We're reading this morning from the 90th Psalm, Psalm 90 - and this is the Psalm that we will be thinking of in a few moments, Psalm 90, which is a Psalm of Moses. Moses wrote this Psalm, and the title that is given in your Bible is usually: 'A Prayer of Moses the Man of God'.
Verse 1: "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom".
Let us bow before the Lord in a word of prayer: Our Father, we come before Thee today, and we ask with the hymnwriter of old: 'To make our weak hearts strong and brave, send the fire. To live a dying world to save, send the fire. Oh see us on Thy altar lay our lives, our soul, this very day. To grant the offering, Lord we pray, send the fire'. In Jesus' name, Amen.
If you turn with me again to that Psalm of Moses, Psalm 90, as we meditate upon it today. I've entitled my message to you this morning: 'Your God Is Too Small', your God is too small. You might wonder about that title, but it is actually the title of the book that was written many years ago. A man called J. B. Phillips, who has a very good translation of the New Testament Scriptures, he wrote several books. He was a professor in a university, a professor of Greek, and he wrote a book in the pathway of his life: 'Your God Is Too Small'. What he addressed within that book was simply the attitude of people toward God. Not simply their attitude, but the imagination that they had about Him - whether it was a 'Father Christmas' figure that sat on a cloud and twanged at a harp, or whether it was a God of wrath who had no love or kindness, but just used us, the human race, as pawns in His big almighty plans.
J. B. Phillips wrote this book in order for those who read it to cease from putting God into pigeonholes. We have a tendency to do that, don't we? Whether as Christians or non-Christians, we tend to pigeonhole, to categorise, to systemise, to dissect God. It is hard as human beings to determine what God is and who He is, but I want to encourage you all here this morning - especially those that are saved - to shun any system, any doctrinal scheme, which tries to put God into a box. Now, I'm not saying that God does certain things and God does not do certain things - that is true - but too often, in the day and age which we live, we limit God. Like J. B. Phillips says, our God, our conception of God, the God that we have in our mind, is too small. He is not the true and the living God that we find within the Scriptures.
As we read this Psalm we find one thing out about God, it is a word that begins with 'T' - often we read it in books and so forth, we maybe hear it from a pulpit, but we do not understand what it means. It is the word 'transcendent'. As we read Moses' words from many years ago, we see that Moses' image, Moses' idea, his conception, the picture that he had of God in his mind, was one of transcendence. The word 'transcendence' simply means, to put it in the simplest terms possible, it simply means 'above us'. God is above us - simply profound, yet profoundly simple - He is above everything that we are, every conception of ourselves, God exceeds it to the ultimate. In fact, if you can think of the most perfect thing, if you can think of the whitest thing, the cleanest thing, the biggest thing, and you multiply your conception of the biggest, purest thing in your mind - you multiply it to infinity - you still will never reach how God is above us.
We cannot understand God, and no matter how many schemes or systems or theologies we give birth to, God is beyond our understanding. Yet what we tend to do as Christians, and as those who write books - theologians and so forth - we tend to deflate God. You see, in an attempt to understand Him we often drag - and I speak reverently - we often trail God down to our own level. Of course the word of God teaches us that the image of God, the word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, came who was the express image and the brightness of God's person - and He came, as we saw a few weeks ago, Immanuel came because we needed something to look at. We needed a person to speak to, we needed someone to speak back to us, because perhaps God - even in our sinfulness - God was too transcendent for us to reach.
Yet we must remember, as Moses brings to our attention, that God remains a transcendent God - and God, perhaps, says to us in whatever conception of His being we have, He says in Psalm 50:21: 'Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself'. We have almost brought God, perhaps, in our minds, to a level such as ourselves. We think of Him, perhaps, as having a body, as being a type of human being, of being a creature, of being able to see Him, touch Him, feel Him, being able to see Him move. But God says: 'Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes'.
What God is doing to Moses, and through Psalm 90, is setting in order before our eyes what God is, who He is. The first thing I want to bring before us today to meditate upon is in verses 1 to 4, and it's simply this: our God is too small because we underestimate God. We underestimate God. 'Lord ', verse 1 says, 'thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations'. When I meditated upon that phrase 'in all generations' it astounded me, and I want you simply to do this today: to meditate upon that. What is Moses saying? 'In all generations', well, you think of the ages of your life, personally, right from birth - and you go through all the teething stages, and the growing stages, you're a toddler, then you get to the figures where you've two figures at your age, and you get older and become a teenager. You go through all the problems, the ups and the downs, the hormonal changes, the turmoils emotionally - everything - and eventually you become an adult. You grow, you get employment, you've been given education, and God - right from birth, right till you begin working - God is with you, God is there. You are moving among Him, in Him. You move on, you come to middle age - and I'll not debate what that is - but you come to middle age, and then eventually old-age, until we pass away and go wherever we go to - whether it be hell, for those without Christ, or heaven for those with Him.
