Do not be overrighteous,neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?17 Do not be overwicked,and do not be a fool—why die before your time?18 It is good to grasp the oneand not let go of the other.Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.—Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.–Psalm 5:7
Although I am primarily a runner–and recently a bike rider–I do now and again lift weights. Years ago, when I was in high school, I really got into lifting weights. During my junior year, I quit the wrestling team when faced with the choice between suffering through Thanksgiving break or making weight. I opted for turkey. After that, I started going to the gym each day rather than to wrestling practice, and through months of work, I saw some very good outcomes.
Today, when I’m on the machines at Planet Fitness, I see the weight lifters. They’re in the squat racks performing unusual exercises. They carry clipboards to record their routines. My limited weight lifting is simple enough that I can keep track of my routine in my head.
Weight lifting can be addictive. You get that rush of blood to your muscles without making your lungs and heart feel as if they’re going to explode. Your muscles swell up after the workout so you feel like Arnold, plus, over time, they get bigger. You get stronger. Strong is good.
Strength is good, whether it be how much you can bench press, how fast you can move a bicycle, or how far you can hit a golf ball. It’s good to be strong in front of the buffet or when tempted to squander your money. But as useful as strength is on this earth, it does absolutely zero good when we come before God.
You think you’re strong? God can out lift you, out run you, and out jump you. His self control, His wealth, and His skill can make yours seem puny. Come before Him saying, “I am strong,” and He may very well show you that you are not strong.
In this world, I possess some strength, but only when I come before my God in reverence, only when I bow, can I enter His house. And frankly, if I cannot enter that house, then all the strength in all the other places of this world isn’t worth a five-pound dumbbell.
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3)
There’s an old Chinese story about a frog that lived in a shallow well. The frog, who apparently never left the well, considered himself the greatest creature anywhere. After all, he had this great place to live and pretty much had the run of it. Who could want more? A sea-going turtle tried to explain what the frog missed in his well-bound existence, but the frog didn’t appreciate the limits of his existence until a drought dried up his world.
Have you ever been that frog? Have you ever found yourself as the top dog in the pack only to realize you’re surrounded by undernourished chihuahuas? Perhaps you’ve been the best singer in a small church, the top salesman in a country car dealership, or the most valuable player on a minor league baseball team. I’ve seen people get very impressed with themselves regarding a homeowners association or a school board. I’ve listened to academics present mediocre papers on obscure topics, thinking themselves awfully important.
It would be interesting to know when David wrote Psalm 8. Was this before or after Goliath? Before or after Saul’s death? Before or after Bathsheba? David had good reason to think highly of himself, yet he looked at the sky and realized that his greatness was trivial compared with the God who placed him on earth.
It is tempting for us, in the midst of hundreds of Facebook friends, in a swirl of advertisers all telling us how deserving we are of the finer things, to become the frogs in the well. But step back a bit and we realize that even the most important and powerful people are little more hiccups in the span of history.
If only that Chinese frog had been able to look up and see even a narrow span of stars above his well. Maybe then he would have seen what David saw.
May these words of my mouth
and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
We have come to the end of Psalm 19, time to look back for a moment over the preceding verses and consider what we might learn from them.
At first glance, verse 14 seems to be an add-on, the sort of thing you throw in at the close of prayer when you have no idea of how to get out of the thing gracefully: “And bless all the missionaries. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I’d like to suggest, however, that this isn’t the case with the end of Psalm 19.
Let’s remember that the Psalm began with the image of the largest, the most distant element of Creation praising God. It ends in this verse, after a prayer to be kept from sins, intended and unintended, with a humble contemplation of the smallest and nearest element of creation, the Psalmist himself.
The heavens, being unfallen, have no problem singing God’s praise and declaring His glory. The individual, on the other hand, a fallen creature living in a fallen world, can only sing and declare these things with great effort and difficulty. How natural is it, then, that he concludes this hymn and request with the prayer that his words and thoughts will be pleasing to the God for whom they were intended.
How opposite is this prayer from the way that people too often approach the presence of God. You’ve seen them on Sunday at church. Perhaps you’ve even been one of them now and again. They come into the building with the air that they’ve done God some great favor by showing up. They sit smugly through worship, confident that God truly appreciates them for blessing the other benighted souls in the room with their presence.
And lest you think this is a caricature that couldn’t possibly apply to somebody as spiritual as you or me, let me point out that David himself felt the need to close his Psalm with this prayer of humility. David knew to do this because of his closeness to God and because he began his contemplation by noting the glorious heavens proclaiming the grandeur of the Lord. Can we do less?
Truly, may the words of our lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in God’s eyes.