Journal excerpt, 2014:
'Cause me to know the way I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You.'
I am thankful that You have transformed me since I made the realization of my sinful attitude towards an uncertain future and then the decision to live out a better definition of trust. I've truly felt Your peace. Whereas this verse previously wrung my heart in an anguish of yearning, pleading with You for guidance, I read it now as a confident and peaceful declaraton of trust. I don't 'lift my soul' in desperate pleading. I lift it. Simply, as an offering; in trust that it is Yours to bless, that You will bless. I still crave Your guidance. But I have the peace of knowing that however this guidance is manifested, what it leads to, it will be good. I know You will bless. I know You will be with me. I am convinced, not just in mind but in heart of Your goodness as manifested in Your plan for my life.
You are good. So good that I am constantly discovering new depths and shades of Your goodness that I never knew before.
2016 has been an eventful, if not downright tumultous year, for the world as well as for myself.
Now that the year is starting to draw to a close, I see quips online complaining about the bleakness of the future and of the past year. Since my finals and graduation-minus-the-ceremony are approaching soon next year,
(read: having to face the big what are you going to do after you graduate question, and be able to justify my answer to myself as well as to others by actions and not just words) I'm afraid I'm also tempted to join the bandwagons of prophets foretelling doom and destruction.
So it was very timely that I happened to grab my journal the wrong way, and the first page flapped open revealing the very first entry; far back from 2014, at a time when university was the huge and terrifying question mark looming ahead of me.
There is a new one now--when isn't there?--but this reminds me that it will be another opportunity to learn to lift up my soul in trust.
"But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring him into the land where he went, and his descendents shall inherit it."
I used to see those beginning books of the Bible, the Pentateuch (an impressive word I learnt from a Sunday School teacher) as rollicking adventure stories, with more than a dash of PG scariness (the book of Judges, for example, isn't quite bedtime reading.) The Gospel seemed relegated to the New Testament. Overall, my childhood impression of the Old Testmanet was kind of like the impression one may get from watching Hollywood's takes on the Bible--great movie material, perhaps, but not what you would/should expect to learn much about actual Christianity from!
These parts of the Bible are actually quite fascinating. As stories, they are great; and precisely for that reason, easy Sunday School lessons for little ones (12 spies, 2 good obeyed God, 10 bad were punished, now colour the picture of the giant bunch of grapes and remember the names of the good ones, Joshua and Caleb.)
However, when we force ourselves, as Christians, to consider why they were included in the Bible, and what they contribute to the Gospel and the person of God, and human nature in response, it gets more complicated.
The Old Testament depiction of God, to me, is sobering. It reminds me that I cannot understand Him. It reminds me that holiness is the foremost of His qualities--something which should add reverence and humility as well as comfort in His justice. It reminds me of the immensity of the gap between Him and I, which Christ in the New Testament bridged, and which we take for granted when we forget to look down.
Caleb was commended for his trust in God's power and person, as a God both able to and committed to fulfilling His promises. He applied this trust into action--the willingness to work hard, to embrace the challenge. This was the 'different spirit,' the sole factor which made such a great difference between the ten spies and Caleb and Joshua's perspective of the promised land.
It may sound rather anticlimactic, but I realized that I'd had a similar experience. When my two older sisters both left within months of each other to study overseas for several years, it was a traumatic change that I agonized over months before the actual parting took place. We had always been pretty close for siblings, but as sisters the thought was even harder to bear. Between the four of us, each one's personality contributed a unique aspect to the family dynamics; I couldn't imagine having to get on without the two of them, as moderators so to speak between my brother and I (who had grown up fighting in the classic cat-and-dog sibling style.) I prayed about it, torn but clueless about what I wanted, and I remember writing anguished journal entries trying to find out why I felt so miserable and what could be done.
I knew, even then, that this was something for my good; that it'd be an opportunity for me to become more mature, force me to take more initiative. I could see, even in the midst of my unhappiness, that it would make me grow as an individual, in relationships, and in serving--whether I liked it or not. The problem was that I didn't like the idea at all. It was too hard. It flung me far out of my comfort zone relentlessly. I saw the potential, I saw God's purpose for me in this experience already, but I didn't want it.
Thankfully, God didn't give me a choice; otherwise I would have missed out on significant lessons and chances to grow--spiritually, emotionally; in wisdom about people, relationships, and most of all in my own sense of selfhood. I would have missed getting to really know my brother, and develop the relationship we have today, one of the most valuable ones I have been blessed with.
It was hard. Definitely. Being forced out of my comfort zone; the burden of new responsibilities; finding independence, emotionally and physically. Having to trust and rely on God even though I felt aggrieved against Him. Having to work on relationships which challenged my selfishness and complacency. To use a corny phrase, however, looking back I know it was all worth it, that it couldn't have happened any other way except the hard way.
That is precisely what happened with the spies. The pessimistic ten preferred to focus on the challenge that the land presented. It was going to be hard. They would have to fight, some of them might get injured or even killed. It would take time, plenty of effort, and it would be uncertain as well as dangerous, even with God on their side.
They wanted an easy way out; a land flowing with milk and honey, but in a giftbox. No need to think too much or try too hard.
God's gifts to us sometimes take shape as challenges. Sometimes we can even see the goodness offered to us; the grapes are just in front of our eyes, crisp with juice; we can see the swathes of buttery sunlit meadows spread out before us. But the challenge is there. What matters is the 'different spirit' with which we face it. When we are able to apply trust in God's person and power, as Caleb did, into active willingness to accept the challenge, accept the hard work and effort it entails, with hope and humility.
'And He gave them their request, but sent leaness into their souls.'
The Israelites lusted for better food to the point that they became unable to see anything beyond their desires. We know that food became their idol because we see how they became blind to God's promises and to the past proof of His power and providence; though the very manna that kept them alive and which they were complaining about ought to have reminded them of it. They were led into greed as well as unbelief. Even when God promised to give them their request--not just for one day, but for a whole month--they stockpiled far more than they needed, unable to understand that a God who was able to provide all this was also able to keep His word.
God gave them what they wanted. And it was the opposite of what they though it would be. Instead of fulfilment, 'leaness.' Instead of life, death. Aren't all idols the same? They are not what we need. They leave us, ultimately, unfulfilled and only hungrier for that vague something we yearn for, which we glimpse in glorious sunsets, in a strain of music, in the feelings evoked so intensely and confusedly by fleeting images. The danger of desires morphing into idols is that too easily we start to see them as the solution to all our problems; the lie that 'if only I had ___ I would be happy.' I write this wistfully because like you, I grapple with discontent, with unfulfilled dreams and desires that sometimes grip me till it aches. I wonder with some trepidation whether my dreams have become idols, if my ambitions are blinders. I write this without judging the Israelites because it frightens me how easily I too could have behaved in the same way, in my own version of their situation, however foolish theirs may seem now to me.
'Your gentleness has made me great.' I am still finding new ways to understand this fascinating phrase from Psalm 18:35. Perhaps sometimes this gentleness manifests itself when God denies us what we want, forcing us--so to speak--to seek a harder, more abstract, more complex, but more real satisfaction and fulfilment in Himself. The same lesson, learnt less poignantly through discontent perhaps, but with less emotional havoc than if it had been learnt through disappointment and disillusion. Perhaps one way He is gentle with us is when He keeps us from the destructiveness of our desires.
a quiet voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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