Parched Place

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time.

“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. (Zechariah 2:10 NIV)

Recently, reading my Bible I saw in the notes that the word Zion means “parched place.” That startled me. What? Parched place? Zion which is called the “joy of the whole earth,” “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2), the place where God dwells, a parched place? In the New Testament it stands for the Church triumphant. It is the place where God lays the “chosen and precious cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6). Why would God name it a word that means “parched place,” extremely thirsty, dry, even gasping?

At first, I thought about how God desires a relationship with us, how He wants to be desired and to be wanted in return. God yearns for Zion to be a thirsty place, a place of longing, a place of “acute desire” as A.W. Tozer put it, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”[i] Jesus said he wished us to be either hot or cold, not lukewarm. He wants us to desire him as much as he desires us. Like so much else in our relationship with God he wants it to be mutual (see The Mutual Gaze)

But then I realized that I was thinking about it all backwards. Yes, God passionately desires us. But he mostly calls us a parched place because we are. Without him we are a dry and arid place.

I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Psalm 143:6 (NLT)

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 (NLT)

We are the Israelites in the desert, dying of thirst (Exodus 17:1-6). Our Rock has been struck for us and the Water of Life pours out, but sometimes we still don’t drink.

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time. I feel a need, it is just not the need to drink. My Dad tells me that sometimes when we are thirsty, we mistake the feeling for hunger and try to eat to satisfaction. That’s what I do. I stuff in more food, that actually causes worse dehydration, when all I really want and need is a drink of water. I need to put up a sign to remind myself: Drink More Water. Pretty pitiful. In the same way, we want and need him, we are dying of thirst for him. But many times we just don’t connect the thirst of our souls with the Water we crave. We try to fill our lives with other stuff, but it doesn’t work.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (NIV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6 (NASB) (see Jeremiah 23:6)

Lord, I am an arid desert. I thirst. I crave. I reach out. Help me know and remember that it is you I’m reaching for, you I desire. Dwell in me. Only you will satisfy my need. When I’m stuffing myself with thorns and briars – anything to fill the need – lead me to the water. Remind me to drink more water.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

 

Image in the Public Domain

He Will Circle You With Joy

For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you (is in your midst, is with you).

He is a mighty savior (He is strong, brave, valiant to save, deliver, liberate, rescue, give victory).

He will rejoice (exult) over you with great gladness (exceeding joy, rejoicing). With his love, he will calm all your fears (quiet you, rest).

He will exult over you by singing a happy song (He will circle you with joy, spin around with violent emotion, with a ringing cry, singing, shouts of praise, rejoicing, joy, triumph).

Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Chase Me Down

I am sure that God has felt, many times in my life, like he was chasing down a fleeing two-year-old.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6 (NIV)

In this Psalm of the Shepherd there is this curious verse. I always think of the shepherd as leading the sheep, and indeed in verses 2 and 3 “he leads me” and “he guides me.” But here goodness and mercy follow. What does that mean? It gets even more interesting when you look at the Hebrew meaning of the word. All of you who have ever chased down a two-year old heading for a busy street will understand this verse.

The Hebrew word translated “follow” in this verse is radaph – רָדַף. It means to run after or pursue. A couple of versions do translate it this way (NLT and Message). It is a much more passionate word than a wimpy English “follow,” like a puppy on a leash. Most people would not indifferently follow a toddler out into a busy street. Radaph means to follow after aiming eagerly to secure, pursue, chase down, pursue ardently, harass, persecute. Those last two meanings may sound weird in this context, but the word is actually mostly used in a hostile sense in the Bible, as in an enemy pursuing me – “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground” (Psalm 143:3). It is also used a few times to describe the pursuit of righteousness or justice, as in Proverbs 21:21. “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

Abraham (then Abram) and David, as foreshadowers of the Good Shepherd and types of the passionate heart of God, go after (radaph) and rescue family members that have been kidnapped.

During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing (radaph) them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (Genesis 14:15-16 NIV)

And He [the Lord] said to [David], “Pursue (radaph), for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all” … So David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives. But nothing of theirs was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that they had taken for themselves; David brought it all back. (1 Samuel 30:8, 18-19 NASB)

Both Abram and David recovered all. None were missing (see John 6:39, 10:29).

But, radaph is only used this one time in Psalm 23 for God in his goodness and mercy ardently pursuing us, chasing us down, so passionate and intense that it can feel like harassment or persecution. The NetBible Translator’s Notes explains this seeming paradox.