But right throughout all those stages of our individual life, God has been our dwelling place. In one sense, as a Christian, God is our dwelling place because we dwell in Him, and God dwells in us. But even if we're not saved, because of the nature of our world, and because of the transcendence of God - His bigness, His greatness - He's your dwelling place as well. But then I thought of it on a bigger scale, not just in your individual personal life, but in the whole chronology of history - right from the beginning of time, where God created the world and all things that were in it, when He placed the stars in the sky and the planets in their orbit - right from there through all the ages of time, through the patriarchs, Moses that we read about, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through the judges, the birth of the alphabet that we write with today - through that generation God was there. People, the living human race, dwelt in God.
Through all the kingdoms of Israel, through the kingdom of Babylon, through the great kingdom of Egypt, through the Roman Empire, throughout the period of the great philosophers right to the birth of Christ - in all those generations of the world, God was our dwelling place. The dark ages, the battle of Hastings, the Reformation, the Crusades, until man was placed on the moon - and until the age of computers came. Think of this: throughout this awesome span of history that almost is foreign to our very imagination, God has been the dwelling place of all mankind! Does that not blow your mind? It is remarkable, just as Paul said in his sermon at Athens - as he stood and he looked at the superstition and the false religion of the people of that town, he said: 'For in him', in God, 'just as one of your own poets has said, in God we live, we move, and we have our being'. We live in Him, we move in Him, we think in Him, we eat in Him, we sleep in Him!
'Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations'. I wanted to try and illustrate to you the greatness of God, and no matter how much I try to do it it will be imperfect. But I thought of getting a little poster - you know, often when you go to the planetarium poster shop, often one of the posters will be a poster of our own solar system. I thought if I had, perhaps, an A4 poster of our solar system, with all the planets in their orbits, and all the stars and constellations - and I took it and with blue-tac stuck it on the wall there. Think of how vast the scale of that poster is, so small yet such a vast scale - millions upon millions of miles, light years of distance - and the size of the planets, they're minute on the poster, but think of how big they are in real life! Yet when I set that poster on the wall, it seems to sink into pale insignificance. The wall seems to drown it! God is far bigger than that.
God is bigger than the wall! Bigger than the building in relation to that solar system! When you think of how big God is, that we cannot contain His size in our mind, oh how big He is! How great He is! How above us He is! How vast He is! Well might we say with the Psalmist, and with the reformer who wrote the hymn based upon the Psalm: 'A mighty fortress is our God'. God is a refuge - how could He not be at such size, at such strength, at such vastness? A refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble - therefore we shall not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains fall into the midst of the sea.
If you're saved this morning maybe you're going through turmoil, maybe you're going through stress or bereavement, or problems that no other person in this building knows about, or perhaps even in your family. Teenager, you're going through problems, no-one knows about it but you're chewing it over in your mind, and it's festering and fermenting, and it's getting dangerous. But listen, listen this morning: your God is not too small! Your God is big enough, great enough, strong enough, to take care of you - and the relationship that you have with Him, think of it, that this little microscopic speck upon that little poster in relation to the vastness of God - that God loves you! He loves you individually, He loves everything about you - everything you do, the way you part your hair, God loves you! Hallelujah for our relationship with God! It never changes, though the ages may change, though the practices of the ages may change, our relationship to Him never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
We saw in verse 1 that our God is present at all things, all of the ages. If you look at verse 2 we see that He is before all things, not only is He present in all things, but He is before all things. 'Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God'. I thought of this, tried to picture it in my mind. 'Before the mountains were brought forth' - that Hebrew word, there that expresses 'brought forth', is the word that's used for childbirth. The scene that Moses is picturing - and remember Moses wrote, probably, the creation story, so he knows what he's talking about and God has given him a revelation of this - he pictures the earth, the world, as giving birth to the mountains as they rise out of the sea. Moses is saying: 'Before that happened, before the Himalayas, before the Alps, before the Rockies, before the Pennines and the Highlands and the Mournes and the Sperrins, before the mountains - when the earth was simply water and sky'.
He goes on in the verse to say: 'Even before the earth had a form', when there was no universe, when there were no stars, when there were no solar systems or galaxies, when there was just God and there wasn't anything else - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect fellowship, perfect love and intimacy - before all of it there was just God. Right from the depths of his soul in a cry of exasperation at the glory of God, he says: 'From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God'. That's the only way Moses could understand it: 'From everlasting - from the time when I know things start, to the time eventually when things will end - You are God. But I know that You're God even beyond those two spheres'. That verse can be translated: 'From the vanishing point to the vanishing point, thou art God'.
