Psalm 33:1-12
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 11, 2023

I feel sad when someone is surprised to hear that God wants us to be happy.  Shouldn’t that be obvious if we know God loves us?

Of course, because God loves us, isn’t it also obvious that He wouldn’t want us to settle for a good level of happiness when we could have the highest level?  Sure, we can derive happiness from, say, good health, deep friendships, success or wealth, but nothing can beat having the supreme and most enduring happiness that God alone can bring.  Moreover, His happiness enables us to better enjoy those other blessings, even while it makes them unnecessary to our happiness.

Today’s scripture speaks to our pursuit of happiness.   It begins with a command: “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous”; and ends with a declaration: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.”  Those two bookends to the passage drive home a pair of points:  1) God is the chief source of happiness and 2) we realize that happiness by living in a right relationship with God, which the verses between the two bookends describe.  We grow happy in God as we honor His glory and keep His commandments. Verses 3-11 tell us to 1) praise Him in our music and 2) fear Him in our obedience.

First, then, to pursue happiness, we do well to praise God by regularly joining our voices in song.

Praising what deserves praise, in whatever way we do it, lifts our spirits.  It fulfills our delight in what or who delights us.  We exclaim over a delicious meal, not as an irrelevant add-on to smacking our lips, but as a way to savor of the taste of the meal all the more.  We tell everyone about the firefighter’s brave action to save the baby, not just to recall the courage, but to marvel at it all the more.  Likewise, we lift our voices and activate our bodies by congregational singing, not just to recall who God is and what God does, but to all the more relish God’s grace.  We all the more celebrate the wonder of His words and works by singing or shouting our praise (the text uses both verbs).  Doing so increases our joy over God and causes it to spread throughout our soul and elevate our happiness.

When we lift our voice in song or run our fingers over a keyboard to praise God, we engage our entire self in worship: mind, heart and body.  When we get up on our feet, sway to the music, and exert our diaphragms to push forth sound, we honor God, not just inwardly, but kinesthetically. Spirituality involves our physicality.

That’s why, in calling people to “worship”, Romans 12:1 urges us to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice”.  What we do with our bodies brings along our minds and hearts, and holistically expresses our grateful love of God.

So, in God’s design, we pursue happiness as we use our vocal chords and the rest of our bodies in worship.  Second, we pursue happiness as we fear and thus obey God, both in worship and in every other activity of life – that is, as we faithfully heed the commandments of the God who commands all creation and who keeps even “the counsel of the nations” under His control.

Though it sometimes feels like a surrender and an unhappiness, our submissive obedience to God leads us deeper into the supreme and most enduring happiness.  That’s why verse 8 here pleads, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.”

As we grow in faith, we do not lose our fear of God, but our fear of God changes.  We no longer fear God as an irritable, unpredictable, mean-spirited Drill Sergeant, but as a gracious, kind, loving Father.  We do, however, still have fear:  fear of falling short in living in line with our love and gratitude for God, of failing to give Him His just due, and of not making the most of the grace He has lavished upon us.

When matured, fearing God is so revering God in His holiness that we ache to serve Him as faithfully as He has blessed us.  It is to strive to feel the joy of touching His heart by our trusting obedience.

When C.S. Lewis was a boy, he had a low view of God.  When his mother lay dying, he begged God to heal her.  Back then, he saw God, not as a Savior or Lord, but as a magician who might return his mother to him, restore his status quo and then leave him alone.  Lewis could use, but neither love nor fear, a god like that.

Tim Keller confessed having the same view of God and thus the same attitude.  He saw God as someone who might help him in a pinch and then be dismissed until next he was needed.  What dislodged him from that outlook was an illustration a Sunday School teacher gave.  She asked her students to imagine the distance between the earth and the sun (92 million miles) to be a single thin sheet of paper.  That meant that the distance between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of paper 70 feet high, and that the diameter of our galaxy would be a stack of papers 310 miles high.  The teacher then noted that our galaxy is just one among billions; and yet Jesus holds them all together by the word of His power. She paused a minute, locked eyes with her students, and finally asked, “Is this Someone you’d ask to be your assistant?”

An appropriate appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty leads to a fitting fear of God, one that rules out our using God as a means to our ends, even that of our happiness.  No, a fitting fear of God moves us to make ourselves available to be a means to God’s ends.

In other words, a proper reverence for God leads to a proper deference to God’s Lordship; and a proper deference to His Lordship leads to a proper adherence to His commandments.

Yes, such a commitment often means losing the happiness of getting our way; but that loss enables us to attain the supreme and most enduring happiness.  As Jesus said, in losing our life we gain it.

So let us lose our life in the worship and fear of the Lord.  Then happiness will become ours as a by-product of our aiming for something higher and more important – but something that will, by God’s design, make us happy to the max, now and forever!

Write a comment:

© 2015 Covenant Presbyterian Church
Follow us: