This is the outline from a teaching I gave this past Sunday on Psalm 77. This is just an outline, not a full manuscript. But I added a few extra paragraphs and sentences to fill it out a little. I recommend reading Psalm 77:1-20 first and then going through the outline with the psalm open next it.
Psalm 77 – Four Responses to a Season of Distress that will help you find relief in the Lord
This is a psalm written by Asaph, apparently to be performed by Jeduthun. Both of them were appointed by David for a ministry of worship after bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron. 16:37-42). They served during a time filled with military activity, and it is possible that this psalm was inspired by a military defeat Israel was suffering. Whatever the situation was, it was clearly not just a bad day Asaph was having. It was a season of distress, a prolonged period of difficult life circumstances. Whether you are going through a prolonged season of hardship in your life or just having a bad day, this psalm teaches four ways you can respond to your distress to find comfort and relief in the Lord.
I. Seek the Lord (v. 1-3)
A. Cry out to God for help. (v. 1)
B. Seek the Lord relentlessly. Never give up on seeking him. (v. 2)
C. Seek the Lord even when you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. (v. 2-3)
Question: Why does remembering the Lord not help him yet? (v. 3) The answer is in the next section.
II. Think about the Lord
A. The Psalmist cannot sleep; God holds his eyelids open. He is so troubled that instead of crying out to God, he is thrust into silence. (v. 4)
B. He begins to think about how things once were. He remembers that he has been through hardship in the past, but in the past, he was able to rejoice and find relief (“songs in the night”). (v. 5-6)
Question: Why is there no relief for him now as there was in the past?
C. He thinks about the Lord and questions whether the Lord will ever be good to him again.
1. Will God reject his personal relationship to him? (v. 7) cf. Psalm 27:9-10
2. Will God forsake his covenant relationship with Israel? (v. 8-9) cf. Exodus 34:6
Answer: This is why he cannot find relief and why remembering the Lord is not helping him. Thinking of the Lord reminds him that his life has changed and become difficult, and he thinks incorrectly that this means God has changed too. It is good to think about the Lord in times of hardship, but we must think about him the right way if we want to find relief. cf. Numbers 23:19 and his promises to Abraham in Genesis that he fulfilled in Genesis (the birth of Isaac) and Exodus (deliverance of Israel from slavery). Also cf. Psalm 27:13. We must not let our thoughts be idle because our hearts are wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9); we need to take control of our thoughts and guide them with Scripture.
III. Remind yourself of God’s unchanging character—his power and goodness in the past.
A. He breaks the silence and speaks again, but now he speaks of God’s character. (v. 10)
1. Instead of questioning God’s character because of his hardship, he appeals to God’s character to find comfort in his hardship. God’s character never changes. If he was powerful and good in the past, then he is powerful and good right now too.
2. He is preaching truth to himself. He is about to recount God’s dealings with Israel in the past. These are things he would have known because they were written down in the Law. In essence, he is appealing to Scripture to comfort himself and correct his faulty thinking. This is what he should have done earlier when he was thinking about God. He should have been guiding his thoughts with Scripture.
B. He remembers God’s actions in the past. (v. 11-12) cf. Romans 15:4. This is why we have Bible stories. They are not just cute stories for children. They were “written in the past to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
C. There is no God like our God who is powerful, good, and unchanging. That is why we should seek him relentlessly in our distress instead of pursuing other things. (v. 13)
D. The Psalmist focuses especially on God’s power (v.14) and goodness (v. 15). He has a mighty arm, and he uses it to redeem his people. Notice also that he says “the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.” Only God’s people can take comfort in remembering God’s unchanging character and actions in the past. You must be a believer to be comforted by this. cf. Romans 8:28; Genesis 12:3
IV. Remind yourself of specific examples that illustrate God’s unchanging character.
A. God’s power illustrated in the parting of the Red Sea. (v. 16-19) cf. Mark 4:35-41
B. God’s goodness illustrated in his deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea. (v. 19-20)
1. If you are not a believer, God’s unchanging character should terrify you. He delivered his people in this incident but decimated their pursuers. cf. Hebrews 10:31. You must trust in the blood of Christ to be rescued from the wrath of God and know his unchanging love.
2. God is invisible. “your footprints were not seen” (v.19) You might not see him working, but you can be sure he is at work all the time, mightily working all things for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28). He is the same today as he was then; the same power he had back then to stir up the sea and destroy Pharaoh’s army is the same power he has today to work all things for your good if you are in Christ. cf. Ephesians 1:19-20
3. God is our Shepherd. (v. 20) cf. Psalm 23:1-6; John 10:11-13. There is no God like our God. He is the Good Shepherd we can trust. We should turn to him in hardship instead of thieves or hired hands.
4. “by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (v. 20) God appoints human leaders to guide his people. For us, these are our pastors. In times of hardship, don’t abandon the fellowship of the church and the leadership of your pastors. Stay with God’s people to find comfort and continue walking faithfully before the Lord.
This does not mean it is never appropriate to spend some time alone when you are suffering or grieving. When Jesus was in deep anguish and went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, he brought his disciples with him, but it says he withdrew from them a stone’s throw (Luke 22:41). He had them there with him and kept coming out to them between times of prayer (Matthew 26:40-45). So it is fine to be by yourself but only for a time; it is important that you don’t isolate yourself from the church but remain in fellowship with them.
Asaph only mentions one specific example to comfort himself (the parting of the sea) and that was enough for him. But there are so many other examples we could point to of God’s faithfulness—in the Bible, in church history, and in our own lives. In your season of distress, remind yourself of specific examples in your own life when you were in distress and the Lord was faithful in bringing you through. If he was faithful to you then, he is faithful now too.
If you cannot think of any examples in your own life, he has provided so many examples in the Bible for us to read. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). If there was ever a time in history when he proved himself faithful to anybody, either in your life or in someone else’s, he is faithful now and always will be.
If you will seek the Lord, even at the point of exhaustion; if you will meditate on the Lord, guiding your thoughts rightly by Scripture; if you will remind yourself of his unchanging character—his power and goodness; and if you will recall specific examples from Scripture, your life, or the lives of others’ that prove his character, then you will find comfort and relief in the Lord in your seasons of distress. That is the encouragement we have in Psalm 77.