Sunday, February 21, 2010

Made for Us

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done… This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118.17, 24) 


The Biography Channel recently added a show called “I Survived”. Ordinarily, I’m a sucker for true crime series. But this one, featuring testimonials from people who’ve escaped accidental death and murder, makes me queasy without seeing one episode. I can’t justify asking anyone to relive a life-threatening trauma to sate my curiosity about what staring at Death is like. Having known trauma survivors (as I’m sure most of us have), I can attest the terror doesn’t end when the ordeal is over. For many, survival is worse than death. Each day is little more than a breathing exercise; the will to live is gone.

Psalm 118’s composer is a trauma survivor. The first half of his poem almost reads like an “I Survived” installment. As he tells it, his enemies pushed him to the brink of extinction. “But the LORD helped me,” he writes in verse 14. Rather than allow the experience to destroy his determination, the psalmist turns survival into his life’s work. “I will not die but live,” he insists, “and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” (v17) And what’s most remarkable is how he makes praise his life’s purpose. Listen to his morning song in verse 24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” After his close call with death, he greets each day as though God made it especially for him. Seldom do I read or hear Psalm 118.24 without thinking about the old spiritual that says the same thing in a much more picturesque way: “I could have been dead, sleeping in my grave. But You made Old Death behave.”

Patience and Endurance

Too often we greet the day as another in a series of ordeals to get through. Before we rub the sleep from our eyes, our minds start racing through lists of what needs getting done and what may go wrong in the process. We’re on edge without even having left the house. When we factor in our Lent commitments—self-denial, added time for reflection and prayer, and an abiding consciousness of God’s presence—we can easily fall into the trap of feeling overly stressed. If we’re not careful these activities can devolve into extra chores and reconfigure our concept of Lent’s journey into a 40-day survival course. Instead of ending each day feeling stronger and richer, we may close our eyes contemplating how many “close calls” we had with temptation and non-compliance. But Lent’s rigors aren’t meant to be survived. They’re given to teach us patience and endurance.

No passage describes the Lent process better than James 1.2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The extra demands of Lent’s consecration indubitably generate extra needs. They require more time, discipline, and energy. Invariably we’ll be challenged to meet those needs, and how adequately they’re met will vary. Some days will open up unexpected opportunities for introspection and communion with God. Others will close with us feeling a bit like cheaters or procrastinators. And ironically, these days end up being equally valuable to our quest, because they test our faith. Having “failed,” we face the hardest test of all—the temptation to give up altogether and try again next year. But “perfect scores” don’t define Lent’s success any more than surviving the journey does. Perseverance, holding fast to our commitment despite our shortfalls, makes us mature and complete.

Creation’s Reprise

Every sunrise is creation’s reprise. Light shatters the darkness. The land and sea come to life. We rise out of sleep’s oblivion, take our first conscious breath of divine inspiration, and start to move. God makes each day with the same attention to detail and design that He invested in the first day. And each day we live is made for us. The opportunities we find and challenges we face are put there for our benefit. The degree to which we succeed or fail isn’t measured by how much or how well we do. Each day is weighed by what we gain from what we’ve been given—how we maximize the good and persevere through the bad.

These thoughts summon another spiritual I truly love. “Another day’s journey, and I’m glad about it,” it says. “I’m so glad to be here.” Perhaps the best way to approach Lent is by closing the calendar and treating it as a daily walk, with each day being its own wilderness of trials to manage and endure. In this respect, every day’s desert, like the day itself, is made for us. Its blessings and tests are created to teach us lessons we need to learn today. Each journey sends us out in search of wisdom we acquire by communing with the One Who made the day. Each journey ends with experience won by persevering its trials. It’s another day’s journey. Be glad about it. Be glad to be here.

Every day and what it holds are made for us. Every day is a unique journey all its own.

(Tomorrow: The Walker)

Postscript: One More Day

Lately I've been dusting off old albums and digitizing them. One album (that I bought as a teenager) by The Robert Wooten Choral Ensemble contains a song that fits perfectly with today's reflection. It's called "Thank You Lord for One More Day." I made a little video of it to share. If you've got a couple spare minutes, have a look. I pray the song and images will bless you!

(If you'd like to pass this along to anyone, here's the link: Thank You Lord.)


claire said...

Ah, Tim, what a beautiful song! If I were not off FB these days, I would put it up there...
You know, I think this Lent is going to teach me to be kind to myself and to bask in Godde's love...
Thank you for so so much!

Daisy said...

Hi Tim,
I found you through Claire's blog. Well my human did, (I'm a dog, but she reads to me) Thank you for the song and pictures. And regards to your cat.

Jan said...

Thanks, Tim. Perseverance=Commitment=Faith=Love. So often I feel like all these words describe God/life.

Tim said...

Claire, your comment gives me great joy. We are God's prized possessions bought by unparalleled sacrifice. Being kind to ourselves is one the many ways we express divine love. Teaching ourselves to do this is the key to basking in that love, for when we realize how supremely we are loved we're able to love others.

Welcome to Straight-Friendly, Daisy! I'm delighted you found us and so glad you enjoyed the song. I pray you and your human relish every day God makes for you, soaking up His goodness and love. I hope you'll visit S-F often. We're sorely in need of a great dog around here. And Cody sends you his very best!

Jan, I totally agree. Where perseverance, commitment, faith, and love are present, God is there and life is being lived to its fullest.

Thanks to each of you for chiming in. I've got three smiles going at the same time!


Brad Evans said...

Church is a complete waste of time, energy and money.
The percentage of people in prison who are atheists/agnostics is much lower than our percentage of the general population. The percentage of atheists/agnostics with higher education is much higher than the general population.
So I guess if you believe you like hanging around criminals and people who aren't very bright.

Tim said...

Brad, thanks for commenting and welcome to Straight-Friendly. Above all else, I want you to know this is a place where everyone's opinions are welcome and respected. So what you say is worth considering.

That said, I must admit I get the gist of your comment, I must confess I'm having trouble connecting the dots.

Whether or not church attendance wastes time, energy, and money is a moot point for me, because my faith isn't in a church, but Christ. I go to church solely to worship Him. But I also do that wherever the mood strikes me. It's never a loss for me, as I'm always lifted and joyful when I do. I regret you've not yet enjoyed this experience.

If I'm following you, Brad, you say since a larger majority of inmates than civilians believe, faith is foolish. I couldn't agree with you more--but not for the same reason. Faith isn't supposed to make sense as it's beyond human comprehension. It's belief, not knowledge. This should be fairly easy for anyone--regardless of his/her status and background--to understand.

And while I agree a sizable portion of educated elites can't release their trust in knowledge to believe, I'd offer they are still in the minority among their peers. If the entire intelligensia disavowed faith, we might need to reconsider. But this isn't the case. More smart people believe than doubt, which--given the terms of your comment--creates an internal contradiction in your theory. This is not worth quibbling over, though, because faith is personal and thus immune to trends and percentages.

Before I close, I want to stress S-F isn't one of those tit-for-tat forums. I'm responding honestly here out of respect and will not engage further in this debate beyond this. But I also want to leave you with this.

Being identified with prisoners and criminals is an honor, because that's what Jesus did. The outcasts and captives were His people--even those who grievously broke the law. He came to love and redeem them the same as the lawyers and scholars. And in the end, they got it while the upper classes didn't. So I thank you for this, Brad. Your comment is one of the kindest things anyone's ever said about me and every other believer here.

Be blessed, my friend, and feel free to join our discussion any time, provided you're willing to respect our differences.