A Soul Seeking God

Psalm 25:1-10
1st Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the life to come enjoy you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

We humans are born with yearnings. We come into the world, yearning to be fed, to be held, to be kept dry and comfortably warm. As we grow and develop, most of us are able to satisfy the simplest of comforts on our own, but our yearnings grow deeper and more complex. We yearn for success – whether it is riding a bicycle, learning to read, or mastery of a new job. We yearn for companionship and intimacy, sometimes sacrificing our values to get intimacy without a serious commitment of companionship. We yearn for consumable things, often abusing those to try to satisfy deeper unsatisfied yearnings. In like manner, we yearn for material products, constantly desiring more, and better, and different. This is related a deeper yearning for significance. We want to be noticed, to be appreciated, to receive attention. Some people will take extreme measures to seek attention, even negative attention, by their behavior or their appearance or by their purchase of material goods. They want to be the best or the most outrageous. We humans are always seeking – seeking more, seeking better, seeking different. We are restless.

I am most restless as the week nears Sunday and a sermon is needed, a good sermon is desired. I know that good sermons are a gift from God, not a gift that drops from the heavens into my lap, but a gift which I have to cultivate by seeking God, by drawing near to God, by the discipline of prayer and study. But despite what I know, I get very restless at the end of the week. I pace around. I water the plants and pull weeds. I read online news. I check my email. I think of all the things I wish I had accomplished that week and try to do a few more of them. I am tempted to overeat by snacking nervously, but I know that a full belly makes a dull mind, so I try to satisfy the oral yearnings with the comforts of tea and coffee. I know what I most need and I resist it, to some degree, every week. The only thing that will truly secure me is to seek the Spirit of Jesus Christ, to call on the Lord for help, to find in God my refuge and strength, my direction and guide. St Augustine said it well at the start of his Confessions, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." This is true, whether we’re talking about the rhythm of my life as a weekly preacher, or whether we’re talking about your family life or your job or your struggle with any problem or lack of discipline you might be having. What you and I most need to seek God with all our yearnful, unsatisfied soul. It is not easy but it is what is most needed.

King David, to whom many of the psalms are attributed, was a flawed man. He did some really bad things, but what made David so beloved by God and the people was his heart seeking after God. Even when he blew it, he was still praying what became Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” And today’s psalm is clearly written from the perspective of one who desires to be close to God.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame;

do not let my enemies exult over me.

3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all day long. 6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD,

and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,

for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. If your soul is weighed down, it must be hard to lift it. Now there’s an honest answer for next person who asks without really meaning it, “And How are you doing today?” My soul is weighing me down today. I’m trying to lift up my soul, but it is awfully heavy – filled with anxieties, with longings for things that will not satisfy, with wounds from the past. The psalmist communicates with his soul as well as with God. Bless the Lord, O my soul. (Psalm 103) Why are you cast down, O my soul? (Psalm) There are over seventy references to soul in the Psalter, the prayer book of the Bible. If you’d like to get in touch with your soul, I recommend reading several psalms each day for the rest of Lent. If you read 3 or 4 each day, you will finish by Easter. When you get to Psalm 119, just read that one because it is soooo long. Reading and pondering all 150 Psalms would be a great Lenten discipline. Give it a try. Read three or four each day and write down one meaningful verse on a piece of paper.

At presbytery the other day, we divided into small groups of elders (ruling- guiding elders) and ministers (teaching elders). I had the responsibility of writing the hour long small group exercise. One of the questions that we discussed is this: In which spiritual discipline do you need to grow most? Bible study, prayer, compassion, and generosity. In my group of eight ministers, do you know that every single person chose Bible study or prayer or both? Now, wouldn’t you think ministers do enough of that? Nope. And if we who have the “job” the professional role and expectation of doing that a lot do not do it enough, what about you, our friends in the congregation? There would not be so much hatred in the world, if Christian and Muslims and other faith groups would be really true to their faith -- in humility, in prayer, in respect for others, and in the kind of steadfast love to which scripture calls us.

