“This Time I Will Praise the Lord!”
10 April 2005 sermon
Texts: Genesis 29:31-39; Proverbs 13:12, 2 Cor. 5:1-15 & John 4:27-34
This sermon grows out of my devotional life. While it is not of my own making, the emphasis last week was on several godly men--some fictional and some scriptural. This week I want to high light one godly, scriptural woman: Leah, the first wife of Jacob. Leah had several obstacles in her life, things that stood in the way of her becoming the godly woman that she eventually became. Firstly, although it sounds so unspiritual, we have physical beauty. Leah was not “the looker” that her sister Rachael was. Rachael had it all in comparison to Leah--and both sisters knew it. Leah is described variously as weak-eyed, delicate and cow-eyed; she did not posses the vivacity of Rachael, the wild beauty of eyes, gorgeous hair, lovely face and shapeliness. Assuredly Rachael had her own desperations. We recall that she was the one who stole her father’s fertility gods and lied to hide them from her father. Also Rachael was barren as the baby wars began with her elder sister. Perhaps she hoped that these idols would heal her infertility. Both of these daughters were locked in a fierce competition for the singular, exclusive approval of their husband--striving to outdo each other in reproductive activity. This is a strong argument for monogamous union. Each wanted to be more favored than the other, each sought the fulfillment of her heart’s desire in a man. This is a very injurious thing to all involved. So Leah’s second obstacle was her man-pleasing obsession, something that went way beyond simply pleasing, or serving her husband. Leah really wanted her husband’s; but the more she strove to win it from Rachael, the less attractive she became as a person. Isn’t that the way? I can certainly relate to wanting the approval of others. I can also relate to looking for affirmation from those least likely to grant it and doggedly beating myself up in the process.
Our text tells us that three times through three pregnancies (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) Leah conceived in hopes of winning her husband’s love and attachment but it did not happen at that time. Twice we are told that the Lord gave her children out of compassion for her plight. She was married to a man who did not love her and all the while God is tenderly wooing her to Himself through her marital difficulties. It is the case that some of marital difficulty is all about what God desires for the man, or the woman and not something that needs to be fixed in the other person--all relational health begins with our relationship with God. Indeed, I would maintain that Jacob was really confused about the nature of love between God and man as well as man and woman. So, prior to God’s getting a hold of him, he couldn’t fulfill the desire of Leah’s heart even if he had wanted to. What we see in Jacob’s life are the tragic outcomes of lust and also of playing favorites--first with his wives and then with his children. But, focusing in on Leah, something changes between Leah’s third and fourth conception. She becomes a worshipper of God. We see evidence for this even in the name Judah which means “Praise.” (Gen. 29:35) In brief, Leah seems to have mastered the lesson of how to obtain peace in this life: turn to God. Secondly, in the words of Leah, “This time I will praise the Lord,” we observe a real change of heart. “This time” means, I suggest, “now” as contrasted to other, or previous times. As a result, Leah gradually becomes winsome to her husband. Her inner beauty, her devotion to God becomes an inner light shining forth, outshines her plainness to such a degree that when she dies, she is the one placed in the burial plot of ancestral honor, not Rachael. In God’s time, Leah attained the desire of her heart which was her husband’s honor, love and attachment--it was at that time.
When Leah realized that knowing and enjoying God (the heart of our worship) was to be the central passion of her life, she was set free to become the whole woman God wanted her to be. And we now find ourselves in the vicinity of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, Chapter 3, “Boasting Only in the Cross.” That’s the chapter in which John puts before us the vision of “living life by a single God-exalting, soul-satisfying passion.” (p. 43) Life can have a singleness of purpose, can be lived with all your heart (Matt.22:37). There is something out there that is deep enough, big enough and strong enough to hold our entire lives together--from washing dishes to praying together. It is all about passionate worship. You, as a person, simply can’t know everything. But we can, as Leah learned, know the one essential thing. And knowing that one essential thing is all it takes to make a lasting difference in life. John points out that for some people simply being liked is enough, simply being admired as a cheerleader, or as a high school football star is as high as they choose to aim. Perhaps one’s goals may extend to “a good job, with a good spouse, and a couple of good kids, a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell“--if you could have all that (even without God)--you think you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life.” (p. 45) I agree with that. Leah would agree. John proceeds to exult in the sacrificial lives of Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards who died in a car crash in Cameroon, West Africa in recent memory--two lives spent in “unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ.” This two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to lives spent on trifles; both ladies were near, or in their eighties. Their lives were not wasted, squandered, or lost; John exults, they were glorious lives, and even glorious deaths.
