Psalm 63 sermon
The other day I watched a TV programme about an Elvis impersonator. Given the number of such people around, it may not immediately seem very exciting. But this guy was different. He geuinely believed Elvis spoke to him, sometimes through mysteriously appearing notes, sometimes through his son, who was a medium. To cut a long TV programme short, he sold everything he had and moved to America from Jerusalem, with his whole family, on “Elvis's” advice. He arrived in Las Vegas but failed to find a job, so moved to LA to take part in a world championships of Elvis impersonators, as “Elvis” had said he would win. He failed to get past the preliminary round. At one point he was asked why he kept on doing this when he kept on failing. He said, “It makes me feel good. For me, this is the reality, this is the truth.”
We are desperate for purpose in our lives, for something to satisfy us, to keep us going. That man had some sort of purpose but it never satisfied him. He gave everything he had to succeed, but got nothing from it. Clearly he is an extreme example. But we all face similar choices. We all want purpose and satisfaction in life. The psalm we heard earlier tells us the only way to get it.
The title of this psalm is very important – David was in the desert. He was there because he was running away from King Saul, who was trying to kill him and was hunting David down. In the middle of all this, David wrote this prayer to God. Now put yourself in his shoes for a minute. God has promised that you will be king, but you're now on the run, in a desert, with an angry king and his army looking for you. What do you pray? My prayer might go something like this: “God I'm thirsty, hungry and being chased. Please give me food, water and protection.” In short, God satisfy my needs. That seems fairly reasonable to me.
But David does not pray this way. He does not say, “God you are my God, earnestly I seek safety, my mouth thirsts for water, my body longs for food.” More than any of these things, David wants God. In fact, he is desperate for God. He knows God – this is clear from verses one and two – yet he is still desperate for him. Or perhaps it is because he knows God that he is desperate for him. David was not unaware of his physical needs. He knew he was in “a dry and weary land where there is no water”, as he says in verse one. But he did not stop with his needs. His needs pointed him to God. He knew that without God not even food, water of safety would satisfy him. Look at verse 3 – David knows that God's love is better than life. He could have water and food, but he wants something better – he wants God's love. David wants to be satisfied and he knew only God can satisfy.
But hang on a second Jonny, you say. Isn't this all a bit selfish? Shouldn't David be more focussed on serving God rather than satisfying himself? Isn't that the whole problem with our society, that people are too self-centred? Yes, the problem we all have is of being too self-centred. But David isn't being self-centred here. Our problem is that we look for pleasure in the wrong places. Listen to what C.S Lewis said:
“It would seem [from reading the Bible] that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
But still, you may say, this makes God so much smaller, if all he does is exist to make us happy. But does it? David here has a very different view. Our satisfaction in God in fact shows how great God is. Verse three makes clear the link between our desire for God and our worship of God - “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Our desire for God shows that we are limited but he is not. Our reliance on him shows how trustworthy and powerful and loving he is – look at verse seven: “Because you are my help, I will sing in the shadow of your wings.” David was not afraid of his weakness because it meant that he relied on God and God was thus able to show his greatness.
But how do we do this? Being in a desert gives you plenty of time to pray, but it's not quite 21st century London. David never had to cope with the Northern Line. He still has things to teach us though. It is striking that his knowledge of God, which we saw in verses one and two, does not stop him from “earnestly seeking” God. We must never sit back and think we know all there is to know. If we worshp an infinitely good and powerful God, there will always be something for us to learn. Let's be like Paul, “straining towards what is ahead”, pressing on to know God. Do not let church going become a mere ritual. I remember when I was younger knowing almost all the words to the communion service in my head, but there wasn't much going on in my heart at the time! Saying words or coming to services is not a sign of earnestly seeking God. Did you come tonight expecting to meet God? Do you ever come to church expecting to meet God? Do you expect him when you're shopping? Or looking after children? Or on the Northern Line?
Recently Joshua Bell, the world-famous violinist, took part in an experiment. He disguised himself and spent an hour playing some of the most beautiful classical music in a New York metro station. Of the hundreds of people who walked past, about three stopped to listen. He was given a total of $37. No one expected him to be there, and so no one stopped to listen, or even noticed him. If we come to church with no expectations of meeting God, we can be sure our expectations will be met every time. So what can you do to prepare to come to church? Can you make time during the week to get ready? Perhaps read the Bible passages for that day. Pray for the speaker, for the leader, for the musicians. God is a lot more exciting than Joshua Bell!
Jim Elliot, a missionary who died aged 28, wrote this in his journal: “To that soul which has tasted of Christ, the jaunty laugh, the tempting music of mingled voices, the haunting appeal of smiling eyes – all these lack flavour.”