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.