There was once a talented student who needed only one more course to graduate from university, so he relentlessly pursued his professor in hopes that he would grant him an independent study course in writing. The student expressed that he would be eternally grateful if the professor would just grant this one request — even though it would involve a lot of extra time and work on the professor’s part.
The professor finally agreed to the idea, but it proved to be a huge headache for him. The student skipped appointments, missed deadlines, and ignored the professor’s evaluations of his writing. The young man even turned in his last assignment just hours before graduation. Nevertheless the professor went the extra mile to help him and even to plead with the rest of the faculty to be lenient to this student. And finally the student was allowed to graduate. After so many allowances and concessions had been made for him, you would think he would have been very grateful to the professor. But there was not even one sincere word of thanks from him. Having got what he wanted, the student completely forgot all the goodness that had been shown to him. The question I want to ask this morning is: Are we like that student? Do we forget how much God has done for us? Do we take God’s goodness for granted?
Since the beginning of this year, we have been looking at the goodness of God revealed in the psalms. We have seen how we are able to enjoy so many wonderful benefits from Him: the provisions God makes to sustain our life, the security, courage and deliverance He bestows on us for our trials, the victory He gives to us over our enemies, the written Word that He has given for our edification, just to name a few.
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As more and more of God’s goodness is revealed to us, we should realize how greatly indebted we are to Him. Such goodness surely deserves to be well-reciprocated. A good response ought to be given to God. Last week we saw one part of this response – Rejoicing in the Lord for who He is and what He does for us. This morning we go on to consider another part of our response to God’s goodness – our worship. There is much more to worship than just attending services in church on Sundays, singing hymns and putting some money into the offering bags. This morning we shall see that true worship is a life that is changed for God’s glory.
Let us turn our Bibles now to Psalm 50 and read vv.5-23. The first thing we observe is that this passage begins with a courtroom scene. God takes His own people to court to bring a complaint against them. This is what He says to them in v.7 – “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God.” Here God takes issue not with the world nor with unbelievers but with His own people, as He says in v.5“Gather My saints together unto Me; those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” In OT times the Israelites were God’s people, but now it is the Church which comprises all believers. We are the ones who stand in a covenant relationship with God through Christ’s sacrifice. In v.4 God calls heaven and earth to be His witnesses as He now brings a charge against His own people.
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What charge does He bring against them? What does He want to reprove them about? It concerns the worship they give to Him. But on this matter of worship, God already anticipates how they would answer Him. This is what they will say, “O God, I confess that I have failed to give You enough. But I now promise that henceforth I will bring more burnt offerings and prepare more sacrifices for You. From now on I will come to the Temple with more animals than before. If what You want is a bull, You can have a thousand bulls from my herds. If You want a goat, I will offer a thousand goats to You.”
But what does God say to this? He says that their offerings and animal sacrifices are not the issue. He does not need any of them at all. This brings us to our first point in this message:
Our Response To God’s Goodness
I. The Response that God Doesn’t Need (vv.8-13)
Look at v.8 and 9 where He says, “I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.”
This corrects a wrong notion that many people have. They think that what God wants from them is their offerings. And so, as long as they can satisfy God with the right offering, He will surely accept them and all will be well. Now, there is nothing wrong with bringing our gifts and offerings to the Lord’s house when we come for the worship service each week. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” The problem is not with the act of giving itself, but with our motive for giving. We ought to give because we believe that all that we have is rightfully His, and that the Lord is worthy to receive the best from us. We willingly present them to express our love and gratitude to Him.
The wrong motive for giving is to use it as a means to buy God’s favour or to win His approval. Perhaps some of us may have done this at times. We think that we can gain God’s favour and love with our gifts, and that He would then be pleased to grant us all that we desire. This mistaken idea does not come from Scripture. It comes from using our own human understanding of how to get favours from certain people.
But this works only because these people are willing to grant favours in exchange for something they want. E.g. a politician may use his influence and authority to benefit people in his constituency who seek his help, but he then expects them to keep him in office by voting for him during elections. It is merely a symbiotic relationship where he gives them what they want, in exchange for receiving what he wants. The same thing is true of an employer who gives the most attractive promotions, pay increments and perks to his employees. But he certainly expects them to work harder after that and to become more productive so as to increase his profits. This becomes a ‘win-win’ situation for all.
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The problem is that we have become so used to working out such win-win situations everywhere, that we think we can do the same thing with God. We think that if we try our very best to give God what He wants, then we can easily get all that we want from Him. But how mistaken we are to think of God like this. Unlike any man, God already owns everything, and so whatever we give to Him is actually His. This is what He says in vv.10-12 – “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.” Today we may say, “God owns the money in a thousand banks.”
