Psalm 37:1-11; The Simple Christian Life
The Simple Christian Life
Main point: Although it is not easy, living in Christ is essentially a simple life. But we must recommit and refocus our hearts in order to rest there.
1. The Simple Christian Life
2. Simplicity of Intention
3. Simplicity of Dependence
4. Simplicity of Obedience
The Simple Christian Life
John Newton, who lived from 1725-1807, is most known for his hymn Amazing Grace. One of the things that is so incredible about that hymn is how everyone knows it, whether you are a Christian or not. It is very easy to remember, it has a nice tune, and while it is very powerful, in a word, it is simple.
That is because its author was a very plain, simple man with a powerful testimony. In 1743 Newton was captured and forced to work as a seaman, that is how the British built their navy back then. Eventually he worked on a slave ship and while in Africa he was actually sold into slavery where he endured severe treatment for about 3 years.
His heart began to turn towards God, when he was rescued and on his way home his ship almost sank and he cried out to God for rescue. God began working in him slowly, and Newton began reading the Bible and professing belief but it hadn’t fully sunk in yet. He still worked as a slave trader for some years, until the Lord fully changed his heart and he became a minister in 1764.
He had no official religious training, but he had an unwavering belief in God and relied heavily on his word. And one thing I love about Newton is that the vast majority of works we have from him are not theological treatises or long orations copied down for distribution like many famous Puritans. Instead his canon of work is the vast collection of his letters that he wrote to people and his pastoral counsel for them.
His words are so plain, so simple and powerful that they have withstood the test of time and I have benefited greatly from learning from him. He understood what it means to follow Christ and how he could share that with others. And one of the biggest things he shared was that the Christian life is a simple life. That is what we will be focused on this morning from Psalm 37. And we are going to have John Newton help us along the way. Like I said, I have benefited greatly from his writings and will be using some of his categories and definitions so you too can learn from this profound yet simple man.
And our main point of takeaway is this:
Although it is not easy, living in Christ is essentially a simple life. But we must recommit and refocus our hearts in order to rest there.
So, what we will do is see what I mean by the simple Christian life, and then look at the three aspects that make up our calling. Then we will close with two points of application.
- The Simple Christian Life
For each of our points we need to define our terms, especially for our overall phrase, the simple Christian life. By the word “simple,” I am speaking of something that is not elaborate but straight-forward. How, then is the Christian life simple, not elaborate and straight-forward? Well, God calls us to follow him, to submit ourselves to Christ and be conformed to his image. He knows our frames, he knows our weakness and our lowly status before him, therefore he has not made his will and his calling on our lives something that is unknowable, something that is so beyond our understanding that we are groping about in the dark hoping to bump into the right place.
No, God has clearly laid out for us how we are to live and it is straight-forward, it is not elaborate, but simple. Now, again, this does not mean it is easy. There is a difference between simple and easy. Golf, for example, is simple. Take these clubs, hit this tiny ball and make it go into that hole. Pretty straight forward. But that does not mean it is easy. It takes practice, patience, discipline skill, athleticism, and knowledge to get better at golfing. And the same principle applies to the Christian life. It is straight-forward, but because of sin it is not easy. It takes practice, patience, discipline, knowledge and wisdom to grow in Christlikeness.
Again, this is not something God is trying to hide from us and make overly-complicated to see who truly wants to follow him or who can figure it out first. No, this is how he has called us to live and he has laid it out simply for us simple creatures.
John Newton, called “true simplicity…the honor and strength of a believer.” This is our life, our very calling in Christ, brothers and sisters. Let’s dive in and take hold of it in our hearts and minds.
And as I said, I will be using Newton to help us throughout. He truly understood this concept and he fought to live by it each and every day. His writings and preaching are so Gospel saturated and straight-forward and he has helped me see the Christian life in new terms, including these ones. So, he is going to help us in our definitions of categories this morning.
So, what are we to practice and grow in, in order to live the simple Christian life? What is included in it? We will look at three categories of simplicity that are laid out in Psalm 37 specifically, but once we understand these things, I hope you will see that it saturates the pages throughout all of Scripture.
- Simplicity of Intention
The first aspect of the simple Christian life is simplicity of intention. What does this mean? Here is how Newton defines it, then we will see it in Psalm 37. This is a big definition but don’t worry we will flesh it out.
“Simplicity of intention, implies that we have but one leading aim, to which it is our deliberate and unreserved desire that every thing else in which we are concerned may be subordinate and subservient-in a word, that we are devoted to the Lord, and have by grace been enabled to choose him, and to yield ourselves to him, so as to place our happiness in his favor, and make his glory and will the ultimate scope of all our actions.”
What Newton is saying is that we are to have one aim in life, we are called to have a simple intention to how we live. And that aim, that focus and intention is that we are devoted to the Lord. We make his glory and his will the ultimate scope of our actions. That is our simple, straight-forward intention for today, tomorrow and the rest of our lives. And with everything in life that we are involved in, whether families, careers, hobbies, it is all weaved together into one ultimate aim to be devoted to glorifying God.
