There I was sitting on a wooden jetty overlooking an estuary reading a book trying to re-charge after the first 8yrs of ministry in my role as an elder leading the team in the local church I serve. I was tired. No more specifically I was frustrated! I remember thinking/praying/moaning to God that I felt a little like He had not kept his side of the deal…
Embarrassingly, I remember reciting some little “righteousness-list” in my head at the time stating how I had served God as a leader in some form or capacity in local churches for just short of 20yrs already by that stage, I had pursued purity as a young man and was married as a virgin, had never been drunk, followed God’s call and sold-up my stake in a business in Cape Town and moved the family to Amanzimtoti when God called us to…
…and where had it gotten me? The church was struggling again, not many people were being saved or healed, leaders were few, money was tight and at times I felt alone as a leader. I remember this distinct sense that God had somehow dropped the ball, a sinful sense that I deserved better because of my performance!
In God’s grace He rebuked me in the most remarkable way and took me on what became a month-long journey of God revealing the rot in my heart and re-wiring/reforming me to the point where I eventually repented to the Church publicly one Sunday morning of the way I had been poisoning the church with my wrongful heart attitude.
It’s not just what we do that matters but why we do what we do and what we believe doing those things does for us.
In Psalm 73 the writer is perplexed & envious of what he has observed – the prosperity, the good health of the wicked/arrogant/proud who are always at ease and always increasing in riches (vs2-12). His experience doesn’t match his stated belief which is that “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (vs1) And so eventually he exclaims;
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13)
The writer bemoans his ‘good works’ because they haven’t produced the results he was looking for. However what this outburst reveals is that his heart’s true motivation was “I DO THIS TO GET THAT’ – it was transactional. He was like me, sitting on that jetty grumpily reflecting…
I have lived like _______ and you, God haven’t done _________!
Like me (in 2011), the psalmist’s WHAT was fine but his WHY was wrong and his belief regarding WHAT DOING THOSE THINGS DID FOR HIM was wrong.
Our lives of holiness, or service to God don’t earn us anything. Timothy Keller says; that it’s religion that says that; “we obey to be accepted”, the Gospel however, says; “we’re accepted and so we obey”. We live lives as worship to God flowing out of a heart response to the most incredible love and grace and mercy that God has shown to us.
So, WHAT we do, how we live really does matter but what it vital is WHY we do what we do and what we are doing it for, what we think THAT ACHIEVES FOR US is vitally important.
This Psalm is so rich because it doesn’t end with the frustrated questioning that it’s first 15 verses are characterised by. The whole Psalm hinges on vs17 when the psalmist enters God’s presence and suddenly gains a new perspective in God’s presence. In the presence of God, eternity comes into view and this perspective changes everything. His timescale has been too short, he has prematurely and incorrectly judged God.
He begins to see his own folly and the sinfulness of his heart (vs21-22) and then unleashes some of the most amazing worship in all of Scripture;
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Life doesn’t often go according to our plan or timing or even our sense of fairness, but knowing that God is with us personally, knowing that our faith and future are secure in Him is enough for me.