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Bible Search
The Great Pretender - Psalm 86:11
Singing the Songs of Zion
The Great Pretender
Psalm 86:11
 
Back in the mid-1950s, a gentlemen named Buck Ram, who was the manager and producer of a group called The Platters, wrote a song called The Great Pretender that reached the number one position on both the R&B and pop charts in 1956. 
 
Buck Ram said he wrote the song in about 20 minutes in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in order to have a song to follow up the success of "Only You (And You Alone)."
 
This song describes a man who deals with his heartbreak by denying it, and thus becomes The Great Pretender.  Everyone thinks he’s doing fine, when in fact, his heart is broken by his girl who has left him.  
 
Oh yes, I'm the great pretender
Pretending I'm doing well
My need is such
I pretend too much
I'm lonely but no one can tell
Oh yes, I'm the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own
I play the game but to my real shame
You've left me to dream all alone
Too real is this feeling of make-believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal
 
 
 
 
Oh yes, I'm the great pretender
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I'm not you see
I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal
 
Oh yes, I'm the great pretender
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I'm not you see
I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you're...
 
When it comes to our relationship with God, there is always the danger of presenting ourselves as something that we are not.  After all, it’s easy to come to church and put on a show and have everyone think we are close to God when it fact, the outward appearance may be a long way away from what we really are inside. 
 
I’ve known people, and you have as well, that everyone assumed was close to God and living a Godly life.  But when the truth came out, they were nothing more than a great pretender. 
 
I think that must have been the fear that led David to pray what he did in
 
Psalm 86:11  
 
The translators are divided on how to translate this phrase. For instance, the King James and NASB says, "Unite my heart to fear your name." The CEB gives a more general sense, "Make my heart focused only on honoring your name.”
 
Then we have this paraphrase from the Good New Translation, “teach me to serve you with complete devotion. 
 
But I think my favorite is what we find in the Holman Christian Standard Version which says, “Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.”
 
Eugene Peterson, in the Message, expands that thought a little farther:
 
“Put me together, one heart and mind;
    then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.”
 
I like that because that prayer really hits where we live.  Do you ever feel like you need to pray, “Lord, put me together because right now my life is scattered in a thousand directions.  And if I’m not careful, I’ll wind up being an imposter.”
 
Most days my heart doesn’t seem “undivided,” and it certainly feels like it needs some kind of “uniting."So I like this phrase both ways:
 
“Unite my heart to fear your name.”
"Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
 
The first speaks of my need, but the second expresses my desire.
 
Because my heart is so often divided, I need the Lord to unite it somehow so that I might worship him with nothing held back. That is the situation many of us face right now. Our hearts are fragmented because we are pulled in so many directions at once.
 
The world around us is no help. Sometimes we are so enticed by things that seem to be so important, when in the end, even though they may not be bad things, if they are pursued as the most important things, they wind up taking our attention away from God.  And the result is we become a great pretender.  Our lips say one thing, but our heart is divided and torn.   
 
So what does a divided heart look like?  What are the characteristics of a heart this is not united to fear the Lord?
 
1. Perpetual Ambivalence
 
A person with a divided heart is never able to make a commitment.  He flits from one relationship to another, from one job to another, from one friendship to another, from one church to another, from one promise to another, never staying in one place long enough to make anything stick.
 
He’s here today and gone tomorrow. He promises and then makes excuses. He says, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and then forgets and apologizes later. Or maybe he never remembers at all.
 
He dates one girl after another, never able to pop the question because he’s so easily distracted and because he deeply fears making a commitment that will require him to stay married for the rest of his life.
 
 
 
 
As I thought about this characteristic and the people I’ve know and pastored that fit this description, a verse came to mind from 1 Chronicles 12, which lists the soldiers who came to David’s aid when he was in Ziklag and later in Hebron. These soldiers from various tribes in Israel realized that even though David was not king over Israel yet, God’s hand was upon him and he was bound to replace Saul sooner or later.
 
So you have the list of men from Benjamin, Gad, Manasseh, and so on. Perhaps the most famous are the men of Issachar who the Bible describes in this way: 
 
1 Chronicles 12:32
 
What a tremendous gift it is to be surrounded by advisers who have understand of the times and what should be done in regard to the circumstances. 
 
