Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Desire to God Toward God

This was my message August 15. I had several requests for copies, so here we go. I will post parts 2 and 3 shortly.

Series: Going toward God—Psalm 84
Part One: The Desire to Go Toward God
(Psalm 84:1-4)

All your life, you’re either going toward God or you’re going away from God. It’s like the continental divide, where rain on one side flows to the Pacific, and on the other side to the Atlantic. It’s one direction or another, all the time.
You never just stay the same. If you coast, you crumble. If you rest, you rust. If you stay, you stumble.

So, I have to ask you—do you want to stand still? Tell me, how much of God do you want? Just a manageable portion, to come along side you as you do what you want to do, set your own priorities and run your own life? If that’s the case, then I have to tell you that Jesus does not like to be used. He will not be your sidekick or your good luck charm. He is Lord, and to treat Him as your assistant is not a role that He will fulfill.

No, either you are going toward God or you’re moving away from Him. Jesus said that you can’t serve God and Mammon. You can’t serve God with God as partner or second in command to anyone or anything else.

Do you have a deep in your bones longing to have God as first, truly first in your life? Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, said Jesus. Do you have that fire in your soul for God? Or has the fire died down, down to a memory, down to a tiny fraction of what it once was and what you wish it could be.

How many of you remember a play called “Fiddler on the Roof”? There’s a song in it called “If I Were a Rich Man.” Tevye the milkman sings about how his life would be different if he were rich. He’d have a big house and full barns and he’d dress his wife in nice clothes and he’d be the sort of man that others would come to for advice. And near the end of the song, he sings about what he’d really like to do if he were rich:

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.

The sweetest thing of all would be to pray and be with God and go deep in His word. Tevye imagines that if he were rich, he’d finally have time to go toward God.

That’s the same longing that you find in Psalm 84. Last fall I was reading through the Psalms and came to Psalm 84 and I’ve had trouble leaving it ever since! There are a couple of reasons. One is that as you read it, you may well recognize several verses in it as the source for some of the worship songs we sing. So immediately you have a feeling of familiarity when you’re reading this Psalm. Another thing that got my attention is the fact that this is a “pilgrimage” Psalm. In vs. 5, the writer says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their heart on pilgrimage.” This is a Psalm for people who determined to get close to God.

Now, the way that idea of getting close to God worked on in the era of the Old Testament was by literally going from wherever you live and getting on your donkey cart and going up through the hills to Jerusalem. There were several times a year that thousands would gather at the Temple, coming from all over the land to worship God at His temple. There was Passover and the Feast of the Firstfruits (called Pentecost in the New Testament) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) as well as some other times. Some villages would practically empty out as the people dropped everything to go up to Jerusalem.

As they went, they would sing. A number of Psalms began as the songs they would sing as they made their way to Jerusalem. One collection of these Psalm are Psalms 120-134, which are called the Songs of Ascents, because you had to go uphill pretty much from anywhere to get to Jerusalem. But not all the pilgrimage songs are there. This is one that’s not. It’s a Psalm about deeply desiring to move closer to God, to worship, and lifestyle of a real worshipper. That’s really the outline of the Psalm:

• A desire (v. 1-4)
• A journey (v. 5-8)
• A lifestyle (v. 9-12)

Each of these sections is marked by the Hebrew word “selah.” That’s probably a musical notation, telling you to stop for a musical interlude. It also means “Hey, stop and think about it!”

If you look at the title (which is very ancient and in Hebrew), you read this:
For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
The “sons of Korah” weren’t a bunch of boys whose daddy was named Korah; they were a kind of musical guild working for the temple. “Gittith” was probably a musical style. So these guys probably took one of the songs that people would sing on the way to Jerusalem and tidied it up and put it in the final form we have here in Psalm 84.

So I want to take three weeks and move through these three sections of Psalm 84. Moving toward God starts as a desire, becomes a journey and results in a lifestyle. Today is about the desire to move toward God, next week is about the journey and the week after about the lifestyle.

Let’s look at vs. 1-4, the “desire” section of Psalm 84.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis comments on the opening of Psalm 84:
I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh for some—called this the “appetite for God” than “the love of God.” The “love of God” too easily suggests the word “spiritual” in all those negative or restrictive senses which it has unhappily acquired… [The appetite for God] has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even physical desire.

To move toward God is to be awakened for this desire, this deep inner longing to know God and to be known by God and to touch God and to be touched by God. Jesus spoke of this in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5:4—where He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for the will be filled.”

They advertise Gatorade as something “for that deep down body thirst.” There is something in the human spirit that can only be satisfied by God Himself—a deep down soul thirst.

For the Psalmist, the presence of God is a real place, the temple in Jerusalem. In Hebrew, the word for temple and palace is the same word: hekal. The idea of the temple for the Jews was that it was God’s earthly palace. The cover the Ark of the Covenant was considered God’s throne. Ah, to be close to God, to be at His palace, to be near His throne! That was the greatest privilege of all.

The Psalmist thinks of a bird who has made her nest in the eave of the temple, and he envies her. To be so near the altar, all the time. Nothing could be better.
Now, while there is this longing that can only be satisfied by God Himself, the truth is—the problem is—that we human being are experts at ignoring this hunger, or feeding it with the wrong stuff. We don’t always want God. Why is that and what can be done about it?

