Longing for Significance
Scripture: Psalm 103
In the church, we call the Christmas season “Advent”, which means arrival. And we’re talking, of course, about the arrival of Jesus. The Israelites were waiting on the arrival of the Messiah. For us, Christmas is a time to remember the arrival of Jesus and that’s what we will do over the next four weeks. The series is called “Season of Longing” and we will look at how the arrival of Jesus relates to our deepest longings as human beings.
This morning we will consider the longing for significance and our text is a Psalm of King David – Psalm 103.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
David begins with worship.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
And what are the benefits of the Lord? He’s the One:
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
God forgives sin, heals diseases, and redeems life. In other words, God deals with our spiritual problem and the physical problems that sin causes – sickness and death. But there’s more! God replaces those bad things with good things. He’s the One:
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
He replaces sin, sickness, and death with covenant love, mercy, goodness, and renewal. What else does God do?
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
Notice the emphasis on how God deals with His people. He is patient. He is merciful. He’s not dealing with us according to our failures. In fact, David begins searching for a way to make God’s love for His people sound larger than life.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
God’s love is impossibly big. His forgiveness is impossibly wide. But God is not removed and distant from us…
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
He’s near to us, like a loving and concerned father.
And then for a brief moment, David shifts the focus away from God. Right in the middle of the Psalm, he starts talking about us – about humans.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
In other words, who are we that we should receive all those benefits from God? Who are we that God deals with us in mercy and love? Who are we that God deals with us at all? We are dust. Our days are like grass. Our good days are like a flower – here one day and gone the next.
In a word, we are insignificant. David highlights the insignificance of mankind and then he quickly brings us back to thinking about God.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
David reminds us that God’s benefits are extended through covenants and carry generational blessings to covenant keepers. Now, pay close attention to the end.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Notice that David concludes this Psalm by highlighting the significance of God, His angels, and His creation. God is King and everywhere is His kingdom. The angels are His mighty ones busy doing the will of God. All creation bows in worship to God.
And then, as a tagline or a footnote after considering the vast significance of God and the universe, David adds his own little voice. “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
If we wanted to map out the flow of this Psalm, it might look something like this:
God is awesome. (vs. 1-13)
We are insignificant. (vs. 14-16)
God is awesome. (vs. 17-22)
That’s the Psalm. Now, why are we here? We are here to consider the human longing for significance and how it relates to the Incarnation of Christ.
Let’s start with the author of the Psalm, a man we’ve been studying now for months. David was the most significant person on the planet during his own lifetime and arguably one of the most significant people who ever lived on the earth. They wrote songs about David while he was alive! How many people in history can say that?
And yet, in spite of that fact, David demonstrates a remarkable humility in the songs he wrote. David did not believe his own press. He was far from perfect, but he was humbled by his relationship with God. David knew his place. He was the king, but he was still made of dust. Compared to the God of the universe, even the most significant person on the planet felt his insignificance.
Now stop to consider the longing for significance that we experience in our culture. In the eyes of the world, the most significant people on the planet are the most newsworthy. Political figures, celebrities, professional athletes, influencers… these are the people we think are most significant, followed by people in high paying careers.
I did some research this week on young people’s career aspirations versus reality. A major study was published last year on the career goals of 600,000 15-year-olds from 41 countries. Exactly half of them said they want to work in one of ten popular careers – including actors, athletes, dancers, and musicians. But in reality, less than 1% will end up working in these jobs.
In fact, only 4% of adults say they are now working the job they dreamed of as a child. And the odds of your name ever being listed on Wikipedia is 1 in 10,000. But we are fascinated with those people.
Last week, my son and I saw Soulja Boy in his yellow McLaren on I-55 outside Batesville. I instantly felt cooler and all I did was see a car with a celebrity in it.
By our 20s, most of us know we will never be famous, but we still feel a longing for our life “to count”. We want our life to matter. We want to do something important. And while I don’t believe that desire is all bad, I do think it is skewed by our sin.
Some of that longing for significance is more than just a desire to have value – it’s actually a desire to be equal with God, to sit in the place of God. Deep down, there is a desire in the human heart to actually be the most significant person in our own lives. And very often, our words and actions reveal that desire.
My sin wants me think I’m the most important person in every room I enter. And that’s not OK.
There’s something Jesus said very often to his disciples – “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Have you heard that before?
Let’s think about Jesus for a moment. At Christmas, we celebrate his birth – but consider what that means. We believe Jesus is God in the flesh. God became a man.
What did David say about humans in Psalm 103? God knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. We are insignificant compared to God’s eternal majesty. But what did Jesus do?
He became dust! He became one of us. In a sense, Jesus gave up his significance to become like us. Listen to how Paul describes the Incarnation:
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Our longing for significance is right there. WE count equality with God as something to be grasped. Jesus did not. Though He is actually equal with God, He emptied himself to become like us – by choice. And after he did that, God exalted Him and gave him a name above every name.
As Scottish pastor John Duncan once said, “The dust of the earth now sits on the throne of the universe.”
And what does that mean for us? As a Christian, I am significant because I am not my own… I belong to God in Christ Jesus. I could become the most famous person on the earth in my lifetime, and it wouldn’t add anything at all to what Jesus has already accomplished for me.
I’m never the most important person in my life or in anyone else’s life. That’s not where my significance comes from. It doesn’t come from the numbers on my paycheck or my 401k. It doesn’t come from the size of my house or the price tag of my car. It doesn’t come from the number of followers or friends I have.
My significance comes directly from the Lord of heaven, who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Christmas is a great time to remember that the universe is bigger than me. It’s a great time to be humbled by the birth of Christ. It’s an opportunity to repent of my selfish and self-promoting tendencies. And it’s an opportunity to love and serve others, counting them more significant than myself.