Psalm 142

Never alone. This is why it’s great to be connected to God.

Key moments out of 6 verses to me were: 2, ‘I pour out before him my complaint’ and 5 ‘you are my portion in the land of the living’. As in, I am in dire straights, I have no one. But: you are all I need.

I’m not, as David, in some miserable cave, public enemy number one, knowing everyone wants me dead. But I’m feeling kind of sorry for myself, stuck.

I should be planning retirement, looking forward to the rest of my life, but I can’t see past the older two children who show no sign of ever leaving. I’m not exaggerating, that’s literally the case.

And it’s a tension and a strain, obviously on me and Kelly. The drumbeat of questions about the future isn’t quite deafening, yet. I’m 57, but sometime in the next 3-8… 13? years, I’ll like to retire if I can.

I’ve have had an interrupted career, not a lot of Super. We won’t be well off, but I can do poor. However, I can’t imagine the future, and that’s a big problem, blocking me from moving ahead on all sorts of things.

For me, part of the Lord being my portion means stepping up to these issues.

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Proverbs 25

This collection of proverbs profiles the Christian character I recognise well from childhood. I drank it in.

Unpretentious. Not brash or self promoting. Under promising and over delivering.

I’m still there pretty much, bit I have vacilated a few times during my life. I felt cheated at times because even among Christians there seems to be a recognition that being like this often doesn’t actually work.

Take:

Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
and do not claim a place among his great men;
it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

So you wait watching nincompoops succeed through sycophancy and lies, while you, an unsung hero of substance wait for the king to say “come up here”. Others seeing your ability actively undermine you, it’s the only option they have.

To live by this proverb is to let go of the idea that the king might ever say “come up here”.

St Paul had a better take on wisdom in that extended passage where he talks about becoming fools in the world’s eyes.

And that message is here too. Because nothing is connected, you have to draw it out of the themes that repeat.

The strands lie alongside each other: a dose of quite cynical pragmatism, then an idealistic call to do what is right regardless of the consequences.

A promise of earthly prosperity followed by a gods eye perspective of eternal justice, where earthy wealth is of no substance, like dust blowing away in the wind.

These lie alongside each other in the faith based organisation I work for, it’s a daily tension. And in my family, and in my church.

Wisdom means many things in the book of proverbs. Maybe Solomon didn’t ask for quite the right thing.

Proverbs 20

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare

Got me there!

There is a recurring theme of real politic… About pleasing or displeasing the king. It’s quite crawly, but true in an observational way.

A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.

Most chapters have a few of these, and I tend to skip them. Obviously God encouraged the prophets to ignore this. They were sometimes public enemy number one and had generally terrible relations with the kings.

And I think I rebel generally against the wisdom that is in the “you-may-not-like-it-but-that’s-the-way-it-is” category. What does that teach us of God? Choose your battles? Be practical?

It lets in a bunch of competing priorities. You have Joshua saying “choose today who you will serve” and then proverbs saying “and keep one eye on the king”.

Though I suppose you could argue it is saying to be aware of the consequences. Accidentally or needlessly provoking the king is just foolish.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.

Ha, can’t deny that one, I was moaning about it only yesterday.

This chapter actually upped the tempo on insightful spiritual sayings, addressing the spirit, love, guidance, being pure of heart. It places great value on reflection as the truest part of life.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?

The ultimate wisdom is God, always:

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord, How then can anyone understand their own way?

 

Proverbs 14

‘Glitched back from truth’. Don’t know what that means, I’m tired this morning and dreamed that title! It looked like a newspaper headline.

There are proverbs about deceit/ wickedness and about dumbness. These are a drum beat though the book, evil and weak-mindedness become interchangeable.

Some poignant, very nuanced observations about the human condition, our pain, are thrown in here:

Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.

And as with other chapters, more theological concepts as the chapter progresses:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.’

… So that’s where Jesus got the ‘whatever you do for the least of them…’ idea from.

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.

God as our refuge is mentioned a few times, like a response to the ‘joy and sadness’ observations from earlier in the chapter.

There is a deep vein of grace here at work, as well as good housekeeping tips.

At church last week they read Solomon’s prayer for the opening of the temple. He prays over the splendor of it, the blessing of the Jews.

But then he expands God beyond the temple and beyond one race. He knows his temple, his life’s work, can’t contain the true God.

There’s that ability to see multi-dimensionally, the Spirit-given leaps of insight coming out here too.

I’m coming face to face with what a deeply disorganised and flaky individual I am.

A good frank talk with my youngest, Ren, on the weekend.