 The use of רָדַף (radaf, “pursue, chase”) with טוֹב וָחֶסֶד (tov vakhesed, “goodness and faithfulness”) as subject is ironic. This is the only place in the entire OT where either of these nouns appears as the subject of this verb רָדַף (radaf, “pursue”). This verb is often used to describe the hostile actions of enemies. One might expect the psalmist’s enemies to chase him, but ironically God’s “goodness and faithfulness” (which are personified and stand by metonymy for God himself) pursue him instead. The word “pursue” is used outside of its normal context in an ironic manner and creates a unique, but pleasant word picture of God’s favor (or a kind God) “chasing down” the one whom he loves.

“Chasing down the one whom he loves!” That’s you and me – glorious love! And oh yes, I am sure that God has felt, many times in my life, like he was chasing down a fleeing two-year-old. And I have felt like that kid running away from restricting hands, laughing as I run out into traffic, angry as I am dragged back from what I wanted to do, my will, my plan. Totally not getting it.

Goodness and Mercy pursue me – yes! chase me down – all the days of my life! That I may dwell in your house, in your flock, forever.

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? Matthew 8:12 (NASB)

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10 (NIV)

 

 

Image Public Domain, By Emma Frances Logan, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61776928

Jesus wept

I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

I have always read about sharing in Christ’s sufferings (the Message translates it as “be a partner in his suffering”) as physical suffering, like persecution, being physically harmed or imprisoned. And it definitely does include that facet. Paul said, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). But, that word translated “sufferings” – pathema – has a distinct emotional side. Its base is the Greek word pathos, which means “a feeling which the mind suffers” and “subjectively, a passion.” It’s the reason why Christ suffered physically on the cross – “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” For God so loved the world that he gave.

I recently started working in a jail ministry and I know now, because I have felt it, that these sufferings also include carrying the pain of a lost world, people hopeless, afflicted, in horrible pain of regret and guilt. People staring at the next 20 years in prison, missing their kids growing up, knowing the consequences are unending. In fact, I’m thinking that the sufferings of Christ were, and are, mostly heart pain. Mostly, mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), mostly, carrying the afflictions of soul and spirit.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows (anguish, grief, pain, sorrow). Isaiah 53:4 (NIV)

Jesus wept with those who wept. Jesus groaned and sighed with grief over their sufferings. Jesus was angry with those who refused to share this pain (Luke 13:15-16).

When I first visited the jail, the powerful passion of his love for these who most view as the lowest of the low astonished me, I am ashamed to admit. It is a physical heart-pain, almost unbearable. And I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection. The passion that raises the dead to life, gives hope to the hopeless, transforms lives. I want to know that power. But the only way to truly know it is to know Christ first, for there is no power, there is no life-giving passion, there is no resurrection apart from Him. “I am the resurrection and the life.” I walk in Him, plug into the life-giving sap of the Vine, and He fills me with His love.

Lord help me to know you and the power of your resurrection. Let me be like you in your death, take up my cross daily. Let me be a partner in your sufferings.

Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily (sighed with grief), and commanded, “Ephphatha!–Open up!” Mark 7:34 (MSG)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

In My Distress

The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. He reached down from on high and took hold of me;     he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. (Psalm 18:1-19 NIV)

I love this Psalm. The imagery of a passionate God tearing apart the earth to rescue me is breathtaking. And it reminds me of something that happened when I was twelve.

My little brother is eight years younger than me and could be very naughty when he wanted, which seemed most of time to his big sister. At four years old, he especially seemed to aggravate one of our neighbors with his antics. My mom tried her best and kept an eye on him out the kitchen window, and his big sister got to babysit. One day, when he was out playing he did something that was the proverbial “straw” and the neighbor raged out with a baseball bat raised high. I was paralyzed with shock, but in a blazing second, there was my mom standing between them, armed with nothing but her fury and the glorious passion of a mother. The earth truly did seem to quake at the smoke from her nostrils, the fire from her mouth, the bolts of lightening from her eyes – and the neighbor backed down fast. That picture is forever seared in my memory and is why I love Psalm 18 so much. The zeal of The Mom for her children – like a mother bear for her cubs – is a perfect picture of God’s love and zeal for us.

Remember that when you feel under attack, when you feel hopeless and helpless as a four year old child, when the enemy stands over you ready to crush you once and for all. Cry out to Jesus and he will come blazing out to rescue you. For he has already stood between – the Intercessor – he took all the blows meant for you. The Good Shepherd, like David, defending his sheep with his bare hands from the destroying lion. He will passionately rescue you. He will be there and hide you in his shadow and comfort.

He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us … We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. Luke 1:69-71, 74-75 (NLT)

The LORD will march forth like a mighty man (champion); he will come out like a warrior, full of fury (jealousy, zeal). He will shout (for joy, triumph) his thundering battle cry, and he will crush (prevail against) all his enemies (adversary, foe). Isaiah 42:13 (NLT)