The Decision of Joy
I’D RATHER DIE WHILE I’M LIVING THAN LIVE WHILE I’M DEAD
I WANT TO LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER EVERY NOW AND THEN..
THE WEATHER IS HERE, WISH YOU WERE BEAUTIFUL.
All of these truisms were the creation of that “dock-of-the-bay” philosopher, Jimmy Buffet. While I surely there are better sources of truth, I must say that this last one rings true to me, because it has often described me. I would have to say with complete conviction that INDECISION SURELY MAY OR MAY NOT BE MY PROBLEM.
Anybody else struggle to make up your mind. Anyone else ever have trouble maintaining your devotion to a decision you have made? I sure have, and since I don’t want you to lose all faith in me, let me give you an example of it in my life from decades ago.
It was entering my junior year in college. I was the president of the College Choir that year and we were traveling a good bit for the school. For that reason, I suppose, the promotion department of FWBBC asked me to write a promotional piece which would be placed on a handbill that they would be using for advertisement whenever we went into a church. I was flattered by the opportunity, and wrote the piece.
Then I began to have second thoughts . . . not about what I had written but about whether I would be remaining in choir during my second semester. I felt like I had very good reasons for leaving the choir and getting a job to earn some money that I really needed. I went back and forth with it, finding it hard to decide. I was torn. I felt unsettled, even guilty when I thought of it. I struggled to feel happy about it and wasn’t at all confident about my decision.
Meantime, as I struggled, the school was printing up all those handbills. I think they printed hundreds. Finally, I decided. I really had to leave the Choir for the grocery store. I think the administration probably had some choice thoughts and maybe even words about the fickle choir president who couldn’t be counted on. That next semester the choir traveled with a promotional piece featuring a testimony from the college choir president who wasn’t even a member of the choir. Yes, I was embarrassed!
Have you ever done anything like that? Have you ever made a decision and had trouble sticking with it? Maybe you went out for a sports team, made the team, but quit. Maybe you were taking piano as a child and quit because you couldn’t stand to practice. Or maybe, you’re a nursery worker here in this church who committed to keep the 1 year olds, but, whenever its your turn, you just find something else you need to do.
Our struggle to remain committed and to follow through is an important part of maturing into an adult, but its ramifications exceed the hazards of abandoning your teammates, neglecting your practice, or ditching your nursery assignment. When this habit carries over into my spiritual life, the negative impact greatly increases. And here’s what you need to know about those who are spiritually not devoted: Uncommitted people have little joy.
This is true for a number of reasons: In the first place, uncommitted people are usually distracted. They suffer constantly from the stress of too many options. Since they lack the lens of commitment their gaze suffers from a flood of possibilities that leaves them mired in the tar pit of indecision.
And, probably for that reason, uncommitted people are often discouraged. Without the north star of an overriding devotion, they are overwhelmed and feel inadequate to decide. This discourages them by robbing them of the presence of God that provides confidence that He will help them in their trouble. In short, they do not have the confidence that comes from the constant presence of God. They lack that confidence because they are not absolutely committed and devoted to God.
A couple of weeks ago we began our series entitled Radical: Discovering the Joy of Genuine Faith. We defined joy as the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance made possible through the constant presence of God. We took that definition from the sixteenth psalm. But, as I was studying this psalm, I found more than just a definition of joy in its verses. I also found what I call the decision of Joy. If you are to implement the definition of joy in your life so that you truly experience it, there is a clear decision you must make: You must decide to devote yourself, your whole life to God.
