I will sing about the Lord’s steadfast love and his justice; I will make music with my mouth and my life (v. 1).

I will think long and hard on the path that is blameless, longing for the help that comes from God so that I might not stray from his ways (v. 2a).

I will live and walk in my home with a heart of integrity; I will be above reproach in my private life (v. 2b).

I will not let my eyes look on anything that is worthless (v. 3a).

I will know nothing of evil, but will hate, reject, and flee from perversity and from those who call me to fall away from God (v. 3b-4).

I will silence those who slander others (v. 5a).

I will not tolerate those with proud looks and arrogant hearts, including the pride in my own heart (v. 5b).

I will open my life to those who are faithful and blameless, surrounding myself with them and seeking to be ministered to by them (v. 6).

I will not put down roots with liars (v. 7).

I will destroy wickedness every morning (v. 8).

(Psalm 101)

As a church this past Sunday, commemorating Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we meditated on God’s character revealed in Exodus 34:6-7 and thought on how we as God’s image bearers should reflect God’s image in a culture that celebrates the destruction of unborn image bearers in the name of choice and convenience.

As we considered how we might reflect the heart of a God who is merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful and forgiving, I was reminded of the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Here’s the long and short of it: In their unbelief, Abram and Sarai decided to help along God’s promise of giving them a son, concluding that it would be best to not wait for God to provide the child through Sarai, but rather to have Abram bring a child into the world through Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar. However, when their plans went as planned and Hagar became pregnant, everything fell apart. Hagar became filled with pride, exulting herself over barren Sarai, and Sarai became so filled with anger and jealousy that, under Abram’s passive eye, she treated Hagar so harshly that she was driven to the point of fleeing into the desert.

Can you see Hagar in that desert place? She is an unmarried woman who has just been driven from the only home she knows by the people who created her current situation. She is alone and cast off and now probably despising the child in her womb that seems to have created all of these problems. She didn’t ask for this, but now she has to deal with the life situation she has been thrust into. Do you see her? Scared, alone, helpless, and hopeless?

What is God’s heart towards her? How does he come to Hagar? In the words of Genesis 16:7-12, the angel of the LORD tells Hagar God’s heart, and it is this: “I see you Hagar, and I hear you.” They are words of compassion that fill the heart of this lonely and distressed woman with hope – “God? You see me? You care for me? You are going to bless me and my child? Truly I have seen him who looks after me” (v. 13).

So often we as followers of God treat people like Hagar as Sarai did – we are so harsh that we drive them away to a place of despair. But what if we came to them in tenderness, saying, “I see this terrible situation you are in. My heart breaks with you. Sit here and I will listen to your cries of distress.” It’s in so speaking and acting that we reflect the heart of our God. It is in valuing the image-of-God-bearing-mother that we can help her celebrate the image-of-God-bearing-child she is carrying. And in all of this, it is God who is seen for who he is:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

The heart cry of the people of Babel was for their own name (Genesis 11:4). Their blueprints of a tower that reached to the heavens were titled, “The Tower of Babel: A Monument to How Great We Are.” But the destruction of their plans instead showed their weakness, confusion, and sin such that God made a name for himself.

The heart cry of David was for the name of God (2 Samuel 7). He saw his house of cedar, not as a monument to himself, but as a stinging reminder that the ark of God was in a tent, and therefore in David’s eyes God was not receiving the glory he deserved (7:2). God said, “Thanks, but not right now,” to David’s plans for building a house for him, but seeing David’s desire for the name of God, God told him, “I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” And he would do it by establishing David’s throne forever and sending the Messiah through his line.

David’s response to God’s kindness reveals that his heart cry did not change – he still longed for the name of God to be exalted above his own:

“Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” (2 Samuel 7:21-23 ESV)

So if we desire to make a name for ourselves, God will scatter us and exalt himself.

And if we desire to make a name for God, he will bless us and exalt himself.

But our desire should not change when he blesses, or we risk turning his making a name for us into a Babel-style idol to self.  Rather, we should see any name we have as an opportunity to speak of the greatness of God and make his name glorious in all the earth.

