I never enjoyed going to church. I could not reconcile the opportunity cost of losing my Sunday morning play rights in exchange for an interlude where one has to dress preppy and feign enthusiasm to some sacrosanct gathering. Our preacher never made much sense anyway, as he seemed to be more of a cross between a woebegone entertainer and a prosaic politician.
My grandfather was a retired pastor. Ironically, he was my favorite old guy. So dignified. So remarkably quiet. So much like my favorite Martian. He was, however, uninhibited each time he spoke about his faith. I remember a night in his home when I was absorbed deep in a game of hide and seek with my siblings. We got interrupted with the announcement of some prayer time. We were then gathered in a circle, while he read from his tattered book. He droned explanations about some ancient texts with the verbal tonality approximating some archaic prophet. I was bored as hell. When prayer began, I tuned off. Inching close to my sister, I began teasing her with all kinds of devilry. It was a most enjoyable intermission, especially, as all eyes were closed and heads bowed down.
In a flash, like the unforeseen descent of a cascading meteor, I suddenly felt a wrathful swat hitting my nape. It was so firm and strong that I got dislodged from my seat, propelled hard to the floor while simultaneously confronted with my grandfather’s bony point-finger–his voice thundering: “no one plays when we pray to God!” His eyes were like emerald-glazed with fury. I was more flabbergasted with the incredible transformation of this man’s demeanor from meek to wild, just because I disturbed his sacred conversation.
I was engulfed with a sense of mystery. Was his deity as real as his grandson? As my head throbbed, my brain spun wondering why grandpa’s god disdained my unabridged version of practical joy.
As I was left with no words to read what just happened, I began wondering what alphabets I missed about knowing an unseen God who’s supposed to listen to human chatter.
A song of ascents
I lift up my eyes to the hills–
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip–
he who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you–
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your
coming and going,
both now and forevermore.
Here is another reason why we never stop thanking God: When you received God’s word from us, you realized it wasn’t the word of humans. Instead, you accepted it for what it really is—the word of God. This word is at work in you believers.
First Thessalonians 2:13 NIV
From the outside looking in, there seems to be a suspicion of shared arrogance among those who claim to know God in personal terms. The projection of this confident aura somehow makes the irreligious uncomfortable: “I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
On a closer scrutiny however, true spirituality if it is to be authentic, must exhibit a deep personal zeal that reveals the robust object of its faith. True faith is always fiercely intense. At times, it is made manifest with an outstretched hand laid upon the sick to implore healing; At times, it is offered through a calculated spank to a soul so dead, in order to rouse life: “He will not let your foot slip.”
Before the pilgrims set out on their journey, an inquiry is directed towards their lead guide: “how safe is this pilgrimage?” The seasoned veteran recognizes the trepidation and declares the assured watchfulness of their vigilant companion: The LORD of creation watches over their feet along the arduous journey.
When proper connectivity gets underway, the first thing that becomes evident is the transformation within the heart of the believer. Disturbingly recognizable, the sobering reality of Meschech and Kedar’s staunch vision becomes apparent. The world remains the same in the midst of the believer’s metamorphosis. While on journey, the psalmist looks up and sighs: “I lift up my eyes to the hills …” The hills along the way are representative of the alternative altars that are strewn along the way, seeking to pull us back to our former idolatries. The unseen forces behind these heights perceive our propensity to be lulled quickly when beset with fatigue or any sort of weariness. The delicious offering of a detour away from God bears down upon the believer who seeks to walk by faith.
To this allurement, vigilance to lift up our eyes beyond the seduction to read the way of God becomes our second call. We are beckoned to study the table of God’s contents by intentionally digesting the pages of his revelation, both created and written.
Through all of life, connectivity to the Giver and Source provides a stirring encouragement: He himself will provide all necessary help. The unreliability of human chartings will be overshadowed by the LORD’s competence. To the pilgrim, his personal guidance has been committed in word and in oath. God wrote down his thoughts to facilitate pinpoint accuracy on what we ought to do if we are to live well under his tutelage. Any well-intentioned designer provides a well-thought instructive manual to facilitate the proper use of a worthy commodity. It is inconceivable to think of human life, with its weight of unfathomable complexity, not to be augmented by a word from its creator. It is likewise most natural to think that clarity ought to characterize such instructions. As the human mind was created to think, thus the manual had to be read in some way or form. To this, we set our attention in each and every step along life’s trek. The reading relationship with life’s true Guide sets the course.
