“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just. The word of God is in his heart. His feet do not slip.” Psalm 37
Note: I wrote this in the fall of 2019 while on furlough in the US.
Returning to the US is always a time of struggle and adjustment. In Malawi, things are much more simple. Attractions and distractions are minimal. Where we live there is no theater, no television, no malls and few restaurants. The culture, despite its many challenges, is fairly stable. The differences in language and traditions are a challenge, but not overwhelming. Ministry is the focus. Life is simple. Relationships are key.
But here, everything is a blur! The noise is overwhelming! Loud voices demand my attention. They tell me what I need and what will satisfy me, which is always more and “better” than what I already have. My appetite is stimulated by sights and sounds of fancy cars, glitzy malls, non-stop entertainment and sports galore. And, though I know that this life is not right and not really satisfying, I tend to like it. I want to think this is normal and good.
Added to this is the realization that the world I grew up in and loved, is no more. In the words of a great classic of rock and roll: “there is a whole lot of shaking going on.” The institutions and traditions that once gave me security and stability are disintegrating. Marriage is optional. Families are fractured. Government is broken. Patriotism is ridiculed. Education is politicized. Politics are toxic. Religion is fluid. Deep conviction, unquestionable integrity, selfless service, passion for truth and unwavering loyalty, are character traits of a bygone era. The principles and promises that once made America a “city set on a hill,’ the envy of the whole world, have been discarded for the fantasies and passions of an immature and self-centered populace.
This is the air that we breath. This is the sea we navigate. This is the world we live in. And, it is not neutral. It seeks to conform all within its borders. It tolerates no diversity. It squashes all non-conformity. It has taken on a radical, religious fervor. If you dare protest you will be marginalized, ridiculed and worse. It is radically secular. Consequently, we Christians are in a battle and it is a no-holds barred, no quarter given, attack against our faith.
In the midst of such all-out war, we desperately need perspective and plans. By that I mean we need to be able to lift ourselves out of the fray and see our world and circumstances from a place of quiet truth, where feeling, appetites and motivations of mankind do not rule. And from those perspectives we need to formulate plans to combat the sometimes subtle, but always dangerous tactics of our enemy, the devil.
The battle-winning, joy-protecting, God-pleasing perspective is found only in God’s holy Scripture. He is the Creator of all things. He fashioned all things with a glorious purpose. He is sovereignly working all things with the intention of blessing his people by displaying His glory to them and through them. Every international body, every political movement, every natural disaster and every minute of my existence, is divinely formatted to fit into his perfect plan for His creation. The Bible is His words giving me truth to fight and win this war.
I don’t want you to misunderstand what I am advocating here. The common way of looking at devotions as the means to get a little lift for the day is not what I am referring to. The feel-good task of breezing through the Bible is not on the table. I am advocating an attitude and approach to the Bible that would be similar to a Marine preparing to be deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. There are real terrorists out there that are intent on killing you. They lie in ambush. Their weapons are deadly. They are well trained. They have no fear of you. If you are unprepared and ill-equipped, you will die!
That is why I changed from gliding over Scriptures to beating on passages. I know I am weak and too easily compromised. So, I drain each text for all the help I can find. If there are questions, I seek answers. I try to see all possible tactics of the enemy through the lens of the promises, principles and commands that Christ has laid in the passages before me. I memorize the passage so I can take it with me through the day. I meditate on it so that it becomes part of my being and saturates my mind. I pray that by the Holy Spirit, God himself will be my Teacher that day. (“I have not turned from your commands for you yourself have taught me.” Psalm 119:102) I may sit on one Scripture for several months, as I did this year with Psalm 37.
I think that I can do few things that bring more delight to God. And, I know that, “When the Lord delights in a man’s ways he makes his steps firm; though he stumbles, he will not fall.” (Ps. 37:23) So, although I may stumble, He will see to it that I will not fall, for he “upholds me with his hand.” When you consider all of the traps that the enemy has laid out there, it is so encouraging to know that no I. E. D. will blow me up. God’s words will prepare me and protect me.
This readiness, this toughness, this righteousness, is not just for me. It is for my family, for my friends, for my fellow believers, for my students. “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just. The word of God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.” Not only can I speak wisdom, that is tempered by obedience to God’s Word; I can be an example of God’s faithfulness, for God’s Words are the only possible explanation for my world rejecting, enemy-defying, God-honoring life-style.
Therefore, in spite of my negative and scary observations, I still have hope. Not a giddy, “hope so,” but a deep hope, but on a solid conviction, that this is the kind of world I was made for; the kind of battle I was prepared for. Christians in America have lived in an anomaly for hundreds of years. In the rest of the world, Christians know what it means to be an enemy of the state. They also know God’s faithfulness in ways we can only read about. Our nation has operated and flourished on the principles of Biblical truths and laws. It is now sliding into worldly, pagan roots, the beliefs that there is no God and no ultimate purpose for which we were created. It is now a nation that has discarded its lofty ideals and grand purposes and has settled for empty and selfish fantasies. It is the same kind of world that the first church turned upside down.
Psalm 37 is another weapon of faith. It is for us who see evil men seemingly thriving and flourishing all around us (1,35,) and fret and even envy at their successes. We are told to turn from focusing upon them, to focus upon the faithfulness of God (1). We are to continue to do good (3). We are to enjoy the safety of His promises (3). We are to delight in Him (4). We are to commit our ways to Him (5). We are to put our hope in Him. (9) He promises to make known to all the righteousness of our cause. (6-7). He will uphold us. (17,24) He will be our stronghold and save us in the time of trouble. (39) He will help us and deliver us. (40) We may have to wait (1, 7, 9, 34), but the glorious end for those who trust God is a done deal!