When I was a kid I remember Dad explaining that in order to make sure your lines in a field are straight when cultivating don’t try to steer and follow the previous pass, but instead keep your eyes fixed on a point in the distance and aim the tractor for that point. I’m pretty sure he taught that lesson not so much because he thought I’d be working a field some day, but because there is a spiritual parallel to this found in Hebrews 12:2 about fixing our eyes on Jesus rather than the circumstances around us.
It’s a valuable truth I’ve needed in life, but it turns out this past week I also needed the cultivating lesson because my GPS auto-steering quit working on my tractor. You know it’s much more tiring actually having to drive the tractor back and forth across the field instead of just making the turnaround at the ends? It takes a lot of concentration and Dad’s old lesson came back to me in a profound way. But I discovered another angle to that truth . . . literally.
We usually cultivate the fields immediately following harvest and then again later in the fall after fertilizing to work it in. I did the first pass at a cross angle of about 20 degrees off square then the second pass I did at 10 degrees so as to cross cultivate the first pass without the trip getting too rough. Doing this created a very strange optical illusion. Because the lines from the first pass were such a close angle to the second I kept getting the sensation that the tractor was tracking slightly sideways, kind of like a dog’s hind end does. My eye kept falling to the first pass line and it took constant concentration to focus on the true line and keep my orientation square.
It occurred to me that sin is like that. Larry Crabb makes a distinction between obvious sin and insidious sin. Obvious sin is when I am tempted to, for example, be dishonest. Insidious sin occurs when I resist and choose to be honest but in my mind begin to be proud of my righteousness. My focus has moved slightly off square, off of Jesus’ righteousness and my absolute dependence on him. It’s insidious because I may be still behaving right, but inwardly I have become an idolater worshiping my own goodness.
The cure? Same truth Dad told me: fix my eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for my sin.
What motivates your thankfulness? I’m sure all of us can remember our parents reminding us to say thank-you when someone gave us a present or did us some favor. But a truly thankful heart is more of a lifestyle than simply responding when someone has done something nice for us. This is especially true of our thankfulness to God.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving I’ve been reading some of the Psalms that express thankfulness and I’ve discovered that being thankful is as much about worship in response to God revealing himself and his nature to us as it is gratefulness for the blessings we receive from him. And sometimes the circumstances that God reveals himself to us are not always pleasant. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a prisoner in Siberia came to know the reality of God in his life while incarcerated and as a result was able to write “Thank-you prison for being in my life.”
Most of us have never experienced anything that extreme, but all of us have had circumstances, and often people that God has used to shape us and shape his nature in us. For me one of the most significant developmental circumstances was getting fired and the man God used was Robert Plante.
Robert attended the church my dad pastored and was a key leader in it. He worked with his brother at a heating/cooling company and offered me a job shortly after I finished high school. It started well, but within six months my easy-going (read lazy) nature got the best of me and my performance at work began to slide.
There were a number of times that Robert tried to give me some words of wisdom, but one day in particular stands out. We were out on a job and I was supposed to be assisting him, but I was always waiting for him to tell me what to do. Finally he said to me “watch, and look for what needs to be done.” It sounds pretty obvious now but at that point I hadn’t figured it out.
Unfortunately it still took me getting fired before I began to get it, which must have been really hard for Robert. But I am so thankful he did. Not only did I learn a valuable life lesson, but ultimately a spiritual lesson about being attentive to God as well. I am genuinely thankful for being fired, but I can assure you at the time it was not pleasant.
So again, what causes you to be thankful?
When I was a kid at camp we used to sing a song taken from Psalm 25 called “Unto Thee O Lord.” There’s a line from that Psalm that says “let me not be ashamed.” I always understood that to mean help me not to sin so I won’t be ashamed, but I misunderstood that.
According to Strong’s Bible Dictionary the Hebrew word implies being ashamed but at the same time it also implies being disappointed or let down. But what or who is he asking to not be ashamed and disappointed in? In a word, God. In the line immediately before that he states that he has placed his trust in God and later in the Psalm he implies, as Isaiah 28:16 affirms, that no one who places their trust in God will ever be put to shame.
What does it mean to be ashamed of God? Maybe this will help. I’m a huge Edmonton Eskimo fan and this year, as always, I have placed my trust in the Eskimos to win. If you know anything about the CFL this year you can see where this is going. I have been ashamed and disappointed, particularly in front of my “enemy”: Calgary Stampeder fans.
So when he says no one who puts their trust in God will ever be put to shame does that mean that I’ll always “win” in life? That God fixed all of the writer’s (David) problems? Not if you look towards the end of the Psalm. He was lonely and afflicted, he was in anguish and the troubles of his heart had multiplied. He was in distress, his enemies had increased and they hated him fiercely. Some of you are saying that it kinda sounds like your life.
We would like our stories to end “and they lived happily ever after,” but in this life there will always be more adversity. So what David is telling us is that his trust is in God and there is no circumstance, adversity, or even tragedy that can cause him to be disappointed in God.
I think we have sometimes given the idea that if you pray hard enough, and trust God that he will make your life all better. That’s wrong. But if you are more desperate for Jesus than you are to be free of your worst problems, heartaches, and pain he promises you will not be ashamed. There are greater things at stake than your life getting fixed: Jesus, your relationship with him, and eternity. And it starts now.