Selah | Sermon from 10/15/17

Based on Psalm 67

Busy seems to be the mantra for life today. We wake up and get going and don’t stop. Many of us say frequently that life is just “go go go.” When asked how things are going, our common response is to say not “good,” or “fine,” but rather “busy.” And indeed, we are busy, to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes at the end of the week, collapsing rather than socializing seems to be the order of the weekend. Life has many demands, many pressures, many tasks to be accomplished, and so we keep going, keep doing, we stay busy.
Being busy, the kind of busy that leads to exhaustion, often comes from simple life maintenance. We must stay on top of all the little things; otherwise, the house will become a disaster. Otherwise, we’ll get overwhelmed with all we have to do for work, for our families, for our civic obligations. Otherwise, we’ll get so far behind that we’ll be worse off than we are now! We have much to do! We must keep going. And so, we stay busy.
But being busy isn’t just that. We choose to stay busy because of the opportunity it creates. If we stay busy at work, we can accomplish more than our colleagues, work our way up the ranks, make more money, or expand our business. If we stay busy in our professions, we can gain recognition and accolades. If we stay busy in our community, we become essential, needed. Being busy means creating opportunity for ourselves.
And for our children, being busy forms a necessity to make sure they’re well-rounded and exposed to a wide variety of opportunities. And so, we cart them around to all sorts of different arts, sports, and academic opportunities, one after the other, so that they can experience all life has to offer and find their way to be who they want to be. Being busy means giving our children opportunity.
This is life. Many of us are the modern family of contemporary America, busy creating opportunity that leaves us overstressed, overworked, overwhelmed; busy.
The question before us this morning is this: is being busy, creating opportunity, how God intended for us to live?
The Psalms are a model for the life of faith. They teach us how to be in relationship with God because we get to hear what that relationship was like for all the sundry authors of these 150 Psalms. I love the Psalms because they are a beautiful expression of what it means to live life together with God. They paint a brilliant picture, sometimes bold and dark, sometimes wispy and light, sometimes in between, as they give our hearts and our innermost depths a voice as they model for us what it means to be in relationship with God.
That model includes an oft-inserted word in many of the Psalms: Selah.
It’s a word often skipped when reading or when typing into a bulletin or onto screens. It almost looks like an afterthought, like it’s a footnote in a book: that thing professors tell you to read and you never do. But there it is, occurring 78 times throughout the psalms.
It’s an uncommon word in Hebrew, one that leaves many translators scratching their heads, but one thing is for sure: it’s a purposeful pause in the poetry.
Earlier, we read the scripture together without the pauses. In fact, I quite purposefully had the word Selah deleted from the first scripture reading. So let’s read it again together, this time, with the pauses.
[Read scripture again]
Feel the difference? Selah is a purposeful pause. It’s designed to help us experience the power of God speaking through this ancient poetry.
In Psalm 67, we get two purposeful pauses. Both are designed to make us absorb the point of this Psalm: the glory of the God that should lead us to praise and experience God’s blessing in our life.
The purposeful pauses divide up the psalm so that we can reflect on each of those points. The first pause comes after the declaration of God’s greatness, the second after the call to praise, leaving us with hearing the blessing that comes when we live a life of praise.
These purposeful pauses are meant to cause reflection and absorption. That’s the difference we felt as I read the scripture again. Our minds had time to consider the power of the words, the experience we just had, before moving on. The purposeful pauses make sure that we’re not missing the important point of this Psalm.
And this is how Selah models for us the life of faith. In our rapid pace of life, Selah causes us to make sure that we’re not missing the important things.
One night, Jackson was in bed reading with Dana. I was rushing around through school work in my last semester of seminary. My head was focused on my work. My heart was focused on my work. I was absorbed in the work, moving quickly to make sure I got things done before deadlines. Such was the pace of life while I worked full-time as Associate Pastor at Vineville, lived in Macon, and went to seminary at Emory up in Atlanta full-time. From the bedroom, I heard the little voice of Jackson, who was four years old at the time, reading. But I didn’t comprehend it. I was too focused on moving forward with my work, too busy, too carried along by the perpetual motion of life.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. My child was reading for the first time. This was a big moment! But schoolwork, deadlines, things to do, everything piled on me and demanded I continue to move forward. Don’t lose momentum, I thought. Don’t lose the perpetual motion of your work or you won’t recover and you won’t get the work done.
