Friday, March 10, 2017

God's Strength for God's Will

Reflection on yesterday's Daily Texts:

He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. - Psalm 18:30

Paul wrote: The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. - 2 Thessalonians 3:3

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 34:8-18; Ezra 8:21-10:6; Romans 1:26-2:4

and on today's Daily Texts:

God said to Solomon, “Because you have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word.” - 1 Kings 3:11-12

Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” - Matthew 7:24

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 34:19-22; Ezra 10:7-44; Romans 2:5-16

I didn't intend to skip yesterday's post and combine it with today's - but it turns out they complement each other well, and shed light on each other. The theme that stood out for me in yesterday's texts is God's protection; and today, it's God's wisdom. There are some interesting connections and contrasts as the scriptures talk about human strength vs. God's strength, and human judgment vs. God's direction. And in the daily prayers written for the Mt. Carmel Ministries edition of the Daily Texts, both days include a prayer for courage to "do your will" and to "act upon your word."

The simple language of the prayers is a good place to start. It's God's word and God's will that we aim for. If our eyes are set on a different destination, something demanded by our own selfish interests, then we're not even heading in the right direction. And it's useless to hunt around for the path God has set and the protection God has provided, if every step we take is actively leading us farther from where God wanted us to go.

Once we start with the right destination and direction, God's wisdom comes into play along the way. As we travel, we need to keep checking periodically to make sure we haven't drifted off course. The more often we check, the less we drift. It's tempting to say that listening to God is what we need here. But Jesus makes the point that the wise are those who listen and act on his word. Hearing is not enough! We take what we hear, and put it into practice. There is room here for human creativity, for people with different gifts and perspectives, in different situations, to apply God's word in different ways. The key thing is to dedicate ourselves to ongoing listening and action and course correction.

The scriptures for these two days offer an interesting example of how this difference works. Ezra and the other leaders who brought the people back from Babylon to Jerusalem were rediscovering God's command to keep separate from the other nations, and at that time, with a small remnant returning to rebuild a weakened city, there was danger in diluting the proper worship of God with foreign influences. They agonized and prayed about this, and came up with a plan to send away any wives and children who had become mixed in with the people of the tribes of Israel. Hundreds of years later, we have Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he argues strongly that both Jew and Gentile have a place in God's kingdom, by God's grace as received through faith. Paul rejects idolatry and self-centered indulgence as strongly as Ezra did (and reading Romans 1:18-32 as a whole unit shows that Paul is not laying down a new universal law against same-sex relationships, as we might think if we pick out just verses 26 and 27, but showing a multitude of examples of how an orientation against God's will leads to all kinds of behaviors that go against God's will and a person's own nature). But now, with the revealing of Jesus as the Messiah who opens the kingdom of God to all people of all nations, Paul's plan aims not for tribal purity, but for individual and communal life lived by the power of God's spirit instead of by each person's self-centered desires.

And this brings us to the theme of God's protection and strength, and the courageous act of trusting in God. The Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, consistently witnesses to God's ability to provide whatever is needed, even when human evaluations of the situation make it look incredibly unlikely. Faith in God comes alive with what we call courage, when we go beyond thoughts and words to take real steps of action that grow out of our faith. There's great power in the confidence that comes from God's direction, God's living guidance, and God's strength. Much of what we struggle against, even when it looks daunting, is made up of lies and deception and a "house of cards" built on limited human knowledge and power. It can't stand up against faith active in love, which moves with the strength of God's truth.

This is no guarantee that everything will always be wonderful. Paul, and Ezra, and David, and many other people of the Bible, knew that following God faithfully could sometimes result in suffering and danger. We are all limited, fragile, mortal beings, and we will all have our moments of pain and trouble and, eventually, death. But being centered on and motivated by God's will gives us meaning and courage for life, and also company on the way. We travel this journey of life anyway. We can be thankful that we're invited to travel with God who makes the journey better for everybody.

What is God calling you to? What direction are you being shown, or toward what destination? How is God inviting you to put one foot in front of the other, and to keep checking in along the way? What fears and threats do you see? What if you just get started, with courage, taking action on God's path?

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