Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Settlers become Pilgrims

Moses' solitary song in the Book of Psalms is a melancholic history of Israel's 40 year journey through the wilderness. It's the tale of a grumbling, unbelieving people who knew God's care and provision, but also felt His heavy hand upon a them as they resisted His leadership. Moses famous prayer, "Teach us to number our days that we might apply ourselves to wisdom," ring out with the gravity of a man who has led a 40 year journey that could have taken a few weeks. "Don't resist God! It's a waste of a short life!" would be my paraphrase of his plea.

The Psalm opens with a more hopeful declaration though. "Oh Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations." There is great comfort in this declaration. God's presence was Moses' one condition for leading Israel."Unless your presence goes with us do not send us up out of here." It was like Moses was saying, "God you've remained true to your promise to us. Even though your people resisted you, we never journeyed alone." This is a profound portrait of God's grace to us in Jesus. "I will never leave you or forsake you."

But there is also a sense of discomfort in Moses' words. God's dwelling place was not a permanent fixture. God dwelt in a tabernacle, not a temple. He directed them to pitch the tent and break camp through a moving cloud and fire. This meant the people of God lived more like gypsies than suburban settlers. Dwelling with a tabernacle God meant moving on.

The tabernacle was also a feature of King David's leadership. At the end of his reign when he wanted to build a temple for the Ark, God said to him, "Since the day I led my people out of Egypt I have not stopped moving from place to place." It's like God is saying, "I'm fine in my tent right now. You need to be too." The temple would be built under his son, Solomon. But David needed to know God's dwelling place as a temporal place.

It gives context to David's famous pilgrim Psalm which begins, "How lovely is your dwelling place, Oh Lord God Almighty."(Psalm 84)Like Moses, he knew that dwelling with God was not staying in one place, which is why he could say, "Blessed are those whose strength is in you who have set their heart on pilgrimage. As they go from strength to strength they make it a place of springs, they go from strength to strength."

There is a difference between a drifter and a pilgrim, as I described in my last blog. A drifter is lonely, self-centered and unable to commit to others. Pilgrims are dwellers with God and people, but they are not settlers.They are able to break camp, together with others, when the tabernacle God moves on.
God is calling drifters and settlers to become pilgrims.

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