Let us understand that God’s blessings can never be bought, whether with money or with acts of faithful service and devotion. Don’t ever entertain the notion that the Lord will certainly bless us with good health and wealth just because we have given Him so much and have served Him so well. He doesn’t owe use anything. No matter how well we have served Him and how much we have given to Him, always remember that “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10) God is not obligated to reward us. It is only by undeserved grace alone that we receive any favour from God. And that grace is shown to us only because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross. If we really understand what undeserved grace God has shown to us, we will readily respond to His goodness with sincere love and gratitude from our heart. This is what the Lord desires from us, rather than all our material gifts and offerings. And this leads us now to the second point of our message:
II. The Response that God Desires Most (vv.14-15)
Let us look at vv.14-15 where God says – “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” These verses are the most important verses in this psalm. They show us what God’s people ought to be giving Him rather than all their material gifts and offerings. The first thing that is mentioned here is thanksgiving. This speaks not only of expressions of thanks, but more importantly it speaks of the attitude behind them, which is…
Our Attitude Behind Our Response to God’s Goodness
Gratitude is the first part of our response to God’s goodness. How grateful should we be to God? Very grateful, when we realise that all that we are and all that we have comes from Him – our life, our health, our family and friends, our opportunities for success, and most of all, our salvation.
Why is it so hard then to give thanks to God with a grateful heart? It is because we often focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we have. Then we start to whine and complain. Unfortunately we are known to complain a lot. If you are in the habit of complaining, please listen carefully to this little poem: “Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair; I envied her – so beautiful, and how I wished I were so fair; When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot and wore a crutch, but as she passed, she wore a smile. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two feet – the world is mine.
And when I stopped to buy some sweets, the lad who served me had such charm; he seemed to radiate good cheer, his manner was so kind and warm; I said, “It’s nice to deal with you, such courtesy I seldom find”; he turned and said, “Oh, thank you sir.” And then I saw that he was blind. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two eyes – the world is mine.
Then, when walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue; he stood and watched the others play, it seemed he knew not what to do; I stopped a moment, then I said, “Why don’t you join the others, dear?” He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two ears – the world is mine. With feet to take me where I’d go; with eyes to see the sunsets glow, with ears to hear what I would know. I am blessed indeed. The world is mine; Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.”
Instead of whining and complaining all the time, let us get into the habit of giving thanks to God at all times for everything we have, and even for the things we don’t have. So what can you thank God for if nothing at all is going well for you today? You can say, “I thank you Lord, that things are not always as bad as this.” As God’s Word says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This is the first part of our response to God’s goodness. Coming back now to Psalm 50, we see the next part to our response at the end of v.14. Here God says that we are to “Pay [our] vows unto the Most High”. The word ‘pay’ here actually means ‘fulfil.’ And so the response that we are called to give to God here is one of…
This response to God’s goodness can be likened to what is required of a couple when they get married. They take their marriage vows on their wedding day, and after that they must keep them faithfully, no matter what happens –“for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death them do part.”
Just as faithfulness is required in a marriage relationship, faithfulness is also required by God in our relationship with Him. The Lord Jesus said this to His beloved Church at Smyrna – “Be thou faithful unto death.” (Revelation2:10) We ought to treasure our relationship with God so much that nothing can keep us from fulfilling our commitments to Him, whether it is to love Him or to follow Him, to serve Him or to live our lives fully for Him. Those of us who have been baptized or reaffirmed our faith in Life Church may remember the promise that we made here before God and His people. We promised to love the Lord with all our heart, to obey His Word, to do His will, and to live in a manner that is pleasing unto Him all the days of our life.
How faithful are we in keeping that promise? If we are faithful, we will do these things under all circumstances, good or bad and even when God allows the worst calamities to befall us and we cannot understand why. Job is an excellent example of this. He was so faithful to God that even after he had lost everything in a series of horrible calamities, he still worshipped God, saying, “…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
I remember how a former elder of our church said these words nine years ago when the Lord took his dear wife home. They had been serving God together for many years in our Indonesian service. Just as the casket was placed in the grave, he said with tears in his eyes, “…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” May we be able to say this from the bottom of our hearts even at times when our hearts are very heavy with great sorrow and grief.
Thus far we have seen that we ought to respond to God’s goodness with thanksgiving and with faithfulness. Now we come to the third part of our response to God’s goodness which is…
C. Trust for Help
Let us look at v.15, where God says, “And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” This verse reveals that God wants us to turn to Him for help whenever we are in trouble. He is glorified whenever we seek help from Him. He is also glorified when He answers our prayers and we testify to others about His help. The Bible is filled with testimonies of how God delivered those who called upon Him in the day of trouble.
