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God’s promises

Psalm 127:2

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I read this verse completely by accident.  En route to another Psalm, my eye caught the word ‘sleep’ and I paused for a moment to investigate, expecting a peaceful word of encouragement from King David.  Perhaps something to memorize during sleepless nights or slumbering mornings.  Not so.  Not even close. In fact, I quickly despised the quaint little truism uttered by Solomon.

I’m an insomniac.  I simply fail at the entire process of sleeping.  I don’t fall asleep, but if I do, I do not remain, and if I remain, I awake just as tired.  Sleep is like a dear friend from youth who visits occasionally, but never stays quite long enough.  And even worse, when they finally arrive, the time together isn’t even enjoyed because there is such pressure and expectation to have this amazing reunion.  My reunion is sleep and I never get the invitation.

Worse tribulations exist.  I get it.  My quandary is not with insomnia, but with the simple line ‘for he grants sleep to those he loves.’   I’m sure Solomon penned this delightful little treasure after a night of blissful snoring , content in his temple, quite unaware of the theological implications.  However, if I read this verse literally, the conclusion is undeniable: God doesn’t love me.  This is terribly disappointing.  I had hoped the litmus test for our Father’s love and favor stood a bit higher than a good night’s sleep.

This is ridiculous of course. But we only say it is ridiculous because we simply can’t accept that God would act this way.  Our experience overrides the literalism.  Yet, if asked to explain why this verse ought not be considered an absolute promise, most of us would stumble.  At the surface the consequences are minimal.  A few sleep deprived believers walk away discouraged. But this verse hardly stands alone, the bible is awash in grand declarations and assurances.  This begs a question.

What good is a promise if it is only a general indication of probability?  It’s hardly encouraging to tell a brother in Christ, ‘don’t worry, statistically speaking, the majority of the time, God will provide food for you.’ For Americans, it’s usually just semantics.  Imagine however, a man suffering in the final throes of starvation, his body collapsing under a great famine.  In his last moments, he pulls you down to his dusty mat, points to Philippians 4:19, and asks: ‘please explain.’

What would you tell him?

Many Christians leave the faith because of a perception of unfulfilled promises.  This is of tremendous importance.  If we get it wrong, we set the stage for terrible disappointments no faith can endure.  If we get it right, we live in the hope of His principles and the great faith of His promises.

Look around you.  Nearly every Christian staggers under the bitterness of broken promises God never made. Ironically, it is this very cargo upon our shoulders which keeps us from the joy and levity of His true promises.  Far fewer, but far greater.  Promises of faithfulness, redemption and resurrection.

I believe it’s time for bed.

Comments

Comment from Elizabeth K
Time October 16, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Nah, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t love you :)

So… I guess the entire book of Job would discredit the modern day health and wealth gospel… but what DO you say to the Christian who is suffering? “I’ll pray for you”? “Tough luck”? I’m not sure that I would fare any better than Job’s friends….

Sometimes we intentionally or unknowingly bring on some of our problems… and when you see someone suffering for that, it’s kinda hard not to tell them well, if you just to change this or that, or go get a job and buy some food, then you won’t have that problem anymore… but they rarely take the advice and the advice giver feels like an idiot. (I don’t think this is your case btw.)

And why do so many people leave the faith for unfulfilled promises? I have always thought it was because they never had a true repentance and humility… but maybe there are other reasons? Maybe it’s because they’ve been taught a wrong view of God?

I can’t believe how often I stumble upon some truth about God that forces me to rearrange all of my thinking about Him. For example, I have viewed him for much of my life as some sort of distant superhero that could do anything but he expected way too much out of me… I didn’t even like Him.

But, if we had any kind of right understanding of him, we would like him – a lot – even if our experience tells us otherwise. Correy Ten Boom is a good example of this.

