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The Greatest Love of All - Psalm 144:1-15
Singing the Songs of Zion
The Greatest Love of All
Psalm 144:12
I had something of a debate with myself about whether to continue this series on the songs of Zion or start something new this morning.  Then when I decided to continue at least one more week, my attention then turned to which psalm and which song I should highlight. 
There is so much good material when it comes to songs that reference mothers.  My first thought was to include something from Elvis like “That’s All Right, Mama”, but that didn’t work out. 
Then I thought of Merle Haggard and “Mama Tried”, and there is, no doubt, some good preaching in that one.  I thought of warning all the new graduates about the danger of attending OSU and singing, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys”, and that certainly bears mentioning. 
But instead, I came to rest on a song recorded back in 1977 by a guy named George Benson, then redone in 1985 by Whitney Houston called “The Greatest Love of All”.  It was originally done for a movie chronicling the life of Mohammed Ali called “The Greatest”.  And while not all of the lyrics are fitting for Mother’s Day, the opening verse does have a message to share.  
I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
That thought seems to be on the mind of the Psalmist as he penned the 144th.  It is a wartime psalm written by King David as the armies of Israel are about to go into battle with their enemies. The first 11 verses are a prayer to God for victory. He begins in verse 1 by praising God “who trains my hands for war.” Later he declares that God is “the One who gives victory to kings” (verse 10) and who delivers his people from “the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful” (verse 11).
And while at first glance, that doesn’t seem to carry much of a message for Mother’s Day, I would remind you that the world that surrounds us is a rotten place and in many regards, we are called to enter that environment with a war mentality.  And in reality, the world hasn’t changed much from David’s day to ours.   
Whatever was wrong with the world back then is still wrong today.  Nothing that matters has changed and God and His Word and His Gospel certainly haven’t changed.  And because that is true, verse 12 is especially insightful on this Mother’s Day. 
After praying for victory over his enemies in verses 1-11, David then declares the blessings that will come as a result in verses 12-14.  And I find it very significant that the first blessing relates to our families. 
Verse 12
Now we find in this verse both a promise and a challenge. But most of all it is a guide that tells us how to pray for our children. 
The first part of the verse deals with
1. Our Sons—Growing Straight Toward Heaven
David begins with a familiar biblical image. We should pray that “our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth”.  Looking at some different translations helps with the understanding.  The NIV says, “Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants”.   The New English Bible says that “our sons will be like plants that quickly grow to full size.” Eugene Peterson offers this paraphrase in the Message: “Make our sons in their prime like sturdy oak trees.”
This image has two parts that deserve special attention.
First, for plants to grow well,
  • they must be nurtured and tended. 
The plants and trees these verse references are not left to fend for themselves int eh wild.  They are hand-planted in a specific location and nurtured and cared in order to produce the best growth and most productive harvest. 
And those who are gardeners or have a green thumb understand that.   When they plant they look at things like the temperature zone and how much shade is available.  And they determine which way the water runs and how much drainage occurs.
 They determine the best time to plant so your honeysuckle will bloom properly and the ph of the soil so your hydrangeas will be the right color.  It’s all very complicated and intricate, especially for someone like me who believes you should just dig a hole . put the plant in, water it once and then let nature take its course. 
But that’s not how it you do it if your expectation is that the plant will survive and thrive.  Gardening and agronomy is an art and a science, and for many people, it’s an avocation and even a way of life. So when this verse speaks of “well-nurtured plants,” it’s not talking about people who garden like I do; it’s talking about people who take their gardening seriously.
Second, these trees are well cared for so that
  • they grow to maturity at an early age.
Notice, “they grow up in their youth”.  They quickly grow to full-size.  Because the gardener tends to them constantly, because he knows about watering and fertilizer and he knows how to get rid of pesky critters and because he pays attention, they grow quickly to maturity. They grow strong and straight and tall at an early age. They spread their branches and bring forth fruit early on so that others can find shade under their branches and sustenance from their fruit.
