Impetus

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

When our small church was unable to meet corporately last Sunday due to a scheduling conflict in the elementary school where we meet, some of our friends and family decided to move our worship outdoors. Because of the unusual opportunity and the beautiful weather, we met to hike a portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park.

The plan was to take a 9-mile loop that included a stop at a scenic overlook about half-way. However, due to a, um… slight disagreement about the direction to take after our  stop, we wound up hiking down a steep gorge and back up again. Meanwhile, my intuition, which has been honed by playing, “Hey, guys, let’s see if we can get lost in the woods” with my cousins when we were children, dogged each step with a cerainty that we were headed the wrong way.

As we took the rough stone steps, I recall thinking that our navigator may be in some slight danger of mutiny if we had, in fact, taken a wrong turning. Not until we had climbed to the bottom of the  ravine and back up the other side did we all stop and look at one another with the absolute certainty that we were not on the 4.5 mile loop back to our cars, but on the 8-mile stretch that headed to the trail’s southern end in another town.

Frustrated with himself (and possibly nervous about the possibility of violent mutiny), our navigator took off back towards the way we had come, as, with a few scattered murmurs, the rest of us collected ourselves and followed him.

It was absolutely glorious.  

There is not much I love more than hiking, and this particular trail is on my personal top Mom01110 list. Each step of the way back, I brought up the rear with my mom (who turns 66 today – happy birthday, Mama!). She had tweaked her knee somewhere in all the elevation change and had to take it a little slower. This was fine by me since it afforded an opportunity to drink in all the splendor of my Father’s handiwork.

All told, we hiked approximately 14.25 miles and by doing so answered the question of about how long we would need to plan to hike the Fiery Gizzard end-to-end (13 miles). It’s easily doable in a day, even leaving time for my beloved Nikon if we start early.

And as is my habit, the whole trek got me thinking about my walk with the Lord.

Some of our number who are not as giddily in love with the forests and hills as I found the last leg of our trek to be sheer misery. A fair amount of complaints were vocalized, as were several wistful wishes for extra water or a nice, juicy steak.

But for me, even the accidental detour was delightful. Even through the discomfort of thirst and the annoyance of arthritic feet, I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods, the surprising red-orange of occasional mushrooms, the steady plashing of the streams. In my experience, I have found that focusing on trouble only makes it that much harder to bear.

The difference, however, was not only focus but motive. 

True, I chose to concentrate on the scenery rather than ponder hunger or the pain of sore feet. But the bigger reason for the disconnect in our various experiences is that I love hiking for hiking’s sake. A short jaunt into the woods, particularly after a long drive, leaves me feeling cheated, so an entire day spent reveling in the Master’s artistry was a rare and wonderful pleasure.

Likewise, my walk with the Lord – and for that matter, all my relationships – are affected by motive. If my motivation for following God’s trail is solely what I can get out of it, be it blessings, comfort, peace, provision, or anything else, then I stand to be disappointed when things take a wrong turning.

However, following my Messiah for His own sake – well, that, my friends is where joy in the journey is found; not merely joy because of circumstances but even joy despite them. There – in Him – is true and lasting peace.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)

Satiety

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…

…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalms 16:8-9, 11

Not many days ago, I was talking with someone about a Bible study group, and in the course of conversation, it was lightheartedly suggested that one member would probably be happier with a beer and a movie. Immediately, I was struck by two thoughts.

First, I have been guilty of the same in my past and only by the grace of God as He has walked with me through many dark valleys of pain have I come to enjoy His presence more and more.

And secondly, how tragic. Sincerely tragic.

On one hand, we have a fermented beverage and a couple of hours’ worth of watching adults play-pretend in front of a camera. On the other hand, we are offered the very Word and Presence of the Most High God, Creator of all things including fermented beverages, adults, and the ability to make cameras. The path of life. Fullness of joy. Pleasures forevermore.

Perhaps because I have been reading in John’s gospel, I was reminded of the sixth chapter in which the Lord miraculously multiplies a few loaves and a couple of fish to feed a horde of people. The very next day, they chase Him down only to ask Him, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6:30).

On that long-ago day, a multitude of people were offered the Bread of Life and preferred to see a miraculous sign that possibly included breakfast (or so they seem to imply). Discouraged when the Lord did not perform according to their expectations, many turned away (John 6:66).

Too often, we also prefer the gifts to the Giver of all good gifts. Too often, we choose the cheap trinkets and baubles of this world to the spiritual wealth and the immense and uncountable riches of grace found in the presence of God.

Oh, Church! How desperately we need to realign our desires! For as long as we would be more content with mere entertainments instead of indulging ourselves in God and in His law, the world will never see the power of the Gospel at work in us. If our lives and choices do not reflect that our God is, in Himself, truly delightful, how can we expect anyone else to believe it?

…for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
Psalms 119:47-48

Adonai who sanctifies us, we borrow from David’s own prayers today as we ask that You will turn open our eyes so that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Law and turn our eyes from worthless things. Incline our hearts to Your testimonies and not to selfish pursuits. Forgive us, and deliver us from our own propensity to selfishness! Search us and know our hearts; try us and know our thoughts. If there is any offensive way in us, help us to let it go and lead us in the way everlasting!