This article is longer than usual. It is the text of the sermon I presented at New Life Community Church in Henry Illinois on June 29th, 2014.
One day at a nearby campground Chet was settling in to listen to the Cub-Cardinal game on the radio. Now Chet was not just a Cub fan, he was THE Cub fan. He had a Cub Cozy for his cola. A Cub Jersey was his shirt of choice when he could get away with it. He even displayed his Cubness on the roof of his camper with a carefully painted logo – just in case someone would fly over. Not only did Chet listen to every game he kept a scorebook and recorded every ball and strike, run and out.
Somewhere along the third inning Art walked by. After exchanging campground pleasantries Art asked how the game was going.
“Cubs are up 2 to 1 in the third but the Cards have the bases loaded with one out,” Chet replied. “Are you a Cub fan?”
“Sure, who couldn’t root for the Cubs,” Art said.
“Want to join me and listen to the game?” Chet offered.
“Sure, why not,” Art confirmed. Just then the announcer called a double play to end the inning. Chet and Art celebrate with a high five.
A few innings later, with the game tied Chet was becoming annoyed. Not at the game but with his guest. Art wasn’t doing anything annoying like picking his nose or snoring in public but for Chet, it was as close to treason has anyone could get. Not only did Art cheer for the Cubs he also celebrated whenever the Cardinals had a favorable play. For instance when the Card’s second baseman hit the home run that tied the game Art responded with a healthy ”yeah!” But, when Art clapped in celebration of a simple strikeout of a Cub batter Chet had heard enough.
“So which are you a Cub or Cardinal fan?” Chet demanded
“Both,” Art replied shrugging his shoulders.
“How can you be both? The Cubs and Cardinals have been bitter rivals for decades.” Chet pressed.
“I just am I guess,” Art said. “When I was a kid my Dad was a die-hard Cub fan but my grandma on my mom’s side was a die-hard Cardinal fan. Somewhere along the way instead of picking sides, I picked both. The good news is that no matter who wins I’m happy.”
“Really?” Chet questioned aloud. “What about last year when the basement dwelling Cardinals beat the Cubs and kept them out of the playoffs? Tell me you weren’t happy that the Cardinals won that game.”
“That was a sad game, but I was happy that the Card’s won.”
“You’re crazy, I suppose you cheer for the White Sox too.”
“That was Uncle Frank, you know they do have a pretty good southpaw this year.”
Just like Art we too can have divided loyalties and splintered hearts. Lets read today’s text. “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever. For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” (Psalm 86:11–13, NASB95) Psalm 86 reads like a personal prayer. It bounces between heartache and promise, between worship and concern, between request and commitment. Even in the verses we just read the psalmist makes a request – Teach me your ways; makes a commitment – I will walk in your truth; makes another request – Unite my heart to fear your name, and makes another commitment – I will give thanks to you…. This morning we are going to focus on the second request – unite my heart to fear your name. Let’s break this down a bit.
Unite my heart. We kind of saw this in the story of Art and Chet. Chet had a united heart when it came to baseball. Art, on the other hand, had a very divided heart. However, we need to broaden this out a bit and consider more than just baseball but life itself. Whether we recognize it or not, life, work, family, peers, and other things create pulls on our heart. These forces can divide our loyalties. They may cause us, like Art, to join whoever is around us. Root for the Cardinals when with Grandma, for the Cubs when with dad, for the White Socks when with Uncle Frank. So, we tend to develop habits and behaviors when we are with certain folks or in certain situations.
How can we tell if our heart is divided? There’s a lot of indicators that could be used for examples. Expectations and use of language such as jokes, swearing, and sarcasm. In the temptation to fit in we adapt to the norm of the group, perhaps even using language or listening and telling jokes that we wouldn’t dream of mentioning in church. Or how about the use and attitudes about money as an indicator. Jesus made it very clear that you can’t serve both God and Money. ““No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24, NASB95) Funny, some folks that have wealth don’t seem to see that they are enslaved by it.
I once knew a man with a divided heart about money. On one hand, he was very generous, especially in giving to his church. On the other hand, he would take extreme advantage of business offers and mistakes almost to the point of stealing. Wrong change in his favor was a blessing but if it went the other way the manager heard about it.
A person with a divided heart is like a chameleon. Chameleon’s are unique lizards. They are most known for their ability to change color in order to blend into their surroundings. When our hearts are divided, when our loyalties shift, when we change our demeanor, language or even our stated beliefs to fit in we are being like a chameleon changing its color. This particular lizard also has another unique difference, they have independent eyes. If you’ve ever seen a movie of one you would have seen that their cone-shaped eyes are constantly moving, each looking and moving independently. They also have the habit of moving in a way that mimics their surroundings. Sometimes employing a halting gait that looks like the quake of a leaf. In part, this is to find food, bugs and such, but to a larger degree, it is to survive, to keep from becoming food for its prey. That’s the lie that our divided hearts tells us. We do what we do for survival, to be accepted, to be liked.
Why does this matter? Let’s consider this verse. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) Having a divided heart affects our service, our prayers, our worship, our faith, our trust, our hopes, our fears.