I want to give you four reasons why our desire for God can shut down and some strategies for dealing with that. There are many reasons, but I think that it can be boiled down to these four:

• Noise
• Comfort
• Ingratitude
• Sin


By noise, I mean the incessant demands that living places on us, so that we get deaf to really important things because of all the urgent things. I mean, we have cell phones and iPhone and iTunes and Xbox; we have wii and email and Twitter and blogs; we have friends, in-laws and out-laws; we have kids and spouses and we have to pick up milk on the way home. We have gridlock and Sig Alerts and Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olberman; we have Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin and the Drudge Report. Life is noisy. And all that noise can drown out the voice of God.

While it’s true that Jesus never had to respond to a text message, He knew what it was like to be surrounded with noise and activity. In Mark 1, He’s surrounded by people making immediate demands on His time. And He withdraws from the noise. Mark 1:35 says,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.

Sometimes you have to push your way to a place of quiet. You have to have a grit, a determination that you’re going to spend time with God. You have to be like a running back shaking off a tackle. If you don’t, every buzzing, blinking noisy thing will call out to you without end. Don’t let noise drown out your passion for God.


Comfort will do it too. Ever notice how easy it is to pray in a crisis? And how hard it is to pray when things are going fine?

One of the parables of Jesus is the parable of the sower. One of the soils the seed falls into the thorny soil, where “the worriers of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

You won’t have a desire for God if you’re too comfortable. It’s like what Jesus said about the rich man having a hard time entering the Kingdom.

Let me give you some advice here: if you want a real passion for God, attempt something hard for His sake. If you do, you will never lack for passion for God. I read about the South Korean missionaries who were taken captive by Taliban in 2007. The South Korean church is amazing, and they have an incredible missionary vision. These guys will go places that everyone else is afraid to go to.

So they went to Afghanistan—23 South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan. The Taliban captured them and executed two of them.

So there are 21 missionaries left, and there they are praying and dedicating their lives for the gospel, saying, yes Lord, if our deaths will bring you glory, we are ready to die. They even had a little argument about who would get to die first!
The next morning, the Taliban guards woke them up early and marched them out in the hot July sun, lined them up and told them that the South Korean government had made a deal for their release.

Now, here’s the thing: most of these guys were from the same church in Seoul. They see each other all the time. And whenever they do, and they start talking about their time with the Taliban, they say, “Man, wasn’t that great! Don’t you wish you were still there?”

Listen, you don’t have to go to Afghanistan, but if you’re spiritually dry and your fire for God is low, can I suggest, stick out your neck for God. Take a risk. Share your faith. Teach the growth group. Go on that missions trip. Do something where you’re going to need God, and He’ll show up. Your heart for God will be energized. Your desire for God will kick in. Take a risk, and feel the heat of passion for the Kingdom of God.


In the New Living Translation, Psalm 32:1 says, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!”

You have so much to be thankful for. You are a child of God. Your sins are forgiven. You will spend eternity with Him. Jesus went to cross out of His love for you. He’s called you to be a part of His plan to change the world. He watches over you. He promises never abandon you.

Yet with all that, I encounter unhappy Christians all the time. Their passion for God couldn’t fill a teacup. They obsess on what they don’t have, on the money or the job or the opportunity that they don’t have.

Remember a movie called Men in Black? Aliens come to earth demanding “the galaxy on Orion’s belt.” That doesn’t make any sense—Orion’s belt is just an imaginary line in the sky between two stars. But then they discover that a dead alien’s cat is named Orion and that around his neck is a belt with a marble-sized galaxy inside. All the power of a whole galaxy hanging from the collar of a cat!

Ephesians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Every spiritual blessing? He didn’t leave any out? We have a galaxy of blessings just hanging around and we don’t recognize them. We obsess on what we think we don’t have.

How do we stir up that gratitude, and our passionate desire for God? We do that by His word. God’s word is full of God’s promises. God’s word reminds us of all the ways He’s shown His love for us. If you neglect that word, you forget His promises. If you forget his promises, you will become ungrateful.

The Word of God stirs up faith, life, hope and joy in a believer’s heart. In sales, they talk about ABC principle: “always be closing.” We need to be people who are devoted to the principle of ABO: “always be opening”—God’s word. Don’t dare go a day without it. If you do, you will slide toward ingratitude and toward losing your passion for God.

The last passion-killer is…


By this I mean that sin that we harbor, protect and deny, that sin will make us cool off toward God. It can be a secret lust, uncontrolled anger, back-biting, unforgiveness, envy, you name it. It’s the sin that you say is “just the way you are.” You’ve given up fighting against it. That’s the kind of sin that kills passion for God.

Christian counselor Ed Welch says that we need to have a “mean streak” when it comes to fighting sin. Hebrews 12:4 says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” That’s real resistance!

Without that determination, that sense of engaging in hand to hand combat with sin, we are worn down and start to drift away for a full-force passion for God. Instead of moving toward Him, we move away. I wonder, are you moving toward God today or are you moving away? This week, did you come closer or go farther away?

Do you want more of God? Do you want to draw near? Is noise, comfort, ingratitude or plain old sin drawing you away? Do you want to renew your passion for Him?
I want to do two things as we close today. First, let’s hear again these for verses. They were the prayers of people nearly 3,000 years ago, but today, make them your prayer. Then let’s pray together about this passion-blockers that get in the way. And next week, we’ll go into detail on the journey, the pilgrimage toward God.

Let’s hear vs. 1-4 again as our own prayer:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Lord God, who loves us and who is our tower of strength, may we be that kind of worshipper who seeks after you with such longing. Teach us to find the quiet place and get away from the noise; to trust you to do the hard thing instead of seeking comfort; to be grateful of your blessings instead of forgetful; and to struggle against sin instead of giving in. In Jesus we pray, Amen.

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