Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"God-Impacted Life: Golden Hours, Golden Promises"

Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-29; Matthew 16:13-20

Once there was a golden hour of a golden day, and David the king felt good. He felt really good; and happy and thankful. It was such a golden hour of a golden day that he was simply, physically incapable of unhappiness. And in his happiness he wanted only one thing: he wanted to do something for God. What an hour, what a day!

We read it like this: ‘After the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”’ (2 Samuel 7:1-3)

The funny thing about understanding this particular story of David’s life is that some scholars think that this story is out of sequence. They think that it must have happened later, because David didn’t really have rest from all his enemies, yet.

There were still more enemies to face, and still more battles to fight. This story should come later, they say, because it was too soon for David to be so happy.

But I think that the scholars who say it was too soon for David to be happy and at rest don’t real understand how life works, or how God works in our life. Besides, if you read the Bible’s story of David’s life (unless it is leaving out something important), there was never a time in David’s life when he was at rest for long.

David never had an easy life. When David was a kid, he was the eighth son in a poor family. He was the spare boy, the one who stayed out with the sheep when the older brothers were at home being important.

As a young man he was called to serve King Saul, and play the harp and sing for him, because Saul was troubled by an evil spirit. Darkness would fall upon Saul’s mind. He would become obsessed by fears, and suspicions, and murderous rages. Saul was a danger to others. David was called to relieve Saul’s madness. It was not a pleasant thing to do, living a life centered upon another person’s insanity.

More than once, Saul tried to kill David. David became a fugitive, and the leader of a band of men who earned their living by protecting the settlers on the frontier, where the law and order of the kingdom was weak. David was a fugitive, with a price on his head, for years and years.

Then Saul was killed in battle. The tribe of Judah anointed David as its king. The other tribes anointed one of Saul’s surviving sons (Ishbosheth) to be their king, and the tribes fought over the kingship. The other little nations surrounding Israel used this conflict as an opportunity to raid and occupy parts of the land of Israel.
David’s rival for the kingship was betrayed and killed by his own people. And David became the king of a kingdom that had been the whipping boy of every other tribe and nation around them for centuries.

David fought some battles, and he was winning. He conquered the city of Jerusalem, and fortified it. He pulled his people together. He gave them more and more security, and they began to prosper. He built a house of cedar, for his palace; which meant that it had big cedar beams and pillars that could make big rooms, and big doors, and big windows where the evening breezes could blow; and wide porches to keep the rooms cool during the day.

All this was so good. It was so different from the way the rest of David’s life had been. And, yet, David’s job was (at best) only half done, and it was never really done. There were always battles, and rebellions. A couple of his own children would try to take control of the country away from him. He would have to fight and plot desperately, for his own survival, and the survival of his supporters, against his own family till the end of his life.

We have to remember the kind of life that David lived, as a whole, in order to understand the secret of David’s happiness during the golden hours of his golden days. The truth is that, if David had been a different kind of person, or, if David had had a different way of relating to God, he would never have noticed his golden hours and his golden days.

There were probably not many of those hours and days of his life, when David had nothing to worry about, when he had nothing to be unhappy about. And that’s just the truth.

But there is also another truth. David lived a God-impacted life. David lived his whole life in the presence of God. He sometimes lived in the presence of God very poorly, in ways that even he was ashamed of. But he often lived well, in the presence of God, and he enjoyed living in that presence.

The presence of God gave David rest. There were many narrow escapes from death. There were friends who stuck up for him, and stuck with him, at great risk to their own safety, because David’s own life was dangerous. That was how things were.

But the presence of God brought him many experiences of the gifts and the faithfulness of God. This knowledge of the presence of God gave David many golden hours and golden days.

Thinking about the happiness that David found in his new house makes me think about other houses that I have known.

When I was a child, my parents’ golden dream was to escape from southern California, where we lived, and move to a small town and build a house out in the country. We kids were infected with our parents’ dream. I know I was.

It was a good dream; a good plan. The way that it unfolded brought good things to my own life.

The big move happened when I was twelve. That was the first part of the unfolding plan. The other part was the house that my parents would design for themselves; the house that would be a home for all of us to grow up in. But we didn’t build that house and move into it until about six months before I went away to college. So, for my life, that part of the plan didn’t turn out as we had planned.

The completion of the golden dream did not serve its intended purpose, at least not in my life. In a sense, the day we moved into that house was the equivalent of the day when David was happy, and the Lord gave him rest from all his enemies. Only, for me, it didn’t last for long.

The good thing was that God gave to us, and to me, other golden hours and days along the way.

God seldom gives us a lot of time to rest. Even when we achieve a great dream, things change really fast. This is the way that time and the world work.

There were other golden hours and days in the years before the dream was achieved, and there were others after.

There were the years in the old farmhouse on the north end of town, where I could put a marble outside my bedroom door and it would roll clear across the floor of the living room, all the way to the front door. Or I could put the marble on the inside of my bedroom door and it would roll all the way across my room to the opposite side of the house. What kind of house was that? That old place was not our dream house.

That was a house we dreamed of escaping from. But, it had a big yard surrounded by orchards; and my sisters and I would play target practice with our BB gun. Or I would pick a ripe peach from the tree in our yard and play fetch with our dog; who would eat it after she had caught it a few times, and tenderized it with her teeth. Or we would play badminton with our parents on summer evenings when it was almost too dark to see, when the hot Sacramento valley summer days would finally cool off just a little. Those were golden hours of golden days, even though those days were not the objects of our dreams and plans.

In a way, our dreams and plans (that took so long to fulfill) were just our fumbling way of reaching out for something we wanted but didn’t understand very well. Whereas God’s plan for our happiness and rest consisted of other things: how we played, how we were as a family, at those times in our lives when we were good at being a family. I think one of the mysteries of happiness is that we don’t always realize how happy we are.

There are stories in the life of David that tell us the happiness of simply being supremely happy. And, when we look at the whole of his life, we see that these golden hours are a gift of God, they are rest and renewal that come from God and not from ourselves; from God’s plan and not from our own plan.

David’s happiness made him think about God. It pointed him beyond the world of all the worries and struggles that could have darkened his life. Sometimes it seems as though it is only our experiences of unhappiness and discontent that point us beyond our world, beyond ourselves, to God.

But David lived a truly God-impacted life, so that it was not only his unhappiness and discontent that pointed him to God. By the grace of God he had the gift of recognizing when he was happy, and so his golden hours also pointed him to God.

I love this story of David’s happiness so well. In the context of his life as a whole, it should teach us to look at ourselves, for evidence that we are actually happy: that God is giving us rest and happiness, but (perhaps) without the benefit of knowing it and enjoying it for ourselves.
And that is all I have time to say.

I would say that Jesus is the golden promise that guarantees the purpose of our golden hours. He guarantees that they have a lasting purpose. I would say that Jesus guarantees and preserves the lasting value of all our golden times, by sharing his life with us. He shares his life with us, and makes himself a part of us through his simply living a humble, human life, and through his dying on the cross, and through his resurrection.

Jesus shows us, through the way he has faced the joys and struggles of human life, the faithfulness of God, the trustworthiness of God, through all our times of waiting, and all our times of postponement and impatience. Jesus is the faithfulness of God, to give meaning and weight to all our dreams and to the hours of our happiness.

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