Why does Art cheer for three baseball teams? Why does a chameleon change its colors and constantly scan their world? Why do we allow our hearts to be divided? Basically, it all comes down to fear. Let’s think about idols for a moment. Basically, there are two kinds of gods that they represent. One kind is worshiped or prayed to in order to get something, a good crop, wealth, etc. The other kind is worshiped out of fear that they will do something bad if not appeased. Fear is one of the primary ways our heart is divided. We are afraid of how someone may react, that they may reject us, or that they may make fun of us. Essentially our fear becomes an idol that dictates our behaviors and actions. Listen to Paul, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (Romans 7:14–20, NASB95) As Paul demonstrates, bowing to our fears might even be without thought. A part of us knows the right thing to do but the other part almost automatically does the wrong thing.
Our fears fuel our sin. Even if sin is pleasurable there is a motive of fear lurking in the background. Lets take the seven deadly sins as an example: anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony. Allow me to propose some fears that motivate each sin. Anger and rage, fear of harm. This sin is all about protecting ourselves by using rage as a defense to blunt someone’s perceived threat or as a means of control in order to keep someone in check. Greed, fear of dependence. This sin fears that it will, on its own, never be able to meet its needs. It worries and frets. It’s not so much about money but about the power and independence that money provides. Sloth, fear of failure. Beyond simple laziness, sloth is more about not using the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has granted each one of us to their fullest extent. Think of the last servant in the parable of the talents. He buried his talent because he feared to fail. Pride, fear of rejection for being small and inconsequential. In order to overcome this fear a prideful person will overstate who they are, what they’ve done, or why it was important so that they are accepted or even worshiped. Lust, fear of nothingness. It fears silence and sameness and desires to fill the emptiness of soul by charging the senses. Lust is the one sin with tentacles into each of the other deadly sins. It will use any of the others as a means to fill the vacuum. Envy, fear of unfairness. While sometimes driven by pride, envy often looks at what others may have and thinks it unfair that they lack whatever it is. Some folks take envy to the extreme of preventing another to celebrate an achievement. Envy, of course, has a blind spot. Its ok If i has more than someone else, but they can’t have more than me. Gluttony, fear of famine. Gluttony may be about food but it could be about other things as well. It’s fear is found in the philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Because it fears lack it consumes everything it can without thought of tomorrow or anyone else. These are just suggestions. Why do we indulge in these sins? To escape our fears.
Our fear fuels our faith. That doesn’t sound right, does it? Consider again the words of the psalmist – Unite my heart to fear Your name. The prayer of the psalmist was that his heart would be united, that it would be undivided in order to fear the name of the Lord. Every fear and phobia must be trumped by the fear of the Lord. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of nothingness, fear of insignificance, fear of harm, fear of famine, fear of dependence must all become meaningless when compared to fearing God. In a way, that is the trouble with parts of today’s church. She has traded the fear of the Lord for the fear of being relevant and desired.
It’s funny. We allow ourselves to fear so many things. However, we react with a bit of revulsion when we read that we are to fear the Lord. How can we fear that which loves us and we love? It seems all backward and confusing. In one sense we are afraid to fear God because we don’t want to lose control. But, didn’t Jesus promise, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25, NASB95) Giving up control is essential to following Jesus. I picture the fear of the Lord as the healthy fear a son has for his father.
My experience growing up was one of love and encouragement. Unlike so many households these days there was no abuse or neglect of any kind. Still, there was a healthy fear that was present. Let me give you an example. We lived in an old two-story farm house with the bedrooms upstairs, my brother and I shared a room. Like most kids we sometimes got a little carried away and rambunctious when we should have been quiet and settling in for the night. If it got too bad Mom might holler up the stairs. We would quiet for a moment or two but shortly return to whatever it was we were doing. But if Dad hollered up the stairs, that was it. The jig was up and we finally settled for the night. Why? Because we knew that if we pushed things too far we would feel the consequences of our actions. Strange thing, as an adult I don’t remember one spanking but I know they happened. But more than that, I appreciate the loving discipline that I received during childhood. That is what the fear of the Lord looks like to me.
On a side note. My sister, being the youngest, figured this out. More than once she made noises like my brother was bothering her even though he was tucked quietly in his bed. Dad would holler at David to “cut it out”. While dad’s may have been fooled by those kind of antics God isn’t.
There are so many encouragements and promises concerning the fear of the Lord, here are just a few.
““You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” (Deuteronomy 10:20, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.” (Psalm 111:10, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.” (Proverbs 10:27, NASB95)
“In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26, NASB95)
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:27, NASB95)
“By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6, NASB95)
Perhaps now we can understand why the psalmist prayed for a united, undivided heart to fear God’s name. But look beyond that request for a moment. The result and commitment that follows his request is worship – Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever. When church and worship seem meaningless and boring, when reading the Bible is tedious, when our thoughts during the sermon are more about the golf course, or fishing, or anything else then we need to examine our fears.
How then can our hearts become united, pure, and undivided? The first step is entering into the prayer of the psalmist. Notice that he asked God to give him and undivided heart. God knows that we can’t do this on our own. We need God’s instruction and discipline. We also need to walk out what we learn. Ask God to show you where your heart is divided, where you doubt God, where you are tossed about by life, the hidden dark corners, and the locked rooms. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23–24, NASB95) The second step is walking out what God shows you. Confessing and repenting of sin so that we may follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. Allowing the Holy Spirit to cut you of free from the bondages of your past, your wounds, and your fears. Lastly, I would say as an encouragement, don’t be afraid to fear the Lord. Sure He may stretch you, He may discipline you, but He will always supply what we need in the same way that a loving father supplies for the needs of his children. We don’t worship God to get something from Him, we don’t worship him to keep from doing us harm, we worship Him because he loves us and we love him.