Those Who Plan Peace Have Joy

My five-year-old son just finished his first season of soccer on Wednesday.  By Thursday,  he was asking me, “When does soccer start again?’

I guess that means the season was a success.

He headed out to his first practice in February and even the absolutely bitterly freezing cold didn’t dampen his soccer spirit. He was happy to practice and happy to  play (especially defense so he could chat with his other teammates and listen to them tell jokes).

My son is a pretty social guy.

After two weeks in the season, though, every time I said, “It’s almost time for soccer,” he always had one question to ask:

“Is it a practice or a game?”

He’d had a deep revelation about soccer, something he didn’t realize in advance and really hadn’t anticipated.

Games are hard.

Practices are super fun.  He could run across the field, touch his toes, do some toe taps on the ball, dribble to the goal, and all those practice activities.

The idea of a game even sounded fun at first:  All those kids on the field at the same time plus all the people on the sidelines watching, family cheering  you on, snacks at the end of the game.

What’s not to love?

My son says it best: “When there’s another team trying to take the ball away, soccer is just harder.”

I get that.

It’s the opposition he doesn’t like and who,  after all, wants an enemy?   Who would rather have conflict than peace?

I read about this contrast in Proverbs:

Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20 CSB).

I posted this verse up on my fridge almost two years ago and I keep it up because I’m still mulling this over and meditating on what it really means to be a promoter of peace.  Or, as other translations say: A person of peace.  A planner of peace.  A counselor of peace.  A lover of peace.  

When you don’t have anyone needling your soul with conflict or judgment, disagreement or criticism it’s pretty easy to promote peace and to have joy.

But the Psalmist knew that even when we long for peace, we sometimes (maybe even often!) live among those who don’t.

In Psalm 120, the Psalmist mourns:

I have dwelt too long
with those who hate peace.
I am for peace; but when I speak,
they are for war (Psalm 120:6-7 CSB). 

And that’s where the Psalm ends.  This jars my heart a bit because most Psalms make a movement from despair to praise, from conflict to hope in the Lord.  But this Psalm lingers in a place of sadness.

The Psalmist wants peace but those around him want war.

The end.

Psalm over.

Most of us know what that feels like.  After a prolonged time of conflict or discouragement or even maybe just annoyance, we feel battle-weary, worn-out, emptied out, and plain out done-in.

Barnes’s Notes on the Bible say:

There are many trials in human life, but there are few which are more galling, or more hard to bear than this….It has been an injury to me; to my piety, to my comfort, to my salvation. it has vexed me, tried me, hindered me in my progress in the divine life.

So what hope is there for us peacemakers who live in a land of war?

We stumble on landmines of unexpected conflict and it tumbles us into pain, distraction, and wound recovery.  It’s hard to  serve Jesus when battle wounds are on our mind and the sadness of opposition is on our heart.

My son thought maybe he could practice and enjoy everything about soccer and just not go to the games.

But I realized as I read Psalm 120 again today that the Psalmist made another choice.

This Psalm is the first in a series of fifteen chapters called The  Psalms of  Ascent, which were sung by pilgrims on the trip up to Jerusalem during the three major feasts.

So, I turn to Psalm 121 and I continue the Psalmist’s thought. He lived too long among those who loved war….but:

I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 CSB).

We make the pilgrimage closer to Him–because HE is our peace.   We  don’t rush the process.  We look up rather than looking back at the sludge of conflict.  We press on with other pilgrims, traveling together, choosing not to abandon hope in others completely.  And we sing praises along the way because worship redirects our hearts back to the Prince of Peace Himself.

It’s a journey where we peace-loving pilgrims heal up one faithful forward -moving step at a time.

Look at Me (The Teacher’s Mantra)

psalm 121

Look at me.

Look, look, look at me.

You’re not looking at me.

You need to look at me.

Look. At. Me.

Please.

That’s what she’s going to say this morning to the adorable and restless group of four-year-olds who are practicing their songs for their spring program.

She’s a teacher who knows these little cherubs will be just fine if they focus their eyes on her.

They’ll know when to start singing.  They’ll know what words to sing.  They’ll know when to stop singing and when to rest instead of barreling right through the song so they can get to the big finish.

But they’re four.

And they’re excited.

They are also occasionally annoyed with each other for various infractions such as not sitting in the right place, talking when they aren’t supposed to be talking, touching someone else’s hair, or messing up the singing.

They are eager to wave at the piano player (that’s me) while climbing up the steps to the stage, which inevitably holds up the rest of the line.

They are distracted by the child next to them, the child in front of them, and their own fingernails which apparently merit their undivided attention in the middle of a song.

So, no matter how many times their ever-patient teacher says, “Look at me,’ they forget.

And they look away, maybe at their neighbor or their fingers or the pianist.  They look anywhere and everywhere but at the teacher.

Then there is the miracle moment, that one microsecond in time when the whole class actually looks at the teacher and we all smile back at them because they just sound great and their parents are going to take tons of pictures and post lots of videos on Facebook because four-year-olds are awesome.

Here’s the truth, though.

Preschooler aren’t the only ones who are easily distracted.

I know another choir directer in her nineties and I’ll tell you what she has to say to her own adult choir all the time.

Look at me.