Sorry about your long term insomnia… I truly don’t know what to say to that…. Have you tried a sedative herbal tea mix? Maybe God wants you to keep writing encouraging blogs in the middle of the night :)

Comment from Bev Klassen
Time October 16, 2008 at 11:22 pm

I ‘ve also only found this passage recently but saw it in a different context. My perception of it is that it is about our failure to trust God to provide for us. We get up early and toil late instead of giving our body the rest it needs and trusting God to look after everything we think we have to work to attain.
I too, have bouts of sleeplessness but have found that getting up and spending time in God’s word is a better alternative than tossing and turning in bed. When I go back to bed I can usually sleep a bit.
Rest well!

Comment from jrmallory
Time October 18, 2008 at 1:08 am

Bev,

Yes, I think you’re absolutely correct, the purpose of the verse really had nothing to do with sleep in the way I described it. I really like your description of the verse, you definitely found the heart of the passage.

I suppose in some roundabout way that was my goal, to show the absurdity of drawing promises totally out of context.

The difficulty arises when God asks us to trust Him to provide for us, yet realizing that He may choose at some point to not provide for us in the way we see fit. Or even provide for us at all in an earthly sense. Christians starve to death, and we must reconcile this with our faith.

I feel much more secure when I place His promises of salvation and redemption above those of food and clothing. Because I know, no matter what, the former can never be taken away. But I don’t want to draw the line anywhere short of that, otherwise the first starving Christian I met would turn my whole faith upside down.

Thanks for the comments Bev!

Comment from Elizabeth K
Time October 21, 2008 at 12:36 pm

James, I hope you don’t mind but I have some more thoughts about Christians and suffering. I really do try to stick to the subject, and make my comments shorter than your posts – really!

Romans 8:28 AND 29 (Sometimes we forget v. 29) “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose… to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (NASB)

About a good Christian who suffers painfully and actually dies, how was that person becoming conformed to (made more like) Jesus by dying? Perhaps he was simply following Jesus’ footsteps all the way to his own personal cross? This gives us understanding and unshakable hope for that person… but what about a NON-Christian suffering and dying? That one can be hard to swallow for me personally, but I digress.

So, not that we should make half-witted decisions and bringing suffering upon ourselves, but neither should we be afraid of pain either I suppose. For a Christian, trials and tribulations and even death are absolutely imperative in order to become a whole, eternally happy person.

When we’re in the midst of our difficulties, they can be unbearable and overwhelming but when we’re in heaven, they are going to seem almost like nothing compared to the joy we will have then (2 Cor 4:17). It sounds a little bit like having a baby without anesthesia and then forgetting all about the pain after the baby is born and then wanting to do it all over again. :)

Comment from jrmallory
Time October 21, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Elizabeth,

You bring up some good points. It would take a couple more essays to cover them!

Knowing what to tell a suffering Christian is really tough. Personally, when I’m unwell, the last thing I want to be told is, hold fast, it will get better soon. Because in my mind, I immediately think, well maybe it will, but maybe it won’t. Maybe it will get worse. Or like you said, maybe you’ll die.

On the other hand, I draw much more hope and inspiration when the comforter focuses on how God delights in using broken vessels. Or the reward in heaven for our perseverance. Or like my football coach said once, ‘beware if your coach stops pushing and testing you, he only tests to the ones he thinks are worthy.’

Comment from Melissa McEwen
Time October 23, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Okay, so I’m not going to give an elaborate response to your essay. However, I have a comment about Christians suffering….. about what you should say to them, or something to that affect. As Christians, we already know we’ll have suffering on Earth. The test is whether or not we hold the Lord and allow him to mold and shape us. He allows us to go through things to put us in the place He wants us, or we turn and run the other way. However, even death is part of the molding proces. So, I don’t think there’s anything we can really say to give comfort to one suffering…. except maybe His promises of salvation and redemption. For me, those ( I believe these are the ones you previously mentioned) are the only promises that have brought be back to searching Him out daily and trusting Him, rather than myself. Ok, so enough of my rambling…. maybe I’m too simple minded.

Comment from jrmallory
Time October 23, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Melissa,

Thanks for the comment. There is a lot of wisdom in your words. I guess when we encounter someone suffering, in a desire to help, we often just fill in the void with advice and never really consider if it’s true.

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