What does that mean? Well, if you've ever done art, you'll know that if you draw picture of a road - maybe when you were 4 years of age you would have drawn the picture of the road like that, or like that [parallel lines]. When you get a little bit older and you go to art class, they teach you to draw the road like that - because the further it goes, the narrower it gets, until eventually into the horizon it disappears and you can't see any more. That little speck, where each side of the road meets each other at the horizon, is called the vanishing point. It's just the horizon, you can see for 22 miles and you can't see any more - that's where the horizon ends - but if you walk another 22 miles you can see another 22. From everlasting, from the vanishing point, from horizon to the horizon, thou art God.
Do you know what the horizon is? It simply this: the law of the horizon says to you and I: 'Thus far and no further'. You can see that far, but you can't go any further - but although you can see that far and you can't go any further, you know that there is further, there is more. That's what Moses was saying: 'I can only see from the start to the finish of time, I can only see from everlasting to everlasting, but I know there's more. I know You existed beyond that, before that, after that - from the horizon to the horizon, even though I can't see the rest, thou art God'. He emphatically declares: 'Thou art God'.
The Canaanites, the people who lived in the land that the Israelites would inherit, that Moses was leading them to, they believed that El - Jehovah, the God that we believe in - they believed that that God was the Father of all the gods. He was the greatest, but He was the Father and there were a lot more gods. They also believed that along the path of the life of these gods, one of the gods called Baal, he led a usurpation, and he became king of the gods - and our God, El, became lower. That's where you get Baal worship from. But what does Moses say? He's saying this, declaring to the Canaanites and declaring to every country, every religion, every person in this world that does not believe our God: 'Thou art God and there is none other'.
I hope you've seen how big our God is. Verse 4 says: 'A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday'. He is present at all things, He is before all things, He is beyond all things - from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God - He is above all things, thou art our God, and He outlives all things. A thousand years, what did Peter say? He echoed the same phrase: 'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day'. A thousand years as one day! Twenty-four hours - now, we don't take this literally of course, it's figurative to show how big God is, how great He is, how eternal He is. But if you did take it literally it might give you some kind of an idea as to how big He is.
If it was literal, one hour for us would be 41 years. One hour with God, 41 years! One minute, a half a year - 182 days! One second would be three days for God! Now that's not the way it means, but it gives us some kind of an idea as to how big He is! C. S. Lewis, that great author, trying to convey - and some of you who were at school this week will remember this - trying to convey the eternality of God, that God is eternal - do you know what he said? He said to try to imagine an endless piece of paper, an endless reel of paper that goes on and on for all eternity and never ends. Upon that sheet of paper you take a pen and you draw a line about three centimetres long upon that endless piece of paper. That endless piece of paper represents eternity, and that little line represents time. If you can imagine that, you know how vast it is - but, you see, it's beyond our imagination for it is vaster than that.
We underestimate God, but Moses also says that we overestimate ourselves. In verses 5 to 10 he says: 'Thou carriest them', that's men, 'away as with a flood'. You remember the flood, where God lost patience with man and his sinfulness, and He just wiped them out with a flood - that could be what Moses is alluding to here: that God, if He wants, in the click of a finger could wipe out the whole human race. It's nothing to Him in His vastness and His greatness. Young, in his literal translation of the Bible, put it like this: 'Thou hast inundated them'. God has inundated them! Have you ever been inundated? You're planning to go out or to do something special in the house, and someone comes in - you haven't been expecting them - and you're inundated. Well it's far greater than that, but it's the idea that God just takes over. God consumes men, God is above them, beyond them, and vastly rolls over them!
We have such a high opinion of ourselves, don't we? Don't we? But when we see what God is, we think with another Psalmist: 'What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?'. What is man? He is nothing! If it was left up to our logic, we are nothing! We are insignificant, we don't figure, we don't count! 'Thou carriest them away as with a flood' - men, like bubbles in a storm blowing to and fro and bursting, just going everywhere - all his ideas, all his philosophies, all his technologies, all his achievements, his institutions, his religion are swept away in one breath of God! The poet, Francis Bacon, put it like this:
'Thou carriest man away as with a tide,
Then down swim all his thoughts
That mounted high'.
When we look at God and we see that our God is not too small, but He's too big for us to understand: He's transcendent, He's eternal, He's above us. When we look at Him, oh I don't know about you, but how small, how small I feel! Verses 5, 6 and 7 depict men as grass. Moses is looking upon summer climate here in Canaan, and what happened was: in the winter, unlike us, the grass would have been at its peak - it would have been green and luscious, beautiful grass. But within a few days of hot sun and scorching heat, it would have been burned to a parched scenery within just a few days. Just like men. My friend, you remember C. S. Lewis' illustration - the little three centimetre line that was time upon eternity - that is time, that is time beginning to end! That is the generations of the world, history, the universe - how small is your life upon that line?
