6 Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
A song popular some years ago started out talked about "Me and My Shadow" taking a stroll down the avenue. This points to an undeniable fact: no man can escape his shadow. A truth of far deeper significance that applies to all men but particularly to Christians is that each of us casts a shadow of influence on other lives, either for good or for evil. Our Lord himself uttered a warning about the impact of influence when he said: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1-2, ESV).
Christians can be woefully careless in this matter of example and by their carelessness contribute to the downfall of others. This was the concern of the psalmist when he prayed, “Let not them that wait [hope, look to] on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed [disappointed] for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded [embarrassed] for my sake [because of me], O God of Israel” (Psalm 69:6, Living Bible). This entire psalm is a prayer for deliverance offered by a man who is suffering for his convictions. He is facing undeserved persecution because of his devotion to God. Like Jeremiah and the apostle Paul he faces unfounded hostility and unjust accusations. We are not sure what he had done but in verse 9 he says, “For the seal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” This may suggest that he sparked anger for trying to reform some evil practices in the Temple. This experience was quoted in reference to Jesus as he cleansed the Temple. He begins with a prayer—a direct and urgent plea for deliverance. He pictures himself in a life-threatening situation, up to his neck in water. He sees himself as a drowning man. Part of his problem is that God seems to neglect his cry. He has called out to God until his throat is dry—he is hoarse and he has cried until the tears came no more.
Yet God has not answered him. Facing affliction is always hard under any circumstances, especially when God seems so far away from us. He has grown weary from the tension of waiting for God to hear his prayer (v.3). His enemies are more numerous than the hairs on his head and they have falsely accused him. Obviously they have accused him of stealing something and want it returned. He responded by doing what they said even though he had not taken it (v.4). The psalmist makes no claim at being sinless or completely innocent. He admits his sin and knows that God knows it. But he doesn’t deserve what he is getting. So in bitterness he cries out to God. Suddenly he seems to realize that even his bitter and resentful spirit is detrimental to the work of God. Although he has not done anything worthy of suffering as he is suffering still his attitude is not good. That’s when he prays, “O Lord God of the armies of heaven, don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you” (v.6, Living Bible).
The prayer of this psalmist ought to be the prayer of all of God’s people. Our prayer ought to encompass three areas of life: our actions, attitudes, and appearances.
1. We had better watch out because people are watching us.
It is a sobering thing to remember that God holds us accountable for our actions and our influence. We had better watch out because people are watching us.
Recently I had lunch with a businessman who told me a story that illustrates this truth. A few weeks ago he went with a group of Christian men on a fishing trip to Mexico. These men go every year and combine good fishing with Christian fellowship and Bible study. He was the only man on the trip who had beer in his ice chest. And he said that he does smoke occasionally. One day while out in the middle of the lake fishing he was smoking a cigarette and popped the top of a can beer. His Mexican fishing guide looked at him and asked in rudimentary English, “You no Christian?”
My friend replied, “Sure I am. Why would you say that?” The guide pointed to the cigarette in his mouth and the beer can in his hand and said, “Because you are smoking.”
I’m not suggesting that you can’t be a Christian if you smoke and drink. However, alcohol is the greatest drug problem we face in America today. And for your own personal well-being and for sake of your influence for Christ I recommend that you be a total abstainer. Other people are watching us and sometimes they expect more out of us than we expect out of ourselves.
Sometime ago another businessman came to see me. He had been a member of another denomination and recently joined our church. In that other church he had been very active. He was the coach of their softball team and one day was returning the equipment to the church. The preacher was out in his front yard mowing grass and called out to him, “Hey, John, come over and let’s have a cold beer.” He said, “I said to myself, ‘I’m getting out of this church. Somebody has got to be good in today’s world.’” You and I as the people of God have been nominated.
The world expects a lot of us and we must let them down. Somebody has got be good and Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” “You are the light of the world.” The solution for the pollution of our lives is to remove those things that lead us into sin (Matthew 5:29). It is spiritual amputation, the removal of that which hinders us.
2. We must keep a good attitude.
We not only ought to be careful. We ought also to be careful about our attitudes. That may have been the thrust of the psalmist’s prayer. He was experiencing unjust and undeserved persecution and was not taking it very well. He had been bitterly complaining to God about his treatment when he suddenly realized that his complaints were not a good example either. By our attitudes we sometimes become worse than other people are in their actions. If you are sullen, grouchy, bitter, complaining, negative, you are not a good recommendation for the Lord. Norman Vincent Peal once told this story:
“Some years ago in route by train from Chicago to New York I learned something that has stayed with me. I went to the dining car and was seated opposite a man and his wife. The woman was conspicuously well dressed. She was stylishly gowned, had a strikingly beautiful fur piece around her shoulders, and was wearing very handsome jewelry. You didn’t need unusual discernment to perceive that there must be money in the family. This woman was not pleased with anything. She complained about the air conditioning not being adjusted properly. She complained that the tablecloth looked messy and insisted on the stewards putting on a new one. She complained about the food. She complained about the weather. Everything was wrong. Her husband seemed to be an easygoing, genial sort of man. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to his wife’s fussing. He and I got to talking. He asked what line of business I was in. I told him I was a minister. I asked what his was, and he told me. Then he said, ‘My wife is in business too.’
