A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on October 2, 2011.
Would you pray with me?
(And now) let the words of my mouth and
the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Growing up in a Baptist church, I lost count of the number of times I observed a preacher do what I just did—pray that famous last verse of Psalm 19 just before preaching his sermon. The other thing I saw preachers do religiously was take off their watches and lay them on the pulpit—a gesture I soon learned meant absolutely nothing!
Now I don’t remove my watch, and I don’t normally pray Psalm 19:14 before I preach. But I have prayed it on occasion, focusing like most preachers on the phrase “words of my mouth.”What preachers are praying for, of course, is that God will be pleased with the sermon they are about to preach.
But having meditated on Psalm 19:14 this week, I now see it in a far more radical way.This verse not only invites God to scrutinize those public words we preachers usually craft with great care, but those private words we say only to ourselves that are spontaneous and “in the moment,” that frankly might not be suitable for public consumption. And my guess is the typical preacher has not thought through all the implications of this prayer. Because the typical preacher, like the typical Christian, might be embarrassed if God and everybody else could tune into the private meditation of their hearts!
One more time, we learn that biblical passages like Psalm 19, which C.S. Lewis called the greatest of all the psalms, are anything but harmless. Many people remember Psalm 19 because of its majestic language about how creation wordlessly and constantly reveals the reality and glory of God. If you’ve been a part of our church’s study of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, you know that one of the spiritual disciplines Foster recommends is the study of God’s creation. It turns out that leisurely viewing the fall foliage in the mountains is not just a form of entertainment. It’s a wonderful way to be with the God who created that foliage.
Psalm 19 also reminds us of the sublime way God communicates to us through his Torah, an umbrella term from the Old Testament that encompasses all the ways God instructs us in how to live. We New Testament Christians who are steeped in the theology of Paul may be tempted to view the Torah, or the law of God in only a life-draining, burdensome way. But King David, the author of Psalm 19, reminds usthat the law/decrees/precepts/commandment/ordinances of the Lord properly understood are perfect, reviving the soul.
And yet nobody is more aware than David that despite God’s magnificent gifts of creation and instruction, human beings fall far short of God’s standards in our thoughts and deeds. In fact, David is the poster boy for sin, and proof positive that we humans struggle mightily with our public errors and hidden faults.
It was King David, supposedly a “man after God’s own heart,” who was overcome with lust one day as he observed the beautiful Bathsheba taking a bath. It was that lustful meditation in his heart that led David to sin in the flesh as he took Bathsheba for his own, and plotted to have her husband killed in battle. Then David did his best to keep his sin hidden and thought he had succeeded until he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Eventually the whole ugly mess became public knowledge and David paid dearly for his transgression.
But to his great credit, this same David invites God to not only scrutinize his public words and actions—he opens the door to the inner sanctum of his heart so God might listen in on the deeply personal meditation of his heart and soul.
Talk about a dramatic turn-around!
Why would David become so vulnerable before God?
For one thing, David recognizes God’s omniscience, or the fact that God already knows everything about him anyway. As he says in Psalm 19, nothing is hid from (the sun’s) heat. And in Psalm 139 David adds,
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from far away (vv. 1-2).
Now you might think a God who knows us down to the most scandalous detail would despise us. But David knows better. David knows that the God who knows all about us also is our rock and our redeemer, our shelter in the storm, and the one who redeems us at a great cost to make us his own. In fact, the meal we are about to eat celebrates God’s great love for us, demonstrated on the cross. God proves his love for us, Paul says, in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
One more thing. I think David invites God into the deepest recesses of his heart because he understands that’s precisely where God does his finest work of spiritual transformation. If David limits his exposure so that God is only invited to listen in on David’s public words, then God’s opportunity to change him will be limited.
So David chooses to go deeper with God, inviting God to listen in on the meditation of his heart so God can help David root out even the hidden faults David knows nothing about. Listen to David’s bold invitation to God recorded in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
see if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting, (vv.23-24)
If you really want to make progress with God, invite him into the meditation of your heart. Yes, you will feel embarrassed. But you will also feel loved. And God will change what you always assumed was unchangeable —the very meditation of your heart.