Psalm 26 and Holiness - what comes next?
Yesterday I preached from Psalm 26, and I began by talking about the frustration I experienced early in the week because of all the many options that were presented to me by this Psalm. Do I preach on Jewish patterns of distinctiveness, or the balance between ‘in the world yet not of the world’, or holiness as gratefulness? Or do I focus on God’s judgement and the need for repentance, or the difference between being faithful and being wicked? Do I focus on the images of God in Psalm 26 - the Smelter, refining and burning away imperfections, or of God as Vindicator of the Oppressed? So many options - it was truly dizzying. But God kept moving me through these options, kept pulling me on to the message God wanted us to hear this week. God called me to focus, eventually, on integrity as a singleminded devotion to God, and to recognize that the center of this passage is verses 6-7, verses that remind us of our purpose in life - the worship of our loving, merciful and gracious God!
I didn’t get to all of the good news in this passage yesterday, so I thought I’d come back and point to the fact that, once we’ve aligned our undivided hearts around God and God’s worship, Psalm 26 gives us some solid advice on how to proceed. First, we must commit ourselves to simplicity and integrity, and we must come back to this commitment each day. We need to begin to intentionally remove things from our lives that distract us from God. We must intentionally begin to embrace practices that help us focus on God. We must intentionally slow ourselves down and get off of the crazy, chaotic, cultural carousel that so covertly squeezes us into its mold each day. Intentionality is key! If one is to set out to construct a great Temple or Tower, one must intentionally choose to get up and go to work each day, and stay on task until the masterpiece is complete. And so it is with soul-work. If we are serious about letting God build (or restore) something beautiful in us, we must get up each day with the desire to partner with Him in this great work. This requires intentionality and persistence - the shaping of a right heart, right intentions.
So, how does this Psalm help us in this process of intentionality and the formation of a right heart? First, we must put our trust in the Lord without wavering (vs 1). We must never forget that this work of holiness is God’s work, and we must trust in Him, that this truly is the life we were meant to live. Trusting in God and God’s ways is paramount to our success as Christ-followers. Once we have established our trust in God, we need to firmly fix our eyes on our loving Father. Not only do we need to keep our eyes focused on God moment by moment each day (Ps. 26:3, Ps. 16:8, Ps. 141:8, Ps 25:15), but we also need God to help us ‘turn our eyes from worthless things’ (Ps 119:37). As you turn your eyes toward God and away from what is worthless or distracting, you will find the advice in Ps 26:4-5 to be most helpful. Carefully consider who you are spending time with, and what the purpose is for your time spent with them. As you consider who you are spending your time with, and why, remember the Psalmists pleading in verses 9-10 - the Psalmist knows that God takes sin seriously, and we would be wise to do the same.
As I mentioned earlier, the center of Psalm 26 is the beautiful picture of worship in verses 6-7. I believe the most important thing we can do in our pursuit of holiness of heart and life is to live worshipful lives, following the pattern found in Psalm 150. Psalm 150 is simply an expansion of what we find in Psalm 26:6-7 - a call to praise the Lord everywhere, always, with everything we have and everything we are and everything we do and everything we say, and with every last breath we have in our lungs - we should praise Him by ‘singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling of His wondrous deeds!’ (Ps. 26:7 adapted). If you focus today on single-minded, undivided worship of our loving, merciful and gracious Father, all else will fall away and He will be glorified in your integrity. Amen.