I also did not have Louie Giglio in my life. The man famous to some for his “268 Declaration,” a declaration based on Isaiah 26:8--Indeed, while following the way of Thy judgments, O LORD, We have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls. John quotes the first statement of the 268 Declaration: “Because I was created by God and for His glory, I will magnify Him as I respond to His great love. My desire is to make knowing and enjoying God the passionate pursuit of my life.” (p.47) I know that this is a review for most of you, but it is worth repeating nonetheless. Here is a vision of life worth pursuing--it is better than a winning sports season, professional success or even an orgy on spring break! Our EWBC purpose statement reads “that all may know, love and worship God.” This is not very close to the mission of Bethlehem Baptist Church, John‘s ministry: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” (And that is one reason why I shared John’s book with the church--we need the Christ focus of Bethlehem Baptist, and we need to know passionately why we exist as Easy Winthrop Baptist Church.) I agree with John that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (p. 49) Again, that is what Leah gleaned from her life experience--we should learn from her! I desire a God glorifying fellowship of believers here.
This message has been incubating in me for some weeks now. Throughout Easter, I prayed this prayer: “By Your grace You have poured love into the hearts of the faithful. Grant us health of mind and body so that we may love Thee entirely, with gladsome hearts.” Then I meditated on Psalm 46. “We shall not fear though the earth be removed. God is our refuge and our strength. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, she will not be moved.” Because she will not be moved, we shall not be moved! “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, in the earth!” Amen. See the strands connecting? We shall love Thee entirely, with gladsome hearts. . .there is a river whose streams make glad. . .for the joy of all peoples! Yet I can admit that God is my chief desire. I can declare that He is Lord of my heart, mind and soul, that God knows me through and through in one breath. And, then, in the next breath, I can be selling out. I persistently expect happiness to come to me outside of God. I am too frequently reducing my chief relationship (to God, my Creator and Savior) to the same status as every other relationship. I find myself looking for approval, popularity respect, acceptance and acclaim--I exchangel the pleasures of knowing and enjoying my God for the pottage of worldly things: power, prestige and sensual pleasure. That’s why I pray for health of mind, soul and body! That’s why I find myself in a state of perpetual repentance. I find myself so fickle. No wonder full surrender is so difficult for me. Who will deliver me from this body of death? Yes, thanks be to God for Jesus Christ. Through Him I can learn to cease reforming what needs to be crucified!
There is a process we go through on the way to becoming either more yielded, or yielded again. Paul sets it forth for us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-14. If our earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, eternal, in the heavenlies. We groan to be clothed in that body, that building from God. We groan to be robed in eternity, attired in true life, real life-the life that Jesus gives. I am so encouraged because God is preparing us for this day by day--it was baby by baby for Leah, for me the process is somewhat less traumatic at times. There are, in everyone’s life, seasons of preparation, the inner nurture of life, a spiritual pregnancy when God is preparing to birth something in us, through us. These are times of great vulnerability. The enemy knows that. The enemy senses that growth is imminent, change is in the air and the enemy exploits that moment to bring distraction, derailment and disarray. But, praise God, this is God’s process we are going through; He is perfecting us regardless of opposition troubling.
Therefore, Paul reminds us that to be at home in this body is to be is some real sense absent from the Lord. That is why we are challenged to walk by faith, and not by sight. If our aim it to be well-pleasing to Him--even though we shall all be judged for good and for ill--we shall turn out right. For it is the love of Christ that compels us forward--propels us towards our destiny, pushing us through to our calling. There is also comfort in another passage: 2 Cor. 4. In verse 6 we read that God has commanded light to shine out of darkness--or so it was in the beginning. A similar process unfolds now: light out of our fleshliness, out of our sin-riddled and darkest impulses, God causes “light” to shine because He has first shone the light in our hearts. And what is that light? It is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Again, the excellence of the power is of God, not of us. (v.7) We are hard-pressed, not crushed; perplexed perhaps, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken. The dross is being moved out, the purification proceeds all to the manifestation of life. . .that is, the resurrection life of Jesus Christ is birthed in us--even as I speak.
We are in a resurrection process--both the dying and the rising of Christ appear to occur simultaneously--so that grace may cause thanksgiving to abound to the fullest glory of God. Thanksgiving bathed in joy, issuing from a gladsome heart. Honor and glory. The process that we go through is one of renewal, the inner and unseen man altered day by day. Afflictions come to try us, to test and prove us. . .to work in us what Paul wonderfully calls “an eternal weight of glory.” He seizes the unseen eternal and lays it before us as a prize, as something substantial, weighty. In His time, we shall discover that we do actually matter after all--that our choices are ultimately significant. And that is precisely why we are not to fixate on the temporal: what people think, what people say, or even what they presume to own in spite of the fact that all our possessions are both fleeting and held in momentary trust. We are dust: what we think is dust, our bodies are dust, what we bequeath, materially, is dust. Antiques and heirlooms, all dust! And yet into this finally profound insignificance, God has infused something of His love, truth, light and glory-- His weight, His image in us. He has chosen, for the glory of His Name, to be named by us, to be worshipped by us in spirit and in truth. Oh, yes, we do hold these treasures in earthen vessels, but they are treasures in the end! The desire to know and to enjoy God, our one, singular and passionate pursuit, our life is ultimately all that matters, but it does finally matter.