The psalmist begins with an emphasis on the Lord being his refuge. Starting with his present circumstance and situation, he describes the difficulties surrounding him and how the nearness of the Lord (his refuge, rock, fortress, etc.) governs how he responds and operates in such circumstances. Though the circumstances are big, serious, and grave, the psalmist kept going back to God as the King of his life and declaring He is bigger, stronger, and nearer.
The second focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s righteousness. In his situation, he pleads for God to respond on the basis of his righteousness (“in your righteousness deliver me and rescue me”). In summary form, the righteousness of God describes God’s unique character and sovereign work (“your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”). When the psalmist remembers and declares the character and work of the Lord, it becomes normative and defines his life.
The third focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s redemption. Having seen and heard of the Lord’s righteous character and ways (righteousness), he longs to experience that in the ongoing redemptive work of the Lord in his life. He writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long….” When you experience redemption from the Lord, you cannot but respond with shouts of joy and songs of praise.
Together then, the Christian experience is learning to find hope and trust in God who is our refuge (situational), remembering the righteousness of God to experience renewal and revival (normative), and joyfully singing, praising, and telling of God’s redemptive work in your life (existential). The psalmist begins with his situation and says, because Christ is King, my circumstances does not have to rule his life. Jesus does. Knowing the temptation to default to unbelief where God becomes functionally non-existent in his life, the psalmist remembers the character and work of God. Because God reveals Himself through His Word, the true Prophet, we can orient our lives around the revelation of who God is and what He has done. Finally, the redemption of God brought through Christ the High Priest, not only can we know of the ways of God, we can experience it ourselves through the redemption He brings. Those who have entered into the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus are wrecked to a life of praising, shouting, and telling of all that God is for you in His Son Jesus. So, the flow looks like this:
Who God is » God’s self-revelation (righteousness) » normative
(prophet who defines our lives)
What God has done » God’s saving work (redemption) » existential
(priest who redeems our lives)
Why that matters » God’s presence and promises (refuge) » situational
(king who rules our lives)
I am not trying to impose a philosophical or epistemological construct over the text of Scripture; rather, I am simply trying to draw out what is there with a Christocentric hermeneutic in both form and substance. At least for me, it has helped me see Jesus and rejoice in the God who is altogether righteous, whose redemption makes my heart sing, and whose presence causes me to trust and hope no matter the situation.
Our church has been working through the book of Exodus each Lord’s Day, and one of the things that continually strikes me is the emphasis God makes on story telling. Basically, God says “Here’s what I am going to do to bring glory to myself,” and following that explanation, He says, “Now you are to remember what I have done and tell it to your children and generations to come that they may know it as well.” The act belongs to God. The story telling belongs to us. God’s people are responsible to tell others what God has done for them. At the end of the day, faithfulness to God is a matter of stewardship to tell the story.
When God brought judgment upon Pharaoh, He declared to Moses,
“Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:1-2)
When God made provisions for his Passover, He gave the following instructions,
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.... You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped (Exodus 12:14, 24-27)
And when God instructed His people regarding the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, He added,
You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year (Exodus 13:8-10).
Remembering the story of what the Lord had done in bringing deliverance through the Exodus was central to the existence of the Israelites. They remember in order to tell it to others, especially their children and generations to come. Take a look at how Psalm 78 explains this importance:
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God (Psalm 78:5-8).
When the people of God failed to remember and be shaped by the story of their deliverance, we read the following words,
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan (Psalm 78:41-43).
I could go further in making the case for the importance of story telling and being story-formed, but these should suffice for now. It should be noted, however, that the acts performed were not only stories to be told but songs to be sung. Take the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 or how many of the Psalms (Bible’s hymnbook) were written to tell the story again and again (e.g., Psalm 78, Psalm 105-107).
This emphasis of story-telling in Scripture is intended to make the case that we are a story-formed people. In the same way God’s people in the Old Testament were formed (literally) by the Exodus from Egypt and shaped by the remembering and retelling of that event, so too are God’s people in the New Covenant to be formed by the Exodus through the Cross of Christ and be shaped by remembering and retelling of that event.
Of course, the story is broader than the Exodus and the Cross of Christ (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), but everything seen in this story points forward or backward to the world-transforming event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The question we must ask ourselves is: How important is telling the story of the triumphs of Christ and being shaped by it? How necessary is being story-formed in our disciple-making?
I’m convinced that being story-formed is far greater in importance than we have considered it to be. Discipleship tends to focus on practical how to’s and doctrinal categories, which I would argue are important. But I don’t see God telling His people to test folks on doctrinal precision. Rather, what I do see is God setting up for His people in both Old and New Testaments ways of being shaped and formed by the redemptive events that are retold by God’s people. Why the Lord’s Table? We are to remember regularly through eating bread and drinking wine our own Exodus from Egypt through the blood of the Lamb. The remembering is experiential, not just doctrinal. It should shape our identity and govern our lives.
