DAY 32: HISTORY IN THE MAKING

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.

DEUTERONOMY 10:12-14, 17-22 (ESV)

You never truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. That saying was everywhere my first year teaching. During the summer preparation weeks, it was a hopeful quote passed on among teachers. After a couple months into that first year, it echoed in my head like a ticking bomb. How was I going to prepare these students for next year if this was truly the standard?

I taught sixth grade English at a local private school, and I walked into that first week of classes bright-eyed and energetic. Introductions went well. Most of the students seemed to be doing a good job of finding their way around a new campus. My opening lesson was easy enough, and as the first paper approached, I was confident that I had ushered in a new standard for middle school education.

It took about five papers graded for this bubble to burst. I think by the tenth paper I had run out of red ink. It was pretty apparent that my lessons were useless. These kids had to go back to the basics, and I had to pivot fast if we were ever going to get on track. Simply rolling out my lesson plans as drawn up would have actually set them back under a towering pile of marked-up failed assignments. Over the weekend after that first paper I scrapped a lot of the plans I had assembled, and I realized I was missing out on a critical piece of good teaching. You have to think like a student.

Most of my work had been drawn with teacher blinders on, and I hadn’t considered more effective approaches to lesson planning. I needed a big dose of empathy. So I added in a ton of interactive assignments and pushed hard to foster creativity and ownership in the work the students were doing. When we all returned from Christmas break, the ship had steadied itself. The students’ confusion and frustration had weighed so heavily on me, but now their excitement and engagement became fresh wind in my sails. Compassion had greatly improved my teaching, and the memory of my own days as a frustrated student opened my eyes to the needs of my classes. Remembering who I was inspired humility and a change in approach I needed to truly serve my students. I survived that year, and by God’s grace, so did they.

Evangelism operates in a similar way for believers. We know that relationship is at the heart of Christianity, first with God and next with people. The Lord reveals His holiness to us and calls us to model it and proclaim it in a broken world (Leviticus 11:44-45). Our holiness as ambassadors draws others to its source, but being set apart does not mean being sent away. We have to carry this holiness to people like us who are dead without it. Pride will always block the flow of holiness in our lives. This is why we have to remember the work God did and does for us. We have to remind ourselves that we need this hope each and every day. Jesus even taught us to pray with this in mind, with words that flow out of our history (Matthew 6:9-13). We were once orphans and widows and foreigners without God. We had no family, no love, and no home. But now we speak the language of new life. “Our father,” “kingdom come” – Jesus has rescued us from hopelessness to give sonship and intimacy and union with God. Remembering our past makes the Gospel fresh and compassion deep.

You can always tell Christians who suffer from memory loss. Their evangelism has no empathy. They make plans to speak the Gospel with no patience or understanding. Theirs is a word dumped on the heads of foreigners, even though hope came to us in the washing of feet and the carrying of a cross. For these believers every mission field eventually dries up. This is because without knowing our history, we could never present God’s holiness, serve with His love, and come with His care to foreigners of the Kingdom. It is humility that moves us to fear, to follow, and to obey the Lord. The world needs the hope of the Gospel. We don’t have to be prideful or fearful when we carry this light to the people God sets before us. History is on our side.

PRAYER:
Jesus, your love for me is beyond comprehension, but I want to appreciate it as best I can. Remind me today of the darkness that drowned me before the cross, so I might see and treasure my relationship with you. Humble me again today as you were humbled for me. Let the Gospel you proclaimed be the light in my heart and the words on my lips. Open my eyes today to people who need to be served and loved and invited into your Kingdom. Let my history be a common language between us. AMEN.

WALK:
How often do you encounter the fatherless, the unloved, or the homeless? The implication in the Deuteronomy passage above is that followers of God will regularly encounter people outside the Kingdom. Depending on the environments we frequent, sharing the Gospel could require changing our routines, expanding our bubbles, or at least opening our eyes. Consider today how you might bring the holiness and love of the Lord to an unbeliever you live near, work beside, or see often.

