Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Land of Hills and Valleys

For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables.  But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. – Deuteronomy 11:10-12

Down in Egypt where little rain fell, the fields could be watered by drawing from the Nile River.  There in the flood plains and bottoms of the Nile, a farmer could irrigate with human or animal power running screws or pumps of some kind.  The land of Canaan was not that way.  There might be streams in the hills, and wells could be dug, but, unlike the vast and seemingly infinite water of the Nile, these sources were limited and sometimes unreliable. 

If no rain fell in Canaan, the little streams stopped running and the water table quickly dropped, draining the wells.  Man soon reached the limits of his ability.  The Israelites entering their Promised Land would have to rely on God.  Through Christ, we, too, may enter a new land.  We may leave behind us the old nature and the world system that Egypt represents.  And, just like the Israelites, we will have to leave behind our faith in man’s power to produce virtue, wholeness, meaning, and satisfaction. 

I think I expected my life to be a flat land.  When I thought about peace and contentment, I saw it as ease and certainty.  The old “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is true, as far as it goes.  It’s also true that giants have your stuff and are not willing to give it up without a hot and bloody fight.  Once you have succeeded in driving out the enemy, you will find your inheritance consists of a lot of hills and valleys – ups and downs.  Some of our land around here is like that.  My brother bought a little 80-acre farm.  Dad looked it over and said, “Well, the good thing is you can farm three sides of it, and if you could iron it out, you’d probably have around 240 acres.”

The undulating nature of life can make it seem as if we are making no progress.  Sometimes we are up on the top, walking in the light.  Other times we are down in the hollows, shadowed and unable to see what lies ahead.  Nevertheless, God has promised to be with us, to keep watch over our lives regardless of our elevation.  The Lord’s eyes are on us as well whether we are barren and cold as winter, plowing and planting in faith as spring, enjoying growth and beauty as summer, or harvesting and rejoicing as fall.    

The temptation for me is to take care of it.  I am a problem-solver and a fixer.  If I have a catch-phrase – a printable one – it’s probably, “I’ll take care of that.”  I seem to say that all the time.  There are a lot of things I can take care of, and the same is true for all of us.  When it’s time to plow, I ought to plow.  I have a part to do.  But you can plow too much.  One of my favorite Bob Wills’ songs is “Cottonpatch Blues”.  You plow those old long, straight rows, busting the middles until the cotton gets a little height.  After that, you have to get the hoe down and chop the cotton – “Don’t go down there without your file,” Bob adds.  Finally, when the picking time comes in the fall, all you need is your cotton sack to drag and fill.   You can do all you can, but if the Lord doesn’t send the rain, there isn’t going to be any harvest. 

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)   

When it comes right down to it, there is no use lying awake at night worrying about it.  The process is and will always be something of a mystery to us.  The land of promise is the land of faith.

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