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Our greatest attention - Our greatest affection

Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome! Didn't he set us on the road to life? Didn't he keep us out of the ditch? He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; finally he brought us to this well-watered place. (Psalm 66:8-12)

Maybe we think "blessing God" means giving a little of our hard earned income in the collection plate on Sunday, or perhaps singing a sweetly sung hymn. To bless means to exalt, magnify, and glorify the one we consider worthy of such a position and honor. It means we worship and adore the object of our affection and attention. What we miss most of the time is that the one we worship and adore is supposed to be the object of both our affection AND our attention. The one who receives our greatest attention usually holds our greatest affection, and because of this we find opportunities to proclaim the greatness of the one who holds such a position in our hearts, minds, and affections.

Why does our psalmist announce, "Bless our God! Give him a thunderous welcome!"? The truth is that  God puts us on the road to life - he deserves this kind of affection. Prior to the point of his intervention in our lives we were on any other imaginable road we could name here - but not the road to life. I travel with a companion who enjoys the journey with me. She acts as the navigator when we go on road adventures. We have GPS, but I trust her to "navigate" us to the point we need to reach so that we end up enjoying both the journey and the destination. I know she will never purposefully steer me wrong. God is an even more faithful companion than anyone I could travel with in the natural sense. He is concerned with the road I travel, because the road I travel determines the destination I enjoy! He purposefully directs my journey because he has purposed for me to enjoy both the journey and the end results!

Good news - God keeps us out of the ditches. There was one very cold, blustery and snowy day in Anchorage when I experienced this in a literal sense. I was about 8 months pregnant, driving a little Toyota Corolla station wagon. As I ventured from Fort Richardson to Elmendorf Air Force Base to go for my weekly check-up at the clinic I caught a pretty slick section of black ice. It would not have been bad if the visibility had been good, and the ice a smaller spot. As I began to do "donuts" on the curve of that rather remote roadway, I remember seeing more and more of the safety of the roadway surface slipping away from me. It was as I skidded to a stop just inches from the drop off into a huge unplowed ditch that I took my first breath! He had literally kept me from the ditch! Now, in a spiritual sense, think of the "ditches" we have avoided because of his keeping power - spinning out of control, in stuff that seems a little too much for us to deal with. I have avoided some pretty significant life-ditches - how about you?

The truth cannot escape us here - it is God who trains us. We are given several examples of how God trains his children. The refiner's fire might not seem like a 'training ground', but it is. The passage of silver through the fire purifies it, does it not? In the refining fire, there is a chemical change to the raw material put into the fire. We go through some pretty "fiery" places which serve to bring out the strength of character he desires to see produced. There is also the 'training ground' of going through the "hardscrabble" places. In the most literal sense, this is any "place" in our lives that is really demanding and does not appear to provide much reward from the efforts put into "working" this place. The "yield" appears to be meagerly compared to the "work" put into it. God's end in taking us through these places is to prove our faithfulness, and to reveal his sustaining power. The "road-test" pushes an auto to its limits to see what it has the capability of doing under pressure. Most of us can associate with this one! We have felt our backs against the wall, pushed to our limits, seemingly without capacity for anymore. Then, God comes through! If these tests are not enough, we have the illustration of going to hell and back. I don't think this means a literal "going to hell", but I think it is the place of torment or misery in our lives that causes us to seek deliverance. God's intent is never to leave us in any place of misery - never to see us tormented - but when we find ourselves there, he uses it to bring out more of his glory in our lives.

Where does God brings us in the end - to the well-watered place. We could interpret this as a place that has sufficient water to yield the most refreshing growth. You might see it as a place watered from a well running deep. Have you ever had well-water? I have and it tastes different from our city water - free of the chemical taste and smell. It is refreshing and pure. It refreshes and revives. God never takes us "into" without the intention of taking us "out" of the places he uses for our growth and learning. The final verse of this psalm says it better than I can: Blessed be God: he didn't turn a deaf ear, he stayed with me, loyal in his love. (vs. 20) No deaf ear, no blind eye, no unnoticed move. He stays with us - never abandoning us. He never missed a beat. Most importantly, his love is loyal to the core. He is there when others wander off and lose interest in our well-being. He is faithful and true. Doesn't this give us cause to "bless God"? Just askin!


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