I love the map app on my phone. I like knowing immediately how to get from point A to B and about how long it will take me to get there. But sometimes I think we need to look at old school paper maps. I’m not quite old enough to remember glove compartments full of gloves, but I do remember glove compartments stuffed with maps. One map for the state, one for cities, one for towns. Maybe one for the whole US. When we used maps for directions, we might see something of interest along the way, so we could meander off the quickest way and see the sights.
Maps had to be refolded carefully or they wouldn’t fit back in the glove compartment. When we opened them, we observed the directions of each fold, and we usually didn’t open the map any farther than necessary. We were purposeful in how we unfolded and refolded the maps.
Psalm 119:130 says that the unfolding of God’s word gives light and imparts understanding. As with paper maps, we should be purposeful and observant as we unfold the directions for living according to His precepts. It is when we take time to carefully consider the Word that we see how each part is connected and we may learn something completely unexpected as we follow the path outlined for us.
There are too many people who call themselves Christians who depend only on the mobile map app. They show up on Sundays to refuel, and then take off for what they think is the most efficient direction to living a good life. They miss the beauty of the side roads and the lessons in appreciating the waiting when they don’t really unfold the word in a purposeful way. They are then easily distracted by things that look good, but may not be best. Busy lives, like busy highways, may make us feel like we’re making progress, but where are we going in all the hurry?
The last verse of this section of Psalm 119 is a lament for those who choose the quick and convenient over the careful unfolding of learning to walk with the Lord. This lament is important; we must not judge or criticize those who skim through their faith, but we should sorrow for what they are missing. Additionally, we must be bold in how we speak to those who call themselves believers yet walk in the same fear as the non-believers do. Our lament comes from a place of loving each other, and our words and actions must reflect that love.
It’s not enough to want to go “back to normal.” In fact, “normal” was the problem. We might have been busy FOR the Gospel, but were we truly abiding IN the Word? There was nothing wrong with choirs and orchestras and social events and hugs and sports and children’s programming, but I suspect too many Christians looked at those things and checked the boxes of thing-good-Christians-do and stopped short of digging deep into their relationship with the Lord. A worldwide pandemic stopped everything for a time. And there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3). God was not surprised by COVID-19. He didn’t cause it, but He allowed it to cross borders, I believe as a wake-up call. For five months, now, “normal life” has been interrupted and subdued. Believers had different approaches to the pause. Some worried about the economic effect. Others worried about how their children would be educated. Some blamed the media for conspiring to keep people in a state of fear. Others called the virus a hoax until it touched someone they knew. Church leaders made hard decisions about how to handle church services, and even five-months later, there are massive division about the “right” way to reopen. One large church in Georgia essentially closed its doors for the remainder of the year. Another large church in California sent a letter to the governor respectfully declining to acquiesce to his demands to shut the doors. Most churches are finding some middle ground. But even the middle ground is temporary.
All of this is temporary. We need to look beyond going back to the familiar routines and discern WHY the Lord allowed us to suffer. We must plead for God’s grace as we learn again to long for His word. Instead of looking back to what was, we must turn our faces to the future, the the face of God so that we reflect His visage as we learn His statutes. And we must encourage and challenge our brothers and sisters to do the same.
Unfold the Word. Let His light reflect from you to a world that is desperate for hope.