Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrase, “Nice guys finish last…” This quote came from the 1946 manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo Durocher, who was known for being brash and abrasive. During an interview one of the reporters asked, “Why don’t you be a nice guy for a change?” Durocher replied: “Nice guys! Look over there. Why, [the New York Giants] are nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In last place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” The next morning the headline of the sports section read, “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
Other famous words of Leo Durocher were: “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.” and — “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you an idiot.”
Yet the one quote that has had staying power is “Nice guys finish last.” And why is that? Probably because, at least to some extent, it often seems true. Right?
People bend the truth, bend the rules, or take advantage of situations so that they can get ahead… and… it works! We see it going on around us every single day to help us get the competitive advantage, or at least save a little bit of money…
You know what I’m talking about? I mean,
Why buy the software I need when I can get a pirated version of it online for free? The company has tons of money; I’m not hurting anyone.
If I can just find out what the other company quoted, then I’ll be able to come in just underneath them and win the bid!
Ol’ LeRoy took the test yesterday… I bet if I buy him a case a beer or something, he’ll give me some of the test questions.
And we’re trying to glorify God by doing what’s right, but it’s rough paying full price, admitting when we’re wrong, and allowing opportunities to manipulate the scales pass on by. Then our peers who do it keep prospering. So we ask, “Lord why do you allow the wicked to prosper? I’m doing my best to follow you, it’s difficult to be obedient.
Well, sometimes its good to get a little bit of perspective from someone whose been there and done that… some more seasoned in years. Because when we’re in the thick of it, all we see are two options and the one that is easiest, saves us money and benefits us usually looks pretty good. But someone whose made good decision and bad decisions in life can pass on some of their wisdom to let you know – “Look, I know it’s frustrating … but here’s the right way to handle this.”
Well that’s exactly what we’re going to hear from David today… and this week we’re wrapping up a 10 week sermon series on The Life David. So it seems appropriate to talk about some of his last words… words of wisdom from a man after God’s own heart.
Today we’re going to be in Psalm 37, and this Psalm is unique because most Psalms are written as a heart song to God. They’re very personal and are almost like a prayer. But this Psalm is written as an instruction to the reader.
And in the thesis David’s Psalm is this: Don’t worry about others, Set your mind on things above. – Only on what God cares about, not the world
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Psalm 37. If you don’t own a Bible, we have a stack of them on the Information Table just outside the back doors there – please take one as our free gift. So starting at verse 1, we read.
Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; 2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: 6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret — it leads only to evil.
David is obviously familiar with the reality that people who do evil can and do prosper. However, their efforts only bear fruit in this world, in this kingdom… they’re taking advantage of a broken system – a system contaminated with sin. But the reality is that all those achievements they rack up won’t last in the end… they don’t have eternal value.
If you’ve been here for the last few months, you’ve heard Phil talk at length about how when we cross the line of faith we enter into a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. We give up trying to run our own little kingdom where we have our own way… and instead surrender our lives to Jesus Christ as our Savior, and we become his apprentice in the Kingdom of Heaven — which is at work among us. In this Kingdom we get to participate in what God is doing every sing day! It’s a Kingdom where what we do has eternal value.
So you could say that when we cross the line of faith, we are no longer operating off of the same playbook, or the same standard operating procedures. When we decided to be an apprentice of Jesus and seek to actually do the things he taught us to do, we start running a completely different race.
What our society says is important (money, status, titles, travel, etc.) really has little to no significance in the Kingdom of God. There’s nothing wrong with these things, it’s just they can’t come with you when you die. And that’s what David is talking about when he says in verse 2, “For like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” They were green and thriving, but once they died there was nothing left… Being “successful,” at least as our world defines it, is ultimately meaningless.
David’s son, Solomon, wrote this in Ecclesiastes 2.
I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. 4 [so] I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
Solomon is being pretty honest with us… and he’s not trying to act like he was a really selfless guy or anything – he’s saying look I tried everything the world had to offer… and I achieved everything… Now listen to these words:
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
What he’s saying here is, the house you live in will one day be somebody else’s. Your savings account, whether it be big or small will one day be distributed to other people. The title you earn will stay with the office when you retire… Somebody else becomes the CEO, the Superintendant, the Commander… the Master Chief. Those things are all temporary.
And so Solomon’s dad, David, is essentially saying the same thing decades before.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the rest of the world. None of those things can satisfy, and all their evil efforts to take advantage of situations will ultimately disappoint. Don’t buy into that trap.
Instead, set your mind on things above, where God is. And here’s how…
First, (v3) “Trust in the LORD” –– place your full confidence in him that he knows what’s best for you. If He makes you the CEO of the company, awesome. If he gives you success in your business—that’s great! But don’t compromise your integrity for sake of making it big. Trust that the Lord will provide for you and that he knows what’s best.
“And do good” –– Eph 5:11 “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Flee from evil, and focus solely on doing what is right.
“Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” Relax… be content… Don’t worry –
When you’re in the Kingdom of Heaven this world is a perfectly safe place for you to be.
Now of course each of us are going to face trials, but we can rest assured that,
“24. though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong for the Lord holds us by the hand.”
God is not going to let you fall. When I read this verse I think of my son Isaac who is still figuring out the whole walking thing… and so he always wants to hold my hand… and as we’re walking, he’ll start getting excited and walking faster and faster and suddenly he’ll trip – but I got him. I’m not going to let my son splat on the ground! I hold his hand while he gets his feet back underneath him and he keeps walking.
That’s what it’s like for you and me. When we trust God, he holds us by the hand and he will not let smack the ground. He’s got you.
Second: In verse 4, David tells us to, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” What does it mean to delight in the Lord?
