Sunday, March 04, 2007

Psalm 37 Outline

I got to teach Sunday School this morning at church, and this is my outline.

Psalm 37

"Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like grass, and wither as the green herb..." Psalm 37:1-40


Two persistent temptations plague the righteous. The first is the temptation to envy the wicked for their apparent success. The second is like it, and is the temptation to shrink back from God's promises because of the trials we see the righteous going through. Not surprisingly, these two temptations are both the result of the same spiritual short-sightedness- the failure to consider the way of the righteous and the wicked in their entireties. To put it another way, these temptations come when we fail to see and understand the story that God is writing.

The Temptation to Envy

One of the strongest temptations the righteous can have is to see the apparent success of the wicked and envy. All around us, the wicked prosper and succeed in evil schemes. So you might be tempted to ask yourself, "Why bother with the difficulties of righteousness? What good is my righteousness doing me?" But when we learn to step back and take the long view of things, it all comes into perspective. Evildoers will be cut off and will be no more. God fattens them up, then cuts them down.

And this can all be understood if you think of it as story. In good stories, the bad guys are strong. Weak bad guys are no fun. In good stories, you have to keep reading to find out how it's going to end up. One chapter stories are no fun. In good stories, things look bleak and hopeless at times for the good guys. Easy stories are no fun. And in good stories, the good guys win. Postmodern stories are no fun, unless you’re on the wrong side.

The Temptation to Shrink Back

The second temptation addressed here is just as much a snare for us. This is the temptation to shrink back from God’s promises. The devil whispers to us "Did God really say that He would give you a glorious ending to your story?" And you ought to remember that line from another story. So answer him this way: those that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the earth. In a similar way, God promises you the desires of your heart, establishment and peace, public vindication, abundant prosperity, and deliverance from all your trials. And in case you missed it, He will exalt you to inherit the earth.

Now of course these are not automatic promises- they’re for the meek. So what is meekness? Meekness is characterized by a refusal to worry, envy, and get angry. It is characterized by a joyful patience, rejoicing, by good works and generosity, graciousness, peacefulness and justice. And most importantly, it is characterized by a deep and abiding trust that God will deliver His people. The meek man refuses to listen to the devil, and trusts that God has a good ending for his story.

A Word on Authorship

I've tried to show you to this point how we're in a story, and it goes without saying that a story (at least a good story) has to have an Author. And accepting this means nothing less that full-fledged Calvinism. Don't get caught on the word if it's a problem, but remember that if you don't have an Author who's putting together all the details, then you’re stuck in a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Or so said some fictional character.

So keep this in mind when your trials and struggles come. God sends you trials because He wants you to learn how stories work. And that means accepting the plot twists He gives you now in thankfulness. It means putting aside anger towards Him and His story. It means quitting your worrying and frantic working to try to fix things. It means joyfulness and resting, even in the dark times. And all these things are possible only if you remember that wherever your at now, its not the end of the story.

Plot Devices

God stories also have a number of recurring themes that He loves to use. We call these plot devices. A plot device is a person or object introduced into the story by the author to keep you interested in the story until the climax. And God has a few favorites. He loves rags-to-riches stories (v. 16). Or as Jesus put it, blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. He loves happy endings (v. 4-5). Stories with happy endings are traditional stories, and they are also godly stories. God loves to catch the wicked in the trap that they have laid for the righteous (v. 15). This was the downfall of wicked Haman, and Satan himself. And in every story God tells, things look bad until He shows up at the end to work the miraculous deliverance (v. 40). You've heard that God wants to get all the glory; this is how He does it- by saving you.

Knowing Your Place in the Story

By default, we all see ourselves as protagonists in our own stories. You can always arrange the facts of the story you're in to suit your own conclusions. But part of the Spirit's work in our lives is learning how to see ourselves in relation to the story God is writing. So use this Psalm as a diagnostic tool for your lives- are you the kind of character that readers rejoice to see saved at the end of the story? Are you the kind of character that makes the reader slap his forehead in consternation? Or are you the kind of character that the protagonist is rescued from in the conclusion?

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful title for a blog. Enjoyed the disertation on Psalm 37 quite a lot. Thanks.

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