A true story is told of a Ford Motor Company machinist in Detroit who became a Christian. In light of that experience he became a devout follower of God and desired to right his many wrongs.
He had been stealing parts and tools from Ford for many years. The morning after his conversion, he acted out his public confession of Christ by taking all of the stolen tools and parts back to his employer. He explained his situation and recent conversion to his foreman and asked for his forgiveness.
This response by an employee was without precedent. Mr. Ford, who was visiting a European plant, was cabled concerning all the details of this matter with a request for his response.
Mr. Ford immediately replied with his decision: "Dam up the Detroit River and baptize the whole city."
A commentator noted, "Baptism is a public proclamation; our lives should be the same."
In light of today’s sermon title, I ask, "What does your life say about God?"
Henry and Richard Blackaby have written, "Why is it that some Christians seem to go much deeper in their walk with God than others? It is because these individuals have committed themselves to pursue God until his presence is powerfully real in their lives."
For the remaining Sundays of this month, we are going to spend time in the longest chapter of the Bible - Psalm 119.
Now Psalm 119 is 176 verses long and to give you an idea of just how long 176 verses are, if I were to preach a verse of Psalm 119 every Sunday, it would take me, minus vacation, Easter, and Christmas Sundays, (5 Sundays/year), almost 3 and 3/4 years to preach it. But, I am not going to do that, unless I felt led to.
Some have suggested that this Psalm was written not by David or Solomon but by someone well after their time - Ezra. Even though the book bearing his name appears toward the middle of the Old Testament, chronologically it comes toward the end, well after David and Solomon and the time of Israel’s kings, because Ezra is a part of the return from Exile that took place in the latter part of Old Testament history.
Chuck Swindoll informs us in his introduction to the book of Ezra, that Ezra was a part of the second group of Jewish refugees who returned to Jerusalem 80 years after the first group, led by Zerubbabel, returned to rebuild the temple.
The second group, led by Ezra, came to reestablish worship. The third group came around a decade and a half later and was led by Nehemiah. Their mission was to rebuild the walls around the city.
One of the characteristics about Ezra that Swindoll notes indicates a link to Psalm 119 and also allows us to understand portions of it, especially those which speak of enemies and those who do not follow God. In Ezra 7:10 we read, "Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the LORD and to teach those laws and regulations to the people of Israel." Ezra, in addition to teaching the laws, the ways of faith, to the people also encountered a problem during his tenure in Jerusalem.
Many of the Jewish leaders had taken up the practice of intermarriage with the various groups that lived in and around the Jewish remnant. This was forbidden by the Jewish law and caused Ezra, as we read in chapter 9, to weep and mourn before God and to, as we read in chapter 10, demand public confession and repentance of those who were guilty. And that is what happened.
Ezra was committed to following God no matter what. He was passionate about God and living for God and he devoted himself to studying, applying, and following God’s word.
I think that it is very plausible that Ezra wrote Psalm 119 because of both his desire to follow God and his disappointment and frustration with those who did not. I think that we could say with some assurance that this Psalm is Ezra’s "Spiritual Autobiography."
But, this wonderful Psalm describes any one of us who desires to follow hard after God. It can be our spiritual autobiography as well.
There are three verses that express the heart, the desire, and the passion of a person who seeks God and the security of a personal relationship with God. They reveal three characteristics, three qualities, which are essential for living a life in which God is evident.
All three verses appear in the first two sections of Psalm 119. Now I say sections because some of you might have a Bible that has section titles for Psalm 119. That is because Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections and the first verse of each section begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This structure perhaps was used to enable this Psalm to be used in corporate worship, like a liturgy or responsive reading.
Verse 5 is the first verse that I want to examine as evidence of a life that is in passionate pursuit of God. "Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles!"
In this verse the Psalmist says it is my intention that my life reflect God’s intention by illustrating His principles in my actions. This is intention of desire.
That little word "Oh!" says a lot about intention doesn’t it?
We often say:
"Oh, how I wish that . . "
"Oh, nuts, I messed up . . ."
"Oh, I forgot to call so and so. . "
Our daily life is filled with intentions:
"Today, I am going to clean out the garage."
"Tomorrow, I am going to visit Aunt Alice."
But what is meant here is that the speaker has a deeper intention in mind. It is an intention to live out God’s way in every single action of every single day.
Now we are aware that our best intentions some times go unfulfilled for a variety of reasons such as unseen interruptions or a last minute change in plans. But once again this not what the Psalmist speaks of.
He is speaking of a character issue. He speaking of an internal desire to do what is right to live the right way, and to make the right choices. Choices that reflect the very character of God in a person’s life.
In thinking of intentions, I am reminded of the story of the lady who found out that she had a skunk in her basement. Confounded as to how to get rid of it, she called the local police for help.
Their advice was to lay a trail of breadcrumbs from the cellar door entrance into the yard so as to lead the skunk out of the basement. She followed their advice.
A few days later she called the police again asking for help. For now she had two skunks in her cellar.
The woman’s and the police’s, intentions were good. But, the outcome was not what anyone expected or wanted. The same holds true for us. Sometimes we act with all the right motives, all the right intentions. But, the outcome is, shall we say, "stinky."
In our intention to live for God sometimes the outcomes are not what we planned. But, that does not mean we give up. It means that we continue to act in a manner that reflects God’s principles.
Nor does it mean that God has given up on us. For He truly knows when our intentions are right even we the outcome is not what it should have been.
