WRESTLING WITH OUR DESIRES — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 15th, 2013. The audio has not yet been added.
Our desires are often unmanageable. James tells us that they make war with in us. This morning we want to look at a Psalm in which David wrestles with sinful desire. Although we do not know the situation, commentators suggest that David was not near the Temple – somewhere where he could come worship – because he says “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” – or more literally, “Let my prayer be established before your face in place of incense; and the lifting up of my hands in place of the evening oblation.”
There is something metaphorical about the fact that David wrestles with temptation when he is far from the Temple – where the presence of God dwells – where the worship of God is taking place. This, in fact, is a picture of our experience of temptation – where we feel far from God.
David’s prayer is an example for us of how we can wrestle with temptation when our desires seem to be overwhelming us – and when we feel far from God.
BE FREE TO COME TO GOD IN TIME OF TEMPTATION.
Come to God in The Throes of Temptation While You are Struggling: “I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.”
These are urgent words. What is so urgent? David is confessing to God his desire to say what he knows he ought not – must not – say. David is confessing that his heart is in danger of being drawn by what is evil. In fact, he says, the sins that he is tempted by are like “delicacies” – (Lit. “pleasant things”). David comes to God in a state of temptation – when he is not doing well – to ask God to help and deliver him.
Come to God With Confidence As You Are – Not As You Should Be: So here is David, far from the house of God, wracked with sinful desires, and yet free to come to God and tell God exactly what is going on in his heart. This prayer David sets before God like incense – a sweet and pleasing aroma to God. Incense was offered on the altar of incense during morning and evening prayer to represent the beauty of fervent of prayer. His coming to God with this struggle is pleasing to God, like the evening sacrifice.
Often believers do not have this freedom because we have been taught that we cannot come to God with a divided heart – or a divided mind. We have been given the impression that God will not hear us if we are in the grip of sinful desires. However it is important to note that the phrase “divided heart” is nowhere to be found in scripture – and that coming to God in time of Temptation and struggle is never prohibited. And although James does say that the double minded man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:8) – this is referring to our willingness to ask for and receive wisdom – and not to a person wrestling with strong desires. In fact, David displays tremendous confidence and freedom as he tells God about his struggle with sinful desires. David expects to be heard and responded to favorably.
And this worship Psalm is an encouragement to us – in the moment of temptation – not to wait until we are in a better place – not to wait until our desires are resolved – but to come freely and confidently to God with honesty about our desires, fears, struggles – as we are and not as we think we ought to be.
ASK GOD TO BREAK THE SPELL OF TEMPTATION.
Come Asking God to Step in and Disrupt the Direction of Your Desires: “Let a righteous man strike me – it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.” David is asking to be slapped in the face in the midst of these desires – as a way of stopping him in his tracks – disrupting the direction of his thoughts – the flow of his words. He is asking God to send someone to rebuke him – to humble him. This sounds like what Paul says in 1 Cor.10:13, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it”.
In the moment of temptation, regardless of what we are feeling, we can ask God to – metaphorically, or literally – slap us in the face – to break the spell of temptation. This is, as David says, like “oil on [our] head” – or like the blessing and presence of the Spirit of God. In fact, says David, I am prepared to welcome it.
FIX YOUR EYES ON WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING.
Step Back and Look at the Community of Ruin: “Yet my prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers; their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken. They will say, ‘As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”
There is a subtle shift here. David’s focus shifts from his own struggle to the community of those who have given themselves to follow the sinful desires which he himself is wrestling with. In a sense, David steps back from his own struggle and looks at what following that desire has produced in the lives of the disobedient: death, ruin, shame.
There was nothing more dishonorable in the ancient world than for the bodies of the dead to be left unburied. David describes the effect of sin on those who practice it. Those who are rulers among evildoers will be thrown off cliffs – the bones of evil doers will be scattered around the mouth of the grave. This is a shocking picture of the destructive effects of sin on a life. Even as he struggles with sinful desires David recognizes the ruin that sin causes – (the meaninglessness of a life spent in laziness and sloth – the dysfunction and isolation of a life devoted to overwork – the ruin caused in relationships by gossip and malice – the shame resulting in a life given to lust and unfaithfulness – the isolation of a life given to anger) – these are the dead things scattered around lives that become like graves.
What help is this? Our tendency is to say of sin: this is temporary, not that important, I need this, I have the right to do this. David is counteracting these tendencies by describing sin as ruin – dead things – bones scattered around the grave – horrible, dishonorable – that which he is set against at his core. He is looking at the reality and the result of sinful desires. They lead to death. To give himself to evil desires is to join with those who do evil – David is repulsed by this idea.
Fix Your Eyes on God Who Cares for You: “But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge – do not give me over to death.” In contrast, David fixes his eyes on God in a very specific way – which is revealed by the title he uses for God – “Sovereign Lord”.
David is tempted to go along with sinful men – to do what they are doing – to say what they are saying. But, he says, I am fixing my eyes on the fact that you, God, are my king, and that you are able to bring about your plan in my life. You are able to satisfy my soul and my desires. I am fixing my eyes on the fact that you do not bless me through my disobedience, but rather, as I trust in you. So I am going to wait and take refuge in you – “do not give me over to death” – or don’t let me follow these desires towards death.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus: “… let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Heb.12:1-2
What helps us with the entangling desires of sin? The fact that we can ask God to help us in the knowledge that he has awakened faith in us and that he is the one who is bringing us to completeness. God is with us in temptation – he is for us, as Romans 8:31 says, and he has put his Spirit in us (Eph.1:13-14). What helps us is fixing our eyes on the fact that we can turn to Jesus, in whatever state we are, and that he will always offer us mercy, love and help.