The people with the blessing
Isaiah 61: I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
As Jesus begins his public ministry he picks this portion of Isaiah’s writings as his text. Our Lord’s ministry will heal heartbroken people and pardon those held captive by sin. Jesus doesn’t read the entire “year of the Lord’s favor” sermon from Isaiah, but in that sermon Isaiah continues proclaiming all the good things God is about to do for his people. God is turning toward them in favor and there will be blessing upon blessing. They’ll be the recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham and with David and the whole world will know them as the people with the blessing. At this point in the message Isaiah becomes so excited about what God’s about to do that he declares that he’s exploding in praise from deep in his soul. Since Jesus picks these words to describe his ministry to the world we who follow him read this sermon of promises, not from only a historical point of view, but as though it’s directed to us, personally. In our lives we’re set free from the dominion of sin and enjoy “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of life, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from being a people God has blessed. Even as Isaiah is moved to explosive praise by this promise of the Lord, we too are filled to overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, and is doing, in us.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be a people God has blessed.
The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.
Reason to expect an answer to prayer
Isaiah 26: God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us.
What an interesting prayer this is. I love the request for a “peaceful and whole life.” When all is said and done, this is about as insightful a request as a person can make for their own life. Isaiah lives in turbulent times and, in the face of so much uncertainty, this prayer makes a lot of sense. However, he isn’t the only one who has lived in such days. We do too. Again, I like this simple prayer. The second half of this sentence though, is the reason the person praying thinks the first half will be granted. Isaiah says, “We’re following your directions Lord, only doing what you’d have us do, operating under your power and authority.” You see, it makes no sense to plead with the Lord for peace and life if I’m ignoring his intentions for my life. The only way this prayer makes sense is when I pray it in the context of absolute obedience and trust. It’s only when I can say, “Everything I have done and am doing is what God is doing in me” that I can pray with an expectation of God’s blessing on my life.
Take Away: The Lord’s blessings often depend on my obedience.
Delight in the light
Ecclesiastes 11: Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
A light reading of Ecclesiastes (if such a thing is really possible) leaves me with the feeling that the writer is a hardened pessimist who’s concluded that everything is “vanity.” While there are plenty of statements about how worthless things are, there’s also a positive, yet realistic theme here. He advises me to cherish every day. Some days, he says, are going to be dark, but there’s also plenty of light and I’m to “delight in the light.” I don’t want to be one of those people who only focuses on all that is going (or can go) wrong. God has blessed me with so much! I don’t want to take any of it for granted. True to form, the wise man adds, “most of what comes your way is smoke.” That is, most things in life are temporary, and a high percentage of those things aren’t all that important anyway. On one hand then, I don’t want to get so focused on the problems of life that I lose sight of the blessings. Those problems are pretty much “smoke” anyway and are temporary. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the little blessings while I have them. They too are smoke and will be gone before I know it and I don’t want to take them for granted.
Take Away: Cherish every day.
God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.
Good people and good things
Ecclesiastes 8: I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God…and that the evil person will not experience the “good” life.
The conventional wisdom of Solomon’s day (and it is often still conventional wisdom today) is that bad people have bad things happen to them and good people have good things happen to them. In his wisdom Solomon sees considerable evidence that this approach isn’t true. He sees wicked people live pretty nice lives and he even attends some funerals in which it appears that the person “got away with it” — living an evil life yet having everything a person could ask for right to the very end. He has plenty of evidence that the common belief of “bad gets bad and good gets good” doesn’t really work. Still, though, he can’t quite give up on it. While he can’t prove that it’s true, he can’t shake the belief that there’s some truth in this philosophy. He reports, “I’m still convinced….” Today, I think Solomon is right to hang on to this belief. It doesn’t play out as he thought it would but I agree with him that serving God has great advantages. It isn’t that those who trust God have more money and better health but in the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people. There’s wealth in going to sleep at night knowing that no matter what tomorrow brings things will be okay. There’s wealth in being at peace with God and there’s wealth in knowing one is a child of the King. I believe the conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. It’s right in its belief that good things happen to good people. It’s wrong in having such a narrow and material view of just what those good things are.
Take Away: In the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people.
I did it God’s way
Proverbs 10: God’s blessing makes life rich; nothing we can do can improve on God.
The greater part of the book of Proverbs is made up of wise “one-liners.” Well, they’re actually “two-liners” that follow the format “This does this, but that does that.” One of the many wonderful strengths of “The Message” is how beautifully Peterson handles the parables, giving them new life for his readers. Today, I’m reminded that all the good things in life come from the Lord. He’s the “Blesser” giving us so much to enjoy. One of the lies of the Garden of Eden is that people can pull themselves up to God’s level and thus “bless themselves” in doing things their own way. The truth is that nothing I do on my own to create a satisfied, happy life equals what God can do for me. Getting my own way won’t give me a rich life. Instead, I’ll have spent my assets on a bag of worthless rocks. It’s only when I realize that God is the only One who can make my life worth living and that he desires to do just that that I have a hope of living the “rich life.” Sometimes, I have to simply accept God’s blessings in a sincere spirit of thanksgiving and not try to do it my own way.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses me the proper response is to say “thank you” and then go about enjoying the blessing.
Grabbing the gusto, looking to eternity
Proverbs 1: When you grab all you can get, that’s when it happens: the more you get, the less you have.
As I read this passage I can’t help but think of the beer commercial that tells us we only go ’round once in life so we’d better grab all the gusto we can. I actually think there’s some truth to that. Life is a gift of God filled with many wonderful opportunities and blessings. I can’t sit around talking about “pie in the sky” and get the most out of my life. There’s a lot of living to do right now. The wise man of the Proverbs, though, gives me the other side of that coin. If I make my life completely about living in the here and now, ignoring all that is yet to come, well, I’m setting myself up for a great fall. Life is more than “right now.” This life might be considered to be a warm up for eternity. So, grabbing the gusto can make sense, but that approach must be kept on a leash and not allowed to just run wild because there’s much more to our existence than just going ’round once. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:20, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Take Away: One way to live the best life possible in the here and now is to live with an eye on eternity.
Heaven will surely be worth it all
Psalm 84: These roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion!
The psalmist is thinking about journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Oh how the pilgrim looks forward to being in the Temple of God. He can’t help but think of how blest are those whose serve in that place day by day. However, there’s more than even that here. The song writer finds himself thinking about people who are living their lives in the Lord, journeying with him along the dusty roads and through the lonesome valleys of life. Not that there aren’t some blest times along the way because there are some “cool springs” that refresh the weary traveler. Then, there’s one last mountain to climb, one last curve to navigate; and then Zion comes into view. That “lonesome valley” journey is quickly forgotten as beautiful Zion is seen. What a powerful picture he’s painted. Today, I thank God for walking with me on my life journey. I thank him for the blessings of cool springs along the way and for his faithfulness to me even in the lonesome valleys. For me, and for most of us, the blessings far outnumber the trials. But whether or not that is true for you in particular we all have this hope: one of these days we’ll climb that last mountain and round the final curve and our Zion will come into view. As the old gospel song says, “Heaven will surely be worth it all.”
Take Away: We are a people with hope; hope both in this world and in the world to come.
Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.