The Fifty-Fourth Psalm
Written by Gary Piper
As her husband drove by a gas station, Canon sighed deeply and said to him, “Have you seen the price of gas?”
Not really wanting to look Geoff glanced quickly at price of gas, “$4.29! What to they think we are made of money?”
“After we pay our rent and utility bills we won’t have enough left for food and gas until next payday. What are we going to do Geoff?” Cannon replied fighting to hold back her tears. Rather than fighting to hold back tears Geoff began fighting to control his frustration because he knew eventually it would turn to anger and he hated himself when he became angry.
“Foster Franks says we should pray about things like this and give ten percent of our earnings to him. On his television program Sunday he said, ‘Remember if Jesus can feed over five thousand people with a small amount he can multiply your earnings but you must give before you receive.’ Do you think he’s right, Geoff? Do you think if we sent him ten percent of our check to him we’d get help from the Lord?”
“It doesn’t matter if we give it to him or not we just don’t have the money to spare. Believe me, Cannon I wish it weren’t so, but it is. If we give our money to Foster Franks, will he put gas in our car? Will he put food on our plates? Will he pay our bills? And if he doesn’t who will, Jesus?” Geoff paused briefly to catch his breath.
Picking up where he left off, “I tell ya Cannon I’m almost at the breaking point. I work and I work in place that treats me like I’m some kind of mindless machine and what happens?”
“I’ll tell you what happens,” answering his own question, “we cash our check and leave the bank, pay bills, go grocery shopping, gas up the car and then go home broke! What happens to our dreams? Can Foster Franks help us fulfill our dreams, or can the church? Can Jesus?”
Staring out the window Cannon began regretting starting the conversation. After a few moments of silence, “I’m sorry, Geoff, I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just as lost as you are on what to do I just wish I knew who we could talk to that could help us straighten things out and tell us where to turn for help.” Geoff could hear the hurt in her voice and he too began regretting lashing out at her. Neither spoke for nearly five minutes each locked in the prison of their own hopelessness.
Finally, “It’s like we’re locked in hand to hand combat with an army we can’t see. Do you remember back when we first decided to attend church how Satan attacked us?” Geoff asked.
“I sure do,” Cannon replied, “we sure went though some tough times then. But I don’t feel the same way this time. Do you?”
“No I don’t. If I did we could get out our book on Spiritual Warfare and with the Lord on our side fight back and win again like we did before.” Interrupting him, “Do you think if we stopped by the church and asked Pastor Carole she could help us sort this out?” Geoff could sense in his wife’s voice she trusted Carole. “You put a lot of trust in her don’t you honey?”
“I sure do. I can’t place my finger on why but I do. If anyone can help us find some sort of answer, she’ll be the one. I am sure she’s in her office if you’d like to drive over to the church,” Cannon replied. Turning and looking at her, “we might as well stop maybe while we’re in talking to Carole Jesus will fill our car with some celestial hi-octane gasoline.”
“One of these days, Geoff you’re going to open your mouth with your Jesus wisecracks and he’s going to slap you in the back of the head like this.” Cannon replied as she slapped Geoff on the back of his head.
Both shared a hearty laugh and then remained silent until they arrived at the Christ Community Church. Pulling into the parking lot, they noticed Pastor Carole Portage walking toward the main entrance of the church. The Christ Community Church didn’t look much like a church instead it looked more like a medium sized restaurant but many of the members testified that because it didn’t look like a church is what brought them for the first time. “If your stomachs empty you go to a restaurant don’t you? So if your spirit’s empty come to Jesus’ restaurant at the corner of Elwood and First,” Joe Footley always said.
When Carole spotted Cannon and Geoff pulling into the parking lot she turned around waved at them and waited while they parked their car. “Hi folks,” she said as the couple walked toward her.
“Hi Pastor Carole, if you have a few minutes Geoff and I would like to talk to you for a couple of minutes.” Giving both of them a hug Carole replied, “I’ve always have time for you two, what’s up?”
Geoff held the door for both women and followed them into the narthex of the church, “let’s go into the sanctuary,” Carole said, “I like talking in there better than a stuffy old office.”
The three of them walked to the front Carole motioned for them to sit in the front pew and she sat on the top step leading to the stage. Leaning back against massive pulpit, she asked, “Before we begin I like to start with a prayer. Geoff you want to do the honors?”
For the first time since getting out of the car Geoff spoke up, “I’d just as soon you do it Pastor I’m afraid I’m not in much of a praying mood right now.” Turning to Cannon, “how about you young lady?” Sounding a little embarrassed, “no thank you Pastor I’m afraid I feel just like my husband does.”
“Wow! Whatever is bothering you two must be pretty bad when neither of you can even pray,” the older lady commented.
