Psalm 138 – Part Two

1.  Last week we looked at the first section of the psalm – verses 1-3. If you were here you had the privilege of hearing Sasha Vukelja’s testimony of God’s love and faithfulness and his answering when she called. You’ll agree that God did make her bold and stouthearted!

2.  This week we are going to look at the rest of the psalm and we’ll start with David’s desire to see all the kings of the earth not only praise God but to sing of the ways of the Lord.

The phrase “kings of the earth” can be understood in a couple of ways, I think.

First, it can mean the reigning ruler of each country. As we know, a king is different from an elected official. A king is on the throne by right and through a dynasty – not a democratic election. A king is an exalted figure regardless of their personal qualities and they rule without any questions. They are not just leaders but they are representatives of a throne that is passed from generation to generation. They have an authority that goes far beyond elected officials. It would have been the only form of government that David would have known.

But for us it can mean something different because there are very few kingdoms left. It can mean whoever is the ultimate leader of each country. I’ve been watching the proceedings of the recent G-20 meeting where 20 of the most influential leaders in the world – those who represent 85% of the Gross Domestic Product and 2/3 of the population – come together. You may well call these the “kings of the earth” for the moment.

David’s desire is that all of this wealth and power would be in awe of God. All of these men and women would be ambitious for nothing but the glory of God. There is a difference between a pipe dream and a vision, isn’t there? What David is asking for will one day be true. The kings of the earth who are now in competition with and often at war with each other will be united in their praise for God. That’s quite a picture, isn’t it?

Some might interpret that as the fulfilled dream of a one world government with everyone under the rule of one theocratic system. Others might see it as everyone being in agreement about everything – or in agreement with us and our interpretations about everything. But, that’s not really what it says. It says all the kings of the earth will be praising God. It’s not necessary to agree about everything in order to praise God together. We do that here every week, don’t we? What if we passed around a list of things about which we all agree before we turned our eyes to God? I don’t think it would turn out well. We may not get past the first couple of items.

That is why I like the image of all the kings of the earth singing. In a choir there are different parts and it is only the combination of the parts that creates the power of the music. The basses are not in competition with the sopranos and altos and tenors are not trying to get everyone else to sing their part. Yes, they practice as sections and sometimes you’ll hear the choir leader say, “Now, only the tenors please” but that’s not the goal, is it? The goal is glorious harmony.

There is a particular closeness you experience in a choir as you are singing and hearing the other voices different from yours. “When we work with our voice, we work with the core elements out of which the world came into being and through which it is sustained. There is an even more important factor at work here, however. As I’ve worked with people’s voices within a spiritual context, I have come to see more and more that the true voice is closely intertwined with true self – in other words who we really are.”

One of the most moving memories I have of our trip to Israel this year was our forming a choir in the church at Bethesda. Until then we were a gaggle of tourists riding together on a bus around the country. But singing together for the first time we were a choir of voices – not professionals or soloists – but hearing something we had not heard until that moment. My friend, Russ Hall, told me one of the most inspiring experiences of his reunion at West Point was he and his friends singing in the combined choirs. What is it about voices and what will it be when the kings of the earth together are singing of the ways of the Lord?

There is something deep you learn about someone from hearing them sing that is closed to us in other ways. I don’t know what it is but some of you who have sung in the choir know exactly what I mean. It is not a debating society even though you have different parts and perspectives. It is a fellowship of differences. The great skill of the director is to blend all of these different voices – not to pick out a few he likes.

So, imagine (if possible) the kings of the earth with all their different voices singing together of the ways of the Lord. I’ve tried to imagine that as I’ve watched the meetings on television. What if they could sing together? Not just eat or talk or walk or have conversations. What if they could become a choir of many different voices? That is what David is saying here. Someday the most influential and powerful people in the world will be a fellowship of differences singing of the ways of the Lord together.

That is, I think, what Jesus meant in John 17:20-23 when he says to us, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Is that a pipe dream? Is that merely an idealistic wish on the part of Jesus? You might think so if you look around even the Church today. It seems like the impossible dream, doesn’t it? We are anything but a choir and a fellowship of differences. Why?

I think James says it clearly. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

And that is just where David takes us next as he says, “Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.”

You know that Bette Midler song that says, “God is watching us from a distance”?

God is watching us from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

The sentiment is right about the “song of every man” but not God’s watching from a distance.

That is exactly the opposite of what the psalmist means here. For God, standing at a distance means he has no respect for the proud. He has set himself apart from their lives. The last thing we should want is God at a distance. In Deuteronomy 8:10 he says,

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”

Our pride and arrogance and self-sufficiency separate us not only from each other but from God himself. People and God stand at a distance from us. People and God are put off by us.

Then David comes to this: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for you. Why? Because his love endures forever. In other words, the fulfillment of his purpose for us is not just in this short life but for eternity. We are being prepared for eternity. The discovery of our purpose will not take place in this life and all of the time we spend looking for that is pretty much wasted. I am doing a devotional for a group of young entrepreneurs this week in California and I have chosen the text in Luke where the disciples are discussing and then disputing about greatness. Jesus talks about what true greatness is in this life but then he goes on to say that each of us is being prepared for something in another life altogether. This life is preparation for that and our search for meaning is not to be found here. This life is preparation – not fulfillment. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

So, don’t be frustrated when you cannot discover the total purpose or meaning of your life. It’s not to be found here. You are being prepared in this life for something much larger than you can imagine.

But, finally, like all of us, David wants to remind God of something at the end. “Do not abandon the works of your hands.” For me, it’s the image of a craftsman putting something aside either because it is not working out the way he thought or he has decided to work on something else. He puts it on a shelf for later or, worse, decides it is completely flawed and not worth finishing.

It is David reminding God that he – like all of us – is the work of God’s hands and our desire is not to have him at a distance but to have him be merciful and keep working on us until we have been conformed to what God has in mind for each of us. “Don’t quit on me or leave me unfinished as difficult as I am because I am yours from start to finish. You made me and only you can finish that work that will one day glorify you.”

That is my prayer for all of us today. Don’t leave us unfinished or half-baked. Don’t stand at a distance from us because of our pride and fighting. Instead, keep shaping us until we understand what it means to be in harmony, serving one another, and offering grace.

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