A New Year’s Challenge

Sunday Service was led by Pastor Matt Price and the Sermon was titled “A New Year’s Challenge”.

The Case for the Psalms

The Case for the Psalms
  • The Psalms are the prayers Jesus himself would have prayed as a child.
  • They teach us how to pray and connect with the God of the Bible.
  • Billy Graham recommends reading five a day!

Well, Happy New Year. Raise your hand if you’ve made any New Year’s resolutions so far. Anybody? Any you can share with us today? A resolution to become more tech savvy. Okay, that’s an interesting one.

Any other resolutions out there? If they’re private. I don’t know. if they’re private. Well I saw several hands for making a resolution.

Well raise your hand if you are planning on actually keeping it until next year. I know we all know that making a New Year’s resolution is something that’s easier said than done. My own record with it is a little bit spotty I think. I can I remember last year being very optimistic about this new treadmill that Jessica and I got for Christmas from my mother-in-law.

I started the year with great goals, thinking that I would try to take a few minutes at least to run on that or walk on that every day, and that quickly changed to usually about once or twice a week, and now I have a hard time looking at it without feeling guilty, because I let that goal fall to the wayside. And of course, I think that experience which is fairly typical for us. We’re good at making promises and pledges at the beginning of the year, but oftentimes as time passes, we’re not good at keeping that, really. But there’s something about the start of a new year, though, that gets us thinking about where we’ve been and where we’d like to be.

And that’s really a healthy thing for us to do as Christians to take stock of ourselves and what we’re gonna be doing with the Wesley Covenant prayer in just a little bit. After all, what’s our long-term goal as Christians? Our long-term goal is to become more and more like Jesus, more and more like Him. And so what we do here at New Year, it gives us an opportunity to look at our progress so far in that regard, and to plan ahead for specific ways this year where we can become more like Jesus and let Him into our lives a little bit more. And it’s for that reason that I’m gonna do something a little bit different today, instead of just taking a passage of Scripture working through it like I normally do when I preach.

I want to spend today’s sermon making a more personal plea about something that’s been on my mind lately. And I think will help us all if we try to put it into practice, make a small step towards keeping those vows we make in this prayer, this Wesley Covenant prayer we’re about to pray. And that’s something I’m talking about relates to a specific book of the Bible that Jim read from this morning, which is the book of Psalms. Now the book of Psalms is the book of the prayers of God’s people.

It’s 150 chapters. And I know that we all, I would say, need to read our Bibles more, myself included. But what I’m not asking you to do today is to just start at the beginning of the Bible and read your way straight through, although maybe you can do that. My own, maybe you’ve experienced it before, I tend to, if I try to do that, read the Bible from the beginning, I get stuck somewhere around Leviticus.

And that’s when all the rules about the sacrifices and all that can get a little bit on the boring side. So that can be a challenge if you set yourself the goal to read straight through the Bible. What I’m going to ask you to do today is to make a specific book of the Bible a part of your weekly, if not your daily, prayer time, devotional time. And that book, as I said, is the great hymnal of the Bible, a book full of prayers of God’s people in all different circumstances and situations.

That’s the book of Psalms. It’s a book that speaks to every human emotion we go through. There are Psalms that are joyous, there are Psalms that are pleased, there are Psalms that are kind of sad and depressing, there are Psalms of thankfulness and praise. They speak to every emotion we go through and what we can do as Christians is we can pray those prayers when we don’t really know what to pray ourselves.

That’s what this book of Psalms gives us an opportunity to do. So that’s what I want to encourage us to think about today, how we might integrate those prayers into our lives. But before I get into that, I want to say a few words of just why this topic has been on my mind. And one reason is a discussion I had not too long ago in one of the Bible studies in our partnership where someone asked me a question about whether God still punishes people today like He does sometimes in the Old Testament.

That itself is a complicated question I’m not going to try to answer in today’s sermon. But I was surprised at that time when someone asked me that question by how several members of the group replied by saying that, Well, the Old Testament doesn’t matter all that much for us as Christians because we believe and follow the New Testament. And the general consensus around that room seemed to be that while the Old Testament, the whole, really about two-thirds of the Bible, while that’s pretty dark and pretty scary. As Christians we like to turn it to the New Testament for comfort and for peace and encouragement and it’s there where we should direct our questions.

And now I probably shouldn’t have been that taken aback by such an attitude because I think it’s a fairly common thing. Maybe you’ve had that attitude in your own life. I’ve struggled with those kinds of questions and concerns before when I read the Bible and try to apply it to my life. But in fact I thought of when When somebody asked me that, I thought of an uncle I have in my family who always seemed to enjoy challenging me when I was growing up with those kinds of questions about the Old Testament.