That’s the temptation we all face in this life: don’t pause and take things in, don’t pause to take note of special moments, don’t pause for worship or to do things that you enjoy; don’t pause because you’ll lose the forward movement, the perpetual motion, the momentum. And if you did lose it…well; just the thought of losing it is enough to strike fear into our hearts.
In the end, I did pause to go and hear Jack read and celebrate with him for this accomplishment. But it was with great difficulty that I made this choice, for I, too, was scared of what would happen if I lost that motion. I needed an intermission to my busy way of life; otherwise, I might miss a deep truth about God and who I am in God: a father of a son whom God was developing into a reader after much struggle.
Into the overstressed, overworked, overwhelmed, busy way of life that causes us to miss the important things, God says, “Selah.”
Selah is more than a simple word in the Psalms: it’s a practice. It models for us the way we are to live life: with purposeful pauses to absorb the reality of who God is and who we are in God. It’s a call on our lives, as a people of faith, to be reminded that we live first and foremost for the worship of the God to whom we owe all and second that we are loved by our God and called to serve God with our lives. Selah calls us not to live overstressed, overworked, overwhelmed lives, but rather calls us to freedom from the tyranny of being busy.
This means we must live life by God’s Selah design. That requires purposeful pauses in our schedule, intentional intermissions from being busy. God has designed life in that way for this simple reason: if we keep going, if we never stop, if we always seek to do more because we want to be well regarded, we want our kids to be well rounded, we want to produce, we want to impress, we want to gain status, we want to gain politically or socially, we want to get promoted, we want….
What we want is our ego and pride. What we want is our lives to be about us. If we’re honest with ourselves this morning, our being busy is nothing less than making life about us; it’s simply personal pride. Our egos say that we can do it all, be it all, achieve it all, provide it all. Our pride wants us to be glorified, and the better we keep our house, the better we keep up with all the demands of life, the more we can demonstrate how well we manage being busy, the more we get glory from others.
Being busy gives us the glory and causes us to focus on serving ourselves. That, indeed, is the opposite of a life marked by Selah, one that gives God the glory and focuses on serving God through our lives. And lest we think that being busy is an inescapable way of things, consider this: do we really believe that God calls us to be exhausted all the time? Do we think that God desires that we be overwhelmed? No, God does not desire, nor design, life for us to be overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed; busy is not God’s way of things. Selah is the antidote to the busy lifestyle; a way for us to resist the prideful temptation to always do more and be more.
Selah is a quiet call to experience that God is of clarity, not overwhelm; God is of rest, not rush; God is of peace, not anxiety. Selah is release from being busy. Selah is freedom.
Selah is, indeed, freedom, but I can imagine that adjusting your life this morning can feel like an impossibility, for we cannot simply scrub the expectations and obligations that currently weigh us down. When I first heard a sermon like this, I felt the same way, and I was left scratching my head for how to comply. So, this morning, I offer us four practical steps to achieving a life marked by Selah, lessons my family and I have learned from our own practice of Selah for the past five years. Achieving a life of freedom from the tyranny of schedules is indeed possible; in my own life, I have experienced such and continue to experience it.
First, create a schedule that revolves around Selah practice: purposeful pauses in your schedule for fun and rest. This means that these intentionally scheduled intermissions are the first priority of your weekly schedule, around which everything else revolves. This is time to be spent doing things that are good for your soul, that feel restful and releasing of the pressures and burdens of life. That means we are to make scheduling time for fishing, hunting, reading, hiking, dinners with friends, and especially time to just casually be a family, the first priority of our week.
A good rule of thumb is to create at least 16 hours of purposeful rest in your schedule beyond sleep time; the equivalent of one full day of waking hours. It’s easiest to set aside a full day, like Saturday, for Selah, but if a full day is impossible in your schedule, make 16 hours the goal and begin by setting aside as many hours as you can for fun, rest, and release, in your schedule. So first, create a schedule whose first priority is rest and fun.
