Psalm 138

We can break the psalm into three distinct parts and this morning we are going to look at the first part of the psalm.

Part 1 is verses 1-3
Part 2 is verses 4-6
Part 4 is verses 7-8

We’ll look at verses 1-3 today and then next week we will do the other two. First, let’s read the whole psalm as it is short.

1 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
3 When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.
6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8 The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.

First, the Hebrew concept of “heart” is so different from ours that we can barely recognize any similarity. It means so much more than how we think of heart today. For us, heart is an emoji or something we see on Valentine cards. It’s an emotion and not a particularly strong at that as we tend to overuse it. “I heart a movie.” “I heart BBQ”. “I heart my new phone.” “I heart you”. For these we draw a cartoon heart. Not so for the psalmist. In Hebrew you would draw a whole person because that is the meaning of the word “leb” here. It includes everything I am – physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. There is no separation. So, “all of my heart” means all of me. Nothing left out. No reserved or held back.

That’s why we do so many different things in worship. We stand and sit. Some of us have to grab the pew in front of us to do it but in every service there are times we are asked to do that. Sadly, some of us (I include myself in this) would rather sit and not have to move. We sing. We shake hands with people around us. We hug. We talk. We listen. We make notes. That is what worship is. It is moving around and the more we do the more we get close to the meaning of “all my heart.” Ironically, we mistakenly teach our kids they are to be quiet and still in worship. Probably what they are doing in their services are more like what God intends!

David was by nature an “all my heart” person and like others he could make “part of my heart” people uncomfortable. Even as a young man bringing food to his brothers fighting the Philistines he asked, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” His brothers were upset with him and accused him of being conceited and having a wicked heart. David’s response was simple and direct. “Your servant will go and fight him.” “All my heart” people are often mistaken for being conceited or even wicked.

When he returned from killing Goliath the women came out to meet the army with singing and dancing and as they danced they sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” It says that Saul was angry and kept a jealous eye on David. “All my heart” people intimidate people who are not.

When David brought the ark to Jerusalem he, like the women earlier, danced before the Lord with all his might and when his wife, Michal, saw him leaping and dancing she despised him in her heart. She was mortified by his shameless enthusiasm and self-forgetfulness.

Yet, David attracted all kinds of people to himself. We read that when he left Gath (where he had successfully pretended insanity) he escaped to the cave of Abdullam where four hundred men who were “in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader.” It was not only desperate men but mighty men and champions. Shortly before his death in 2 Samuel there is a list of the Mighty Men who did heroic things as they followed David. Why? Because they knew he was “all in” and not hedging his bets. He led them with all his heart. Of course, not everyone followed. His whole life he was surrounded with traitors, schemers, plotters, liars and violent enemies.

It is sometimes difficult to understand or fully appreciate “all my heart” people. In fact, they have trouble understanding their own ups and downs, moods, periods of light and shadow, grace and despair. But, that is how God made them. They are anything but “normal”. Maybe that is why David had such an easy time appearing to be insane?

Second, David says I will be grateful and will sing your praise for when I called you answered me; you made me bold and gave me courage. A pastor in Jackson, Mississippi said it right. We can be grateful in a way that David was so often in trouble and had so many enemies. Had he not, we might not have the psalms – or certainly not as many.

David’s troubles and his deliverance have blessed all of us and given us encouragement in times of darkness, discouragement, anxiety and loss of hope. And, we know for sure that even the “with all my heart” people need the psalms. None of us are exempt. We need deliverance stories. Stories to make us stouthearted and grateful. Stories of God answering our call.

Finally, I’ve asked Dr. Sasha Vukelja to share with us about how she has experienced the love and faithfulness of God over the last eighteen difficult months and how God answered her call.

For those of you who were not in class and are reading this I am sorry you were not there! I thought about her testimony about struggle and the awful sense of drowning in darkness and it reminded me of an experience I had in Canada a few years ago. I’ve copied that and include it here. However, nothing can replace what Sasha shared this morning.

HANDS IN THE FLOOD

The Psalms remind us “With a strong hand and outstretched arm his love endures forever. We are safe in His hand and with His firm hand He is with us when we pass through the waters and when we pass through the rivers that threaten to sweep over us and overwhelm us.”

I love those hands. Especially when life is overwhelming.

A few years ago I was in just such a river and seriously afraid of being swept away. To get there a group of us had picked our way carefully over fallen trees and slippery boulders. Every step was calculated and tested to keep from tumbling or wedging a foot between sharp rocks and slabs of granite.

Our goal was a waterfall at the bottom of a straight drop from a Canadian glacier thousands of feet above us. To get to the falls we had to cross a deep and rapid stream surging against rocks and spilling down a chute. When I stepped off the last ledge and into the current I was instantly up to my chest in icy freezing water that took my breath away.

Beneath me I could feel the pull of the flood as it rushed toward another fall into boulders below. I could sense my legs starting to give and the sudden reality of sinking into the undertow made me know I was in a situation I could not easily control. I was over my head and probably in trouble. This was dangerous – or at least on the edge of dangerous. It was dangerous enough! What had begun as an afternoon adventure was now more of a challenge than I had understood only a few minutes ago.

This was not in the brochure and I was not having fun.

Not only was the current tugging at me and the water numbing me but I looked ahead and could not see where the rocks were to keep me from stepping into the deeper places in the stream. In a situation like that you don’t wonder how everyone else is doing. All you can do is focus on your own dilemma. You pull in almost completely.

Above the roar I heard a voice: “Fred, over here. Grab my hand.” I looked up and saw one of the group standing with his one arm outstretched and the other pointing toward a flat rock in front of me. I grabbed his hand and made it. I looked to my left and there a few feet away was another member of our group standing knee deep with her hand pointing and pulling me up to balance for a moment on a shelf below the surface. I had a final few yards to go up a steep and seemingly impossible incline when a third hand reached out from above and hoisted me out of the water and next to him where the footing was safe. I looked back and they were doing that for everyone crossing. Somehow they had gotten into the water and in place knowing we were going to flounder.

I’ve thought about those friends and their hands quite a lot since then. I’ve come to think of them as not simply standing in the stream but being stationed in the stream. They were there on purpose because they knew we would not make it across without their hands. I did not know they were there when I dropped off that first ledge into the frigid water. I thought I was alone and on my own to get through. I wasn’t. They were there to pass me along from one to the next. They were there to make sure I found my footing and watched me until I was safely to the next station. I have strong feelings today about John, Heather and Brandon. Their hands were there to get me across and get over.

Some of you reading this are working hard against the undertow. No one knows it and you are so focused on surviving you cannot look around and see how others are doing. Some of you are picking your way across slippery places hoping not to lose your footing. Some of you are thinking you are numb and cold and frozen.

Some of you are knee deep in other people’s lives because you have been stationed there by God to reach out a hand to steady and point someone to the next place. You are where you are because you’ve been in this same place before and someone gave you a hand at a time when you needed it.

I know. I know because I’ve been in the flood and what God says is true: “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you…For I am The Lord your God the Holy One of Israel your Savior.”

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