In fact, these men of Issachar have been heralded and praised by many fine sermons down through the years. 
 
But often times, we never read the next verse where we find reference to warriors from the tribe of Zebulon. 
 
1 Chronicles 12:33
 
And the idea is David had in these men a great host of trained soldiers who came to David ready to fight. They showed up in full battle gear, shield and spears and bows, ready to go to battle at a moment’s notice. They knew how to follow orders and get the job done. 
But that is not their finest quality. There is something even better to be said about them. They were “stouthearted”.  If you look at the word in other translations, you will see phrases like “one purpose” and “undivided”.  They were absolutely committed to King David and his causes, willing to fight and put their lives on the line.
 
In fact, the original Hebrew text emphasizes this in an unusual way when it uses the word for “not” and the word “heart” repeated twice.
 
Not heart and heart. In other words, they were not “double-hearted.”  We don’t use that word very often.  We are more familiar with “double-minded”, but the idea is the same.  These men were not double-hearted.  They didn’t have torn allegiances.  They were not partly for Saul and partly for David.
Having made their choice, it was one heart all the time, with nothing held back.
 
These men said, “David, we are all in. Where you lead, we will follow. Say the word and we will go into battle. We serve at your command-and only at your command.”
 
And here we are three thousand years after the men of Zebulon came to David, and we remember them not for their military prowess (which must have been great) but for their hearts.
 
They were not “double-hearted.”  They were in all the way.  And people who are great pretenders, people with a divided heart, can’t talk that way.
They are in and out at the same time.  They are hot one day, then cold the next.  Their commitment is as fickle as the wind. 
There is a second characteristic of a divided heart and that is
 
2. Divided Priorities
 
In Matthew 13 Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow seed. Some fell on the path, some on the stony ground, some among the thorns, and some on the good ground. When Jesus explained the parable, he said that the four soils represented four responses to the message of the kingdom.
 
Let’s focus on the seed sown among the thorns. Here is that part of the parable:
 
Matthew 13:7
 
Then Jesus offers this explanation in
 
And this is the explanation:
 
Matthew 13:22
 
If you have ever planted a garden, you understand what Jesus is saying. No matter how good the soil may appear from above, weeds lurk just below the surface. If you do not pull them up and stay after them, they will choke out the seed you have planted. 
 
Now listen carefully:  Jesus said that some people are just like that. They are fence-straddlers. They say “Yes but . . .” when they hear the Word. Maybe they mean business, but they never pull the weeds out of their life.
 
 
Now, in this parable Jesus mentions two particular kinds of weeds. First,
 
  • the worries of this life
 
That would refer to any concern in your life that catches and consumes all your attention. It could be something that in itself is not bad.  It might be a genuine concern for your job or your health or your personal financial situation. It could be a relationship that takes up all your waking moments. It could be a family issue that keeps you tossing and turning at night.
 
Second, there is
 
  • the deceitfulness of wealth
 
Again, that’s not hard to understand. Money is addictive. The more you have, the more you want and the less you have the more you want. 
 
 You’ve probably heard the story of the rich man who when asked when he would stop working so hard, replied, “When I have enough money.” How much is enough? “Just one more dollar.”
 
That is the deceitfulness of riches. And it’s not just a temptation to the rich man. The love of money comes to all of us, seduces us, whispers to us over and over again: “If only you had a little bit more you would be happy.”
 
Now it is extremely important to remember that Jesus is not describing “unusual” or “strange” temptations. We all have things that worry us.
Take a look at the prayer list we print every Wednesday evening.  Those of you who are faithful to come know that half of the list , printed on a standard size sheet of paper, is the names of ongoing needs of those who are sick or family  needs or some kind of unpleasant situation.  There are so many names and so many needs.  And if your name isn’t on there, it very well could be very soon.
 
We all face sickness, family crisis, medical issues, financial troubles, marital problems, struggles with our children, disappointments, setbacks, career issues, and periods of doubt and anger and spiritual struggle.  We live in a very fallen world and no one is exempt from the troubles of life.
 
No one is exempt from the troubles of life.  We get sick, our loved ones get sick.  Financial pressures weigh on all of us.  Death knocks on our door sooner or later.
 
