Do you remember that song Julie Andrews sings in The Sound of Music? She can’t believe her good fortune in being loved by the wonderful ‘Captain’ so as they stand in a leafy arbor one evening she sings this sweet romantic song with him:
Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
–“Something Good” from The Sound of Music
[For the audio, and decidedly romantic clip, press CTRL and click here]
Sweet and romantic, but an altogether erroneous conclusion! I’ve been thinking along these lines this week—due to the incredibly delightful ‘fitness vacation’ I’ve just been treated to with my best friend, coach and lover. (See: “Tandem Treat” at Sketches from Skeltons) What do we conclude when our lives overflow with blessing, when all seems sweet, when our health is good and we are strong? Why should we enjoy peace and prosperity, go camping for fun not out of necessity, live in comfort and safety…What is my response? I want it to be purely one of humble gratitude, like David’s:
“Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (II Sam.7:18), knowing that this is the grace of God for this season of my life. Maybe things will be different tomorrow. Will I still be grateful? Will it mean I’ve done something bad?!
But I hear a murmur of this tune—“I must have done something good”– lurking in that part of me that wants to pat itself on the back, as if I deserved this, had it coming somehow. That’s nothing but raw pride, the energy of the flesh trying to claim some glory for itself. Not because of anything in me have I been so blessed. There’s something humbling about grace when you think about it. It’s freely given, can’t be earned, isn’t deserved, doesn’t have to continue, is entirely unrelated to merit. We are at the mercy of God’s grace. We are not in charge, not able to earn anything or guarantee one iota of ‘feeling good’ for tomorrow! A gratitude that gives Him all the glory is a humbly dependent thing. It is ok with whatever is given, trusting that He is good and His grace sufficient when life doesn’t feel good anymore.
Having just finished reading I Samuel, I’m intrigued with David’s life. At last Saul is dead, no longer able to impede David’s rise to the throne for which God appointed him. In all the conflict, all the running for his life, he has preserved respect for Saul as God’s anointed and refused to play a part in taking his life, though he had ample opportunity. He waited, humbly, for God to move on his behalf. And now, his time has come.
And what does he say?
“The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness… “ (Ps.18:24)
What?! That sounds just a tad arrogant, doesn’t it? I’ve always thought so. But with a closer look at David’s life, it’s obvious who he considers the source of his righteousness, his integrity, his strength, his everything. First he credits God’s rules with being his guiding principles. Then he goes on to attribute to God his security, his ability in war, his salvation, and his greatness… “I love you, O LORD my strength…For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. Your gentleness made me great.” (18:31,32,35) There is no arrogance here.
David’s attitude is made clear in the incident with Nabal and Abigail, where David was bent on vengeance against the wicked fool who denied him and his men any reward for their guardian services. As he’s marching on his self-righteous way to take revenge, Abigail meets him and persuades him to let the Lord defend his cause and spare himself “cause for grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause”. His integrity is preserved intact and he gives the credit to God:
“Blessed by the Lord…who sent you this day to meet me! The Lord…who has restrained me from hurting you…Blessed be the Lord who has…kept back his servant from wrongdoing.”
Arguably, there is great reward for the one who follows God’s principles. Staying married to one’s spouse through thick and thin does have a pay-back, for instance. As does ‘buffeting one’s body’ so that it can go on a splendid ‘fitness vacation’! God is after all the creator and He has established the ‘design specifications’ for mankind. This is how life will work best. David repeatedly acknowledges the value of God’s law: Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps.19:11) But at the same time, he reiterates his dependence on God to enable him to walk in God’s ways:
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! (Ps.19:12,13)
So yes, God blesses those who walk by His directions, but no, there is no credit to be taken, only given to God for His love and mercy. Is this why we’re taught to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We need the help! And who knows how often a ‘way of escape’ has been made for us that we were not even aware of. God is faithful to protect us in temptation (I Cor. 10:13) He is after all FOR US! He has an agenda for us, his ‘treasured possession’. We see it in the covenant with Israel:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deut.14:2) His intention is to set them “in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.” (Deut.26:19) Israel stood out among the nations by virtue of God’s blessings on them. Not for any virtue of their own. They were to be a reference point for the nations around them to sit up and take notice that Israel’s God was AWESOME (in the truest sense of the word) and GOOD. Isn’t that what our lives should say? After all He’s the one who’s done something good! In us. Through us.
Seems we aren’t the only generation to get that confused. Way back in the day when God gave the land of Canaan to His kids he warned them about getting so comfy and cocky that they started thinking they must have done something good: “Do not say in your heart… ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess the land’…for you are a stubborn people.” (Deut.9:4,6) A little history lesson follows just case they needed to hear some specifics. Humbling. They are reminded that God set his love upon them for no merit of their own. And lest they start thinking there own power and might has gotten them to this place Moses reminds them it is God who in fact gives them power to get wealth! (Deut.8:18)
So what is my response to all the blessings, seen and unseen, felt and not felt, that are poured on my life from moment to moment?
Perhaps I can stand in my leafy arbor, this home He’s provided, and sing to Him…
“For here you are, standing there, loving me / Whether or not you should…”
And it’s only because You’re good!
Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks and of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates…a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, …and you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deut.8:7-10)
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good…” (Ps.52:8-9)