Saturday, September 30, 2006

Seeing through Asaph's eyes...

I sat in utter surprise yesterday morning.

I tend to read in a very cerebral manner. Maybe that’s a direct result of seminary. Generally, I don’t get too emotionally connected to the words on the page in front of me. Admittedly, sometimes a book just grabs hold and won’t let go until I admit that I have emotions, too. But that’s not the usual course of things. As a result, yesterday morning’s Bible reading time caught me by surprise.

I’ve dedicated part of each Bible reading time to reading through one Psalm and simply meditating on it. Usually “meditating” devolves into something more like, “pondering the Ancient Near Eastern context,” “imagining the plight of David/Asaph/the psalmist,” or “trying to identify disjunctive clauses.” Not proud of that, but that’s truth. Yesterday morning, however, the Psalm shook me like a mom shakes her oversleeping high schooler on SAT day.

Sitting in a quiet high school classroom before any of the students arrived, I opened my Bible to Psalm 73. I have no systematic plan to read through the Psalms, but rather just open to whichever number pops into my head. I know that sounds really sketchy, but my confidence in the Spirit inside of me extends all the way to selecting my Psalm reading. Since there are 150 Psalms, I can see this plan working for a while.

As I sat reading Psalm 73, the phrases and descriptions began to jump off the page and slap me in the face. This Psalm of Asaph concerns his enemies, his God, and his struggles. As I read it, I realized that I came down on both sides of this Psalm. I could be described as wearing pride as my necklace (v. 6). I can also identify with Asaph’s cry that since the wicked prosper (v. 2–12), what good is righteousness (v. 13–14). The turning point for Asaph, however, was his vision in the sanctuary of God (v. 15).

Here comes the inspiration part. After finishing the Psalm, I had an overwhelming urge to write a poem describing my own journey through Asaph’s thoughts. I grabbed a pencil, smiled the whole way and scratched out a poem. When I finished, it seemed to have nothing to do with Psalm 73 and everything to do with Psalm 73 all at the same time. God’s good like that. Here’s to my surprising morning with the Psalms.

Psalm 73
Your glory breaks the horizon,
Casting healing light.
You invite the weary to rest,
The failing to comfort.
Yet I have chosen darkness;
Ebony haze accompanies me.
I tread upon the path to an end I cannot see,
But I will know it.
You pursue me, yet I see you ahead of me.
Left or right, I cannot flee you.
Your face glows, not with rage,
But with concern.
Your breath falls heavy on my forehead,
A medley of wildflowers.
Your arms envelop my withered form,
Rods of iron.
My eyes see, as never before,
The trails of your goodness.
I weep into your shoulder.
I have come home.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oreos, Palmolive and the Kingdom of God...

The other night, we hosted an Open House. More accurately, Greta hosted an Open House. She opened up our home to the 500 students that live in our building. This involved lots of preparation—most notably, 8 batches of Homemade Oreo cookies. I spent part of that day at home since I could only manage to get a half-day substitute teaching job.

While sitting at home that morning, I looked up and thought, “The dishes really need to be done before tonight.” So I did them. Not much forethought or schedule clearing. Simply saw something that needed to get done, something I could do, and did it. The point of telling this story is not to toot my own horn, but rather to share an interesting conviction I had about the whole episode.

While washing the dishes, listening to Coldplay, I had a very real sense that I was serving my wife. I knew that the dishes had to get done and that Greta sure didn’t have time to do them, but I did. This felt like service. I also had a very real sense that I don’t live the rest of my life this way.

Before I “serve” God—whether through the local church or anywhere else—I often feel I need to check my schedule, insure that the opportunity fits my “gifts,” and, even then, that I won’t be too committed. Why doesn’t my service to God feel as natural, spontaneous and automatic as my response to a sinkful of dirty dishes?

Perhaps, somewhere inside, I misunderstand service. As I do the dishes, I imagine and look forward to Greta coming home, her eyes lighting up and her giving me kisses and telling me how thankful she is that I took the time to do the dishes. As I serve God, I imagine the time I could be spending at home, watching television, studying or doing whatever “I want to do.” Therein lies the problem. My heart is not well tuned to the rhythms of true service.

Such instances tell me that poor motivations inspire me (the praise of others, immediate gratification) and that ultimate motivations (the praise of heaven, lasting joy) seem somehow hollow and unfulfilling. I have a hunch that if I simply threw myself into serving God more often without checking my list to make sure that I’m “available,” my motivations would begin to change. Maybe there really is some truth behind the idea of giving your life away in order to find it.

I know as well as anyone that many ministry opportunities can quickly turn into taxing, soul-sucking endeavors that take and take while giving little, if anything, in return. Thing is, that doesn’t mean that these things don’t need to be done anyway. Believe me, I’m no advocate of simply slaving away for some worthless cause, but we serve a Benevolent Master here. And yet, I continually approach His job openings like a junior high boy approaches a shower.

It is my hope that I will begin to think of serving God the same way I think of doing the dishes. See something that needs to be done and do it, with little thought of motivations and rewards. I have an inkling that such a lifestyle may prove to be its own reward.