Every Heart Prepare Him Room ~ December 09, 2018 ~ Philippians 4:6-9
Every heart prepare Him room. We are in Philippians 4 this morning, but I want to begin with a short little story about Isaac Watts.
Isaac Watts was born in 1674 in South Hampton, England. He was brought up in the home of a committed religious non-conformist, they called them. Those were Protestant believers in the country of England who refused to conform to the regulations and constrictions of the English Church. Now, the reason I mention this is because one of the groups of people who were labeled as non-conformists who wanted to practice their faith as their conscience dictates and according to the word of God were Congregationalists. So, we were also labeled as non-conformists, as was Isaac’s dad. Now, Isaac’s father was also named Isaac, and he was so adamant in his faith he was actually jailed twice. As Isaac grew, as it is with many teens, he complained about church! Can you imagine? Specifically, the music. I have never heard of any sort of people having issues with the music in church. Unbelievable! In 1670s, they’re complaining about the music. Well, as it is with many fathers, he grew weary of Isaac’s complaining, and he said to him one day, “You don’t like the hymns we’ve been singing?” (That was his particular criticism, he didn’t like the hymns that they sang in church). “So, if you don’t like the hymns that we sing, then write better ones!” Isaac then shared with him a hymn that he’d written, called “Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” based upon Revelation 5:6-10.
His father was impressed, so much so that the next Sunday, he brought the hymn and shared it with the church. They liked it so much, they asked Isaac to write another one, and another one, and the church had that same request for Isaac for the next 222 Sundays! By the time Isaac died, along with sixty or so theological and philosophical works, he had written about 700 hymns. We know them. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” And the song from which we get the sermon title this morning: “Joy to the World.” That was a song by Isaac Watts.
So, there goes a story of a young boy named Isaac Watts. Now, what about the story of the church in Philippi from which we are reading in the book of Philippians this morning? Philippi was the first church that Paul established in Europe, early on his missionary journey, around AD 51, which means it’s only been about 18 years since Jesus ascended into heaven. Paul is out doing his evangelism tour, and he’s planting churches. This is the first church in Europe that he plants. Ten years have passed since he planted that church. It’s been three or four years since Paul himself had last visited the church, because right now, Paul was in prison in Rome. But he always had a special place in his heart for this particular Philippian church. He was always thankful for their financial support of his ministry. So, he wrote them this letter.
Chapter four begins with an appeal to two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. Now, they may have been deaconesses in the church, we don’t know for sure; or they may have just been socially prominent women whose homes were being used as churches. It doesn’t really matter, but I like to make mention here once again, the important leadership honored roll that women had in the early church from the start. (But they weren’t allowed to go to the Seder meal at the Last Supper? Anyway, I’ve been down that road.)
Paul appeals to them to settle the disagreement between each other, which shows us that we, as Christians, are supposed to be an example of mercy, and grace, and love. At least firstly with each other! I mean, if we can’t even have peace amongst one another, then why would anyone believe that we had the so-called “peace that passes all understanding” to share with them? We’re supposed to lead by example. This kind of disagreement should never have seeped into the church and caused division. We’re supposed to be, amongst each other, brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul then goes on to write these words of encouragement, our reading this morning. If you would join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
God says through Paul:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)
Don’t worry about anything! Anybody here got that one down? I know I’m still working on it, bigtime. Don’t worry. Well, what about the next one? Pray about everything. How is your prayer life? Do you have a regular, consistent, ongoing prayer life? I don’t mean just bowing your head on Sunday mornings while someone up here leads prayer, or even saying grace at meals.
I believe in saying grace at meals. I say grace at every single meal. Sometimes it’s a little repetitive, but I don’t care if I’m at home and it’s just a couple of us or if we’re out in public, or if I’m sitting at my desk during the week working; I always give God thanks for the food, the father of the feast. It’s especially powerful when you’re in public, because people see you. It’s a way to evangelize without saying a word to anybody, you bow your head and you pray. That is a declaration that you are admitting that there is something bigger, something greater, a creator; and they see that. They may mock you, they may make fun of you, but you’re making a statement. You believe in the Lord. But even as great as it is to say grace, that’s kind of a focused prayer, isn’t it? It’s just, “Thank you for this food, bless it to our bodies,” and then you move on.