DAY 31: COMMIT TO MEMORY

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

PSALM 63:1-7 (ESV)

My grandmother passed away on June 27, 2007. I can still remember the phone call from my mom. I was on my way to meet some friends for dinner. Sometimes with news like this, it cripples you right away, but my grandma had been very sick for some time and was never the same after her life-saving brain tumor removal. My mother’s voice was sad but calm, and I took the news with some uncharacteristic silence. Since her surgery, my grandmother had been staying in Houston with my aunt, so there wasn’t much I could do at the moment. I had been expecting that call for a while, so in some ways the grieving process had already started. I didn’t change my plans and ended up going to dinner.

I gave my friends a heads up about the news I got, and each was surprised I still showed up. We talked and laughed as we always did, and I took some comfort in the small clearing of normalcy in the great fog around me. I think I knew then that the dinner was merely stalling a necessary confrontation with grief and mortality, but I welcomed it anyway, if only to catch my breath.

It was on the way home when the numbness began to wear off. I can still remember so many details of that drive. The song I was listening to. The street all that darkness covered. The agonizingly long pause at the stop sign. Most of all I remember the feeling as I sat in my car, consumed by a very foreign and heavy desire to chase every memory of grandmother I could.

My biggest fear in that moment was forgetting her. I knew that though her body was lost to us, losing her memory would be a greater sorrow. So I grasped for random flashes of her life. The sounds of her cooking in the kitchen. The smell of her living room. Her laughable and contagious frustration with the Spurs. Her subtle but steady wave every time we backed out of her driveway. The more I remembered, the more I panicked. I felt like each picture of my grandmother was a piece of paper being carried away by the wind, and I didn’t know how to chase them all down. I sat alone and wept at that stop sign for what felt like forever.

Memory holds a special place in worship. Many of the psalm writers urge God’s people again and again to remember and to praise, the two activities comprising something of a formula for encouragement and perseverance. But the Israelites did not practice memory as a mere cognitive exercise. They were not a people for whom history was bound to a textbook or a diary. Their approach to memory was active. Remembering and praising were two halves of a single movement.

This meant that for them the act of remembrance involved participation. As they recalled God’s saving grace for their ancestors, the Israelites would praise just as their ancestors praised. They would sing the same songs. They would make the same sacrifices. They would follow the same practices. In this performative and representational activity, memories became alive. The worship of the past became worship for the present. This kind of remembrance continues through the New Testament, when after the Lord’s Supper, Jesus tells his disciples to repeat the meal when they gather to keep his memory alive (Luke 22:19). Remembering for the disciples here involved the mind and the body.

This kind of practice might sound unfamiliar to us, but we see it work effectively in our own lives all the time. Looking through a box of old photos, for example, certainly drives us down memory lane. But the power of this experience quickly fades, as you can only peer at the same photos so many times and come away moved. Compare that to the experience of participating in cherished traditions. It’s one thing to look at a picture of your mother cooking a family recipe, quite another for you to follow her handwritten instructions and cook it yourself. In the former, you might see a still shot of her in a sepia-toned frame. In the latter, she seems to move beside you, her words suddenly returning to fill the kitchen.

That night in my car, I was searching for memories of my grandmother that made her feel alive. I needed vivid pictures of her as she was to us, and in my moment of grief, all I got was two-dimensional Polaroids. It wasn’t until later that I realized the strongest memories came with activity. Today my grandmother is most “alive” when we live as she did and speak as she did and work as she did.

Ralph Martin says this is how God wired us, and true remembrance finds its heart in true worship. “We are not looking back as the historian or archaeologist does,” he writes. “We are recovering the past to let it speak to the present.” This is exactly what David does in his moment of fear in Psalm 63. He is weary and burdened from sorrow, and he knows that no comfort could come from mere snapshots of God’s past activity. David turns to remember God’s presence, which was once so vivid and moving in the sanctuary, and as David recalls that moment, he turns to praise now as he praised then. Like he did in times of peace with God and his people, David here sings and raises his hands and is satisfied. And in this activity, he is not just strengthened by memories; as he participates in worship David is crafting new memories for the future. “For you have been my help,” he writes, “and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” He looks back on the sanctuary right now, but the day will come when he also looks back on this time in the wilderness when the Lord gave him a song.

