Dust, Grass and Mist

In today’s culture, every woman is supposed to be a 21st century Rosie the Riveter proclaiming, “We can do it!” We are constantly told that we’re enough, that we’re strong, that we’re even unstoppable. The other day I read a post from someone whose mother just passed away. She focused a lot on being strong and finally said, “My strength is my strength.” Can someone tell me what that even means? Is it ok for women to shed tears in public or is that turning your back on the ‘sisterhood’?

Meanwhile, our Bibles sit on our shelves, pregnant with culturally dissonant truth. If only we would read it. If only we would take it to heart. Didn’t Paul tell us in Romans 12 to be transformed by the renewal of our minds? Why the mind? Because we’re constantly being lied to. And didn’t Jeremiah tell us that our hearts are “hopelessly dark and deceitful” (MSG)? Following such a fickle organ will certainly lead us astray.

We would do well to pick up those Bibles and remind ourselves of the nature of man.

We are dust. “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground…” Genesis 2:7 Contrary to popular belief, we are not self-generating beings. We have a source, and that is God. No matter how hard we work out, no matter how many anti-aging products we use, we can’t stop the inevitable. Our joints will deteriorate, our skin will sag and wrinkle and we will return to the dust from which we came.

We are grass. “A voice was saying, ‘Cry out!’ Another said, ‘What should I cry out?’ ‘All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed the people are grass.'” Isaiah 40:6-7 Take to heart what the prophet is saying here. How long does grass last? We kill ourselves on earth trying to increase our name recognition all the while forgetting that we will be forgotten a short time after we die. Do you remember your great-grandparents? Do you even know their names? All but the most ardent genealogists do. And have you heard of transhumanism? It says we can use technology to combat aging and “eliminate various existential risks to the human species.” Really?

We are mist. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14 The other day I went running near my neighborhood. There was an unusual haze or mist in the air. But 30 minutes later? It was completely gone. We like to make plans and set goals for months and years from now. I plan to run a marathon in November. But why do we think we’ll be here even 30 minutes from now? We may prepare ourselves and work hard for those goals and dreams, but do we prepare ourselves to stand before the Ever Living One? “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” Hebrews 9:27

We are dust, grass and mist. We need to constantly remind ourselves of these truths in order to drown out the messages of the culture. But if we stopped there we’d certainly sink into a pit of despair. So let’s also focus on the rest of the story for those who are in Christ.

We are dust and one day these earthly bodies will decay back to the dust. But on the last day, we will be raised and receive a glorified body, one that is like the Lord Jesus. “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-53

We are grass and hardly anyone will remember us years after we’re gone. But if we are in Christ, God will never forget us. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:15-16

Yes, we are a mist and all our hopes, dreams and goals for this life are tenuous at best. But if we know Him, we can lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven and one day we will receive a guaranteed inheritance that is imperishable and unfading. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4

This past week a good friend of mine received a distressing medical diagnosis which only added to other conditions that have caused her years of chronic pain. If she listened to the culture, she would hear voices telling her to focus on her strength and not give in. But as a Christian, she is able to make a different choice. She can face her weakness and suffering with raw honesty and see in it an opportunity. That opportunity is given to her by Christ who also embraced weakness for us and made it a gateway to greater strength. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

The world says deny your weakness and proclaim your strength. Christ says to embrace your weakness and find all your strength in him. Dust, grass and mist. This world was never our home but it is full of reminders that we were made for so much more.

The Trail

Tomorrow I’m going to run a race. A trail race. But I’m not going to be racing. And I may not be doing a lot of running. I’m finding that grief saps one’s physical strength in a way that’s different from enduring the gauntlet of 26.2. At this race, I expect I’ll be doing a combination of walking, running, and healing, as I allow God’s creation to soothe my weary soul. I may need to tuck some tissues into my hydration vest.

Running has always been therapeutic for me, but even more lately, as I’ve tried to swap some of my road miles for the trail. As I get older and inevitably slower, I think I’ll do even more exercise on the trails. I’ve even contemplated thru-hiking, to which my YouTube history can certainly attest.

