The Cadence Call of Faith in the Soldier’s (and Sailor’s) Psalm: A Bible Message from Psalm 27

I am preaching from Psalm 27. I preached from it last week. Yet I can’t let it go. It has a rhythm in my heart. Maybe I need it more than anyone else here. So I am preaching from it again. Yet I want to re-emphasize some things. And I want to add a cadence of faith to the Psalm of David for the people of God. God calls us to keep in step with the Spirit. Here is a cadence call for Soldiers of the Cross.

The Christian life is a life of undisturbed joy. The Christian life is a life of unending battles.

Both of these statements are true. And that calls for help. For it is humanly impossible to hold two such polarized truths in our hearts at the same time. We need help.

David fought a fight through all of his life against the raging battles of sin in the world, the flesh and the devil. And he wrote Psalm 27 to encourage himself in the Lord in the midst of the Battle. It is a militant hymn. It may, rightfully, with Psalm 91, be called the Soldier’s Psalm, or even the “Soldier’s Prayer.” Today is it is God’s Word for you. It is your Psalm, your hymn, our prayer, and it is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

I read Psalm 27 in the King James Version (KJV): “The Lord is my light and my salvation:”

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God! The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever.

Today I want to bring a message from Psalm 27 I am calling, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross? Learning the Cadence Call of the Army of God.” But first let us pray.

Lord, let me preach as if never to preach again, as I dying man to dying men. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Introduction

I am an Army chaplain in the US Army Reserves. I teach new chaplains and mid-career chaplains at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. About two weeks ago I was on my annual training of two weeks at Fort Jackson. Now all the services have moved their chaplains’ school and the enlisted schools for the chaplain assistants to Fort Jackson. We are now called the Armed Forces Chaplains School. So one might, on any given day, see airmen or sailors, even Marines and Cost Guardsmen, coming and going, along with Army soldiers. Early one morning, as I was walking across a field, I heard a chant that reminded me of my days, years ago, in boot camp. There I saw a company of young Navy enlisted sailors marching and singing a cadence as they marched. I stopped to listen in the same way one appreciates the sound of  a bird that one recalls but had forgotten. I followed these marching sailors and their leader as they sang their early morning cadence:

“Everywhere we go; everywhere we go
People want to know; people want to know
Who we are; who we are
So we tell them;  so we tell them
We’re not the Army; we’re not the Army
The back packing Army; the back packing Army
We’re not the Air Force; we’re not the Air Force
The high flying Air Force; the high flying Air Force
We’re not the Ma-rines: we’re not the Ma-rines
They don’t even look mean; they don’t even look mean
We’re not the Coast Guard; we’re not the Coast Guard
They don’t even work hard; they don’t even work hard
We are the Navy; we are the Navy
The world’s finest Navy; the world’s finest Navy

Hu-ah! Hu-ah!

Well, I was absolutely captivated! They seemed happily defiant, confident and self-assured as they marched across an Army base that is really a multi service base talking about the other branches of the Armed Services. I was particularly concerned about that cadence call,, “We’re not the Ma-rines. They don’t even look mean!” I knew a bunch of really dumb Navy boys who said something like that to some approaching Marines on a sidewalk on Broadway Street in San Diego and a fight broke out! I remember it too well!

But here they were: On their way; facing obstacles every day; looking ahead to victory; sailors of the US Navy marching to the cadence of words to encourage them.

It was then that I thought, “Am I a soldier of the Cross?” as the hymnist Isaac Watts put it?

Do I approach my life with the cadence call of faith? For I am on my way. There are obstacles every day. Yet I am marching on to victory, a soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For some of you, you live today on a mountain top. Your career is going better than you ever imagined. Your family is well. Your life is as stable as a cozy corner at Starbucks on a care free Saturday morning. Yet for others, seated next to you, the cozy corner is obliterated beneath the falling ceiling of debt, loss, and self-doubt. For some of you the question, “Where is God in all of this?” is a constant specter haunting your faith.

God has given us a gift of a cadence call of faith in the Soldier’s Psalm: Psalm 27. David’s Psalm is a divine echo of the cry of hope shaped on the crucible of spiritual and real warfare that can be heard across the centuries down to our own day, and into this very moment. If you listen, you will hear the cadence of two great themes, a beat and a down beat, intensifying in the Psalm, like a troop marching up the hill, until at last there is a resolution.

I offer this Psalm to you as both reflection of your vexations and a renewal of your hope of victory in the battle.

This Psalm is real. It alternates between Affirmation and Adversity. But it Leads to Aspiration for Victory in Jesus.

Just like the Christian life, we too, must ground ourselves in both realities until the final victory is won.

There are three reverberating cadence calls in this Soldier’s Psalm. The first cadence call of the march of Psalm 27 is this:

AFFIRMATION

There is The Resounding Affirmation is the Overarching Theme that Brings Strength to the Christian Life.