I said earlier this year that I believe discipleship could simply be stated as the process where the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives. The more I read and understand how God raises up His children, the more convinced I am that such a brief definition could not easily be exhausted. In all our disciple-making, dear friends, let us be remembering the Story.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on living a hurried life. I become convicted of patterns and pursuits counterproductive to the mission to make disciples. The rhythm of society these days seems to be so out of step with the cadence Jesus set out for his disciples. Here is the Savior of the world, the Author of time, never in a hurry in accomplishing the most life-changing, history-shaping mission the world has ever known.
Someone in a hurry makes an idol out of time. They allow the present to be dictated by the future. Lusting after not-yet moments, we deprive ourselves from the already present moments when we are called to love. Skillful living is making most of the time through a redemptive lifestyle, and ironically, making the most of time does not come by hurrying up but by slowing down.
One of the great hindrances to life on mission is being in a hurry. Have you noticed how impossible it is for a hurried person to love someone? They may be physically present, but they are mentally distant. They may give you lip service, but their hearts are far from you. Don’t get me wrong. There are good intentions with being in a hurry. I want to get things done. I love being productive. But when the product takes precedence over people, then my usefulness ironically makes me unproductive for the mission. Even worse, I begin to treat people like product rather than objects of my affection–to listen, to learn, to love. All those things that take time–things that the absence of margin and presence of hurry rob us from experiencing as we controlled by a rhythm of life that takes the life out of us.
Disciples of Jesus cannot be controlled by time or enamored by the future. Idolizing time breeds unbelief in Jesus, who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. When we are set free to slow down, we can calibrate our lives according to the cadence of the kingdom. One of the simplest ways of being out of step with the world is not living to keep up with it. I am not advocating a life of laziness but rather a pursuit of presence. It’s a perseverance in abiding, not a fleeing for fleeting moments.
Truly, Jesus’ yoke is easy inasmuch as Jesus is not in a hurry. My yoke is hard because the burdens I create are heavy. I’m learning the joyful consequences of preferring Jesus’ yoke over mine. And when His joy is mine, I find that His glory shines in the very places and among the faces of people I’m privileged to love and give my life away. So Lord, let me live on mission so that when the Spirit calls me to make much of Jesus, I can genuinely respond with “present.”
Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. It’s our new identity. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus. It’s our purpose and mission. When we live in our identity and live out our purpose, we are disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus. In short, we are disciple-making disciples.
One of the great encouragements we have to live as disciple-making disciples is the powerful promises of God. They are God’s provision to keep us from living in unbelief. Have you ever considered how the Great Commission is sandwiched with the power and promise of Jesus?
Jesus begins, “All authority (power) in heaven and earth has been given to me.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Everything that ever existed or will exist is subject to Me. Nothing is too hard for me.” Therefore (“because I’ve made this provision FOR YOU”), go and make disciples. The power of Jesus entails a promise in making disciples that no heart is too hard, no sinners is so enslaved, no eyes are so blind that Jesus can, with a word, utterly and entirely save and transform their life. Let Saul of Tarsus enter your mind, or Lydia, or Matthew, or perhaps even your own life.
Jesus ends, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There will be moments in living for Jesus that you feel all alone. Taking up your cross may mean laying down everything and losing everyone that liked the old you (not the one that makes much of Jesus). But Jesus, knowing the challenges we will face, gives us greater comfort to overcome those challenges. Internally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the witness of the Spirit who again and again testifies of our adoption into the family of God. When we proclaim the good news to sinners and face being ostracized, the same Spirit who empowers us to witness is the same one who comforts us with the adoption love of God, crying out “Abba, Father!” Externally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the good hand of our providential God. We know that God does all things well and orchestrates the events and circumstances of our lives for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can enter the unknown not having to know what the future beholds, but rather risk our lives in making disciples because the One who holds the future knows my name.
Let me give one other example of the promises of God for making disciples.
Think of the kindness of God that He would illustrate His promises through ordinary things we see every day. How often do you see birds in the air? How often do you see grass on the ground? Did you know that birds and grass are ours to see the promises of God? How different would our lives be if every time we say a bird or blade of grass, what came to our mind was, “Promise! Promise! Promise!”?
Yet when we are living with eyes of faith, we will indeed see it the way Jesus taught us. Could it be the reason we are not making disciples of Jesus is because we fail to believe the promises and power of God? Why were they given to us? According to Jesus, they were given so that we would not get preoccupied with our lives but rather the kingdom of God. Unbelievers worry about daily provisions of what they will eat and what they will wear. Disciples of Jesus have a heavenly Father who makes provision for these things, and His promise is that “all these things will be added unto you” when you “seek first the kingdom of God.” The promise that “all these things (the legitimate stuff that often keeps us from making disciples) will be added unto you” should liberate us to live sacrificially and single-mindedly in pursuit of the kingdom of God. And how often do we need to believe that promise? Every time we see a bird flapping in the air or a blade of grass blowing in the wind.
A failure to make disciples isn’t just disobedience to Jesus, but it is unbelief in the power and promises of God. The purpose of God for our lives (making disciples) was sandwiched between these two realities because they were intended to press down on our purpose and smother us with Jesus’ omnipotence and nearness. May God give us eyes of faith to see the world the way Jesus intended it and cause to join Him in the mission of seeing His kingdom come through the making of disciples through the power of His promises.
Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.
You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.