The trail slows my feet and my mind. It fills my senses and lifts my head to my Creator. The harmony of nature – the bird song, the smell of spring turning into summer, the pleasing views, testify of God’s goodness and grandeur.

And this is what I need right now. This is the balm to my soul. Not the trail. But the One to whom the trail and all of creation testifies. The only One who can satisfy the longing soul. (Psalm 107:9) The One who is near to the broken hearted. (Psalm 34:18)

Type A Anxiety

No matter what kind of personality test you take, there’s always a Type A. And those who aren’t type A can sometimes look longingly over the fence and wish they had the same kind of inborn motivation, a natural desire to get things done. If this jealousy didn’t exist, self-help and productivity books wouldn’t sell as well as they do and people like Stephen Covey would be out of a job.

But I think there can be a dark side to every personality type and I’m realizing the wisdom in examining my own type A weaknesses. Possessing a natural motivation to get things done isn’t inherently righteous. If I’m not careful it can become a breeding ground for pride but also for anxiety. Let me explain that one.

I used to salivate over productivity books. They really appealed to me. They still do. The itch to do more things in less time received a satisfying scratch whenever I saw book titles with words like ‘get things done’, ‘efficient’, ‘ to-do’, and ‘stop procrastinating’. It didn’t really matter who wrote it or how the information was presented. It could be a book, a YouTube video or a magazine article. If it had the magic words, I would be drawn like the proverbial moth to a flame.

Why do they appeal to me? I think it’s because they offer a promise. A promise of peace and control. A promise of a kind of machine like smoothness and efficiency to life. If only I implemented this or that system, my life could run like a fine tuned Swiss timepiece. Now there’s nothing wrong with getting things done. Work is good and Scripture tells us we should work as unto the Lord and redeem the time. But working as unto myself is not good. What’s the difference? I can feel the difference in my spirit. It’s like everything is dependent on me. I feel agitated and rushed as if there’s some looming deadline. I feel controlled by time and set up unrealistic expectations as to how much I should be able to get done in one day. Then I end my day by placing myself under the microscope, hoping for a passing grade.

But this is all idolatry. I’m allowing the clock and my flesh to be my master, not the Lord. I’m using my checklist to validate my existence. I’m certainly not abounding in thanksgiving as God desires me to be. In using any productivity system, I am tempted to believe I have more control than I really do and look to the system and my ability to perform the system to give me peace and fulfillment.

Like I said above – there is nothing wrong with wanting to be more organized with your time and desiring to be more productive. But for this Type A woman, this upholder kind of gal, all those systems tempt me in the wrong direction.

What do you think?

Contending for the Faith

Over ten years ago I decided to try to memorize a whole book of the Bible. I chose Jude. Yes, I know, it’s only 25 verses. There are chapters of the Bible that are much longer than that. But hey, it was a book!

Since that time I have memorized other things and have had to let some of my memory work go. One of those was Jude. But I’ve been wondering lately if I should’ve let it go because it seems especially applicable these days.

I’ve been thinking about the opening verses of the book which explain Jude’s purpose in writing:

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3

Jude originally wanted to write a very different letter, with likely a very different tone. But something serious had come up and he found it necessary to write them about it. Notice these words: necessary, appealing, contend. These are all strong words. The NIV says he felt compelled and wanted to urge them. The NLT says he must write…urging them to defend.

What caused him to change his purpose in writing? What would have influenced him to use such strong language with those he calls “beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ”? The rest of the letter goes on to supply the reason – false teachers have crept in unnoticed. They are immoral and pervert the grace of God for their own gain. He calls them “hidden reefs at your love feasts”. These were people who on the outside looked like Christians – they participated in the Lord’s Supper; but actually they were hidden reefs – their dangerous and ungodly teachings lurked beneath the surface.

We should always encourage one another and build up one another, reminding each other of the Lord’s great love and the salvation we share in Jesus Christ. But we should also heed Peter’s call to be sober-minded and realize that there have always been and continue to be threats to the body of Christ.

