Text: Psalm 27:4 — One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
Introduction: One of the definitions of Integrity is the quality or condition of being whole or undivided (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition). A person who possesses this character quality is said to be consistent in the presentation of him or her self. In other words, a person of integrity is the same person in private as others know him to be in public. Now if you’re like me, of course you want to put your best foot forward when you’re around others who are capable of judging your character. I usually put a great deal of effort into presenting my best possible “self” to others. But what about those times when no one else sees what I’m doing and how I’m behaving? In those times can I say that for the most part my integrity is still intact? This idea of integrity may be one of the best indicators that Christ is Lord of a believer’s life. It involves the re-calibration of a Christian’s spiritual compass several times a day to make sure that we are true to our confession of Jesus as Lord, that we are undivided in our allegiance to Him. You may be questioning just how necessary this recalibration is to maintaining your integrity. I would argue that it is every bit as vital to the spiritual direction of our lives as a compass is to the nautical direction of a large sea fairing vessel. Listen to this story: In 1914, not long after the sinking of the Titanic, Congress convened a hearing to discern what happened in another nautical tragedy. In January of that year, in thick fog off the Virginia coast, the steamship Monroe was rammed by the merchant vessel Nantucket and eventually sank. Forty-one sailors lost their lives in the frigid winter waters of the Atlantic. While it was Osmyn Berry, captain of the Nantucket who was arraigned on charges, in the course of the trial Captain Edward Johnson of the Monroe was grilled on the stand for over five hours. During cross-examination it was learned that Captain Johnson “navigated his ship with a steering compass that deviated as much as two degrees from the standard magnetic compass. He said the instrument was sufficiently true to run the ship, and that it was the custom of masters in the coastwise trade to use such compasses. His steering compass had never been adjusted in the one year he was master of the Monroe.” The faulty compass that seemed adequate for navigation eventually proved to be otherwise. This realization partly explains a picture recorded by the New York Times that showed the two captains clasping hands and sobbing on each other’s shoulders. The heartbreak of these two burly seamen is a moving reminder of the tragic consequences of a lack of clear direction for the commander of a ship. The reminder for us is similar and goes something like this: if the heart is like a compass … then we need to (regularly) calibrate our hearts, tuning them to be directed to the Lord, our magnetic north.
This morning I want to help you think about how Christians keep from shipwrecking their faith by navigating their personal lives toward sin and destruction. The answer for every believer is the same when it comes to keeping our spiritual integrity: We succeed by cultivating A LOVING UNION WITH OUR LORD. Our passage that we’re studying is found In Psalm 27. In the first three verses David expresses his confidence in God while experiencing some sort of attack from his enemies (Psalm 27:1-3 – The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall). What might have caused fear, anxiety and disorientation in someone who did not trust God, resulted only in the longing of David to draw closer to God. “One thing I ask of the Lord that I may seek after,” he says, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” This is remarkable! David was the king of Israel, the leader of their armies and a preacher of the Word of God. The pressures associated with any one of these responsibilities would be more than most of us are capable of bearing. So how does he hold it together? He does so by the regular maintenance of a loving union with God. Let’s take a few moments and break down what David has to say about this all-important pursuit.
