Getting back to school — the second semester of the first year of a three-year course — gave me such a rush. Singapore Bible College is where I know I should be and taking the Master of Divinity there is what I know I should be doing now (‘now’ being relative — right now I should be doing my Greek homework!). A few weeks on, being in school, even with its rapid build-up of challenges, has already provided many sources of comfort and strength, not the least of which are my schoolmates, and this — a soul-girding sermon by Dr SH (translation by the brilliant LZ not included!), my notes on which I hope will give you a taste of how Scripture expounded well always leads to worship in spirit and in truth:
- Psalm 139
- First part (verses 1–6): tells of God’s omniscience about us — there are no skeletons in our closet He does not know. But He knows the seemingly trivial as well. Why does God bother to know every single detail about us? So far, the implication is that He knows us so well because we’re important to Him. But why are we important to Him? Every area of life is important to God — that is, under His purview — so all areas of life are sacred. There should be no false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Everything should be sacred because everything is important to God.
- Second part (verses 7–12): tells of God’s omnipresence — wherever I am, He is there. Because He is our constant companion, we are important to Him. Even though there may be barriers that separate us from those we love, there is no barrier or distance that separates God from us. This is hope, encouragement and comfort no matter how dire, hopeless and desperate things seem! We are compelled to harbour hope in seemingly hopeless situations. In verses 11–12, where darkness typically represents death and evil — it is still no problem for God. His perfect love casts out fear. Still, we do not have the answer to the question of why we are important to God.
- Third part (verses 13–18): Verse 14 is the key verse. It could be translated as “I praise You because I am set apart for awesome things. I praise You because my soul knows it well.” Here lies the answer — God has set us apart for awesome things! There is a sanctified purpose for you and for me. God the creator is very intentional in putting us into existence. These awesome things are not detailed, but it is suggested there are unique things about each one of us — the way we’re wired, our combination of gifts, abilities and opportunities.
- But there are awesome things common to all of us as well. We are set apart to be distinct, to be distinguished. When we look at nature, at the work of His hands, everything and everyone in creation has the potential to bring Him honour and glory. We have a unique role in His creation because we have the potential to bring Him greater glory and honour than anything in creation, even the angels. Thus, should we not live in a very intentional and purposeful way, to fulfil God’s sanctified purpose for us? This is the question to constantly ask and be vigilant about, whether in studies, ministry or the relationships, pastimes and vacations we pursue. We need to discern the best from the good — the best returns for our investment on time. We need to learn to say ‘no’, even to the good, if it is not the best.
- God’s presence is another important factor. But we want something more tangible — we want “God with skin on”. Since God knows everything, He knows this as well. And He does provide. He provides a presence that is tangible through the special people in our lives who care for us, encourage and comfort us, believe in us and give us the encouragement to go on and pursue whatever God wants us to pursue — people who are incarnational. No matter whether they are involved in every single chapter of our lives — the point is that there was someone who believed in you at one point in your life and left their imprint on you.
- [Dr SH illustrated this point with the story of a boy whose teacher didn’t think much of him since he looked like a slob and didn’t do well in his studies. When the teacher found out this was because his mother had been very ill and subsequently died, she felt terrible for despising him and resolved to be a better teacher, paying more attention to the children in class, and especially to him. The boy eventually made it to college and became a doctor, keeping in touch with her all the way. When he got married, he invited her as the guest of honour as she was the closest thing he had to family after his father, who had been quite distant, had also died. Dr SH said we were perhaps touched by the boy’s story but thought it a little far-fetched. The truth was that this was Dr SH’s story! He didn’t have a happy family background, had failed kindergarten — twice — and after he became a Christian, his pastor was the only one who believed he could go into full-time ministry. Dr SH said he wasn’t at SBC for the ‘big’ bucks or its ‘big’ reputation — I’d never thought of looking upon such work as ministry! — and that he wanted to tell everyone he knew personally that he believed in them too. This was a powerful moment. A sacred moment. A “God with skin on” moment. For quiet Dr SH to say such words of deep emotional resonance? I’d never thought about the impact of those in my life who’d believed in me, and now I see their influence has been far-reaching indeed. Thank you, all of you; you got me where I am today in my journey thus far.]
- Fourth part (verses 19–24): Verses 21–22 comprise the psalmist’s personal response to being set apart for awesome things. He is seeing things from God’s perspective, such that even God’s enemies, both metaphorical and literal, are his. (Enemies being things that God hates, like sin.) The psalmist’s personal response is total personal consecration — becoming a man of God, faith and personal holiness. A saint is not marked by profession but consecration, and is not a person without faults. Rather, he gives of himself without reservation to God: “Dear God, your will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen.” As DL Moody put it, a holy life leaves the deepest impression. Lighthouses don’t make noise, they just shine. God doesn’t expect us to make a lot of noise, but to shine in the world as lights that reflect His. We need total consecration — unless we pursue this, everything is a pipe dream. The key to succeeding from God’s perspective is total consecration, and so we need to pray like the psalmist in verses 23–24.
Drink deep from the river of the water of life! Then seek out folks to share it as a gift.