Better than Life

by Ben Doster

Guest post from Mercy member Ben Doster. 

To help my sister, brother and I with scripture memory as little children my grandmother, who we call Baba, would challenge us to learn various Psalms. She’d reward us with a few bucks whenever we’d recite them to her, and for a young kid $5 to $10 was a big deal.

I remember a funny story about my brother, Samuel, who is five years younger than me. He memorized a Psalm and recited it to our grandmother. She gave him a check, which left him perplexed. He didn’t understand a check has the same value for the amount of money it’s written for. She tried to explain that to Samuel, but he wasn’t having it. Samuel said, “Baba, I did my verse. I want my cash.” Poor Samuel just had to deal with it, but it’s something we’re able to laugh at together as a family. Thankfully, he’s a good sport about it. That was one of several ways Baba tried to cultivate within us a love for the Bible and encourage us to hide it in our hearts, as my mom always told us to do. It’s how we stay pure, and keep from sinning (Psalm 119:9-11 ESV).

Believers often go through ebbs and flows or peaks and valleys during the Christian life, and most of the last two years was a dark and dry time for me. I was in bondage to sin, and I tried to find joy in my circumstances. It was crippling, depressing and left me feeling empty and discouraged. Like many of you, I was ready for the beginning of 2017. We’re a little more than a month in, and our Heavenly Father has graciously used the gift of a fresh start to remind me that his Word is life and that his steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3 ESV). As a shepherd uses his staff to bring his sheep back to him, Jesus rescued me from the pit.

Many of us know about God, but does our life reflect an intimate relationship with the Creator and risen Savior of the world, who redeems the broken and makes all things new? We recently finished our four-week “Knowing God” sermon series. Pastor Spence unpacked Psalms 1, 23, 67 and 51. It was exactly what I needed.

The Psalms are so rich with promises and a multitude of life-changing takeaways for one to apply to their own personal life, but some common threads throughout the book are acknowledging a need for God, crying out to him, singing his praises etc. As Pastor Spence said when he kicked off the series in Psalm1, “The beginning is foundational for the rest of the book.”

Psalm 1 reminds us that our delight needs to be in the law of the Lord. We need to be making our home in Christ (John 15:4 ESV). If we’re abiding in him, then we’ll be bearing much fruit for his glory and the benefit of others. We don’t want to wither away like the wicked. We want to grow and prosper, so we can be conduits of the gospel that feed lost people with the hope of Christ.

Psalm 23 provides the sweetest and most reassuring promise in all of scripture – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (v. 1).” Jesus is our good shepherd, and because of his finished work we have all the approval and acceptance we need (John 10:11-18 ESV). He makes us rest, and restores our soul (Psalm 23:2-3 ESV).

He never leaves us, nor forsakes. The Good Shepherd is with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (v. 4). We can live and walk in freedom and faith, because Jesus stood in our place and conquered death. Christ is better and bigger than our fears. Come what may. He has overcome the world (John 16:33 ESV). So, surely goodness and mercy shall follow us, and we’ll dwell in his house forever (Psalm 23:6 ESV).

Psalm 67 is a call to missions. It exhorts us to take the gospel to the lost and unreached (v. 2-3), so that people from every tongue, tribe and nation will one day sing the greatness of our God (Revelation 7:9 ESV), who wants the nations to be filled with the joy and gladness that is found in Christ alone. God is making for himself a people from people, and he invites us to take part in his mission. In fact, he commands us to do go (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV). It’s not a spectator sport. If you’re a bench warmer, then it’s time for you to get in the game. Go on one of our short-term mission trips. Jesus wants to see footprints, not buttprints.

We capped this series with a song of repentance from King David in Psalm 51, which he wrote after he committed adultery and murder. David knew his sin was great, but he knew God’s grace was greater. So, he put himself completely on the mercy and steadfast love of God (v. 1), and asked God to cleanse him (v. 2).

David went on to acknowledge that his sin is ever before him (v. 3) and his greatest wrong was sinning against God (v. 4). David knew there was freedom to be found in taking his sin out of the darkness and bringing it into the light. We often believe the lie that our sin isn’t hurting anybody. And since we often care more about the approval of man more than God we keep it a secret to our own peril. As Pastor Spence said, “Sin loses its power when it’s brought into the light.” This is why we confess, and seek accountability from other believers.

So, David begged God for a clean heart and to not forsake him (v. 10-11). Salvation belongs to the Lord, and there is much joy to be found in the salvation God has given us through Christ. That’s why we need to be like David. We need to beg God to restore to us the joy of our salvation (v. 12), because we so often tragically take it for granted. Salvation is a miracle, because the Son of God died in our place, the place of sinners.

David also realized how helpless he was and that he couldn’t obey God on his own. That’s why he asked God to uphold him with a willing spirit. We can’t pursue holiness apart from Jesus, which is why we need to be killing our pride and putting on the humility of Christ each day (John 15:5 ESV). God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6 ESV).

It’s imperative for us to realize our helpless state and utter dependence on God for every big and small thing in this life. He put breath into our lungs, and it’s by his very grace that we’re able to wake up in the morning. Oh, may we come to understand our need for him. For in him we have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11 ESV). The Lord is gracious, slow to anger, rich in love and good to all (Psalm 145:8-9 ESV). He is better than life.