Where do we see this in Psalm 37? Look with me at verse 5, “Commit your way to the Lord.” Your way is referring to the road you are on in life. These are all the things we do each and every day. And we are commanded here to commit that road to the Lord. The Hebrew word translated “commit” means to live “in a manner that is earnest and eager to a principle or person.” So, putting these together, the life that we live, all of the things that encompass that including all of our daily actions and choices, should all be committed to, done for, the Lord and his glory.
Newton used the word “devoted.” We have a singular, simple devotion in all that we do. From our parenting, to how we use our money, the people we spend time with, what we put into our eyes and ears, how we interact with our coworkers, what we want to do for a career, it is all devoted and committed to God and his will and glory. My life is not my own, it cannot be lived for my own desires. Why? 1 Corinthians 6:20, “for you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.”
If we profess that Christ has suffered and shed his blood on our behalf, that he has paid the ultimate price to redeem us, then our way, our road in life, is not our own way. It is God’s and it is for his glory. We have been bought and paid for by Christ and he calls us to have a simplicity of intention in all that we do each day.
But notice that God doesn’t just call us to this life because he is a harsh task master or anything like that. Back up one verse in Psalm 37. Verse 4, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Perhaps you have noticed a phrase I say a lot in my preaching, “for God’s glory and our good.” I say it a lot. Why? Because when we live for the glory of God, when that is our simple aim in life, our good and our delight and joy come along with it. These things are perfectly in sync, they rise and fall together depending on how we live. The more we focus on our simple aim of glorifying God, the more delight, joy and good we get! That is how God designed us. That is one of the reasons he commands us to commit ourselves to him, to glorify him, because he is our ultimate good, he is the only place we find true joy and delight. If we reject this life of simplicity of intention, we are robbing ourselves of joy and delight in the only place we can truly find it!
John Newton included this in his definition, perhaps you caught it, when he said that we should live “so as to place our happiness in his favor.” I like that image. We commit everything to the glory of God, to his favor, to making him known and made much of through how we live. Everything is devoted to that single aim, all our eggs are in that one basket, including the egg of our own happiness. Our very joy rests in God’s glory alone.
That is our calling, this should be our simple, straight-forward intention and aim in life.
- Simplicity of Dependence
As I said before, while this is simple, it is not easy. Sin makes this straight-forward calling crooked in our hearts and minds. It is a constant fight to keep our eyes focused on our aim. The world and our own hearts distract us; they lure us away. We want other things and they compete with and overtake our desire for the glory of God. We worry that something is not the way it should be and we become discouraged or we feel that we need to take action, take matters into our own hands and fix it.
And I love how realistic John Newton was about all this. He understands the simple intention we should have; it is straight-forward. But the struggle is real. He wrote, “A thousand such surrenders I have made, and a thousand times I have…retracted them.” Our hearts are so fickle and wayward. So easily pulled away from simplicity.
That is why we need a simplicity of dependence, our second point. Our trust must be in the right place or we will sink into the pitfalls of our own making. If we try to depend on ourselves, our own wisdom, strength, planning, desires, abilities, we will not live for the glory of God but our own. Our lives will be self-centered, self-glorifying and that path only leads to destruction. Instead, we must, as the rest of verse 5 says, “trust in him, and he will act.”
The word trust here, along with verse 3, means “to be reliant upon, to put our confidence in.”
We are to commit our way to the Lord, simplicity of intention, and trust, depend on, rely upon him: simplicity of dependence.
And what are we trusting him to do? That he will act. That he will do as he sees fit. Why would I want that? Because God is sovereign over all things and I am not. And more than this, God is good! He is trust-worthy, he is able to be relied upon, his character is above reproach in all things and all that he does comes from his good, perfect, loving, gracious and merciful heart.
I am to be completely dependent on him to give me all that I need; fully trusting that whatever comes my way is from his good and loving hand, and that he will supply me with all that I need to fulfill my calling on the path he has put me on.
And notice what it looks like when we have this simple dependence, it is all over this Psalm: verses 1, 7 and 8, “fret not yourself.” Verse 7: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
A simple dependence on God alone, knowing in our hearts that he is good and trustworthy to do with our lives whatever he wills, gives us the ability to not fret, to be still and patient before him.
Think about that in relation to David writing this Psalm. He is speaking to himself here. He is surrounded by evil people that are prospering and enemies trying to kill him. He preaches these words to himself, reminding himself to trust in the Lord and that he will act in his time. I don’t need to fret, he says, I will be still and patient in my heart and let my good and gracious, sovereign God act in his perfect timing.
