Reorient Your Map
So, we have this thing today called the Global Positioning System (GPS). Have you ever thought of what would happen if the satellites that make your GPS work suddenly fell out of orbit and burned up in the earth’s atmosphere? Would you be able to grab a map, read it, and get from A to B?
All of the markings on a map are useful pieces of information. And if you want to use a map, you’ve got to be able to read it. You’ve go to be able to orient the map and follow it. Otherwise you’ll turn left, when you should go right. You’ll end up in Frankenstein, Missouri, when you should be in Florence, Kentucky.
I think Psalm 128, out psalm today, helps to reorient the map. It turns this thing that we call life around and lines it up with the compass, so we can make the journey and reach the destination the Father’s desires for us.
The Father knows where we are. The Father has put within us a desire for home—that’s the great ascent, ya know. The “great ascent” is the homecoming of the Father’s people; their rescue; their salvation; their arrival at the place the Father has for them. It’s an arrival at spiritual place, a relational reality, far more than a physical place. The great ascent is the upward journey of our soul.
Now, we’re not making a trek to Jerusalem three times a year. We’re not experiencing physical captivity under an oppressive overlord. Nevertheless, we do know the bondage of sin and the oppression of our Adversary. And so, like the Israelites, we’re making the great ascent, we’re upward bound. We’re being called home to the Father’s house, to be with the Father’s people, who have been rescued by the Father’s Son. And thinking about that destination is what today’s psalm is doing.
I think the psalm says to us: “Folks, turn the map, orient your life so it points at the destination. Get the destination in the front window.”
In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he spoke about his experience on this great journey, saying…
“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:16–18).
Did you know that Paul was imprisoned frequently, flogged severely, suffered exposure, was beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked at sea, endangered by rivers, bandits, and Jews and Gentiles alike. He often went without food, water, or sleep, and daily the fate of the churches weighed on his heart (2 Cor 11:21–29)? And yet he’s saying, “It’s a light momentary affliction”—what, is he nuts!?
Where’s the strength and fortitude and hope coming from that would consider all of those trials as “light”? It was coming from his orientation: his eyes were fixed on the destination, fixed on what was unseen and eternal, not what was seen and transient.
This is the wisdom of Psalm 128 holds out to us, saying: “Reorient Your Map.” Let’s look at the psalm now.
Psalm 128, ESV
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
Where Is the Blessing Felt
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus has a series of sayings in which says: “Blessed are the … X, Y, Z.” Now, in saying those things, Jesus isn’t saying, “When you do ‘X’, you’ll get back a blessing of ‘Y’. Scholars call these sayings the beatitudes. The key is that they’re “BE”-attitudes; Jesus is teaching about “being.” In other words, he’s teaching, “When you’re like this, you’re blessed; you’re happy; you’re in a good frame of mind; you’re not plagued by guilt or shame because you’re mirroring God’s own heart.” “Blessed/Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
The first 2/3rds of the psalm is an extended beatitude. Happiness—and this doesn’t mean smiling with a stupid grin, painting the difficulties around you with rainbow colors—but such happiness, such blessedness, is a well of living water deep below those deserts of difficulty. It’s not a happiness that changes with the wind.
Do you have a happiness, a blessedness like that?
Have you have those moments when when you are deeply aware—and maybe it’s even difficult to speak of, because doing so would just feel too vulnerable, to transparent—you’re deeply aware of a profound blessing?
Maybe things are strained at present with a parent or a sibling, but when you are still, you realize how blessed you are that they’re yours.
Maybe you have a friend whose steady as a rock; through thick and thin, they’ve never abandoned you. When you’re still you realize how blessed you are that they’re yours.
Maybe you’ve got kids who drive you bonkers, but when you’re still you realize how deep you love for them runs, you realize how blessed you are that they’re yours.
Our psalm says the same thing in verse 1 and 4: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord…” When you see that in Hebrew poetry, you have to look at what’s being embraced by those two big arms. What’s getting hugged in verses 2 and 3 is life.
Check this out: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table” (Psa 128:2–3).
That’s the stuff of normal life, isn’t it? Work and family. Those two things, plus sleep, make up 90% of your waking hours, 90% of your energy, 90% of your worrying—THAT’S WHERE THE BLESSING IS FELT!
Now, this psalms might seem to be in contrast to the psalm we looked at last week.
If you were here last week, you might recall that our psalm talked about the life not being meaningless—even when things aren’t going successfully—because God is accomplishing with us what he intends. And yet, this psalm seems to be talking about the fruitfulness of life, things thriving: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed” (Psa 128:2).
Well, last week we got perspective on the whole. And this week we get a lesson on how deep, profound happiness comes. Yes, it’s possible your bank account is blessed, your job is blessed, your relationships are blessed, that all of that is thriving, that there is a blossoming and a blooming occurring.
There’s a simple principle that leads to all of that. But before I tell it to you, you’ve got to understand that the Bible isn’t setting forth a quid pro quo scenario. It’s not saying, “Hey, if you’d only obey God, then you’d be widely successful.” That kind of message is the “prosperity gospel,” which is an abomination. I don’t have anything kind to say about it.
Where Is the Blessing Found
But I’m sure you want to know about the blooming and the blessedness—I do too—so I’ll now tell you…
… Where do you find happiness? How do you find the fruitful life? Well, look at those big arms that hold life, verses 1 and 4: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord … thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” How do you avoid an empty life? By fearing the Lord.