It means to take great pleasure in the Lord, to enjoy him immensely, to think of him often… to get to know him – God is a personal and relational “being,” he’s not just some force or authoritarian God that wants to dictate your life. Scripture tells us clearly that God wants to be in a loving relationship with each of us where he is involved in every aspect of our lives.
Brother Lawrence was a monk in the 17th century, and he was the guy who washed the pots and pans, and made meals for the monastery. He wasn’t well educated, and was kind of the lowest guy there… but there wasn’t something strikingly different about his faith. The monastery was regimented, (fast//eat//pray//sleep), but with Lawrence you couldn’t really tell when he started and ended his prayers, or work, they just all went together.
A cardinal, who is a religious leader in the Catholic Church, noticed how unique his relationship with God was and began meeting with Lawrence on a regular basis. Those conversations became Practicing the Presence of God.
Here’s a quote from Brother Lawrence:
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God […] We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in doing His will, whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.”
A relationship with God isn’t just relegated to when we open the Bible, or go to church. It is a moment-by-moment friendship. And it is in this relationship that we learn what God values and what’s important to him.
This is where the second portion of verse 4 comes in. “… and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God gives us the desires of our heart when our desires match his desires.
But first there’s a lot of work to be done on our “wanter” – right? Me wanting a yacht is not a desire that lines up with what God wants. There’s nothing wrong with a yacht… but I shouldn’t expect God to move mountains for me to get one.
So it’s imperative that we understand what is it that God desires?
Jesus said the two greatest commandments are,
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Luke 10:27
James, the brother of Jesus tells us,
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
There are a multitude of verses that tell us what is important to God, but a theme quickly arises. God wants us to love Him, love others, and to care generously for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the foreigner.
When those desires become our desire — That is when God moves in mighty ways to make those desires a reality.
That’s what David is saying in verse 5,
“Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will act (NRSV) /// do this (NIV).”
This is precisely what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God. He empowers us to do the things that we couldn’t do on our own. We get to quit worrying about the rat-race of the world, and embark on an adventure where Christ gives us everything we need to succeed in his kingdom.
And we know our efforts are not in vein, even if people think we’re crazy. In the end, “[God] will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” He will vindicate you in the end. Set your mind on things above.
And now we come to the last 2 verses we’re looking at today. Verses 7-8 “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil.”
Being still and silent is a rare event today… but it is a nourishing spiritual discipline too often overlooked. And I bet every one of us has experienced the pleasure of solitude and silence at some point … but it’s really hard to get in built into our lives.
When Amber and I lived in California we went on a couples retreat Hume Lake Christian Camp in Kings Canyon. The retreat had all kinds of things scheduled, like 4-wheeling, canoeing, all kinds of awesome stuff I was looking forward to! But the thing I thought looked boring on the schedule was… quiet time. ONE FULL HOUR EACH DAY?! What am I going to do with an hour? When we got there they were intentional with the schedule. We’d all wake up and meet for a Bible study and then they told us to go somewhere quiet around the lake and just be still and silent with the Lord.
And I’ll tell you, it was so nourishing for the soul! There was a quiet breeze, birds chirping in the air, and I felt like it was just me and God hanging out. I talked to him like he was a friend sitting with me, and I spent time just listening for his voice and for the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts. I would have never blocked that time out had they not done it for me. This time is so important because we are just listening to God, we’re not doing a bunch of talking or having other things distract us.
And here’s why…
God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. What happens is when we spend the whole time talking, we often end up just talking to ourselves, shuffling around ideas, negotiating our thoughts and considering different scenarios.
But when we’re silent, we come to attend. God is not attending our talk // we want to attend his. We can trust that when we are silent, he will meet with us and stabilize our souls with His love, joy and peace.
I encourage you to set aside some time at least a few days this week, where you just go on a walk by yourself around a lake, or your neighborhood – wherever – and just be with the Lord. Take out the headphones, and just walk and listen to God.
And what’s the result of spending regular time with God?
Christ-like character increasingly become our own:
Peace instead of worry…
Contentment instead of jealousy…
Gentleness instead of anger…
Grace instead of wrath…
That is the type of person God wants to form into our soul. And isn’t this something we all want? We don’t want to worry… or feel consumed with jealousy… or have anger ruling our lives… none of us want that!
And that’s the message here today. When we trust in the Lord, we don’t have to worry about what others are doing, and how we compare – we simply trust that he will work out his will in our lives, and we focus on doing what God has called each of us to do: to Love the Lord, love others – especially the unlovable ones, and to care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor.
Now this all sounds great, but the reality is we are still living and working in a fallen world… and as such, when you strive to remain obedient to God and to honor him — you’re going to miss some opportunities… opportunities to do wrong that would make you advance, but nevertheless opportunities.
You might miss some tempting opportunities this week. You may have to pay full price for something others have found a work around for… or you may have to be honest about your mistake that you could possibly cover up… in all these things, do what is right.
Don’t fret. Continue to trust in the Lord, delight in Him, and be still to listen for the Holy Spirit’s direction. Count all that you do as being done to the Lord.
Jim and I were talking earlier this week about this passage, and he pointed some interesting similarities between the old man-David, which we just read, and the old man Paul. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Colossae towards the end of his life, and in Colossians 3 he writes words that are strikingly similar to David’s.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Do everything in the name of the Lord. Imagine the culture of integrity we could cultivate if we actually all did this? If Christians took a stand and said, “we’re not going to have any part in unethical or ungodly practices, no matter the cost.” People would think we were crazy! But, that’s what it means to trust God… we take a chance, we put our well being, reputation, or whatever else is on the line and trust God with the outcome. And if we get sacked for doing it, and those who do evil still prosper, we simply give thanks to God for allowing us to take a stand.
Don’t fret … don’t compromise. Set your mind on things above and trust that the Lord has your well being in hands.