We are quick to acknowledge in our praise and worship the wonderful majesty and awesomeness of God. We are quick to give Jesus glory as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. God is a powerful God. A quick survey of what the Bible says about God’s power attests to that:
• He first displayed His power in creating the universe.
• He displayed His power in causing man to speak in a multitude of languages.
• He executed His horrific power in sending the great Flood upon the world.
• He struck Sodom and Gommorrah with His destructive power.
• He sent Moses to the Egyptians and brought them to submission with His powerful displays
• He gave the Israelites on their journey through the desert many examples of His providing, protecting, and punishing power. Also doing the same in the many years they were in the promised land. Working through judges, kings, and prophets.
• He demonstrated His miraculous power while on Earth two thousand years ago as Jesus Christ walked the Earth and healed the blind, the lame and the sick.
• He unveiled His redemptive power with His death and resurrection.
• He sent His power to work in the lives of the people in the early church with the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
• He foretells of His awesome power that will be witnessed in the Day of the Lord.
Yes, our God is a powerful God. Indeed, we pray to Him because of our knowledge of God’s power and ability to heal, provide for, and rescue. Even the unbeliever in their times of deepest need will cry out to God for help! The cry, “O God,” is often blurted out in such cases subconsciously in recognition of God having the power to intervene.
As Christians, we often have a similar view of God’s power. However, many times, our expectation of God’s power is slightly misdirected. We are primarily looking for God to show his power in creation, in healing bodies, in supplying employment for his people, in bringing a new baby into the world – and these are all wonderful things. Think of all the times you’ve prayed in the last while – for what have you prayed? I’m sure if you thought about it you would find that a lot of the things you prayed for are external in nature.
But the Bible declares that the greatest things, the most powerful things that God does are internal, not external. Ephesians 3:20 speaks of God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’ (we like that part), “according to his power that is at work within us.”
All the external things are things that are temporal, things that don’t last, things that will eventually wear out. Only the internal things will go with us into the next world. We won’t be dragging along our bodies (as they are, thank goodness!), our cars, our houses, or our lands.
Andrew Murray, “Your heart is your world, and your world is your heart,”
Folks it is in the heart where God works His greatest power. It is in the heart where God does His greatest work in our lives. Our inner heart is the main place where God works!
I like what Jim Cymbala wrote in his book Fresh Faith,
“What good is it if God heals you and keeps you alive for an extra twenty years if you walk in disobedience for those twenty years? What good is any external blessing without God’s peace and joy in your heart? What’s the point of receiving a promotion and making a lot of money if your big, fancy house is not a true home, but rather a boxing ring of fussing and fighting.” (p.163-164)
We often hear many Christian testimonies for “external” things that have happened, “Praise God for the $100 check that came in the mail.” “Praise God for sparing me from a traffic accident” – While these are definitely blessings and we certainly should praise God for them, greater still are the things that God wants to do inside of us! The reality is that when we start placing our entire focus on what WE want God do FOR us, we forget that there are more important things God wants to do IN us!
Have you ever noticed that a lot of our requests to God and expectations upon God’s power are centered on the problems we hope he will solve in our lives? I need healing, I need money, I need a good job, or a good wife, or even a good church! We go to God (and rightly so) for our emotional and physical healing. But friends, God knows that our problems are not merely due to our environment; they are deeply personal. Fixing up the environment doesn’t necessarily repair the person! Some people, in fact, grow stronger in the midst of adversity; others have an easy life and still self-destruct.
I want you to hear something loud and clear this morning – our environment may be one of the contributors to our problems – but changing that environment doesn’t automatically guarantee a solution to your difficulties!
Take money for instance. I can pick on this one because it’s something I’ve come to understand in a personal way! We always wish we had more money. We think to ourselves, “If only I had more money coming in each month than what is going out, then I could start saving, or I could pay off my bills regularly, or I could start reducing my debt and I will be free from all worries. Yet how many of you find that when your wish comes true and you get a little more income that all the changes you expected to happen just aren’t present! The bills are still there, the debts are still unpaid and you still have your worries. You see, the problem isn’t primarily that you don’t have money – the problem is what you do with it when you have it! It is your approach to it on the inside that affects the solution to the problem!
