Scripture of the Month- Ephesians 1:17 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
139:23-24 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
How many of you have toured the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN? It is an incredibly moving experience. As you enter the museum which is sort of like re-enacting the boarding of the ship, you receive a boarding pass with a picture and description of an actual Titanic passenger. You find out at the end of the tour if your passenger survived or perished during the tragedy. It was as if history was made contemporary, and the exhibits were designed to help you feel what the passengers may have felt as the ship began to take on water. I don’t know that I have ever had an experience like it where someone else’s crisis became so real to me. (I’m just realizing that I am talking about a sinking boat two weeks in a row. Do we see a pattern here? I hope not! ?)
Not everything about that fateful day that the Titanic sank can be blamed on the iceberg it struck. There were actually three men who could have done something to impact the situation and perhaps could have averted the sinking of the famous ship.
There was a man named Bruce Ismay. He was the owner of the ship. The captain of the ship received a telegram about icebergs in the area that he passed on to the owner of the ship. The warnings were ignored. Ismay was excited to test the ship’s speed and had conversations with the Captain about doing so on the maiden voyage. Making a name for himself and his new ship by completing the voyage in record time was more important than the safety of his passengers.
The captain of the ship, Edward Smith, was on what was to have been his last voyage as the ship’s captain. When they were to reach New York, retirement was waiting. Captain Smith was certainly aware of the icebergs because he had heard warning after warning from other ships that passed him that day. Appropriate action would have been to drop anchor and sit tight until the morning during which such time, visibility would have improved. He didn’t stop. He didn’t drop the anchor. He maintained a high speed. Perhaps, he thought as an experienced captain, perhaps due to what he believed about the unsinkability of the ship, he was unwilling to consider that anything adverse could happen.
Another guy who could have impacted the situation was radioman, Jack Phillips. Jack was one of two people in the communication room. Their job was to monitor radio traffic from the other ships in the region. Phillips reporting feeling tired and overworked that night. When a nearby ship called the Californian interrupted Phillips over the airways to alert him about the icebergs, Phillips snapped. Tired and impatient he told the radio operator, “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy.” As a result, the message from the Californian never made it to the bridge of the Titanic. Tragic it is, that the person who was responsible to listen to the messages from passing ships, didn’t listen at all.
What would keep someone from taking a warning seriously? What keeps people so tired or so preoccupied or so busy that they don’t have time or the emotional margin to receive messages that could spare their lives? What if the ship had simply been anchored until morning light?
If Jesus was to pick up on the Titanic tragedy and develop a parable about it, He might tell the tale of a glorious ship that set sail. He could tell of three competent, overly confident, self-reliant men who each said to himself, “I’m on the most powerful ship ever built. I’m making history here, and nothing can go wrong.”
How could the Titanic story have turned out differently had these three men been in touch with what was most critical, if each one could have heard and heeded the warnings, if each one could have been less focused on personal success and more focused on what was necessary to avoid certain calamity?
Yes, we need to be focused on setting goals and succeeding in life. So, yes, look ahead. But in order to make sure we have developed the right goals, in order to ensure we can avoid potential threats and dangers, in order to make sure that are responsible and don’t create dangerous situations for others and ourselves, we also need to look below the surface of our own selves to make sure what we see there will take us where God desires for us to go. It isn’t always what is ahead of you in life that can sink your ship, but it is also what is inside of you.
Yes, there are things we will run into from time to time that will be beyond our control. There will be things we deal with that will be unavoidable. But what if the reason we sink isn’t due to the things we run into in life, but what if it is due to our unwillingness to look below the surface of our lives and make necessary adjustments in the course of our character? What if we are the reason our lives take on water and our spiritual lives sink?
When David prayed his prayer in Psalm 139, he was praying a dangerous prayer. He wasn’t simply asking God to give him success and to bless him. He was asking God to
inspect him and to reveal any potential danger that lurked below the surface. David essentially said, “Let’s get to the bottom of who I am. Let’s get to the bottom of what needs to change. Let’s get to the bottom of your desires for my life, God.” I want to suggest three things David asked of God when he prayed this “below the surface” prayer.
- Expose my heart. (Vs 23-Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.)
One of the first Scriptures I memorized as a child was Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”
Our hearts can’t be trusted because they can deceive us. So many people get focused on the behavior of a Christian, and behavior is important. But behavior is a natural expression of the heart of a believer. If we spend more time below the surface, if we spend more time dealing with the heart and addressing the heart and aligning the heart to the heart of God, our behavior will take care of itself.
