Friday, 17 September 2010

Live in the Blessing

Jeremiah 17.5-8 outlines two dispositions of the heart that lead to a life that is either blessed or cursed. The language is strong; it's intended to be. And there appears to be no middle ground. Jeremiah wants to shock us into seeing the consequences of both positions. Four characteristics describe the man who is cursed while seven characteristics describe the man who is blessed. Remember we are talking about the disposition of the heart - its our basic attitude to God. Here is what the text says:

Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (literally arm - what he leans on or relies on). Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose hope is in the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which sprouts out its roots by the river and will not fear (literally 'see') when the heat comes; but its leaf will be green and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.

The contrast here is vivid. Our life can end up like a shrub in the desert, dry, lonely and isolated - cursed, or like a tree by a river, rooted, secure, fruitful and unafraid - blessed. Notice where it all begins - in the heart. The man whose life is cursed has four characteristics and the first helps create all the others. It's what you might call the domino effect. Push one over and the rest are so closely related they all fall. That first characteristic is a heart that departs from the Lord and becomes self reliant.

I've met people like this. There are many reasons they no longer trust God. Sometimes they have been disappointed. Things didn't turn out as they planned. Hope was built up in their mind and nothing happened; at least not within the time frame they were expecting. Instead of allowing this experience to soften them and become more reliant on God they have chosen to harden their heart. The departure is subtle. They can still go to church, do many things Christians do, but something is going on inside that tells a different story. There is a sadness that, if left unchecked, turns into bitterness. When that happens the Christian life is more like 'going through the motions'.

Paul knew sorrow. He carried a sorrow in his heart for the nation of Israel, Rom 9.1-3. But this sorrow drove him to seek God and understand His purposes. In doing so he saw the wisdom of God in using the stubbornness of Israel to bring hope to the gentiles, Rom 11.15. His sorrow gave way to rejoicing at God's ways in Rom 11.33-36. Yes there was pain in his heart because of their current alienation. He dares to call them enemies of the gospel, Rom 11.28. But this is countered with the revelation that they are beloved for the sake of the Patriarchs - God is faithful to His promise. And so Paul trusts in God. His heart does not depart. He doesn't lean on his own understanding. He leans on God. He trusts and is blessed.

Others get offended. Somehow they loose sight of the fact that we have all received and are in need of forgiveness. They judge the sin of others to be worse and so feel justified in their attitude. It often parades itself as discernment when in fact it is the worst form of judgement, because it is self-righteous. You can always recognise someone who has taken an offense. No matter how much time goes by they can never let it go. The same indignation they felt when the offence occurred is easily recalled and relived; over and over again. They rely on this judgement of theirs. It is in fact the arm of the flesh. They speak of being willing to forgive but justify their posture by declaring that the other person has not truly repented. Now they have made themselves judges of hearts, forgetting the warning in James 1.13.

Look at the other three things that follow such a person:
1. They are like a shrub in the desert. Like the tree the shrub produces a blossom but has no fruit. It lacks the same rootedness you find in a tree and so its growth is stunted by comparison.

2. They don't see when good comes. This is sad. It doesn't say good things don't come to them or happen in their life. It says they don't see it. Years ago a young folk singer called Ralph McTell penned a song called "Streets of London". I got to see him at the Festival Hall in Croydon. It is one of the most thought provoking songs of that period and has been recorded by over two hundred artists over the years.(check it out at Here are the lyrics:

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone


And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care

Whenever I was tempted to feel sorry for myself I played that song and suddenly life got better. It's missional in its perspective. It's about the pain of others. it's about reaching out and opening our eyes to see. It's about getting our eyes off of ourselves and seeing what is around us. When we only have ourselves to look to, we forget all the good stuff that is in our lives. The pain of others can help us both appreciate what we have, but also move us to share what we have. The Bible calls this compassion. Blessed people see and act.

Psalm 103.1-3 tells us to bless the Lord, "And forget not all His benefits". Five benefits are then listed. You see what God does for us is meant to inspire our worship. But the man whose heart has departed from the Lord can't see this. The good could be right in front of him but he can't perceive it. He is too self absorbed.

3. This is perhaps more tragic. This person inhabits a place that is uninhabited. Living where no-one lives! It's a salt land, dry, uninviting and lonely. Prov 18.1 says: "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; (not God's); he rages against all wise judgement". Notice that. He rages against all wise judgement. When someone is in a rage you can't reason with them. They are emotionally driven and out of control. You just have to leave them be. No wonder that the final description of such a person is summarised by one word - cursed.

