By Chaplain Mike
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All ‘s right with the world!
• Robert Browning, “Pippa’s Song”
When we are walking through seasons of orientation, life is good. These are days of stability, order, peace, and predictability. We feel content, untroubled. The surface of our sea is calm. The road before us is level, smooth, broad, and uncrowded. We sleep well and awaken in the morning refreshed, ready to face the day. We do our daily work with strength and confidence. Relationships are free from conflict. Whatever stressors threaten to press in on us, they are well controlled. We can laugh freely, enjoy good food, good times, and the fellowship of family and friends.
There are psalms and proverbs that picture this “blessed” life. Psalm 23 is perhaps the most familiar:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name. (NLT)
This is the song of a satisfied sheep! Experiencing God’s goodness and mercy every day, he describes what life is like in a season of contentment, assurance, and hope.
Psalms and scriptures of orientation speak of and to those seasons of life when we enjoy a sense of well being and stability.
- In these times we praise the God of creation, who bestows his good favor upon us in the regular cycles of nature.
- We give thanks for the beneficence of the God of providence, from whose hand we welcome sunshine and rain, as well as his good gifts of food, health, human fellowship, family, and stable economic and political circumstances.
- We also honor the God of wisdom, whose ways are right and good and pleasant.
These themes are prominent in the Wisdom literature of the First Testament. In these writings, the children of Israel celebrate their Creator, the One who spoke all things into being and then pronounced them good. They praise the King who gave them the Promised Land, a land of abundance. They honor the Torah-Giver, who provided them with wise commands and instructions, that they might order their lives according to his good ways.
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom
And the man who gains understanding.
For her profit is better than the profit of silver
And her gain better than fine gold.
She is more precious than jewels;
And nothing you desire compares with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
In her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who hold her fast.
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
By understanding He established the heavens.
By His knowledge the deeps were broken up
And the skies drip with dew.
My son, let them not vanish from your sight;
Keep sound wisdom and discretion,
So they will be life to your soul
And adornment to your neck.
Then you will walk in your way securely
And your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
• Proverbs 3:13-24 (NASB)
There are some subtle temptations that may beset us in times of orientation.
The first is the temptation to forget God. Somehow, when life is good, we easily fall into thinking that it is because we made it that way and we forget the Source of all our blessings. We stop saying “thank you” and start taking the credit.
Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God…
…Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’Â “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth…
â€¢ Deuteronomy 8:11-18
A second temptation is to become smug and critical of others. When I have it good and start thinking that I deserve my prosperity, I view those who don’t have it so good as inferior. From my self-righteous, self-congratulatory position, I look down on others and suspect that their troubles are the result of being less responsible, not as wise and not as productive as I have been. It’s as simple as that. I’m better! I’m a winner and they are losers. Now whether or not there is truth in any of that is beside the point. For we all stand wholly dependent on God’s gracious provision. Even if I have more talent or drive than the next person, it is because God has endowed me with those gifts, not because I am intrinsically superior. If anything, greater gifts place a higher obligation on a person to show extraordinary kindness, forbearance, and generosity toward others, especially those who are not presently enjoying stability, abundance, and peace.
Third, we might be tempted to assume that the state of orientation is normal and expected. That is, I may get lulled into thinking that life will just continue to go on like this, that it should continue to go on like this, and that if it doesn’t keep going on like this, either God has let me down or there is something abnormal or wrong with me. Jesus said plainly, “In the world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). If creation itself is groaning, we will join the chorus in various seasons of our lives. “Normal” in a fallen world means “change and decay in all around I see.” Our hope lies not in the unchanging beneficence of the world, but in the abiding love, mercy, and goodness of God.
Fourth, we may lose our hunger for the new creation. When life is good in this world, it can be incredibly pleasurable. There are sources of enjoyment to keep us occupied and satisfied for many lifetimes. Christians should not deny this and speak ill of this world’s glories. God called his creation good for good reason. We need not fear nor shrink from savoring life. Nevertheless, there is a perspective to maintain. However sumptuous the feast now, in the age to come it will be immeasurably more satiating. However glorious the music, we cannot imagine the thrill of the new creation chorus and symphony. However tender and heartwarming the most intimate of relationships, they cannot compare with the Divine embrace. Enjoy, but stay hungry.
Nevertheless, in these days, God may bless with extended seasons of orientation, when life is good. In those seasons, we would be wise to heed the counsel of the Preacher:
After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.
• Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, MSG
*Note: Today’s artwork from the website of yvonne meissner.