Look at Romans 1:21-24 21 “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their FOOLISH HEARTS WERE DARKENED. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the SINFUL DESIRES OF THEIR HEARTS…”
They claimed to be wise. They thought they knew best. They believed they were seasoned, experienced, competent and capable, but their foolish hearts were darkened and as a result, God allowed them to be led by their hearts. And what was happening below the surface, in their hearts, made its way above the surface and that Romans 1 passage goes on to talk about shameful lusts, all kinds of sexual sin and perversion, every kind of evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slandering, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, disobedient, senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. The text even says they invented new ways of doing evil (vs 30) and they praised people who lived horrible and vile lives (vs 32).
David knew that what was below the surface mattered. What was below the surface was critical. What was below the surface was of highest priority. We often rationalize our behavior. We explain it away. We minimize what is really wrong because it is intimidating to look inside. It is hard to deal with the truth of who we are. We like to compare ourselves to others and conclude if we are going to work, taking care of our family and are keeping our nose fairly clean that we are living “good” lives. We certainly aren’t as bad as others we could point to on the news. We certainly aren’t as bad as our friends who are doing much worse. But David knew it wasn’t about where he was on a scale of one to ten compared to others. He knew it was about where he was with God, in his inmost being, in his heart, and so he prayed for God to expose every part of his heart.
What hangs out in your heart? Unforgiveness? Bitterness? Hatred? Racism? Lust? The desire to be loved and accepted over anything else? Fantasies? Lies? Can you understand this morning, that those attitudes are like icebergs and they will cause your life to sink?
After David said, “Search me and know my heart,” he prayed, “Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Learning to deal with anxiety is part of the human experience. We all have anxieties, worries, and fears to overcome. We all need to gain God’s perspective about how to accept God’s peace and to trust Him and release our cares to Him, so I’m not talking about normal, regular anxieties here. David wasn’t saying, “I’ve got a major test to study for on Friday, and I am anxious about it.”
He was talking about a different level of anxiety that comes from having a heart that hasn’t been properly dealt with. When we know we are doing wrong, when we know we are trying to get away with stuff, when we know we are violating God’s standards, when we know what God says, but we decide to do something else, when we know we are trying to manipulate people, when we know we haven’t told the whole truth about a situation, when we know we are trying to appear one way at home and another way at work or school, when we know we are dabbling in stuff we have been warned over and over again to avoid—all of that creates the kind of anxiety in our lives that leads us to emotional and spiritual instability. Being guilty of sin can lead to anxiety for believers.
This part of David’s prayer is a transitional statement between heart-searching and the next major request which is “See if there is any offensive way in me.”
David knew sin started in the heart and would be stopped in the heart. He didn’t want to overlook anything that could be a cover up for sin, so he asked God to sort of dissect his anxious thoughts. If they were the normal anxieties that are part of life, that was one thing. If they were the result of sin, he wanted them dealt with. It’s one thing to look below the surface, but is another thing to deal with what we find when it is revealed to us.
- Expel sin from my life. (vs 24a-See if there is any offensive way in me.)
Feelings of conviction, thoughts that things aren’t right, are meant to lead us to want to do something about the condition we are in. When we don’t pay attention to those feelings, it is like ignoring an iceberg. We become the iceberg that is just waiting to collide with destruction, but there is a remedy. There is a way to remove destructive debris from our lives.
Psalm 32:3-5 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
God not only forgives our sin, but He also forgives the guilt of our sin. That heavy feeling. That spiritual anxiety. Have you ever felt the heaviness of spiritual anxiety because of sin? Guilt causes spiritual anxiety. It can be removed as our sin is removed from us. When was the last time we prayed for God to show us our sin?
Remember, I said that the heart was deceitful which is why we need God’s help to see it clearly and to uncover what is there. Sin is just as deceitful, and sin will deceive us in order to destroy us. If you want to find yourself on a crash course to destruction just ignore sin in your life.
Satan wants you to be in the dark about sin and the dangers of sin. There are now even many pastors who refuse to talk about sin and preach against sin and expose sin for what sin is because they don’t want to offend anyone or keep anyone from coming to church. I can’t keep silent about sin. I want to expose it for the cancer it truly is.
