David’s Psalm 131, described as “humility, a surety of hope” reads: “Lord my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother, my soul is even as a weaned child. . .” When I read this psalm, I can hear it being spoken as a mantra in unison with fifty voices, all of us standing in a circle saying it quieter each time until we are whispering: “, , , my soul is even as a weaned child”. At the end of the autumn church retreat, standing around the campfire, we would close with this Psalm as our sending forth.
David, in this moment, was content, not crying out to God for rescue or solace. He had been given a peace and a mature knowing that had calmed his fears and anxieties. There are ways to know God like this – not just know about God or know of God but to know God. In the book of Amos we find this counsel: “Seek me and ye shall live.” Amos 5:4
God is not only found on the mountain peak, but in the deepest valley where we feel like we couldn’t be more alone and discover that we are never alone. It is in a lack of trust and knowing, that we isolate ourselves and believe that we can power on under our own steam with no help from anyone. If you find yourself in that valley too often, look back on your life and if you see the same string of misfortunate circumstances in which you find yourself now then you can count on them continuing in the future. When we know and trust God, a power beyond ourselves, we begin to see that we don’t have to be in control but we do need to choose to live a life with inner discipline and faith– one that we would live if our closest friend is a person who would do anything they could for us to keep us safe and happy. That’s what God is. He’s our closest friend who would do anything he could to keep us safe and happy.
We see him best through his Son. We can come to know God by becoming familiar with how Jesus lived and what He said and who He especially cared about. Then we can begin to see that they were people just like us. They were people who messed up at times, who were sick, and who were born into adverse conditions beyond their control with varying degrees from extreme poverty to extreme wealth. He treated them all the same and called them to live a life that was honorable and selfless in spite of their poverty or wealth, or affliction beyond their control or any other excuse they might have for settling for a life that devalued them. And He commanded them to love the Lord God with all their heart and their neighbor as themselves. This is quieting our self as a weaned child trusting that we are cared for by a loving parent who will see to it that in this moment regardless how uncertain everything is, we have everything we need. Even in our worst wilderness, we have everything we need.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Hebrews 11:1-3 NIV
For forty years, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. They didn’t trust God enough to help them take Canaan the Promised Land he was giving to them and so they wandered. They settled for an existence of quail and manna rather than have the courage and faith it would take to have the richer life God was offering them. The Hebrew definition of the word “wilderness” is nothing like I think wilderness should be – a forbidden place where only unpleasant, even life-threatening things can happen. On the website “The Ancient Hebrew Resource Center” the description of wilderness is given as follows, and I quote:
“Insights into why God had chosen the wilderness for their wanderings can be found in the roots of this word. The root word is ‘davar’ and is most frequently translated as a thing or a word. The original picture painted by this word to the Hebrews is the arrangement of things to create order. Speech is an ordered arrangement of words. In the ancient Hebrew mind words are ‘things’ and are just as ‘real’ as food or other ‘thing’. When a word is spoken to another it is ‘placed in the ear’ no different than when food is given to another it is ‘placed in the mouth’. ” (End of quote)
Everything Jesus said and did was from His Hebrew background. Knowing what that is helps us to understand the Scriptures better. Jesus went into a mountain in what is called the Sinai Wilderness for 40 days as He prepared for His ministry. This place was a desertscape where the ecosystem is built upon the need for very little water. It was a treacherous place not meant for the human body over a long period especially without water. This account is one of the greatest evidences of Christ’s humanity. He was God in the flesh but was still seeking communion to know God, His heavenly father and the task ahead. He sought to know God in a human way – prayer and fasting for the purpose of seeking a deeper level of communion without the world’s distraction. In this, He showed us a way to know God. At the end of the forty days in His weakened state, He used memorized Scripture from the Torah or Old Testament to counter the temptations launched by Satan to destroy Him. In that, He showed us that it wasn’t any supernatural power He was employing but, the faith He had in the power of God’s words, a faith any of us can attain. This helps us understand a little more about the Hebrew perception that words are things just as food is a thing and can transform any situation in which you find yourself. His use of Scripture that has been given through the Holy Spirit brings us to know God. “Yada” the Hebrew word for “knowing” appears in the Hebrew version of the book of Exodus several times. They believed that to “yada” God was to experience him daily- logically, emotionally and spiritually.
Everything Jesus did He told us we could do and more. John 14:12 NIV ”I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
However, the Pharisees used the Scriptures to oppress others and get gain. Jesus came to counter that and be that challenging contrast so we would recognize oppression when we saw and experienced it and take action to protect ourselves and those in our community who are vulnerable.
It is possible for the Holy Spirit to transform our lives as we change our belief system and realize the access we have to peace and personal strength through Jesus Christ to know God, the only one who knows us and the calling we have. As we study, we will become aware of the oppression and control that is in each of our lives brought on by people like Christ dealt with in His brief ministry. Claim John 14:12 and realize change through faith.
Another way to know God came in the way Jesus loved. He describes love and he shows us how to love and to give it unconditionally. We know too in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world (us) that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus had to be capable of sin in order for His temptation experience to be genuine. He had to be human in order for his suffering and dying to be real. The “everlasting life” spoken of isn’t just about the hereafter but our quality of life today and every day.
Love is a key theme that runs throughout the Scriptures. “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times in Psalm 136.
One Sunday morning on the way to a baptism service at Simms Lake, near Willow Springs an account that I had heard on the news came to mind and I felt it was to be related to the congregation before the baptism. I was a little resistant because of its graphic nature and the fact that a young boy was being baptized, but I knew that it encompassed very well what this service was about. Here is that account:
The sporadic shots from assault rifles ringing out were being heard throughout the mall. People in sheer panic began running to find cover. Terrorists were fanning out through the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya in Africa. Over the three-day siege 67 were killed and 200 wounded. Four gunman with assault rifles were finding people where they hid in storage rooms in the shops and killing them. One desperate woman came across a dead child on the floor, lying in his own blood. The woman knelt beside him, and in her words did something that was unspeakable to do but necessary if she was to live. She rubbed the child’s blood on her face and lay down beside him. It wasn’t long and she was discovered by one terrorist but passed over as he decided she was already dead. The blood of this child saved her life.
How do we know and measure the love of God as we recite John 3:16 without feeling this sacrifice at a deep personal level because it’s meant to be very personal.
Imagine our community where there is a belief system that all are called to a higher purpose and that as we love our neighbor as ourselves we will facilitate each one’s purpose and at last know God through each other.