Steve Schantz – July 11th, 2020
If you could ask the Lord for just one thing, what would it be? Solomon famously asked the Lord for wisdom. But his father, King David, a man after God’s own heart, asked the Lord for one thing in Psalm 27:4. It wasn’t for good health. It wasn’t for stability in the kingdom. It wasn’t even for peace from all of his enemies. Let’s note his request:
Psalm 27:4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
We live today in a very utilitarian society. The internet in all of its wisdom has defined utilitarian as “Designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive”. But what happens when we approach God as useful or practical rather than beautiful and overwhelming?
Time magazine noted back in 2006 one of the things that happens is that we develop a slant on the gospel that uses God as a means to our desired ends. In this article on the prosperity gospel, Time discovered that 43% of all Christians agreed that the faithful receive health and wealth. They found that two-thirds agree that God wants to prosper people. And that 31% believe that God increases the riches of those who give. 17 % of those surveyed identified themselves with the name it and claim it movement. What was a fringe movement twenty years ago now boasts almost one out of every five Christians identifying themselves as part of the prosperity gospel. And American Christianity has been exporting this misleading gospel all around the world. A pew survey found that three out of every four Latinos agreed with the following statement: “God will grant financial success and good health to all believers who have enough… FAITH!” So popular teachers like Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joyce Myer, will encourage you to say, “I am Blessed”…. “I am Prosperous”… “I am victorious”, “I am Healthy”, “I have the abundant life”. And they will tell us that all this comes to us by faith. So that faith becomes a magic wand that you wave over your life to get the one thing you most want from the Lord. And God now becomes a means to an end…
Can you imagine treating God as a means to something greater? King David couldn’t. But God is perceived to be very useful and very practical in our day and age. This utilitarian thinking is warping the image of the Triune God. The prosperity gospel has come home to roost in churches of all stripes and sizes across our land.
Utilitarian thinking which distorts the nature of God prevents us from praying as David did with this sustained vision of the beauty of the Lord. Even our secular poets and authors know the power and necessity of experiencing beauty. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, “The Human Soul needs beauty even more than it needs bread” – (Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929)
It might surprise us to learn that the Puritans were enchanted by the Song of Solomon. They looked upon the husband wife relationship as an earthly representation of God’s beauty and desire for us. It was thought to be a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. To judge them as simply prudish would be a mistake. They understood a beauty and stirred desire in the context of marriage that pointed to God. It wasn’t that they were sexually repressed, but that they had a spirituality that fostered so much interior passion that setting appropriate boundaries for their exterior behavior was necessary. The relational and sexual desire presented to us in the Song of Solomon is potent stuff. In first century Judea, a young Jewish lad under the age of 30 was forbidden from reading the Song of Solomon! Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter five that the relationship between husband and wife is intended to point us toward the relationship between Christ and his church.
The beauty in creation is meant to point us to God as the ultimate prize and the ultimate end to all of our Christian lives! When Jesus became transfigured before three of his disciples on the mountain top their one desire was to stay right there with him. The attraction and overwhelming beauty of being in the Lord’s glorified presence was enough to permanently satisfy.
Matt 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
The most comforting words Jesus could speak to his disciples when the unknown future troubled them was, “Where I am, you will be also.” (John 14:3)
Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck wrote of this beauty at the beginning of the 20th century- “The pinnacle of beauty, the beauty toward which all His creatures point is God. He is supreme being, supreme truth, supreme goodness, and also the apex of unchanging beauty.” Often we are given just tiny refractions of God’s beauty. NT Wright presents this great image. He says that, “When we encounter beauty in our world, that it is like the echo of a voice.” There are so many beautiful sunsets here in Florida. And of course we never tire of the beauty of the ocean and sea shore. Below is a picture our son Ben sent this week while on a morning walking on South beach in Miami.
Some of you may remember singing the words to Psalm 19 from the old hymnal in years past. I like the ESV rendering of Psalm 19 because it seems a bit more cohesive within the context.
Psa 19 The heavens declare the glory of God. The sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words whose voice is not heard. (ESV)
God wants us to look beyond the actors on the stage to the playwright who brings it all into being. It has been said that desire is the great teacher, and that sustained desire the path to holiness.
“God is beautiful. Beautiful…as a fact and as a force in the manner in which he asserts himself as the one who arouses pleasure, creates desire for himself, and rewards with delight.” – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics.
May Jesus be the chief desire of our mind, our heart, our strength and our soul!