Desiring God

Text of my sermon on Desiring God.

Good morning. Obviously, I am not Daniel, he is sitting down in the congregation. He told me he wanted to see me preach. Personally, I think he just wanted an excuse for a week off. Either way, I’m happy to fill in this morning.

I’m sure some of you would love it if I were to continue my series on hymns. I promise I have every intention of continuing the topic – maybe “The Church’s One Foundation” will be next. But this morning, I want to talk about something God has been putting on my heart recently.

As most of you know, or have probably figured out, I am a fairly regimented person, that is to say, I like things to be planned and organized. This desire has been forcefully tempered over the years, but I still try to have order and routine in my daily walk through life.

This includes in my time with God. I get up each morning and I have quiet time with God, and I read my Bible. I try to set time aside to read other books to improve my relationship with God. I try to spend each day in prayer as I go about my life.

But despite all of that, there are many times when I complete these tasks strictly out of a sense of duty. I commit to following the rules, to doing what the Lord has commanded me to do. The Bible defines these commands clearly: “WHEN you pray”, “Pray without ceasing”, “live by the Spirit”, “Stay pure by obeying [God’s] Word”, “Put on the whole armor of God” (including the Word of God). It is clear throughout Scripture that we are to regularly pray, to regularly read the Bible, to live in the Spirit of God.

In all honesty, though, there are many times when I do not look forward to this time with God. I find myself going through the motions. It is not actually focusing on God; it is not a time of drawing close to Him. I am not really seeking Truth from the Holy Spirit, or comfort from Christ, or falling before the Father in complete worship.

Some might hear me say these things and say, “so what?” Why does it matter that I feel disconnected? Why is it important that there is more than a token prayer and brief glance at the Scripture? At least I’m being obedient to God’s commands, right?

Well… not quite. While it is good to be literally obedient to God’s commands, He doesn’t want us to give Him the bare minimum. There are several things wrong with the spirit of doing the bare minimum.

First, God wants us to love Him with our whole being. Moses tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus repeats this command when He speaks to the crowd in the sermon on the Mount. This doesn’t sound like God wants a careless gesture, or an empty demonstration. He wants us to surrender ourselves wholly and completely to Him.

If I were to think of an example of what this looks like practically, I could turn to Daniel and his love of the Packers. Now I enjoy watching football, and I have a fond appreciation of the Packers, but Daniel is passionate about the Packers. I’ve seen him rearrange his Sunday afternoon schedule to make sure he’s ready to watch the game. When he watches, he is completely involved in watching – cheering when they do well, and disappointed when things are tough.

This, then, should be how we focus on God: When we pray, we commit not just to saying empty words, but to sharing our heart and being ready to listen when God speaks; when we read Scripture, we commit not just to reading the words on the page, but to understanding the character of God; when we go about our day, we dedicate our time and our energy to doing ALL things with God as the purpose of our work, and to glorifying God in all that we do.

Second, God doesn’t want His word to be something we read casually. Moses continues in Deuteronomy 6 with: “These words [that is, the Scripture that Moses has shared with the Israelites] that I command you today shall be on your heart. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.”

Now, the Israelites took that last part literally, and created boxes called Tefillin, which were leather boxes where loyal followers of the Law could put scripture in the box, and they walk around with these boxes tied to their hands and their foreheads. I want you to take a minute and think about what that would look like, if we were to walk around with little boxes strapped the back of our hands all the time. It’s easy to laugh at the idea, but the truth is I don’t think God meant for them, or for us, to take that literally. It does get the point across, though.

God intended for His Word to be a useful tool for us, but it can only be useful if we remember it and if we use it. We need to study Scripture, so that we can understand what it means. We need to repeat the Scripture to each other so we can each remember the Truths that God has shared with us. We need to share Scripture with the children in our church, so they can remember Truths as well. And once we understand and remember God’s Word, it is a tool we can use to go through each day: comforting us in times of struggle; reminding us to thank God always; sharing the burdens we each bear as we walk in the path that God has set before us.

Third, God wants us to delight in Him. It is easy to think of God as an ancient King, sitting on His Royal Throne, giving orders to us as servants and then considering us no more. We know from Isaiah that He has a Throne, and that seraphim worship Him throughout eternity. But God does not have a hands-off relationship with His children: Adam and Eve walked in the garden WITH God; Enoch walked with God, and was taken up to be with God; Abraham argued with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai and received commands for the Israelites; Isaiah was invited to the Heavenly throne room in a vision.

