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Knowing God… Psalm 17

September 20, 2011

Knowing God, is not only only a good book by Jim Packer, one which I highly recommend to everyone, but is also the privilege of every Christian. Other people, non-Christians, can know about God, but knowing God personally, is a privilege reserved only for God’s people. God calls on the whole world to know Him personally, but as we’ve seen as we’ve gone through the Psalms, it is only those who realise they’ve rejected Him (Psalm 14) and rely on his mercy and as a result strive to live for Him (Psalm 15), keeping Him as number one in their lives (Psalm 16), that are in a position to know Him personally.

Now as with any relationship, one of the important parts is communication, and today’s Psalm deals with our communication with God through prayer. As we look through our Psalm, we’ll see that the key to prayer, the key to knowing that God will answer our prayers, is in getting to know what God is like, what God’s character is, and in praying in accordance to that character. It’s no use asking someone who hates football to accompany you to a premiership game, or a child asking their loving parent if they can have a razor blade to play with, and it’s no use either asking God for things which are contrary to His character. David in writing this prayer down for us, has given us a great example of how to pray, and as a guy who knew God really well, David includes what he knows in this prayer. As the Apostle John would write in one of his letters:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

Knowing God’s will, begins by knowing what He is like, knowing God’s character and David gives us three characteristics of God, three bits of information, which David holds onto, as He prays through what is clearly a difficult time. Firstly God’s Holiness (v1-6), secondly God’s Love (v7-13) and thirdly God’s Justice (v14-15). Firstly then God’s:

Holiness v1-6

Give ear to my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing;
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

David knows that God loves holiness, that God loves those who always choose right over wrong, those who are perfectly good, who choose going God’s way over going their own way, who choose following God over following the world and thus David, as He begins His prayer, reminds God of his innocence. David says to God, if you like, look God my enemies are sinful people who turn from you, they choose their own evil ways instead of yours, but:

As for the deeds of men— by the word of your lips

by quite simply listening to Your Word:

I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent.
My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

And because of this, says David in verse 6:

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

David claims innocence, David claims that he too is holy, because he has followed God’s word and thus God should hear his prayer. Now David is not daft, he didn’t write Psalm 14, where if you remember, he said ‘No one is good’ and then forget about this just 3 Psalms later. David hasn’t forgotten his own sin, David hasn’t forgotten the many times He has fallen short, no David knows that God has forgiven him and will count Him as blameless, because David trusts in God’s mercy. David doesn’t know how God will do this, but David knows God well enough, that he trusts that God will somehow deal with his sin. But whereas David couldn’t know how God would do this we know for sure, that God takes the punishment on Himself, when Christ dies on the cross, not only for those coming after Him, but for those who trusted God, like David, before Jesus was even born. Christ takes all our guilt, all our sin on Himself, and gives us His clean record. Now the Father looks on all believers, Old Testament and New, as innocent, as holy, giving us the opportunity to pray to Him, and to know Him personally.

Now for those of us who haven’t read the other posts, this doesn’t mean we can do what we like, we need to strive to live like Christ (Psalm 15), and work to keep Christ as number one (Psalm 16), but David relies upon God’s mercy as seen ultimately in Christ, which gives him, gives every believer, the chance to be counted as holy. Being counted as holy then gives us the opportunity to pray to God, knowing our sin won’t get in the way, that God’s Holiness, won’t stop us coming to Him in prayer. God loves Holiness, God is holy, but God also makes it possible, that we too can be Holy, that we can be on His side, (even though by rights we should have no chance) and in so doing have a relationship with Him. We can be God’s children and have a father who listens to our prayers, and gives us good gifts.

The second characteristic of God, which David bears in mind is His:

Love v7-13

have a look down at verse 7:

Show the wonder of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.

David says, I know you love me God, I know you love your people, and because of this I ask you to protect me from my enemies.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.