That’s not what I’m talking about as far as an ongoing prayer life. I’m talking about setting aside some time to spend with the Lord. Just you and Him. Talk about life, talk about your dreams, your goals, your struggles. You don’t have to use fancy words. Sometimes I feel like when it comes time to pray, everyone turns into the King James Bible, you’ve got to talk fancy. You don’t have to talk fancy, just talk to Him. Thank Him for all the incredible things He’s done, and the ways He’s blessed you and the ones you love. How is your prayer life? I’m still working on mine, too. I know that may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, I mean, after all, I’m a pastor. But don’t think for a moment that pastors, just because I get to stand up here, have it all together all the time. We absolutely do not. Moses killed a guy, remember? We don’t have it all together. David? David had an affair with Bathsheba, got her pregnant, then murdered her husband Uriah to try to cover it up. Peter denied three times he even knew Christ. Paul traveled around the area capturing Christians and putting them in prison. Paul stood by and held people’s coats and watched as Stephen was stoned to death. Martin Luther, the giant Father of the Reformation, was frequently afflicted with a feeling of profound aloneness, a sense that God was singling him out for suffering.
Today, Martin Luther would be diagnosed clinically depressed. Yeah, the guy who wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” struggled with clinical depression.
We struggle just like everybody else. I have a couple people I have asked to pray for me. The last month has been particularly challenging. I don’t know why. It reminds me of when a soldier comes back from the war, often times in the succeeding years he’ll have a flashback, something that just rattles him from an experience they had when they were in combat. For some reason, I don’t know why, but for some reason the evil one, over the last month, out of the blue, just started giving me flashbacks, throwing darts into my mind, into my psyche, reminding me of all my past failures. All the things I’ve done wrong, all the things I’ve said wrong, all the things I didn’t say that I should have said, all the things I didn’t do that I should have done. Just all of a sudden, I’d start thinking about it. And I’m not just talking about as a pastor, we’re going back to when I was a teenager! I’d get a flashback of some stupid thing that I said or did when I was fourteen, decisions I’d made when I was working for the Post Office, and yes, mistakes that I made in my personal and professional pastoral life. Pastors are people! We are no better and no holier than anybody else. In fact, when we believe that, that’s when all kinds of trouble starts. When we start believing our own press, or when we start believing…
You ever hear that saying, “I wish I was the kind of person my dog thinks I am?” There are people who come to church who are members of churches, and they see that person sitting up there, and they have this opinion of them like your dog has of you. Not true. When we start believing that, that’s when things get testy. God severely reprimands spiritual leaders who get too big for their britches. Jesus says in Matthew 23:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish…”
– You make it look good, you act all holy –
“… but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)
He goes on to say:
“Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
Yeah, that’s pretty tough. That was directed at the leaders: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, teachers of religious law. See, pastors are not chosen because of their holiness. If that were the case, how does one explain Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, or me?
As God said through Samuel when Samuel chose David to be king. He said you know; the Lord does not see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord look at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Now, God is omniscient, He’s all-knowing, right? So that means He knows ahead of time how flawed pastors are before He calls them. They’re people, just like you. God looks at our hearts first, and then He sees some skills, some experience, and He knows with a little bit of training, some education, they can serve Him (I use the analogy) as a guide. See, I lived almost 20 years in the state of Maine, and in the state of Maine there’s a real big industry for the outdoors. There’s a lot to do outdoors. And you can become an officially registered Maine guide, so if you want to go on a camping trip, or a canoe trip, or snowshoeing, or cross country skiing, or hunting, or fishing, whatever, you can hire a licensed Maine Guide so they will make sure you don’t have to get rescued by the Coast Guard or the National Guard! They’ll lead you where you need to go, show you what you need to see, and make sure you don’t get lost. However, just because they have the ability to help you not get lost in the Maine woods, that does not make them a better person than you. In a similar fashion, sure, I know a lot about this Book. I spent a lot of time studying it. I know the context of the stories, I know the biographical information of a lot of the players; but just as with a Maine guide, that does not make me, in any way, holier than any of you here this morning. So, is my prayer life what I want it to be? No! Do I still worry? Yeah! I’m worried somebody’s not paying attention right now!
Now, you might be saying Pastor, yoo-hoo, over here! What does this have to do with Christmas, Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, or Philippians 4? Well, let me try and make some sense of that. See, I’m convinced that too many people believe or think that the Christian faith is kind of like Alka Seltzer.
I’ve done something wrong (in this case, I’ve eaten too much – that rarely happens with me). But in the Christian faith context, I’ve done something wrong – I’ve sinned against God. Two tablets, plop, plop, fizz, fizz, problem solved, right? No. Two tablets, pray, pray, go to church, go to church, problem solved, right? No. It doesn’t work that way.
Salvation is not a quick fix. In fact, we had a conversation at Bible study and at Spurgeon last week about the term “saved.” A lot of Christians use that term. Saved. “I’m saved.” “You’re saved.” “Would you like to get saved?” “You need to get saved.” The problem with the term “saved,” is what tense is the word? Past-tense. So, it implies, “I’m saved!” Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, done! That’s all I need! I’m good to go!