But It’s not just that God is willing to listen to us. He wants us to enjoy being in His presence, and reading His word. The word “delight” is used repeatedly in the Psalms about us delighting in the Lord or in His commands. A few quick examples:

  • Psalm 1: “they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night”.
  • Psalm 27: “The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.”
  • Psalm 37: “Take delight in the Lord”.
  • Psalm 40: “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.”
  • Psalm 112: “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying His commands.”

God does not expect us to be unhappy servants, complaining or being bitter over the work that He has set before us. He designed us to be in relationship with Him, and so when we spend time with Him, when we surrender completely to His will, we will be pleased, we will have joy.

Growing up, I remember one of the stereotypes that was common in movies and TV was the idea of the Christian who was so consumed by following Christ that you could never disappoint them, they were always happy, they always had a smile. The stereotype came from a secular world that doesn’t understand God, and so it was meant to make fun of those who go to church, intended to show that Christians don’t understand the struggle of the real world and are out of touch with day to day life.

The ironic thing is that this stereotype is exactly how we should all be. God has given us the ability and the freedom to be happy by being in relationship with Him.

So now we know, it is important TO NOT just go through the motions when we spend time with God and with His Word. How, then, do we do this? How can we move from sitting alone in a room feeling awkward to delighting in God? How can we move from simply reading words on a page to sharing these words with those who need to hear? How can we move from simple obedience to loving Him with every fiber of our being?

Let’s start by talking about the things that keep us away from being close with God.

The biggest one, of course, is sin. Quick exercise, one that I’m sure you’ve done before if you’ve been around the Harvest for any length of time. Without raising your hands, just answer to yourself: How many of you have gone a week without sinning? Or even a day? Or even one hour? I know I would find it difficult to find any hour in which I have not sinned, except maybe when I sleep.

Sin is a constant struggle, and it destroys us. Hebrews 12 says that in order to run the race that God has set before us, we must remove everything that slows us down, INCLUDING the sin that wraps itself around our feet and trips us. Ezekiel commands: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.” Romans 8: “Those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God.” We CANNOT be close to God if we are sinning.

But when we sin, we don’t just separate ourselves from God, we create a barrier between us and God. Let me give you an illustration. I heard one time that prayer is like this: Imagine that there is a camera pointed at Jesus, and we are the film. When we pray, we are open the shutter on the camera, and the light of Christ creates an image on the film, that is, on us. In doing so, we become more like Christ. To abuse this illustration just a bit further, I would say that sin is like scratching the lens on the camera. Not only is the shutter still closed, but now the lens is damaged. The next time we go to pray, the image of Christ will be corrupted before it even reaches the film, before it reaches us, and we will not hold the true image of Christ.

So, how do we stop sinning? Well, that is a topic for another sermon, and I know there is at least one in the podcast covering that. I’ll just give you a quick summary here. We start by confessing our sins to God. Then we make a choice to repent, or turn away from the sin. Last, we confess our difficult sins to someone we trust to hold us accountable to remaining out of sin. Three easy steps that take a life time to master.

Moving on, the second thing that separates us from God is: we do not have a proper respect for who God is. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The heavens and the earth. All that we know here on earth, and all that is in the skies, and all that is in heaven; God created it. There are too many stars in the universe for us to even begin counting, and God has created them all, and knows them each BY NAME. He deserves respect as God, the Creator.

God didn’t just create the heavens and the earth, He created each of us. God tells Jeremiah: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” He didn’t just create us, though. He knows us, and cares for us. David says in Psalm 139, speaking to God: “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And a couple verses later: “Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Jesus says in Matthew 10: “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of MORE VALUE than many sparrows.” God deserves respect as God, the Father, and God, the Provider.

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Job. This may seem an odd choice, but what I love about the book is that it is brimming with statements about the might, and majesty, and power of God. Job glorifies God, his friend Elihu glorifies God, and God Himself declares His glory. Let me share with you one brief passage:

“Look, God is all-powerful.
Who is a teacher like him?
No one can tell him what to do,
or say to him, ‘You have done wrong.’
Instead, glorify his mighty works,
singing songs of praise.
Everyone has seen these things,
though only from a distance.

