Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fighting the Fear of Man: Psalm, Anti-Psalm, and Sermon

Most who know me are painfully aware that one of my primary sin-struggles is fearing man rather than fearing God. In this matter I am not who I ought to be. But, by God's grace I can say that I'm not who I once was. I can see God rooting this sin out of my heart and life day-by-day in his faithfulness. Sometimes his faithful love in this regard is painful: "no discipline is pleasant at the time, but only painful". But he is always faithful. As my Saturday progressed I was blessed from three different angles on this very issue. One was in a Psalm, one an anti-Psalm, and one a sermon. Read on to see what I mean.

This morning in my devotions I meditated on Psalm 128 and was deeply encouraged by witnessing the fruit of fearing God. The short Psalm reads as follows:

1 A Song of Ascents. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
6 May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!

It's plain from the Psalm that fearing Yahweh and obeying him (i.e. walking in all his ways) are inseparably linked (v. 1). Then, in verses 2-6 the covenant blessings for covenant obedience are gloried in. The clear call in this wisdom Psalm is to join the Psalmist in this area of obedience. . .and enjoy the blessings that will be yours.

As I reflected I thought about changing a few words around. I first encountered the idea of an anti-Psalm in David Powlison's very helpful booklet on stress. In it, Powlison rewrote Psalm 131 by stating its opposite. Instead of having a calmed soul, his anti-Psalm had a typical worrier with an anxious soul. In light of the fact that Psalm 128 lists covenant blessings from Deuteronomy for the one who fears Yahweh, I thought it appropriate to rewrite it, from the perspective of one who fears man. Then, I'd replace the covenant blessings with their opposties - in the vein of the covenant curses of Deuteronomy. Here is my imperfect anti-Psalm:

Cursed is the one who fears man, who rejects God's ways!
Others will eat the fruit of his hard work; you are cursed, it will go poorly with you.
Your wife will be barren; your children will be few.
Behold, thus shall the man be cursed who fears other men.
Yahweh curse you from Zion!
May you see the destruction of false professors all the days of your life.
May you never see your children's children.
Burdens be upon false professors.

Of course, we worship a gracious God and if a person is in Christ, he is always accepted in the beloved. But the anti-Psalm explicitly shows what the logical end would be for a man who carried his sin of the fear of man to its logical end (if you know what I mean). If every sin has the goal of sending a man to hell, then this anti-Psalm expounds what life would be like for the man who ran headlong into the fear of man, failing to repent and cling to Christ in his sin.

Later in the day I cut the lawn. Often as I do menial tasks such as this I listen to a sermon. This morning I listened to my good friend Ryan Fullerton preach a sermon entitled, 'fighting the fear of man' from Galatians 1:10. It was not only the best sermon I've heard on the topic; it was among the best sermons I've ever heard. You can download it here. Ryan and I were roommates in 1999, and he mentored me over the phone for the following few years. We've remained friends, even though we are both really busy with our respective families and pastoral callings. But I always love to listen to his preaching. He is always interesting, insightful, and he preaches to the heart. He is penetrating with his application. He challenges, encourages, and always points the hearer to the cross. Such was the case in a special way with this sermon. I commend it to you, the blogosphere!

So that is a bit of a summary of how God has been shaping me with his word today. I pray these same things are a blessing to many!

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