What Are Exhortations?
A "Word of Exhortation” is a moment in our worship service when the elders address the congregation on matters unrelated to the main point of the day's sermon. It is a chance outside of the sermon for the elders to exhort the church about something relevant. It might be some current event worth mentioning, or something in the life of our church, or it might be a secondary issue related to the sermon text. The word of exhortation will lead into a time of confession, and then our assurance of pardon. On the week following our Sunday gathering, we'll post the exhortation here in the church's journal. Below is the exhortation from our worship service in December.
Do We Pray Like This?
Psalm 137, our sermon text, is nine verses, but the last three verse take a turn toward imprecatory. An imprecatory psalm, or verses, simply means to speak a curse. It is words of judgment that people speak usually in prayer to God about their enemies. But not only is it that, but also here in Psalm 137, the imprecatory nature it is couched in layers of ancient Hebrew poetry. So when it says in verse 9, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” that is poetry for: “God, get rid of our enemies and restore peace in Jerusalem.” It is poetry, not prose, therefore we don’t take it to be literal.
But then beyond the poetry, there is something we should see in this psalm and that is mainly in verses 5–6. This is not the poetry, it is the passion.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:5–6)
This is a raw prayer. He prays about losing the use of his hand, and about his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth. How can the psalmist really pray like this?
Well, first, he prays this way because he cannot imagine a worse reality than what he is praying against. The worse place he can imagine is being without God, forgetting God, losing faith in God. That is what he’s passionately praying that God would not let happen. And we get it, right?
There are darknesses that we have walked through, or are walking through, and darknesses we will walk through — and the only thing that makes walking through the darkness possible is that God walks through the darkness with us. So the scariest thing isn’t really darkness, it is being apart from God. We don’t want to forget about him. We don’t want to turn from him. Apostasy is the real hell. And what makes that so scary is that I know I’m capable of it: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” So we pray: *God, no, don’t let it happen. Before I’d turn from you, before I’d forget you, take away my livelihood and seal my mouth shut*. That’s a passionate prayer.
So the reason the psalmist prays with passion like that is, first, because he can’t imagine a worse reality than forgetting God, but it’s also because he knows God won’t let him forget. He prays so strongly because he knows that God is faithful and mighty enough not to let it happen — not to let him forget Jerusalem. This is the exercise of faith. By faith he prays against faithlessness. Part of the perseverance of the saints is the saints praying God, make me persevere! And we pray that not flipping a coin, not thinking that it is all up to us, but knowing, Yes, God, you are faithful. I can’t imagine a worse reality than forgetting you, and you are faithful never to let me forget. This is the worse thing ever and you won’t let it happen. God, don’t let it happen.
Do we ever pray like that?
My sense is that if we never pray this way, it must be because either forgetting God is not the scariest thing to us, OR it is so scary that we do not trust God’s ability to keep us from it.
So if we never pray this way, if we never pray: God, make me persevere, keep my heart fixed on you. If we never pray this way it might be because of idolatry or unbelief. Either there are other things we value more than God, and therefore potential losses that would terrify us more, or we just don’t think God is really able to make a difference.
Truth us, this is all of us at some level. Our hearts are entangled and our faith is small. And we should repent. We should confess and pray, God, change that. Please. I want now to enter a time for confessing our sins to God.
Maybe related to this exhortation or something else, let’s spend some quiet moments to confess our sins to God, our Father who loves us.
God’s word tells us that if we confess our sins that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
And now according to God’s promise, it is my joy to tell you that because Jesus Christ died in your place on the cross, taking the guilt of your sin and freeing you from the power of sin, and because he was raised victorious from the dead and ascended and you have been united to him by faith, you have now confessed your sins and you are forgiven. Your sins are washed away. You are clean. You are righteousness. Let’s sing.