Daily Bread

Life is full of distractions and I’ve had more than my fair share recently, what with Christmas and various projects. To be honest, most of the time I enjoy the distractions, although, on this occasion, I’ve layered one distraction on another, leaving an over-active mind that has begun to interfere with my sleep. Not good. In the midst of all this noise it is all too easy to loose sight of what is important.

The psalmist, in psalm 16, finds his refuge in God, his only source of good. He rejects that path of others who appear holy and doing well for themselves, but who find their good outside of God. All the psalmist can do is hope that they learn their mistake – even if it is by the hard way of sorrow.

It reminded me of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I have said these words many times, but never really taken them in. After all, if I need bread, I go to the Supermarket. While I have a job, I easily have the money for bread. Even if I lost my job, the State promises to step in – at least to a point. Granted, some fall between the cracks, but that is someone else’s experience, not mine. I find I have no need to ask for bread. Which is precisely the problem.

My refuge, my source of good, seems to be out of alignment. I look to the Supermarket. I look to my bank balance. I look to the State and the economic system of the world. Which is all a bit foolish really, given the not-so-long-ago financial crisis. It is in my very comfort and security that I have made a mis-step. My refuge needs to be in God – even for my bread. Even though I know, as the apostle Paul testifies, this may mean that at times I need to do without. Yet, in spite of this, we know that God has our best interests at heart, which is more than can be said for the supermarket or my bank.

Not all distractions are bad. Some are expressions of who God made me to be, yet they are still distractions. Sometimes, it is helpful to be reminded of where our refuge should be and to, perhaps for the first time, pray: give us this day our bread.

 

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Small Beginnings

My journey has taken an unexpected turn. Although, with hindsight, I should have seen it coming.

I have been marinating myself in the psalms as I try to reshape my view of reality around the Kingdom. I’m unsure of my progress, but I reassured myself that, that if drops of water can impact rock, change must be happening. In spite of this, I was becoming frustrated at the lack of visible progress when I felt God say to look at the small things.

It was the idea of small things that seemed unexpected. After all, the view from the Kingdom should be radically different from the view of the world and so I was expecting big shifts. This left me puzzled, until I remembered Jesus speaking about the Kingdom being like a grain of mustard seed. So, rather than look for the radical shifts, that were not seemingly happening, I felt I needed to focus on the small shifts that were. Now, the Kingdom has always been marked by love and unity and, while strained at times, it is also clearly in evidence amongst God’s people. And, if the Gospel of John is to be believed, this is a mark of the Kingdom.

Looking for the small things sounded so incredibly simple, yet it proved harder in practice. Being small, it is often difficult to see. It is also difficult to distinguish from, say, worthy deeds done by the godless. How is my loving any different from a good hearted atheist who is also helping their neighbour? The deeds can look remarkably similar. Yet, perhaps, this is to be expected as we had been warned that the wheat and tares would be hard to tell apart. It is only as the deeds grow and bear fruit that the differences become clear, for they come from a different source. The Spirit is our source (or should be), and our deeds flow from within and bring life with them. They are not some external standard of right and wrong, imposing its rules on us like a straightjacket, strangling life, rather than bringing it.

So, I’ve needed to pause. To allow myself to dwell on what God was saying. It is, I am aware, only another small step, but I also feel that I’ve been given a new lens with which to see.

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Sadness

I find psalms a bit like many worship songs, although not in the way you are probably thinking. I can sing them, while the words glide over me without touching the sides. I have just not been paying attention. Living with a single psalm for a while has caused me to stop and work out what is actually going on. It also alerts me to how little attention I had been paying, as they both puzzle and challenge in complex ways – like many good poems should.