THE DISCIPLINE for our loving union with God (Psalm 27:4a – One thing I have asked of the Lord that I will seek after …). To be a person that exemplifies spiritual integrity and faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ requires a substantial commitment to personal discipline and focus. In a day and age when so many things compete for our worship and devotion, believers are often forced to make choices. David resisted the temptation to be consumed with his many duties in leading a nation and chose instead to make God his number one priority. This single-minded pursuit is what made him such an effective and fearless leader. Do you remember the run-in he had with Goliath in 1 Samuel 17? While all the other soldiers could only see their situation from a human, and therefore hopeless perspective, David, the one who shared loving union with God, did not fall victim to such thinking. He was willing to oppose Goliath not because he was stronger or more battle ready, but because he was highly motivated. If you listen to his words you discover that David was actually offended by the arrogance of Goliath and his unwillingness to acknowledge the greatness of the God he knew so well (1 Samuel 17:45-47 – Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword or spear. For the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hand). Goliath could have ridiculed the armies of Israel, David himself, and even his mother, but nothing fanned the flame of his righteous anger like the unwillingness of the Philistine, Goliath, to respect and honor his God. We could say that David was obsessed with God. Would that every Christian could say the same … that we would share in his single-mindedness and say with David that our one consuming passion is also for the Lord! We could argue that this is really the whole point of the church. We exist to help people know and love God. We must be careful not to lose the perspective that everything good coming forth from us as individuals and the church as a whole, hinges on this loving union with God that we share. Application: Is it just me or have you noticed that in an effort to be “relevant” the evangelical movement slowly became increasingly man-centered rather than God-centered in the past forty years? The primary question for evangelicals was no longer, “How do we fulfill the Great Commission?” Instead it evolved into … “How do we get more people and grow our churches?” We failed to recognize that the paradigm for success in our churches was being set, not by the immutable and infallible Word of God, but by the values of our culture. If big is good then bigger is better. Those with the largest congregations obviously knew what they’re doing and therefore had the right to set the agendas for the rest of the church. What we missed in the process was a subtle shift in our direction so that believers were no longer the ones leading the body of Christ. That had been abdicated to our culture. As a result, the pursuit of a loving union with God, the purpose for which we exist, took a back seat to the values of the unchurched. If attenders demanded more singing and less teaching, we gave them what they asked for. If they wanted the teaching to be more about how to live a good life and less about theology and doctrine, we preached to please! If certain doctrinal positions offended, we avoided them! If the services are too long or at too inconvenient a time, no problem! We changed to accommodate. Fortunately, I think most of us came to our senses and realized that what was being removed was not the barriers that kept the church from reaching the lost, but the very nature of God-centered Christianity – the understanding that it evolves around Him, not us. Now we pray that as the church moves forward in the years and decades to come, we will avoid the same tragic error by disciplining our minds to think as David did: “One thing I asked of the Lord that I will seek after…” Just one thing, Lord, that’s all we want. It’s all about you!
The DESTINATION of our loving union with God (Psalm 27:4b – … that I may dwell in the house of the Lord …”). The house of the Lord does not refer here to the tabernacle or the temple. Even Solomon, King David’s son who oversaw the building of the temple, one of the great wonders of the ancient world, understood that God could not be contained in a building (1 Kings 8:27 – But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built?). When David wrote these words, he was not thinking of the house of the Lord as a building, but as an ongoing and intimate relationship with God where we live in His very presence. This kind of union with our Creator is meant to bring us before His throne that we might grow in our understanding and adoration of Him. This is what Jesus referred to as “eternal life” in John 17:3 – This is eternal life that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent). In providing for us life that would never end, God was really giving Himself to us. The logical conclusion, of course, is that if our spiritual discipline doesn’t bring us into the presence of God (David’s desire all along) through His Son, then something is wrong: Either we are pursuing loving union with the wrong thing or we’re pursuing union with God for the wrong reason.
· Pursuing loving union with the wrong thing. It is possible that we could substitute something else for that central place in our lives that God is meant to occupy! In fact, it happens all the time. Even devoted Christians can lose their spiritual perspective every now and again. Perhaps pastors are more vulnerable to this than anyone. We can so closely identify with our ministry for the Lord (teaching, evangelizing, serving, discipling etc) that we lose sight of the Lord in the process. When we substitute activity for God, everything we do becomes more about pride and self-fulfillment than about honoring the One who called us to serve Him in the first place. As this happens and Jesus no longer has access to our interior lives, pastors and worshippers in general run the risk of burning out for a lack of joy in their ministries.
· Pursuing union with God for the wrong reason. Have you read Genesis 4 and the story of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve? Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the land, but the Lord did not regard Cain’s sacrifice (See Genesis 4:2-7). The verb means ‘respect.’ It was not the sacrifice itself that was wrong, for grain offerings were offered to God in other places in the Scriptures with good results. It was a matter of the heart, and Cain’s was not right with God. He offered it with the wrong motive (we don’t know what it was … perhaps merely a sense of duty) so it was rejected. Application: It is possible to engage in ministry in a way that is not pleasing to our Lord. Certainly, this was the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in Matthew 15. They pretended that their traditions were all about honoring God, but in fact, they were about manipulating others to their own advantage. So, they rendered the commandments of God null and void causing Jesus to conclude that their efforts were meaningless and empty (Matthew 15:8-9 – This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me). Had they truly desired to please God, they would have followed the example of Christ in loving others. People seek access to the throne of God for many reasons. Occasionally it is because we want something from Him, and that’s not always bad. But there is a motive that seems more right than others–because we want Him. This reminds me of an old woman who was suffering from dementia. Throughout her life she had cherished and depended on the Word of God, committing many verses to memory. Her favorite was 2 Timothy 1:12 – I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day. Confined to a small room in a nursing home, her family knew that she would first lose her memories then eventually her life. As they visited, she would quote Bible verses, especially 2 Timothy 1:12. But with the passing of time even parts of this well-loved verse began to fade. “I know in whom I have believed … He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him…” A week before her death all she could remember was … “entrusted to Him …” Finally, in her last moments, there was only one word left … Him…Him…Him. He was all that was left and all that was needed. What’s the one thing you need to make it in life?