Let’s be honest.  Most of the time that’s probably what God is saying to us.

We’re a distractable lot, us humans, easily caught up in everything around us and everything within us.  We may grow up, but we don’t necessarily grow out of it.

We’re distracted by others around us.

Why are they doing that?  It’s invading my space.  It’s so annoying.  She is doing it wrong!  That not right and it’s not fair!

She sings better than me.  Why is she so perfect?  How come I can’t look like her or sing like her or act like her?

We’re perpetually distracted by circumstances.

The bills are too much.  The job is too difficult.  The marriage is too strained.  The kids are too lost.  This is hopeless and impossible.

We’re distracted by our own inner voices.

You are a failure.  You’re a mess.  I give up!  I cannot do this.  I’m not capable.  It’s just too hard.  I’m not equipped, not strong enough, not sufficient!

We’re whining and complaining.  Maybe flat out freaking out.  Throwing a tantrum.  Collapsing under the strain of anxiety.

But God is saying what He’s always said:  Look.  At.  Me.

The Psalmist wrote:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

It’s an ascension Psalm, one in a series of songs the Jewish travelers would sing during their climb up to Jerusalem for the feasts and celebrations, a traveler’s hymn and a pilgrim’s chorus.

And, aren’t we all travelers here?

The journey had its dangers.  Stumbling over rocks (verse 3), heat stroke and even moonstroke (verse 6).

Life is dangerous still.

But the promise is there.  Our help doesn’t come from looking down at our clumsy feet.  It doesn’t come from looking to the mountains, the sun, the moon, our fellow travelers, or the evil that threatens to overpower us.

We don’t need to look anywhere at all except at the Lord because our help comes from Him.

The Psalmist repeats a thought, over and over again like the rhythm of the waves beating against a shore:

    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper….

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121 ESV).

The Lord is your keeper.

Look at Him for guidance, for encouragement, for help, for strength, for assurance, for conviction, for compassion, for salvation, for provision, for direction.

Look at Him.

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

 

Help!

They say knowledge is power, but language has its own particular potency.

After all, when you can finally cram all of your emotion, thoughts, and need into one or two perfect words, it helps relieve the pressure.

It was true for my oldest daughter when she was still wobbling between baby and toddler.  My job as a mom was to help harness some of her passion, help her direct some of that God-given strength—all by showing her how to put into words what she needed and how she was feeling.

But at little more than one years old, what is there to say?

So I taught her one powerful word to capture my attention instead of tantrums, screaming  514885-R1-24-24fits, and bouts with hysteria that turned her face red and plain wore mommy out.

“Help!”

When you can’t figure out the puzzle, when the toy isn’t working, when you can’t reach, when your buttons won’t fasten….. when life is difficult and you just can’t do it on your own and you’re collapsing into rage and tears of frustration and failure….”Help!” is all you need say.

It quickly became the favorite, most oft-used word in her vocabulary.  “Help, Mommy” I’d hear all through the day.

What I failed to teach her, though, was how to gauge the seriousness of the situation and adjust the volume and tone of her “help” accordingly.

Thus, friends on the phone would hear my little one screaming “Help! Help!” at the top of her lungs when all she needed was the top yanked off a marker or a new outfit buttoned on her baby doll.

I can’t say I’ve figured it out any more than she did, when to scream out “help” in desperation and when to quietly lift my hands high for assistance, when to whisper hushed pleas for intervention and when to just sob and let the Holy Spirit intercede for me.

But I know that sometimes, maybe lots of the time, what I need is help.  It’s not any more complicated than that.  I can pray at God (or nag at Him) for hours; I can explain and complain, whine and appeal.

Really, though, “Help” would do just fine.

The Psalmist knew this.  He asked, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121).

It’s a traveler’s Psalm, a song of ascension sung by the Israelite pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem to worship.  The Psalmist literally lifts his eyes higher and higher along the skyline, a reminder of just how small he really is—just a regular guy on a valley trail beside the vastness of a mountain’s peak.

So, where to look for help?  To nature, to fellow travelers, to the material goods he’s packed neatly into his bags for the journey?  To false gods who weren’t even mighty enough to create the very mountains in his view?

No, he declares, “my help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

God formed these very mountains.  He’s so grand, so magnificent, so creative, so capable. All of these other idols I’ve been looking to are weak, helpless, disappointing, and distracting. 

And if I’m screaming out for “help” or dropping to my knees in a confession of weakness, it’s a God that mighty I need to answer.

And He does answer.  That one word, “help,” always gets His attention.

The pilgrims explain it in metaphors from their journey.  How does God help?

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
  indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
  the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

Protection from scorching heat and the coolness of night, the rocks along the path and the obstacles in the road; this is what God gives them.  This is what He gives us.

In the original Hebrew, the Psalmist pushes His point in verses 7 and 8, saying essentially: “The Lord is your protector! The Lord will protect you from all harm! The Lord will protect your life! The Lord will protect your coming and going now and always!” (Beth Moore, Stepping Up).

Our translations soften the repetition, saying instead

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

But the intent  of the repetition is to say it so clearly and so often, to repeat it so much that even a forgetful, wayward, worrier of a soul like me can’t miss this promise:

The Lord Will Protect You.

We only need lift our eyes to His face and ask for His help.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King