The God we serve is alive and working now on our behalf. We don’t have to chase after dusty pictures of Him. Instead, memories of His saving grace can become comfort and strength today, and David’s example show us how. As we look back on all the Lord has done for us and relive the praise of those victories, we are reminded that the God who was there is also here.

PRAYER:
Robert Robinson’s “Come Thou Fount” has long been my favorite hymn. Many people stumble over the word ebenezzer in its lyrics, but this is simply a Hebrew word for a memorial. It translates to “stone of hope.” When the Israelites encountered God’s saving work, they would erect a monument to remind themselves that the God who saves was still with them. As you pray today, read these lyrics and find encouragement in the Lord’s work in your life.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Lord you sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
Jesus rescued me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

WALK:
Biblical remembrance keeps the candle of worship lit. How has God come through for you in the past? How did you respond to His saving work? Make your own ebenezzer today. Write down what God has done for you in the past and express your gratitude as you did before. Keep this memory alive when you go to God in supplication and praise.

DAY 30: STEERING INTO THE SKID

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!

PSALM 40:1-3, 11-13, 16-17 (ESV)

Lament is a difficult practice for us. We are so accustomed to immediate satisfaction that every inconvenience must be dismissed, and painful ones especially so. When the time comes for sorrow, we often look to rush past it or numb it or ignore it all together. To be still is to be confronted, so pain that feels too heavy to carry is best left in the rearview mirror.

Lament is difficult to receive though, too. If you’ve ever sat in a hospital room with worried, grieving loved ones, you know the feeling of awkwardness that comes when secondhand sorrow chokes away your words. What can you offer in moments like these that could comfort a friend? What could be said or done that wouldn’t feel like trite symbolism as it came from your mouth?

The hospital room is an obvious place for this kind of awkwardness, but it creeps into our churches too. Anonymity is just so much easier than vulnerability. Sharing our pain or hearing someone else’s puts us on the spot, and that can be terrifying. So we default to drawing down the curtains of experience and hoping that we might find comfort in avoidance.

Confronting pain that comes to us feels counterintuitive. The hurt of dealing with it does not cancel it out but only seems to compound the weight on an already weary soul. In fear of this added emotional stress, we become more and more isolated. This kind of grieving turns to loneliness.

It isn’t meant to be this way. Though withholding our pain often feels like the right move, we quickly learn that it is destructive, to us and to others. We were meant to be temples of life, not silos of pain. Lament is how we return to God’s purpose.

Psalm 40 illustrates the power of lament in growing faith. David has known seasons of grieving. He has felt the weight of destruction and known the kind of pain that takes everything but your tears. David remembers crying out and seeing God deliver him to confidence and praise. This is important because David writes this psalm crying out again. Verse 12 speaks of evil and iniquities beyond David’s power to fight, and as his very heart fails, he once again turns to His God.

It is a gift to David that this is a pain he can’t run from. It isn’t a blessing that David would choose or even a pain that God would endorse, but from this helplessness and despondency, David’s cry strengthens his faith in God.

At a very basic level, a lament is simply an expression of relationship. When you are afraid, you turn to what provides comfort. When you need help, you go to a trusted source. For the deepest pains in our lives, we turn to Jesus and his church.

This is the kind of relationship with God the author of Hebrews had in mind in writing, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). It is trust in the Lord that animates our prayers, emboldens our pleas, and draws us close. Prayers of sorrow are bold. David sings in Psalm 40 with full confidence in God’s wisdom and sovereignty. Because David knows who God is, he doesn’t hide his grief. God is not too big to see his tears, and David’s pain is not too big for God to move. If we don’t trust the Lord to hear and carry our grief, how could we ever trust him to carry our joy?

Jesus knew grief in his life. He wept at the death of a friend. He prayed in anguish knowing the pain ahead of him. He felt abandonment in bloody agony on the cross. When we take our grief to this kind of God, he shows us comfort and teaches us how to provide it to others. This is not a Savior who explains away grief in cold theological terms or stammers through finding the right words. Jesus sees our grief and shares it. He sits beside us as we weep, and as he shares our pain, we might share the joy he prepares for us (John 15:11).

