We often equate the length of writing with its quality. If someone writes a thirty page paper it must be more scholarly than a fifteen page paper. Right?
Well, not always. Length shouldn’t account for everything. Especially when we consider that some authors have been paid by the word.
Even if we know that is true, we can still be influenced by the notion that longer is better. This really gets in the way of appreciating a book like Proverbs. It is too easy to breeze through the quick sayings of Proverbs, missing the depth of the words.
Take this from Proverbs 3 as an example:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
How long does it take to read that? How long ought it to take to take this in and reflect upon it?
So instead of missing out because we move too fast, take the time to reflect on these sayings. Sometimes lengthy writing just masks an inability to communicate clearly. Let’s then be thankful for the concise and powerful words of Proverbs.
Several months ago I bought an album by Indelible Grace that leads off with the song “From the Depths of Woe.” It is a long song that builds from its mournful opening to a confident and hopeful end. I had heard it played a little differently before, but this is a powerful version that I was eager to share with you. But since it is a song based off of Psalm 130, I had to wait until this week when it falls within our readings.
Quick bit of history: It was written by Martin Luther way back in the 16th century. Not the psalm, of course, someone else wrote that. But he paraphrased it into German. If you didn’t know it yet, Luther was not only an accomplished nuisance to the church and great reformer, but he was a man of many talents, such as writing hymns.
If you enjoy playing the music, as well as listening to it, here is the music for it. (The links are on the right).
In reading Lamentations I wondered how much we could empathize with the weeping over a destroyed Jerusalem. We are so less rooted to our geography in this culture and see it as a point of pride to be well-traveled. For some the goal of growing up is to get out of the small town you grew up in. Even the US taken as a whole isn’t all that old of a country and our history is hardly anything compared to the longstanding nations elsewhere in the world.
So if we were to imagine a hometown or an iconic city like Washington, D.C. or New York City destroyed, how would we react? Could our sorrow even begin to match that of what is read in Lamentations? Jerusalem was not only a civic center or place of worship, it was both those things and more. It was where that generation’s ancestors had worshiped the living God who made his dwelling place there, among all the places on earth.
Surely that destruction would cause questions and doubts. Where is God if his habitation is destroyed? Where is he if he would allow his people to be exiled? Who are we if we do not have our home or a place to gather and worship?
As we read Lamentations, take the time to imagine the devastation the author must have felt. Only once you have tried that then move toward the jubilation you can imagine when God’s people are returned home and this city is rebuilt. You can’t grasp the hope that comes in places like the end of Isaiah, dealing with Israel’s restoration, without first understanding the depth of despair that met the people as Jerusalem burned.
As close as we are to finishing our Year in the Bible, that doesn’t mean we are close to putting our Bibles down and moving on. We are developing habits of reading to continue for years to come. Since that is one of our aims, then now is as good a time as any to evaluate how our reading is going–and not just by the numbers. Is our time spent before God and in his word as it should be?
There are several remarks about work and against idleness in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. But we mustn’t get the wrong idea as to what this focus on work is for. Paul’s concern with work is work that is an outpouring of our faith, and these works express a faith that is in Christ. Our good works aren’t about making ourselves good, rather they are to point to Jesus, fulfill our purpose, and glorify God. Paul’s says in 2 Thessalonians:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
I love coming across scripture passages that immediately take on a certain cadence because I first learned the words in song. In college I used to sing Isaiah 43, and the best version of it I could find I included below. (I found other versions of the song with better production quality, but this is almost exactly how we sang it with the echoes and everything.)
There is a great little section in chapter 44 of Isaiah that in describing the making of an idol in such a mundane way, shows the whole endeavor to be a bit absurd.
Isaiah describes the whole process, start to finish. You plant a tree and let it grow. Then you cut it down for its parts. You use some for a fire. The fire warms you, and then while you’re at it, you throw on some dough and make some bread. You’ve got some wood leftover? Let’s make a god. And then we may as well worship this piece of wood that we just grew, cut down, burnt, and used to carve into some likeness.
How can we think something that we just used for the simple needs of warmth and for cooking can then also give birth to a statue worthy of worship? Verse 17 says, "the rest he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!""
Sounds crazy, right? Do we condemn such an action, or just pity the person?
It’d be easier to judge if we weren’t susceptible to idolatry in our own ways. But regardless of the idol–a wooden totem or the idol of power of money–not one of them can answer when we cry out "deliver me!" God alone is savior and only he hears our cries.
People are often giving things up for Lent like chocolate or other foods. While this may not be a bad decision, Lent is to prepare us for Easter, and simply removing something like a candy bar may not get us to that goal. Instead of just taking something out and leaving that hole empty, fill it with something good. Give up something and then seek out a new habit to build up in these forty days.
For example, if you give up TV of Facebook, it doesn’t do you any good to sit around for an hour staring at the wall instead. Take that time to read the Word. If you’ve already been reading all of our reading plan for Year in the Bible, keep going. If not, join in. Join in today.
Since the week is half over, just read 1 Thessalonians. You could keep with the New Testament readings if you want to start slower. That’ll have you read 1 & 2 Thessalonians and finish with Revelation. That may not sound like a normal Lenten reading, but in Revelation we do see signs of the victory won by Jesus–a victory that he won on the cross. We finish the Bible on March 24th, which is a little bit before Easter, so you can use that last week to reread a gospel and focus your attention on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In summary: give up something, and fill it with Christ. May Lent be a great time of preparation for you. I hope it is a time when you carve out new space for Christ in your life.
PS – If you’re coming to our service tonight and have to errands to run today, think about putting them off until after the service. That way you can go out to the grocery store having been marked with ashes, as a sign of the season for others to see.