Today we are starting a new series entitled the Vertical Habits that will take us until Lent. Simply stated: Vertical Habits are a way of describing the various ways Christians relate to God. They are relational words, much like the words and phrases we teach our children as they are growing up in order to aid their maturity in this life. So just as we teach a child to say “Help me, please” so also the vertical habit that relates to this is “intercession.” Or when our children ask “Why?” So too Christians can engage in “lamentation.” Or when we teach our kids to say “Thank you” after receiving something, so also as Christians we need to be engaged in “Thanksgiving.”
This may be a new thought to many of you, but each of the various parts of a worship service is really a miniaturizing of our daily life with God. Our corporate worship is meant to reflect those things we do as individuals and our individual life is meant to reflect what we, as a corporate body are led into by the Spirit of God. So over the next 8 weeks we are going to use some very simple elementary phrases to help each of us, young or old, new to the faith or quite mature, to grow and strengthen our personal relationship with God the Father.
Today’s phrase is “I love you!” Just like each of us were taught to say “I Love You!” by parents or caregivers as a way of expressing our deep connection, our appreciation and our earnest desire to continue in an ever deepening relationship with them, so also worship, or praise, or adoration is the way we say “I love you, God.” Declaring love for someone is an intensely personal thing. What I mean is that no one else can say, “I love you” in your place. Imagine a man going up to your wife and saying, “your husband says he loves you.” How would you feel as a woman? Or what if the shoe was reversed, husbands, how sincere would you feel if Sally walked up and said, “Jane loves you.” Or kids, if a parent never told you they loved you but just relied on the other kids in the home to make sure you knew that they loved you – would you like it? Would you believe that they loved you?
The declaration of love must come from the individual who is making it, and the same is true of worship. Worship is the Christian way of declaring: “I am crazy for you God. You make my heart skip a beat. You make me have those fuzzy feelings. You complete me and fill in my gaps. I need you! I want to grow to understand you more each day.” Adoration, praise, or worship is to God, the same way “I love you” is to a spouse, our parents, our kids, and those who are closest and dearest to our hearts.
But there are some differences between human love and worship of God. While it is possible for you and I to love many people, our declaration of love to God, in the form of adoration, praise and worship must be singular. There is no one else to whom a Christian should render praise. God alone is worthy of praise as Exodus 15:11 declares, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Another way of translating awesome in glory would be to say worthy of praise or I love you God!
Another difference between human love and worship of God is the reasons why we love people versus the reasons why we love God. As children we are taught to love others because of who they are not what they do. As Christians we are taught to declare our love to God both because of who he is and what he does.
What is it that God does? According to verse 2, God does great works, verse 3 tells us they are glorious and majestic deeds and verse 4 tells us they are wonders to be remembered. In fact as we go through this psalm we find that God’s works are described in many colorfully adjectival ways. His deeds are a delight to all who ponder them (v2); they are equated with his righteousness (v3), his grace and compassion (v4); they are powerful (v6), faithful, just, and trustworthy (v7), steadfast, upright (v8), and redeeming (v9). Because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, many of those second lines in each verse is a further elaboration, or description of the main thought – that God’s works are Great.
We know how the psalmist feels about the works but what exactly are the things God has done for his people which cause them to say I love you, Lord? The first concrete action described is God’s provision of food for those who fear him (v5), and the second is his giving (Israel) the lands of other nations (v6). These two items refer to the great exodus from Egypt, the manna in the desert and the entrance into the Promised Land. If we recall Exodus 16:4, God tells Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.” And in Joshua 1:2-5 the Lord declares, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about you give to them- to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. You territory will extend from the desert of Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.”
And that is exactly what God did, first he conquered Jericho for the Israelites, then he conquered Ai and the other cities of the south causing the sun to stand still at one point (Joshua 10), a day that is described as unlike any before or since (Josh 10:14). And finally God defeated the northern cities for Israel and allowed King David to rule over the nation. These are the reasons the Psalmist declares for saying I love you Lord.
As believers we too can declare our love for God for His acts of redemption in our past. We know that God’s redemption story in the Exodus was but a foreshadowing of the great redemption story, which his Son was going to bring about. Many times in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Savior. But Titus 2:13-14 tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is our redeemer: Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Galatians 4:3-7 carries this same concept of slavery and redemption as well, “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
The great redemption story of the Scriptures is not that we have come out of Egypt but that God has saved his people from their sins by the body and blood of Christ; he has fed them, remembering his covenant to be their God and to have them be his people. This is the great, glorious, majestic, gracious and compassionate work of God that is to be remembered. This is why we say, I love you Lord for you have redeemed us from sin and death.
But aside from what God has done for us, we also say I love you Lord, because of who he is. God is righteous – just in his dealings with every creature. He punishes sins, he never errs, and he makes sure that all are treated fairly. He is enduring, forever and ever. He has no limit, and no end. He is greater than all we can imagine. He is gracious and compassionate. He feels our pain, understands our situation and purposes to act on our behalf. (1Cor. 10:13) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (Heb. 4:15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.
And if his works are faithful, just, trustworthy, steadfast, and upright, then He himself must be the embodiment of these very characteristics. It is no wonder that the psalmist declares, holy and awesome is his name (v9). Exodus 15:11 says it this way, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” We say, I love you lord, not only because of what he does for us, but because of who he is. There is nothing else in heaven or on earth that can compare with the Lord.
Psa. 89:5-8 The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
Psa. 45:6-7 Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
Since we have gotten a little Theology about God and his actions, let me ask: How and where are we to tell God we love him? The answer to the how of saying I love you is with our whole heart (v1). Jesus affirmed that the greatest commandment was about saying I love you Lord. (Matt. 22:37) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
We are called to love God with everything in us. All our psychological faculties, all our emotional faculties, all our spiritual faculties, all that is in us needs to say I love you, just as our spouses and family are not content with strictly a mental ascent of being loved but they want to experience our love tangibly and concretely with all the emotion and passion that exists in us, so also God wants all our person, passion and desire to say I LOVE YOU LORD!
We say it with our words. We say it by our songs. We say it by our thoughts and we say it by our actions. He wants it all – all of us, all the time, everywhere we are. This is praise. This is what verse 1 is saying, “I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.” There is a lot of scholarly debate about what the council of the upright and the assembly means, but I am going to side with those scholars from the past who understood it as a euphemism to mean “publicly and privately. We are to love God inside the church and outside, in our families and in community, in the secular and in the religious.” In short, we are to love God everywhere we find ourselves. We are to speak our love aloud in all situations like a newly married couple that can’t stop telling everyone about their love for one another.
We are to love God always and eternally, never ceasing. As v.10 declares, to him belongs eternal praise or eternal I love yous. So let me ask a few more questions before we come to the communion table this morning? Do you love God? Are you saying I love you in the mornings when you awaken by singing praise? Are you saying I love you in your family as you worship together through family devotions and prayers? Are you saying I love you in your work, doing all for the glory of God? Are you saying I love you because of who God is and what he has done for you?
As we come to the table today, let this be one of the ways you say, “I love you Lord” for he is certainly saying I love you [insert a number of people’s names here] when he declares “this is my body” (Matt 26:26c) and “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).