Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.” Unlike other resources, time cannot be replaced. If I waste a dollar of my income, another dollar can be earned to replace it. If I waste a minute, it’s gone forever.
Psalm 101, penned by David, contemplates what is worthy of our time. Verses 1-4 say:
“I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music. I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.”
In our modern, media- and current event-focused culture, the statement “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” may be the most challenging. Reading this verse recently, I had to ask myself whether the reason I look at worthless things is that I don’t think they are worthless? If to “confess” means to say the same thing about something that God does, I have a lot to learn about what is valuable and worthy of attention.
Today, let us learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates. Let us confess what really matters, and “sing of steadfast love and justice.” Let us also “ponder the way that is blameless” that we may “know nothing of evil.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” yet he also wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 that “to keep me from becoming conceited,” a “thorn was given me in the flesh.” He writes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
The nature of Paul’s “thorn” has been disputed for centuries, but Galatians 4:13 suggests it was a physical problem, a “bodily ailment” rather than a moral shortcoming. So, the lesson of the “thorn” is not that God prevented Paul from overcoming some specific sin to keep him humble – He wants Paul (and us) to be satisfied with nothing less than righteousness.
However, one lesson of the “thorn” is that Paul didn’t mean by “I can do all things” that he could do whatever he wanted and succeed. Instead, the “thorn” is an example of a battle Paul would not win, because this “thorn” had a purpose in bringing Paul closer to God’s grace and power. In God’s wisdom, Paul was better off with this ailment than without it.
Yesterday’s post said “Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice. However, who should pick which battles to fight?” In the case of the “thorn”, God picked a battle for Paul not to fight, telling him instead to focus on growing in faith. The thorn had a purpose in Paul’s striving toward righteousness, which was more important than any physical ailment. Had Paul continued to insist to God that the thorn should be removed, he would still have the thorn, but he would also not grow in his relationship with his Lord.
Sometimes there are battles He wants us to fight in His strength for His glory, and sometimes there are battles He tells us not to fight so we can focus on His grace and power while in this life, in light of His promises to heal our physical ailments in Paradise.
Today’s post closes the same way as yesterdays: “Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength. When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us. Nothing less will do.”
Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice. However, who should pick which battles to fight? The Old Testament book of Judges is a record of the consequences of Israel’s failure to completely conquer the promised land, a battle God gave them to fight and win. Judges also shows more generally what happens when anyone picks the wrong battles to fight: they end up with less than what God intended for them.
For example, Judges 1:19 tells us: “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”
This verse, especially the second part, is written from a human perspective. God did not tell Israel to conquer all of the promised land, except for the plains. God is not afraid of chariots. He told them to conquer all of it, but Israel thought that chariots couldn’t be defeated, so they decided not to fight in the plain. By using their own judgement and preferring to fight in hills or forests where chariots were less effective, they failed to fully receive what God had promised them.
An application to us is that our inheritance is Christ’s righteousness, and Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus is telling us that righteousness is like food and drink. We can never have enough because no matter how much we eat and drink, our hunger and thirst soon return. We are all in different places, at different levels of knowledge and maturity, but in Christ we are all on the same path and have an appetite only He can satisfy.
To be satisfied, we cannot settle for what we have already accomplished, the hill country we have already taken. To be satisfied, we must fight the chariots in the plains if that is what God wants us to do, so that we learn to rely on His strength. To be satisfied, we move from only fighting battles we choose based on our own wisdom and ability to choosing the battles we will win in His strength.
Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength. When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us. Nothing less will do.
In the previous post in this series on our Master’s voice, I wrote that: “We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.” Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes great illustrations come from strange fictional places, like Jim Carrey movies and Douglas Adams books for example.
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the sequel to the sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams imagines a technology that harnesses full awareness of the universe as a profoundly cruel torture device. When Trin Tragula invented the “Total Perspective Vortex” to annoy his wife who kept accusing him of blowing things out of proportion, he found that when he tested it on her, “the shock completely annihilated her brain.” A victim is placed in the TPV and presented with a realistic model of the entire universe, with a tiny dot on top of a tiny dot that says, “you are here.” He concluded that “a sense of proportion” in such a massive universe would only make someone feel completely insignificant, hopeless, and insane beyond all hope of recovery. It’s a sci-fi comedy, but still, be careful what you wish for.
Another example from a different angle is the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty. This hilarious (but irreverent) comedy is based on Carrey’s character Bruce Nolan raging against God about his frustrating life. God, played by Morgan Freeman, appears and challenges Bruce to do any better, giving him “the job” for a temporary period to teach him a lesson. The 3-ish-minute video embedded here is my favorite part of the movie, where Bruce tries to figure out how to deal with his new awareness of all the prayers of the world.
If God thought it was possible, or a good idea, for us to know it all, we would. After all, even Nipper the dog from the “His Master’s Voice” painting would be distracted and unable to get anything done if he saw this picture, even though it contains only good news:
Our Master speaks to us as our creator, knowing both our limitations, but also what we are capable of as His marvelous creatures if we trust Him!
This post is fourth in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…
 Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (1980). P. 79
Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7. So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction. Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle his army was going to fail miserably.
That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp. We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith. Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance? No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan. Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.
When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’ And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”
Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him. Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked. God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.
We only know part of our part in God’s plan. He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part. Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to. But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!
Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom. Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,” from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.” Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future. We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29
This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…
 Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…  Judges 7:9b-11a  Judges 7:13-14  Proverbs 9:10