Abraham’s prayer delivered Lot and his family from being destroyed in Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32). The prayer of his son Isaac enabled Rebecca, his barren wife of twenty years, to be blessed not just with one child but two – Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21). Joshua’s prayer caused the sun and moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12,13). Hannahwas distraught by her barren condition, but her tearful prayer at the Tabernacle brought her a son who became one of Israel’s greatest prophets (1 Samuel 1:10,11). Samuel himself was a man of prayer. 1 Samuel 12:17-19 records that one day while he rebuked the people for their many sins and for asking for a king, he prayed for the Lord to send thunder and rain upon them, and the Lord answered his prayer by making it rain and thunder in the usually dry harvest season.
These examples of testimonies of answered prayer, are all from the Bible. But even today, the Lord is stilldelivering those who call upon Him in the day of trouble. At our weekly church prayer meeting many have testified how God answers prayer. E.g. someone once asked the church to pray for his aged father because he got lost and could not be found anywhere. And shortly after praying for God’s help, news came that his father was found. Last Tuesday we prayed for a sister who had fallen ill during a mission trip . The next day we received news that she was well and resting in the hotel room. Who is glorified through such testimonies of answered prayer? God is! His glory is revealed and He is worshiped!
And God gives us full assurance that He hears us when we pray. The same assurance is found in Matthew 7:7-8 when Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” In fact, God has already prepared His answer to your prayer, and He is just waiting for you to call upon Him before He sends the answer. In Matthew 6:8 Jesus told His disciples, “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” We are told in Daniel chapter 9 that Daniel had not even finished praying when an angel suddenly arrived with God’s answer! (Daniel 9:23)
Perhaps you may want to know this – If God already knows exactly what we have need of, and He has already prepared all the answers to our prayers, why does He not give them to us without our praying? Why do we have to call upon Him first before He would deliver us? The answer is that calling upon Him draws us closer to Him and strengthens our relationship with Him. God’s love for us causes Him to take great delight in our prayers. He wants us to bring our needs to Him personally and express our trust in Him. Let us therefore develop a habit of praying, not just personally, but also corporately as a church.
We have seen that the response God desires most from us is gratitude, faithfulness and trust in Him for help. These are so of much greater value than all the material gifts and offerings we bring to the Lord. There is however one response that we should never give to God’s goodness. This is described in vv.16-22.
III. The Response that God Detests (vv.16-22)
v.16 – “But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee.”Here God addresses those among His people who merely pay lip service to Him. They know God’s Word and may even declare or teach it to others, but they do not put it into practice. They follow the sinful ways of the world as described in vv.17-20 and they think quite mistakenly that since God is silent, He does not really mind or even care about how they live (v.21).
But God says that they have no right to take His covenant in their mouth. Their profession of faith is doubtful because their heart is still tolerant toward sin. Do you see how God calls them ‘wicked’ in v.16? Can you see how sin defiles our worship and turns it into wickedness in God’s eyes? Dearly beloved, pleased be convinced that the very best offerings and service you give to God are worthless as long as you are not right with Him because of sin. They are merely an empty form of godliness. If there any sins in your life, you must do something about them. Don’t try to cover them with a façade of worship. Confess them to God and make a clean break with them.
Man is always trying to get back to the good graces of God with outward forms of worship and material gifts. But the Word of God tells us plainly that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17). What God wants to see in us is a change of heart that leads to a change of life – a life that seeks to glorify God. He says this in v.23 of our psalm – “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.” The word ‘conversation’ here does not refer to how we speak, but to how we live our life.
In today’s sermon we have considered our response to the goodness of God. Well, the goodness of God should ultimately lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The response it deserves from us is nothing less than a changed life, a life that is increasingly being delivered from sin and lived for His glory. And the only way to have such a response is to build our relationship with God. If our spiritual life consists of nothing more than holding on to certain beliefs, or observing a set of rules and regulations very closely, or performing certain rituals meticulously, then we have missed the whole essence of spirituality, which is to enjoy a close loving relationship with God every day.
That is where our spiritual life really is. Without it, our attendance of worship services becomes an awful chore and not an awesome joy. Our singing of hymns will not be lively but lifeless. Our tithes and offerings will be given out of duty, and not out of love. Without a close relationship with God, our listening to sermons week after week will not benefit us at all. His commandments will become too limiting for us instead of liberating us. And we won’t feel like coming to church anymore because it becomes a meaningless routine. If this goes on for too long we may even wish that we had never become Christians!
If you are already experiencing any of these things, perhaps it may now be time for you to focus on your relationship with God. Have you somehow been neglecting your walk with the Lord? Or have you become so caught up with church activities and all the outward forms of devotion that you have lost your primary focus? If you have, then please pay attention to what the Lord is saying to you right now at the end of this psalm – “…to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.”
Make sure that you ‘order your conversation aright’. Set your life in order. Make sure that from now onward you will give God the right place in your heart, and that you give Him the right response for His goodness to you – Not just worship, but worship that is filled with the gratitude, faithfulness and trust that grow out of a close walk with Him. May the Lord be glorified as He works in our hearts today.
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