Saturday, July 11, 2009

Psalm 73: Getting It Right

"But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord my refuge, that I may tell of all your works." (v.28)

It is a grace to get it right because so often I get it wrong. No, I don't mean that I fall into gross and willing sin and I don't mean that I am seduced by the old arguments of new atheism. No, I don't mean that I occasionally question the tenets of my faith or question whether ministry is really worth it. No, getting it wrong is much more subtle than that. Getting it wrong is not about the big, dramatic, consequential moments of life. No, getting it wrong is much more about the little mundane moments of everyday life. It is very easy to let up your guard and be all too relaxed in these moments precisely because they are little moments. It is also tempting to minimize the wrong choices that you make in these little moments because they are little moments. But the opposite is true. The little moments of life are profoundly important because they are little moments. Little moments are the moments we live in everyday. The character and course of a person's life is not set in three or four grand, significant moments of life. No, the character of a person's life is shaped in 10,000 little moments of life. It is the character that was formed in the mundane that you carry into those rare consequential moments of life.

The last verse of Psalm 73 is a manual on getting it right and because it is, it is also a manual on what it looks like to get it wrong. Getting it right means acknowledging God's presence, remembering his rescue, and obeying his call.

Getting it right: Acknowledging God's Presence. Perhaps there are no more important words to have constantly ringing in the ears of your heart than these, " is good to be near God." "Near God" is something you could never have earned, deserved, or personally achieved." "Near God" is the exact opposite of where sin takes you. "Near God" brought Jesus to earth and required him to die. "Near God" restores to you what sin destroyed and what only grace can restore. "Near God" is where you were designed to live. It is very important that grace has brought you close to God once again. Grace means he is in you and you are in him. Grace has made it impossible for you to be alone. You see, God's greatest gift to you is the gift of himself! But you and I don't always acknowledge his presence. There are moments in life when we get it wrong; where we live as if he doesn't exist and is not near. When we do this we either panic in the face of the normal difficulties of life in this fallen world and in the face of the perplexities of God's sovereign plan or we fall into trying to do God's job, and in so doing, complicate our lives all the more. Are you getting it right; does your daily living celebrate that grace has brought you near to God and God near to you?

Getting it right: Remembering God's Rescue. In a fallen world, that does not operate in the way that the Creator intended and where temptation and danger are encountered every day, these words are vital as well, "...I have made the Lord God my refuge." Under the heat of life in this broken world you will become weary, wounded and discouraged and when you do you will run somewhere for refuge. It is vital to remember that God is the only hiding place worth running to. It is he and he alone who can heal the wounds of your heart. It is he and he alone that can give you the strength you need to get up once more and continue. It is he and he alone that can give inner peace when there is little peace to be found around you. It is he and he alone that can forgive you when you have sinned and strengthen you when you are weak. But often we forget that grace has given us refuge. We forget that God welcomes us to run to him. So we run to the creation rather than the Creator for refuge, and when we do, we never get the solace for which we are seeking. We may successfully numb ourselves for a while and we may distract ourselves for a while, but our hearts are not strengthened or encouraged. Because the replacement refuges of people and things cannot relieve our burdens, but only distract us from them, we have to go back to them again and again. Sadly, when we get it wrong, forgetting that God is our refuge, while running to people and things, we never end up strengthen and encouraged. No, we only end up fat, addicted, and in debt. Are you getting it right? When you are weak, weary, and discouraged do you run to the one refuge that can provide refuge; your Lord?

Getting it right: Obeying God's Call. Getting it right is not only about living in the comfort of God's presence and refuge, but it is also about answering his call. Getting it right is about constantly remembering that God gives you himself and his grace not so that you can make your little kingdom work the way that you want it to work. No, he gives you the grace of his nearness and the grace of refuge so that you will have what you need to give you to the thing to which he has called you; the big sky work of his kingdom of grace and redemption. "...That I may tell of his works," says it very well. No longer do I live for my own glory; the glory of getting what I want, indulging what I feel, and satisfying my needs. No, I now live with the recognition that I have been sovereignly gifted and positioned so that all that I do and say would point the people around me to the one glory that will only ever satisfy their hearts; the glory of God. And I live looking for opportunities to point to his work as Creator, his work as Sovereign, and his work as Savior. But sadly, I don't always get it right. Often I live as if there were few things as important as my schedule, my plans, my comfort, and my success. Where the rubber meets the road in daily live, I put myself in the center of my world and forget that that place had been reserved for God alone. When I make it all about me, I live in low-grade frustration and irritation and I miss the daily opportunities that God gives for me to connect myself to something that is vastly bigger and fundamentally better. Are you concretely living for something bigger than your own daily agenda?

