Understanding The Story

The Bible is the story of God and God’s people. It is not primarily a rule book telling us how we should live. Or a scientific textbook explaining how things work. Or a history book of heroes we should emulate.

It is a story. It is The Story.

It is The Story of Yawheh, a God who has existed since before the foundations of this earth, who reached into time and space to create, redeem, and love. It is The Story of a people who have sometimes understood, but more often than not, The Story of a people who have messed things up. And it is The Story of a God who keeps on loving them anyway.

I think the Israelites understood this better than we do. Their view on God and history is revealed in the way they tell their own story.

In Psalm 106, we see a people who share accounts of their blunders as easily as they share their victories.

“We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.” – Psalm 106:6

“He saved them from the and of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. Then they believed his promises And sang his praise.” – Psalm 106:10, 12

And we see a people who declare God’s goodness as the introduction to them both.

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” – Psalm 106:1

They seem to understand what The Story is really about: a God whose love for His people endures through everything.

The Story is not about Israel’s leaders. They had some great ones, but those leaders were human, right along with the rest of us. They made mistakes. And if we understand what The Story is really about, it shouldn’t make us uncomfortable to talk about them.

Though, in our humanness, it probably will make us uncomfortable. And that’s okay, too. We should still do it. Just like the Israelites did.

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” – Psalm 106:32-33

Isn’t it wonderfully human that they tell the story of Moses’ anger, but still blame it on the ever-annoying dessert wanderers? I can feel them telling that story through gritted teeth, knowing they need to share it all, but struggling to take one of their great heroes off his pedestal.

I have had the honor of studying the Old Testament with a brilliant and insightful rabbi. He describes the will of God as a deep and wide river. The will of God is not a point on a map that we have to find, but a vast and refreshing stream in which we are invited to wade.

We can step into it at anytime and walk around. Once we do, we stand in the movement of all that has come before us and all that will surge after us. To understand who God is and who we are, we have to look at how the river runs all around us, back in the past, around us in the present, and ahead into the future.

The Bible is one place that tells the story of what comes before us. And the way it tells the good and the bad together gives us a model of what looking back really means. It doesn’t mean glossing over or forgetting.

Looking back means seeing how humanity struggles and God continues to love. It means looking unanswered questions in the face and finding the ways that God can still be good even when we don’t understand. Looking back means remembering how Jesus lived and hearing what Jesus said when the things in our present tell us to abandon this crazy faith.

Psalm 106
Psalm 106

That was my reflection on Psalm 106. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week for a reflection on Psalm 107.

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I love humility... or maybe I don't

  I love humility.

 

At least, I love thinking about humility. I seem to be drawn to it. I’ve blogged about whether humility and confidence are opposites, and what Jesus meant when He called himself humble and gentle. I’ve often shared my favorite C.S. Lewis quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

 

I love that definition of humility.

 

The thing is, thinking about humility is a lot different than practicing humility. And when God wants to teach us humility, watch out.

 

One year, I actually prayed that God would help me be more humble. Seriously, I really was crazy enough to ask God to do that. (By the way, I don’t recommend praying something like that if you want to have an easy year.)

 

Humility is easy to talk about, but difficult to cultivate. It seems to require a rough road.

 

I told someone recently that I was feeling humbled. And the road hasn't even been all that rough. It has just been new. New schedule, new routines, new job. All that new makes me something I hate being: needy. I need help. There is so much I do not know. So much I am trying to figure out. And as a result, I have been asking for help. What feels to me like too much help.

 

Needing help humbles me. 

 

I think that's true of most of us. I see it in the Old Testament, when God wanted the Israelites to learn humility. Humility is why God brought them through the wilderness.

 

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5

 

The wilderness made the Israelites needy. They became dependent on God in a way they had not been before. This was exactly what God wanted.

 

Humility means understanding that our independence has limits. Humility means understanding that God is God and we are not. Humility means kneeling before the God who lifts us back up.

 

This neediness I have had lately? It has reminded me how I have neglected the manna of God's Word. It has helped me see once again the brokenness of my own heart and how I often value looking good to others more than being real with them. It has brought me back to a place of dependence on God at at time I was drifting away into self-reliance.

 

I still don't love seasons like this. But I value them. Humbling experiences are faith-building experiences. So, I will try to embrace this neediness. I just hope it takes me less than 40 years to learn my lesson...

 

How would you define humility? How has it been cultivated in your life?

 

Evaluations, Decision-Making, and Answered Prayer

My son starts kindergarten in a few weeks. {Insert big gulp here.} I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a kindergartner. The passage of time seriously freaks me out. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was braiding my friend’s hair on the bus as we rode to a cross-country meet? Now, suddenly, I’ve been married 12 years and have two kids, one of whom is about to be in elementary school. This is full-fledged adulthood people.

As we embark on this big transition, there have been several steps to get him, and us, ready for his first day of school.

He had a kindergarten camp where he spent a week of mornings at his new school. He created art projects and made friends and got used to hearing Spanish from his teacher. (He will be going to a Spanish immersion school.)

He had a school bus safety event, where we around a few blocks in a school bus. He heard the bus driver talk about choosing where to sit and keeping voices low and getting off at his stop and telling the driver if he had a tummy ache.

He had an early childhood screening, where I took him to a community center. I answered questions about how he learns and someone checked his height and a teacher asked him questions about what word rhymes with cat.

After each of these preparations, I was told something important: my son is ready for kindergarten.

It’s comforting to hear. To know that other people think my son is ready affirms our decision to send him. To know more about what is coming strengthens his confidence to go.

Don’t you wish more of life was like this?

What if, before we took a new job, we had this kind of preparation? A week-long camp where we did the job at 1/3 time and got an introduction to what it would be like. A driver who took us around and talked about what to expect at each corner. An evaluation that gave us a non-biased opinion on whether our brains and bodies were ready for the new things we would learn and experience.

It would make decision-making a whole lot easier.

Our longing for the kind of confirmation and guidance we got as children sometimes paralyzes us as adults.

When we face big decisions, it’s often how we pray. We ask God to show us the way to go. To prove to us that the next step we are going to take is the right one. To confirm that we aren’t going to screw things up by trying this new thing. To let us know whether our we are ready for what will come our way.

And then we sit. Stuck. Halted until God tells us exactly what to do.

The problem is, God is usually not that specific. God doesn’t treat us like kindergartners, He treats us like adults.

Because really, what would our lives look like if answered prayers for guidance looked like kindergarten evaluations? Wouldn’t we slowly loose our abilities to make decisions, even over simple things? Wouldn’t we begin to question whether God was stifling us by not showing us multiple options? Wouldn’t we begin to think of God more as an Administrator than a Creator or a Lover?

God loves us too much to take the adventure out of the life He created for us.

I think of the adventure God gave the Israelites as He led them out of Egypt and into the desert. He didn’t evaluate their readiness or show them how everything would work out. He didn’t even give them a map.

God gave the Israelites a pillar. By day, a cloud that shielded them from the harsh heat of the desert sun. By night, a fire that protected them from the cold and frightening darkness. Day and night, a beacon that showed them God’s direction. A comfort that showed them God’s presence.

When we pray for God to guide our life decisions, I think this picture is in line with how He often answers. He doesn’t tell us each step, but He leads us in a direction. He doesn’t protect us from everything, but He shields us from some of the harshest realities. And in the midst of the decision and wherever life takes us afterwards, God shows us His presence.

God is our pillar.

How have you seen God answer prayers for guidance in your life?