While we don’t have enemies trying to kill us, at least I hope not, there is a lot in the world to fret about. There are lots of things that cause us anxiety and anger like when we see injustices on the news, or terrible natural disasters like the recent tornadoes down south, and of course the continual worries with covid. There are many things that stir up our hearts to worry, anger, discouragement and fear of all kinds.
But God calls us to a simplicity of dependence upon him. He asks us to rest our hearts and our hands in him. Trust in him and he will act, in his time, in his way. Here’s how Newton sums it up for us, he writes, “How comfortable is it to us, as well as ornamental to our [faith], to be able to trust the Lord in the path of duty! To believe that he will supply our wants, direct our steps, plead our cause, and control our enemies! Thus, he has promised, and it belongs to Gospel simplicity to take his word against all discouragements.”
A simplicity of intention, to live for the glory of God alone, by a simplicity of dependence, trusting in his goodness to act, gives us a heart of still peace in our loving God.
- Simplicity of Obedience
These things culminate, then, into a simplicity of obedience, our final point. While we are called to trust in the Lord to act, and to be still and patient, we still have things we must do, there are still actions we are commanded to take. We see this in verse 3, “trust in the Lord, and do good.” Do good. It doesn’t get any simpler than that! And what is encompassed in doing good? All that God has revealed in his Word. All of his commands, everything he has told us to do and not do.
How we walk down our path in life, how we speak, think, feel, act, all of it is to be done in a God-honoring way. This is interconnected with living for God’s glory alone; our actions, how we live, are all meant to reflect God’s character and our service to him. We are to be obedient to him and him alone. Not our sinful desires, not the world, not our plans for life, but God’s.
Here is how Newton describes those who live with a simplicity of obedience. “The principles and motives upon which their conduct is formed, are the same in public as in private. Their behavior will be all of a piece, because they have but one design. They will speak the truth in love, observe strict punctuality in their dealings, and do unto others as they would others should do unto them; because these things are essential to their great aim of glorifying and enjoying their Lord.”
Our conduct each day should be ruled solely by God and our motivation to honor him. Whether in public or private, in our hearts and minds or on the lips. What we do and say should all come from a heart that desires to glorify and enjoy the Lord above all else. From hearts that are wholly trusting in him alone.
A simplicity of intention and dependence, leading to a simple obedience to our great God.
Well where do we go from here? I chose to do this message since it’s the last Sunday of the year, thinking about the opportunity we have for a fresh start in 2022. New beginnings. With that kind of idea here are two closing points of application.
Let’s make a new and fresh commitment to getting back to the basics, to living the simple Christian life. Let’s re-commit our hearts to the single aim of glorifying God in our obedience to him and resting our hearts in dependence on him to do as he pleases. It is easy to lose that commitment with the daily cares of life. We get pulled in so many different directions that we lose sight of what it’s all meant for. Will you re-commit yourself to living the simple Christian life?
And along with that, let’s re-focus on our simple calling as followers of Christ. I think the world and all of its very real cares, have done a lot to pull our spiritual eyes out of focus. We have let those things take too much of a priority in our energies; our aim in life has gone eschew. Our dependence in life has shifted onto ourselves or some other ideology and not on God alone.
Let me lay out plainly what I mean. Please hear me out before you react internally or externally. I see that all of the concerns that come with the days that we are living in, specifically as it relates to covid, have pulled us away from our simple calling in Christ. We have misplaced priorities and energies on either side of the aisle.
We have become people who fret, people who worry, we are angry ot those who disagree with us, we have more passion and energy for the things of covid than for God. Our calling as Christians gets a little sliver of our lives, and our opinions about covid, the vaccine, masks, government, proper treatment, whatever, gets the majority of our hearts, minds, words and time.
This reveals hearts that are not simple in intention and dependence. These are divided hearts, entangled minds.
Yes, we can have opinions, we can have passions, that is not what I am saying. Covid is very real and its effects can be devastating as we have seen in our church family. But I think our thoughts about it, can very easily move into the central place in our lives if we are not careful. Our opinions, research and passions can very easily become what we are living for and dependent on before we even realize it.
And we would all do well, myself included, to ask God to reveal our hearts to ourselves so we can see if we have left the simple life and become enmeshed in much more.
I think there are two questions we can ask ourselves to see where we stand, whether it’s this issue or anything else in life. Let’s use these for self-reflection.
First, am I motivated by living for God’s glory? In other words, what is my motivation for wanting to do something? Is it God glorifying and honoring, or self or other-centered?
Second, am I dependent on God’s timing, strength, wisdom and will? Am I trying to take matters into my own hands? Am I fretting and worrying or am I trusting God to act as he sees fit.
We might use these questions and reach different conclusions about the same topic. And that is ok assuming that it isn’t a clear biblical issue. The point is to honestly come before the Lord, to recommit our hearts to him and asking him to re-focus us for his glory and our good.
Our God is so glorious, so awesome, that he is worthy of every breath we take. And he promises that when we live for him and him alone, we will be satisfied, we will find joy and rest each day and forevermore!