Quieting – Psalm 131:1-3
I do not involve myself in great matters or things too difficult for me.
This verse sparks vivid memories. It was one of three verses I had claimed for myself as a young believer. For the historical record, claiming verses was a very spiritual thing to do in the mid-seventies. At that time it was doubtful God was leading you if you were without life-verses.
Another of my verses was …
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. 1 Thessalonians 4:11
I believed these verses fit me perfectly in my mid twenties. However, through hindsight, I discovered there were mixed motives in my choices of life-verses. Yes, I passionately wanted to know and follow this Jesus who had radically altered my life but why had I latched onto simplicity and manual labor as conditions to this relationship?
The truth is at a younger age I had made some vows in order to avoid, at all costs, ever becoming involved in anything great or complex, more precisely, any greatness or complexity associated with my family’s businesses and their contetious relationships. I could not have articulated it as a child but now I know that those vows were made to insulate me from something I perceived would hurt me.
Neither did I know as a young believer that my life-verses were also servants of my agenda – to live a pain free life. While my Dad’s vocation as a contractor provided material security, for me it seemed to create relational insecurity. The business consumed my Dad’s time. During my junior and senior high years, my Dad would leave on Monday and return on Thursday or Friday. I did not fair well during those adolescent years. There is no need for details, suffice it to say, I was a troubled kid who was always in trouble. Sadly, I have no memory of a normal conversation with my Dad. I only recall words of correction and punishment, always delivered with frustration and disappointment.
As a very young boy I overheard violent exchanges between my dad and his brothers who were also his business partners. This undid me. I knew I could never involve myself in anything like that. I vowed that I would not. I watched a nasty ulcer which was likely enflamed by family stress significantly rob him of much sleep and quality of life. No, I could never, would never do the family business thing.
With my vows in the backdrop, exerting themselves subconsciously for the most part, I had followed a vocational path which had led me to the verge of fulfilling my life verses. I never had to leave my young family like Dad did because my place of work was in the town I lived in and ultimately in my home. My garage was a woodworking shop where I worked with my hands. My little cottage business was a sole proprietorship so I had no one to be at odds with (if we exclude God and my wife). In this cozy arrangement it seemed, at least to me, that God had set things up perfectly. Indeed He had, only not quite as I had expected.
One day I will record the details of the Monarch Millcraft / Heirloom FlagChest venture but today I will condense things to say that on the verge of succeeding in my ambition of a simple lifestyle, the rug was suddenly pulled from beneath me. The problem arose from my theological vantage point which placed God at the scene of this crime as either the agent of cause or, at the very least, a party of interest.
In the aftermath of this shaking, the violent oaths being exchanged were not between my Dad and his brothers, they were between God and I. The demise of Monarch Millcraft, which was not an isolated heartbreak, was the final straw between God and myself. Final straw sounds like tough talk but I really did not have any energy left to fight with. Nor did my theology provide a Plan B. In my heart I knew it was with Him whom I had to do. In simple terms, I concluded I was being intentionally and lovingly broken.
In my heart where peace might be ruling there was a war raging. My soul was not like a weaned child within me. Like Jacob, I was in a serious wrestling match with God. And although I was angry as a hornet with God the only resolve I had left was simply to not, if at all possible, allow this season of pain to pass without discovering just what it was God was up to in me. Although I hadn’t figured it out yet, I now understand that he was simply answering my most frequent prayer….
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24
This prayer was the third of my three life verses. (1 for 3. That’s not too bad.)
I will forever by grateful to Paul Billheimer for writing Don’t Waste Your Sorrows and Destined For The Throne. In these books he assembles a redemptive framework for suffering. He explains how suffering plays into a believer’s destiny in a way that makes room for God’s sovereignty and our free-will. I believe my introductory course in “Mysteries” has equipped me to persevere at times when I might have chosen a more black or white cosmology, one that is either overly triumphant or fatalistic.
I have seen both in play in the church and even in my own life. The overly triumphant approach has the believer lying on the floor bleeding to death, singing, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!” and the fatalistic view say’s, “Well, I’m dying. God’s will be done!” Elaborate theologies have been systematized to give supposed hard biblical proof for both positions. I don’t see either of these positions well represented in the new testament. I believe both the fatalist and the triumphalist are on ground which is apt to be shaken.
Since the time of these events I think I have a better understanding of what God’s point was and is. He doesn’t like our heart-schemes which insulate us from pain because they cripple our capacity to love and be loved. Nor does he like our theological schemes which implicate him as either a Santa Clause or a Hard Task Master. He is our Father. He wants to be our provision. He does not want us leaning on anything which might insulate us from him. Suffering is the place where we discover he alone is our life. For those who are serious about following Him, he is committed to demolishing every faulty foundation. He loves us too much to leave us in our unstable deceptions.
You may have guessed (or know), I did end up joining our family’s business. It has not been particularly simple and I have not worked with my hands much. However, in God’s infinite kindness (and sense of humor) He has permitted me to, more and more, make the same claim as David in Psalm 131, that my soul is at peace and is at rest in Him as a contented child in a mother’s arms. How amazing is God to permit me to adopt verses for the wrong reasons only to arrange for me to be the beneficiary of them in ways I could have never imagined nor managed!
For the record: In the years before my father passed, much healing took place in our relationship and through further divine agency, Jesus saw to it that my earthly father would come to know him. I am stunned at God’s patience and generosity toward my family and myself. Here is a humble and humorous man’s read on his life as he perceives it resting in God’s hands.
I’m easily fooled most of the time but nobody’s ever gonna dig too deep – We’re all in a hurry to somewhere else with distractions and too little sleep – Got a list of questions long as my arm and the only second chance I see, to live and die without permanent harm, is if God can outmaneuver me. (Verse 2 from Faithful, a song by Bob Bennett)
I too am utterly dependent on God to outmaneuvering me.
Father, help us to see your redemptive intentions in our lives which are made possible only by your sovereignty and kindness. Help us to entrust ourselves to you when we are hurting. Help us to lean into You instead of hiding ourselves away in some theological or heart delusion. Give us faith and courage to move forward in whatever trial we are facing, realizing we are staring you in the face. Amen.