Loving God

Psalm 103:1-22 ESV

OF DAVID. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

This is the first of three messages which I will call The Foundations. These are the foundations for lives of individual Christians, and the foundations of Bible believing Churches as well. My concern is, “After we have come to Christ, and have been born again, how do we live these new lives?” Really, the whole Bible is our source for answering that question, but the answers can all be summed up by three commands: These three commands are what I call the Foundations. I believe if we constantly order our lives around these commands then we will find ourselves living the Christian life successfully, and fulfilling God’s will for us. I also believe that God blesses those who obey him, and that includes churches who obey him as well.

The first Foundation command is the Old Testament command to Love God, which is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

When people asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, he quoted this text.

Loving God is not easy. It is supposed to be, but it is not. You cannot truly love someone you do not know. God is so different from you, that you are going to have to go through a process in order to get to know him. To know him is to love him, but the process of getting to know him is not easy. It will take some disciplined effort. Are you willing to try? Here is what you need to do:

First, Love God by Listing what he has done for you and others (1-7).

A few years ago, Michael Jackson’s sister Janet had a hit song, entitled “What have you done for me lately?” That question can be a little bit intimidating when you are in a relationship. Even the most devoted spouse, or “significant other” might get caught with little evidence to show that he cares. But God is never caught off guard with that question. If we dare to ask it, and seriously look at our lives, we will find that God has done a great deal for us.

Stop every now and then and make a list of all that God has done for you. Another song says “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” But don’t let it just surprise you. Let that evidence of God’s love lead you to love him more and more.

You see, God is a person. He is omnipresent, so we can’t see him like we see other persons, but that does not change the fact that what we do affects him. He doesn’t like it when we ignore him. He does like it when we show our appreciation for him.

When David decided to love God with all that he is, he started by making a list of all his benefits (vs. 2). The English language is not strong enough to convey what David says here. We use the word “benefits” for things like what you get from an insurance policy. I can see an insurance agent spouting off a list of benefits I might get if I took out an auto policy with his company.

But David was not talking about a list of legal responsibilities. The word he used suggests that God has taken a personal interest in him, and has decided to personally bless him with a number of good things because God is good.

We would do well to take a notepad along with us as we go about our daily lives. Just observe and record. What we will find is that there are long lists of expressions of God’s kindness that we never think about on Thanksgiving Day. Like spoiled children, we do not stop to give thanks for the One who gives more than we can ever repay.

Have you ever stooped to thank God when you get home with several bags of groceries? Have you ever stopped to thank God when you’ve just filled your gas tank? When it comes time to talk to the insurance people about renewing your auto policy, have you stopped to thank God that you didn’t have to use it this time? How many times did you pause to thank God for that house full of noisy kids? If you didn’t do that enough, you may regret it when the nest is empty.

Here are the ten specific things that David wrote on his notepad (we see them all in vs. 1-7:

1.Forgiveness for sins,
2.Healing from diseases,
3.A life redeemed from the pit of death,
4.Persistent reminders that God loves him,
5.Numerous times when David did not get what he deserved, but got mercy instead,
6.Provision for his every need,
7.Strength and Renewal from God when he grew tired,
8.Wisdom to change when he needed to become more righteous,
9.Justice when he was wronged by someone else,
10.Knowledge of God’s character and works from his word.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that David listed ten reasons why he loved God. I think he’s showing that God is not being unrealistic when he required him to obey his ten commandments. He’s saying it’s only fair, since God has shown his love by providing all these benefits.

Something within us turns on a light when we start taking God seriously. It is a small, but very important step toward the goal of loving him. It leads to the second step, which is…

Secondly, Love God by Observing what God is Like (8-13).

Did you notice the transition that takes place in this psalm at verse 8? Verses 1-7 talk about what God does, but verse 8 explains what God is like – his character.

Psalm 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (ESV)

All those things that David listed in verses 1-7 are what God did for him, but verse 8 explains why God did it. What David is doing here is expressing the fact that his love for God has matured. He has taken his love for God to the next level. While he continues to thank God for all his expressions of divine love, he adds to that praise for who God is – his character.

I want to encourage you to take your thanksgiving to the next level too. I want you to get a grasp of who God is. The song says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

David says four things about God here, and all four of them are definitions of someone who loves. The New Testament tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8,16). Here in the Old Testament, we find the same truth. Notice what David says about the God he is learning to love.