What does the Bible say about God’s inner work? Probably the most eloquent portrayal of what God does inside us has been written by King David. One of the most difficult pieces of writing that David ever wrote was Psalm 51 – and today I’d like us to turn there as the basis of the message this morning on “God’s Deeper Work”
READ PSALM 51 AND PRAY
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. 14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalms 51:1-19 (NIV)
David was like all of us in the respect that He too, was a sinner. He gave into temptation, He gave into pressure – He wasn’t superhuman. One spring in particular, he stayed home instead of going out with his army, and he got himself into major trouble.
What happened to David should be a warning of something to watch out for in our lives: It can be dangerous not to go where God sends you, or not to do what He has called you to do. This is true for everyone, not just those in pastoral ministry. I’ve seen it where people have been faithful in doing a certain ministry within the church and are consistent and reliable and then say, “I’m kind of tired; I think I’ll go on leave now and later on I’ll get involved in another ministry in the church.” I’ve observed that, if they don’t go to the next place of service God planned for them, they eventually drift from the things of God altogether. Satan is moving about like a prowling lion looking for those He can distract from the purposes of God for their lives.
You’ll find yourself very quickly in a treacherous position if you just hang around church and “loiter” without getting active in the service God has called you to. You better be sure when you are “taking a break” that it is really God telling you to “take that break” and that it’s not your own flesh entering in and saying, “I can’t do this”.
King David found himself with too much time on his hands and one night he couldn’t sleep…
I like what Jim Cymbala had to say about this,
“Nightime brings its own dangers. If you don’t sleep well, my advice is that you had better start praising God quickly. Otherwise, worry, anxiety, and impure thoughts can easily creep in.”
What happened to King David? Well, he decided to take a stroll on his veranda and he happened to see a beautiful woman bathing. The Bible says that he desired her – and being king, he could have anything and anyone he wanted. We all know what happened next.
When Bathsheba’s pregnancy became known, this “man of God” acted disgracefully. That’s what sin does to people folks! David called Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battlefront in order to cover his tracks. It didn’t work. So David got the man drunk on liquor in a despicable attempt to sway his judgment. Even that failed. Finally, he sent Uriah back to his regiment carrying a letter to General Joab – a letter that was Uriah’s own death warrant. David ordered Uriah’s death in the battlefield. He committed murder through other people’s hands. Everything was covered, David thought.
I can’t imagine how David ever lived with himself for months and months. The man who had written such wonderful psalms – worship songs to God – went for most of a year with a wall between himself and God. Then God sent Naaman the prophet to confront him.
Only then did David admit his guilt. Finally we hear him come clean in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God…Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (vv. 1-2). From the depths of his soul David repents and asks pardon from the merciful God he has offended.
Then in the middle of the Psalm, David spells out three absolutely essential things that he desperately needs from God. He has learned something from his terrible fall. What he desires is impossible for him; the Lord must do it. And the work must be done inside him.
When you hear David’s words, you will be aware of how seldom, if ever, you hear anyone pray like this today. Unfortunately, we are not asking God for things along these lines. This isn’t the way we usually talk. But these three requests of David lie at the foundation of every victorious Christian life.
create in me a pure heart (v10)
David asked God in verse 10 to “create in me a pure heart”. What he was asking for was more than having his heart washed from sin – He already asked for this in verses 2 and 7. Now David is going deeper – He desires God to start all over, to create a brand-new heart that is pure to the core. David admits that without God he is all twisted inside. David wants to see everything in his world with pure eyes, to hear with holy ears, and to act with Godly initiative.
David’s words go far beyond our common language of “vow religion” so prominent today: “O God, I promise to do better in the future. I won’t do this ever again.” Some people promise the same things over and over again only to break them broken over and over again. And then the guilt sets in, “I’m sorry Lord, I’ll try harder next time.” David had no trust in his ability to turn a new leaf. Instead, he called out to God to create something entirely new within him. The word create here is the same one used in Genesis 1:1, when God created the heavens and the earth. It means a divine act of bringing something wonderful out of nothing. The work is all of God.
Receiving a pure heart from God is better than getting healed of cancer. It is better than becoming rich overnight. It is better than a new car, a new house, or a new oven. Receiving a pure heart is to be like God at the core of your being.
renew a steadfast spirit within me (v. 10)
The second thing David cried out for is God’s steadiness in his everyday spiritual living. Many of us have heard the phrase, “rollercoaster Christianity” – it describes the up and down spiritual walk that many Christians have…reading the Scripture every day for a week and then hardly glancing at it the next.