I guess that answer raises a questions: What is “fear of the Lord”? It’s not a terror and dread. It’s a reverence and respect. It’s seeking God and God’s ways. It’s yielding to God, putting him first in your life. Again, It’s not about being terrorized.
It’s very possible to sit here today and say, “Yup, God is No. 1” But this is a functional thing; it’s not a head thing, you merely give cognitive agreement to. It’s a functional thing. How do you know if you’re fearing the Lord? How do you know if your attitude towards God is right? When you trust God enough to walk in his ways, even when you can’t see the outcome, you’ll know.
During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln met with a group of pastors for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln wasn’t a church-goer but was a man of deep faith. At one point one of the pastors said, “Mr President, Let us pray that God is on our side.” Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”
Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion isn’t a tool by which we get God to do what we want. It’s an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.
That’s the challenge, isn’t it?
Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Fear of the Lord, faith, is leaning in, trusting, and then putting into practice what God is teaching us (Phil 4:9). In other words, it’s reorienting your thoughts, decisions, activities, even your questions to him; it’s reorienting your map.
What a challenge!
Most don’t want any part of that. Most want want everything to be oriented around themselves, their conscience, their wisdom, their traditions, their thinking. Yielding is a challenge. In fact, we never yield to anything we don’t trust.
A lady once inquired of a missionary from China who she boarded in her home during a conference. One night she asked him at dinner, “Why am I not happy?”
“Have you yielded all,” he quietly asked.
“Yes, as far as I know, I’ve yielded everything,” she responded.
“Are you sure?” the missionary insisted, “that your everything is on the altar?”
“My everything is on the altar,” she answered.
“And you are willing for God to take your little girl and send her to China?” The missionary asked, placing his hand on the young girl’s head.
“God take my daughter and make her a missionary in China!? … I should say not. I want her with me!”
“You tell me that you have yielded all, yet you haven’t even given you own child to God. How do you expect to experience his peace and joy and blessing? You stand as it were between God and his will for your daughter, saying, ‘This far and no farther. You can have me, my home, my money, my time, but don’t touch my kid.’ Ma’am do you call that yielding?”
… it’s a challenge to me too.
My heart is pulled towards worldly success, such that I’m depressed when it doesn’t come. To have my map reoriented to God himself … that’s a challenge.
I recall something C.S. Lewis wrote:
The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.
The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.
It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?
Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made.
. . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first. (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 280).
Somewhere in our hearts their is a little GPS system that is directing us, it’s our default mode, it’s our autopilot. And yet, so often where it is taking us is to second things, not first things. “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy” (C.S. Lewis, Letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, 1951)
It was the prophet Isaiah who said: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isa 53:6).
He was right. But I’m thankfully he didn’t stop there. The verse goes on: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6).
Who is it that is object here, who’s bearing the weight? Isaiah is foretelling of the suffering servant, the Lord Jesus. Our orientation towards second things, in whichever way that applies to you, that was laid on Jesus. That’s what this coming week, Holy Week, is all about.
But I don’t want you to go away today depressed. I want you to really get this…
Guilt alerts us to threat. …We’re afraid. And that emotion of fear leads us into all sorts of hostile acts in response. But the one we’re afraid of most is God. This is why Adam hid in the garden. It’s why we hide or reveal ourselves only selectively, wearing masks. God is no longer reliably for us. He’s a threat.
But what does it mean that Jesus bore our sin on Calvary? Forgiveness, yes, but if we look deeper beneath Jesus’s substitutionary atonement, we’ll see that it works to reinstate safety. The Father is, in fact, not mad at us—he never was. We don’t need to fear God, fleeing him as though he was Freddy Krueger out to get everyone who ever ignored or rejected or hurt him.
So… if Jesus reveals the Father’s heart, if Jesus ensures that Father is safe, then the Father can be trusted, and loved, and revered, and respected, and cherished, and feared. When you see God in the light of Jesus, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), your heart reorients and you begin to move towards him—the destination.
Hear C.S. Lewis once again:
“To love you as I should, I must worship God as Creator. When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”
That’s fruitfulness. That’s the blessedness the psalm is getting at.
Where Is the Blessing From
And All of this is captured at the end of the psalm, the benediction.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
Blessing from Zion. Blessing from the Father’s house.
It was King David who really made Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He brought the Ark of the Covenant there; he planned for the temple to be built there; he built the place there. David lived in Jerusalem. Yet and the end of his famous psalm, Psalm 23, he says: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psa 23:6).
“Forever”… that’s David looking to a heavenly Zion. He lives in the earthly Jerusalem, but he’s looking to the heavenly Jerusalem, that Zion that Jesus spoke of: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). That’s really where David wanted to be.
“May the Lord bless you from ZION” … that is, from the Father’s house; from the place Jesus ascended to after his Holy Week tribulations; from the place Jesus prays for us from; from the place Jesus is enthroned as the lamb upon the thrown.
What does all of this mean? It means the blessedness that comes in the NOW, as we are oriented to the destination, is a foretaste. It’s a little bit of heaven breaking into your life.
May your map be reoriented in the hearing of this psalm. And may this psalm be a promise to you: As you live with the Lord as your Lord, you’ll taste a little bit of heaven.