As many of you know, our family is living in a limbo, wait-and-see existence until travel restrictions are lifted for our family to return to South Africa. It’s been just over six months since our family departed our home in South Africa to come to the United States for what we thought would be a 3 ½ month home assignment. A pandemic changed our plans.
Currently, we have no date in sight for departure. International flights are banned to South Africa. In fact, South Africa is not allowing travel between her provinces except for essential services. With such severe restrictions in place, we have no choice but to remain in Oregon for a while.
In one significant way, we’re delighted to be here. This shelter-in-space season has allowed us to have Micah with us. John and I are calling this a BONUS ROUND with our eldest son. Our initial plan had been to launch our son into university life in Oregon and then a little later, the rest of us would fly back home to South Africa. With Micah’s university closing its campus and transitioning to on-line classes in mid-March, we are very thankful to have our son with us for now.
One of the practices of our family has enjoyed through the years is to share devotions together. Since this spiritual rhythm was already part of our family’s routine, it’s been wonderful to have Micah with us and to glean truths from the Word of God as an entire family again.
Recently, we read Psalm 34 together. I had been reflecting on this psalm for a couple of days and decided to share it with my family. The guiding words of David’s song of worship instruct us:
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
New International Version, Psalm 34: 11 – 14
David composed this song after the Lord had preserved his life. As a fugitive, a desperate, man-on-the-run, David had recently escaped his enemy, King Saul. David attempted to find shelter among the Philistines. Yet, the Philistines also considered David a threat. In fear for his life, David feigned lunacy and tricked the Philistines into believing he was a madman. His ruse worked. David absconded to a cave at Adullam after being expelled from the Philistine city. Other men joined him in hiding. Many were in distress as well. Why else would they be hiding out in a cave? In debt, in despair, and feeling discontent with the current world order, these men were in search of peace and purpose.
They were a group in limbo, waiting on their God. I resonate with this group. They were looking to their God for the way forward just like our family. We aren’t in a cave in the Judean desert, but we are spending most of our time in a daylight basement space. Just like these men, there are lessons to be gained in our shelter-in-place season.
David understood the group was eager for a good word, a good song. He gathered this seeking remnant to himself as children. And what is the lesson of faith that David desired them most to learn at this moment in time?
How to fight like a warrior?
How to orate like a statesman?
How to compose lyrics like a psalmist?
How to guard and protect like a shepherd?
How to lead like a commander?
No, not this time. Although David could have offered many important lessons on life and leadership based upon his cadre of experience and knowledge, David centered his thoughts on his God and what the men most needed to hear from him.
This group needed instruction and guidance on how to fear of the Lord.
This focus of David’s refrain caught my attention. I wondered. As parents, do we gather our children near to instruct them on the fear of the Lord?
Do we talk this way?
Find me one Facebook post today, yesterday, or in the past week or month, in which someone recounts how they offered insight and clarity on the value of teaching our children the fear of God. Would our Facebook search prove fruitful?
I’ll be honest. This is not the lingo I use with our three sons.
I wonder why. John and I have encouraged our children to love God, love His Son, Jesus, and love the Spirit. We’ve also talked with our kids about trusting the Lord and obeying Him. However, I cannot think of one time where we have ever exhorted our sons to fear God. Yet, at this shelter-in-place moment, is this a lesson for our family to embrace now as well?
What is the fear of the Lord?
The Word of God often connects the fear of the Lord with loving God. To fear God is to show reverence to Him with obedience. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon contends that obedience and the fear of God go hand in hand, “Fear God and keep his commandments.” (New International Version, Ecclesiastes, 12:13) Jesus concurs, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (New International Version, John 14:13). For David, the fear of the Lord is rooted in action, not mere feeling. According to David, in order to experience God’s blessings in life, one must live in fear of the Lord and live a certain way.
How do we do that?
David outlines the pathway forward. He understood that he could not give this group of men the fear God. However, he knew that he could teach this God-fearing way of life. David believed that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It leads to the worship and praise of our God with the entirety of our being.
David teaches us how to fear the Lord in order to grow in our relationship and trust with God. If we want to live a full, robust life now and in the future, there are steps we must take.
First, we must refrain from speaking ill of others. Our words should never inflict injury, misery, or distress. Do our words cause harm? If so, we need to stop saying them. In other words, we speak no evil in honor and reverence of our Lord and those He loves. In this shelter-in-space time, I know I am tempted to be gruff, impatient or unkind. I’ve been grumpy. Being in isolation for the past seven weeks has tested me. I imagine David and his men could been grumpy and short-tempered, too. While kept in place, isolated from the outside world and feeling worry and distress, it is more difficult to control our tongue. Yet, making this resolve is important to our long-term physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
Second, we must desist from spreading lies. Deceit takes many forms. Treachery, betrayal, duplicity, falsehood and hypocrisy are just some of the ways that lies slice into the hearts of us all. None of these fraudulent behaviors build and enhance trust. If we are prone to telling lies, no matter the size and no matter the intent, we need to cease. In fear of our Lord, this is especially important now. Lies, conspiracy theories, and innuendos are spreading through social media like crazy. We need to seek God’s truth. If we are confronted with negative, harmful dishonesty, in any place and at any time, we determine that we will take no part in it.
Third, we refuse to cause distress in the lives of our family, our friends, and our associates. We direct our lives towards what is honest, admirable and true. Haven’t you discovered that in times of crisis one’s true nature is revealed? The kind become more loving. The generous become more benevolent. The caring become more compassionate. The reverse is also true, unfortunately. The selfish become more self-centered. The mean-spirited soul becomes even more repugnant. The cheat becomes more wretched. So, who are we? What do we want to be known for during the pandemic and beyond? A kind, loving, generous soul? Or something else?
Fourth, and finally, we seek peace and pursue it.
I believe that this peace step is the vital, life-affirming linchpin to ensuring that we have ceased the way of self-gratification at the expense of others. For if we desire peace to be exemplified in our lives, we cannot be argumentative, mean-spirited, or selfish.
In order to broker peace in our relationships, we are generous with our grace, abounding in our love, lavish with our forgiveness, and ebullient with our cheer.
We are known as people of peace.
Paul agrees, he wrote,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
New International Version, Romans 12:18
Paul also said:
So, then, we pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another.
New International Version, Romans 14:19
The writer of Hebrews asserts that without peace in our person-to-person relationships, we have little chance of having a relationship with God.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
New International Version, Hebrews 12:14
Here’s the deal: Peace with others and peace with God is a life-long pursuit. This way of life leads to fearing and honoring God – with our love, our reverence, our awe, our respect, our trust, and our obedience. Peace with others and peace with God doesn’t just happen. We must seek it. It starts with honoring others above ourselves and honoring God above ourselves.
This is a lesson we may glean as we continue to shelter-in-place and then take its life-affirming truths back into our worlds one day soon. That’s what I pray that our family will do when we return to our South African life. We will encourage Micah to do the same when he returns to his university in the fall. We will honor, respect and encourage others by pursuing peace with them and with our God.
The Living Bible says it this way:
Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible.
David gathered a shelter-in-space crowd together to instruct them on how to fear the Lord and pursue peace in their cave and then once they were set free from their confinement.
What shall we do?
Images retrieved from Google Search for Psalm 34:11-14