PENTECOST 12, A – August 31, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 37; Jer. 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

 

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4) Now, this is a Bible verse to memorize! It is oh so much more upbeat than Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Deny yourself? Not at all. Just be happy in God and you won’t be denied! You’ll get what you desire! Now, that’s for me!!

 

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Man, that sounds good! After all, desire defines our lives.

  • Before we can speak we desire. We loudly cry out for food and attention.

  • When we learn to speak, some of our first words are words of desire: “Mine!” “Gimme!”

  • We desire the window seat in the car and the best seat in front of the TV – which should be tuned to the program we desire.

  • We desire fun classes at school – and no homework!

  • We desire jobs which we enjoy, which pay well, and which give plenty of vacation days.

  • We desire a spouse who is attractive, interesting, and hard working – and who is attentive to our desires.

  • We desire a long retirement, and good health so that we can enjoy it.

  • We desire that God hear our prayers and answer them as we desire. We desire that He help us in our every need – which we desire not be too great.

  • We desire a faith and worship that comforts and assures us and that, especially at times like Christmas and Easter, fills us with joy.

    Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Man, this sounds great. I like this verse!

     

    Too bad it doesn’t mean what we think it means. In fact, it means the opposite of what we think it means. Christianity, you see, is not a religion of desire. Our God is not a God who is pleased to satisfy all of our desires. When you are caught up in your desires, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Desire is the root and source of every sin. This is why Christ spoke as He did to Peter, and why God often does the opposite of what we desire and allows sorrows and sufferings to afflict us. He desires to turn us from our desires, lest we be tools of Satan.

     

    Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. What does this mean? It means that if you delight yourself in the Lord – if you love Him, want to know Him and follow Him better, and so desire to listen to what He tells you in His Word, the Bible; if you learn His words, take them to heart, and strive to follow them, and so follow Christ – then God will give you the desires of your heart. In other words, He will put into your heart the desires you should have; His desires, desires that look outward, to others and their needs, and not inward to what you want. God will change you, will mold you into Christ’s image and likeness.

     

    Can this really be? Can our hearts – so filled with selfish desires that even the best among us, such as the great apostle Peter, can become a tool of Satan and be rebuked by Jesus as Satan – truly be changed and made, not simply tools of Christ, but reflections of Christ? I’d like to read to you from an essay written by a man named Jacob DeShazer:

    I was a prisoner of Japan for forty long months, thirty-four of them in solitary confinement.

         When I flew as a member of General Jimmy Doolittle’s squadron on the first raid over Japan on April 18th, 1942, my heart was filled with bitter hatred for the people of that nation. When our plane ran out of gas, and the members of the crew of my plane had to parachute down into Japanese-held territory in China and were captured, the bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.

         Taken to Tokyo, we were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies… were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture, and about fourteen months later another of them, Bob Meder, died of slow starvation. My hatred for the Japanese people nearly drove me crazy.

         It was soon after Meder’s death that I began to ponder the cause of such hatred between members of the human race… My thoughts turned toward what I had heard about Christianity changing hatred between human beings into real brotherly love, and I was gripped with a strange longing to examine the Christians’ Bible to see if  could find the secret. I begged my captors to get a Bible for me. At last, in the month of May, 1944, a guard brought the Book…

         I eagerly began to read its pages. Chapter after chapter gripped my heart… On June 8, 1944 the words of Romans 10:9 stood out boldly before my eyes: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” That very moment, God gave me grace to confess my sins to Him and He forgave all my sins and saved me for Jesus’ sake… [S]uddenly I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes, and that when I looked at the Japanese officers and guards who had starved and beaten me and my companions so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity. (The First Heroes, Craig Nelsen, p. 343-344)

    After the war DeShazer studied to become a Pastor, and in 1948 he went to Japan as a missionary. His essay was printed in pamphlet form and millions of copies were distributed in Japan. In October 1948 a Buddhist farmer named Fuchida Mitsuo read it and was prompted to get a copy of the New Testament. After reading of how Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he found himself barely able to breathe. “It was like having the sun come up,” he said. And this Buddhist farmer, this man who in 1941 had been an airplane pilot on an aircraft carrier and had led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, became a Christian.  Two years later he met Jacob DeShazer, and together they spoke to the people of Japan of God’s love in Christ.

     

    Will God do such great things with your life? Delight yourself in the Lord, and He most certainly will do great things with you! Every turning from your own sinful desires to Christ’s ways and every good and useful thing that you do in Christ is great, for it is Christ Himself working in you, His desires coming forth from you. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,” says Psalm 37. Christ’s righteous actions done by us are great, whether they are preaching about Jesus to crowds of people or simply giving a cup of cold water to a child who believes in Him. On the Day when the Son of Man comes with his angels in the glory of his Father and repays each person according to what he has done, He will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

     

    Delight yourself in the Lord Jesus, then. Learn God’s desires for you as a husband or wife; as a parent or child; as an employee; as a friend or neighbor; as a parishioner. Rejoice in all Jesus did for you and others. Hold Christ and His teachings in your heart, and let them guide your life. He will put His holy desires in your heart. Your life will be blessed, and a blessing, forever!