Noël, our 2-year-old, loves her princess flip-flops – as did her two older sisters. Most of the princesses’ faces have long since been worn off, but there are enough remnants of sparkles and dresses to make them her favorite shoes. The only problem is that they decrease here walking capabilities by about 50%. So as we were doing a bit of walking out and about this past Saturday, I made sure I was always holding her hand. She tripped what felt like every tenth step times, but nothing drastic happened because I was able to hold her up.

I thought of that immediately as I read Psalm 37:23-24 this morning:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.”

What a beautiful truth for us as we clumsily walk through life, tripping on roots, cracks, and our own feet: that no matter how often we fall, if we would delight in his way, then God holds our hands and keeps us from utter destruction. If earthly fathers hold the hands of their children, then surely our good and loving heavenly Father has a good grip on ours.

“One thing I have asked of the Lord,
That I will 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.”

Psalm 27:4

Asking the Lord for something we desire does not eliminate the need to seek after what we desire, especially if our request is for a deeper walk with the Father. In fact, if we truly desire what we are asking for, then we will seek hard after it. Making a request of God and then not putting any feet to that request is not necessarily a sign of deep faith; it could be a sign of laziness and apathy or a revelation that what we say we truly desire is not really that deep of a longing.

Of course, that is not to reinforce the adage that, “God helps those who help themselves.” Certainly God can fulfill our desires without any help from us. But in an age where most things can be acquired with the click of button, it is good to remember that while growth in godliness, “dwelling in the house of Lord,” and understanding the radiance of his beauty are gifts of God’s gracious self-revelation, they are also things that must be sought after with unyielding tenacity. Intimacy with God and Christlikeness in word and deed are not items on Amazon that simply need to be placed in a cart and shipped overnight. Which is why it is good to talk of the fight of faith, because we must fight every day to find God as more satisfying and more to be sought after than anything else. It is good to talk of the fruit of the Spirit, because fruit takes effort to cultivate and time to blossom and ripen. And in both illustrations, our efforts, our seeking, simply yield God’s power; God fights the battle and God produces the fruit in the mysterious mixing of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

If we long to know God and walk in his ways, we will pray fervently for his help, and we will also actively press on hard to know him. It is not one or the other: we must pray that God would allow us to know more of who he is and make us more like himself, and then we must seek after him with all our heart, banking on the encouragement and the promise of Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”

This is the wonderful summary and conclusion of Chapter 2, “The Cross and the Holy Spirit” in D. A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Truly the message of the cross would be foolishness to everyone if not for the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly to grasp that the eternal God, our Maker and Judge, has out of inexpressible grace sent his Son to die the odious death of an abominated criminal in order that we might be forgiven and reconciled to him; that this wise plan was effected by sinful leaders who thought they were controlling events and who were operating out of selfish expediency, while in fact God was bringing about his own good, redemptive purposes; that our only hope of life in the presence of this holy and loving God lies in casting ourselves without reserve on his mercy, receiving in faith the gift of forgiveness purchased at inestimable cost – none of this is possible apart from the work of the Spirit. And Christians say, with increasing awe and gratitude, ‘God has revealed it to us by his Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:10a).”

(Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI; 1993. Page 66)

I was listening to an audio version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet while on a run this morning (courtesy of the Louisville Free Public Library), and heard this wonderful thought to ponder, especially here in the age of the internet and seemingly limitless information. I believe there is some wisdom here given the pressure to know everything about everything, and the apparent ability to do so with the click of a button, not to mention the amount of truly useless information in the world – much more useless than a knowledge of the Solar System.

The quote below is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, as he describes his newfound friend, Sherlock Holmes.

_____________________________

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

(accessed at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DoyScar.html)

The brand of pride that most often plagues my heart is one that spills over in the words, “Yeah, I know that.” Like one of the cool kids that wants everyone to know they saw that movie and heard that band long before they went mainstream, there is a sinful tendency in me to want others to be aware that I was already aware of whatever they are trying to make me aware of.

And it’s not just information, as if all I want is for everyone to think I’m smart (though I do). It can also surface when my wife kindly asks me to do something, and the first thing I say is, “Yeah, I was just getting ready to do that.” I want her to know how proactive and helpful I am. I want to get credit for choosing to complete the stated task even before I was asked.