Just like a father stepping in front of his family when trouble comes down the street, or a mother hen protecting her chicks. God loves all those that are His, and can always be relied upon to take care of them, even if sometimes this isn’t in the way that we would choose, and isn’t always in a way we understand. We need to look no further than the cross to see this, just as Christ’s death made us holy, so it also shows us just how much God loves us, and how much He is committed to our welfare. When we pray, we can be sure that God wants to hear us, because he loves us. As Paul put in his letter to the Romans:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us

You see we don’t pray to a God who will only act if there is something in it for Him, it’s not like we have to convince Him to help. It’s not like hoping to catch the boss on a ‘good day’, no God is our Father who loves us and longs to help us. God took the action in Christ to deal with our biggest problem, before we could do anything to deserve it, and so we can be sure that having done the hard part in saving us, God won’t ignore our needs now. Realising God’s amazing love for us, should alter the way we think about prayer, this should change the way we go about prayer, and indeed what we pray for in the first place. We should be able to bring anything before God, asking for help, advice or protection, no matter how silly it may feel to us, because we know God isn’t just interested in the big and important things, but the small and seemingly insignificant things too, just like any good father would be.

Let’s take, a father and son from my church, Simon and William as an example. Simon isn’t just interested in the big things in William’s life, I’m sure Simon doesn’t say to William that he can only talk to him about big things like schools, careers or girls. I’m sure Simon, like any good Dad wants to hear about ALL the little things that have gone on in William’s day, the times he fell over, the things he’s drawn, even what William had for lunch. Well if that’s true of a good human father how much more so is it true for God!

Thirdly David reminds God of His:

Justice v14-15

Now verse 14 is an extremely difficult verse to translate well and I think the version I usually use NIV 1984 doesn’t get it quite right. Most other translations interpret v 14 to be talking solely about the character of the those who don’t know God, as an example the ESV puts it like this:

O LORD,
from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and they leave their abundance to their infants.

Do you see what its saying? God gives us what we seek, if we are satisfied with things of this life, then that is what we shall get. David’s enemies verse 14 says, are happy with the things of this world, happy to store up possessions and children only eventually of course to die and leave all their possessions to their children. In other words seeking after things of this world, which won’t last but says David,

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

for those who follow God, who seek His path, then they will be given the greatest gift of all, seeing God face to face, and unlike the possessions and children, which will pass away, this gift will last forever. Again Paul puts it clearly in Romans saying:

‘…to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. BUT for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.’

Ultimately God respects our choices, God give us what we’ve sought after in our life. God rewards those who’ve sought good, and punishes those who’ve sought evil by giving each exactly what they’ve sought. God is a God of justice who will see justice done. So often in life, from the playground, or in the office, we hear people saying well that’s not fair. Whether it’s the kid being picked on in the school yard or the bonus which went to the boss but not to the workers, we all have a sense that the world isn’t what it should be; that justice isn’t done. But with God, and thus ultimately with the world, justice will be done. All wrongs, all the things that make us say that’s NOT fair, will one day be put right. And in knowing this is what God is like, in knowing that God is a God of justice, we can appeal to Him knowing that He will act in the right way. When David is unjustly usurped from the throne, David can appeal to the just judge, to put it right and when we are faced with a world, where it seems justice isn’t to be found, we too can pray to God knowing that He will act in the right way. Now this is not to say that God will always act now, God never promises to intervene in our lives, to act out complete justice now, but He has promised to deal with all injustice when He comes again. In knowing God’s character, in knowing He is a just God, we can rest in the knowledge, that we don’t have to put our life on hold in order to get justice now. We don’t have to go out with the vigilantes, we don’t have to spend every last penny through the courts, and we can in prayer give over our grievances to God, knowing that He will deal with them once and for all!

So What

So we’ve seen, as we’ve looked through Psalm 17, three characteristics of God, which David holds on to, and prays in response to, when all around him, enemies are gathering. And these three characteristics, Holiness, Love and Justice are building blocks for us to get to know God, and to trust Him more, and therefore should affect our prayer life.

