Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blessed Every Which Way

All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country… You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28.2-3,6)

The Puzzle of His Providence

Over the years, many have encouraged my mother to write her memoirs as a girl who grew up in rural poverty, defied convention by answering the call to ministry, and ended up shepherding big-city congregations in underprivileged areas. She recently completed the rough draft and we’ve spent hours on the phone editing it before she sends it to her editor. (She’s the type who cleans up before the housekeeper arrives.) I’ve heard these stories before, some of them many times. Yet compiling them into one narrative moves me in profound ways.

Mom was the eighth of 11 children whose father deserted them soon after the youngest was born. The family subsisted on odd jobs it could find and neighborly charity. Eventually, it was blessed to squeeze into a tiny house paid for by sharecropping the owner’s land. As you might imagine, being the poorest folk in a poor community added hardship. Even their church, which they faithfully attended, walking three miles in each direction, looked down on them. The parishioners felt no compunction about assigning less desirable tasks like cleaning the sanctuary or washing dishes to my grandmother and her brood. Very seldom did anyone offer to drive them to or from church. On one occasion my mom vividly recalls her Sunday school teacher ridiculed the walked-down shoes she and her sister wore in front their classmates.

The psychic toll, coupled with a series of illnesses and near-tragic mishaps, gave rise to a severely wounded, withdrawn little girl. A Bible storybook became her constant companion. Her fertile imagination opened her heart to the reality of God’s love and mercy; at an early age, she began piecing the puzzle of His providence together. Though she couldn’t discern the purpose of her suffering, she sensed something taking shape in her life. In retrospect, she’s able to sort out the rhymes and reasons of it all. Each trial—whether harrowing trauma or stabbing slight—prepped her response to struggles encountered many years later in the lives of her people. That’s the beauty in her story. Knowing God’s intentions would have frightened the faith out of her. Not knowing allowed her to connect obedience with providence. When time came to minister in Chicago, there was no question obeying the call would bring blessings.

Rewards and Incentives

The link between obedience and blessings fascinates me, because the Bible frankly admits submission to God—serving at His pleasure—isn’t compulsory for His favor. Jesus says God scatters blessings on an equal-opportunity basis: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5.45) Paul wades into the thick of this when he suggests blessings also come from disobedience. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable,” he writes in Romans 11.29. Mercies and roles God chose for us open the possibility we'll accept His gifts without heeding His call. This makes no sense—until we read verse 32: “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” God uses blessings as rewards and incentives. When we reflect on this, we find times when obedience brought great blessings. But we also find times we were chastened to realize God blessed us despite our behavior. He extended His mercy to draw us back to obedience.

Before we write off blessings as arbitrary phenomena, we should note a codicil attached to God’s will. While disobedience doesn’t block the flow of mercy and kindness, obedience substantially increases it. Again and again, God promises to shower us with goodness when we make His pleasure our priority. Very few of His pledges match Deuteronomy 28’s eloquence. It’s too delicious for excerpts.

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. (v1-9)

The more we submit to God’s Word, His will, and His way, the more we experience His blessings—experience being the operative word. Obedience sharpens our perception of blessings that rise out of hardship and deprivation. They come upon us and accompany us, germinating within us until we’re able to recognize and accept them. Obedience primes us to experience blessings every which way, when and however they come—including those wrapped in struggle and dismay.

The Lifting

“If you obey Him, God will lift you,” Moses assures us. The lifting doesn’t exalt us to boast of deserving God’s goodness. Adherence to God’s principles raises us above turmoil and sorrow to perceive His providence at work in us. We become certain pleasing Him invariably ends in what’s best for us. His precepts of compassion, sacrifice, and service often create short-term hardships and uncommon demands. Yet obedience opens eyes of faith to see our predicaments through the lens of God’s infallible mercy and goodness. Doing what’s right steers us from actions and attitudes we’ll regret later. Difficulties we wrestle with now strengthen us for more rewarding challenges ahead. We count every piece in God’s providential puzzle as its own blessing. Obedience holds the key to remaining confident no matter where we are. In the city or country, coming in or going out—we’re blessed every which way.

Obedience sharpens our awareness that every piece in God’s providential puzzle is its own blessing.


Edgington said...

I look forward to reading her published book. I hope you & Walt have had a wonderful summer.
Namaste', Mariah

kkryno said...

I'm still trying to figure out my place in God's puzzle.

He does help me with the navigation, thankfully! :)

Tim said...

Mariah, I think it will do well--she has quite a story. Our summer was great; too short as always. I hope yours and Byron's was also terrific. Thanks for stopping by. I'll pass the word on to Mom that she's got one reader on the hook already!

Vikki, it all comes together with time. I'm sure if you look back at times when you weren't quite sure what the deal was, you'll see that the pieces fell into place in a way you probably didn't imagine or consider. Meanwhile, having Him steer us through these times is a blessing all its own.

Thank you both for your comments. I treasure them (and you) and count you both as great blessings in my life.

Abundant blessings,