Bill called his parents to wish them a happy New Year, and his dad answered the phone.”Well, Dad, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” Bill asked him. “To make your mother as happy as I can all year,” Dad answered.When mom got on the phone, Bill said, “What’s your resolution, Mom?” She answered, “To see that your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.” Funny how we can even make a New Year’s Resolution all about “me, me, me!”
Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The end of every year is a good time to reflect on the previous year. Rehearse the highs and the lows. Think about the things God has brought you through. Celebrate the achievements in your life and in your family. My husband has lost 35 pounds this year, and I am jealous . . . I mean, I celebrate that! Our church has added about 80 people to our Sunday morning attendance. We well exceeded our budget in our giving. Our online audience is growing by leaps and bounds. There are lots of good things to think about and remember. Overall, we experienced and accomplished some great things as a church. How about each one of us personally? How did we do with last year’s New Year’s Resolutions? How did we do on the “Year of Invitation” when it came to inviting people to church? How did our family grow closer to God and to one another?
Today I want us to reflect on our spiritual progress, our spiritual status. Specifically, I want us to evaluate our trust in God and our obedience to live rightly before Him. To help us accomplish that reflection, I want to talk to you this morning about anxious thoughts.
David did some reflecting in Psalm 139. He took time to ask God to show him what might be causing his anxious thoughts. Anxious thoughts can steal our focus, take our energy, cause us health problems and crowd out the mind of Christ in our lives, so I want to discuss how to deal with them and perhaps what causes them. Before I do, let me say I do think there can be a distinction made between anxious thoughts and anxious feelings. While anxious thoughts can create anxious feelings, anxious feelings can sometimes be part of a person’s makeup and may need to be dealt with medically. If feelings of anxiety consume your life your doctor should know.
The Psalmist was dealing with anxious thoughts himself when he wrote, “Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” He was saying, “I am troubled in my thought life, and I am not quite sure what the source is,” but he knew something was quite right. In Psalm 139 I think we see that anxious thoughts could be the result of at least two things:
1. A lack of trust in God.
2. A lack of self-examination and confession.
The Psalmist is saying, “I could be off course. I could be heading in the wrong direction. I could have stepped off of your path, God, and that’s why I need You to correct me and lead me in the way everlasting.” “I may have started to lead my own life, and I need to submit again to Your leadership.” He is also saying, “Maybe these anxious thoughts are the result of sin in my life. If I have offended You in some way, God, I want to know, and I want to get that sin out of the way.”
On one hand, the anxious thoughts are a blessing as they prompt us to evaluate ourselves and correct any issue which might cause us to go astray. Both things . . . a lack of trust in God and His plan for us and sin against God will move us in a direction different from the one God has laid out for us.
Paul gives us a remedy for our anxious thoughts in Philippians 4:6. He says we should pray about them. That’s exactly what the Psalmist does in Psalm 139. There is something wrong, and he can’t put his finger on it so he prays to God that God would help him have understanding so that he can correct what is wrong and be free from the anxious thoughts.
Prayer is a tool not just for offloading stress and concern, but at the same time, while we are “casting our cares on God” as I Peter 5:7 says prayer does, we are also reorienting our thoughts toward the Source of our life. That is, we are focused on God who can help us, God who can sustain us, God who can calm us, God who can reveal to us what we need to know in order to understand ourselves better and to please Him more fully and the result is peace. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” (NKJV) Prayer will help us “stay” our minds on God.
In the Psalmist’s prayer, he doesn’t just say, “God show me where I have messed up, so we can move on with this, and I can get rid of the anxious thoughts,” but the Psalmist absolutely surrenders to a search, and it is a thorough one. He says, “Search me. Know me. Test me. Look deep into my life. Leave no stone unturned.” He doesn’t just say, “Cleanse me of my sin, but lead me in a new way of thinking and being. Help me get completely on Your path. I want to walk in the way of everlasting life, and the fact that I am having these anxious thoughts is a red flag to me that perhaps I am not where I should be.”
Let’s talk about the first possible cause of anxious thoughts: A lack of trust in God.
Psalm 5:11-12 “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.”
The King James Version more faithfully translates this verse as it reads, Psalm 5:11-12 “But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.”
Those who put their complete trust in God can rejoice. They can shout for joy. They know God is at work on their behalf. Those who put their complete trust in God are those who are righteous. They know God will bless them and that His favor will be their shield.
If you are having a hard time rejoicing, if you aren’t living life with joy perhaps there is a problem with your ability to trust God. If your anxious thoughts are keeping you from moving forward perhaps you aren’t relying on the Lord’s favor to be your shield.
