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Posts Tagged ‘Christian growth’

We are back in Psalm 139 today. I want us to cover the last two verses, vs. 23-24. We looked at the prayer request in v. 19 last week and drew some conclusions about it. Well, here we have a very different kind of prayer request – one that, I think, requires courage to pray.

But before we get to this, I want to think more generally for a moment on David’s relationship with God. The depth of his relationship with God is evident in this Psalm. He certainly was a person after God’s own heart, as Scripture says (2 Samuel 13:14).

The Psalm itself is one long prayer; one long and detailed conversation with God. You can see how he is aware that God is an intimate part of every aspect of his life, and he invites this.

This depth of relationship with God comes out in many of the Psalms. Here are some examples of this in prayers to God:

  • “Be not far from me (God), for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” – Psalm 22:11.
  • “(God) You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 (NLT).
  • “(God) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing . . . and clothed me with gladness” – Psalm 30:11
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for (God) you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
  • “When the cares of my heart are many, (God) your consolations cheer my soul.” – Psalm 94:19

You can see in these, and so many more, that when there is a problem the psalmist asks for help, seeks closeness and finds strength in God. And when there is joy, the psalmist shares it with God through praise. This is really a picture of God as companion, or God as best friend. There is a relationship of intimacy and caring between God and the writers of the Psalms.

This, then, leads me to ask, ‘What about us?’ Or more specifically, ‘How good is your relationship with God?’ Are you aware of God being involved in every part of your life? Do you have a sense of closeness with God? Is God a close companion?

Certainly the prayer we are looking at today is a part of this, so let’s move on to –

The meaning of Psalm 139:23-24

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Remember with me, the flow of the Psalm as a whole. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. This is the background. And so he responds.

  • In vs. 1-18 he appeals to God, ‘God, you know everything about me; you know my commitment to you.’
  • Then in vs. 19-22 he makes his loyalty to God clear. ‘God, I hate evildoers.’ He shows himself to be on God’s side.
  • And this lead us to our verses where he gives an open-ended invitation, ‘God, continue to search and know me’ – just in case there is anything to the accusation.

Now, let’s break the prayer down, so we can understand it. First of all, it continues the theme of the Psalm as a whole of God searching and knowing David. In v. 1 David notes that God has searched and known him, but here he invites God to continue to search and know him. And the focus here is squarely on what is within him.

The two phrases, “search me . . . and know my heart” and “try me and know my thoughts” are slightly different ways of saying the same thing. They are parallel to each other.

He wants God to look inside of him, his inner person, so that God knows what is in his heart.

I do have a question about this prayer. If we pray this prayer are we praying, lead us into testing?? (David does pray for this elsewhere – e.g. Psalm 26:2). The word in v. 23, “try,” can mean examine, prove, tempt, or test. The word usually does mean testing in the sense of trials and temptations (again, Psalm 26:2).

If it does mean this, then we would have to modify this prayer to bring it in line with what Jesus has taught us about prayer. He taught us that we are to pray for God not to lead us into testing, since we might fail and dishonor God’s name. It comes from a sense of humility and an awareness of our weakness.

I take the word “try” here as a further expansion of the word “search” in the first line (basically parallels). So I don’t think it is asking God to test us, or to allow Satan to test us. (But if it does mean this, then we would need to modify it as suggested here.)

Maybe the translation “examine me and know my thoughts” would be good. The idea, again, is that God is looking into the depths of his soul to see what is in him.

The word in v. 23, “thoughts,” can be translated as “disquieting thoughts” or “anxious thoughts” and perhaps these phrases are in your Bible translations. (This is a different word for thought than the word used in v. 2 and v. 17)

But it is probably best to see it in parallel with the word “heart” as I said before, and simply translate it, as it is here – “thoughts.” David seems to be saying in different ways, know my ‘inner person.’ He doesn’t seem to be focusing on a particular category of thoughts, but on all that is in his heart and thoughts.

The problem that David is concerned with; what he wants God to look for is “any grievous way.” The phrase means literally a “way of pain in me.” It can be translated as a hurtful, vexing, or sorrowful way.

David is praying, “God look for anything in me that causes pain.”

  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that cause you pain God?
  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that will cause me to hurt others?

