Turning the Shark

Great White SharkAs we saw in the previous post, Psalm 119 is a poem inspired by one man’s love for the law of God and his struggle to keep it. Scattered throughout this enormous prayer are pleas to God that he might teach him to follow his laws:

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34-35)

Really? God has done all these things for me and my life is nowhere near the example that Jesus left for us. I’ve memorized the 10 Commandments, but do not keep them. I’ve read how Jesus loved his enemies, but I struggle to love my wife and kids.  I fear people more than I fear God. I get paid to study and teach them, but I am reminded daily of my failures. That’s the problem. I know what I’m supposed to do. I just don’t do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have more to learn about what it means to love God and my neighbor. I get what the author is praying for, but what troubles me is that I don’t obey what I already know. It’s like what the Apostle Paul once described:

… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:17-18)

Fortunately Psalm 119 keeps going, for if it ended at that point, there would no hope for me. He showed me what do, I failed, end of story. But I kept reading and then I understood what I needed.

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (Psalm 119:36-37)

Stu Batstone, who was one of my gospel mentors, compared my sin to a great white shark. Imagine you’ve gone swimming down at the Cape Cod National Seashore. You take in the sights:  the sun reflecting off the waters,  a colony of seals sunning themselves on the sand. Suddenly, you see a triangle moving towards you at an alarming speed. You’ve seen the reports on the six o’clock news, so you prepare yourself for a shark attack.  Who in their right mind would stand their ground, grab the fin and attempt to turn the creature out to sea? It sounds crazy and yet this is how I try to fight sin.

The shark fin is the sin I can see. I’m selfish. I have a temper. I’m self-absorbed. I’m lustful. I know I shouldn’t do these things, but when I try to turn it, my strength fails me.  Why?  Because there is shark weighing hundreds of pounds attached to that fin lurking just under the surface.  My problem is not that I occasionally do bad things. I have a heart that is diseased. It loves and desires all the wrong things.  When the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to pray “your will be done,” I turn to heaven and pray “please do my will.”

Therefore, my problem goes deeper than a few bad habits that are visible above the surface that can be reformed with some good advice. We can stop ourselves from watching explicit movies, but can we stop lusting? We can learn to be generous with our money, but can we stop ourselves from putting our needs ahead of others? We can attend church on Sundays, but can we stop our hearts from being more excited by a touchdown than we are by the gospel? No. We need God to turn our hearts, for the shark is far bigger than we know.

The writer of Psalm119 understands this. He knows that he needs God to instruct him how to love other people, but he also realizes that he lacks the strength to turn the shark . So he prays, “turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish things.”  In other words, God, I need you change the things that I love.

When we pray, let’s go deeper than worrying about what is above the surface. Let’s ask the difficult questions: What do we love more than God? What are the worthless things that have attached themselves to ours heart? Let’s confess these to God and pray that he will turn our hearts so that his love will capture our hearts and turn our actions towards Christ.

10 thoughts on “Turning the Shark

  1. This word stirs me within. Psalm 119 paints a picture of failure and faith in ways we cannot know unless we study it. That is is man in his worldly ways and God who perfects him.

    I am also drawn to verse 18: Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in Your law. This also offers an answer to what lies hidden in the Word of God that we in our uninformed and ignorant ways deem to be burdensome. There are wonderful things that satisfy selfish man, things hidden for us and not from us.

    Just like the shark again, let us not be afraid to search these vast waters.

    Thank you Servant of the Most High

    1. I agree. There is something going on in our hearts that causes us to consider the law of God as burdensome rather than liberating or beautiful. Sometimes when I read Psalm 119 I feel like I am on the outside looking in, wondering what this poet is seeing that I can’t see. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Mike Doherty

    I tried to comment but the blog wouldn’t let me so I will here…. My danger is that I often don’t think my shark is very big and that I can handle it, but it is big…. I know that I try to minimize my sharks in relation to other people’s sharks but sin is sin and God doesn’t distinguish “mortal and venial” God please change my heart Thanks for being so open, Nate…let’s continue praying for one another love you brother mike

  3. Erika

    One of the most basic concepts that spoke VOLUMES to me was the Sermon about The Lord’s Prayer. I have been saying that prayer every night before bed since childhood, never realizing in the Bible it stops at the sentence, “Deliver us from the Evil one” Now when dealing with Sin, I hit my knees and cry out to God, begging him to Deliver me! We are human, our thoughts Satan’s playground! My greatest sin is not doing what I should for the Lord because I care too much what people think of me. I miss being a part of Pacific Union, TERRIBLY! Thanks so much for taking the time to make these posts and sharing pieces of yourself! You are touching lives without even knowing it! 🙂

    1. We miss you too. I will be praying for you because I too know what it is like to live in fear of disapproval. It is a big hurdle to overcome, but we can, not because of ourselves, but because of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t give up. You get knocked backwards, get up and try again.

  4. Gary Johnson

    I have learned from personal experience that the key to a spiritual life is trusting God. It seems in America we have adopted a “work ethic”( in our religion), that closely mirrors our culture. The really hard work of believing is “waiting upon God”. Immediately we hear the acusations of “sluggard or backslider” and feel guilty, so we relieve our anxiety by getting busy. It is amazing that so many people find little joy in the Lord with their many activities. (There’s a clue in there somewhere) . I’m not sure but I don’t believe there are any examples in Scripture where man has initiated, (had an original idea) that God was impressed with and gave it His seal of approvial. We are created and everything we have has been given to us, it stands to reason that the ability to mirror Jesus is also given to us, (not something we achieve). I do think most of us who have been “Born again” are capable of making the right choices in life, we don’t, but God’s Grace lets us continue till we do. Trust and Obey, there really is no other Way!!!!

    1. I like the way you balance trust and obey. There is a strange paradox in the Christian life that I think you are referencing. We can’t grow, we can’t begin to try to follow Jesus until we first realize that we can’t, that the shark is too big. When we die to our own power, we realize that there is a power far greater in God. The Holy Spirit and gratitude for the astonishing depths of God’s grace are far greater forces to drive change that our independent efforts.

  5. I think that most of the time I’m pretty good at trying to control my external circumstances and behaviors in a meager attempt to follow the law. On the surface, my shark fin doesn’t look too threatening. But the areas I really struggle with –(my thoughts, and what I think others think of me) are a much bigger beast that looms underneath, and sometimes (ok, most of the time) I feel powerless against it.

    Recently God has really been impressing on me the vastness of His kindness. It’s overwhelming. I’m finding that the more I recognize His goodness and kindness in my life, and thank him for each little (and big) gift He gives me, the more in tune I am with His presence, and therefore the more likely I am to have an undivided heart. It’s His kindness that leads to repentance. Without a heart in love with Him, I’m a Pharisee at best.

    This reminds me of John 14:15. I used to read it as (imagined in a big, booming voice), “IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WILL KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS!!!” But now I imagine Jesus shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he reassures me: “Hey — Sarah — If you love me, you WILL keep my commandments. Ok? (continuing on vs. 16-17) Oh — and by the way: I’m also asking my Father to send you a Counselor who will always be with you — the Spirit of Truth.” Jesus clearly doesn’t expect us to be able to turn this shark on our own. It’s not about merely changing our behaviors, it’s about allowing God to change our hearts. Thanks so much for this post — I needed to be reminded.

    1. “It’s not about merely changing our behaviors, it’s about allowing God to change our hearts.” I think that really captures it and it is exactly what I needed to hear. I am wired to solve my own problems and not to rely on the Holy Spirit, a person that I cannot see. Thanks Sarah

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