But notice where those threats are coming from. Jude says they are coming from inside the body, not outside. That’s not to say the church isn’t threatened from the outside. There’s an abundance of historical evidence, past and present to prove that. But Jude is urging his beloved to watch out for the threats from within. He tells them to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That presupposes that there is a standard of faith for which to contend. And who has set that standard? It is God who has established the standards of our faith in his Word.

So Jude finishes with a call for his beloved to persevere:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Jude 20-21

What does it mean to build yourself up in your most holy faith? Using Colossians 1:9-11 and 2:6-7 as a guide, I think it means this: grow in the knowledge of God through the gospel, being rooted in Christ and built up in him, always abounding in thanksgiving, and bearing fruit in every good work.

There is a time to contend for the faith. Stay sober-minded then so that when the time comes you may not be caught off guard. And remember that we can contend and remain steadfast because he is faithful and will keep us to the end.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.Jude 24-25

Will I Be Able to Stand?

If you are a lover of podcasts like I am, and a lover of church history, go check out Ligonier’s fantastic Luther in Real Time. Here’s what they have to say about it:

“It’s 1520. Martin Luther has been declared a heretic by Pope Leo X, and his books are being burned. How much longer before Luther himself is thrown into the fire?

Enter the dramatic story at the dawn of the Reformation with Luther: In Real Time. Each episode is released 500 years to the day after the events described, allowing you to walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps from his heresy charges to his famous stand for God’s Word.”

I didn’t start listening until a few weeks ago. That meant I had a lot of episodes to binge listen. I know that’s not the way the podcast is designed to be listened to, but I loved doing it that way. Each episode is only about 10 minutes, so it’s pretty fast paced. The production quality is extremely high and thoroughly engaging. Being a former professional musician, I also appreciated the music choices interspersed through each episode.

Beyond the quality of the episodes, I have to say that the story has impacted me on a deep level. I knew a modest amount about Luther’s life, but the way the podcast tells it drew me in and emphasized the life and death stakes that accompanied Luther’s choices. He knew he was putting his life in danger with every book he wrote and every sermon he preached against Rome’s excesses.

I am becoming more and more convinced of the outlier nature of the times I’ve lived in here in America not only since I was born in 1972 but for really the past two hundred or so years. Unprecedented freedom combined with extravagant wealth lulls people to sleep. It tempts me to ignore the sufferings of my brothers and sisters in Christ elsewhere. I fear it’s made me quite soft.

When I listened to Luther in Real Time I was faced with the question of whether I would have been able to stand like him, but also whether I will be able to stand amidst what I’m seeing will be tougher times ahead. What am I doing now to prepare myself?

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9

Cancelling Jacob?

I’ve recently started another journey through the Bible. I always love starting back at the beginning of the story; I can slip it on like an old shoe. It’s also flecked with newness as God points out little bits of undiscovered truth.

But one thing has been uncomfortably familiar as I’ve made this trek through the story of God’s people and that has been a kind of embarrassing disquiet as Moses recounts the story of Jacob, his wives, and their sons. Up until this point, things are good. Yes, Abraham has made his mistakes but he turns it around. He shows boldness in interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah and great faith in bringing his promised son Isaac to the altar as God instructed him. Isaac and Rebekah may have been guilty of playing favorites but overall, the history of God’s people seems to be on an upward trajectory. Even Jacob the schemer seems to get his act together after his vision of God in Genesis 28.

But then things start to unravel at the end of chapter 29. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying the unloved Leah, Jacob then marries his first choice Rachel, and pretty soon the whole thing starts resembling an episode of Sister Wives instead of the pristine kind of Bible story we’d prefer. Leah is hated but has the most children, Rachel is envious so she gives her servant to Jacob as a wife. Leah then stops bearing children and so she plays her sister’s game and gives her servant to Jacob. Wait? What’s going on here? Why does Jacob so readily assent to this plan? And what about God? Shouldn’t he step in here and declare how wrong this is? If I’m being honest as a Bible reader, I’m confused and a little embarrassed. I thought these were God’s people. Shouldn’t they be behaving better?