Firstly, we should be constantly remembering and thanking God in our prayers for His character; for His love, for His justice and for His holiness. All these character traits are of course ultimatley seen in sending Jesus to the cross. Only because of this moment in human history, a moment which showed more completely than any other, exactly what God is like, can we come to God at all. Only because of God’s death on the cross, can we be in relationship with Him at all, can we be counted as Holy, can we live a new life, can we have an eternal hope. This moment, this action of God, ought to impact our prayer life, and change it from mere formality, to grateful and heartfelt response. So when we pray, we should give thanks for what Christ has done, and when we confess to God, it ought to be in the knowledge that God has dealt with our sin, and longs to hear our confessions, and forgives us even before we ask.

Secondly, I think Psalm 17, shows us that we should long to get to know God more and more. Christians shouldn’t be those who treat God as someone they can only pray to when they have to, rather He is a God who wants US to spend time with Him, not just when we pray, or when we read His word but every moment of every day. It would be like a daughter only ever phoning her Dad when she needed something, when she was in trouble, or when she needed money, she never bothered with the relationship unless there was something in it for her, she never just phoned for a chat, that wouldn’t reflect a healthy, growing or loving relationship would it!

But God has given us Himself on the cross so that we are able to know Him, given us His Spirit so that we can speak with Him, and given us His word so that we, with the help of the Spirit learn more about Him. So often as a Christian I find that I’m falling short of God’s standards, and when I think about this it’s more often than not because I’ve ceased from engaging with God, I’ve stopped striving to build the relationship. I’ve turned my faith into an impersonal one, where I merely have to live by standards, in order to please God. No wonder in that case have I fallen short, because I’m now relying upon myself rather than God. The more we concentrate on God’s character and our relationship with Him, the more we will find ourselves living the way He wants us too. It then almost seems to happen without thinking about it. If I’m focusing on Christ, I get an increasingly godly life thrown in, if instead I focus on living a godly life, I find only failure and despair.

Thirdly and finally, we should pray knowing God will answer. It’s true He may not answer in the way we imagine, or in the way we may hope for, but He will answer. And the more we get to know God, the more we learn about His character, the more we learn what God is like, the more we are changed to be like Him through that process, the more we will pray in accordance with His will and the more we will trust that the way that God answers our prayers is for the best.

Psalm 17 then, gives us a model prayer, which point us to get to know what God is like, in order that we pray better and more consistently. Prayer for David, is not something he has to do, but something he gets to do, because he knows, that a holy loving and just God, is longing to hear and respond. And this joy isn’t just for David, but for all Christians everywhere!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 11:52 pm

    Holiness, love, and justice! Mike, you have certainly inspired me with this latest post; I remain so impressed with your use of the psalms to point us all in the right direction, to give us a model of prayer, to see God’s endless and steadfast love in our lives, to reassure us that our great and mighty God makes room for even the seemingly insignificant prayer.

    Thank you for these marvelous words of wisdom!

    Blessings!

    • September 21, 2011 2:12 pm

      Thank you Martha, you always encourage me with your words. I’m glad that you were encouraged and I hope you continue to read the Psalms along with the rest of the scriptures in your journey with Christ.

  2. September 21, 2011 1:31 pm

    I think the whole Bible is about love, holiness and justice… and they are spoken largely through the Psalms. I saw that this psalm was underlined in my Bible. I might have used it in my prayertime in the earlier stages of my journey.

    I agree that our lifeline with God is prayer — “wasting time” with the Lord…communication. I think we know how it is when we stopped communicating with someone…

    Spending time with God keeps the heart burning…

    I love how David beseeched the Lord to protect him…and it is one filled with trust.