Is this the God you know? Do you trust that He doesn’t dismiss your pain but answers it, that He comes running to it with compassion and salvation? David sang because he knew the heart of God, and when circumstances tempted him with lies about his faith, his song only became louder. Though lament might feel counterproductive, in practice we discover it’s a lot like losing control on a slick road. When you are grieving, you have to steer into the skid to get back on track toward your destination. In lament, we point our pain home and watch God work.

PRAYER:
When poet Ann Weems’ twenty-one-year-old son was tragically killed, she turned in grief to the lamentation psalms. They became for her a map to processing loss and strengthening faith. They also provided her with inspiration in her writing, and her book Psalms of Lament contains fifty poems patterned after the Bible’s example. Each is a prayer filled with earnest sorrow, bold language, and full confidence in God’s power and love. I chose one that has meant a great deal to me for today’s devotional.

“Lament Psalm Twenty-Three”

Speak to me, O my God,
speak to me!
Tell me you will help me;
Tell me in a loud voice!
Let me hear words of mercy
from your mouth,
words that will flood my heart
and make it beat again.

O God, in times past,
you have heard the groaning
of your people,
and you have spoken to them;
you have saved them.
Speak to me now, O Holy One,
to me, O God,
the one who waits for your word.
Speak to me so that I can
return to life,
and follow you once more.
Speak, O my God,
speak to me,
the language of your heart.
Speak and I will run
among your people.
All who have the ears to hear
will marvel that your word
has made my feet dance.
To you, O God, goes the glory
always,
for in your word
I find my life.

WALK:
What grieves your heart today? How might you take that boldly to the Lord in prayer? Read in Psalm 40 the confidence of a broken man who trusts a healing God. Reflect on God’s past care for you and sing the song of faith. Consider also: when was the last time you stood by a grieving friend? If someone in your life is hurting today, make some time to be with her and share her sorrow. Find comfort together knowing Jesus sits beside you both.

DAY 29: THE FUNGUS AMONG US

...one sinner can destroy much that is good.

As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor. A wise person chooses the right road; a fool takes the wrong one. You can identify fools just by the way they walk down the street!

ECCLESIASTES 9:18b, 10:1-3 (NLT)

Few television experiences can rival witnessing something new and unsettling on a nature documentary. For as much as our human lives seem endlessly connected and broadcasted, the world around us feels so hidden. Rare species, newly discovered animal behavior, uncharted territory – the planet is still so full of mystery.

I have spent countless hours with my wife glued to a TV screen watching shows like Blue Planet, Life, and Our Planet. In many ways these series have justified a Netflix subscription on their own. For all the incredible sights these documentaries have offered though, nothing has stuck with me quite like one of Planet Earth’s segments on the Amazon.

Deep in the rainforest grows a unique genus of fungi called cordyceps that sprouts unlike any other organism on the planet. Rather than emerge from the soil like common mushrooms, this downright evil fungus stretches its witch fingers up from the body of an unsuspecting insect. Like a real-life Alien xenomorph, this parasite infects its host and waits for the right time to “bloom,” bursting from all parts of the creature it inhabits and killing it in the process.

It’s a truly horrifying image, but you really can’t look away. (Here’s a link to the entire segment, if you’re still curious after reading this morning.) As this particular Planet Earth episode moved on, I couldn’t maintain focus. I kept pausing to think about what I had just seen. There were so many disturbing aspects of this Amazonian fungus. For one, there is a unique type of cordyceps for nearly every insect in that rainforest. This fungus is adaptable, finely tuned to infect and destroy any creeping thing it comes across. Cordyceps is also contagious, and once they sprout they quickly spore, firing tiny clouds of “seeds” to spread to future hosts and colonies. The very existence of cordyceps makes you wonder how any insects survive in the Amazon at all with such a pervasive and powerful threat.

Fortunately, cordyceps is not a perfect secret keeper. Before an infected host dies, its behavior will start to change. Sporadic twitches become more frequent. Activities outside colony norms attract the attention of the surrounding group. Eventually, the insects around the infected realize that something is very wrong. How they know what is infecting the host remains undetermined, but the colony recognizes the potential for collateral damage. Before the parasite can kill and spread, members of the group will carry the infected far outside of the colony and ensure that no reentry is possible. What began as a silent infection became a loudly ticking bomb, and measures are taken to isolate and avoid the explosion.