Now, immediately, when I say that, it is tempting to glaze over. If you’ve gone to almost any church, you’ve heard something like this almost every time you’ve plopped in the pew. Well, I want you to listen, because this psalm doesn’t just command devotion from you, it explains devotion to you. Read it with me:
Preserve 1me, O God, for in You I put my trust. O my soul, you have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, bMy goodness is nothing apart from You.” As for the saints who are on the earth, “They are the excellent ones, in cwhom is all my delight.” Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; Their drink offerings of dblood I will not offer, Nor take up their names on my lips. O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You 2maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My 3heart also instructs me in the night seasons. fI have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 4rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in 5Sheol,Nor will You allow Your Holy One to 6see corruption. You will show me the hpath of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
How can you be devoted to God? Well, in the first place, true devotion involves:
DIV 1: CLARITY
While vv 2-3 are difficult to translate and there are many interpretations of them, I think this one makes the most sense. What David is doing here is attacking a problem that was common in his day and certainly common in ours. What seems to be a great statement of faith in vv 2 and 3 actually may be not so good. Now listen carefully and let me explain:
Notice in v2 that the words, “O my soul,” are in italics. That means that they were supplied by the translators and not in the original. Literally the verse says, “You have said to the Lord, You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You.” David engages in an imagined conversation with another “believer” in this verse. He says to this person, “You are saying that the Lord Jehovah is your Master. You are saying that Yahweh is your primary passion and your number one priority.” That’s great! So far so good.
But this “friend” of David is talking out of both sides of his mouth. In v 3. It says, As for the saints who are on the earth, “They are the excellent ones, in cwhom is all my delight.” Now the word “saints” is literally “holy ones,” and doesn’t refer to people who are followers of Yahweh. The “holy ones” here are the many gods that were in the land at the time who were worshiped by many Israelites along with Jehovah. Thus, these pagan deities are also called “the mighty or excellent ones in whom is my delight.” So, if you take the two verses together they would sound like this: You have said that Yahweh is your Master and that He is supplying your needs, but you have also said of the pagan gods around you that they are the mighty ones in whom you take great pleasure.
David’s friend is trying to have it both ways! He’s making spiritual noises towards the one and only God and towards the many gods around him. When you understand it that way, then v 4 makes a lot more sense. David says of these mixed up people, Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; Their drink offerings of dblood I will not offer, Nor take up their names on my lips.
As President Obama likes to say, David basically says, “Let me be CLEAR! These people who are trying to have God and everything else will only multiply their sorrows.” Get it? If you are not clear about Who your God really is, you will have the opposite of JOY. What is that? Multiplied sorrows. Listen! The reason there is an epidemic of depression in America is not that it is tougher to live in our culture than its ever been. The reason that people are more stressed and unhappy than ever before is not that they have more problems today than they’ve ever had before. The reason many people are unhappy in this country is that they have DIVIDED HEARTS. The reason many church members always have a long face is because they have fragmented faith.”
David wants no part of that! In fact he says, “not only do I renounce this; not only will I not participate in their divided worship, I won’t even take up their names on my lips.” He was crystal clear about his worship. It was undivided!
You see, here’s what David understood: Without clarity, there is no worship. And do we ever need to hear that message today!
Researchers for Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey analyzed the religious practices of more than 35,000 U.S. adults and found that while they embrace their own faith, they also respect and sometimes practice parts of other religions. John Green, a spokesman for the study said that "Many religions—maybe even most—can be perceived as having an exclusivity clause: We're right and therefore everybody else is wrong. What we've found is that many Americans apparently don't invoke the exclusivity clause."
In fact the study found that more than half of evangelical respondents said that many religions can lead to eternal life, despite the central evangelical belief that Jesus is the only way to God. Twenty-nine percent of Catholics see God as an impersonal force, even though the Catholic Catechism teaches that "the faith of all Christians" rests on the belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One in five self-described atheists, whose main tenet is to reject belief in God, say they believe in God or a universal spirit.
"I think it really underscores the sense that the issue with religion in America is not that Americans don't believe in anything, it's that they believe in everything," said Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston. "Religion is 3,000 miles wide, but it's only three inches deep."
May I add that it is also deeply confused and tragically mistaken. Without clarity there is no worship. “God and” religion does not work.
And I know that right now some of us may be saying. “Great, Rusty. I agree. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. You’re really missing me. I believe that!”
My response would be, “O really? Do you really believe that?” You see, I think that vv 2-3 of this psalm could be the self-portrait of most church members today. Out of one side of our mouths we are saying, “Jesus is my everything,” but out of the other side of our mouths we are professing our loyalty to other Gods. What are some of the gods believers add?
