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Wait for the Morning

Sometimes we have to wait for God to lift us out of the depths.


Right after the Virginia Tech University massacre, the worship leader at a community worship service turned to this text. On behalf of those gathered to find solace in God in the wake of that awful tragedy, he stood and prayed the first two verses of this psalm: "Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord. O Lord, hear our voice. Let your ears be attentive to our cry for mercy."

I'm not surprised that these words were selected for that occasion. Down through the centuries, God's people have often made these words their own when going through deep grief.

Like other psalmists, our poet images trouble as being in the depths. Sometimes in the psalms the depths are a pit, sometimes mire, sometimes deep water. Whatever the specifics, the imagery conveys feelings of helplessness in the face of heart-breaking bereavement, victimization, or, as in the case of the Virginia Tech shootings, senseless tragedy. No light and momentary troubles here; people are in the depths, and out of the depths they cry, "O Lord, hear my voice." They beg, "Let your ears be attentive to our cry for mercy."

We all fall into the miserable depths of sin.

I'm not surprised that these words might seem fitting for the Virginia Tech service. But there is a surprise in the next line of the poem. At least, I was surprised the first time I read this psalm with care. "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" What surprises me is that the depths this poet talks about are not depths of illness or oppression or violence or bereavement, but depths of guilt. Unlike most psalms where this imagery is used, here it's not a case of enemies digging a pit that he fell into, or the waves and breakers of life crashing over him and overwhelming him. No, he's in a hole he made himself—a pit of sin. And you and I make holes like that for ourselves all the time. This poet is one of us.

I heard about a man who never went to church except for weddings and funerals. With no religious background, he had no idea what happened in church, little notion of what was said or what people who go to church believe, though he assumed they viewed themselves as superior to irreligious people like him. A coworker persuaded him to try church at least once. So one Sunday morning he slipped in late so he wouldn't have to talk to anybody, arriving when the service was already in progress. He sat in the back pew just as the congregation was praying the corporate prayer of confession: "We have done that which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone that which we ought to have done." With something of a shock, he said to himself, "These are my kind of people!"

We're all his kind of people. All of us, believers included, find ourselves crying to God out of depths we're in because of our own sin.

I think of a guy who had an affair with his wife's sister. His wife forgave him. He knew God forgave him. But he was still in the depths. His entire family was shamed, trust had to be rebuilt, he wondered how on earth they were going to put their lives back together.

I think of another man, also a Christian, who embezzled money from his company and is now doing jail time. He'd never broken a law in his life, had never been in trouble with the authorities, but he'd gotten himself in some financial difficulty and did something dumb. Now he's got a wife and children he won't see for at least three years. Even though he knows forgiveness, even though he knows his heart is washed clean by the blood of Jesus, he's still in the depths of remorse.

These guys, like our poet, know grace, mercy, and forgiveness. But their emotions do not yet match their theology. They believe God is merciful, but they're not at the moment feeling the sunshine of his merciful smile on their lives. They know God is kind, but they're still laid low.

The depths are usually dark places: ocean deeps where blind fish swim, mines where light never comes unless technology brings it there. I know a canyon in Colorado so deep and so narrow the sun never shines on the canyon floor. Nothing grows there. The rock of the canyon bottom is cold, even in mid-August. It's always night there.

Our poet is a believer, but he's still in that canyon. He knows the sun is shining up there somewhere, but he can't see it, can't feel its warmth. He knows forgiveness, but he's not feeling forgiven. He's still in the canyon, still in the depths.

And his experience is perfectly normal.

Sin still hurts, even though we're forgiven.

I didn't use to think so. I used to think that only non-Christians had to pray "out of the depths"—that believers, who know they're forgiven, ought to always feel forgiven. But after 50 years of being a Christian, 30 of those years as a pastor, and after reading John Owen's masterful exposition of Psalm 130 (Forgiveness of Sin), I believe that depths and darkness are normal for even the saintliest saint. That God sometimes permits his children to grieve and grieve deeply over sins that they know are forgiven. Though he washes them clean by the blood of his Son, he does not immediately lift the cloud that covers their hearts.

Why should this be? Why should God deal with his children this way? Why shouldn't it be that once we know we're forgiven, we feel forgiven and move on without pain, without any grief or sorrow over sin? Well, the answer is as varied as you and I. Like any good parent, God knows he has to treat us differently at different times and under different circumstances. But a general answer to that question—why does the darkness sometimes linger, why do we still find ourselves in the depths even though we know we're forgiven—is that God sometimes wants us to know the depth and darkness of sin. Not a theoretical knowledge, but an experiential knowledge that we know not only with our head but with our heart.

Suppose you wound someone deeply. Not one of those casual hurts that happen every day, but you really hurt somebody deeply. You get convicted about it. You confess. You claim 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And immediately you think, "Well, that's taken care of; I feel pretty good now!"

What if the Spirit of God convicts you about a longstanding sin, some darkness that's gripped your heart for a long, long time? Maybe he helps you see yourself as he sees you, a bully who wounds people all the time, embittering them against you and against himself. You feel the darkness of this character flaw for a minute or two, maybe an hour or two, but then you confess, you come clean, and you think, "This conviction and confession business ain't so bad. Just get it over with and get on with life. No big deal."

If God did not sometimes let us experience longer seasons in the pits and in the dark, we might not take sin as seriously as he does.