The terrifying and fascinating picture of cordyceps has stayed with me for years since I first came across it because I’m not sure there is a better living, breathing analogy for how sin corrupts a person.

Scripture paints a shockingly similar portrait of a “fool,” a person defined by their chosen godlessness (Psalm 14:1) and life of sin (Matthew 7:26). Like an infected insect, we learn that sin does not begin on the outside, but rather emerges from silent, internal corruption. The host shows symptoms far after the disease, uniquely adapted to its host, has taken hold. As Jesus says in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

As these behaviors rear their nasty heads, the outcome is clear even if the inner condition is not: death awaits. The sinful man begins to cave in, his body actively destroying itself. Ecclesiastes 4:5 goes so far as to say the fool “eats his own flesh.” Worse still, his sin is contagious, and the Bible warns that those tolerating such a person will be present when his ignorance sprouts and spreads (Proverbs 15:7). In the end, they will suffer like him (Proverbs 13:20).

Like the segment in Planet Earth, the picture here looks bleak. But the Bible reminds us that infection of sin, unlike cordyceps, is curable. As Titus 3:3-5 notes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.” We have been set free from the bondage of a corrupt heart. We have freedom and life and a new way to contrast the old. The dying, sinful fool is no more. Christ has taken his place.

In light of that, there are two places we can sit in this cautionary illustration.  Either we can be the infected, walking around with a diseased interior, showing more and more the death lurking and approaching within. Or we can remain vigilant, eyes open and waiting for any sign of sin, ready to carry it away and to keep it from spreading. Being alert is a discipline, and not just for our group. We have to remain cautious of death’s influence within ourselves. When the symptoms appear, the disease of the flesh has taken hold. It’s in these moments of recognition where we must turn in helplessness and repentance to the only one who can break death’s grip. The unavoidable truth is you can only hide your heart from others for so long. Eventually the darkness finds the seams and claws out.

PRAYER:
As in a previous entry, I found in one of Malcolm Guite’s poems a perfect prayer for today’s devotional. The tone of “O Clavis” is confessional, so as you read it today, find in its vivid imagery a place where you can be honest with God and receive his forgiveness with repentance.

“O Clavis”

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

WALK:
One of the benefits of looking at cordyceps as a metaphor for sin is that it reminds us of the need and responsibility of community. Accountability is critical for avoiding the trap of sin, and we can edify and encourage one another in our faith by being alert and maintaining communication. As you think about the symptoms of sin, foster relationships with people who will notice erratic behavior and speak out before it’s too late. Remember too that you must be this friend and watchman for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

DAY 28: SAVE THE DAY

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

LUKE 1:68-75 (ESV)

My wife and I recently welcomed our second child into the world. He is a great joy to his parents and his sister, and every moment with him brings with it sweetness and memories. We hold his tiny little body in our arms and look out at our four-year-old wondering how time could escape our grasps so quickly.

You know the feeling. Most days you open Facebook or Instagram and are reminded of something you posted years ago. Your face looks younger in the photo. Your circle of friends is different now. Even the caption you wrote can seem like the words of a different person. Time has moved and swept you along with its current.

Though this experience is a modern one, all people throughout history have struggled with this feeling. Like a sleepy driver who finds himself in front of a light wondering how he got there, our days can seem to come out of nowhere, leaving us trying to retrace our steps.

For the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, this feeling was even more profound. They understood time in similar ways to how we do today. Our lives are just as finite and delicate now as theirs were then, but their concept of time ran deeper than ours. We tend to look at time quantitatively – measuring and monetizing it, counting and disposing it. Most days we want time to come and go quickly, so we develop pastimes to give a sense of speeding it up. The Israelites knew this default perception, but they also looked at time qualitatively. It wasn’t enough for them to know they had “today.” Each day given represented a blessing and a choice. So a day wasn’t lost when it simply passed. It was lost when it was wasted.

