On Sunday, July 25, 2010, I had the privilege of preaching a message called Spiritual Poverty and the Word of God at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. This message from Psalm 63 looks at our need to be satisfied and comforted by God’s presence as we seek Him in His worship.
An MP3 of this message is available here.
The original sermon notes follow:
A few weeks ago I was travelling in Honduras with a group of Canadians who volunteer for our organization. One night we were all sitting around talking and a person said, “You know, we may be helping people here in their material poverty, but they’re helping us in our spiritual poverty.”
This is a pretty common thing to say these days, isn’t it?
But what do we really mean when we talk about “spiritual poverty”?
Usually when we hear this term, it’s used in the context of some sort of action. Of doing things for God. Maybe it’s having better programs so people feel more comfortable at church. Doing “church for people who aren’t into church,” as just about every church in the universe is apparently doing according to their websites.
Maybe if we speak in tongues more, and have more ecstatic spiritual experiences, then it’ll be fixed?
Maybe if we sponsor a kid or volunteer at a soup kitchen?
But is that really spiritual abundance?
Is spiritual poverty something that’s solved when our programs make people feel comfortable and give them a warm fuzzy?
Does it go away when we have relationships with people in different life circumstances than us?
Is it solved when we give money to organizations that allow us to help the poorest people in the world?
The things we most often identify as “spiritual poverty”—a lack of concern for the poor, unrestrained pragmatism, and a host of other things—these are all symptoms of a larger issue.
So what is it then?
I believe spiritual poverty can be best summed up as the following:
Spiritual poverty is the starving of our souls of the presence and power of God. More simply, spiritual poverty is a failure to worship God for who He is.
Therefore if we are to combat spiritual poverty, we must earnestly seek God so that our souls may be satisfied and comforted by His presence.
One of the men in Scripture who I believe understood spiritual poverty best was King David. He’s described as “a man after God’s heart.” A man who loved God; who worshipped God deeply. But he had these seasons of despair, of strife and struggle where he cries out, “God, where are you!?!”
He wrote down many of his prayers, and they’ve by God’s grace, been preserved for us. And in these we get to read of his love for God, his worship of Him even in the midst of circumstances that most of us wouldn’t be able to imagine.
Psalm 63 is one of these. Let’s turn there and see what we can learn from this inspired prayer:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
It’s believed that this psalm was written during the events recorded in 2 Sam. 15:1-19:43. We don’t have time to go through the entire story, but here’s what you need to know:
David some years before had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, whose husband was a soldier in David’s army. He got her pregnant, and then had Uriah (her husband) murdered to cover up his sin. David married the girl and thought he was in the clear—until Nathan the prophet came to him and called him out. In 2 Sam 12:10, Nathan prophesied:
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
David repented of his sin, but he still had to deal with the consequences of it.
That came to bear years later when David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped by her half-brother, Amnon. In response, Tamar’s brother Absalom murdered Amnon and fled to a city called Geshur, where he remained for three years. He later returned Jerusalem and eventually staged a rebellion against his father.
And David was forced to flee Jerusalem and hide in the wilderness from his enemies.
Seek God in Our Worship (v.1-4)
And it’s in the wilderness that he writes,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Do you hear that? Listen to it again:
O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you…
That’s powerful, isn’t it?
David describes the state of his soul—his longing for the presence of God—as being like dehydration. In Psalm 42, we see a similar picture. There, the psalmist writes,
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Have you ever seen a deer pant? It’s not like when you see your dog or even your cat panting. It’s not simply that deer is hot—it’s that it is dying. It needs water or it will die.
David knows that without God, who is the fountain of living water, he will die. The Lord is the giver of life, his sustainer, and his provider.
And this comes out in his worship.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
Because David seeks God earnestly, he knows that God is his maker and sustainer. And he worships out of that knowledge.
He seeks God in his worship. And so must we.
He says, “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” What does David do in this time where he longs for God? The first thing he does is acknowledges His power and glory. He says that it’s in the sanctuary that David looks upon God. He remembers worshipping with God’s people.