How quickly the “thorns of life” arise to divide our heart and divert our attention. These problems, trials and difficulties can choke out God’s work and leave us spiritually anemic.
 
There is a third sign of a divided heart . . .
 
3.  Unclear Identity
 
Follow the logic:  When your heart is divided, you won’t know who you really are.  You can’t decide what team you’re on.  You don’t know what uniform to put on.  You act single even though you are married.  You have two sets of friends that you keep separate.
You have two vocabularies depending on where you are.  You know how to fit in wherever you happen to be.  You are like the proverbial chameleon, changing your colors so you will always blend in.
 
Living with a divided heart messes up the mind eventually. When you join the devil’s team, you won’t feel comfortable going back to the Lord’s locker room at halftime.
 
The strange, sad case of the Apostle Peter provides a prime example. On the night before the crucifixion, when Jesus met with his chosen men in the Upper Room, Peter took a look around and wasn’t very impressed with what he saw:
 
    “Lord, I don’t know about these other guys. They look a little weak to me. I wouldn’t count on them if I were you. But don’t worry. You’ve got me. I’m your man. No matter what the rest of them do, I will never betray you. You have my word on it. I’ll never let you down.”
 
Or more simply put,
 
    “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT).
 
I’m sure Peter meant it. If you had asked him, I’m sure he would have said, “I know I’m a little rough around the edges, and sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. It’s true I’m a fisherman and not some Torah scholar, but I know my own heart, and I will never desert you, Lord."
 
But that’s the problem. Peter didn’t know his own heart.
Less than five hours after proclaiming his loyalty, the bold apostle turned to butter and all it took was a little servant girl to bring him down.
 
And after the third betrayal of the Lord came out of his mouth, Peter went off by himself and wept bitterly as he dealt with the shame and regret of being a great pretender. 
 
Then came Easter morning when the women went to the tomb, little knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead. When they arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning, an angel announced the good news and instructed them to “go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7).
 
What does that mean-"his disciples and Peter?" Peter’s denial has separated him from the other disciples. No doubt he wondered to himself many times, “What am I now? Am I a traitor or am I a disciple?”
 
How quickly he fell.  No wonder he is confused.
His divided heart has tripped him up.  That happens when we decide to play for Jesus’ team and for the Devil’s team at the same time.
 
At some point you’ve got to make up your mind.
Choose a team and stick with it!  Either follow Jesus-or don’t but don’t run around trying to be a starter for both!
 
At some point, you’ve got to stop messing around with the most basic commitments of life.  For an illustration of that, think about Daniel.  I think the key to Daniel’s success was he knew who he was.
 
It was Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said, “And now with God’s help, I will become myself.”
 
That raises a question that is not as simply to answer as it may seem: 
 
“Do you know who you are?”
 
I would submit that until you know who you are, you’ll never really know where you fit in.  But once you know who you are, you can fit in anywhere.
 
That was the secret to Daniel’s greatness. He knew who he was, even in Babylon, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem, ripped away from his homeland, forcibly marched across the desert to the pagan city of Babylon.
 
There he was enrolled in a school he did not choose.
Leaning a language that was not his own,
Absorbing a culture both foreign and utterly pagan,
Being trained to serve in the Babylonian court.
 
Then he was given a pagan name. The name Daniel means “God is my judge,” which tells us that he was raised in a godly home. The Babylonians called him Belteshazzar, which means something like “Bel, protect his life.” It was a prayer to a pagan deity.
 
To all of these changes he either gave his assent or at least he did not actively protest. In the case of the deportation to Babylon, he had no choice. He and his friends were captured and taken by the Babylonians against their will. When they arrived in Babylon, he and his friends were put in a three-year, all-expenses-paid training program.
Without doubt, it was a great honor to be chosen to serve the Babylonian king.  After all, the King always eats well.  And a part of that training involved eating at the king’s table. It would be like eating at Buckingham Palace or the White House.
 
There they serve the best of the best. So to eat at the king’s table meant the best food, expertly prepared, served with the best wines.  It was the very best the world had to offer.
 
And Daniel said no.
 
Daniel 1:8
 
The King James Version says he “purposed in his heart.”  You can only “purpose in your heart” when you have an undivided heart.
 