“Look, God is greater than we can understand.
His years cannot be counted.
He draws up the water vapor
and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.
Who can understand the spreading of the clouds
and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?
See how he spreads the lightning around him
and how it lights up the depths of the sea.
By these mighty acts he nourishes the people,
giving them food in abundance.
He fills his hands with lightning bolts
and hurls each at its target.
The thunder announces his presence;
the storm announces his indignant anger.”

I could easily keep going with more passages from Job, but I think you get the picture. God deserves respect as God, the Almighty, and God, the All-Powerful.

Along the same lines, the third thing we do that weakens our time with God is: we don’t prepare to talk to God. As an example, say that I have a meeting planned with the President of my company. The first thing I would need to do is make sure that the meeting has a purpose; otherwise he would reject the meeting – he is a busy man and has other things to do with his time. Then, I would have an agenda, so that I could organize my thoughts and best use the limited time available in the meeting.

Although God is not limited in time, the point stands. If I am to best use the opportunity I have to speak with Almighty Creator, I should prepare for it. I have a picture here of a whiteboard that Greg helped me hang up in my room. In the first section, I have various passages of Scripture that have become core to my relationship with God – I use this to prepare my heart for a time of worship, of confession, and of asking for His will to be done. In the middle section, I have listed the people whom God has called me to pray for. These are people from the church, from my family, from work, and from other areas of my life. This is to make sure that when I pray for others, I remember each person and pray for their needs.

In the same way, when I read Scripture, there are days when I read simply, allowing the Spirit to influence my thoughts and allowing the words to teach me about God and His character. There are days when I have a notepad ready to dig deeper into the instructions so I may know how best to be obedient to God’s Will. There are days when I use a study guide so I can rely on the wisdom and work of others to make sure I am not alone in my interpretation of God’s word.
I encourage each of you to find some way to organize your thoughts and plan for your time with God. Whether you use a diary, or cards, or a simple notepad, keep track of the things you need to pray for, and the people you need to pray for. Prepare for your time in God’s word, so that reading is not just a token exercise, but a time of learning and drawing closer to God.

One more way we separate ourselves from God is by forgetting that He desires to be in relationship with us. In Leviticus, God promises to His people: “I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Jesus promises in John 14: “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper [that is, the Holy Spirit], to be with you forever. […] You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” Jesus continues a bit further: “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” James 4 promises: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

God has promised to be with us, and to listen to us. But relationships are hard work. For example: some of you know that I meet with other men for breakfast every Friday morning. It is a collection of Christian men from various churches around Tulsa. Our agenda is simple: we share what’s on our hearts; we share a Psalm and study it’s meaning; and we share a chapter from Proverbs as wisdom for the week. This is now one of the highlights of my week, every week, because it is a time of encouragement, of fellowship; a great example of “iron sharpening iron”. But it is a commitment. Being there for each other EVERY Friday morning. Being open and vulnerable to each other. Being encouragement to one another.

This is what God desires with us. He has shown His commitment toward us, we need to do the same towards Him. As we share our lives with Him, our victories and our failures, our weaknesses and our strengths, the relationship will grow. In this way, we will know true delight in the Lord, as He becomes a close and faithful friend.
Now before I finish, I want to make sure that I am clear about what I’ve said this morning. I am NOT saying that reading your Bible and praying every day is a bad thing. On the contrary, these are the most important things you can do any day, and you should do them every day.

I am NOT saying that if you get to your quiet time and you feel like you’re not ready to be engaged in your relationship with God, you should put it off. On the contrary, that is the VERY moment you need quiet time with God. Our emotions are fickle, and quickly change. It is commitment and obedience that will lay the foundation of a strong relationship with God.

Last, I am NOT saying that when you follow through on your obedience because you don’t feel like spending time with God, that you should put in a token effort and rush to get through it. On the contrary, I am saying you should take the opportunity to examine yourself to understand why you feel disconnected. As you do so, you should remember that you are preparing to speak to the Lord God Almighty, who is worthy of all of your attention and respect; you should remember to confess your sins, individually or generically, so that you are able to speak with a pure heart; you should remember that relationships are hard work, and this time you take each day is part of your commitment not just to serve God, but to be in relationship with Him; and you should remember to thank God for all that He has done for you, so that you can delight in Him.

So, as you go out this week, be intentional in your walk with God. Follow these steps to draw closer to God. If you find it difficult to do these things alone, find a partner to pray with you, so that you can hold each other accountable to the work, and rejoice with each other in the glory of God.

Let’s pray.