“What Is Important to God?”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
For Calvary Baptist Church
“Socrates, teach me. I want to learn.”
These were the words of a hopeful student who must have had a high level of confidence Socrates would take him under wing. I strongly suspect he was not prepared for Socrates’ response.
Socrates said nothing. Instead, he motioned for the young man to follow him to the edge of the sea. Socrates then took his arm and led him into the water up to his chest.
Socrates put his hands on this potential student’s head and pressed him under the water. It wasn’t long before this individual began squirming, trying to break free from Socrates’ grip. After several more seconds Socrates lifted his hands, and this young man shot out of the water gasping for breath.
When both of them were safely back on the shore, Socrates calmly said, “When you want to learn as badly as you wanted a breath of air under the water, come see me.”
Have you ever been this serious and intense about learning? I suspect all of you have.
Perhaps you were introduced to a subject as a child that captured your attention and led you to a library or the internet. Maybe you entered college with a strong desire to learn everything you could to prepare for a bright and prosperous future. You might have begun a new job and were this eager to discover everything you needed to know to be successful.
Have you ever been this curious and inquisitive about the ways of God? Have you ever hungered and thirsted after righteousness?
It appears the Psalmist did. After reading our text, there is no doubt the Psalmist passed Socrates’ test. He possessed the interest and intensity Socrates demanded of all his students.
How do I know? Count the imperatives in our text, which I think are the most enlightening and intriguing parts of this passage. There are ten to twelve, based upon the translation you reference.
Imperatives are strong words. They are commands, or in the Psalmist’s case, pleas for God’s help.
Do good to your servant, and I will live. I will obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.
Teach me, LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.
(Psalm 119:17-18; 33-38 NIV)
Any doubt about how serious the Psalmist was about learning what was important to God? His words in our text, a part of a complex acrostic based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, certainly indicate a high level of inquisitiveness and intensity. He pleads with God to open his eyes, heart and mind and to lead his every step.
Why do you think he was so serious about drawing closer to God at this point in his life?
Maybe he was a young man who was coming of age, growing and maturing and discovering, to his dismay, life was not all about him.
Perhaps he had accepted a challenge and taken on new responsibilities and realized many people were depending upon him to rise to the occasion.
He might have been reeling from bad decisions he made and saw how disappointed others were in him.
He could have been tired of investing his life in things that did not satisfy his deepest needs. His misplaced values and priorities left him feeling empty, like he was ‘sewing with thread-less needles’.
Maybe the faith he borrowed from his parents or peers was not working for him. He needed his own faith, one born out of his study, experiences, challenges, struggles and failures.
Whatever the reason, the Psalmist was now ready to discover and to adopt the heart, mind, hopes, dreams and ways of God. He was serious. He was focused. He was determined. He was dedicated. He was committed. He was ready.
He wanted this as badly as a drowning person wants air.
So what did he do? Rather, what did he ask God to do?
Two things caught my attention and stood out in our text, and both are connected to his eyes.
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (119:18)
“Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” (119:37a)
The Psalmist had a problem with his eyes and needed the Great Physician to help him correct it. There were things he was unable or unwilling to see and needed God to reveal them. On the other hand, there were things he could not resist looking at and pursuing that were leading to harmful decisions for him and others.
So, the Psalmist asked God to show him his blind spots, which included the incomparable wisdom in God’s commands, decrees, precepts, law, statute, word, and promise. He pleaded with God to help him see that God’s way of thinking, believing, behaving, arranging values, ordering priorities, relating to others, settling disputes, earning and managing money, using influence and power, handling problems, accepting challenges and dealing with temptations was best, always best.
He also asked God to help him turn his attention from the trash and trinkets of the world so he could see and pursue the real treasures. It appears the Psalmist had put the wrong price tags on the things around him. He needed God’s help to recognize it and to do something about it.
Perhaps he had been guilty of valuing possessions over people, greed over generosity, cash over character, self-indulgence over sacrifice, being served over serving, self-interest over integrity, arrogance over humility, revenge over forgiveness, hate over love, cruelty over kindness and violence over peace.
Whatever was missing or out of sorts in his life, he was going to need God’s help to correct it. Don’t you think this is true for us, too? I do.
Have you ever been as serious about your faith as the Psalmist was about his? Is it time for you to follow the Psalmist’s example as he sought to discover what was important to God and best for him?
I wonder what difference it would make in your life if you did this. I also wonder what difference it would make in the lives of everyone around you if you adopted God’s heart, mind, values, priorities, hopes, dreams and ways.
There is a way to find out.
It involves strong imperatives and a deep breath of fresh air.