Trusting God completely means letting go of the process, accepting the pace AND proclaiming the victory.
Because God’s favor is like a shield He is in front of you warding off any evil attack and with His shield He is blazing a trail for you which will enable you to move through life’s circumstances. Look at Exodus 23:20“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.
Remember, God goes ahead of us to prepare the way for us and promises to escort and guard us along the way so that we reach the destination He has chosen. Look at your neighbor and say, “If you go with God, you WILL arrive at your destination.”
21Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
VS 27 27 “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
Did you see that? “Little by little. . .” God has a reason for not just opening His hand and making life as easy as possible for us. We couldn’t handle it if He did. Even the Israelite enemies were going to serve God’s purpose. God had a reason for decreasing them slowly. Had they all been removed it would have been to the Israelites’ detriment. No, God allowed some of the enemies to remain for a while as they were helping to keep the soil worked and in good condition and also were helping to keep the wild animal population subdued. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The Israelites didn’t overtake their enemies in a hurry. It was little by little.
If the process you are going through seems long God has a good reason for the pace He has set for you, but you will, if you trust Him, you will possess the Promised Land. Verse 31 goes on to say, “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River. I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you.
Some of you here need to accept that what you are praying for, what you are walking toward, what you are seeking from God may take some time, but He will establish you. He is blessing you, even if it looks like you are having to put up with enemies or resistance, He is working things out.
The promise of God to you if you walk with Him and obey Him is that you will always be victorious! 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ!
If you are trusting God to lead you, He will always lead you to triumph. He will never lead you to failure. Expecting victory, proclaiming victory, maintaining that you are victorious, that will keep you from allowing anxious thoughts to occupy your mind and paralyze your life. Decide in 2013 that you are going to trust God for every outcome!
You may have to endure some processes. You may have to exercise patience when the pace is slower than you would like it to be, but you can always proclaim and expect victory if you are an obedient child of God! Romans 8:28 is more than a great bumper sticker. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Just write the word “victory” or “score” over every outcome in your life because God will cause you to triumph. That is His promise to you. Just rehearse His Word over and over. Proclaim His promises. Thank God for His victory in advance because it is on its way.
Let me restate this point: Trusting God completely means letting go of the process, accepting the pace AND proclaiming the victory. Trusting God completely is an antidote for anxious thoughts.
A second possible cause of anxious thoughts is unconfessed sin. The Psalmist wanted to know if he had offended God in any way. He wanted to know if he had gotten off of God’s path. When was the last time you asked God those questions?
It could be that a person’s anxious thoughts are guilt over sinful things they have said and done. My grandmother dealt with mental illness in the later years of her life. She eventually committed suicide. I remember sitting with her when she was still coherent and she said to me, “You don’t know the things I have done.” She didn’t share what she had done, but that she had done things through the years behind people’s backs including her siblings that she deeply regretted and felt terrible guilt over. I have to wonder how much the guilt and grief over her sin contributed to her mental demise.
Sin is serious, and I believe sin in a Christian’s life is perhaps more serious than in an unbeliever’s life because Christians have vowed to live for Christ and not self. When we live to please ourselves we will sin. When we let down our guard and fall for Satan’s temptations we will sin. When we do either of those, we have elevated self above Christ in our lives. And you see, when sin reigns in our hearts we cut ourselves off from God’s help. (Psalm 66:18) David wanted God’s ongoing help. He knew he needed the Lord.
So, David was serious about wanting to be clean before God. He started by saying, “Search my heart, O God.” The condition of our hearts, spiritually speaking is critical when it comes to our spiritual life. That’s why Proverbs 4:23 says,“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”Jeremiah 17:9 tells us our hearts are so dark and so wicked that apart from God revealing to us what is in them there is no way we can know them. How long has it been since you’ve searched your heart? It is the seat of your passions and longings. Do you desire God more than anything and anyone? Are you serious about pursuing Him, worshiping Him, knowing Him, and obeying Him? Is there apathy in your heart towards God?Is your heart full of faith and trust? Or has doubt about God and His call on your life crept in? Unbelief is sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).
David went on to say, “Search my thought life, God.” Do your thoughts glorify God? Or are your thoughts consumed with yourself or something you are longing to possess? Are you thinking about things that are true and noble and right? The things that are lovely, excellent, praiseworthy and admirable? (Philippians 4) Are your thoughts godly? Or are you thinking evil or envious thoughts? Are you thinking lustful thoughts? Are you bitter and angry in your thoughts toward other people? Do you think judgmental thoughts about other people? Do you think you are better than other people?