The discomfort I feel goes beyond noticing a friend’s tag sticking out the back of their sweater or the stray crumb they’ve failed to wipe away from their mouth. My discomfort actually leads to a desire to change the story, or to at least apply a filter to it. I am pretty inept at Instagram, but I do know about filters. I so want to put lipstick on this pig of a story.

But I’m not just uncomfortable witnessing the behavior of God’s people. I’m just as uncomfortable that God seems to stand by without commenting. I want God to almost cancel these characters. But he doesn’t. We may be cringing but God isn’t. The Bible tells a true story, the true history of the people of God. And that history is very messy, it’s embarrassingly messy at times. But God isn’t surprised. He keeps showing up, staying faithful, showing mercy and committing himself to his messy people. And so we shouldn’t turn our gaze away. Because in being honest about the sins of his people, and the steadfast commitment of his covenant love, the story of Scripture makes God shine all the brighter. He is not a God who is ready to cancel his people at the slightest mistake. To be sure, God hates evil and will punish the wicked – “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) But allow yourself to be stunned by the language throughout the Old Testament that speaks of God abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness to his own.

What if the stories of the Bible were filtered? What if every character portrayed was a paragon of faith and holiness? Then I’m afraid we’d be in an even deeper ditch, facing a greater problem. And that problem stares back at us in the mirror every morning. It’s us.

Our problem in Bible reading is that we still think way too highly of ourselves. We think we should be the hero of the story and so we expect our spiritual ancestors to be the same. But they’re not. And we’re not. The story of the Bible is actually slowly unveiling the real truth – Christ is the hero and we are the criminals.

If we’re willing to humble ourselves while reading the Bible, this is what will amaze us – that God loves sinners and pursues sinners and redeems sinners. He didn’t cancel us and he didn’t wait for us to do better. He provided the only solution to our ruined state – the Cross.

“While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

Lesser Known Saints: Phoebe

This is another post in my series on lesser known believers, those Paul mentions usually at the end of his letters. I think we can learn a lot from the little that is said about them. Check out my other posts on Epaphroditus, Epaphras, and Onesiphorus.

Today I want to highlight Phoebe. She is mentioned prominently in Romans 16.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16:1-2

Many have focused their study of Phoebe exclusively on what specific role she played in the church. I’m not going to get into that because others have done a better job, and I think that debate obscures Paul’s point. Yes, there are important issues and questions regarding the role of women in the church. But many times the discussion can devolve into a desire for power and recognition. That’s something Jesus warned his disciples of and Paul’s life was devoid of. He also takes great pains to warn the church of such things – see his letters to the Corinthians. Paul highlights Phoebe not to prove that women should have some distinct leadership role in the church but to highlight her character and her indispensable role in serving the saints.

When Paul wrote this letter he had been in ministry for a long time and had amassed a great and varied network of friends and supporters. Some of them were women like Phoebe. As was his habit, he closes his letter to the Romans by mentioning the saints who’ve partnered with him, sharing a multitude of greetings and, in Phoebe’s case, making an introduction. Mentioning her first in this list of greetings probably meant that Phoebe was the bearer of this letter to the Romans. Paul calls her a patron of many and of himself. Phoebe then was likely a very wealthy businesswoman. But notice what she is doing with her money. She is using it to further the gospel. Other translations call her a helper and a benefactor. She was from the church at Cenchreae, which was located near Corinth, but perhaps she heard Paul’s advice contained in his letter to Timothy at Ephesus:

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

Paul was in Corinth and needed this letter to get to Rome. Such an important letter wasn’t to be entrusted to just anyone. He needed to choose someone with the means to get to Rome but also someone who was trustworthy, someone who had proven character. Phoebe made the trip on his behalf, enduring the peril of travelling to Rome.

She leveraged the earthly wealth God had given her for greater spiritual ends, not to make a name for herself in her own church, but to spread the name of Christ to another church! Unfortunately, church members with earthly wealth have traditionally had more sway in their local churches. Sometimes they hold even more power than the pastor! Phoebe’s example should subdue any such practice in the gospel believing church. The only descriptors she’s given in this introduction are these: sister, servant, patron. A sister, servant, and patron are all other-centered ways of describing someone.