If I could ever get it all together, I reckon I’d be such a great dad, church member, partner, worker…. But I’m a bit ‘all hat and no cattle’, as they say… And I feel stuck there.

Full of motivation however, up for fresh ideas, now my employment situation is receding from critical. Plus I’m daily barraged with advice about how to live a wise life…

When I make it through a two week pay period with some money saved and no need to dip into savings, I’ll know the book is starting to work.

Job 25

Bildad speaks again. Always the most direct of the friends, he concisely discusses the awesome glory of God. He has complete dominion, and he sets everything in order.

Job is low, very low, a worm. How dare he have the arrogance to claim righteousness before God.

He understands the power but not the love of God. Job has already said his righteousness comes from God, his redeemer.

Sure if God hadn’t said he knows and cares how many hairs are on our head, if he hadn’t died for us in the person of Christ… It would be as ridiculous as Bildad says.

Bildad expresses our human love of patterns, which is a way of finding God. Science is about discovering the brilliant order in creation. But God also makes the first last and the last first.

I go to Melbourne today for a big salvation army weekend. Wondering if I’m in or out, in the middle of a tribal gathering. It’s an oddly intense time. Am I loved or a worm?

I should be carrying on with other job applications, but even looking at the list of jobs is somewhat stressful, and so many distractions to think about.

King Hezekiah tunnelled half a mile through stone to protect Jerusalem, and also had the faith to rely on God when attacked ‘we don’t know what to do, we turn out eyes to you’. Wholehearted focus.

Keep at it, don’t pine for the job I’ve interviewed in, don’t let stress allow you to doubt God’s plans or stop you doing the obvious practical things. Not a worm.

I turn my eyes on you in confidence of your amazing love father. Help me be calm because of that confidence and deal sensibly with the things before me.

Pray for my family, and Christmas.

Job 5

Very conventional wisdom. Eliphaz continues his advice to Job, and it is so familiar. He has this oblique, passive aggressive way of not directly accusing Job of being more of a sinner than he will admit, but just leaving it hanging there.

You know: God’s punishment doesn’t come from nowhere… He is a God of justice… Don’t despise God’s punishment… We should accept God’s discipline and learn from it…

I’ll be interested to see how Job defends himself, because this sort of attack is so slippery. It’s comes from a strong assumption of who Job is, but if Job says ‘what are you saying I’ve done wrong?’ Eliphaz could easily say ‘nothing!’ grrr!

Reminds me of my aunty Joan, bless her, gone now and basically a wonderful person and loads of fun.

But she did have this thing of stopping to deliver little sermons. I’d just switch off as soon as it started, refusing to hear it almost on principle, and just nod and hope it would finish soon, so things could get back to being normal.

Happens with my kids too, sometimes when I try to inject Christianity into the mix. I know it’s clumsy, like a lead balloon as soon as I start talking.

It’s to do with a lack of shared experience. Failure to judge the moment, not salt in season. Just putting Christian platitudes into a random conversation, no matter how accurate and correct, in the absence of a genuine relationship, is empty.

St Paul would say love is the missing element here, Eliphaz has become a banging gong.

I think Eliphaz’s argument is ultimately self protecting too. It so tempting to divide ourselves into victims and comforters, vulnerable and strong. If we can be the advisor, the helper the fixer, the preacher, it protects us from the role of weakling, out of control, broken, foolish.

Jesus became all those things even less deservedly than Job, for us. He was deep down in the weeds, with us, alongside us, sharing it. That’s the example.

Psalm 71

Waking up in the country, in Berry, a much needed break. The psalm is about plotters trying to kill the writer in the later part of his life. It’s not attributed to David but it’s surely gotta be one of his.

Can I relate? There are exactly zero evil possies bent on my destruction, so not really. David had a very unrelaxing life.

It’s someone who has always loved God since childhood – that I can relate to. And like the psalmist I’m pretty convinced nothing would make me give up that love now.

That ex addict who spoke at chapel on Thursday talked about the constant hunger of his addiction, and made no bones about the idea that he used Jesus to fill the place drugs had, that he just had an addictive personality. He said he filled the hole with something good

It reminded me of a thought circle I have about that which ends in me not caring.

God is my refuge and my comfort, I share that with the psalmist. The troubles that do come my way… (‘Many and bitter’, he calls them, the verse that jumped out most) …they don’t stop me praising God with the Lyre and harp.. well, guitar piano and Ableton Live, anyway.

It’s the old man I intend to be.

But what if I’m just addicted to the pattern of it. Going to church, praying. What if the comfort and refuge are a mind trick, and God’s not real?