Now one of the requirements for strong, productive trees is a substantial root system.  And when roots have the opportunity to go down deep into the good soil of the earth, the tree can grow quickly to maturity. 
And because that root system is strong and deep, even though the tree may be out in the open, not sheltered, but growing in the midst of the world, it is made stronger by the passing of the seasons, standing tall in sunshine and shadow, in the heat and in the cold, in the rain and in the snow.
And I don’t think we should miss the fact thatDavid says the plants grow up.  Did you notice that?  Plants, by their very design, grow up and point toward heaven. 
And to the parents of boys, this is what we should pray for our sons. That at an early age they might be firmly rooted in the good soil of God’s Word, that their roots might be so strong and so deep in the Word that they can stand strong in every storm, that they can enter the world and stand firmly as a man of God. 
So what does a young man like this look like? Well, follow the imagery that David provides.  We’re talking about a well-grounded, mature, productive tree.  There is nothing ugly or shameful about him. He stands strong and tall and clean and pure. His character dominates his life.  He stands out on the horizon.  Others come to him for shade and for rest and under his branches others find safety.
All his thoughts are pure, all his actions are noble, all his intentions point in the right direction.
And please understand that sons like this do not happen by accident any more than a beautiful garden plants itself, waters itself, weeds itself, and fertilizes itself.
There is a word in that for those of you who are more interested in your son’s sports career than you are concerned about His walk with God.  There are lots of parents who invest a whole lot more in the son’s education than they do his spiritual life. 
Should we not pray, first and foremost, that our sons might be deeply rooted in the good soil of God’s Word, properly cultivated and blessed to flourish at an early age so that they bring forth the good fruit of godly character?
Let us determine to do all that is within our power so that our sons will be strong and straight and pointed toward heaven. Not dwarfed by bad habits or foolish choices, not choked out by the weeds of the world, but young men of visible character who stand alone, strong enough to withstand the storms of life. God grant them visible strength, godly character, and the beauty of full development.
Let me say it again. Sons like this do not happen by accident. We must work for it and pray for it and wait for it and believe God for it.
And I want to add one final word before we move on:  The indication of this Psalm is that these young men would not just be strong and healthy, but they would rise quickly to places of leadership.  That means this image is a challenge for our young men to be spiritual leaders right now.
So let me pause to speak a word specifically to all our young men who are teenagers, college students, and young adults. God has called you to leadership right now.
Don’t say, “When I grow up, I’ll be a leader.” Or “When I am married, then I’ll be a leader.” No! Lead now! Be a man of God right now on the high school and college campuses where you are a student.
At the offices and businesses where you work, I offer this challenge to all the young men of our congregation: Get your roots down deep into the Word of God. Grow close to the Lord. Find some friends who can challenge you spiritually.
Stop making excuses. Don’t waste your life playing video games. The world is looking to you, your friends are looking to you, the church of Jesus Christ needs you right now. Grow now! Lead now! Stand strong now! Don’t wait for tomorrow.
If we believe the children are our future, then we must teach them well if they will lead the way well.  May God give us a generation of young men who will be mighty oaks, standing strong, with deep roots, pointing straight toward heaven.
The second image in this verse applies to the daughters in the family and is equally compelling.  Next David speaks about
2. Our Daughters—Building a Godly Foundation of Strength and Beauty
Psalm 144:12b
I found the New English Bible translation especially helpful when it says, “Our daughters will be like corner pillars, carved like those in a palace.”
If you read the older translations, they used words like “cornerstone.”
The King James Version even says, “that our daughters may be as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace.”
Let me see if I can be of help with the imagery.  In Bible times, beautiful palaces contained a number of large columns that were both decorative and weight bearing. The most expensive columns were cut from marble, highly polished, and carefully put in place. The most important of those columns were placed at the intersection of two or more walls.