Phoebe is a sister, sharing the faith of all who believe. She is a servant in her own church. Yes, the Greek word for servant here is diakonos, from which we get the word deacon, but don’t get sidetracked into a debate about position and influence. What really matters is what she did. She served. That’s what diakonos means. It is not a position that you lord over others. It’s a position you use to serve others. And she served in such a way as to deserve a worthy welcome from the Roman believers.

How do we want to be described? And how are we using the earthly wealth God has given us? Do we desire position and influence, to make a name for ourselves, or do we desire to serve others in the name of Christ?

It’s Right There …

Since last year I’ve felt a great need and desire to get wisdom. I praise God for that because it’s evidence of his Spirit working in me. So I’ve been working on memorizing Proverbs chapters 1-4. I’ve memorized other passages but nothing like the wisdom literature in Proverbs. It’s been a little tricky but I’ve made it a little ways into chapter 2 so far.

Today I was working on Proverbs 2:9 which says, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path…”

Another list of virtues: righteousness, justice, equity. When I memorize I usually try to make some sort of mnemonic device to help me. I was about to do that with these virtues but then started thinking more about them. The list reminded me of another verse in chapter 1. Proverbs 1:3 tells us about the purpose of the book. It says, “To receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity.”

Justice and equity are two things that have been talked about a lot in the past year. Many throw these words around without defining them. Others define these words but only according to their preferred outcomes. But few include in their definition the virtue of righteousness.

According to Proverbs, righteousness is an integral and essential part of justice and equity. You can’t define justice or equity without it.

But the other thing you learn in Proverbs is that you can only understand righteousness, justice and equity within the context of a relationship with God in which you are actively seeking wisdom.

Pay attention to the context that surrounds that first verse I quoted above:

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path…” Proverbs 2:1-9

One thing I’m loving as I hide these words in my heart is the emphasis not only on how much God wants us to have wisdom, but on how freely it is offered to those who cry out for it. I have never known a time when my need for wisdom has been greater than right now. Let’s all cry out for it. It’s right there for those who seek it.

Obedience Matters

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a small clan of people called the Rechabites. Never heard of them? That’s ok; most of us haven’t. You have to dig around the Bible to find out anything about them. Their forefather, Rechab, was a Kenite, related to Moses by marriage. So they were not direct descendants of Abraham. Another notable member of this people group was Jehonadab (or Jonadab). After the time of King Ahab, Jehonadab helped Jehu to rid Israel of Baal worship. (2 Kings 10)

The Rechabites were a nomadic people; they had no permanent place in the land of Israel. Jehonadab also put in place some strict rules for his people. They were to remain nomads, sowing no seed and planting no vineyards. They were also forbidden from drinking wine. No one is sure exactly why these oaths were taken.

From this obscurity, the Rechabites suddenly appear prominently in Jeremiah 35. Let me set the scene. About 200 years after Jehonadab, the kingdom of Israel is no more, those ten tribes having been exiled to Assyria. Judah is about to suffer the same fate at the hands of Babylon. Jeremiah has warned the people and the kings of Judah time and time again. But they continue in their sin and disobedience. They refuse to listen. Chapter 34 describes King Zedekiah’s disobedience and God’s promise to give him up to the sword. Chapter 36 is one of the starkest scenes of disobedience in the whole book. King Jehoiakim burns the scroll containing God’s words of judgment as it is being read to him. There is no fear of God in him and so God promises disaster on him and the people of Judah. The book of Jeremiah is not laid out in chronological order, but that’s by design. Chapter 35 is meant to stick out in comparison.

Jeremiah is instructed by God to call the Rechabites to the house of the Lord. They had moved into Jerusalem because of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. They come to the house of the Lord and Jeremiah is told to offer them wine. God is testing them! But they categorically refuse, repeating the vow their father Jehonadab had made and they have kept these many years. They have obeyed their father and will continue to do so even when put on the spot by the prophet of God.

God then commands Jeremiah to speak to the people of Judah and Jerusalem and use the obedience of the Rechabites as an example against them. The Rechabites are nomads. They have no permanent place in Israel. The oath they’ve taken seems extreme. But they’ve kept it for hundreds of years. They have obeyed. The people of Judah have heard from God himself and his prophets for years, warning them of their idolatry and impending judgment. But they have not listened. They have not obeyed.