We need to ask God to expel sin from our lives. We are told in Colossians 3:5-8 to be intentional about killing sin, curtailing sin, eradicating sin from our lives. Why? We either kill sin and put it to death or it will kill us.
1 Peter 2:11 “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
That is pretty graphic language. Sin wars against our souls. Our souls are pretty important! Not only should we desire for our sins to be forgiven, but we also need to desire for them to be removed entirely from us so that we don’t live a spiritually compromised life. We are passionate about a lot of things. We are passionate about our political views. We are passionate about our rights. We are passionate about our goals and dreams. We are passionate about our comfort. We are passionate about getting ahead. We may even be passionate about our church services and about caring for others, but are we appropriately passionate about eradicating from our lives?
We can be quick to see what is wrong with everyone else’s lives and forget to inspect ourselves. In verses 19-22 of Psalm 139 David spoke to God about other people. He talked to God about his enemies. He wanted God to do something about everyone else and the way they were living. David was easily able to spot the wicked and to see all that they were doing that was displeasing to God, and it is almost as if it quietly dawned on him as he closed the Psalm, that what was most important to God wasn’t David’s enemies, the ones David deemed to be wicked, but David himself. What about his own sin? David realized he couldn’t point the finger at everyone else and not be willing to investigate his own life. It is a dangerous prayer to pray, “See if there is any sin in my life,” but better to pray the prayer and spot the danger and remove it than deal with the destruction that could result.
The only way to live free of sin is to walk away from it, to remove yourself from a sinful path and to walk on the path of righteousness. Just like the addict who gains freedom from addiction, but goes back to the same old friends, the same old hangouts—he or she is bound to be bound by the same old hang-ups before long. We can’t live sin free and stay on the path that leads to sin. We have to get on a new path. That is why David prayed that God would lead him in the way everlasting.
You see, we need God’s help to clearly see what is in our hearts. We need God’s forgiveness to cleanse what is in our hearts. And we need God’s power to guide our hearts in His ways. When we pray below the service we are saying, God:
- Establish my course. (vs 24b-Lead me in the way everlasting.)
There is an evil way and an everlasting way. There is a broad way and a narrow way.
There is a way of life and a way of death. There is an everlasting way and it is quite different from the path that feels good in the moment and is different from the path that unbelievers are on.
This everlasting way is also called “the path of righteousness.” For example, in Psalm 23 David said, 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
We have to trust that God knows what is best for our lives and then trust God to lead us. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. In all of our ways, we are to acknowledge God, and He will make our path straight.”
When we fail to consult God, when we determine we know better than God, we are in danger of becoming an iceberg. We are in danger of taking on water. Instead of praying, “God, bless my efforts,” we may need to pray, “God, direct my efforts.” Instead of praying “God bless my business,” we need to pray, “God, direct my business.” Instead of praying, “God, bless my marriage,” we may need to pray, “God, direct my marriage.” Perhaps instead of asking God to bless our children, we need to pray for God to direct our children on the path He has established for them. We don’t determine the way we should go and then ask God to bless it, right? You see, God can’t and won’t bless our self-effort, effort that is being made apart from His leading and direction in our lives, but He can bless us when we allow Him to direct our steps.
I want this to be a place filled with people who are serious, not surface, about the things of God. I truly believe God could transform this entire region through a church filled with people who wanted to get serious.
Psalm 139:1 tells us there is no escape from God. We can’t escape His scrutiny. He knows us completely (vs 1-6). We can’t escape His presence. He is always with us (vs 7-12). We can’t escape His power and sovereignty (vs 13-18). How could we think we could pretend to be something other than we are or think we could pull anything over on God? Do we want to know the truth about ourselves this morning?
“God, help me,” “God, bless me,” are surface level prayers. Are you surface or serious about your relationship with God? A life submitted to God is a life accountable to God. Today, God is calling us to surrender our hearts, surrender our sins, and surrender our wills and ways to God’s way. To refuse to pray this below the surface prayer is to refuse to grow, to refuse to change, to refuse to acknowledge that God wants to do more than a surface work in our lives.
God doesn’t search us in order to shame us. He searches us in order to shape us and spare us from spiritual compromise and drowning. Our lack of spiritual integrity, our unwillingness to stop and pay attention to warning signs, our unwillingness to listen to God’s direction, like the Titanic, could have massive casualties. Will you pray below the surface with me this morning?