Most of our lives are built around looking at time as a unit of measurement. We clock in and out of our jobs to get paid. We set the DVR in exact hour increments to record our favorite shows. We celebrate the same day every year to recognize another trip around the sun. To the Israelites, though, time was a container. Just as we are holy vessels, temples of the Holy Spirit, so too was a day something to be filled with God’s presence and purpose.

There was a time where this was always the case, when the eternal God was moving in past and present and future to reveal Himself to all of humanity. It wasn’t until the Fall that our days became corruptible. Now it is possible for time to become filled with something else: sin. This is what Paul means in Ephesians 5 when he warns, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” On the other side of the Garden, corrupted by sin, time has to be recaptured and sanctified. Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 is still relevant, as it recognizes this need and takes it to God. “Teach us to number our days,” he says, “that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Herein lies the key to days of fulfillment and promise. The desperation of our internal ticking clocks was not meant to drive us mad with anxiety or busyness. Eternity beats within our chests so that we might turn to God. We need the one who revealed Himself in time to enter it for us once again.

This only happens in worship. Only by encountering and surrendering to the transcendent God can our days be rescued. Worship is where the time-bound is called to approach the eternally, and not simply for a moment. A life of worship is our calling, where Christ inhabits our finite bodies and empowers us for Kingdom service in all the days he ordains. Andrew Hill puts it like this: “Worship is the key to a Christian understanding of life and time. Only worship can place all of human experience in the larger context of life’s ultimate purpose and meaning. For the Christian, all of life is a response to a loving and gracious God.”

The ultimate measure of our quality of life is how much of it God inhabits. The same God who numbers our days longs to fill them. This is why Christians don’t need to become burdened by nostalgia or futurism. There is no “good old days” sorrow or “just around the corner” crawling because for us the God of eternity inhabits and directs this very moment. As Psalm 118 says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Scripture says that when God formed you He had in mind this day (Psalm 139:16), an empty vessel waiting to be filled by His presence and purpose. There will never be another day like this one, but while we know it leaves us quickly, we can rejoice. Because God holds our times in his hand (Psalm 31:15), a day gone doesn’t have to be a day wasted.

PRAYER:
God, I confess that time often becomes my master. I can feel the burden of it on my weary spirit. I struggle and shake under the weight of trying to save my time on my own power. But for all my efforts, I cannot escape that my days are numbered and set beyond my control. Lord, don’t let me cower in fear or rise in pride when confronted with this. Help me trust Your guiding hand. Give me the perspective that knows my time is limited and rejoices that it can be stewarded for Your glory. Remind me that you work and move in this day for me, so that I might work and move in it for You. AMEN.

WALK:
What does a wasted day look like to you? Is it aimless? Lazy? Unproductive? What do you think a wasted day looks like to God? Moses turned to worship in Psalm 90 to see his days like God does. We can do the same. Slow down and in prayer, seek God’s wisdom for how His presence and purpose might guide your time. Don’t waste today.

DAY 27: MASTERPIECE THEATER

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long…

PSALM 71:15-18, 23-24a (ESV)

Reading the Bible can be an intimidating thing. Depending on who you talk to there are a dozen great places to start. And each starting point could be radically different from the next. There are distinct types of books within its pages after all, some historical narrative, others lyrical poetry, still more surreal prophecy. Holding a Bible in your hand can be intimidating too, its weight closer in memory to a textbook than a sacred religious text.

Once you dive into its pages though, the practice of regular reading doesn’t seem so daunting. Verses stick out and return to you in moments of need. Relatable characters and their fates offer warnings and suggestions for your life. As you continue, a picture emerges. It turns out that the Bible’s books, though different in type and audience, are connected. Even when the chapters don’t unfold in a neat chronological order, it’s clear that there is a story here. God has given us in scripture a grand narrative, from creation to fall to redemption to eternity.

Theologian NT Wright says this is by design. God, by nature, is a storyteller. What other conclusion could we make after seeing how He paints with vivid colors, creates unforgettable characters, and positions everything perfectly for a breathtaking story?

In their book The Drama of Scripture, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen look at this narrative and unpack it a step further. They see in the Bible God writing a six-act feature. It opens with creation, turns on the fall of man, and rises with the Israelites and the old covenant. After God’s people break this agreement, the third act ends, and intermission begins the great hush between the Old and New Testaments. The birth of Jesus breaks the silence to start the fourth act. Finally, we have the emergence of the Church, and then comes the final act, the return of the King. It’s a grand story, one that encompasses entire histories of nations, countless scores of characters, and generations of conflicts. Only a master storyteller could put it all together.