Second, it means making space for worship both corporately and individually with Selah. As a part of those sixteen hours, set aside time for one on one encounters with God; like a devotional or quiet time. This is a chance to read our bibles, pray, meditate, read a devotional book, anything that connects our souls to God in a deep and meaningful way. Also make church attendance a priority as you schedule those sixteen hours, such that we experience God through the power of corporate worship. So second, within those sixteen hours set aside for rest and fun, schedule times for corporate and individual worship of God.
Third, practicing Selah requires trusting God with your time. I have found that time is just like money: it’s a limited resource and having more of it comes only from wise management and trust in following God’s call. Wise management is trusting that God will provide enough time to accomplish the things God has called you to do. God is in the midst of your goals and will bring success to them if God shares in those goals. And if success for a goal does’t come while practicing a life marked by Selah, I suspect that God has not called you to whatever that goal is. That might mean some hard decisions, but they’re worthwhile to make room for this essential Selah practice. So third, trust God with your time.
Fourth and finally, a life marked by Selah, where we have trusted God with our time means being honest with ourselves. We are not capable of doing everything; no one is. We overcommit ourselves because we believe we are needed, we believe we are essential. The sobering truth is none of us are. Were I to suddenly disappear from the earth, a new pastor would come, a new member of rotary would come, a new friend would come to all my friends. I am only essential to my wife and children. By yielding to God’s design for life, Selah reminds us that we are not God, and as such we must abandon our pride that calls us to believe we are essential to this world. When we get to this place, we find that Selah relieves the pressure and burdens of feeling that we must be all things to all people, that we must commit to everything asked of us. So finally, we must be honest with ourselves about our pride.
All this sounds difficult, I know, and it was for my family and I when we began practicing Selah. But for us, practicing a life of Selah has been nothing less than freedom. Freedom from feeling needed, freedom from feeling tyrannized by our schedules, freedom from feeling the whiplash of having to run from one thing to another, freedom from the exhaustion of just trying to keep up with life, freedom from the cruelty of our egos and pride that say we have to do more, be more, produce more, accomplish more, to be worthy, freedom to simply be loved by God because we have the space, the freedom, to see and experience the many blessings God has given us.
Selah is freedom.
It took sacrifice to realize that freedom. I gave up seats on community boards, we gave up opportunities on Saturdays because that’s our sixteen hours of Selah in our week when we do no work, but that sacrifice was the sacrifice of what we thought we needed to find that what we really needed was the constant reminder, week after week, that God is the only one worthy of glory and honor, not us and our lives, and that we serve God, not ourselves. Selah was freedom from the tyranny of self-glorification and self-service.
Selah is a quiet call to experience that God is of clarity, not overwhelm; God is of rest, not rush; God is of peace, not anxiety. Selah is release from being busy. Selah is freedom.
This morning, do you need freedom from being overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed? Do you need release from being busy?
If so, practice Selah. Escape the tyranny of the pride and ego that drive our busy lifestyles. Intentionally schedule time that will naturally reorient your life toward glorifying God and serving God in all the moments of life.
Find a day, or sixteen hours a week, to set aside for rest, relaxation, and reflection.
Get intentional about set times with God for spiritual disciplines and corporate worship.
Trust God with your time.
Be honest about what you’re capable of. Know that you’re not essential except to your family.
For to practice Selah, to hit the pause button on life to notice God, is to find the rest and peace our souls desperately need. To choose a life marked by Selah, by purposeful pauses, is to connect our souls to God in a deep and meaningful way, giving us peace and rest, no matter how busy our lives are. For in God’s rest, in God’s Selah, we find our anxiety and stress simply melt away; we find freedom.
Selah. Amen.

3 thoughts on “Selah | Sermon from 10/15/17

  1. Thanks. This a confirmation in the way God has been orchestrating my life. Also, I received a deeper sense into the freedom of God when we learn to pause. Selah


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