And then this past Sunday evening at church, as I was thinking on these things, one of our elders helped to reveal another area where this pride crops up. Very often while listening to a sermon or participating in a group discussion around God’s word, my heart and mind are less concerned with learning and growing and more consumed with all of things people are saying that I believe I have already figured out. Rather than being teachable, I want people to think that I am learned.

So, what to do? As I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon, I have a few ideas. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me and these will prove helpful. One is to simply bite my tongue. Why do I need to let everyone know what I know? There are times to justify ourselves or reveal knowledge we have, but there are plenty of times when it is completely unnecessary. So I want to discern when it is necessary or helpful and when it is pride. Help me, Holy Spirit!

Another weapon against this species of pride that I’ve been thinking through is to seek out opportunities to say, “I didn’t know that.” How pride-killing it is to point out someone else’s keen insight, to rejoice at some new knowledge you’ve received from a friend, or to simply say, “You just used a vocabulary word that I have never heard of – what does insipid mean?” So when someone in conversation says, “You probably already know this,” and follows those words with something I was previously oblivious to, I want to be quick to say, “I didn’t know that.”

And when you and I think we know it all, it is helpful to consider the All-knowing God. To remember that he knows more about the hairs on my own head than I do. To meditate on the staggering truth that he can say to every piece of information revealed in the world, not to mention those things hidden beyond the scope of human knowledge, “Yeah, I know that.” Nothing kills pride like staring long at the majesty of God.

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite. (Ps. 147:5)

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)

So may we pray with Hannah the words of 1 Samuel 2:2-3:

There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.

We know when it’s time to get dinner on the table – when our kids begin to scrounge. That’s what we call it: “The kids are scrounging.” Of course, it seems like they’re always rummaging around, scavenging for food, hiding under the table with a box of cereal, shoving it into their mouths by handfuls. They eat like Hobbits – breakfast, second-breakfast, elevensies, and on throughout the day. I promise you, we feed them. It feels like we are constantly feeding them.

And so I have in different words spoken the statement that every parent must: “You’re going to spoil your dinner.” Come by our house at 5pm and you will hear, “No you cannot have that chip or this piece of candy or another snack – we are eating in 20 minutes.” We’ve learned – if they scrounge too much, they won’t eat the food we want them to eat.

All of this counsel given to my children came home to me today as I read from A Hunger for God by John Piper. He writes:

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you” (23).

There are days that I scrounge all day. Sometimes I fulfill all my longings and find my joy in food and sweets and good coffee. Or I look for rest and pleasure in my computer or a bit of television. I often feel the deep need to fill my ears with music. I rummage around, nibbling on countless things – mostly good, God-given things. But things that slowly crowd out and squelch my hunger for God. And so I don’t long for him like I should. I’m not hungry for what my soul truly desires and needs to eat. I have often spoiled my appetite for the glory of God by an incessant snacking on the world. And as full as I may be, I am not satisfied.

God has not only given us gifts to enjoy; he has given us gifts so that we can joyful abstain from them and allow our hearts to be satisfied with Him alone. So get out from under the table with the box of Cinnamon Life and seek satisfaction in the feast God has laid out for us in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” In his book The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges shares this wonderful and tender application of the truth of these verses:

The priority of love over possessions was brought home to me deeply and poignantly some ten years ago. My wife of twenty-five years was dying of cancer. We had been on the staff of a Christian organization all our married lives, and our income had usually hovered around barely adequate. If we went out to eat, it was to Burger King or the local cafeteria. We seldom had discretionary income.

Two things we did have lots of, though, were love and fun. My wife had elected to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. She spent hours with the children when they were small, and after they were in school she never missed a game or scholastic event in which they participated. When I left for the office each morning, she always stood at the door to wave a loving good-bye. Our standard of living could have been described as “a meal of vegetables.” But we had lots of love, and we enjoyed life.

With this history of twenty-five years of love and the realization that my wife was probably dying, I came across Proverbs 15:16-17 one day in my Bible reading. As I read, I wept for joy. I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Thank you, Father, for a home with love.”

My wife has now been with the Lord for ten years, but still today “her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). There is joy in fearing God and in the wisdom that comes from it.

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Psalm 128

How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion,
And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Indeed, may you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!