The Hebrew word for steadfast means to be firm, strong, erect, immovable. What David is asking God for is a work of grace within him that will keep him from the kind of rise-and-fall, mountain-and-valley pattern that characterizes far too many of lives. David wants to resist temptation not just one day, but every day. He knows he cannot do that himself-but with God, all things are possible.
David doesn’t want to be like Jell-O; he asks to be a rock. He knows that he has been cleansed and forgiven, but he recognizes his need for something else: a steadfast spirit.
What is your desire? There are a lot of changing situations that face us in our lives but it is the steadfast spirit of God that can help us weather through each one.
I believe that one of the reasons why David prayed for a steadfast spirit was because he knew that the process of God creating a pure heart in him would be a painful. David wanted that steadfast spirit to help him to stick it through the painful times and let God finish the creating process.
Some of you might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk – you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice – you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, ‘What a country!'” (James Emery White, Rethinking the Church, Baker, 1997, p. 55-57)
Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about heart transformation – that people change instantly at the moment the pray, “Create in me a pure Heart”! God will create in you a pure heart but first He has to get rid of the old one and deal with any scars and roots it has left in your life!! That is why we too like David should pray, “renew a steadfast spirit within me” so that we can stick it out during the creating period.
grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me
A third thing that David knows he cannot manufacture on his own is “a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12). David admits that this is something God must grant to him. Beyond being steadfast, David wants to be willing to do whatever God asks. David wanted to have the kind of spirit that would bend to God’s finger pointing into his life and saying, “That’s not good for you,” or “I want you to do this, or go there” David wanted a spirit that doesn’t fight against God’s will but instead molds to God’s will. David realized that you can’t go and fight against God in your spirit and find solutions to your problems! God works His miracles through those who have willing spirits!
David also realized that only God’s power can make him willing to walk in obedience. In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul urges us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” God is in the “willing business”!
Jim Cymbala said in his book, Fresh Faith:
David recognized that his heart can betray him. His will can consent to the appeals of the world and the flesh, so he cries out for God to give him a willing spirit. This again flies in the face of much of today’s Christianity, which bites its lip and tries harder to do what only the spirit of God can accomplish. In fact, God has to make us willing. Salvation is of the Lord – from beginning to end. The sooner we learn that we can stop our futile self-effort and throw ourselves on the strong arms of God, the better off we will be. (p.169)
Jesus himself said, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me…I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 4:34,5:30)
It was a joy for Jesus to obey his Father, not a burden. When we ask God daily to cleanse us, to hold us, to lift us up and give us a willing spirit – when we ask God daily to create in us a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit then we will actually find ourselves longing to do the will of the Father and drawing ever closer to the model that Jesus laid before us.
The Holy Spirit wants to impart this willing spirit to us, so that Christianity is not drudgery or burdensome, but instead a life of loving the good and hating the evil.
“Create in me a clean heart; Renew a steadfast spirit within me; grant me a willing spirit” was the cry of David. David realized that the solution to his problems lay in the work the God does INSIDE him.
You see, when God creates in you a new heart – as He instills in you a steadfast spirit, and as He grants you a willing spirit to do what He wants you to do, you’ll find that no matter what you face in your life God has changed your perspective on that problem and in fact begins to work a solution to that problem through YOU! God begins this change inside of us, he begins that change with our soiled hearts – soiled with sin.
God’s grace goes further and deeper than we can ever imagine. David’s life is a reminder that God alone can give us what we really need: a pure heart, a steadfast and willing spirit. No matter how deep and dark the secret, no matter how many times a certain sin has defeated you, God can bring change to your life. But it must be his Holy Spirit working from within and not your weak attempts to “do better the next time.” All God asks of you is to bring the whole, sorry mess to him so he can begin the spiritual transformation you need.
Jim Cymbala, Fresh Faith,
Don’t attempt to be strong in yourself, for that is the very opposite of what is needed. God is always drawn to weakness. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17). That verse is from the same psalm with which David made his cries out to God, and if you will join David in his prayer, you will find that God’s deeper work will become real in you. (p.177)