They united various parts of the building, connecting one wing with another. Those corner columns were crucial because they held everything together. The master craftsmen would take extra time, choosing the best materials, working overtime to produce stone cut to exacting measurements, and polished to high degree of brilliance.
The corner columns were placed with special care because the integrity of the entire building depended on them. If they were cut wrong or placed wrong, the entire building would be unsound. But when properly placed, they became the foundation and connecting-point for everything else.
And even though they were beautiful, that was for appearance only.  They real function of the columns was not to please the eye, but to hold the palace together.
And when David thinks about the ideal for the godly daughters of Israel, this is the image that he brings to mind. 
They are like those highly polished, carefully chosen, perfectly placed corner columns that hold together the palace where the king dwells. There is both form and function here.
Get the picture?  Godly daughters are both beautiful and strong. They hold the family together and serve as the connecting point for everything else. They are at the center of family life. Everything flows to them and through them.
By the way, notice the tree stands outside the home, but the column upholds the home with strength and beauty. The corner pillar is the strength of the home itself. When the column is weak, the house itself is weak. When the corner pillar is strong, the house can stand against the storms that rise against it.
And just as with the sons, daughters like this do not happen by accident. There is no clumsy workmanship here. Only a master craftsman can produce beautiful corner columns fit for a king’s palace. And it is still possible to produce godly daughters in our culture, but it will take some pray and energy. 
So how do we pray for our daughters?  Pray they will be graceful and useful,  beautiful and strong, polished and perfectly placed.
One writer said that our daughters should be polished three ways: First, with good education. Second, with good manners. Third, with godly character.
All three points are worth considering. A good education prepares our daughters to use their gifts and talents to the fullest. In the olden days, it was common to educate the boys and let the girls learn on their own. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Today there are abundant opportunities for our daughters to go as far as they care to go in their education.
But perhaps we should include in that education what it means to be a godly woman.  The Bible instructs the older woman to teach the younger in the fine art of being a woman of God.  Teach them how to be a godly wife and the dignity and beauty of child-bearing and nurturing. 
Help them to understand the world’s way of thinking has been turned bottom-side up when it comes to the role of women in the home and the church and the community.  Make sure their education includes correction and instruction concerning the things that are being wrongly taught around them. 
The second point suggests that having good manners is both an attitude of the heart and a skill to be learned. It involves knowing how to act appropriately in every situation and how to make others feel at ease in your presence. This is greatly needed in our highly competitive, dog-eat-dog, Look Out For Number One world.
But the greatest polish is the grace of a godly character. Such a daughter is truly a cornerstone of godly strength. She is the one who keeps the family united. She is the rock upon which others may safely rest. As she rests on Jesus, her husband and her children draw strength from her godly example.
How many of us are going to heaven because a mother prayed for us or a grandmother made Jesus so beautiful in our eyes that we could not help but believe in him?
Here is a noble goal for any Christian woman: to be this sort of polished corner pillar who holds her family together with strength, joy, love, laughter, and a contagious faith in Jesus.
If you go all the way back to the beginning of history, you discover that the last thing God made was a woman. God’s best gift to Adam was Eve. So shall it always be. God’s best gift to any man is a godly woman of strength and beauty. Her worth is far above rubies. Such a woman is truly God’s masterpiece, the crowning glory of God’s creation in the Garden of Eden.
Now, it seems to me the images David chose of the tree and the column seem to be reversed.  After all, it is the women who are fruitful in the bearing of children and it is the men who bear the primary burden of spiritual leadership in the home.
But as in many things, on the one hand there is the Biblical ideal and on the other, the practical side of life.  And perhaps the Lord led David to phrase things lie he did because women are the primary spiritual teachers of our children.
It has always been so and it is so today. I know of no evidence to the contrary. In the ancient world, young girls were not always highly esteemed. And even in our day, in some parts of the world, female babies are left outside, exposed and left to die.
In contrast to this devaluing of women, God intends his people to understand how much of their security, their strength, and their happiness depends on the daughters of a family, so He highly esteems them in this verse. 