Now there is good reason to pray this. Jeremiah 17:9-10, a passage that shares the same theme and some of the same vocabulary (search, test) as Psalm 139, says, among other things, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” There is much for God to find and know in each one of us.

“Lead me.” David wants God to know and then to show him any grievous way, so that it can be dealt with. This is how God leads him.

The phrase, “in the way everlasting” can also be translated, “the ancient way.” In either case, I believe the meaning is the same. We are talking here about ‘the way of God,’ or ‘the way of righteousness.’

So the request is that God help him not to walk in a grievous way, but in the way of God.

Summary: This prayer is asking for three things:

1. “God, look in my inner person”

2. “Find anything that would cause you or others pain” and show me these things.

3. “Lead me in your path of righteousness.”

The title today is –

I dare you to pray this

I say this, because if you understand this prayer, it takes courage to pray it. It takes courage because you are inviting God to show you your sins, your weaknesses, your defects. And that is not an easy thing to have to see.

Usually, we want to hide all this stuff. We don’t like to have to see our sins and weaknesses, think about them or dwell on them. We don’t want God to see them (although he does). And we certainly don’t want others to see them.

Often we respond by living in denial, to keep us from having to look at these things. And then, if God or someone brings something up – we get defensive. You know how it works, ‘Well, I’m better than so and so,’ or ‘It’s not that bad,’ or ‘It’s justified.’

But not only this, it takes courage to pray this prayer because you are inviting God to correct your issues, so that you can walk in his paths. And it can be hard work to have to do this.

I’m sharing this with you because, as hard as this might be, this is the way to grow in your Christian life. It is only when we fully open ourselves up to God that he can show us our problems, things we are often blind to. And it is only when we become aware of these things that we can begin to receive help to overcome them.

And remember, God already knows all your “grievous ways,” and probably a lot of other people do as well. So instead of living in denial and being defensive, ask God for help. Don’t run away from God with your struggles, run to God.

I encourage you to pray this, and to continue to pray this, and to listen to what God has to say, and to have the faith to allow God to lead you in the way everlasting.

Let’s take a moment in quiet right now. If you are willing, pray this prayer. I believe that God will speak to you even now.

William Higgins

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Now, my title today isn’t meant to refer to what will happen when we eat our fellowship meal today. I’m talking about growing deeper in our Christian lives and as a church body.

As your pastor I carry a very real concern for our congregation. I think and pray hard about the direction we are moving, our health as a congregation, our ministries and our faithfulness to God. And I will confess that thoughts about such things are never far from my mind and heart. You know, How are we doing? What needs to be focused on? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? What needs to change?

As I reflected this week several things came to mind in terms of areas of emphasis and areas of growth for us. And I thought it would be good to share these with you and to invite you to pick up the challenge to move forward in these areas, so that we can grow as a congregation. So here we go.

1. Let’s grow in our love for one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34. Paul said to the Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Romans 12:10. Peter said, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another . . . But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. I like this last phrase. You have love for one another, but do this “more and more.” In the same way, we do have love for one another here at Cedar Street, but we are to do this “more and more.” We are to grow in our love for one another.

What do I mean? Let’s work at getting to know each other more. Let’s build our relationships with each other. Branch out beyond those you already know. Do things together.

I mean encouraging one another, praying for one another and helping one another. I mean being kind and gentle with each other. And outdoing each other in showing respect and honor to one another.

Here are two specific suggestions: If you don’t already, come to Sunday school. This is a place where you can get to know others. And also, if you don’t already, be a part of a share group. We have four right now, but if needed we can always start another one. This is a place where you can build relationships, and get support.

2. Let’s grow in our maturity in handling our differences

We are held together by our common faith in Jesus and our commitment to follow him, and this is summarized in our church covenant.

Paul says it this way, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6. Notice the seven “ones”: We are all a part of one body of Christ, the church. And we all share in one Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We have one hope, one Lord, one faith in Jesus, one baptism and one God the Father.

Yet, all congregations have differences also. Certainly we do. And this is perfectly normal. We have different gifts and callings that give us different things to focus on. For instance if you are an evangelist, you are gonna focus on evangelism and want everyone to do this. Or, if you have a gift of worship, you are gonna want everyone to make this the focus. And so on.

We have different levels of maturity and understanding among us. We have generational differences. This impacts all kinds of things, for instance how we might prefer to worship.