And maybe you have somebody like that in your family. Maybe you met somebody like that in your family over the past few weeks, somebody who enjoys getting you riled up. Well, I have an uncle who knew that I was kind of the token Bible nerd of the family. This uncle’s not really a churchgoer, but he does know a fair amount about the Bible, and he would always put me questions, bring up some instance of violence or some scary thing in the Old Testament, and say, well, the God of the New Testament, the God of Jesus, just wouldn’t do something like this.

So how can you reconcile that, those two portraits of God, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? And so his implication was that the God of the Old Testament is scary and judgmental, and the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. And as I said, such claims aren’t necessarily very new. I saw, in preparation for this sermon, I saw a quote from Mark Twain, who was one of the great skeptics of American history, who said that the New Testament is what happened when the God of the Old Testament got religion and decided he was gonna try being nice for a change. And of course, we probably all thought something like that before, and it’s a clever line, and it’s one that’s tempting for us to adopt as we wrestle with some of the more violent passages in the Bible, the Old Testament.

But I think it’s the kind of attitude that we Christians have to reject. We can’t accept that view. Because what I want to be clear about today is that our faith hinges on the unity and interdependence of the whole Bible, the Old and the New Testament. And really it’s a fundamental truth of our faith that the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Moses and all that, that God is the father of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

That’s what the Bible teaches us. Without that fundamental historical truth, then really our faith collapses, I think. So we know that all of the longing in the Old Testament, all of the prophecies and expectations and exile and pain of the people of Israel, all of their longing finds their fulfillment in the coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to earth in the New Testament. And of course, for me to try to prove that right now, it would take me beyond the scope of this sermon.

But I will say that for those of you who avoid reading the Old Testament in your devotions or your Bible reading times because you think it’s dark or scary or confusing, well, I think the book of Psalms is an excellent place for you to start and to begin introducing yourself to the Bible, the whole biblical worldview. Even more, I’d argue that frequent exposure to the prayers of the Psalms, those 150 prayers it gives us there, Well, that’s necessary in training ourselves to see ourselves as God’s covenant people, as God’s people living in the midst of a world that can often be a very dark and challenging and scary place. And that’s why I chose as a psalm as our scripture reading this morning, which Jim read, Psalm 40. Now, I want to read just a few verses from that one more time, Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined to me and he heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and he set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Happy are all those who make the Lord their trust. Now, I want you to ask yourself a question. Do those words sound like they were written by someone who was just living in fear and terror of a judgmental and wrathful God, as too many people believe that the God of the Old Testament is? Or does that prayer to those words sound like they were written by someone who knew what it was like to struggle with fears and doubts and anxieties, but who found relief by giving those fears and worries over to a God who cared for him? I think we know the answer to that question, because how many of us have ever found ourselves in places in our lives, when we were in despair, when we were in that desolate pit that the psalmist is talking about, where we felt that there was no hope, where we thought that we were worthless, nobody cared for us. And how many of us have found that it’s in those moments when God reaches down into that pit and pulls you up again and lets you know that He loves you and cares for you and is providing for you in your life.

It’s amazing how once you start reading words like that, the prayers of the Psalms, just how contemporary and relevant they are to our lives. They speak to the things we go through, whether it’s times of depression, or struggle, or fear, or challenge. So virtually every emotion we go through in life, whether it’s joy, or pleasure, or security, or fear, or anger, all of those emotions can be found in these prayers that God’s given us in this book of the Bible called the Psalms. So it’s not a book to be feared or avoided, It’s a book we should turn to for comfort when the world is tempting us to forget who we are in God’s eyes, that He loves us, that He’s providing for us, that He’s guiding us towards His good purposes for us.

So this book teaches us to give all that we are over to God. And that claim is central to a book I read not long ago by an author and bishop named N.T. Wright.

It’s a book called The Case for the Psalms. And this book, this author, Bishop Wright, argues that one of the deepest problems facing the church today is he thinks we’ve lost touch with the book that best teaches us how to connect with God, how to know him personally in our lives. And that book is the book of Psalms. And he argues, of course, that the Psalms were the prayers that Jesus himself would have sung and read on a weekly basis in the Jewish synagogue as Jesus was growing up.

And as Jesus grew in wisdom, as the scriptures tell us, He would have been reading the Psalms trying to figure out who he was, what God was calling him to do with his life, that he was God’s chosen son and Messiah. It’s very likely that the words of the Psalms helped him to do that. So there’s evidence from the early church that suggests that the Psalms were central to the worship of the first Christians and that Christians were encouraged to take them, to claim them, to memorize those words, to take them to heart so that when they faced the hard times of life, they could call those words to mind. Remember that God loved them and was taking care of them.