The psalmist says, 4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; We cannot know the ways of God without studying the story of God and God’s people in the Holy Scriptures. How often do we pray for God’s help when we really need to simply pray that we will be faithful, lead in truth, following the right paths, like the writer of Psalm 25. Do you have a teachable spirit? Are you, like the psalmist, asking God to lead you and show you the way, or are you too busy telling God what is right and just and fair? The psalmist is straight-forward with God. God, I do not deserve to be put to shame. Why not give grief to those really mean people, wantonly treacherous – now they deserve some consequences. Now there’s another good line for you when you are upset with someone. I am not happy with your wantonly treacherous behavior. I told Richard just the other night to watch out because I was tired and some wantonly treacherous words might just slip out. He said I should pray. I said I should sleep first, then pray.

But seriously, we learn from this psalm that trusting in God means desiring to follow God’s ways, God’s paths, God’s truths, having a teachable spirit. We can all claim that we have those desires, just like someone making D’s and F’s in school can say that they desire B’s and A’s, but unless a little effort is seen, the expressed desire does not seem authentic. It is not really a yearning, a strong desire.

All of us fall into the category of being somewhat dishonest about our longings. Because we don’t act on what we know. It’s kind of like me working on a sermon. I know what makes it better, but I allow myself to be distracted. We are all distracted from faithfulness. We turn on the television or computer, instead of praying or reading the Bible or studying for school. We eat or drink too much instead of tackling the real hunger inside us for something more. We become wantonly treacherous (hateful and mean) toward those closest to us. But the good news is this: God instructs sinners, those of us who fail. Psalm 25 says, 8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. It’s the getting humble part that is hard.

It is admitting that you are a sinner, seeing your own weaknesses, so you have room for growth. I’m convinced being humble is required of those who are truly seeking God. You cannot seek God with a prideful spirit. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

All of us will be humbled some day, if not by our own doing, God will allow circumstances that wittle away our pride, because it is an impediment to being teachable. Anybody who has ever raised a teenager knows that it is the “I know it all. Don’t need your help” attitude that gets teens in more trouble than anything.” I know it all. I can drink and drive. I know it all. I don’t have to study, if I don’t want to. The trouble is many adults carry that attitude for years. I know it all. I don’t need to listen to you when you have a different political or theological perspective. I know it all, and have got things under control. I don’t need a doctor or mental health counselor. I know it all. Went to Sunday school when I was a kid. Don’t have time or need for that now.

And now I’ve “stopped preaching and gone to meddling,” some of you might be saying. Let me tell you the legend of this phrase. There was a country preacher at a revival who kept hammering the congregation about all the commandments they were breaking – lying, cheating, stealing, committing adultery. And a woman in the front kept encouraging him with her “Preach it, my brother.” And “Yes, my Lord.” But as the woman became more and more vocal, the preacher said, and worst of all is the sin of judging others. Seeing the speck in someone else, but not the log in your own eye. And the woman whispered to her pew buddy. Now he’s stopped preaching and gone to meddling.” This your preacher has gone to meddling about adult participation in opportunities like lively learning and Bible studies because I care about your soul. Your soul is yearning to draw closer to God. You cannot buy your soul’s contentment with any toys or i-stuff. You cannot fill your soul to satisfaction with food or drink. You cannot entertain or distract yourself sufficiently to rid yourself of the deep longing for God. It is your most primal need -- a deeper connection with God. This is called sanctification, the process of becoming close to God, more like Christ, more holy.

10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

We don’t really like the condition placed at the end of that verse. We want all the paths of the Lord to be steadfast love and faithfulness, no matter what – unconditionally. We like talking about justification. We like know that we are all forgiven in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is a gift, which we celebrate, but growth toward holiness is gift coupled with effort. Committed Christians put some effort into this new life in Christ, which is a gift. Paul says to the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phi 2:12-13) We work with God in becoming faithful disciples who have disciplined lives . We are souls seeking God, resisting the temptation to get our satisfaction in all the wrong places. God knows our souls need to be centered, focused, single-minded, with one chief purpose – glorifying and enjoying God forever.

Our souls are yearning for you, our God. (Psalm 42) We know that ultimate rest and satisfaction comes only from you. So teach us this Lent to return again and again to you, to learn your ways, to follow your paths, to listen for your voice, to build in ourselves through prayer and sacrifice, a humble and teachable spirit.