None of the people im away with in the weekend, other than Kelly, think God’s real, at least more than in the most general sense if at all.

It doesn’t matter to me any more. I love being in this place so much, even if it’s all a huge confirmation bias, or if, as I actually think, its the holy spirit who says ‘but God is real’ everytime I wonder if he isn’t, I’m not going to change, so it doesn’t matter for my part.

I saw my parents get old in the faith, their strength fail in the faith, die in the faith, and right now at least, it doesn’t frighten me at all. I actually look forward to it. Talk about God being my strength and refuge, eh?

I’m have this feeling of relaxing into my skin at this point in my life. It’s a good feeling. I still have enough energy for life (if barely for paving), but I feel like the ambition and ego of my youth are at least getting small enough now for me to see other people around the edges of them. I’m content to win smaller battles. I feel I’m becoming a better listener. I feel like that means I’m of more spiritual use to God in some ways than I have been in the past.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know! It’s just the time of day when I write about the Bible! Oh dear, maybe I AM just addicted to the ritual!? Still, is one I like so….

Psalm 55

OK, King David may have been the most ideal king until Jesus, but his life was a mess.

Yesterday he was being hunted in the wilderness like a fugitive. Today he’s king, he’s in the city, but still asking God for salvation. Now from slimy political frenemies. They still want him dead, that’s a constant.

Its such a nasty nest of smarmy vipers, including one particularly close betrayer, that he longs for a concrete enemy like the good old days when king Saul simply threw spears at him.

The psalm is full longing. To be a dove and simply fly away. He dreams of being in the desert – at least it’s empty. He dreams of finding shelter from the storm.

But he will stay and face it, cast his cares on the Lord.

And indeed, I spend an unfortunate amount of my week on escape, if I think about it. Coffee, TV, dawdling. I’m a world class dawdler. Kelly (my wife) found me simply sitting in the street in the car after work yesterday. Not ready to come in.

Cast it on the Lord!

Psalm 54

David is in trouble again. They pinpoint it to when he was being chased across the country by Saul, who wanted him dead.

David was on one side of a mountain, Saul on the other, and the locals, the Ziphites were helping Saul.

It falls into the pattern of cry before confidence that saying your problems out loud will do.

Starts with the panic part of the brain: ‘Lord help me!’ ‘are you listening?’. Then the calm part starts to reason: ‘you sustain me, evil won’t triumph forever, you’ve saved me in the past, you can do it again’.

Oh the value of prayer! Psychologists preach cognisance, the value of self talk to start processing our reactions. Prayer is cognisance plus… an awareness of a loving higher power working everything in the long run (admittedly sometimes a quite long run) for good. Self talk with extra juice.

I was reminding myself yesterday to trust God in the crisis. So reassuring today to consider that, if you are too in-the-moment to trust yet, merely shouting at God in a crisis can be a good starting point.

Yelling ‘Oh my God!’ when the hammer hits your thumb needn’t always be taking his name in vain.

Psalm 52

David was a fugitive, running from his predecessor king Saul. He got bread from Ahimelech, a priest, telling him he was on a secret mission for Saul.

Doeg, one of Saul’s herdsmen, reported the priest. David was long gone, but Saul in a rage, demanded the the priest and all his order be killed. Saul’s regular army refused to do it, but Doeg, who was not Jewish, slaughtered many priests, women and children in the place it happened.

This psalm is a meditation on Doeg. When he calls him a ‘mighty warrior’ in the first verse, it’s sarcastic. He recognises him for the lying opportunistic coward he is, getting the kings favour such a dreadful way. He inflamed Saul against David even more than he already was.

Godliness is the difference. Doeg trusted himself and succeeded by destroying others. David becomes doubly determined not to be the same, to trust and praise God.

Having fallen out with the king, I suppose becoming like Doeg represented a moral choice David had. David would never lift his hand against Saul, because he was God’s anointed. So he indeed didn’t succeed by destroying him.

David later expressed remorse for his part in the event, after all, he involved the priests with a deception. So that regret might have been driving some of his resolve. Maybe it’s another penetential Psalm, like 51, in a way.

It’s tempting, even in small ways, to suspend the rules for really shameless disgraceful people, to fight fire with fire. But our purpose here is to bear witness to God, not be God.

I face the new week with a temporary reprieve from unemployment, my contract with Salvos was going to end in November, extended to 8 January, very generous actually, paying me for the new year break.

And it will allow me time to apply for a slew of jobs in the new structure they are introducing… Some prospects, in with a chance. At the same time my 14 year old is in a world of pain, his friends pretty much ghosted him all holidays, going back to school today, very much in my prayers.