The psalmist goes on to say in verse four, "With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared." If we grasp what the poet grasped, we won't say, "Oh well. Yes, I sinned, but thankfully there's confession, and confession isn't so bad. God likes to forgive." We'll say, "God, as bad as sin is, as deep and dark as it is, I can hardly believe that you're willing to forgive. Your law tells me sin shouldn't be overlooked. My conscience tells me sin shouldn't be forgiven. And yet you forgive. I stand in awe of you, holy God, to whom all praise is due."

When we come to the Lord's table and we're reminded of the terrible price the Son of God had to pay that we might be forgiven, we cannot take sin lightly. We shudder and cringe that it was our sins that bloodied his hands and feet, our transgressions that pierced his side. "Therefore you are feared."

We sometimes must wait for full freedom from sin.

After we pray with confession and awe, we wait. "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope." This Word that tells me how God dealt with my sin; this Word that promises forgiveness and eternity in a place where there is no more sin, where we will be beyond the reach of even temptation; this Book full of hope and promise—in this Word I put my hope.

And I wait. I wait. Whoever wrote Psalm 119 says that his eyes were open through the watches of the night that he might meditate on God's promises. Waiting, waiting through the night. Sometimes in God's mercy, we don't have to wait very long. The feeling of forgiveness follows hard on the heels of forgiveness, and we don't linger long in the depths.

But sometimes we wait, and we wait, and we wait. Sometimes we wait long because, although we've been forgiven, we keep on sinning. Eugene Peterson describes one sinner he knew:

A few scabs dappled his white skin where he had scraped the bald spot on the top of his head. That's most of what I saw of him that day as he sat in my office. He kept his head down as he spoke, his eyes not willing to meet mine for more than a moment. I watched the way his knuckles bulged as he rubbed his hands together in anguish. I had lost count of the number of times I sat with him to hear his confession. It was more of the same this time—same old sins, same old failures—but it was different too. He was about to give up on trying to be a Christian. He wanted to know, "Won't I ever get to the place in life where I won't have to ask God to forgive me for the things I do?" Heaven knows, I wanted to say, "Yes, you will," but I couldn't. I knew that he and I will never outgrow the need for the mercy and forgiveness of God. Not 'til the resurrection, that is. But for that we have to wait.

Other times we wait because God knows there are lessons we can learn only while waiting. He wants us to know our sin as he knows our sin. He wants us to feel about our sin what he feels about our sin.

Wait. "My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." Verbatim repetition is rare in the Psalms—these poets didn't waste many lines. But here, the repetition is just right, evoking the kind of emotion we feel in Robert Frost's lines, "and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." It's wistful, it's longing: "More than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning."

It's hard to wait through the night. If you're a sentry on guard duty, if you're a night watchman who has to try and keep his eyes open in a lonely, quiet building, it's hard. I can't stay awake all night; I just can't do it. When we were young, Jennifer and I were sponsors for our church's youth group. We went with them on an all-nighter with one activity after another. Around 3 o'clock in the morning we went bowling, and as I sat waiting for my turn to bowl, I fell asleep! In Africa I attended an all-night worship service. Preaching and singing all night long (it was a little easier to stay awake during the singing than during the preaching). Late, late in the night I started to long for the dawn. I'd look at the horizon, willing the sun to rise: "Please, please, come up!" It's hard to stay awake all night long.

God always redeems us.

But you know something about this perfectly chosen image of the psalmist's? However long the night seems, the morning will surely come! It always comes, every day without fail. And however long those night hours, however long it might seem before God answers your prayer and lifts you out of the depths and into the sunlight once again, morning will come. Another psalmist says, "Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning." It does come. It will happen. Trust it. Trust him. God does not ignore or neglect his children who wait for him and hope in him. The morning will come.

Maybe it will come for you today, as you're reminded that the steadfast love of the Lord never changes. Maybe deep will call to deep—depths of mercy answering the depths of sorrow over sin—and the sunshine will break through for you again. Maybe dawn will break when your season of darkness has sufficiently humbled you, broken you, and made you sense the depth and darkness of your sin. But this I promise: the darkness will not last, for any child of God, one hour longer than the Father knows best. Then—morning!

Confident of this, the psalmist ends his poem: "O Israel! Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love all through the watches of the night. With the Lord is full redemption. He doesn't just forgive some of your sins or solve part of your problem. He himself will redeem Israel—and that includes us Gentiles who trust Israel's Messiah—from all their sins.


Of the varied images of salvation in the Bible, redemption speaks most vividly of freedom from the slave market of sin. You and I are enslaved by our sins, but then the Redeemer comes along and purchases us and sets us free. No more slavery to sin.

On a summer day in 1830, all the slaves in the British West Indies were to be set free. The long labor of Wilberforce and others for emancipation was at last completed, and on August 1st, these slaves would no longer be chattel or property; they'd be men and women. On the night before freedom day, tens of thousands of slaves never went to bed. They met in places of worship, they read God's Word, they prayed and sang and waited for the morning. They even sent watchmen up into the mountains to see the sun come up over the horizon and send word to the villages below, "We're free!"

That morning will come. So wait for the morning. Wait for the morning.

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism" and "Tempted to Plagiarize")

Ken Langley is pastor of Christ Community Church in Zion, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


The imagery of Psalm 130 conveys feelings of helplessness in the face of heart-breaking bereavement and victimization.

I. We all fall into the miserable depths of sin.

II. Sin still hurts, even though we're forgiven.

III. We sometimes must wait for full freedom from sin.

IV. God always redeems us.


Wait for the morning when we will be completely free from sin.