With this aerial view, reading the Bible becomes a much less intimidating activity. We return to its pages to experience the narrative with fresh perspective. Still, while the play analogy is certainly helpful for this newfound eagerness, reality isn’t quite as neat as that analogy might imply. As Bartholomew and Goheen point out, once you leap from the aerial view back into the text, you start to notice that there are some things missing. And not just prescriptive things, like an order of worship for the New Testament church. No, if we’re tracking with their six-act division of the Bible’s narrative, it’s impossible to miss that nearly all of the fifth act is missing. We get all of creation, the fall, the old covenant (and its dissolution), Jesus’ arrival, and Jesus’ return. But in between the birth and the second coming is the whole life of the Body of Christ. And outside of the beginning of the First Church in Acts and the epistles, we have a lot of blank pages in God’s story of humanity. The Church begins, and suddenly Revelation appears as the story is ending.

Why is this? Why would a perfect storyteller leave out a major portion of His perfect story?

NT Wright says that these pages are blank because it is our responsibility to fill them. This is an intimidating, even scandalous thought, but follow his train of thought here for a second. Imagine you and your circle are Shakespearean actors. You are born to do what you do, and you feel an immense sense of purpose as you perform. Now, you’ve been provided with a newly discovered manuscript of a play nobody has ever read. It has all the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s work, from the intricate language to the colorful characters, but you see that a large piece is missing. For the benefit of the entire art world, you must perform this play. To do this, you know you will have to study Shakespeare’s language, understand his writing inside and out, and faithfully assemble the pieces in an order that makes narrative sense. You are building a bridge between the story before you and the ending after you. A watching world awaits.

Wright says this is the position you and I hold in God’s grand narrative. We know the work God’s done to bring us here. We know the way His promise will be fulfilled in eternity. But the pages before us up to that fulfillment are blank.

It’s in the mystery of this that we learn to trust and to study and to walk. How boring it would be if the Bible was simply the roadmap we often treat it to be. Instead, God leaves blanks for us to discover His wonderful story, equipping us to play our part in it. Imagine the joy and the excitement of the actors in the hypothetical situation above. They would be fueled with a deep sense of anticipation and pushed forward by a desire to do right by the opportunity. We sit in a similar position with God. We know the ending to His story is perfect. We don’t need to add to it or set it up well. Nor do we need to go back for rewrites to make it all connect. God is not asking for that of us. He simply wants us to participate and to find joy in the discovery. To play our part well, we’ll need to study His body of work, rehearse our parts in worship, and perform. We can’t carry His words if we don’t know His voice. We can’t take His steps if we don’t know His way.

PRAYER:
Lord I come to You dependent. I don’t want to take another step or speak another word by my own power or my own will. God help me to hear Your words, to know Your Spirit’s gentle guidance, to see the path of Your Son. I could never be content to try and fit you into my story. God remind me that I am found in the perfect, captivating story You’ve written for us. Help me play my part today with joy and obedience. AMEN.

WALK:
Are you “winging it” in your life with Christ? What would it change to see yourself in God’s grand story? Knowing that God’s narrative offers each of us a part to play, consider what it would look like to prepare for your role. Study the word of God, look ahead to the concluding chapter. Faithfully fill the pages He has laid out before you.

DAY 26: HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.

ZEPHANIAH 3:14-20 (ESV)

One of the most difficult things for people to do in church is sing. I’m sure some of you right now are shaking your heads in disagreement, but trust me on this one. I have nearly a decade of worship leading experience and countless services under my belt to confidently assert that people just don’t feel comfortable singing. It always takes time to invite a congregation to wade in the waters of participating in song, and most of the time, there remain significant numbers of holdouts spread among the seats.

Many churches go out of their ways to help people sing. They try to sweep away some of the fear of a less than perfect voice being heard by others. Churches will turn the music very loud, to drown out any off-key singing. They might turn the lights down low too, so people can’t see each other sing either. The idea seems to be that we sing best and loudest when we’re alone, and that creating that effect in a church service can help gather a choir out of soloists.