Well one god we add is the god of acceptance. While we might say that we believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, we really don’t believe that. You see if we really believed that all the world was lost apart from Christ we’d be more involved in making sure all the world knew Him. Instead, by our silent acquiescence, we tacitly agree with the world’s idea that all roads lead to God and that it doesn’t really matter how you get there.
But when I worship acceptance, I lose my joy. God gives His confidence to those who have accepted His absoluteness absolutely. When I worship acceptance, I live in the constant distraction of compromise and I cannot be truly confident in God. Joy demands clarity.
Another god we add is the god of comfort. This is a real contender for the glory of God in our lives. We Americans somehow believe that we should always have it easy. If our air conditioner goes out, it’s a major emergency. And God forbid that we should suffer some real tragedy in our lives. The least negative thing can send us over the cliff of disillusionment right into the rocks of doubt. If my joy rests on the god of circumstantial comfort, I will not have joy because there is enough bad in every day to ruin my happiness.
Another god we add is the god of logic. We somehow think that God is supposed to make sense to us. Every circumstance that comes along has to fit into our grid of life understanding. Somehow we’ve come to believe that, in order for God to be good, His idea of “good” has to match my own.” And what happens? We discover very quickly that God has His own agenda and more often than not, it doesn’t match our own. And when I worship the god of my own logic, I lose my joy because, when I do that, I am actually trying to BE God, not trying to WORSHIP Him.
The devotion to God that brings deep joy into my life begins with absolute clarity on this one principle: God is the one and only God, and I am NOT! If I am to have joy then, I must be devoted to God. That requires clarity, and it also requires:
DIV 2: COMMITMENT
Based on the clarity of and exclusivity of his worship, David then makes a strong commitment in vv 5-8 of this psalm. The commitment he makes involves 3 specific decisions. First, he decides to prioritize God. v 5 says, O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. Whereas the one he has his imaginary conversation with is hedging his bets and playing both sides against the middle, David has decided to prioritize God. Basically, He turns to Jehovah and says, “Lord, You are my portion and my cup.” The term, “cup,” probably refers to his daily ration of food or the other necessities of life. It mirrors the Lord’s prayer when Jesus told us to ask the Lord to “give us this day our daily bread.”
Then he tells Jehovah, “You have made my lot secure.” This speaks specifically of one’s inherited land. The overall idea is that David has made God His one and only source for all of life. He has prioritized God.
And by the way, that’s the first decision you must make if you want to have joy in your life. You must not only reserve all of your loyalty for God, you must actively prioritize Him in your life. He must become your “portion and your cup.” He must be your everything. Prioritizing God clarifies your vision, comforts your questioning heart, and encourages your faith. In short, it gives you confidence. David’s first decision is to prioritize God
His second is found in v 6. There he says, The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. Having acknowledged that Jehovah was the one he was trusting to secure his standing, he goes on to admire all that God had given him. When he looks around at the inheritance he has and the blessings he has been given, he says that “the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places” and “I have a good inheritance.” He is, here, actively choosing to praise God.
By the way, this is the reason so many believers are unhappy. They have not begun to see all of their circumstances in the overall perspective of the Will of God. When you really understand that God really does have everything under control, it will enable you to begin to praise God for everything. Because he understands God’s sovereignty, David chooses to praise God. That’s his second decision
And because He decides to prioritize God and because he decides to praise God, David decides to pursue God. Simply put, he takes activates his priority and his praise by deciding to pursue God. This pursuit takes a couple of forms. It involves education. V 7 I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons. Don’t miss what this verse is saying! David says that the Lord is counseling Him and then makes an amazing statement. He says that his heart “also instructs me.” The word “heart” here is best translated in English by the word “conscience.” The best translation for the word “instruct” is “to warn, correct, discipline, or chasten.” And it gives the time that this instruction takes place. He says it happens in the “night seasons.” I believe that speaks of those dark times of our lives when we can’t really figure out what’s going on.
Now if you put all of this together, David is saying that He praises God who counsels him through his conscience and uses the hard times of his life to warn, correct and discipline him. David isn’t throwing in the towel when things go wrong. On the contrary he is pursuing the God who, even in the difficult circumstances of life, keeps on correcting, disciplining, and teaching him.