But, again the Psalmist speaks of an intention of desire that consistently, day in and day out, indicates in his actions a reflection of God Himself.
If you were to write your spiritual autobiography, would this intention of desire be a theme in your story?
In verse 10 the Psalmist says, "I have tried my best to find you-don’t let me wander from your commands." This is a statement about intention of direction.
God is sometimes hard to find. Sometimes God hides. Why? Maybe He wants to determine how serious we are about following Him.
As I reflect on this aspect of following God [intention of direction], I recall a tactic that I sometimes use with my boys. When I am ready to leave a location, a room, the house, even here at the church, and they are not following me because they are procrastinating or do not want to leave. I simply say, "Okay see you later!" and head out for the door.
Whoosh! They are right behind me! "Wait, wait daddy!" I hear in a voice filled with almost panic and they follow me where we need to go.
Now the Psalmist is not saying that God is playing a trick on us. What he is saying is that he has tried to find, and follow, God as best as he can but he does not want to wonder away.
There are times when parents, allow their kids to wander away, within reason, to help them gain the internal ability to stop and say, "Wait, I need to find mom and dad and get back with them or I will be lost."
When I said a moment ago God sometimes hides on us, it may also be due to the fact that we are in danger of taking our relationship with God for granted and thus become vulnerable to temptation because as we have so often heard, "familiarity breeds contempt." But, there is another reason.
God is God. He is wholly other. And there is a mystery to God that we cannot penetrate or should not penetrate.
The Psalmist knew this. To him, worship was awe struck worship. It reflected the tremendous mystery and majesty of God that drove someone like Isaiah to his knees as he confessed that he was unclean in the midst of holy and righteous God.
If we assume that Ezra wrote this Psalm, then we could certainly understand these feelings expressed in verse 10 as he surveyed the spiritual condition of the Jewish exiles and the challenges they faced from those who opposed their return and the re-establishment of their faith and places of worship.
Ezra faced moments when he was not sure what to do. He was not sure whom he could trust. He was not clear as to the outcome of decisions made.
But Ezra, in his study and in his leadership, searched diligently for God’s direction and presence in the face of times of uncertainty about what to do next. However, because of his study, because of the intent desire to "consistently reflect God’s principles in his actions," Ezra had the confidence that God would help him not to wander away. He had developed the internal controls of faith and obedience.
This verse gives us a picture of a person who was seeking God with all of himself in spite of the gray and uncertain areas of life that he faced. He knew that God was somewhere and he desired to make sure that God would not let him get away.
Every once in a while Susan and I hear Jonathon talking about something related to the past and he will say, "you know mom, you know dad, back in the old days when everything was in black and white." We know that there are many things that are black and white. But, we also live in a world where there is a lot of gray when it comes to choices and decision and we are not sure what direction to go.
In those moments we need to be like the Psalmist and plead with God to keep us from wandering from his commands. We need this intention of direction as part of our daily lives if we want to live passionately with God and for God.
In your story, how would you describe this intention of direction?
Finally, we move to the next verse, verse 11 where we read, "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." This is an intention of commitment.
Now the previous two verses also speak of commitment with regard to desire and direction. But, verse 11 speaks of an intention of the heart and soul that goes very, very deep.
The Psalmist basically says, "I have incorporated your word, your law, your ways, God into the core of my being so that I will not intentionally do or say something that separates me from you. It is my commitment to hold deep within me your word to me so that I will not act disobediently.
Quite frankly, now days such a commitment seems almost fanatical. But, does it have to be? Is it fanaticism? No and no.
As I read through this Psalm this past week, I came to a very modern verse, verse 143: "As pressure and stress bare down on me, I find joy in your commands." Speaks to us today doesn’t it?
As pressure and stress bear down on us in this time and place, where does joy come from? For some, it comes from power. For others it is wealth. Yet for others it comes drugs or alcohol.
By hiding, by concealing, God’s word in his heart, the Psalmist meets the pressure and stress of life with joy in God’s directives as he allows it to shape his actions and his intentions (motives).
The picture of verse 11 is of someone who has intentionally read, studied, and meditated upon God’s word so thoroughly that he goes to it automatically in verse 143 during times of stress and pressure because during those moments of stress and pressure our character is most revealed.
In the writing of your spiritual autobiography, is there a theme, an indication, of steady and sure commitment to God and His ways and word? In moments of stress and pressure do you find relief, do you find joy in the commands and directives of God?
At the end of Ezra 7:9 we read this interesting statement “ for the gracious hand of His God was on him.” Then in verse 10 we read “This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the Lord and to teach those laws and regulations to the people of Israel.”
Before Ezra set out to Jerusalem to provide spiritual leadership to his people, he came to a place of decision. And his decision was the answer to a question regarding his relationship to God and either he was going to have a relationship with God or he wasn’t.
He made the choice to have one; one that was not casual or convenient, but one that was complete. He made the decision to follow God wholeheartedly and that is made clear in verse 10 as it is stated that Ezra determined to study and obey the law of the Lord.
What about you? What does your spiritual autobiography say about your relationship with God? What about us? What does our congregational autobiography say about our relationship with God?
Ezra made the right decision well before he made the hazardous journey to Jerusalem. And in the making of that decision, he kept remaking that decision over and over and over again because he kept deciding to passionately and wholeheartedly follow God.
Two questions to close: 1. How much of you does God have? 2. How much of us does God have? There is only one correct and final answer – all of us. Do our lives say that? Amen.