When I was in junior high, my mom thought it best to put me in roller skates and push me out into the middle of a rink. I was shy. An introvert. And, I needed to be coaxed out of my shell. What better way to do that than to throw a party and have your kid do the hokey pokey on wheels? It was a 1970’s idea right up there with lawn darts and Roman candle sleepovers. I did put my whole self in. And my whole self out. Just in one piece on the floor. (I encourage you to look up a video on the “Hokey Pokey” children’s dance if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
Psalm 138 hit me deep in my spiritual gut this week. It reminded me of how foolish I am, doing the spiritual hokey pokey with Jesus, who requires my everything. I want to put my whole heart into following God, but there’s stuff that either I’m too embarrassed to hand over, or there’s this neurotic tendency for me to let the God of the universe know that I can control certain aspects of my life better than He can. God, my teenage sons who will be headed off to college? Holding on to them. That person I’d rather not deal with right now? God, I got that too. I put my whole self in, but then I put my whole self out.
The Psalmist has something to say for me and my fellow control freaks. In fact, 138:1 proclaims not a suggestion, but a way of life. Before all else, the Psalmist acknowledges God with a whole heart. And, because of his close relationship with God, something amazing happens.
Verse one proclaims “I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing Your praise.”
- “With my whole heart” When it comes to thanksgiving, the focus is completely on God alone. His being. His willingness to be in relationship with flawed yet faithful people. The word “whole” reveals the intimate relationship we can enjoy—-whole heart includes our regrets and fears—everything is poured out and thanksgiving to God is not polluted with inhibition.
- “..before the gods I sing Your praise.” Thanksgiving is before all that we turn into idols. The truly evil stuff we are tempted by, as well as blessings we’ve let grow out of proportion and attempt to compete with the greatness of God. Wholeness means not sharing praise with anything else.
With a whole heart, the Psalmist says thank You to God and puts the whole self in.
Two things I notice in Psalm 138 that seem to flow out of such devoted thanksgiving.
- We are protected from our seen and unseen enemies. “You stretch out Your hand, and Your right hand delivers me.(v.7)” I think this is organic—when the focus is on God, we get in touch with His awesome protection and power.
- We find meaning. “The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me. (v.8)” It’s God’s purpose for my life, not mine, that begins with a heart completely committed to Him–an undivided heart not complicated or swayed by personal agenda or society’s prescription for an abundant life.
I have a friend who doesn’t try to be wise and spiritual. She just is. I’m not jealous. I’m in awe. The woman could seriously read a cookie recipe and I’d glean something deep and profound out of it. The things that tend to bump me off course in life don’t seem to make her even look up from whatever she’s doing. And, she’s always up to doing something–caring for a large family, fighting for the rights of foster children. Sure she’s got bad days, but all that gets submitted to the One who protects and fulfills her life. She’s put her whole self in and hasn’t taken her whole self out. All the moving pieces of this dear Christian woman’s heart operate in surrender to God. And it’s making a Kingdom difference.
Abraham put Isaac in, the apostles put their livelihoods in, Esther put her safety and her people in, countless others toss in their depression, their talents, their finances, their most heart wrenching regrets—they put their whole selves in, and stand back and look what God can do with their whole heart.
What do we miss when we’re half-hearted with God?
In my experience, underneath the need to control is deep rooted fear. Why else would we not want anyone, including God, close? My prayer for anyone who reads this post is that as God’s Spirit reveals to you what you’re holding back, that you don’t waste a single second with a clenched fist on it. Pray for courage. Open up. Then thank God with a whole heart and see how He shows up to heal, protect, and fulfill.