Shabbat Shalom. This Shabbat I had originally planned to bring a message on either God as our Peace or God as the source of Truth. While both are topics I am passionate about the Lord lead me to a completely different place for my message today.
As many of you know I have just finished my Masters of Divinity from Moody Theological Seminary. While in seminary there is a danger we are warned about, that constant academic intellectual study can rob a person of their emotional passion for the Lord and His Word. That after hours of Hebrew, Greek, and theological study, the Bible becomes a textbook to be analyzed, sermons preached for intellectual truth and right doctrine, and God becomes confined to theological and philosophical systems. All real spiritual nourishment and needs are stripped away and only intellectual truth remains. This is something that I can personally attest to at different times during my seminary career, and it might be something you have struggled with as well. Right thinking about who God is, what He has done, and what He has revealed is very important. But we need more than just intellectual knowledge. We need to have a deep, real, and personal relationship with our Creator that touches every aspect of our lives.
I like how A.W. Tozer puts this need in his excellent book, The Pursuit of God. Paraphrasing, he writes that it is very important to have right doctrine, but that we can preach and read God’s Word in such a way that it is stripped of anything that nourishes our souls. If we only hear words, but never personally experience God Himself ,then we are robbed of what we really need to flourish and be satisfied. As Tozer concludes,” The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”
There are many times for many different reasons in our lives that we find ourselves in a wilderness, feeling alone and God feeling distant. Maybe we are going through a period of suffering, depression, and loss, or maybe we have without even realizing it happening just fallen out of our relationship with God and found ourselves alone in a wilderness of complacency. What are we supposed to do during these moments? What can we do if our heads are filled with “right doctrine” but our hearts have “spiritually checked out” and we feel we are just going through the motions of our faith and worship?
Fortunately, we are not the first to experience these emotions and events. God’s Word has the answers for these problems and all others if we are willing to humble ourselves and seek them out. Seeking is the title of my message this morning, specifically Seeking God In The Wilderness Of Our Lives.
This morning, Lord willing, we will examine together a time where one of the greatest men who ever lived, King David, found himself in a literal and emotional wilderness and needed to seek God, in Psalm 63.
We begin with the title script for this psalm, “A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.”
Now King David is a man whose full introduction would need a sermon all his own. I could talk at length about his accomplishments as a King, Poet, Warrior, or even how he is part of the line of Messiah and was promised the Messiah as his heir. But I believe it is enough to state that the Lord declared Him, “a man after His own heart”, that despite personal sins, King David is a model for us of what it means to be a righteous person.
Psalm 63 was most likely written during the time King David was forced to flee Jerusalem because of his son Absalom. Absalom had conspired with others in leadership and had turned most of the people against David. Realizing the danger he was in, David left with his mighty men into the wilderness for the second time in his life. David even sent the ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and had faith that either God would see him through this disaster to see the Ark again or if David had lost Adonai’s favor the Lord would do what He wanted with David.
So with only a relatively small group of loyal men and his son plotting his death, David was at one of the lowest points of his life. But it is in the middle of his suffering, when God seemed distant, that David wrote one of his greatest psalms through the Holy Spirit.
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
In this first verse we see King David acknowledge Adonai as the one true God and “my God”. David is seeking the Lord, but He has already encountered the living God of Israel. Adonai is his God, and David is in a relationship with him through the Mosaic Covenant. This is not someone who is “spiritual but not religious”. But a person who has already given their life over to God and deeply desires to experience Him in a deeper and more personal way.
You know most people realize there is something missing in their lives, a hole in their hearts that they try to fill. We fill these needs with sex, power, money, followers on Instagram, friends on Facebook, retweets on Twitter or just stuff. So-called “self-help” and “spiritual” books make piles of money every day appealing to people searching for what they can feel is missing in their lives. Cults like Scientology and other empty religions and philosophies also offer to help people fill these needs, but those who follow these dead idols become like them as the Psalms declare.
People seeking out a God that satisfies their needs and desires is a common trait throughout human history, even in biblical times. It’s very normal for people to be religious. We read in Acts 17 when Rabbi Paul preached to the people of Athens, a place filled with all sorts of philosophies and idols. The people brought Rabbi Paul to a public place to hear about the “strange ideas” of the Good News that he had been preaching. The people of Athens spent all their time entertaining the newest ideas and following along with the latest fads, not too different from us today wouldn’t you agree?
Rabbi Paul rightly observes that they are very religious, but seeing their altar “to an unknown God” he seizes on this as an opportunity to share with them the unknown God they are ignorant of, Messiah Yeshua. We today are also like the Athenians, we are willing to chase after and entertain the latest trends when the answers we need, the longing in our hearts we seek to fill, the darkness in our hearts we want to fill with life and light, is very near to us, in Adonai, the only true God.
