The Approval of One

 “Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.” Ps 27:12

“The mists of criticism do hang about a mountain. Men who want no mists must be content with plains and deserts.  Mists come with mountains. Soon the mists will evaporate, and the mountain will stand out in all its grandeur in the morning sunlight. Multitudes will stay in the valley, for there are few who aspire to reach the summit.” Richard Froude

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That is not really true. Words may not be able to break our bones but they can put some serious hurt upon our hearts. Proverbs 12:18 makes this statement, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The words of others have a profound effect upon the way we view our lives, our value and our purpose. There are many reckless voices out there that do not have our best interests at heart. It is absolutely essential that we listen to the words that bring healing rather than hurting.  

 In Psalm 27, the psalmist has heard the Voice that brings eternal joy. The Lord is the stronghold of His life. All of his life is orientated toward one life-directing goal, “That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in His temple.” His eyes have been opened to see the glory of God and it has changed everything. But, as soon as he discovered that God was his friend, he discovered that he had gained a host of enemies.

In verses 1-6, the psalmist shares his meditation upon the security he has as a servant of the Lord. In verse 7, the psalmist moves from meditation to supplication. It is a reminder to all of us that although the Lord has committed himself to our well-being, he has ordained that prayer is the means to move him to action. He has just asked that the Lord would teach him his ways so that he could avoid the ambushes his enemies have set before him. Now, he asks that the Lord would not turn him over to the passions of his foes.

Why this would be his concern, I am not sure. There are incidents in the Bible where God turns the disobedient over to the hands of the enemy for discipline. But, we have no evidence that this is the case with the psalmist. It is more likely that he knows the hatred of his enemies, knows that they will stop at nothing to destroy his life before God, including resorting to lies and slander. So, he prays that the Lord will give him the wisdom and the courage to persist even though his name and his motives are being trashed by his enemies.

 I think I can say without any reservation that the moment you begin to follow the voice of God, you will also hear a cacophony of voices seeking to intimidate you: The greater the call the louder and more reckless they will be. That is something of what Froude was saying above.  When you step out in faith and bank all of your success upon the promises of God, there will always be those who will feel uncomfortable by your boldness. Mists of criticism surround the life that dares to leave the ordinary and safe valleys of life for the risk and rare vistas of God’s mountaintop glory.

Moses heard the voices. So did David and Nehemiah. Read the biographies of reformers like John Newton, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln. You will find they were all subject to the cruelest of slanderous lies. They kept going for one reason. They lived for the “Approval of One.” Christ had spoken. He called them to his work. It was a God-glorifying, people blessing dream. If it was a right thing to do, then sacrifice and struggle would be a small price to pay for the privilege of serving the Lord in this way.

That was the testimony of Paul in Galatians 1:15-17. “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” God had given him the upward call. He did not need the validation of men or even the apostles to obey. He heard from God and that was enough.

In Luke 3:22, we are privy to an incredible insight into the Father’s relationship with the Son. The time had come for Jesus to commence his ministry that would display the glory of God on the cross. After being baptized in water, the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove. Then, there was a voice from heaven. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” In that one sentence I find all of the motivation I need for bold, courageous service. Jesus heard with his own ears that not only was he loved by the Father, but the Father was totally pleased with him.

To devote ourselves to pleasing the Lord is life’s greatest calling and delight. It is not legalism. It is not an attempt to get a positive word out of a reluctant and stern father. No, it is the joy of promoting the glory of God because he first loved us and sent His only Son to die for us. It is not an attempt to even things out. We could never do that! Nor, is it an attempt to impress him with our devotion. He calls us to himself. He gives us a God-glorifying mission. And He gives us the grace to do what he has called us to do. He gets all the glory and we get the joy. No, the call to serve is rewarded by the delight we receive in seeing the name of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ, praised.   

Teddy Roosevelt was one who knew both the rewards and the risks of attempting to do something great. Shortly after his Presidency, he spoke at Paris Sorbonne. Here is what he said about the rewards of daring greatly:

It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

There is no greater devotion or enthusiasm than pleasing the Lord with your one short life. Let the critics crow. Let the lions roar. You devote yourself to receiving the approval of the one Voice that really matters. May you hear the only words that will make your life really worthwhile: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ [Matt 25:21]