Friday, May 04, 2007

Psalm 51: Your Ultimate Fear

What's the thing that you dread most? What's your biggest fear? What are you convinced you can't live without? What would your biggest personal disaster look like? I got to thinking about the question of my own ultimate fear as I was reading Psalm 51 once again. David prays "Do not cast me away from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me." (v.11). This should be our greatest fear in all of life, but is it?

She had it all and maybe that's why she was so afraid. She was living in a nicer, larger house than she ever thought would be hers. She had nicer clothes and nicer things than she would ever have imagined. She had the uber-successful husband and three beautiful children. She went to a great church. They had wonderful family vacations. She ate her breakfast, on most spring and summer mornings, on the stone deck overlooking the beautiful valley that opened up beneath the hill on which her house had been built. But morning after morning she'd sit there and worry. She'd worry about her marriage, was it really as solid as she thought it was? She'd worry about their finances, was her husband's job as stable as he said it was? She'd worry about her children, were they doing as well as she thought they were? She'd worry about her health and the health of her husband. She'd even think about the possibility of a natural disaster ravaging their property or an economic disaster destroying their finances.

Something very significant had happened to her and she didn't even know it. The very things for which she'd been so grateful, the very things that she once thought she didn't deserve, had morphed into things that she was convinced she couldn't live without. What she once greeted with surprised gratitude, were the sources of major anxiety. The things that once seemed out of place in her life, had become the very things that defined her life. And so she lived with a low-register drone of fear through every day.

But there was something else that had changed. The thing that was meant to define her life, and that once did, no longer defined her. There had been a time when everything in her life was defined and evaluated by her relationship with God. There was a time when she greeted God's grace with a surprised gratefulness. She'd been quite aware of her sin and deeply appreciative of the forgiveness that she'd been given. She'd once carried a lively sense of privilege in having been given an acceptance with God that she could have never earned or deserved. There was a time when she would greet each day wondering what she would have done if God hadn't made himself known to her, hadn't accepted her in his family, and hadn't graced her with his presence.

But now these thoughts were no longer center-stage. No longer would she identify herself as a sinner, rescued by grace. No longer did she get her meaning, purpose, and sense of well-being from the Lord. Now she was more concerned about losing her mansion than being cast out of God's house. Now she was more concerned about losing her husband than God removing his Spirit from her. That once heartfelt and wholesome question, "Where would I be without the Lord?" had been replaced by the question of how she'd cope with the loss of any one item in her personal catalog of material things.

But I didn't think long about David or about my friend, because my mind turned to me. What is the thing in the world for which I'm the most thankful? The loss of what is the thing I fear the most? The existence of what in my life gives me meaning, purpose, and that inner sense of well-being?

"Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Psalm 51: The Gospel of Prosperity

It is an interesting way to conclude a prayer of humble confession.

"In your good pleasure make
Zion prosper;
build up the walls of
Then there will be righteous
whole burnt offerings to
delight you;
the bulls will be offered
on your altar." (verses 18 and 19)

Yes, this prayer of confession really does end with a prayer for prosperity. David is so bold as to not only ask God for mercy, but to also ask God that he would bless him and not only him, but all of Israel! You may think, "Hasn't this man learned his lesson? After all of this, hasn't he learned what is really important?" But we need to look at this final piece of David's prayer again and this time more closely.

What David is requesting is completely different from the modern "health and wealth gospel" prayers for prosperity. Those prayers for prosperity have one fatal flaw in them. They are prayers for prosperity for the purpose of the delight of the person praying the prayer. Not so with David. He has lived a little self-focused life. He has now been caught up in the call to live large, that is, for a kingdom greater than his own. This prayer is evidence that he's learned the lesson of the danger of living for his own delight. This prayer for prosperity is the result of a radically changed heart.

Why does David pray for prosperity? For one reason, the glory and delight of the Lord. When God prospers people who are no longer living for their own little kingdoms, but are living for his, the result is the furtherance of his kingdom purposes on earth, which results in his glory. Give wisdom to a man who is living for God's kingdom and he'll use that wisdom to advance God's kingdom. Give money to a man who loves God's kingdom and he'll look for ways to invest that money in kingdom causes. Give a house to a person who seeks God's kingdom and his house will be a place of hospitality, love, and ministry. David prays for prosperity, not for his glory, but for the glory of the Lord to whom his heart has now turned.

But there's more. When people are blessed by the Lord they turn to him in humble, sacrificial worship. It's in those moments when I am cogently aware of God's forgiveness and gratefully aware of his undeserved blessing that I willingly offer to him what I would have once held to tightly. God delights in the sacrifices of his people, because when they are worshipping him in this way, they are doing the thing for which they were created. When I've quit looking for satisfaction in the created world and begin to find my satisfaction in the Lord, then I'm willing to hold loosely to the things that once held me. It's here that my delight is the Lord's delight.

So is it right to pray for prosperity? It is and you should. But not for the sake of your kingdom, but for the success of his. Not for the sake of your delight, but for his. You see, when God prospers people who are living for him, they use that blessing to serve him all the more, and for this he gets glory and in this he finds great delight!