“It’s not bad, Pastor,” Geoff started. “Hold it,” Carole interrupted him, “I’m Carole the word Pastor is to formal for me. Please call me Carole.” Carole Portage at 48 years old had been Pastor of the Christ Community Church for nearly five years. She was the first woman to hold that position but had no trouble being accepted. The congregation had grown from 30 members when she first started to nearly 250 now.
“Sorry, Pastor, I mean Carole. Things aren’t bad they’re hopeless,” Geoff replied.
Over the next several minutes, Geoff and Cannon rehearsed with Carole their conversation in the car. Several times Carole would stop them for clarification especially when they were talking about the television minister Foster Franks.
Finally, Cannon said, “well there you have it Carole. It’s hopeless don’t you agree?”
After a brief pause, “The only time something becomes hopeless is when you leave out Jesus,” Carole replied. “Let’s pray.”
“Lord Jesus, my two friends and I bow our heads in honor of your life given so that we may live a life worthy of the Father. Our hearts are heavy, Lord because the three of us and many others struggle against the army of materialism. We are engaged in battle against an enemy we cannot see, one that we cannot control, and one that we cannot overcome. As we struggle to do as you said long ago about rendering unto Caesar that which Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. Even when we render unto God that which His we still find ourselves at the mercy of those things which are Caesar’s.”
Carole paused momentarily to gather her thoughts. “Lord Jesus, we don’t have enough wisdom to affect any changes in the army of materialism. We cannot retreat and regroup we must push on headlong against overwhelming forces and without Divine intervention we will eventually succumb to them. So, Lord Jesus, we must take our battles into the spiritual arena and turn to you for spiritual strength, spiritual guidance, and spiritual insight. We know of a surety with you all things are possible so therefore, Lord placing our future in your hands we look to you for the blessings we need to battle on to victory and the ultimate vindication of our lives. Amen.”
“Whoa! You sure have a way with saying the right words, Pastor,” Geoff commented.
“Sorry I forgot,” Geoff replied.
“What did you mean Carole when you said we needed to take our battles into the spiritual arena,” Cannon asked.
“I was wondering that myself,” Geoff interjected, “you mean trying to make ends meet is a spiritual battle?”
“Not at all making ends meet is a very materialistic battle and must be fought with materialistic methods such as increasing your income or cutting expenses.”
“But there’s not much chance of our income increasing any time soon and as far as expenses we’re at bare bones now. We re-mortgaged house to lower the payments and payoff our credit cards, our car is ten years old, we rarely go out to eat or to a movie, we haven’t had a vacation in over three years, and we give to the church when we can. If we’re to fight a materialistic battle with materialistic methods then someone is going to have to help us because we’re out of ammo,” Geoff replied.
Carole could feel the frustration building inside and silently prayed for help in controlling her own emotions and for the wisdom needed to give Cannon and Geoff a plausible answer to their dilemma.
“First of all,” she began, “you need to know that you are not alone. On my email prayer chain the request for prayers for financial burdens top the list. Some of those requests are self-inflicted but most of them are folks like the two of you. You say your income cannot increase does that mean both of you can’t foresee any substantial pay increases?”
“I’m the only worker in the family,” Geoff replied, “Cannon not only cares for our two children she is also the primary caregiver for her father who suffers from Alzheimer’s and he requires nearly round the clock care. It’s not that we haven’t tried to work things out they just don’t.”
“Isn’t there something we can do, Carole?” Cannon asked. “It just isn’t fare! The richest country in the world and people are treated like useless trash!” Geoff’s voice was filled more with pain than anger.
“One nation under God!” Boy isn’t that a big joke, he added.
“Geoff, please,” Cannon pleaded. “It’s true! If the United States is under God’s care he must have stomped on us or something,” he replied. “I can understand your frustration, Geoff,” Carole cut in, “and that’s why I prayed that we take our struggles into the spiritual arena even though it appears on the surface not to be spiritual.”
“I heard Foster Franks say that the United States has deserted God and everything that’s happening is because we refuse to repent. Is he right Carole?”
Carole had been avoiding addressing that issue since the attack on the World Trade Center and other natural disasters when some of the well known Pastors and Evangelists blamed the attacks and horrific storms on the United States’ refusal to repent of its sins. It wasn’t because she didn’t have an opinion but it was her opinion and as far as she was concerned her personal opinions did not belong in the pulpit. “The pulpit is for God’s word not for the work of men,” her father told her time and time again.
After remaining silent for nearly three minutes she cleared her throat and started, “what I am going to say may sound like I’m ducking out but you need to that I don’t have all the answers. What I tell you is only my opinion and not necessarily the truth.”
“Don’t you ministers speak for God?” Geoff asked. Carole first thoughts were that’s a loaded question if I ever heard one. “That’s a silly question, Geoff,” Cannon interrupted, “God’s perfectly capable of speaking for himself.”
