April 17, 2016 – manuscript

How will deeper roots help me pray better? – Psalm 63; Psalm 138

I want to begin answering this question by establishing a plumb line.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of a plumb line is “a tool that consists of a small, heavy object attached to a string or rope and that is used to see if something (such as a wall) is perfectly vertical”.[1]  Webster’s Dictionary also states that a plumb line will always direct itself to the center of the earth’s gravity.  Without a plumb line or level, a construction project can (and probably will) become sloppy.  Today’s plumb line will always direct itself toward Christ and is meant to demonstrate how vertical our spiritual roots are.

Here is the plumb line.  Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” [2]  I believe we are designed to hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Robert Mulholland wrote in his book Invitation to Journey, “often people have the idea that the image of Christ is something alien to human beings, something strange that God wants to add on to our life, something imposed upon us from outside that doesn’t really fit us. In reality, however, the image of Christ is the fulfillment of the deepest hungers of the human heart for wholeness. The greatest thirst of our being is for fulfillment in Christ’s image. The most profound yearning of the human spirit, which we try to fill with all sorts of inadequate substitutes, is the yearning for our completeness in the image of Christ.”[3]

Julian Barnes opened his book Nothing to Be Afraid Of with this line, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”  Barnes, who describes himself as an agnostic, writes, “I was never baptized, never sent to Sunday school. I have never been to a normal church service in my life.”[4]  Yet, something inside of Barnes causes him to miss a God that he doesn’t know.

Finally, a man named Simon Tugwell says this, “It is the desire for God which is the most fundamental appetite of all, and it is an appetite we can never eliminate. We may seek to disown it, but it will not go away. If we deny that it is there, we shall in fact only divert it to some other object or range of objects. And that will mean that we invest some creature or creatures with the full burden of our need for God, a burden which no creature can carry.”[5]

We were designed to desire and seek God.  Because of this design, we are driven to spend time with God, specifically in prayer.  I want to focus on two areas of prayer this morning, praise and giving thanks.  Psalm 63 walks us through a prayer time full of praise.  Psalm 138 walks us through a prayer time full of giving thanks.  As we grow deeper roots, we will naturally include both in our prayer time.  Our prayer time will become richer as we’ll hunger and thirst after God more.  As a result, the artificial substances that we fill ourselves with will become less important.

Psalm 63:1-5 – O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  4So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.  5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,[6]

I seek you; my soul thirsts for you – verse 1

This is the beginning stage for every Christian.  I seek you.  I thirst for you.  What drives us to prayer (and an initial search for God) is a longing to fill the void in our lives that was meant to be filled by God.  The strength of this longing flows in seasons, but as we talk with God and grow deeper roots our hunger and thirst will become the foundation that transforms us into men and women that value prayer.

My lips will praise you – verse 3

The plumb line of hunger and thirst is what drives us to prayer.  Our willingness to praise our God creates the proper environment for our prayer time.  Many years ago, I was taught a simple acronym that has helped me praise God at the beginning of my prayer time.  You may be familiar with it.  You may even use it.  ACTS.  Adoration.  Confession.  Thanksgiving.  Solicitation.  You don’t need an acronym to help you pray, but it reminds me that God is not my vending machine and I need to seek God and delight in God before anything else.  Created beings do not have the right to tell God what to do and expect Him to make it happen. Verses 2-3 include the adoration component, “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”  When David wrote this Psalm, he had to go to the tabernacle to meet with God.  The sanctuary was the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelled.  The sanctuary is where David experienced the power and glory of God.  In 2016, those of us who have surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ have become the sanctuary.  We have become the Holy of Holies.  We are the place where God dwells.  We could have church in a park or school cafeteria and those places would become a sanctuary when we gathered there.  We have the opportunity to experience the power and glory of God in any space or location.  Because we have this great opportunity to experience God and grow deeper roots, praise will naturally flow from our lips.  We will get excited to tell God how amazing we think he is.  Praise continues to flow with verse 4, “I will bless you as long as I live…”

My soul will be satisfied – verse 5

The principle of Psalm 63 is when we seek God, our soul will be filled up.  Satisfied.  Refreshed.  Revitalized.  This principle sounds very similar to our plumb line, Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  When we experience the power and glory of God; when we give praise to God; when we bless God; our soul will be satisfied like fat and rich food.  Fat and rich food literally describes the best cut of meat possible.  The best example I can think to illustrate is the stereotype of thanksgiving day.  It seems people snack on appetizers until they are satisfied and then sit down for the meal becoming stuffed.  After the meal comes football and naps before people over-indulge with dessert.  Deeper spiritual roots create an appetite for prayer that reflect how most Americans eat on thanksgiving day.

As our appetite grows for prayer and we learn to praise God at the beginning of our prayer, we will begin to give thanks.  Let’s look at Psalm 138.

Psalm 138:1-5 – 1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.  3On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.  4All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, 5and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. [7]

Give thanks with your whole heart – verse 1

In Psalm 63, we focusing on praise, which is honor and recognition.  “Giving thanks” is different.  Giving thanks is expressing gratitude.  The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible describes gratitude as the “natural expression of thanks in response to blessings, protection, or love.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, gratitude is not a tool used to manipulate the will of God.  It is never coerced or fabricated in one’s mind; rather, gratitude is a joyful commitment of one’s personality to God.[8]

The joyful commitment of one’s personality to God is how “with your whole heart” surfaces.  The phrase describes gratitude from our inner most core.

Giving thanks deepens my spiritual roots – verse 3

When we take time to recognize how God is involved in our lives, through provision or answered prayers, we grow deeper roots.  The deeper roots bring more hunger and thirst for God, which brings more praise and giving thanks.  The plumb line is an important measurement in our pursuit for deeper roots.

I offer three questions for you to process today.  First, what do you hunger and thirst for?  Is it God or is it artificial replacements for God?  Second, how often do you offer praise to God?  Third, how often do you thank God for his provision and answered prayer?

 

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plumb%20line

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 5:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Invitation to a Journey (IVP, 1993), p. 34

[4] Matt Woodley, Editor, PreachingToday.com; source: James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular (Eerdmans, 2014), pp. 4-5

[5] Quoted in “Reflections,” www.christianitytoday.com (9-10-07)

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 63:title–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 138:title–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 900). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.