What does David affirm?

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

The battle, David tells himself in this soliloquy, begins with an assessment of what you have going into the battle. If you have only yourself, then you are ill prepared to fight the devil, the flesh, and the world. Today is a good day to reassess your weaponry. Ephesians six tells us that we should arm ourselves in the full armor of God for our fight is not against humans but spiritual powers that masquerade beneath the veneer of more familiar powers.

As David strengthens himself in this affirmation we should. What is it?

That the Lord is “my light” and “my salvation.” The Church is a corporate Body. We are taught to pray “Our Father which art in heaven,” but the Body is made up of individual members. Each member must know the Light of Christ and His Life and Word as the very Salvation that he possesses. In this way, then, the Lord is the “stronghold,” the citadel or fortress that is absolutely impenetrable. Thus, David and we can affirm rhetorically, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” The answer is, of course, no one! Be fearful, rather, as Jesus taught us, of the one who can kill the soul.

And if we were marching through life, like those young sailors on their way to battle, what would we say from this passage?

Everywhere I go, everywhere I go
People want to know; people want to know
Who I am; who I am
So I tell them; so I tell them
I am a soldier; I am a soldier
A soldier of the Cross; a soldier of the Cross
A sinner saved by grace; a sinner saved by Grace
So I am not afraid; so I am not afraid

Look towards the light of Jesus. Repent of your sins. Receive Him as your Savior and then confidently affirm your faith:  you are safe in Him. He is a Mighty Tower, a Strong Deliverer, and no one can ever snatch you out of his hand.

The second cadence call of this Soldier’s Psalm is before us now:

ADVERSITY

The Reality of Adversities are the Overarching Trials that Bring Sanctification in the Christian Life

Look at the adversaries that David admits are real and present dangers to him! He asks, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” Well, he names some real possibilities! Just look!

2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
 
5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.
 
10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

In verses 2-12, David recounts the march of faith that alternates between adversity, enemies and trials and the resulting spiritual result. What we see if the motif of the Cross, that the instruments brought against him became the instruments in the hand of God that brought him to victory. No verse in this collection sums up the situation more than verse 11:

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.

David sees, now, as he looks back at the battle in his life, that he learned the ways of the Lord, he was even brought to a level path, that is a place where he could recover his balance and be able to continue the march forward, “because,” he says, “of my enemies.”

This is where the devil is defeated: when Jesus Christ the Lord of Glory causes the Cross to become a Crown the captives go free! Our hope is in God overcoming evil for good in our lives. The presence of evil or trials does not indict us, but invites us to see the glory of God at work in our midst. It is counter-intuitive, like the general who is told that the enemy has his unit surrounded and he responds, John Wayne-like, “Good, they won’t get away now!”

I have told this story before, but it bears repeating often. I had a surgeon oncologist friend of mine, one of my parishioners, to ask me to join him on his day at the chemotherapy ward. Patients were lined up in what looked like recliners, with IVs hooked up their veins, receiving the hopeful cure for their disease. My friend brought me to each of his patients and I heard their stories. He then whispered to me as we were approaching this certain lady, “Pastor, she is one of my favorites! You will soon learn why…” His comment peaked my interest. I leaned over to this middle-aged lady and the doctor introduced me as his pastor. “Oh pastor!” She exclaimed, with not the slightest understanding it seemed to me that she should be more morose than jubilant, given her situation, “Oh Pastor, I am so glad to me you!” And before I could return her greeting, she continued, “Pastor, I thank God for my cancer!” I smiled at her, joining her rejoicing, but inside I was conflicted by her jubilation and her situation. She went on to become a living, a very much living, example of this passage, “You see Pastor if I had not had been given this cancer I would not know that the Church really was the ‘grace place.’ I would not have know the love of my husband who has cared for me so well. And I never would have met the best doctor in the whole world!” My friend looked at me and leaned in and said, “You see why I like this one!”

I liked her too! And I love the goodness of God that allows even you, today, in your life, to say,

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
Because of my enemies.

So what do we march to now? How about this?

I have an enemy; I have an enemy
But he will not defeat me; but he will not defeat me
Because of the Cross; because of the Cross
He is defeated; he is defeated

Friends, this is more than just a cadence call. This is the cadence call of Faith. This is just the Gospel. That is all it is. Right here in the Psalms. Praise the Lord.

Now hear the third cadence call of this Soldier’s Psalm:

ASPIRATION

There is The Resurrection Aspiration that is the Hope that Brings Satisfaction in the Christian Life

13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Some thoughtful reader of theology might pause here at this point and think, “But I thought the liberals said that there was no resurrection in the Old Testament religion of Israel.” Yes, they do say that. They are wrong. Resurrection anticipation is everywhere in the Ancient Church! It is clearly embedded in the Psalms of David and is the very climax of this Soldier’s Psalm. The Affirmation, which led to Admission of Adversaries, which shows him this is how God sanctifies us now, leads him to the hope of “the land of the living” beyond the grave.

