Sunday, November 29, 2020

Bubble Mowers & Psalm 146

It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I haven’t been able to sleep.

A peek at my study of Psalm 146
Maybe it's from three days of rich food {there’s lots of leftovers when you prepare a full Thanksgiving feast for only four people}. Maybe it's because I miss being with extended family for the holiday. Maybe it's because I have kids who have problems I need to solve. Even though they don't realize they have problems. Maybe I'm creating problems. Maybe I'm the problem. 

Yeah. It's because of all that. And, you know, also that we're living in the middle of a pandemic.

Anyhoo. Instead of stewing in my thoughts, I decided to get up and read the psalm that my small group will be studying together this week (bundled up and distanced outside).

And, as He always does, God met me in Psalm 146 with balm for my anxious, angry, helpless self.

This psalm literally begins and ends with a Hallelujah. There is so much praise in this psalm

The psalmist calls us to praise so many times, because there are so many things to praise God for. Here's the psalmist's list:

  • He made heaven and earth
  • He keeps faith forever
  • He brings about justice for the oppressed
  • He feeds the hungry
  • He sets prisoners free
  • He opens the eyes of the blind
  • He lifts up people who are bowed down
  • He guards strangers
  • He upholds widows and orphans 

What a compassionate, powerful, personal God we have! He has and is and will continue to be all of these things to me and to you and to us as we walk, run or stumble through life...

As I read through this list a few times, it eventually  occurred to me that these are not only things that God does abundantly, but they are also all things God calls us to do, throughout Scripture, too. Me.

I'm supposed to work, and have faith, and do justice. God tells me to feed the hungry, set prisoners free and bring light to people's darkness. He tells me to help people who are oppressed or depressed. To stand up for immigrants and care for widows and orphans. God tells me - us - to do all of these things.

But, what about when I can't? Or don't? Or we won'tWhich is where so much pain and hurt and anger and helplessness sweep in, no matter who we are. Because none of us does these things all the time, or very well at that.

And so I backed up and started reading again. And I realized that a verse I'd considered to be a separate thought from the praises, is actually inextricably tied to them.

This recounting of everything God does - and that He commands us to do throughout  Scripture - is preceded by a warning to not put our trust in mortals. 

The juxtaposition in my head between God’s ability and reliability to do these things and mine,  reminded me of when God repeatedly tells His people to "Be holy, for I am holy." Which is absolutely, metaphysically, impossible.

And that is precisely why we cannot put our hope and trust in the ability of mortals - me or you or anyone else - to ultimately pull these things off. Because:

    • Only His work is perfect
    • Only His faith is perfect
    • Only His justice is perfect
    • Only His sustenance is perfect
    • Only His rescue is perfect
    • Only His revelation is perfect
    • Only His lifting up is perfect
    • Only His love is perfect
    • Only His guarding is perfect
    • Only His advocacy is perfect

And that is exactly why we praise Him! He is and does everything that we are not and cannot.

Which is why the psalmist warns us to not trust in mere mortals. We will hurt each other. Disappoint each other. Anger each other. We will hurt, disappoint and anger ourselves, for Pete's sake. And, if 2020 is any indication, we will relentlessly tear one another apart in our zealousness to prove that everyone else falls short of God's perfection and His call.  

And there's the rub. On one hand, I must be passionate about these things. I am, after all, created in the image of the One who does them perfectly. So my very being should be straining to pour myself out in all these ways. And so should yours.

Yet, on the other hand, all of my attempts to love my neighbors in these ways - even the ones under my very own roof - are imperfect at best. Deeply flawed and selfish at worst. 

As I wrestled with this in my heart, the Spirit whispered a verse in my head:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as children dearly loved." Ephesians 5:1

We are imitators. I am an imitator. I am not the real thing. I can and must aspire to imitate the ways God works and loves, but I will never act on any of these things perfectly. And neither will you, this side of heaven. Expecting myself or anyone else - my spouse, my friends, my government, my church - to do so is...idolatry, really.

from the Fisher-Price online bubble mower game

Then, after giving me a verse, the Spirit gave me a mental picture. Did you ever have a bubble mower? Well, that’s the image that came. 

Because, like a small child pushing a bubble mower next to a parent who is pushing the real thing, I can stick close to the expert. I can look up, and be inspired and energized. I can follow His gaze and see all the yuck around me, and I can work my hardest to help smooth the rough edges of people’s lives, to spur growth, to bring beauty. And all the while, I can maneuver in tandem with the Expert, glad that He's invited me to join in the work, and growing with every step I take with Him. 

And, then, in those {frequent} moments when I realize that my plastic blade fails to leave perfectly crisp diagonal swaths like God's blade does, I will not berate myself for my humanity, but will instead praise Him for His perfection all the more.