Sometimes I wish I lived in ancient Jerusalem.
I long for the clarity of a theocracy, in which the laws of the land and the laws of God are one and the same. Wouldn’t everything be so much easier if we lived in a place God promised to protect? If there were bold lines drawn between our obedience and God’s blessing? If reaching the world meant establishing us, because through our strength other people would know that our God was real?
I want the picture of my faith journey to be a black and white drawing. I want it all to be clear and simple.
And so when I read a psalm like Psalm 48, I am jealous.
I am jealous of a people living in a city where God shows up to fight battles on their behalf.
I want to confidently praise with words like,
God is in its fortresses; he reveals himself as its defender. Mount Zion rejoices; the towns of Judah are happy, because of your acts of judgment. – Psalm 48:3, 11
And I want to confidently make requests with words like,
Walk around Zion! Encircle it! Count its towers! Consider its defenses! Walk through its fortresses, so you can tell the next generation about it! – Psalm 48:12-13
I am jealous of how uncomplicated this seems. We are God’s people, we live in God’s city, thank you for protecting us, do more of it in the future. Boom.
Meanwhile, today, as I follow Christ, I don’t know how to pray about blessing and protection. Christ calls us to humble ourselves and sacrifice and serve and give up all for His sake. It seems so shallow to pray for God’s blessing on my life. How can I pray for God’s protection when He asked me to die to self when I started to follow Him?
So, should I pray for more friends, or should I pray that I would be more content in Christ alone? Should I pray for more margin to rest, or for more energy to do all that is before me? Should I pray for God to protect against illness and suffering, or for Christ to be reveal in and through me as I endure it?
I want the freedom of clarity I perceive in the Old Testament. If I obey, God will bless. If I do the right things, I will be protected.
But then I look about this little line in verse 8.
We heard about God’s mighty deeds, now we have seen them,
And I realize that things were not always as simple as I like to imagine them. This verse is positive, but it implies the negative. The people have heard about God’s mighty deeds, but not seen them themselves. They have wondered where He was and why He was not intervening. Now, finally, they have seen His acts themselves, and are praising Him for them.
In ancient Israel, God’s blessing was on a people, not on a person, which made the whole journey of following Him just as jumbled as it is now. Perhaps even more so. What would it have been like to live as an Israelite faithful to God during a time when the king was erecting idols? Or to make sacrifices on behalf of our sins, always knowing that they were not actually enough to cover them?
But though that may make life more difficult, doesn’t it also make it more beautiful?
When my kids see a piece of paper that contains only black lines and white spaces, they immediately run for the markers. It is their instinct to add more to a black and white page. The starkness does not feel like enough. They want to blur over the lines and fill in the spaces with depth and variety. Often, as they do, there is frustration and tears when colors don’t look the way they thought they would. But no matter the process, in the end, the paper is much more beautiful than it was before they colored it.
God is a master Artist and we are His masterpieces. The picture of our life with Him is filled with color and blurred lines and frustration and variety and complexity and beauty.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
My son is a dawdler. When we are getting ready to go somewhere, putting on clothes feels like climbing Mount Everest. It takes all the weapons in our parenting arsenal to strategize solutions to this problem: consequences, rewards, timers, playing, nagging, begging…
Perpetual pokiness leads to frequent frustration.
Sometimes the leisurely pace is innocent. Sometimes it is a deliberate disobedience. He thinks, “If I am on my way to do something, then it counts as obeying, right?” Wrong. We’ve told him many times that one of the ways he shows us respect is by being “quick to obey.”
One of the reasons this behavior annoys me is because I know what my son is missing out on as a result of his choice. I know that if he was quick to obey the command to get dressed, he would have time to play before school. I know that if he was quick to obey the command to eat dinner, he would have time to go for a bike ride before bed.
When my son is slow to obey, he misses out on the blessings waiting on the other side.
This scenario has made me wonder about my own pokiness. Where in my life am I being slow to obey God?
There are things that God has made clear to me about how I should live. His instructions can come to me through prayer, His Word, or the insight of trusted friends- or maybe a combination of those things. There are many times, though, when I am slow to follow God’s instructions.
Sometimes I am slow to obey because of lack of clarity. I know He has called me to use me to change my path. But what does that mean? Do I make the change now or is he preparing me to change in the future?
Sometimes I am slow to obey because of lack of trust. I know He has given me gifts. I know He has called me to use those gifts to serve others, bless the world, and glorify Him. But can I really do THAT? ____ (fill in the blank) seems too far out of my capacity.
Sometimes I am slow to obey because of lack of desire. I know he has called me to give up my resources to help those in need. But I really want a new pair of boots. He’s not requiring that big of a sacrifice, right?
I wonder if God is like a parent, saying to me, “My child, when you are slow to obey, you are missing out on the blessings I have for you on the other side. The only person you are hurting is you.”
So what do I do?
Take the next step. Whether it is clarity, trust, or desire holding me back, my next step is to do something. If it is lack of clarity, perhaps my next step is to contact a friend and ask for advice. If it is lack of trust, perhaps my next step is look for a one time opportunity to do something I am nervous to do, and watch how God comes through. Then, when it comes time to do something longer-term, it might not seem so difficult. If it lack of desire holding me back, perhaps the next step is to give or change anyway. Sometimes the desire comes after the choice, not before.
If God has called me to do something, then I am able to do it. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says,
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.