N.T. Wright says that in his own church, the Church of England, they encourage Christians to pray through all 150 psalms each and every month. He actually quotes Billy Graham as saying that what keeps his relationship with God fresh and vital is reading five psalms a day.

I don’t go that far, but that is probably a good practice that would really get you focused if you took the time to do that each and every day. And one of the powerful sections of Wright’s book, N.T. Wright’s book, The Case for the Psalms, comes when he reflects on his decision as a young man in college to commit to reading at least one psalm a day and how that changed his life and gave him a sense that God was with him in what he was going through in life.

He writes of one scary day when he was in college. He was riding his bicycle through the very busy town of Oxford in England. And all of a sudden, when he was riding his bike down the street, the pedal on one side snapped off. And he actually flipped over, landed in the middle of traffic, and was almost hit by a bus.

And of course, he was terrified by that. But later that day, while he was still shaken up, he turned to the psalm for the day. And he believed God– it was providential what psalm it was that day, because it was Psalm 94, which contains the line, When I thought, My foot is slipping. Your steadfast love, O Lord, help me up.

Then he writes of another time when he was on the school’s rugby team and he began to feel physically afraid before a game. Of course, rugby is a very aggressive, kind of violent sport. He was afraid before the game that day. And the words of his psalm that day happened to be Psalm 56, which contains the line, Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me.

And finally, he writes of an extended period of depression that he went through in his mid-30’s when he struggled with what his purpose was in life. He felt bad about himself. He felt worthless as if nothing he did mattered. He says that central to his healing, central to him getting out of that depression, getting back to a normal life, was praying over and over again the words of Psalm 139.

Oh God, it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That I know very well.

Wonderful are all your works. And so getting out of that depression wasn’t as easy as just saying the words of a psalm, but he does completely believe that continually reminding himself of what this psalm is saying, that each one of us is precious to God, one of us has made in his image, that even when we were in our mother’s womb, God had a purpose and a plan for us. Reminding himself of that truth is what helped to bring him out of depression, get him back on track again. So this collection of prayers that we call the Psalms, it teaches us again and again that our lives have meaning, that God is close to us, that God is closer to us than any friend or family member could ever be to us.

And so that’s why today I wanted to do this, this first Sunday of the new year. ‘Cause it’s a good time to plan ahead for the year, what we’re gonna do, how we’re gonna grow closer to God. If you’re looking for a way to read more of God’s word, maybe for the first time this coming year, but if you don’t know where to begin, then why not try getting into this book of prayers and making those prayers your own. Claiming those prayers for yourself, reading them each day.

The Bible tells us that oftentimes we don’t know what to pray, but that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and gives us the words we need. God’s given us a whole book of prayers that can help us get on track, get on focus about what we need to be praying for. I’ll make a full disclosure. Long periods of prayer have never been something I’ve been particularly good at.

When I pray, oftentimes I find my mind wondering, thinking about other things, what I’m going to do that day. So that’s why I’m thankful that I have a book in Scripture that gives me words to pray to God, and that I can personalize those words, apply them to my life, see what God is leading me to through those inspired words of Scripture. And you’d be amazed, I think, how much better your day is when you do begin your morning with a reading from God’s Word, a reading from a psalm maybe. It’s even a great exercise for couples and families to undertake.

You know, Jessica and I grew very close to God and to each other when we made reading one psalm a practice before we went to bed each night. We did that until we got through all 150 of them. Recently, we’ve gotten away from that because of different conflicting schedules and all that, but it’s something we’d like to try again because it helped us grow closer to each other and closer to God. So it’s a practice you can do with your families even.

And so my challenge for you today is to make room for God in this way. To make room for God this year in your life by taking these prayers of the scripture and the Psalms and reading through them in 2015. And maybe you won’t get to one every day. That’s okay because there’s just a 150 of them but there’s a whole lot more days in the year.

So if you just set yourself the goal of reading through it in a year, that’d be a great practice. Especially if daily Bible reading is not something you’ve been used to or accustomed to in your life. So I believe that God speaks to us when we take his word seriously, when we make time for it, and when we begin praying over the words that he’s given us. And I’m confident that if you begin making daily Bible reading, making a reading of a psalm, not daily, every other day, whatever you can do, if you make that a discipline in your life, that God will be present to you.

He will speak to you in a way maybe you’ve never heard from him before. So I believe God is waiting to speak to us. What we have to do is listen to Him, to make that time a priority in His life. When we do so, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I think we’ll find ourselves slowly but surely becoming the faithful disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ, that He calls us to be.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. [BLANK_AUDIO] .