But the man who is blessed has a different posture of heart. Seven characteristics are said of him. The first, like the cursed man, gives rise to the others.

1. He trusts in the Lord. Trust is ALWAYS a heart issue. In our mind we can have questions but with our heart we can choose to trust. Rom 10.10 tells us that "with the heart one believes". It's about where we ultimately put our confidence.

2. His hope is in God. Earlier I spoke of those who are disappointed in life. Expectation is another way of saying hope, because hope is about what we expect. Hope is always about the future. Romans 5.3-5 tells us that, "Tribulation produces perseverance and perseverance character and character hope. Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us". Notice the process. It begins with tribulation and ends with God's love in our hearts. The bad can end in the good - if we trust.

Biblical hope never disappoints. It always comes through - in God's time. You see our disappointments in life tell us about our expectations. One essential question remains. Are our expectations birthed in God or in us? David said in Psalm 62.5, "I will wait upon the Lord for my expectation is from Him". If expectation is not birthed in God then it is usually a false expectation and better labelled an illusion; something that isn't real. That's why becoming disillusioned can be a good thing. Through we let go of our illusions. Illusions have all the appearance of reality without the substance.

Hope that God gives comes out of trials where we prove the faithfulness of God. It works perseverance in us so that we don't give up at the first hurdle. Prov 24.10says "If you faint in the day of adversity then your strength is small". This quality of perseverance leads to the development of character, which in turn is a lifetime process. As we trust; we grow; we mature; we understand the ways of God. We are assured and know, He can be trusted.

All of us need to abandon false expectations, of ourselves, of others and ultimately of the Lord. This is often a painful process. Discerning between an expectation that is birthed in God and one that is wishful thinking on our part isn't always easy. But here are a few questions that have helped me over the years:

A. Did my expectation come out of a time of waiting on God?
B. Is it rooted in a Biblical promise?
C. Have others confirmed this? (my spouse, my pastor/mentor, my trusted friends)
D. Do I have a history with God of having my expectations met or am I always aiming too high/low?

3. The blessed man is like a tree with roots. This is also the theme of Psalm 1. The only difference is that the man in Psalm 1 expresses his trust in God by delighting in His word. Trees that grow tall and last have strong roots that go deep. The taller the tree the deeper the roots. What is hidden supports what is seen. That's how it is. Trees that don't survive storms lack a good root system. Roots support and nourish the tree. The unseen determines the life of the seen. And so it is for us. Col 2.7 says we are to be, "Rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith".

Christians must learn to develop a secret life with God. A life of devotion where we learn to meditate on God's word; where our worship and praying comes out of revelation and communion. This is the root system. It is seldom seen but it determines so much. It is done in the secret place, Matt 6.6. Without it the tree can't survive. Not only that, the tree is by the river. The roots reach out for the underground supply of water. There is a secret supply that continually nourishes the tree, even on a time of drought.

4. This is why the tree does not 'fear', (literally 'see' as in verse 6), the heat when it comes. It simply doesn't matter. The life of the tree is not dependent on the climate. It is dependent on the river and the roots that connect to it. Climate is an interesting thing. Testing doesn't come during good weather; it comes during storms. That's how it was for the disciples. The storm revealed what was in their hearts; what they were trusting in, Matt 8.23-27

5. The leaf is green. This is a sign of nurture, health, prosperity. The leaf tells us so much about the tree. From it we can discern its true condition. Despite the drought, the leaf is green. The tree is not anxious because it is not dependent on the rain from above. There is a supply from underground. Rain from above is great, but it is seasonal. Paul told Timothy to be ready to preach the word, "In season and out of season", 2Tim 4.2. Sometimes revelation drops from Heaven. Preaching is a delight when that happens. But sometimes opportunities present themselves and we must rise to the occasion. We need both. Take the rain when it comes. But when it's out of season, draw from the river - underground. That is being blessed.

6. Finally this tree is fruit bearing, year, upon year, upon year. It doesn't cease. There is longevity to the fruit bearing years of the tree. That is what it is like for those who trust God. They are blessed, year in, year out. But this blessing comes as a direct result of taking up a posture of heart that trusts in the Lord. The man who trusts the Lord is blessed.

These two descriptions present us with a challenge. Where will we position ourselves? What basic attitude of heart will we take up? Will we be self-reliant people who trust only in our own ability to make things work out? Or will we surrender kingship to another and trust Him to bring us to our destiny. Jesus has ordained us to bear fruit, John 15.16. It's our portion, our inheritance. Seek to get connected to the river of life so that you can truly be called, "Blessed".