“Basically you’re on the right track Cannon if God wants to reveal something to you, Geoff he doesn’t need me or anyone else for that matter because he has enough resources already,” Carole added.
“Okay, if that’s the case then why have ministers in the first place?” Geoff asked.
“Wait a minute Geoff,” Cannon replied, “we’re getting a long way off what we’re here for. We need people like Pastor Carole to help us sort through spiritual things isn’t that reason enough?”
After a moment of reflection, “you’re right, Cannon, some times I really get to deep into things.”
“I am sorry Carole for changing the subject,” Geoff apologized. “Now, you were going to explain to us why we need to struggle with materialism in spiritual ways.”
“That’s okay, Geoff,” Carole answered, “We’ll save that discussion for another time. But, going back to where we were. As individuals we are limited in our influence over things that affect the larger community therefore we have to examine what we can and can’t do for ourselves. Are you with me so far?”
“I think so,” Geoff replied, “since there’s not much I can do to affect the rising cost of living I need to look for ways to reconcile and endure its negative effect on me.”
Picking up her Bible Carole quickly turned to 1st Peter and began reading, “Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12 – 4:13) When we choose to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, at the same time we need to denounce materialism as the primary focus of our lives yet when we do that the materialistic world does not hesitate to put our new lifestyle on trial.
“I can see what you’re saying Carole but it still doesn’t tell me how to improve our situation,” Geoff replied. “I think she’s saying there’s not much we can do to improve our situation except depend upon the Lord,” Cannon said. “But that still doesn’t put food on our table, put gas in our car, pay our bills, and still enjoy life,” Geoff answered back.
Before anyone could speak, “Paul’ tells us to rejoice with exceeding joy! Who’s he trying to kid?” Geoff added. “Please, Geoff, Carole is trying to help us,” Cannon said. “Then let her help us we don’t need a bunch of small talk about being happy about all this crap we’re going through,” he indigently replied.
Tears formed in Cannon’s eyes and she glanced quickly at Carole to get her reaction but before she could apologize for Geoff’s response, Carole cut in, “it’s okay, Cannon I understand completely what Geoff is experiencing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel the same way.”
Turning to Geoff, “let me ask you this, Geoff have you ever seen or heard of testimonies of people who even though they are dying have a positive outlook on life?”
Thinking for a minute, “I’m not someone who is dying but I have a good friend at work whose son has Downs Syndrome and in spite of his son’s handicap there isn’t a happier family anywhere. It’s a miracle I tell you, an undeniable miracle how one family can be so happy with all they face.”
Before Carole could say anything Geoff cut her off, “hold it! I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to ask me what the difference is between what I’m experiencing at what they are. And you also know that I’m going to say nothing but the circumstances.”
“And he makes less money than you do, didn’t you tell me that once, Geoff?” Cannon asked.
Following a brief hesitation, “Pastor Carole, I owe you an apology for making your job hard. When I think about it, you’re in the same boat as all the rest of us. It’s not easy becoming a Christian is it?” Geoff commented. “No need to apologize, Geoff I can assure you I know where you coming from and I know where you are going. And remember it’s easy to become a Christian it’s staying a Christian that gets harder.”
“Do you think it’s always going to be this way, Carole?” Cannon asked.
“I hope not because it’s destroying lives,” Carole answered. “Many times I find myself praying families such as yours who struggle to maintain their happiness and when I am praying for them in the middle of my prayer the Holy Spirit reminds me that the people who really need our prayers just as much are those who put materialism before people. In a sense they are in more danger then those they use to feed their materialism.”
“Well, I think it’s time we leave you to your pastoral duties,” Geoff said, “I know we will continue to struggle financially because that appears to be a given at this point in time but you have helped me see that we do not struggle alone. As you were talking a few moments ago the scene where Peter was walking on the water and began sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus flashed into my mind. I guess what happened to me is I fixed my eyes on our financial problems rather than Jesus.”
Cannon was smiling from ear to ear, “I love you Geoff and I know somehow Pastor Carole, the church, and Jesus will get us through these tough times.”
As the three prepared separate Carole turned in her Bible to the 54th Psalm. “Before we leave I want to read you one of my favorite Psalms. I want you to pay particular attention to this phrase, ‘With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.’ The only thing that God wants you to give him is your life. Your first question was about money if you give your life sacrificially to God he will guide into ways that make it do a marvelous work and a wonder. And when you do you will see and experience not God’s power in your life but his life in yours as well.”
Carole motioned for Cannon and Geoff to stand up. She walked over to them gave each one a hug and said, “This Psalm will be our closing prayer so when I am finished reading without saying a word we’ll leave the sanctuary. Is that okay with you two?”
Both motioned it was okay. Turning her attention back to the Bible Carole began reading. “O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. Selah Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.” (Psalm 54:1-7 ESV)
Note: “Scripture quotations unless otherwise noted are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”