They bring something to the table that sons cannot and do not bring. What that something is, is hard to say but it is there and unless we are totally blind to reality, we can see it and feel it and we know it. And here God honors daughters by making them the cornerstone of the whole family, the source of beauty and strength, and the meeting point of all that is good and holy.
And girls I call upon you to dedicate yourself to that God-given assignment.  Protect your purity.  Follow God’s Word and God’s will for your life so that you can take your place as pillar “carved to adorn a palace.”
In closing, let me offer a word to
3. Our Families—United We Stand, Serving the Lord
Somewhere back through the years I heard someone say, “the husband is the head of the home, the wife is the heart of the home, and children are the hope of the home.”
And even though that has been challenged and attempts have been made to redefine it down through the years, it’s still true.  Every healthy home needs a head and a heart. If it has no head, it’s dead, and if it has two heads, it’s a freak. 
You can’t live without either one and you can’t survive with two heads or two hearts. Let godly men be godly men and godly women be godly women, let the head and the heart work together in harmonious, joyful partnership, and the home will be strong and the children will be happy and blessed by God and filled with hope.
Now David tells us to fight our battles so our children will have the home of being mighty oaks and graceful pillars. If we put these two images together, we are to pray that our children would have a strong foundation—that they would truly love the Lord, that their faith would be genuine, and that their faith would be visible to everyone who sees them.
Let us pray for our children to have the beauty that comes from knowing the Lord.  The most beautiful people are those who have found a higher calling than simply making money or passing time or building empires of sand to be washed away by the tides of time.
They live and move to the call of something higher and better and the light of noble purpose transforms their outward appearance. They are truly beautiful to behold.
Let me repeat what I have already said several times: Children like this don’t happen by chance. If we want sons like mighty oaks and daughters like graceful pillars, we must pray for this and we must work for this. Indeed, producing children like this is the work of a lifetime. It is our greatest and highest and noblest work, the finest gift we can give to the world.
If we come to the end of life and have done great things (as the world counts greatness), but our children are not walking with the Lord, how will we ever be satisfied? And if we come to the end and our dreams of worldly fame have not come to pass, but our children love Jesus, we can go down to the grave smiling, knowing that our time on earth has not been in vain.
One final thought and we’ll be through.  God continues to bring into our church some children who don’t have the advantage of parents who provide Godly instruction and prayer support for their kids.  But these kids need the opportunity to grow to be mighty oaks and sculpted pillars as well.  
We need gifted Sunday School teachers and godly RA and GA workers, and Vacation Bible School leaders and van drivers and nursery workers and Godly men and women to help us raise our children to serve the Lord.  We who are parents cannot and should not do it alone with our own kids and kids without those advantages need some help also. We need the help of the whole body of Christ.
By the way, this means that singles and couples with no children (or couples whose children have long since left the home) can have a powerful ministry of praying for the children of this church.
If you can, you should teach and you should serve. If you can’t, then you should pray. That’s something all of us can do. The whole church must band together to raise our children for the Lord Jesus Christ.
And finally, our children must seek godliness for themselves. Let us not fill our children so full of earthly dreams that they forget to seek first the Kingdom of God. Challenge your children to follow Christ.
Verse 15
How happy are the people whose God is the Lord. They are blessed and shall be blessed and their blessing will pass to their children and to their children’s children.
With apologies to Whitney Houston, the greatest love of all is not learning to love yourself, but learning to love the Lord. 
Raising children who love the Lord and grow to be mighty oaks and graceful pillars, who build strong families and bless others, does not happen by accident. If we want our children to love the Lord, then we must love the Lord.
If we want our children to make God their Lord, then God must be our Lord. We cannot give lip service to true religion and then expect our children to be genuinely dedicated to Christ. The stream does not rise higher than its source.
The best thing you can do for your children is to love the Lord and serve him with all your heart. Make God your Lord and your children are likely to follow in your steps.
Let’s pray.
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