The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 30, 2023
On a Friday plane flight out of Chicago, Tom started some small talk with the stranger seated next to him. The two hit it off and soon were enjoying a lively, friendly conversation. At one point, Tom’s seat mate asked him what he was most looking forward to in the coming weekend. Tom hesitated to be honest, but decided to tell the truth. “I’m most excited,” he said, “about Sunday worship at church”. To Tom’s surprise, the man leaned forward with eagerness and exclaimed, “I’d like to hear more about that! God happens to be a hobby of mine.”
“God as a hobby”! God as a sideline pastime! That’s a far cry from God as our central concern, let alone as the great Lord over heaven and earth.
God was David’s central concern in life. God was so much David’s deepest treasure, that he says in this Psalm, “I have no good apart from you;” so much his highest satisfaction, that he says, “The Lord is my chosen portion;” and so much his dominant focus, that he says, “I keep the Lord always before me.”
In college I remember looking at a diagram that was meant to reveal one’s spiritual state. It depicted a big circle made of many smaller circles of different sizes. At the center of the big circle was a throne. We were first to fill in each of the smaller circles with the names of the major interests of our life: success, sports, relationships, popularity, money, music, politics and so on. We were then to write the name of the occupant of that throne at the center. We were to do so in the realization that whatever or whomever occupied that seat – whether it be the God of the Bible or our egos or our pursuit of pleasure or our pursuit of comfort or something else – that occupant was the one who set in place each smaller circle and assigned the size of each one. Hence, the occupant of the throne was in effect our god – not necessarily god as a divine person, but god as our ultimate concern, reigning preoccupation and final determiner of our every interest and its importance in our life. The throne’s occupant would be who or what shaped our life.
According to the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of Jesus, lets us choose what place, if any, He has in our life. We decide whether He sits on the throne to rule our life, or on the sideline to be merely one circle of interest among many.
While the god at our center may change over time, and while our god may be one we just ended up with and never consciously chose, we all have such a god.
If that is true, then we’d do well to consider whether we want the God of the Bible to rule over us and determine our life. Our decision about that depends on whether we believe what the Bible says about Him and the life He brings those under His governance.
David bears witness out of his own experience how wonderful that life is. David exclaims here that it makes his heart “glad” and causes his soul to “rejoice”, and he finishes his Psalm exuberantly praying: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forever.”
According to David, living a life with God at the center is wonderful, not just in what it does for us as individuals, but also in what it does for us as members of a community. David in this Psalm celebrates the blessing of the company of “the holy ones” – that is, the faithful “in whom is all my delight”. He revels in their presence and collaboration as they pull together to advance God’s purposes and thereby become more than they ever could on their own.
The Boys in the Boat tells the story of how nine working-class young men from the state of Washington upset the elite rowers of the Ivy League and went on to win Olympic gold.
The success of those underdogs was built on a shared center of dedication to a common cause and to disciplined teamwork in its pursuit. The book’s author, David James Brown, describes what teamwork is like in rowing: The “magic” kicks in by something called the “swing”. It happens “when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one of them is out of synch with that of every other…Sixteen arms pull, sixteen knees fold and unfold, eight bodies slide forward and backward, eight backs bend and straighten, all at once. Each action…mirrored by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other.” Only then will the boat fly over the water forward and fast…only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them and each of them is a part of each other. As they lose themselves in their cooperative effort as a single whole, they become more fully themselves as individuals and as a community together.
Something like that happens when people with God enthroned at their center come together to collaborate as a team to achieve purposes dear to God’s heart and their hearts. By prayer and action, they pull together in sync with each other and become more than they were before. As they sail forward by close collaboration, they transcend themselves and achieve what they never could by themselves.
This coming month the church that we are together is going to slow down and let go of many activities for a few weeks, so as to listen carefully to hear from the King at our center as to how He wants us to proceed from this point. If we attend to God’s counsel and obey His word, we will soon sing as David did here: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel.”