“‘She is?’ I responded in some surprise. ‘I didn’t take her for a businesswoman.’
“‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘She’s in the manufacturing business.’
“‘Is that so? What does she manufacture?’
“‘She manufactures unhappiness. Her own unhappiness.’”
There are a lot of people who manufacture unhappiness with their bad attitudes. Such sullen, critical, grouchy people are never a recommendation for the Lord.
When I was in Del Rio last fall I met a beautiful elderly lady named Mert. She told me, “I grew up with a group of morbid Christians and it kept me from being one. I didn’t want to be like them.” Nobody does. If you can’t have joy and enthusiasm in your heart then you will be a poor recommendation for the Lord. You will be setting a bad example by your attitude as much as some people do by their actions.
C. S. Lewis spoke of this when said, “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.” I sometimes feel like the South Tyler dumping grounds. People come with all their bitterness, complaints, and negative attitudes. Don’t be like that. Pray that the Lord will never let you be a stumbling block or a bad example because of your bad attitude.
3. We must watch out for appearances.
The answer to the question of our example to others is not to be found in some pietistic set of rules. It is a matter of living in the conscious presence of the Lord, trying to please him in word, thought, and deed. This inevitably reflects itself in our example to others. The apostle Paul advises, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). This means simply, “If there is a question or even a suggestion of evil, avoid it.” This is not negative Christianity. A Christian should certainly live a life consistent with his profession. Invariably some will sneer and occasionally some will persecute.
One of our privileges as Christians is to accept the offense of the cross. The believers in Corinth faced the problem of pagan rites involving the placing of food before idols. This food was then often sold in the market, and a controversy soon arose whether Christians should buy or eat such meat. Sometimes their friends who were still pagans would have a party and serve such meat. The Christians wondered whether they should even be seen at such places and participate in such activities. The apostle Paul told them that eating meat had no significance one way or the other, but that the effect of a careless attitude could be disastrous for a weak Christian. He concluded, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
How many today are willing to take Paul’s position? I fear that many of us, convinced of our own freedom and of the rightness of our behavior within that freedom, forget that “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7). We live in the presence of God, who sees and knows all. We also have about us a host of persons—some of whom we do not even know, perhaps—who look to us to set an example. Paul speaks of this in forceful terms: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way … Destroy him not with thy meat, for whom Christ died ... For meat destroy not the work of God ... Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 22).
Not all issues are absolute black and white. There are many gray areas in life. How do we live in those gray areas? There are some things that are absolutely harmless to us and thoroughly enjoyable. But if those things are spiritually detrimental to someone else we should not do them. The Christian puts the well-being of another person above his own wishes and desires. When we go deep in our commitment to Christ we understand this. We move from the realm of the superficial to the realm of sacrificial. Most of us are just superficial Christians—we put on our Sunday clothes and our Sunday smile and talk about how we love one another. But do we love one another enough to sacrifice our own rights and privileges for the well-being of somebody else?
This is the law of love in action. I love you more than I love myself. I love you enough to forego something that I would like to do and would be harmless for me. I do it for you. For us to set some sort of example is as inevitable as for light to produce a shadow. A good example is a reflection of the indwelling Christ. A good example glorifies Christ; a bad one disgraces him. Furthermore, the Christian’s example has both a positive and a negative aspect that’s produced by what we do and by what we do not do, by what we say and what we refrain from saying. Sinful acts can “cause the enemies of God to blaspheme,” as David’s adultery did. How tragic when those who bear the Christian name are guilty of demeaning the name of Christ and hindering his cause. A Christian’s outward behavior should reflect the sources beyond himself and the standards pleasing to God rather than the world.
No man ever set a more consistent example of righteousness than the prophet Daniel. When a plot was hatched to discredit him with the king, his enemies said, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5). Then, when it was decreed that for 30 days no petition was to made to anyone other than the king, Daniel went to his house and “Prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10). This he did three times a day before an open window, knowing that his enemies would see and accuse him. What an example to all who would be faithful to the heavenly vision regardless of the apparent consequences! It is only as Christ lives in us that we can be a good influence. The shadow of our example falls behind us, affecting for good or ill all touched by it. For good or for ill? That is the question.