I am so thankful that my hope is not in the Egyptian gods that I saw when my family and I visited the British Museum this summer. The mummies were, as you well know, buried with ornaments of the earthly life to keep them company in the land of the dead. Yet when we visited the Dylan Thomas Museum in Swansea, Wales, we were told that the late Sir Richard Burton was buried with a copy of Dylan Thomas’ poems in his hands. Dylan Thomas is hard to read when you are alive, much less in a coffin six feet under! No, my beloved, David had no such pagan ideas. His hope was in the living God and because God lived he would live. In fact, all of his trials and battles were leading him to, not just an inevitable death, but a portal to eternal life. How David’s Resurrection Aim in this Psalm reminds me of Job who exclaimed, like a brilliant sun bursting through a dark cloud, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” David joins his forefather in faith and declares,

“I am STILL confident of this: I WILL see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

Praise God for such faith! I once preached from this in a mausoleum where I was surrounded by bodies entombed in the wall, and a dark, ominous storm brewing outside. I never had a greater moment as a preacher than to declare that I am STILL confident of this: I WILL see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the Living!” I was thankful to know that several people were saved that day. People hearing about resurrection while seated in folding chairs in a mausoleum respond well, I think.

What is more, David comforts his own soul, as he comes back down to the place where he is living and the Sweet Psalmist of Israel, but also the Soldier of Zion, stills his heart on the words of hope:

So what is our cadence call here?

Because of the Cross; because of the cross
I will see Jesus; I will see Jesus

 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (14).

This is the Word of the Lord for you. You have affirmed your faith. Now your adversaries have assaulted your faith. But that has only worked to increase your faith. And now that is turning you to resurrection faith. And that settles your hearts back down. Let this Scripture simmer. Let the potent resurrection hope soak in the boiling water of your trials until the tea of good hope is fully dispersed. Then drink quietly from the cup of salvation.

Wait. Wait on the Lord.

Conclusion

Psalm 27 gives us divine perspective, and even better, Gospel strength, to balance the seemingly competing realities of adversity and promise. For we have seen the (1) Resounding Affirmation of the Believer in the Father’s constant care, as well as the (2) Realistic Adversity that we all face, yet which sanctifies our sorrows through the Holy Spirit, and (3) the Resurrection Aim of the Christian life which brings not only hope, but assurance of victory. That brings confidence.

Now we have a cadence call for our faith!

Everywhere I go: Everywhere I go
People want to know; People want to know
Who I am; who I am
So I tell them; so I tell them
I am a soldier; I am a soldier
A soldier of the cross; a soldier of the cross
I have an enemy; I have an enemy
But he will not defeat me; but he will not defeat me
Because of the Cross; because of the Cross
He is defeated; he is defeated
Because of the Cross; because of the cross
I will see Jesus; I will see Jesus
Amen! Amen!

Oh that we might march with that Resounding Affirmation, before Real Adveraries, with a Resurerection Aspiritation that helps us to look to our Savior and our Redeemer!

There is another cadence call of sorts that became a famous hymn.

Isaac Watts grew up in a very hard situation. His father was a Non Conformist minister, that is, he did not belong to the Established Church and was committed to the Reformed faith and the principles of representative government in matters of faith. This got him locked up, twice in his life. Young Isaac grew up visiting his father in prison and enduring the pain and poverty that came from his father’s absence. Years later, Dr. Watts the minister in London, would write about the life of the believer as the life of a soldier. He wrote that famous hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” We can imagine that he recalled the trials of his childhood, the sorrows of his father, and the frequent hardships his family faced. He was, perhaps, not unlike the minister who visited me with his depression. Yet, as David strengthened himself for battle, so did Watts as he used soliloquy to speak the Word of God back to his own life. Listen and ask yourself the questions in this hymn?

“Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb, And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight, if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by your Word. “

As prayerful reflection on the truths that we find in Psalm 27 brought divine perspective to Isaac Watts, it did so for David and for countless others Soldiers of the Cross. So let it bring optimistic hope to you in Jesus Christ our Lord. For this Psalm is about Him, anticipates Him, and follows the Gospel pattern of seeing that the things that come against us are really the things, like the Cross brought Resurrection, the things that lead us home. We end up blessing the adversary for his assaults drove us to Christ our Victor. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we must live. This is the Gospel power that lives in us.

Will you receive this Gospel truth of Christ today? Will you renew your life in this Gospel truth today? To do so is to march forward with confidence against all odds as a Soldier of the Cross.

Are you a soldier of the cross?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.