Because of God's grace, we often get it right; but because of remaining sin, we so often get it wrong. In which place are you living today? May your hands be productive because in your heart you get it right (God is near, he is my refuge, and I will obey his call.)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Psalm 73: Immanent Sovereignty

"But it is good to be near God." (v.28a)

You are not a distant Lord,
a detached Master
moving the pawns
on the board
in an impersonal act
of winning.
Your Lordship
does not separate
me from you
as a serf
would be separated
from a king.
No, you accomplished
your sovereign plan
by invading my
dark and messy world
in the person
of your Son,
giving yourself
in radical grace
to people
who saw no value
in your nearness.
You are Master,
but you are
You are Lord,
but you are
You are King,
but you are
You are Sovereign
but you are
Your rule is not from
No, your rule brings you
I have hope today
because you are not
And I celebrate
the amazing
rest and strength
to be found in the reality that
your sovereignty
has brought you

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Psalm 73: Desire

"...And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you." (v.25b)

You and I are creatures of desire. There is nothing you ever choose, do, or say that is not the product of desire. Desire not only directs your choices, it shapes your dreams. Desire forms your moments of greatest joy and darkest grief. Desire makes you envious of one person while being glad you're not another. Desire keeps you awake at night or puts you soundly to sleep. Desire makes you willing to get up in the morning or causes you to be frustrated at the end of the day. Desire makes you expectant and hopeful in one moment, and demanding and complaining in the next. Desire sometimes makes you susceptible to temptation and at other times is the thing that defends you against it. Desire can lift you up to God or it can make you a willing friend of the devil. Desire can make you a celebrant or drive you to the pit of depression. Desire can make you the best of friends or cause you to drive people away. Desire can cause you to lovingly edit your words or make you willing let it rip with little regard for the damage your words will do. Desire will make you willing to give or cause you to hoard everything you have. Desire will cause you to submit to the King or to set yourself up as king. Desire can cause you to fight for freedom or can be the very thing that causes you to be addicted. Desire can give you power or rob you of the power that could be yours. Desire is your biggest problem and one of God's sweetest graces. But there is one thing for sure; your life is always shaped by desire.

The great spiritual war that is being fought for control of our hearts is a war of desire. (See James 4:1-4 and I Peter 2:11). Remember this biblical principle; whatever rules your heart will control your words and behavior. You and I are human beings. We do not live by instinct. We have been designed by God with the capacity to desire. This means that everything you do or say is done or spoken out of the want for something. You and I are always seeking something. You and I are always living for something. Beneath everything we do is the desire for something. It is here that the war of right and wrong is fought. It is here that the direction of our lives will be shaped. You cannot let yourself think that the war for what is right is a war of behavior. If you fight the battle of behavior alone, the battle will not be won. You must be willing to fight the spiritual fight at the place where your behavior is formed; in the desires of the heart.

Every day, in all the situations and relationships of your life, this war rages. It is about whether you will live in fear of man of fear of God. It is about whether you will live to possess some part of the creation or live to please the Creator. It is about whether you will live to achieve some personal success or live in the way the Creator designed you to live. This war is about what you treasure the most and want the most. This war is about what set of desires will set the agendas for the way that you will respond in the situations and relationships where God has placed you. Spiritual warfare is all about the desires of the heart.

Now, I would invite you to be humbly honest in this moment. What do you really want? If you were to respond to the following, how would you fill in the blanks? "If only I could have ______________ then my life would be ______________ ? It is so easy for us to say that we are living for God, when, in fact, at the street level our lives are often shaped by the anxious pursuit of other things. Perhaps for you that is the desire to get married that preoccupies too much of your thinking and shapes too many of your choices. Perhaps for you it is the desire to be successful that has eaten your schedule with frantic workaholism. Perhaps it is the desire for physical things that has left you empty and in debt. Perhaps it is the desire to avoid failure that has made you more demanding and controlling than you thought you would ever be. Perhaps it is the desire for physical health that has reduced you to fearful body self-consciousness. Perhaps it is the desire for ministry success that has turned you into more of a mini-messiah than a servant. Perhaps it is the desire for comfort and ease that has caused you to be way too self-absorbed. Or maybe it is the desire to be affirmed and respected that causes you to ride the roller-coaster of people's responses to you. Where does the war of desire rage for you?

Could you say with David, "There is nothing on earth I desire besides you?" Does this sound ethereal and impractically super-spiritual to you? Does it feel like a moral impossibility to you? In fact, David is expressing in a phrase exactly where God wants each of us to be. It is the reason each of us was given life and breath. We were made for God. We were created to love him above all else. We were designed to live with his glory as the single motivator of all that we do. Desire for him was intended to shape all the other desires that we would rightly have. You see, it is not wrong to desire comfort, acceptance, peace, success, order, health, etc... In fact, there would be something wrong with you if you did not desire these things in some way. But these desires must never rule you, because when they do they replace God as the ruler of your heart. The move from desire to idolatry is a shockingly short step.

So, we all need to cry out for help once more, we all need to seek God's rescue and his power, because we must all humbly admit that there is evidence in our daily living that the war of desire still rages in our hearts. There are times when Jesus is our priceless treasure, but there are other times when we would rather have other things than him. This means that we cannot quit seeking his help until the day when we are able to say with complete singleness of heart, "...There is nothing on earth I desire besides you."