From the first, psalm 14 struck me with its pathos. The fool has said in his heart. And I am left saddened for the fool. Saddened too that God looks down and can find nobody seeking him and doing right. Yet, as I read on, I find that pathos abruptly challenged as I read that the fool is also devouring God’s people. It is harder to feel sorrow for your persecutor, and yet it is a double folly, given that God is our protector. Yet, oddly, when God was looking down, God saw nobody doing right. God’s people were not listed as an exception. Maybe I should not make too much of that. Poetic license and all, yet, it is a little strange.

The psalm ends with a question that reaches out in hope. A hope that was eventually fulfilled, but in an unexpected and so was largely missed. The psalmist was looking towards Zion for salvation, for God to restore his people. He was not expecting it to look like the son of God being nailed on a cross. And so now, there is a sadness to for the psalmist and the Jewish people.

It is difficult to know what to make of the psalm, but it does leave me sad. Sadness that our world today is full of those who say there is no God. A sadness too for those who have missed him in his unexpectedness.

The One and the Many

We are in a minority. I’m sure, many would argue against that, but that is because they confuse a religious facade for its content. We are in a minority, and always have been. The person portrayed in Psalm 4 speaks out as the voice of the one to the many. He (or maybe she) asks them how long they will seek after vanity and illusions and calls on them to turn to God. They do not appear to be listening. Like so many today, they are too busy seeking happiness, but totally unaware from whom it is found. It is only the psalmist who knows the answer. For all the apparent wealth (and wine) of the many, the psalmist declares that his joy is richer and that he is also able to sleep in peace, resting secure.

In our world, we focus on results. We preach the good news, we don’t see any results, and we give up. Yet, the psalmist shows no sign of discouragement. He has called the people to respond to God. The fact that they do not does not disturb him. After all, for him, as for us us, there is no guarantee of being listened to. Indeed, Jesus warns us to expect even worse. The response is not our concern. Nor is it our concern that they seem to be outwardly doing better than we are, or that many around us say that we are the ones living an illusion. They can point to their stores of wealth, to their pleasures in wine. These are real. Yet we have a different reality. Our joys are richer and we we are secure. We also sleep well at night.

My Glory and Broken Teeth

Elisha was surrounded by the Aramaean army. No doubt, feeling pleased with themselves. Where is Elisha’s God now? No wonder Elisha’s servant was feeling scared. It was only when Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, that he realised the true state of affairs. It was the Aramaeans who had been trapped, surrounded by the armies of heaven. This, for me, seems to be the essence of psalm 3. God lifts our eyes to see the reality of the Kingdom. A truth that is often hard won – at least for me. When adversities surround me, I am frequently overcome with fear and worry before God is finally able to get me to look where I was supposed to be looking and realise that I have nothing to fear. It is a good lesson to learn, but, in living with the psalm for a while, I find am not able to gloss over the bits I do not understand or am uncomfortable with.

I must confront the fact that God not only lifts my head, but he is my glory to. I found that odd. I suppose part of it is that glory is a term that is used glibly, without much thought as to its meaning. In Hebrew, the word literally means ‘heavy’. The wealthy and powerful were better fed and so it was used figuratively to symbolise prestige and honour. A royal throne is surrounded by gold to show that the person sitting on it is worthy of respect – it is part of their glory. Today, that might translate into the expensive cars and fancy houses of the rich and famous. Yet, my glory is in none of these. My glory is in God. My identity comes from him – and occasionally that identity leaks out and is seen by others.

I am also confronted by a psalm that asks God to break my enemies teeth. That is an uncomfortable prayer to pray. It is perhaps passages like this that make me a little cautious towards some psalms. They were written for a different world. Yet, in this case, I think this is more idiomatic. An English equivalent might be to say, ‘give the wicked a bloody nose and your people a blessing’! It is a cry for justice and the right ordering of things.

This weeks journey has not taken me on a straight path. It has at times been challenging to place myself within this psalm. Yet, it remains God’s truth for us – even in its oddness, even from its different culture. I am aware that some of the psalms to come might present an even bigger challenge, but that is a problem for another day. My journey through the psalms looks as though it could prove more challenging than I imagined.