The logic here is sound. The theology, not so much. Scripture doesn’t seem to share or support our hesitation to sing.

Zephaniah records something remarkable for us. God sings. The Lord, the Israelites are told, is present and moving where they are, and the way He chooses to manifest His heart to them is with singing. And loud singing, at that.

We might be tempted to dismiss this as colorful, descriptive language, but Zephaniah means what He writes. God’s melody carries through the gathering of His people. And lest we remain skeptical, the voice of the Lord moves the same way in the New Testament, as Jesus and his disciples conclude the Last Supper with a hymn (Matthew 26:30).

God sings. Loudly. With his people. This revelation on its own should be enough for us to join the Lord’s melody. But we might go a step further today and ask why God sings.

Zephaniah’s vision of a singing God is tied to the context of a rejoicing, grateful people. The prophet has warned the Israelites to repent of sin, as the judgement of the Lord is coming. And rather than wallow in fear at such a proclamation, Zephaniah continues with a command from God for them to rejoice. Their hope in God is assured. Their future with Him secured.

It is here that the promise of God is given a tangible reality. The Israelites are told that God is in their midst, that His rejoicing and His love are moving in and through them. If their worship is to be inspired by God’s work, then they will need to observe the invisible and the transcendent. How is this possible?

God gives them a song. Think for a minute about the process in that. One does not simply mouth lyrics in singing. Real participation requires mental engagement with the words, full-throated praise in following the melody, and heartfelt response to emotional content. The melody that fills the gathering Zephaniah sees is joyful, triumphant, and loud. It’s the kind of song that is unmistakable, one that will not be ignored. It gives body to what can’t be contained.

The power of singing to “flesh out” what’s hidden is a gift from God to help us grasp His transcendent nature. In Zephaniah, the song of the Lord incarnates His love and joy to the Israelites. In this action, God is giving us a way to show what mere speech cannot contain. He’s revealing to bearers of His image another way to express their own joy and love.

The covenant we have with God, founded inside the new hearts given to us through the sacrifice of Christ, must pour out into physical expression. And from Genesis’ creation account to John’s revelation of eternity, songs of praise are a dominant external response for the people of God. This is why we are told over (Psalm 95) and over (Psalm 47) and over (Ephesians 5) in scripture to sing. Our praise is both proof and testimony of relationship with God. You betta tellll somebody!

To the gathering of His people, God embodies His heart. In the choir of worshipers, we embody our faith. Singing thus become a holy, joyful dialogue. God expresses Himself to us; we express ourselves to Him. And the more we participate, the thinner the line gets in communion with God. Colossians 3:16 adds that the words of Christ himself dwell in the songs of the church. When we sing, it’s as if Jesus sits beside us, relishing every note we bring to him.

That image has always encouraged me to join the congregation, especially when my song doesn’t want to come out. It’s so comforting! God doesn’t need my perfection. He doesn’t need me to hit all the notes or even clap on beat. God offers us His joy in a melody. All He really wants is for us to sing it.

PRAYER:
(adapted from the hymn “‘How Can I Keep from Singing?,” by Robert Wadsworth Lowry.)

My life flows on in endless song / Above earth's lamentation
I hear your sweet, though far-off hymn / That hails a new creation
Through all the chaos and the strife / I hear your music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul / How can I keep from singing?

And though my joys and comforts die / I know my Savior lives
And though the darkness gathers round / I hear the song he gives
No storm can shake this inner calm / While to your hope I’m clinging
Since You are Lord of heaven and earth / How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin / I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smooths / Since first I learned to love it
Your peace oh Christ makes fresh this heart / A fountain ever springing
All things are mine since I am yours / How can I keep from singing?

AMEN.

WALK:
This post is going up on a Sunday morning. There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in a gathering of believers somewhere today where singing figures prominently in the service. You might be sitting with friends or filed in quietly among strangers. Either situation carries pressure to embrace anonymity. Reject that temptation and embrace the promise of scripture. Do you want to see God today? Sing with his people. Joyfully. Freely. Loudly.