that we are like god.

But God because of his great love for us, lets us get ourselves into a pickle, into a slimy pit, mud and mire. God lets us get ourselves into a place where some of the most profound spiritual lessons are learned. When we are in the miry clay, about as low as we can go, that is where God teaches us so extremely important life lessons.

In this Psalm, David lists some of the profound spiritual lessons he learned. As he struggled in the mire, his feet sinking deeper and deeper, mud first clinging to his calves, then his thighs, then his torso, he was on a hard spiritual learning curve..  Let me suggest some of the themes he learned.

The 1st lesson:
I have a problem that is too big for me to handle.
If you have ever been stuck in deep mud as a child, you know very quickly the feeling of imbalance that results - without your feet being able to move, you can’t adjust them for balance. And you know for every attempt to get one foot out, you press the other deeper into the muck.
In life to, by denial, we can get ourselves into situations that are the same. They throw us way off balance, we feel like our lives are falling apart, we come to realize that the possibilities of us, ourselves, getting out of this situation are simply impossible. Its like the miry clay has the grip of doom upon us, it will not let us go, it will suck the life right out of us. We may struggle and struggle, maybe even to the point of a few last gasping breaths, eventually the truth comes to us - we have a problem that with all our strength and ingenuity we cannot fix.

That is the 1st spiritual lesson of the pit - its slimy, mire, mud, by ourselves, impossible to get out of.
The 2nd spiritual lesson of the pit is that we need someone to come and rescue us. We need a power greater than ourselves to come and deliver us. What an admission.
We are not so strong - not almighty
We are not all knowing, omniscient
We are not self sufficient, we need help
We are not immortal, if we are not rescued, we will die.
You see, there comes a point where we can no longer afford to pretend we are God. We need people! We need community! We need each other. But there comes a point where our manipulative skills to get others to help us doesn’t work. People can’t help us any more. . There comes a point where only one can help us - when we have come to the end of ourselves.

God help me! David cried out to the Lord. When he cried out to the Lord, the word cried was an accurate description of what he did. His was a desperate request. His was a gut wrenching utterance that God would come to help him. Is this a lesson you have learned - the value of crying out to God, the value of letting all of creation hear your guttural utterance?
What a profound place that is spiritually speaking. Creature cries out to the creator. There is only one Savior, and that Savior is not me. There is only one Help - that help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.
That is the 2nd spiritual lesson of the pit - there is one God and we are not him. So we cry out to God - and the promises of scripture is that he hears our cries, spoken in secret, cried out with tears in our bed rooms, in lonely places, where there are no others to hear.  He hears them... Yet there is a 3rd lesson of the pit that we need to learn.
Its called patience, patient waiting for the Lord.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.

One of the things that a person who is stuck in a slimy pit, mire and mud needs to realize is that our struggling only gets us in deeper. Our attempts at self rescue only make the matter worse. Our trust in our own abilities, in our own skill to manipulate the system, others around us, life, only entrenches us further into the mire.
A person stuck in mud and mire must stop their striving, must enter into the rest of faith. They have to patiently trust that God will hear our cries, that God will come to answer and deliver us.
Isaiah tells us that in returning and rest in our salvation. Its when we stop trying to self rescue, that God rescues, just as a drown swimmer must stop his thrashing before a life guard will lay a hand on to rescue him. We must come to a stop.

How true that is, not only of our life, but also of our salvation. As long as our lives are focused on our own good qualities, our own strength, our own worthiness for acceptance by God, for entrance into eternity, as long as it is dependant on our works, we are doomed to the destruction of the imperfect struggler. But when we stop our striving, and learn that it is only by faith in Christ, only by trust his merit, only by accepting what he has to give, that we discover the God who gladly and quickly comes to our salvation. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The 3rd lesson of the pit is quietness, rest, patience.
And then the 4th lesson of the pits is a discovery - God answers our cries, God rescues,

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

God rescues. He takes our ashes and turns them to something beautiful. He takes our darkness and turns it to light, he takes our weakness, inability and turns it into strength. He takes our tears and turns them into joy and fills our heart with praise and celebration for what only God could do.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

God turns my heart to praise and that praise is our witness - its a celebration of what God has done. And we share that praise with whoever will hear, whoever will listen to what God has done for us.

There is a 5th lesson of the pit, let me point that out to you in just these last minutes. In the last verse of the section we read, it says

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced ;
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."

What does it mean, my ears you have pierced? There are a couple of possible interpretations - one of them is that of ownership - God having rescued us now owns us and we belong to him, body and soul in life and in death. That is true - but the context suggests another (and probably related) meaning.

Whereas we get ourselves into the miry clay by denial, by stopping our ears to the correction and discipline of the Lord, God through the pit teaches us the value of listening and obeying. Literally the original language says you have "auwled my ears," or you have reamed out my ears. The context of obedience in the passage points us to a change that the pit creates in our hearts, from deafness to listening to God, from careless disobedience to careful attention to what God wants us to do.  We discover the fifth lesson, even though it is contrary to our old nature, we discover "it is better to obey."

People of God, the pit is a terrible but wonderful place. It’s a place where we learn the basic truths of our faith, the place where God teaches us in the hard knocks of life the truth of his love for us.

 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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