“I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently…but you did not incline your ear or listen to me.” Jeremiah 35:15

You might still have questions about this nomadic people, the Rechabites, but I want to focus on just a couple things: Obedience matters and God remembers.

What status did the Rechabites have in Israel? None. They were nomads and nobodies, not having a permanent place in the land or prominent position. But in God’s eyes they were worthy of attention because of their obedience. It stood out amidst the flagrant disobedience of the kings of Judah, the ones who should’ve known the Law and kept it with their whole heart.

Who remembered the Rechabites? God did. He was a witness to their obedience from the beginning. No matter why they took this oath, God saw it and God remembered. And God rewarded it.

Look at the end of Jeremiah 35. After God chastises the people of Judah using the example of the Rechabites, he speaks directly to them saying:

“But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.'” Jeremiah 35:18-19

The obedience of the Rechabites was seen and remembered by God and used hundreds of years later as a powerful example against the people of Judah. God sees and remembers our obedience as well. It doesn’t earn our salvation (Titus 3:4-7), but it does matter. The Rechabites’ obedience was directed toward their earthly father, Jonadab, but our obedience is to our heavenly Father who has given us his Spirit. So we can say with Paul, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

“Be With Them”

Have you ever thought a little critically and maybe uncharitably about someone else’s prayers? It’s hard to admit, but there have been times when I’ve scoffed a little when someone prays, “Lord, please be with them.”

My theological mind immediately sends out an alert. “Um, don’t you know about the omnipresence of God?” And then the critical and uncharitable part of my flesh secretly scoffs, “What a generalized prayer. What these people needed was more specific and targeted prayers that focused on their exact situation and struggles!”

Thankfully, my God renews his mercies every day and has gently convicted me over the years of this ungracious and unkind reflex of my flesh. But lately I’ve come to realize there’s more dimension to this prayer than I had thought. Many of us might grasp for these words out of a kind of desperation, hampered by a stilted prayer vocabulary, but I think these words are much richer than we have imagined. Let’s examine the phrase and the meaning behind it.

One of the first places we see this language of God being with someone is in Genesis 21. Abimelech declares to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do.” Abimelech wasn’t making a kind of geographical observation. He was admitting to Abraham that God was prospering him, that God was for him. God was on Abraham’s side. Abimelech recognized the effects of the covenant God had made with Abraham in Genesis 15.

This language is repeated to Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 26:24 the Lord says to Isaac, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” The same effects of the covenant are stated – blessing and multiplication. In Genesis 28:15 God declares to Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Again, we see that God being with someone is so much more than geography.

Let’s fast forward to Joshua. Moses has died without entering the promised land. Joshua has been picked as his successor. What does God tell him? Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is covenantal language friends. God being with someone is an expression of his steadfast commitment, a promise of his everlasting faithfulness.

This covenantal language becomes even more beautiful and powerful through the words of the poets. David tells us in Psalm 18 what it means for our God to be with us, for the Lord to be on our side:

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies…In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” Psalm 18:1-3, 6

And how does our covenant God respond to David’s cries for help? David goes on to speak of the whole earth reeling and rocking in response to the Lord’s coming. (v. 7) He bows the heavens and comes down (v. 9), he rides on a cherub (v. 10), he thunders from heaven (v. 13) and sends out his arrows. (v. 14) The foundations of the world are laid bare. (v. 15) The Lord acts powerfully on behalf of his people.

In Genesis 21, Abimelech acknowledged that God was on Abraham’s side. This picture of what it means for God to be with us is repeated in Psalm 118:

“Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” Psalm 118:5-6

The Lord is on our side. God is for us. I hope that drives you straight to Romans 8 where we find ourselves awestruck by the grace of God. What was hidden in shadow in Genesis comes to a glorious climax through Christ:

“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

This is what it really means for God to be with us. I am going to start praying these words more often, being aware of their deeper meaning, and I hope you will too, because they sit atop a glorious mountain of covenantal truth.