Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Morning Meds--Strongholds

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; 
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.” Psalm 37

I’ve never taken a particularly glorious shine to the praise team phenomenon, four or five people from the congregation standing up and leading singing. It’s been hot for years in evangelical culture, a sort of earmark of a church's with-it-ness. They’re no burning issue with me, and I get along just fine every Sunday when a new praise team stands up there and does its thing. I'd better--my granddaughter is part of one these days.

I remember one years ago, in a big auditorium, a praise team greatly enlarged, maybe twenty folks strong. I liked that, perhaps because with more of them singing, they were a forest, not trees—if that makes sense.

Several of that group were just kids, two or three of them a bit too young to know most of the music. But they knew one song, an old kid ditty that I hadn’t heard for a quarter century. I don’t know if the song has a title, but it’s created on the parable of the house built upon a rock: “The wise man built his house upon a rock” (repeat three times), “and the house upon the rock stood firm.”

In case you suffered a deprived childhood, the next verse compares the efforts of the foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; once the rains fall, that dwelling went “splat." I don’t remember a “splat” when I was a kid, so I'm guessing the song has been oomphed up a bit.  That's all right.  I'm not hopeless. 

Actions too, actions galore—lots of pounding because there’s lots of building.

But the final chorus made me go splat: “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up (repeat three times)/. . .so build your life upon the Lord.”

Don't I wish that were always and forever true.  It’s so blasted easy, simple as a kid ditty. First-grade math forever makes sense, doesn't it?  The more we pray, the more we’re blessed. Pray a ton and wonderful blessings will shower down.  

I suppose bringing those little kids into worship that night was important, but, honestly, the spiritual transaction "The House on the Rock" offers as undeniable truth simply isn’t as easy to believe as it is to sing--and that's exactly what I remember thinking back then.

Those of us who know depression, know blessings don’t fall upon us that simply. Back then, if I could have tallied all the prayers we brought up to the Lord in those years—and I know others who have suffered far longer—it wouldn't have been no gentle shower; it would have been a storm, I swear. 

That night, while we were singing that little sweet children’s ditty, someone we loved deeply was off very much on his own, looking frantically for himself. That night, despite this swarm of praise singers, it was impossible for me not to feel that my life was built on sand. No answers came in refreshing showers of blessings.

Years ago, in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, I remember hiking to a place called “Cochise’s Cave,” a stronghold the old Apache chief used more than a century ago. Standing there, I had a sense of what it meant to think of God almighty as a fortress, a stronghold, even a rock. From Cochise’s Cave, you could see for miles. A fugitive could get some sleep in Cochise’s Cave, surrounded as you are by solid rock.

And I know that King David isn’t wrong when he sings what he does here, no more wrong than the kids pounding their hands through that little ditty. I know. I know. I know. I know a stronghold when I see it, when I’m in one.

But it’s just not as easy as 1-2-3, or as fun as a praise team, even when its a whole crowd up there with you. Sometimes life is just not that cute.

How does the line go?—I believe, Lord; help thou my unbelief.

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