Tim Phillips

Whole-Hearted Devotion

Whole-hearted worship of God is more than a pouring forth of emotions. The state of our heart-condition is often shown when we are outside our weekly gatherings for worship. Psalm 26 (also a psalm of David) begins with the following words: “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.” This is another way in which whole-hearted devotion is shown. Dale Ralph Davis, in his excellent little booklet on the Psalms entitled In the Presence of My Enemies, notes that David’s hope of vindication (i.e., being shown to be in the right and cleared of accusations of wrong-doing by his enemies) is because of “both his lifestyle (‘I have walked in my whole-heartedness’) and his faith (‘in Yahweh [emphatic] I have trusted’).” 

I recently began preaching through Psalm 138 for the month of November. It’s a psalm of thanksgiving, and it seems appropriate to be reminded of that topic during this time of year. It’s a psalm of David (the first psalm of the last collection of Psalms of David found in the Psalter), but it’s also probably an overlooked psalm, partly because it is located between two better-known psalms. Psalm 137 looks forward to deliverance from cruel enemies, while Psalm 139 celebrates the life-giving, every-present Lord (by whom we are fearfully and wonderfully made). Psalm 138 is located in-between, but in many ways it celebrates the deliverance from enemies that Psalm 137 anticipates.
David begins Psalm 138 by proclaiming, “I will give thanks to you with my whole heart, O Lord.” Indeed, whole-hearted worship is what we should always strive toward. Deuteronomy 6:5 (the first and great commandment, according to Jesus) is obviously in the background here: “Love the Lord your God with all of heart and all of your soul and all of your might.” We will always fall short of this goal, of this ideal. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1), but because of the Fall and our own personal sin, we fall short of this mark apart from His grace. This is why we need a Savior, Jesus Christ. And what a great reason to give thanks to God with all of our heart!
But this whole-hearted worship of God is more than a pouring forth of emotions. The state of our heart-condition is often shown when we are outside our weekly gatherings for worship.
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Spiritual Scoliosis

We were dead (not just sick, not just dying) in our sins. We were helpless apart from the saving work of Christ. He came not to save the righteous, but to save sinners – even the chief of sinners. So why do we bristle so much at this notion? The short answer is that we probably have more of the world in ourselves than we care to admit. The world resists the simple message of the gospel, and these objections manage to trickle their way into the church, to our shame.

In his book The Gospel-Driven Life, Michael Horton makes this vivid observation:
“Picking up on a phrase from Augustine, the Protestant Reformers said that as fallen sinners we are all ‘curved in on ourselves.’ Born with a severe case of spiritual scoliosis, our spines are twisted so that all we can see are our own immediate felt needs, desires, wants, and momentary gratifications. But the gospel makes us stand erect, looking up to God in faith and out to the world and our neighbors in love and service. Not every piece of news can do that, but the gospel can.”
But do we really believe this? Perhaps the Reformers, et al, have made too much of this. Perhaps we are a little fallen, like wobbly toddlers, but not that fallen. Perhaps we have just enough life to pick ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps and blaze our own spiritual trail unto salvation.
But then, on the other hand, the Apostle Paul makes the following statements:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”(Ephesians 2:1)
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
We were dead (not just sick, not just dying) in our sins.
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Two Ways to Pray

We often long for revival in our churches and in our nation. But such revival must first begin with us — a revival of cool, complacent, apathetic hearts strengthened to a renewed life in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. “I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word” (Psalm 119:107). God revives His people through the ordinary means of His word, but He also does this through the ordinary means of prayer.

What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is — and no more. ~ Robert Murray McCheyne
One of my favorite parables of Jesus is found in Luke 18:9-14 — the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Of course, the parable is a little ruined for us in our day, because Pharisees are automatically considered to be “bad guys” in our thinking (although I guess that’s also true for tax collectors). It would not necessarily have been the case in Jesus’ day, however. The Pharisees were the religious leaders in the synagogues, and they were generally considered to be morally and religiously upstanding individuals (at least until Jesus begins to highlight their hypocrisy). It’s a bit like watching the first three Star Wars movies (that is, Episodes I-III) — because we’ve seen Episodes IV-VI and we know that Anakin Skywalker is going to become Darth Vader, it’s very difficult to watch those movies without expecting him to do something bad eventually. So it is with this Pharisee — we know he’s bad, and we almost expect him to pray a bad prayer. But for Jesus’ audience, that was likely an unexpected twist.
This post has to do with prayer, and in Terry Johnson’s wonderful book on The Parables of Jesus, he cites the brief quote from Robert Murray McCheyne that I posted above: “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is — and no more.” Johnson goes on to elaborate:
What McCheyne meant was that the contend and manner of our prayers reveal our true convictions about God, life, and eternity. Our prayers reveal our theology lex orandi, lex credendi. According to this ancient principle, the “law” of faith is the “law” of prayer. What we (truly) believe is revealed by how we pray. Moreover, our approach to prayer reveals our approach to life. We live as we pray. Our manner of addressing God reveals the theology through which we address the whole of faith and life. We may put it this way: nothing so reveals our true convictions about life and eternity as our prayer life. … Our beliefs directly shape both our prayers and our life. We live as we pray. We pray as we believe. (Terry Johnson, The Parables of Jesus, pp. 111-113)
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