That’s not what salvation means. When we say, “I’m saved,” what we mean to say really is, “On the day that we stand before the Lord to be judged…” and all of us are going to do that. One day we will stand before the God of all creation, and it’s like being in the court of law. He will judge us, and He will look into our hearts, and if Jesus is there, He will determine our guilt or our innocence. And if He sees Jesus – not guilty. On that day, we’re saved. We’re saved from eternal damnation, eternal separation from God. That’s the day we’re saved. Prior to that, we’re working out our salvation. We know how the story ends, but it hasn’t happened yet. So, it’s not plop, plop, fizz, fizz, one shot deal and we’re all done. We have to work out our salvation. It’s an ongoing effort. Like Isaac Watts wrote in his hymn, Joy to the World, “Every heart prepare him room.” It’s talking about preparation which implies it’s about work, some sort of effort.
Think about it this way. Farmers feed the world, right?
Without farmers, famine and starvation would be our everyday reality. Do farmers plant once and that’s it? Not if we want to live! They need to prepare the soil on a regular basis, over and over again, then plant the seeds, then irrigate and fertilize. It is an ongoing effort. In a similar way, if we want to enjoy the bread of life, salvation in Christ Jesus, there is no quick fix. If we want to experience God’s hope, God’s peace – peace that exceeds anything we can understand – it requires an ongoing effort. Every single day, we need to fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. That takes effort! We’ve got to work on that! We can’t always think of things negatively. We can’t always think the worst of a person, or a situation, or a circumstance. We need to focus our thoughts on things that are honorable, and true, and right, and pure, and lovely, and excellent, and worthy of praise. It is an ongoing effort. Salvation is an ongoing effort. Just because we know one day, we will be saved does not mean we’re all done, plop, plop, fizz, fizz, over! So, is your prayer life not what it should be? Mine isn’t either. It’s ok. Just keep working at it! Still worry too much? I know I do. It’s ok. Keep working at it. Keep trying.
Do you have any idea what I sounded like the first time I sat behind a drum set? I assure you it sounded nothing like it does today. I’m able to offer to the Lord through our Worship Team what I can do because I’ve had forty years of practice! I started playing when I was fifteen, I’m fifty-five. I’ve been doing this for forty years! Practice. I had to keep working on it.
Paul says in verse 9:
Keep putting into practice all you learned… then the God of peace will be with you.
Faith is something that we practice. Practice implies effort, and ongoing effort. And the more we practice, Paul says to his brothers in Philippi, and his brothers and sister in Hartford, the more the God of peace will be with us.
Do you want peace in your life? How do you get peace? Where do you find peace? Let me go down one more little bunny trail with you to try and illustrate this. There was a man born in 1901, his name was William Francis Sutton Jr.
He was an American bank robber. During his forty-year career, it is estimated that he stole $2,000,000. Now, because of this, he spent more than half his life in jail, but he had a talent for pulling off robberies in various disguises. And because of this talent, he was given a nickname: Slick Willie. You thought President Clinton invented that! You’re wrong! William Francis Sutton Jr. was the first one to get the nickname Slick Willy. In 1951, Slick Willie was asked in an interview by a newspaper reporter, “Why do you rob banks?” And Sutton looked a little surprised, as if a smoker had been asked why do you like a cigarette? He then answered, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is!”
It’s like, you know when you see birds flying south for the winter. You look up in the fall and you see all these geese and everything. And they’re always flying in a V, right? Have you ever noticed that one of the stems of the V is longer than the other? Do you know why? There’re more birds in that one! Hello, Captain Obvious! I rob banks because that’s where the money is!
If you are looking for peace, you’ve got to go where the peace is. You will not find peace in alcohol or drugs or power or authority or money or sex. Real peace – peace in knowing that when judgment day comes, you have nothing to fear, that you will be safe in the arms of Christ.
If you want that peace – peace that passes all understanding – you will only find it in Jesus. So, come to Jesus this Christmas, and find peace. But remember, as with the shepherds and kings meeting Jesus in the manger, the little baby child there, that’s just the beginning. Your hearts have prepared him room. Now the work begins! Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent, and worthy of praise. It’s an attitude. It’s a choice. Don’t be moping around. Remember what Christ did for you on the cross, and what it’s going to mean for you on the day of judgment. It’s going to mean everything. That is reason to have peace. That is reason to rejoice. That is reason to have hope. So, think on things that are right and pure and lovely and admirable.
Hey, look, I know you’re not always going to get there. I’m not either. That’s ok. That’s one of the many amazing things that is so awesome about the Christian faith. Our God is a God of love and mercy and grace. So just keep working at it! Keep praying. Stop worrying. Keep putting into practice everything you’ve learned and received from the Lord. Then the God of peace will be with you. Would you stand and pray with me?