As fallen human beings we naturally seek after a god or gods that are idols of our own creation. Small things that will validate the way we live our lives and not really rock us from our thinking and desires. We can also create a version of Adonai that is not Him but is an idol that validates our wrong spiritual thinking and feelings as well.
The truth is we cannot truly seek Adonai and pursue Him, until He has first worked in us through the Holy Spirit. We might desire religion, we might desire a god in our lives, but we will never truly desire and accept the Lord apart from His help.
So King David is a man who has encountered the God of Israel, he sees God as his Lord and is seeking Him with everything that he is. But he finds himself in a literal desert and that reflects how he feels inside himself. He feels dry and thirsty and is seeking the source of Living Waters. I like what Tim Keller has to say about this verse. He talks about how we can know if we have encountered the real God if we are deeply hungry and thirsty for Him. He also says, “The sense of His absence, the dissatisfaction with His absence, is an evidence that He has touched you.”
So both David and our own’s sincere desire to hear from and experience the Lord is proof of his presence in our lives, because that longing comes from the Lord through His Holy Spirit and not ourselves.
When we are going through our own wilderness, filled with a deep and intense longing for Him, it is a sign that He is present in our lives and we need to keep seeking Him just as David is doing. But we also need to see beyond our present circumstances, which we find as we continue reading this psalm.
So 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.
I feel the ESV does a better job of capturing King David’s praise in the English. We move from his current circumstances to what he has experienced in the past through his relationship with Adonai. He has experienced the holiness of the Lord in His sanctuary and a love that never fails. Because of the Lord’s holiness, power, love and glory the only proper response is for David to praise Him.
For those who have experienced the greatness of Adonai, we have also shared in His love and power. If we look back on our lives we can see a pattern of God’s love and power being demonstrated in how He has led us to Himself and sustained us. We need to count our blessings as often as we count the troubles we are in. This prayer is also more than just wanting to be delivered from present trials, a prayer for needs to be met. It is a prayer to once again experience the all-surpassing presence of our Most Holy Creator. Once again, we can see the intense longing in David’s spirit for His Lord. The love of God is better than the life he has right now, both in times of trouble and times of blessing.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Because of His experiences with Adonai in His life and the knowledge of who Adonai is, David commits to bless His name for his entire life. Many of us bless the name of the Lord in our words but David commits to do so in action as well. Lifting up the name of the Lord, who God is, with his hands. We can see that the kind of longing and faith that King David has action to it. It is a living faith filled with deeds. For too many of us today our faith leads to no action. There are many who bless the Lord’s name on the weekend but in their hearts only have a deep longing for the things of this world which will fade away.
But we need to wait as David does on the response of God. The Lord is faithful to answer the deep longings of our soul for Him. Like David, we will find satisfaction in the Lord if we sincerely seek Him. In this verse we see it described as if we are eating an amazing meal. But satisfaction you feel after a delicious buffet of great food pales in comparison to our soul’s fulfillment in the love and presence of the Lord. We can have confidence in our prayers in our praise of the Lord because His will is always done.
Our psalm continues back to the longing we have for the Lord.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Have you ever when feeling depressed tossed and turned all night thinking about what you are going through? Have you ever spent hours just going over things and the night so slowly goes by? I have and this is what we see King David doing in these verses. But despite the slow night passing by, he spends his time not focused on his present struggles but on the goodness of the Lord. He remembers all the times the Lord has helped him and seen him through adversity. Just as the wilderness has increased his longing for the Lord, so this long night has also driven David to sincerely seek Him out. He clings to the shelter of the Lord but He is only able to pursue the Lord because of God sustaining Him.
It is so easy, and Satan especially tries, to make us feel like we are alone and lost. That no one cares about us, that our present struggles will go on forever and that there is no way out. It is in these times we need to seek the Lord even more intensely. To remember what He has done for us and through His sustaining power live beyond this present moment. We need His help to cling to Him and it is His desire for us to do so.
We come now to the end of the psalm as we turn back to David’s present struggle and His faith that the Lord will see Him through and vindicate him.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Those who try to destroy us, to destroy God’s people, will be completely destroyed. This was the fate of Absalom and is the fate of all those who are enemies of the Living God. Our God is not just a God of love but justice as well. David knew his calling as king was of God and not something human powers could take away. So too is our calling as priests and servants of the Lord. As Messianic Jews and Christians we have a kingdom and a calling that can never be taken away. Though we may be despised by the world and called all sorts of horrible things, we will eventually be vindicated by the Lord the same way David was.