Life, with Sinners (Big and Small)

Lately, I find myself trying to encourage myself with the mantra of Psalm 127:3: “Children are a heritage of the Lord… the fruit of the womb is His reward.”  Blessing.  Heritage.  Reward.  Psalm 127 puts “children” right in the same line of blessings as sleep—and, oh, we know what a blessing sleep is!

But when we’re surrounded by toddlers, preschoolers, and infants… parenthood is exhausting.  Things happen during the day and sometimes there are no wise words that pop into my head.  This afternoon I watched two of the children get involved in an argument over a game (the loser unjustly accused the winner of having cheated), and there was something clever and helpful that I should have said, but the words just wouldn’t coalesce in my exhaustion-addled brain, so all that came out was, “work it out, y’all, talk to each other and work it out.”  And laid my head back on the couch, feeling every last bit like I’d just failed at one of the moments I had.  These moments we have as parents are numbered, and dwindling, and yet I couldn’t articulate how to seize that one.

Then, if the children aren’t sinning, I am.  Oh, how many sins are attractive to motherhood!  Over here in this corner of my heart, I have impatience.  Patience, see, is a great help to many situations in parenting, defusing many a situation in children’s hearts before they even have the chance to go far astray—and yet patience is both costly and counter-intuitive.  When someone has just done the exact opposite of what you told them to do, for the tenth time today, patience is evasive.  And why?  Because in this other corner of my wretched heart, I have selfishness.  And possibly anger, that they are forcing me to deal with this yet again, and—how dare they be so selfish?  (Clearly, they’re learning it from me!)  Then there are my other sins, the easier roads; there is laziness, of not dealing with something that needs dealt with, because I’m too tired (see how this all ties back into selfishness…), or not helping with something legitimate because I’m too wrapped up in my own affairs; there is inattentiveness, of not paying enough attention to their little hearts to even realize when wisdom is needed; and there is foolishness, of sometimes joining them in unprofitable activities and amusements because… it’s fun.  And they like it.  It makes them like me.

There are many sins to tempt mothers.

~ * ~

Eliphaz tells Job in Job 5:7 that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”  And, while Eliphaz is an unfaithful friend, Job himself echoes his words in 14:1—man “is few of days and full of trouble,” he says.  Ecclesiastes 2:23-26 echoes this as well:

For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

In short, life is hard.  Life is broken.  Sin, the fall, our wretched state… everything has been tainted and now the work is endless, the work is full of trouble and strife.  This is our existence on this terrestrial plane.

And yet, did you catch that little glimmer of hope in Ecclesiastes?  “Apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”  Praise God, we are not “apart from Him”!

  • We can take joy in restless nights because we know sleep is a gift from God (Psalm 127:2) and that every minute of precious sleep we get is a blessing from his hand.
  • We can take joy in dealing with disobedient children because we know the fruit of righteousness is the yield of discipline (Hebrews 12:11).
  • We can rejoice in our sufferings because we know they produce endurance (Romans 5:3) and set off a chain reaction that leads all the way to eternal hope!
  • We can love God’s discipline of us because it shows us His love (Proverbs 3:12).
  • We can praise God that our own temptation to sin is not insurmountable—God promises a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).  It never goes beyond our limit, and that is a wonderful truth to rest in.
  • We can be thankful that while we struggle, God has yet given us a Spirit of love and self-control to war against our fleshly impulses (2 Timothy 1:7), and that His grace has brought us not only salvation, but also trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
  • We can run this hard race with joyful anticipation because we run for an imperishable wreath (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Do we live in the present world? Yes.  Are we dragged down and even tormented by it? For sure.  And yet.  We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).  We have hope, we have HELP, we have promises of future sanctification, limits to our present temptations, blessings abounding, and rewards incoming.   While we groan just as creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:22), at the same time, just as creation praises God in the present (Psalm 66:4), we, too, find our rest, our joy, our satisfaction in Him.

Even in the midst of our daily struggles and our sleepless nights—we cling to His grace, and it is enough.

Study Notes

The Tragedy of an Old Prophet

1 Kings 13:11-34 is one of the most strikingly sad and terrible stories in Scripture.  It’s about two men of God—prophets—who make some “small” sins for apparently minor reasons and pay a heavy price.

The story opens with a “certain old prophet,” name unknown, from Bethel, and a “man of God,” also a prophet, also nameless, from Judah, who goes to Bethel.  It’s a very long passage for nameless people.  The “man of God” prophecies that Josiah is coming and will punish the idolatry of Jeroboam.  And to this, God added another commandment for the man of God himself—to not return to Judah the same way he had come, and to not eat bread or drink water (in Bethel).  The commandment is interesting in light of what happened next.

In obeying God’s command to not go back the way he had come, he is observed by the old prophet’s sons, who come and tell their father what had happened and of the prophecy of the younger prophet.  The old prophet quickly gets up on his donkey and chases after the man of God and invites him to his home to eat.

The younger prophet refuses, and tells him that God forbade him.

And then the older prophet lies.  He tells him that God spoke to him (1 Kings 13:18, hcsb):

An angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’

And so the younger prophet goes home with the older prophet and they sit down to eat.  Whereupon the word of YHWH comes to the old prophet—the lying prophet—and rebukes the younger one, and says he will die and not even be buried with his fathers.