God is merciful. He does not always give us what we deserve, because he loves us. The apostle Paul said that “love is patient”, “bears all things,” and “endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4,7). That’s how God treats us, because that is who God is. He is merciful.

You remember that long list of every-day gifts that we can thank God for? There is an even longer list of things that we have deserved, that God has not given us. We should be thankful for that as well. Try these prayers on for size!

“Thank you God that you did not allow me to become an addict when I experimented with things that have put others in bondage.”
“Thank you God for keeping me safe when I have casually put my life in danger, and tested your love.”
“Thank you God for giving me friends and loved ones who were willing to put up with my stupidity.”
“Thank you God that you did not give up on me during the years that I resisted your Holy Spirit.”

God is gracious. Grace is the positive where mercy is the negative. God’s mercy holds back the punishments we deserve. Grace gives us blessings we do not deserve. The apostle Paul said that believers are “justified by (God’s) grace as a gift” (Rom. 3:24). He said that God’s promise to us is guaranteed because it rests on his grace, not our works (Rom. 4:16; 11:6). God’s grace is the source of the spiritual gifts that he gives to each member of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3,6). It was grace that motivated our Lord’s becoming poor like us, so that we could become rich like him (2 Cor. 8:9).

God is slow to anger. The Hebrew original actually says that God has long nostrils, which is an idiom for patience. This actually parallels the attribute of mercy.

God is abounding in steadfast love. This parallels the attribute of grace. The term used in the original Hebrew is the one used most often for grace. I believe it is also the word God had in mind when he made the Hebrews mark their door-posts with the blood of a lamb on the first passover (see Exod. 12:7). He wanted to constantly remind his people that he is a God of grace.

Thirdly, Love God by Vindicating his Love for the World (14-19).

People who are in love enjoy remembering their experiences with the beloved. They also enjoy being with their loved ones and thinking about them, because they appreciate who they are. But true love also manifests a tendency toward jealousy. One of the quickest ways to make an enemy is to criticize someone’s spouse. People in love naturally seek to defend their loved ones.

That is how loving God will affect us as well. God does not need anyone to defend him, but the closer we get to God, the more sensitive we will get to other people’s careless words of blasphemy. We will find ourselves wanting not just to proclaim God’s glory, but to vindicate his reputation against those who blame him for their troubles.

Listen to this version as it translated verses 14-19:

For he knows what we are made of; he realizes we are made of clay. A person’s life is like grass. Like a flower in the field it flourishes, but when the hot wind blows by, it disappears, and one can no longer even spot the place where it once grew. But the LORD continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers, and is faithful to their descendants, to those who keep his covenant, who are careful to obey his commands. The LORD has established his throne in heaven; his kingdom extends over everything (Psalm 103:14-19 NET).

It is as if the psalmist is saying “you just don’t understand God’s perspective. He does love us and care for us, but he’s not limited like we are. If you could just see things from the perspective of eternity and sovereignty, you would see that God is good all the time.”

Learning to love God means staying on his side. It means standing up against the people who want to blame God for all the problems of the world. It means defending him against his enemies because you care about him. We do this not just because we are loyal to a religion, but because we care about God as a person. The more we know him, the more we love him. The more we love him, the more we want others to know him. So we become defensive when people accuse our God of wrongdoing. It becomes personal to us.

Finally, Love God by Expressing your Worship of Him (20-21).

Worship is more than participating in a worship service. In fact, what we are doing today is just practicing worship. True worship takes place 24/7. It has a symbiotic relationship with love: true love worships, and true worship produces love.

Do you know that the Bible has an entire book that is a love song? It’s called “The Song of Songs.” Most of us call it the Song of Solomon. There’s a phrase that appears seven times in that love song. The phrase is “you are beautiful” (1:15,16; 4:1,2; 6:4).

That’s what worship is. It is declaring God’s worth – his worth-ship. David expresses worship by commanding his readers to “bless the Lord.” He starts with the angels, then the hosts, the ministers, then all God’s works, and concludes by encouraging his own soul to bless the Lord.

This message was last preached …

at Takanini Church of Christ, 160 Great South Road, Takanini, Auckland, New Zealand
on March 14th, 2010
by Jefferson Vann

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