Thursday, February 3, 2011

Do We Believe in God?

On Wednesday nights I’ve been leading our folks in a study of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134); our guide for the study has been Eugene Peterson’s excellent book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.

At our most recent session we dealt with Psalm 123, which begins this way:

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
(v. 1).

About those opening lines Peterson says, “The person of faith looks up to God, not at him or down on him” (p. 61). It is, in other words, Almighty God with whom we have to deal and it is Almighty God, not some divine buddy who willingly fits in our box and who is at our beck and call with whom we have to do.

I can’t help but wonder, though, how seriously we take that reality—for that matter, I wonder how seriously I take that reality. I mean, if we believe in God and if we believe that we worship God and serve God and can look up to God—remember now, we’re talking about God the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Savior, and Lord—then shouldn’t that belief—shouldn’t that reality—make a tremendous difference in our lives?

The Songs of Ascent were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem to worship at the great festivals; they were, then, songs for pilgrimage. By extension, they are useful to us as we make the pilgrimage that is life; the goal of that pilgrimage for the person of faith is God. We are on our way to God and all along the way we have the responsibility and the privilege of looking up to God for our hope, help, and guidance.

We can’t get to God without God, after all.

So along the way, we can look up to God! We need to look up to God! We must look up to God! The concept is frankly mind-blowing and spirit-blowing…and it should be life-altering and life-shaping and life-determining.

But there is more.

The psalm goes on to say,

As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
until he has mercy upon us
(vv. 1-2, NRSV).

About this Peterson says, “The word mercy means that the upward look to God in the heavens does not expect God to stay in the heavens but to come down, to enter our condition, to accomplish the vast enterprise of redemption, to fashion in us his eternal salvation” (p. 64). In other words, the God of heaven to whom we look up is also the God who comes down to us; God did that in the coming of Jesus Christ to us and God continues to do that in the coming of the Holy Spirit to us.

God—Almighty God—is with us! How seriously do we take that reality?

Last Wednesday night I found myself asking that question to my flock in very direct terms because, as I reflected on it right there in front of them, I was almost overcome with awe over the fact that the God who is above and over us is also for us, in us, and with us as I was simultaneously almost overcome with doubt about whether we come anywhere near believing it.

Until we really believe it, maybe we can’t really be changed by it.

As for me, I am trying honestly to examine the state of my spirit, the state of my heart, the state of my mind, the state of my motives, the state of my actions—the state of my life, in other words—to see just how God-influenced my life is.

In so doing, I am being confronted with very troubling questions that should confront all of us. Is my life being changed by the very real presence of a very real God in my very real life? Can I honestly say that the state of my life, after almost fifty years of supposed discipleship, reflects the kind of growth and change that the presence of Almighty God with and in me should have produced?

Do we really believe that God is with us?

Do we really believe that God is changing us?

Do we really take God seriously?

Join me in taking a deep breath, in swallowing hard, and in asking the question that must be asked: do we really believe in God?

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