This sanctuary was found in the Tabernacle, the Old Testament meeting place between God and His people.
It was in the Tabernacle that the people would worship with song.
It was in the Tabernacle that the priests would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of the sins of the people.
It was in the Tabernacle where the Holy One would meet with to His people.
His looking back causes David to look forward in confident expectation—to look forward to the day when he will again worship with God’s people.
“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you,” David says. “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”
His worship is based on who God is. Because of His steadfast love which is better than life, David worships God.
Here’s the thing for us. We no longer have a mediatorial place in which we meet with God. John 1:14, says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” when he became the man Jesus Christ. This phrase “dwelt among us” could be more literally rendered “pitched his tent.” What does John mean when he says this? He’s referring to the tabernacle.
In essence, John is telling us that when Jesus became incarnate, He “tabernacled” among us.
Further, we’re told in 1 Cor. 6:19 that “[our bodies are] a temple of the Holy Spirit within [us], whom [we] have from God.” So, when we are born again, made a new creation through faith in Christ, God comes to live in us.
As Christians, we have to remember that the sacrificial system is over—because it prefigured the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God become a man, who lived a perfect, obedient life, was nailed to a Roman cross and died for our sins and rose again on the third day for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation with the Father.
What does it mean for us, then, to seek God in our worship? How do we do it?
Our worship must be centered on Christ.
This is the important thing that we need to know: Worship is not about you. It’s not about how you feel, the music you like, the songs you prefer, the preaching being too long for your liking… Worship is about God, solely, only and continually.
Anything else is idolatry.
So when we sing songs, our songs should be about Jesus. They should be TO Jesus.
When we preach, it must proclaim Jesus.
When we give, it must be with thanks to Jesus.
When we serve, it must be in the example of Jesus.
Anything else—EVERYTHING else—is idolatry.
In Romans chapter 1, the apostle Paul identifies idolatry as the sin that is at the heart of all other sins—we exchange the truth about God for a lie, worshipping created things rather than our Creator.
How this plays out in our corporate worship is that when we aren’t focused on Christ, we actually end up worshipping ourselves.
Consider the songs that we sing and hear. A popular Christian worship band put out a song a number of years ago that went a little something like this:
I wanted to find
Where I was going
Everything I tried
It took me nowhere
I was so tired of just living my life
Waiting for a sign
You came to my side
Gave me direction
Strong on the inside
I shine for You Lord
Now it’s my time
Now I’ve made up my mind
To be all You want for me
Think about those lyrics for a minute—Who is the object in the vast majority of the song?
God is there, to be sure—but He’s there kind of like my buddy who helps me out.
Ultimately it’s about me.
Consider the books we read. One well-known author writes such things as “God just can’t stop thinking about you.” Again, the object becomes… me.
My goodness, God must really think I’m keen to spend so much time thinking about me, right?
And consider the messages we hear. Something that always frustrates me is when I hear someone try to soft sell the gospel; to give a message about how God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, as if that will somehow make a commitment easier for those who hear.
While God most certainly does love His people, and God most certainly does have a plan for all of our lives, if that’s our message, we’re missing the point. It again comes back to the Almighty Me.
What God is going to do for me. What gifts God is going to give me.
Everything executes on me.
What does Scripture say?
Ezekiel 36:22, when rebuking unfaithful Israel and informing them of the promise to come—the promise of a new heart given to us through faith in Christ—God declares, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.”
It is for His name’s sake, first and foremost, that God acts. It’s for His glory. For His honor.
That’s why David says that God’s “steadfast love is better than life.” God’s faithfulness and grace is better than anything life has to offer.
Better than marriage.
Better than kids.
Better than sex.
Better than money.
Better than work.
Better than ANYTHING.
Because it’s not about us. It’s about Him.
God’s steadfast love is better than life, our lips must praise Him.
We must seek God as we worship together.
Be Satisfied by God as We Worship (v. 5-8)
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
If we are to be satisfied by God, we must seek Him.
David writes that “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.”