    I liked how you’ve expounded on the Psalms…it would be good to include the Hebrew words or the origin of the Psalm…and their connection to other passages in the Bible 🙂 but as a whole it is a beautiful prayer of the heart… loved it Mike 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 2:11 pm

      Thanks Melissa, glad you liked it and thanks for the tips 🙂 I too love David’s complete trust in God and the example he gives for us, and the way he points us towards Jesus the true King of Israel. Thanks for stopping by Melissa 🙂

  3. September 21, 2011 2:20 pm

    Hi Mike. I don’t know you, but I found your Link on Blogplicity. Your opening point about the distinction between “knowing God” and “knowing *about* God,” is an important detail for Christians to remember. As Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical (entitled Deus Caritas Est), “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” While theological studies or personal study *can* lead a person to know about God, it does not ensure an encounter with Jesus. There is a difference, as you say, between “knowing” and “knowing about.”

    However, may I be permitted to throw a slight crink into a certain claim you make? You write that “other people, non-Christians, can know about God, but knowing God personally, is a privilege reserved only for God’s people.”

    It seems to me that Jesus himself introduces into the experience of Christian believers a rather interesting dynamic. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, in identifying himself in those to whom we either aide or fail to aid, Christ, it seems, gives a new horizon to our human decisions, and in the case of some, it is only at the moment of judgment that they realize that the love they extended to others extended to Jesus as well. In the Parable (Mt. 25) this ends up being a litmus test of sorts.

    It’s interesting that those in the parable didn’t realize the dynamic of their own action, and it strikes me that this passage holds out the possibility of extending love to Jesus even when we don’t realize that this is what our action is doing (and even when we don’t realize what Christians understand Jesus to be). We might not *know* him, but in those moments of love to another, Jesus seems to *know* us, and at least in the case of the Parable of the Last Judgment, that is enough.

    • September 21, 2011 6:07 pm

      Hi Kelly, thanks for stopping by and for your comment 🙂

      It’s an interesting parable isn’t it in Matt 25, difficult to get our heads around. When I said ‘other people, non-Christians, can know about God, but knowing God personally, is a privilege reserved only for God’s people’ I had in my mind the great privilege reserved for the believer of having God the Holy Spirit living within us. With God living within us and ‘opening our eyes’ and bringing us closer to Christ and the Father, we can know the Triune God in a way those without the Holy Spirit (non-Christians) can’t.

      When it comes to the final judgement I think there will be many surprises both with who is and and who isn’t. As for the time we have before that Day, I think the overall message of Scripture is that those who choose God are privileged to know Him personally, whilst those who don’t are choosing not to know Him.

      What do you think?

      • September 22, 2011 1:54 am

        Yes, I think that those who encounter Christ are privileged to have been so able, but when you say that “those who don’t are choosing not to know Him,” I’m not so sure I agree.

        I remember a few years back a partner in conversation informing me that a person, he reasoned, was responsible once they were told, and as he had told a number of persons about the Church and about Jesus, and as they had not accepted what he had to say, their knowledge of the truth and their rejection of it was now grounds for damnation.

        I remember thinking what an optimistic vision my young partner in conversation attributed to the power of his words. Those people hadn’t heard and rejected what they had recognized as true. They heard my partner in conversation, and had rejected what he had to say. I think a lot of times our own correction of one another borders on the approach taken by my young partner in conversation. Knowing *that* the Church teaches something, or knowing *that* the Bible says something, and knowing that what the Church teaches is *true, and knowing that what the Bible says is *true*, are two different things.

        The easy part is learning what the Church teaches or what the Bible says. Sometimes it does take a while for a person to come to the realization that such a teaching is true, and sometimes it takes an even longer while to appropriate the reality of that truth. Such is life I suppose.

        In any event, if you enjoy reading theology texts, there is a very readable one entitled “Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism,” by Jacques Dupuis. But as I see you are working your way through “The Power and the Glory,” then this Greene text should really take precedence, because it’s excellent. If you find you like him, and have not read anything else by him but would like to, let me know. I’m a huge Greene admirer, and could refer something to you.

  4. September 21, 2011 3:28 pm

    Hello Mike. I’m fairly new to your blog and liked it very much. You kept your thoughts on track and used the scripture well in your article. Very good job. 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 4:13 pm

      Thanks Lily, glad you like and keep reading and leaving your comments. I love feedback and help to be more faithful to Scripture and how to improve our posts 🙂

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