We have different personalities, which affect how we approach everything we do. We have differences of opinion on all kinds of things, including politics, which if we focus on will lead us all in different directions.

We come from different backgrounds – city, rural, suburbs – we have it all. And we have different church backgrounds, some were raised Mennonite, some have no church background and everything in-between.

So what do we do with all this? It can discourage us, weigh us down or even tear us apart. But it doesn’t have to. We need to learn to discern what God requires – and then be flexible with the rest. We need to be able to tell the difference between Gods’ will and just what we prefer or want, as opposed to others who see things differently. And in the part that God does not require of us, we can learn from each other and try different things.

Here’s an example. Some prefer it when we use flat bread for communion. The Lord’s supper, after all was a Passover meal with unleavened bread. And it is nice to use the same kind of bread that Jesus used. But some prefer to use regular bread, the kind that we call “bread” in our everyday lives. It has a different feel to it and breaks differently. So we can learn from each other here, and be flexible by using both, taking turns.

And then, when we can’t seem to agree on an issue, or come to an easy resolution, we need to be mature Christians about it, as we have been, and are learning about in our conflict resolution class Sunday school class. Right?

  • Don’t pull back and just drift off if you are in disagreement about something, grumbling like the children of Israel in the desert.
  • And also on the other hand, don’t strike out and tear down others.

Rather, we are to love each other, look to God for help and work toward peace. As Jesus has taught us, “Be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50.

3. Let’s grow in owning and using the gifts that God has given us

Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have . . ..” 1 Timothy 4:14. He also said to him, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you . . ..” – 2 Timothy 1:6. We are to discover and use the gifts that God has given us.

Just like in the realm of physical health, it’s not healthy to be a Christian and not be active, doing nothing. Don’t be a pew potato! Don’t just come and sit here once a week and feel like that’s what it’s all about.

Exercise your gifts. Be active and engaged in serving God. We have focused on this before, but I am reminding you here again today.

I think there are two really big obstacles here. The first is time. We live overcommitted lives. We are overbooked, overscheduled and overwhelmed. And often it is serving God that gets cut out as we try to make time for all else that there is to do today. We are trying to do too much, too many good things, and we end up making idols of these things as we devote ourselves more to them than to serving God and working for the kingdom.

The second obstacle is that you might feel you have nothing to share. Maybe you think you are too young. Or maybe you think that you have already served God and are “retired” now. Well, the truth is that everyone has some way to serve God. Paul says, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7. And this is not restricted by age.

So, find out what your gifts are and use them! Next year we plan to have a Sunday school class focused on this. But, you don’t need to wait, try some things and see what you enjoy, see what you do well. And if you need help, talk to me and I will plug you in somewhere.

4. Let’s grow in our emphasis on outreach and hospitality

It’s easy to be comfortable as Christians. Comfortable with just hanging out with other Christians. (Some don’t even know unbelievers very well.) Comfortable with just talking to those we already know when we are at church.

But Jesus calls us to something more. He said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. This is why he came. And he calls us to follow his example, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19.

Now, I am certainly grateful for all those working in the areas of outreach and hospitality in our congregation, using their gifts, but these are things that each of us need to grow in.

And I’m not talking about being artificial or forcing things. I mean just being a Christian in your everyday relationships and looking for opportunities to share what God has done. I mean being friendly and welcoming to those who are new to the congregation. That’s all.

In our Sunday school coming up soon, we will have chance to focus on the outreach part of this. And I hope this will spur us in this emphasis.

5. Let’s grow in our desire for more of what God has for us

I want to instill a yearning for more in each of your hearts.

We can see what God wants for us by looking at the picture of the church in the New Testament, especially the book of Acts. They had great love for one another, the Spirit moved in power among them, they willingly suffered for their faith, they shared deep fellowship with each other, they boldly witnessed for Jesus.

As we look at this, we can see that God has so much more for us. We talk about revival and renewal, well this is what we are talking about – getting back to this.

And the problem is not on God’s end. Instead of being satisfied with where we are, we need to be seeking this. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8. James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2.

We need to ask for this, seek and knock. Life isn’t long! What are you waiting for? This is our chance. We can be a community that embodies Jesus and serves him in powerful ways.

Don’t be satisfied with what we have, as good as it might be. Let us press on for more of what God has for us.

William Higgins

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