This is really sad stuff!  Why did the old prophet lie?  It doesn’t say.  He was living in the midst of an idolatrous people, he was old, he gets wind of a new prophecy and a prophet who—at least momentarily—had been the instrument prodding Jeroboam’s repentance.  It is easy to imagine why this old servant of God wanted to sit down and talk to this new “man of God.”  Easy to imagine him being worn down and out by the years of living among those who worshipped idols.  Easy to imagine him being excited to talk to another “man of God” at last.

But lying doesn’t pay, of course, and he received a new prophecy that weighed heavy: because his guest turned aside, his guest was going to die.  They finish eating, what must have been a gruesome meal as the younger prophet surely realizes that the older one had lied, and as he had just seen for himself firsthand the very literal power of God quickly fulfilling prophecy (1 Kings 13:5).  The old prophet generously saddles up his own donkey for the younger, and sends him off, wherein he is promptly attacked and killed by a lion.  The old prophet hears about it, and responds:

He is the man of God who disobeyed the command of the Lord. The Lord has given him to the lion, and it has mauled and killed him, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke to him.

There is clearly a point to be made here about personal responsibility and not obeying our elders even when they are men of God, when they instruct us contrary to how God has instructed us, or even told us (as the old prophet did) that we have misunderstood or that there is a newer word.  God and the older prophet both clearly fault the younger prophet for believing the lie.  But I am most struck by the old prophet.  He goes and retrieves the corpse—which is still being guarded by the lion!—mourns, buries him in his own grave, and calls him his brother.  He tells his sons to bury him in the same grave as the young prophet, in order that his bones will be kept safe from the fate that was awaiting the false priests of Jeroboam.

And Jeroboam continues to refuse true repentance, and is “wiped out and annihilated” (v. 34), and the larger story continues.

The old prophet doesn’t die at the end of the story.  He continues, living with the memory of the events.  Maybe he lives to see the younger prophet’s testimony about Jeroboam come to pass.  Maybe he remembers the young man who sat at his table and continues to mourn.  There are so many variables here that the story doesn’t tell us.  But I am deeply struck by the tragedy of sin here.  I can sympathize with the older prophet in what might be called a “white lie,” and I can sympathize with the younger prophet in following the testimony of his elders.  But together, they disobeyed God.  The older prophet made himself a false prophet, and the younger made himself disobedient to God to the point of death.  And they both knew it, knew the great effect of their sin, how offensive it was to God, and both stood unquestioningly by as His mighty sentence was carried out.  And, in judgment, the younger one obeyed—got back on the path, though it carried him to his death.  And the older one made what recompense he could, and wept.

It’s a stark picture of the terribleness of sin, even little ones that don’t seem to hurt anyone, and of the capacity of men who even hear YHWH’s voice, true prophets, to nevertheless fall so easily—so quickly, without deliberation!—into sin.

Cautionary tale.

Study Notes

Go away, I’m a sinner!

Luke 5:1-11 is a tremendously powerful little story.  Jesus sees two boats, and the fishermen washing their nets—after a long night of catching nothing.  The fishermen are Peter, James, and John, partners in a fishing enterprise (v. 10).

Jesus gets in the boat, and He tells Peter to go out deep and put out the nets.  The nets they just finished washing after a fruitless night.  Peter tells Jesus they just caught nothing, but unhesitatingly adds, “But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.

Right away, we see Peter is one of the believing people.  He’s not quite sure about the idea but he’s willing to go along in faith.  Jesus is already catching Peter.

Of course, they go out, and they catch so many fish that their nets tear from the weight, so they signal to James and John in the other boat to come, and they fill both boats so full that they start to sink!  This is an obvious supernatural event, not just good timing—Jesus didn’t just see some fish swimming around in the water and decide to take advantage of the situation to make a point.  No, this is a ridiculous amount of fish.

And Peter seems to know right away that Jesus isn’t just Master (v 5), he’s Lord (v 8).  And his reaction reminds me of Samson’s parents (Judges 13):

And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife.Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord.  And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Peter sees Jesus as Messiah and he’s—amazed? ashamed? afraid?  Maybe all three.  I love that what comes to his mouth is I’m a sinner!  Everybody else is amazed at all the fish, and Peter’s not even thinking about the fish, he’s thinking, wow, this is God, and I’m a wretch!  Just like Manoah, who realizes the angel was in fact God and—we’re going to die!

And what does Jesus say? Don’t be afraid!  Crazy incredible words.  Face to face with God in flesh and He says—don’t be afraid?  He sees right at Peter’s heart and… is kind.  This is a gloriously kind response!  He could have left Peter hanging in his terror, but He reassures him instead!  And then this tremendous sentence—from now on, you will be catching people!  What a small sentence, a small illustration, of a huge thing that was going to change Peter’s life forever, to the very very end.  Peter, who is going to go around with Jesus now, and preach His message, who is going to be His follower through His death, who is going to wait for the resurrection, who is going to play a huge role in establishing the church, who is going to write epistles that Christians through all the millennia thereafter are going to read and be drawn by—Peter is in the people-catching business for good.

And, again, what do they do? They take their boats to the shore and walk away from their lives and livelihood—to follow Him.