You can do all the right things outwardly, but your thought life and your heart can be a mess. Your outward works or good reputation won’t make you acceptable to God. What is undercover can be more deadly than other people’s opinions of us based on our good works. You can do the right things with the wrong motives and God won’t be impressed
David didn’t stop with his heart or his thoughts, he said, “Search my actions, too. See if there is any offensive way in me.” He wanted to be spotless before God. Have you shown the love of God to others this past year? What opportunities have you taken in 2012 to glorify God through your actions? The things you have said, have they edified other people and built them up or have your words been harsh, negative, angry, and complaining? Have you gossiped and spread rumors whether with your tongue or on your social media? Have you always told the truth?
Has the way you have spent your time this past year proven you are one of Jesus’ disciples? Or have you hidden in the shadows when people were pointing out who the Christians were at work or school? Have you owned your mistakes and asked people you have hurt for forgiveness? Have you glorified God in your body or have you engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct? You know the Bible says that for Christians there can’t even be a “hint of sexual immorality.” (Ephesians 5:3) Have you engaged in abusing drugs and alcohol? Have you glorified God in the way you have spent your time and money? The things you watch, the places you go. . . is God pleased with them all?
“You’re thinking, stop already!” I know. It is tough to look at ourselves honestly. It isn’t pleasant or fun to think about the ways we have fallen short. But there is good news. We can absolutely walk into 2013 with a clean slate. I John I:9 says if we will confess our sins that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Examination and confession can lead to cleansing if we will agree with God about our sin.
There is great integrity in the Psalmist’s prayer. He didn’t want anything to be sugar coated. He didn’t want God to hold anything back. He wanted everything to be exposed in his life that wasn’t acceptable to God. Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy is the self-delusion that we are alright. True Christians aren’t people who never sin, but they are those who willingly confess it, repent, and make the changes necessary to live differently. True confession involves a desire and a commitment to quit sinning.
The truth is, God already knows what is in your heart. He knows what has occupied your thoughts. He knows what behaviors you have engaged in. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God.” Look at the beginning of Psalm 139.
God Knows You
Psalm 139:1-4 1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
One little boy asked his friend, “How can God do that? How can He know everything I
do?” His friend said, “It’s simple. God uses the internet and just Googles you.” http://expositorysermons.net/OT2/20PsalmsTranscript.pdf
God does know everything and without “Google’s” help. God knows when we make excuses. He knows when we compromise. He knows when we move ahead without consulting Him. He knows when we cut corners. He knows when we aren’t where we are supposed to be. There is nothing we have said or done that has escaped the knowledge of God. He is OMNISCIENT. I think David quickly came to the place where he could ask God to test and try him and reveal his sin because He knew there was no use pretending to be something other than sinful in the presence of an all-knowing God. You definitely can’t fool God.
The comforting thing about God being the One who knows everything about us is that He is kind, He is patient, He is loving, He is nurturing, and He is gentle. Psalm 139 begins by describing how God knows everything about us. He knows when we sit and stand and when we go to bed. He knows every thought we think before we think it. He doesn’t know all of that because He is some kind of Cosmic Stalker, but because He genuinely cares about each one of us. Each one of us is His favorite! He is interested in each one of our lives and loves us with a tender and everlasting love.
In Haggai 1 we read twice, “Give careful thought to your ways.”Before you look ahead to 2012, take some time to look within. How many of you have had a physical this past year? Let me see your hands. Well, this morning, I’m encouraging you to have a “spiritual.” What is a spiritual? It is an on purpose, soul searching time where we ask God to show us where we have fallen short in our trust of Him or where our lives have been clogged with the debris of sin. Unlike a physical where once the news is given it might take weeks for surgery to get schedule or medicine might take weeks to work and eliminate the problem our time with God this morning can produce instant results. So, the invitation this morning is for you to obtain a “spiritual.” It’s your chance to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
If you want to take advantage of this opportunity to have a “spiritual” come as we sing. No one will come to you unless you bring them with you. Your “spiritual” evaluation is between you and God alone. If you want someone to come and pray with you, come to me. I will be standing in front of the communion table. If someone comes to me, then another pastor or prayer counselor come take my place and stand at the communion table. Don’t move on into the New Year without letting God move within you. Don’t take this year’s baggage into 2013. Get rid of your anxious thoughts, and take time to make sure you are right with God!