When we put God first, when we seek Him, when He is the object of our worship, we are satisfied. His glory, His goodness sustains us. It motivates us. It drives us. It over-joys us.
The relationship that David describes here is one of intense enjoyment.
He genuinely enjoys God.
He praises with joyful lips. He remembers Him when he goes to bed. He meditates on Him late into the night.
God can’t stop thinking about us? It’s David who can’t stop thinking about God!
Let me ask you something:
Do you really, actively, truly enjoy God?
Think about it for a second.
When was the last time you set aside time and just—enjoyed Him?
When you opened up the Bible and read? Not hoping to get an answer to the prayer request you’ve had for the last six months. Not seeking a special word just for you… but just to enjoy God?
To learn more about Him?
This is one of the great themes that we see throughout the Bible—and especially in the Psalms. Look at Psalm 119. The whole psalm is a celebration of the Law, the revelation of God in His written Word. The psalmist writes, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
He loves God’s Word. It is satisfies his soul.
Again, in Psalm 19, we read:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
The law of the Lord is perfect. It revives the soul. It causes the heart to rejoice. It’s sweeter than honey and more desirable than gold.
Can you hear the delight—the unabashed enjoyment of God in these words?
They’re the words of a man whose soul is satisfied by God. Why?
Because, David writes in Psalm 63:7, “You [God] have been my help, and in the shadows of your wings I will sing for joy.”
A satisfied soul grows to understand how God has been his helper—he grows in his appreciation for God’s grace and mercy. He sees that it’s not in spiritual mountaintop experiences that we find God’s grace and abundance—it’s in our trials. We gain in spiritual abundance by suffering well.
Because we learn that it’s God’s hand that upholds us.
Understand: We don’t need more mountaintop experiences; we need to be able to say with David, “My soul clings to you!”
If we can’t, then we do indeed suffer from spiritual poverty—and if we are not satisfied with Christ, we have nothing to rejoice over.
Rejoice in God in our Circumstances (v. 9-11)
But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
If we are to rejoice in God, we must seek Him and be satisfied by Him.
David wrote this psalm while on the run—from his own son.
Does he lament? Yes. He misses worshipping with God’s people, in God’s presence in the tabernacle.
His son is trying to take the throne by force.
His enemies are spreading lies about him. They’re trying to kill him.
But he still rejoices in God.
Why? Because his soul is satisfied by God.
God is enough for Him.
And he is sharing in the sufferings of Christ even as he points ahead to them.
Peter (in 1 Pet 4:13) writes:
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Our sufferings, our afflictions, are an opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings. No student is greater than his master.
Christ suffered. He was lied about. He was mocked. He was spit upon and beaten. And He was murdered.
By the very people he came to save.
We must understand that if Christ suffered in this world, we will suffer as well.
If our souls find their satisfaction in Christ, if we trust in His grace and His sovereignty, then we can rejoice, even in the worst of conditions. We can “count it all joy . . . when [we] meet trials of various kinds . . . for . . . the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness.”
We don’t rejoice in the suffering, but we do rejoice in what our suffering produces.
It’s why Paul could write,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
His soul was satisfied by Christ. He rejoiced in Christ. And this allowed Him to honor Christ in his trials.
David understood this. That’s why he says “the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult.” The opposition we face as we seek to obey God and to worship Him fully—God will deal with that. He will sustain us as we seek Him and worship Him for who he is.
It’s God who supplies all our needs. It’s God who satisfies us. And it’s God in whom we must rejoice.
Where does that leave us?
We know that spiritual poverty comes from a failure to worship God for who He is—and the only solution is to earnestly seek God so that our souls may be satisfied and comforted by His presence. Anything else is like putting a Band Aid on a bullet wound. It’s not going to solve the problem.
Some questions to consider as we close:
- Am I worshipping God for who He is? If I had to be honest, would I be able to say that He is the object of my affections?
- Am I satisfied by God? Do I enjoy Him, does He bring me contentment?
- Am I able to rejoice in the situation that God has placed me in right now? What needs to change in my heart, mind and attitude that I might do so?