You know the rest of the story. Daniel and friends ate water and cereal for ten days. They ended up looking healthier and stronger than those who ate at the king’s table. As a result, they were recognized and rewarded by the king himself
 
Daniel 1:17-21
 
So we read it and say, “Good story. Happy ending.  So what?”
 
Well, the question that hangs in the air is “Where did Daniel find the strength to say no to the food from the king’s table?”
 
My answer is simple. Daniel knew who he was so he knew where to draw the line.
 
Daniel never forgot who he was and he never forgot where he came from. It was as if he was saying, “I may look Babylonian on the outside, but I’m 100% Jewish on the inside."
 
The story of Daniel is a reminder that you can’t corrupt a man from the outside. You may change his culture but you will not change his character. You can change his name but not his nature. Daniel may have looked like a pagan, but on the inside he was a servant of the living God. Even the mighty Nebuchadnezzar could do nothing about that.
 
You know as well as I that we live in a world where biblical values are constantly under attack. And I’ve got a little news flash for you:  We aren’t going to change the world’s way of thinking any time soon.
 
But that’s not the most important question.  The question of the hour is “Will the world change our way of thinking?”  That’s the question that hangs in the balance.
 
We will serve the Lord with an undivided heart or will we bail out?  Will we face the challenge with confidence or will be turn and run? 
 
Daniel reminds us that when you know who you are, you can serve Christ anywhere.  And the reverse is also true: When you are unclear or divided about who you really are, you will struggle to serve Christ anywhere.
 
A man with a divided heart cannot grasp his true identity.  He will be pulled this way and that.
Under pressure he almost certainly will cave in.
 
But the man with an undivided heart knows who he is and because he knows who he is, he doesn’t have to constantly make decisions.  Once you make up your mind, life becomes simpler.  It may not be easy, but it is simple.  So here’s my counsel in light of that: 
 
If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!  If you’re going to go around claiming to be a Christian, then by all means love like one and live like one and talk like one and walk like one.  If you’re going to put on the Christian uniform, then get on the team and play!  Let your way of life be so clear that no one can mistake to which kingdom you belong.
 
But it all starts by having an undivided heart.  And that brings us back to where we atarted, 
 
Psalm 86:11
 
As Charles Spurgeon contemplated this verse, he offered this observation:
 
“A man of divided heart is weak, the man of one object is the man.”
 
And just to make sure no one missed the point he was making, he italicized the word “the”.  You may have thought that phrase was recent.  We talk about someone being “the man”.  We mean he is a man of one purpose, the man we admire and want to follow.  Spurgeon was using it in the 1800’s in a sermon to describe a man with an undivided loyalty to God.  And that’s exactly what he was saying.  Such a man is the man.
 
Now, to one degree or another, we all have a divided heart.  There is a measure of hypocrisy in all of us.  We are all pretenders.  And that’s why David prayed this prayer.  He looked within, saw his heart pulled in a hundred directions and prayed, “Unite my heart, O Lord.”
 
I would suggest there is no prayer more appropriate and more needed in our day. Every honest man or woman must at times say, “My life is far from what I want it to be."
 
We run low on love.  We find ourselves distracted, worried and easily confused.  We fall prey to little temptations that lead to bigger ones.  We marinate in hate.  We dawdle in our duties.  We make excuses for every failure.  We find ourselves both disagreeing and disagreeable. We love the world more than we love God. We live in unbelief instead of walking in faith. We refuse to submit because our pride is at stake.
 
And so it goes, our soul struggles to find rest and peace.  And we grow frustrated and tired.  When the heart is not united, nothing works right. Without God, we will be fragmented and torn and pulled and distracted.
 
And when that happens, we must do as David did. We must pray, “O Lord, take the scattered fragments of my heart and unite them so that I may praise you.” Only God can do this, but God can do it if we will come to him in humility and sincerity.
 
The hardest part is coming. Until you admit you need God’s help, you will be stuck exactly where you are.
.
So the choice is yours:  You can be the great pretender or you can be the man. 
 
These lines from Come, Thou Fount speak to our deepest need:
 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
 
If the first two lines describe our need, then the last two lines describe our prayer.  May God take our scattered hearts and unite them, seal them by his grace, that we might serve him with joy on earth as one day we will serve him in heaven.
 
Do it, Lord. Unite our hearts to fear your name.
 
Amen.
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