The nature of this divine assistance differs from the sophisticated technical support the world offers: “He who watches over you … will neither slumber nor sleep.” God needs no caffeine in order to stay awake while in monitor. He has no use for sleep and is thus able to commit a watchfulness that is most comprehensive. Help that is thus provided is backed by the warranty of God’s incomprehensible attentiveness to every detail concerning our daily lives. Our thoughts are invited to observe his commitment to the grass of the fields, the flowers in the garden, the birds in the air, … they never lack, for they are thus provided. He informs us of our infinite worth and of the care emphasized by his spoken word. The scope of this unique protection encompasses every breadth, depth, height, crevice, crack, flaw, leak, anomaly, etc., that involves frail humanity. There is no given issue or concern that voids the loyal commitment of God’s promise. The believer shall travel through life, safe and accompanied by this revelatory and abiding guidance. The commanding force of God’s word rests upon its integrity. Upon such promise, we are called to act upon by reading what we ought to urgently follow.
From the very first step of one’s decision to leave Meshech and Kedar, every succeeding pace follows the cadence of His written guide. There shall be no absence of zealous opposition to the life of faith: setbacks, illness, troubles, bankruptcy, and even death, may be experienced; but a greater reality usurps each and every condition: GOD will be there, speaking his renewed presence, at all times.
Vigilance of this sort is foreign to humans. God’s commitment to see us through the rough and dangerous terrain of this world is contingent upon our posture to accept the terms of his blessings. He is the vigilant one. We are called to run to him for help every single day. We are enabled to accomplish this through the diligent readership of God’s Word. Walking with the LORD must be accompanied by keeping in step with His revealed thoughts. This leads us away from dangerous paths: we are called to read the Bible as our way of life.
This is why those who know God deeply, represent him rather fiercely. When they are stumbling and falling, they know by reading: who leans to pick them up without fail.
I breathe music. Life is too melodious to miss its accompanying score. My spiritual rebirth imbibed a prolific thirst that sought to find expression in song compositions. I have close to fifty originals that somehow capture the inner raptures of my faith. My favorite instrument is the twelve-strings guitar. The echoing reverb weaves panache to the tone.
My grandfather was instrumental in encouraging me to join the city’s Christian Music festival. It was a weekly gathering of talented artists where a recording career awaits the champion. Most of the contestants sang popular hits while I only sang my own craft. For a year, it was rather surprising that I kept on staying in the winner’s circle, until there were only four left towards the Grand Finale. Since the event was on live national radio, my family cheered on with much glee. My younger brother followed my string of good fortune like a hawk. He saw me as the ordained shoe-in winner, proclaiming that I was quite a cut above the rest. Although this was rather presumptive, I must admit taking delight in deeming it quite true.
The Finals was held at the plush metropolitan auditorium. The crowd swelled to a full capacity as they awaited the one blessed to win. I had a settled sense of confidence that afternoon. One that is quite free from arrogance. It was nestled on simple factual guts. I was ready for the show as my kid-assistant proudly bore my encased instrument. We were two hours early into the event. While on the long wait, some kind of alien virus invaded me. I was suddenly having chills with fever. Through the convulsions, I did not have the luxury to call in sick. The contest began.
The first two contestants sang impeccably. When I heard my name, I thought I was half-dreaming, half ricocheting in space. I stood up with my heavy acoustic. With my first strum, I knew I was out. Right in the middle of the refrain, the twelve-strings dropped with a loud thud, sending a ripple of hush from the audience. I managed to recover, but totally forgot what I was singing. I ended up rendering a totally different piece! Descending from the stage, visibly shaking and flushed from the fever’s heat, I slumped back next to my brother. I whispered, “Tommy, I am so ill …”
The night ended with a drifting melodrama. My brother suddenly blurted: “What happened? Why did God allow your guitar to slide?” With what little strength I had, I explained, “It was not the Lord’s will, my brother. He knows I did my best, but He has some other plans. He knows what is best. His word assures me that all things work together for good, including this painful setback.”
It has been more than three decades and my songs have not ceased from being born. My brother never lost faith and continues to applaud whenever I sing.
The sweeping panorama of God’s grand story silences my propensity to settle in with my backyard dreams. I was intending to sing my way to his kingdom but God’s script differed.
I was designed to live out the songs of Kingdom Epic through a cappella, preaching from a pulpit, devoid of twelve-strings but resplendent with a thousand images strung.
I am a preacher, by His design.
I know this by reading the book He signed.