His pursuit of God involves education, but it also involves concentration. v 8 says, I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Notice the decision: I HAVE SET the Lord always before me. David is saying, “I constantly fix my mind on the Lord.” and because he knows that the Almighty is always right at his hand, he will never be moved.
And you and I, if we are to be joyful in our Christian experience, must adapt this pursuit of God. Instead of allowing our bad times and difficult problems to draw us away and cause us to question, we allow those things to educate us and, as we go through them, accept the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We turn those bad things in to a blessing because we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us through them. And we are enabled to take that approach because, in all of our lives, we have set the Lord always before us. He is the Master and the Measure of our lives. We have decided to pursue Him!
Folks, I have to tell you that you should feel sorry for my wife. I know, I know, you’re saying, “Huh! Not telling us anything we didn’t already know. We do feel sorry for her!” Well, I’d just say, That’s good because she married an introvert. She didn’t really know what she was getting into when she married me. But early on she in our marriage, she probably knew she was in for it. She would ask a question and I would not immediately respond. Thinking my hearing might be bad, she’d repeat the question and then, growing impatient, she might even move on to another question.
Now she wasn’t asking me to explain relativity or describe rocket science. It was usually a simple question. I am sitting at the table maybe watching tv. She has set food before me. She opens the refrigerator door and asks, "What would you like to drink?" She expects an immediate, one-word answer. Any normal person could process the information requested and immediately reply. “Tea, please.” But what she gets is silence and a puzzled expression.What she did not know at first was that, as an introvert, I do not automatically move her question to the front of the line. I am preoccupied with another important train of thought, and her question has not even registered, to say nothing of checking in and phoning home. As an introvert, an inner conversation is already going on inside of me, and outsiders are put on hold. The problem is that I am not concentrated on her and what she is saying.
That’s often the way we are with God. We are so self-concerned that we don’t listen. He’s speaking and He desires a relationship with us, but His still small voice never makes it to the front of the line. We are often focused on everything but Him.
Listen! That kind of approach indicates very clearly that we are not committed to Him. Our devotion is lagging because we are not pursuing Him. It is the pursuit that brings the joy.
So, just let me ask you: Do you have joy this morning? I didn’t ask you if everything was going well. I didn’t ask you if all your dreams were coming true. I asked you if you had joy. Joy, God’s joy flows out of two characteristics that define our devotion to God: Clarity and commitment. So, let’s summarize :
In the first place, since I face a pluralistic culture, God must be my exclusive ruler. I know it will not make you politically correct. I know your college professor or your friends at work may call you narrow, but, in spite of opposition, your joy will be full if you will serve Christ only.
Secondly, since I face a diverse culture, God must be my highest priority. The world will constantly come in to try to influence you away. They will try to get you to adopt their values and priorities. Don’t fall for it. Joy flows from understanding who and what is most important in your life.
Thirdly, since you face a distracted culture, God must your single focus. Busyness conspires against your commitment to Christ with a thousand amusements and a hundred noble tasks. The distracted Christian loses his mooring and ends up, adrift upon the sea of contemporary culture. Beset by more opportunities and entertainments than he could possibly exploit, he is often stressed to the breaking point. Rediscovering a single focus on God could calm His heart and give him the confidence that flows from a committed heart.
Last of all, since you face discouraging circumstances, God must be your trusted teacher. He never wastes tragedy or difficulty. In the dark night of your soul, He has something for you to learn. And sometimes, where you least expect it, in the middle of unbelievable heartache, you can discover an unbelievable sense of confidence in God.
Where does this confidence, this joy begin? It begins with devotion, with a clear commitment that impacts all of your life. The tragic thing is that many people who call themselves Christians walk on for years without experiencing that joy because they are afraid to make that commitment. But here’s what they discover: The ones who really turn loose and sell out to God, they receive an incredible joy from doing that.
I thought I would share the testimony of someone who experienced the very thing I’m talking about this morning:
ROGER VIVERETTE TESTIMONY