The Duration of our loving union with God (Psalm 27:4c – … all the days of my life …). How long? David could think of nothing better than to spend the rest of his life dwelling in the very presence of God. Loving union with God is never meant to be a momentary experience, but a life-long pursuit. In Psalm 34:1-3, David provides for us a model of what this looks like:
· We pursue God willingly (I will bless the Lord…). It is our choice and no one else can compel us to do it.
· We pursue God continually (I will bless the Lord at all times…). There is never an inappropriate time for meeting with the Lord.
· We pursue God personally (My soul shall make its boast in the Lord…). It’s not enough to join with the body of Christ on Sundays and forsake the Lord throughout the week. We seek a personal relationship with Him.
· We pursue God corporately/together (… the humble shall hear it and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.) First it’s personal, but then we are called to join with others and love God in community throughout our days. I would argue that both personal and corporate pursuit of God are necessary if we’re to maintain loving union with Him!
The Desire that drives our loving union with God (Psalm 27:4d – … to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple). David had two desires in his relationship with God. One involved seeing something; the other seeking something.
· To see the beauty of the Lord. The Hebrew, “to behold the beauty of the Lord,” is a saying expressing the absolute delight which gazing continually at God’s glory brings to us. It is beyond words and must be experienced to be understood.
· To seek Him in His temple. The idea is to actively and passionately pursue God that we might know Him better and enjoy Him more. It is the desire described in Psalm 42:1 — As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
Applications: (Discipline, Destination, Duration, Desire) Let me close by sharing three things you can’t do and maintain loving union with God (from the Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero).
· (to those serving in the church) You can’t do God’s work your way. God never allows us the luxury of taking matters into our own hands when it comes to our service for Him. If you think I’m wrong about this, consider happened to Moses when he failed to follow the Lord’s instruction in Numbers 20. God told him to speak to the rock at Horeb and water would pour forth to quench the thirst of the Israelites. But he was angry and so he struck it. Water came forth, but because of his disobedience, Moses was prohibited from leading his people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Can will always get the result He wants, but it may not produce the blessing you seek unless you do it His way.
· (to those in danger of burn out) You can’t live at warp speed. Too many of us exchange activity for relationship. We think it matters more what we do for God, than our own loving union with God. When this happens, our souls shrivel as we stray from Him.
· (to those who are wandering from the Lord) You can’t skim (take away the choicest parts) in your relationship with God. Our hidden lives will not remain hidden if we do. If we’re secretly pursuing something other than the Lord to fill the longings of our souls, if we cheat in our spiritual lives, we will be disappointed and eventually exposed for what we are.
Conclusion: You can’t do God’s work your way. You can’t live at warp speed and you can’t skim in your relationship with God. That’s why David shares his two desires… to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. These alone will produce a decreasing satisfaction with the things of the world and insatiable thirst for the presence of God. In his book, Sahara Unveiled, William Langewiesche tells the story of an Algerian named Lag Lag and a companion whose truck broke down while crossing the desert. They nearly died during the three weeks they waited before being rescued. As their bodies became dehydrated, they found that they were willing to drink anything in the hopes of quenching their terrible thirst. The sun forced them under the truck into the shade where they dug a shallow trench. Day after day, they lay there. They had food, but did not eat, fearing it would only intensify their thirst. After all, dehydration, not starvation kills most wanderers in the desert. How did they manage to survive? They drank rusty radiator water, which is, in effect, a poison. What makes a man drink water mixed with antifreeze and residue from an engine? The answer is simple really: It is the overwhelming desire to live. And what drives a Christian to passionately pursue God? The answer is just as simple: The overwhelming desire to live in loving union with Him. This was David’s desire and it should be ours as well – so long as we call Jesus our Lord.