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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Alert Obedience

Psalm 119:81-88  (The Message)  "I'm homesick—longing for your salvation; I'm waiting for your word of hope.  My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise; how long must I wait for your comfort?  There's smoke in my eyes—they burn and water, but I keep a steady gaze on the instructions you post.  How long do I have to put up with all this?  How long till you haul my tormentors into court?  The arrogant godless try to throw me off track, ignorant as they are of God and his ways.  Everything you command is a sure thing, but they harass me with lies. Help! They've pushed and pushed—they never let up—but I haven't relaxed my grip on your counsel.  In your great love revive me so I can alertly obey your every word."

I remember a particularly bad case of homesickness that I experienced about the fourth day of Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I had been assigned “latrine duty” (the cleaning of the enormous bathroom in our intake barracks). As I knelt there on the floor of our oversized bathroom, toothbrush in hand, scrubbing away at the lines of grout between those one-inch tiles, I was overwhelmed with those thoughts of being so very far away from home and so very alone. It had taken me a few days to build up to this point, having observed others in the bunks at night already breaking down under the pressures of being pushed beyond capacity and being so very far from home and all that was familiar to them. Those waves of homesickness hit me like a ton of bricks. My heart truthfully ached – almost exploding out of my chest – and my eyes just overflowed with those warm tears of utter hopelessness that seemed to permeate my entire being at that very moment. The intensity of the induction process, coupled with being farther from home than I’d ever been before, and the insanity of doing what I was doing at that very moment made me very vulnerable to the attack of loneliness, doubt, and despair that I felt.

It was probably another week into Basic Training before those fears, doubts, and feelings of deep despair began to ease up a little. The loneliness never really went away, but I could cope with it. I was probably a little like the Psalmist in his direct plea to God in this passage, “How long do I have to put up with all this?” It was in those next 8 weeks that God began to teach me the hope that comes by relying on his Word. I poured over his Word, read the few devotional books that I had tucked into my suitcase, and shot up tons of prayers to just to get me through to the end of the training. Those Drill Sergeants seemed to be like those people that David had encountered in this Psalm – pushing and pushing, never letting up! They seemed bent on destroying me – putting me through one trial of my will after another. I was “stretched” beyond my capacity, and I knew it!

On a sunny morning in mid-December, 1976, I remember the long, but utterly liberating march to the graduation parade field. Brass glistening in the sunshine, shoes polished to a high gloss, Battalion Baton sporting our “colors” in hand, I marched. Back straight and shoulders squared, no longer stooped under the burden of “having to get to the end” – I had made it! Tears of doubt and frustration were replaced with tears of joyful exhilaration and seeming “release from captivity”!

Sometimes our “waiting” is made a little harder by the things we are made to endure in that season of waiting. It may appear that all we knew as familiar and trustworthy has somehow been overshadowed by the pressures of the season. There may be pressures on every side, pushing against us until it seems we might just break apart under their intensity. Friends may seem far off, loneliness facing us at every turn. The skies may seem as impenetrable as brass, making our prayers seem like they have been deflected, never falling on the ears of their intended receiver. In those times, we need to hold on to the foundation that is sure – the counsel of our God – his Holy Word. In those times, as we cry out to our Lord for his direction and care, we must count on the keeping power of his Word, the steadfastness of his promises, and the knowledge that he never forsakes us.

David prayed for the reviving effects of God’s Spirit within his life – so that he might “alertly” obey God. Pressures of the season may dull our “alertness” to the path God would want us to take. Alertness toward the counsel of God is a prayer God always hears and answers. His desire is that we seek him first, leaning on his wise counsel like our very lives counted on it, and then standing alert for his every move. When we face our trial with this commitment of heart, we can count on his “liberating” care! It may not seem like we will ever hold our head high again, no longer stooped under the burden of our season of trial, but stand assured - “Graduation Day” is coming! Stand firm! Seek him! Stay the course!