My friend, if you do not know Christ in this meeting this morning, consider your God. Consider the God with whom you will have to do one day, you will have to give an account of your measly life to this great God, this holy God, this awesome God! What will you say if you're not in Christ, if you're not redeemed, if you're not bought with the blood of Christ, what will you say? Men are as grass, and each human being in this world is as a drop in the giant stream of time which flows through the land of eternity.
'Man is stout and strong today,
Tomorrow he is turned to clay.
This day he is in his bloom,
The next he is in the tomb'.
We overestimate ourselves, but quickly as we conclude this morning, verses 7 and 8 show us - not only have we seen that we underestimate God, we overestimate ourselves - but verse 7 and 8 shows us this, and how forcibly it came to me: as Moses prepares your heart, that's what he's doing, he's preparing your heart to show you God's greatness, to show you your smallness, and now in verses 7 and 8 he shows us that we underestimate our sin. We underestimate our sin: 'For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance'.
Think about this for a moment, think about it: how great God is, we can't approach Him, we can't conceive Him. We've seen it already, that poster, the earth, the little speck that is you - do you think that God would miss you? That God, one day when He's surveying and looking over His universe, that He would miss you? Sure it's only one of millions! God is so great, we are so small - but see this, my friend, Christian and non-Christian, our sin is so big! The expression that we often hear today, it's slang, 'in your face' - it simply means 'arrogant', it simply means 'before you', you can't miss it, it's loud, it's a loud colour - we would say it's 'in your face'. Well, listen, if I can use this expression: our sin is in God's face!
It doesn't matter how small we are, our sin ascends as a stench to His holy presence. If that doesn't make us, as believers, check our walk, pull up our socks, I don't know what will. Charles Finney, the great revivalist in America, what he used to do was - as a regular practice in his daily devotions - he would sit down with a book, and it was a private book that no one else could read or look into, he would take a pen and he would take this book, and at least once a week he would sit down and he would write 'Commission' on one page and 'Omission' on the other page. He would write down the sins that he had committed, or that he conceived that he had committed - sins of commission, things that he had done that were wrong. On the other side sins of omission, things that he had left undone that he ought to have done. Charles Finney would weep over those sins, and confess them to God, and he was all the holier for it - and God used him all the more for it.
One sin, that's all it takes, and it's in the face of God. Quickly, as we finish: we underestimate our God, we overestimate ourselves, we underestimate our sin - but we overestimate our time. We overestimate our time. Verse 12 especially: 'So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom'. We see our sinfulness, don't we? We're bound to see it in the light of God. We see it so vividly, and as the poet Francis Bacon said again: 'Thus hast Thou hanged our life upon brittle pins'. Brittle pins! Why? Why is our life so seemingly insignificant? Why can it be wiped away like a flood? Why can it be put in the oven like the wheat and the grass, it comes out and it's parched and dead? 'Thou hast hanged our life upon brittle pins, to let us know that it will not bear our sins' - that's why.
In the light of that, Moses says: 'Oh Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom'. What does that mean? Well, Paul iterated it in the New Testament, and he simply said this: 'Redeem the time'! What's 'redeem'? Buying back - 'Buy back the time', every inch, every minute, every millisecond of time for the believer should be redeemed, it should be used to the glory of God. That doesn't mean that every single minute you ought to be praying, or reading your Bible - although I would encourage you to do that! It means that everything, whether it is eating, drinking, walking, or sleeping - everything ought to be done to the glory of God and Christ should be seen in it all!
He said: 'Redeem the time', he also said in 1 Corinthians 7 and verse 29: 'The time is short'. That's why we ought to number our days! Moses says that if you live the life you ought to live you should be 70 years. If you're fortunate and God blesses you, you might live to 80 years - but it's very odd if anybody lives really over the 90-100 mark. In the light of that what ought we to do with our lives? That's one side of the coin about numbering our days, but the other side is this: it would be a very easy thing, and there is a great temptation for us who are involved in the church of Jesus Christ and doing things for the Lord, to cram every single moment of our lives with activity - and don't get me wrong activity is good if it's to the Lord, but activity is no substitute for spirituality.
What I would urge some of you to do is this: to take time to be holy. It takes time, it takes mornings, afternoons, evenings. It takes weeks on your face, maybe not even uttering a word, before God - but in His presence worshipping Him. That takes time. The poet despaired with his activity in his life that was meant to be for God, and Faber said this:
'Self-wearied, Lord, I come,
For I have lived my life too fast'. I've lived my life too fast!
'Now that years bring me nearer home,
Grace must be slowly used to make it last.
When my heart beats too quick I think of Thee,
And of the leisure of Thy long eternity'.
It's great to be involved in the work of the Lord, isn't it? It's great to be involved in your own employment, but the question you may be asking yourself when it comes to that judgement day and God hands out the rewards that are yours - and you think: 'I lived my life too fast. If only I had been still to know that He is God'. May God bless His words to your hearts.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Your God Is Too Small" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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