“He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
“Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
“Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.” (Psalm 106:43)
“Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.“Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:5-6)
There is a phrase in Romans 1:24 that always gives me pause when I read it: “God gave them over.”
In its context, Paul is talking about the history of man’s rebellion against God and how the Lord simply let people have the corrupt life they want. The Greek word is paradidomi, which is also used and translated as “arrested” in Matthew 4:12 to describe what happened to John the Baptist.
Once you’ve been given over, in other words, it’s like being incarcerated, a serious reduction in your freedom and rights. It’s analogous to being given “into the hands of the nations” in Psalm 106, above, possibly referring to the time of Judges. Or the captivity such as Judah suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
I have been given over a handful of times in my life as a believer—and I emphasize this was after my conversion, not before. The best illustration—only in the sense that is especially apt, not because there was anything admirable about it—was my romantic relationship with a woman when we were Johns Hopkins students. (More about it here.)
After the Lord told me to break off the relationship, it’s not as if I gave up hoping against hope that I had “heard wrong”—a foolish lapse in logic if there ever was one. If a significant change in direction is needed in your life—and this surely qualified in my life at that moment–you can be absolutely sure the Lord will make his will abundantly clear to facilitate your obedience.
Discerning God’s will is not a game of twenty questions, it’s not a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma and it’s not revealed by “emptying your mind” to have him fill it.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Ps 32:8). I don’t know how much clearer you can be—excuse the redundancy—about clarity.
Nevertheless, I persisted. (Hmmm. Maybe I should print that on a tee-shirt and sell it . . .) I became an uber-legalist about my contact with her: no dates, no meals, no movies, but obvious detours to catch a glimpse of her or occasional conversations OK, etc. This went on for months because I was so much in love. Given over to love.
One day, my roommate and I were having a conversation, he paused, and then said quite matter-of-factly, “You’re beating a dead horse.” I knew in an instant what he meant. And in half an instant after that also knew he was right. And then I went on doing the same things I had been doing for months without missing a beat.
As I wrote in that previous post, love is not just pink carnations, cloying texts embroidered with emojis or dreaming about the time we walked hand-in-hand along the river and you gave me that look that just melted my heart.
Love is a very powerful force. A desperate parent who realizes her child is missing will run back into a burning house to look for her, oblivious to the obvious danger to herself. Self-preservation is a pretty strong impulse, too, but love can overtake even that. “Love is as strong as death” (Song 8:6)—literally.
In fact, that’s what it takes spiritually to overcome our most cherished loves that compete with our love for God—death to self. If you’ve read my posts in the past, you’ll recognize this immediately as a recurring theme here. The “lose your life to find it” mechanism is what, in my opinion, drives discipleship like a quartz movement powers a watch. (More about that here.)
I wrote in the previous post about the disastrous consequences of “asking for a king,” as Israel did in 1 Samuel 8. Since the upholstery was getting a little shiny, the people asked Samuel for a change in leadership: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (v. 5).
Every time I’ve started to think about the “come out and be separate” impulse that has produced divisions followed by further divisions and then even finer distinctions that cause yet more divisions, the Lord keeps directing me downward—to the root.
And the root is right there: We want a king like everybody else has. I’ll give you one admittedly silly example which nevertheless illustrates what’s been at work dividing the church ad infinitum.
When I lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a neighboring family invited us to their nondenominational church for a Sunday service. It was pleasant enough and the people were friendly. But I never really got interested, so I didn’t become a regular.
Months later, my neighbor stopped by just to talk and told us about a conflict in that church that had been simmering for a while. Half the church wanted to retain “traditional” worship and the other half wanted “contemporary.” (They’re in quotes because both terms can be so elastic as to be meaningless, but I think you get the gist of what I’m saying.)
As you’re probably aware, many churches resolve this dilemma by conducting two Sunday services, each one devoted to their respective worship styles. Why this church didn’t do that I have no idea.
Instead, apparently after some tense “discussions,” it was agreed that the “contemporary” group—separate worship team from the “traditional”—could have so many minutes allotted to their style (actual amount lost to history; I can’t remember). And then the “traditional” group took over—all in the same service
But that didn’t end the tension. The “traditional” side was practically monitoring the elapsed time with a stopwatch. I don’t think I need to go on. As a matter of fact just the memory of it is going to make me snort my coffee right through my nose, so in the interest of protecting my laptop I’ll stop.
This is—what exactly?—Embarrassing? Childish? Comical? Pathetic? How about given over? But given over to what?
To having a king—”as all the other nations have,” as all the other churches have, as each one of us wants things to be. King Me.
And here is where we must take a few steps back and ask ourselves: When we pray for “revival,” when we ask God to “restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances” (Isa 49:8), when we wonder, Is it time for us to ‘come out and be separate’?–to what lengths are we willing to go to be separate?
Is it “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” different, or something that really is different?
You will “sow with tears” when you start to die to self. I can’t put it another way because there is no other way. But “those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” You can take it from someone who knows.
(Illustration of three kings, who bowed before Jesus)