I am a highly motivated person. (Why are you laughing?) No really, I am. Late in the evening when the kids are in bed and the world is quiet again and I am watching television, I make vows.
Tomorrow, I will exercise, I say. I will find my running shoes, get up and do a few stretches and head out.
I am inspired and motivated. This will be a good thing for me. Being active myself will not only have untold health benefits, but will show my children by example that movement is important. I can do this, I say. Think of all the time I waste in a day. If I just consolidate it, there is plenty left to squeeze in a little jazzercise. Yep. First thing tomorrow. I wonder where my pedometer is?...
I am reading the story of the children of Israel pieces at a time (because I am adding a whole new dimension of slowness to the Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers). I get annoyed with them. I know the story, and I try to be sympathetic, but really people. Will you ever learn?
The deal God made with them is a simple, straightforward one: Obey me and I will bless you; disobey me and you will face the consequences. I estimate that some variation of this arrangement appears at least 923,000 times in the Bible. (Don’t quote me on that. Math has never been my strong point).
Example compounds upon example of this chosen people getting an order from the Most High and violating it almost immediately to terrible consequences. They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because of their tendency to second guess God. Moses died, Joshuah took over. They mostly purged the Promised Land before it was Joshua’s turn to pass the torch. And before he did, he had some strong words for the people of Israel:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
And just like in my first grade Sunday School class, everyone clamored to give the “right” answer:
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! ...We too will serve the LORD,
because he is our God.”
Right, Joshua says. He wasn’t fooled by their enthusiasm any more than I am when three 6 year-olds insist they would rather learn Bible verses than watch Dora the Explorer.
Joshuah warns them:
“You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
But the people insist.
“No! We will serve the Lord.”
“You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord,” Joshua tells them. This is not a show you need to put on for me. I’m too old for this. This promise is between you and God. You just need to be aware of the severe consequences if you break this vow.
But they promise. They commit. At the feet of their fearless leader they vow to worship God and Him only.
“Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.”
And they went home.
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
The people who so solemnly swore their allegiance to the Most High managed to skip passing the message on to their children. This says to me that their promise was something they kept but never lived, at least not to the extent their children caught the vision.
Still, I know I need regular exercises. My chiropractor as well as every medical professional on the face of the earth suggests it. So the next night, I make the same resolve. I commit to a plan-a better plan, and I fall asleep confidant that this time I will follow through.
But the baby wet his bed, and changing sheets at 3am makes it impossible to get out of bed at 5am. And it’s raining.
As a people, the Israelites broke their promise. Just like I do every morning, they rationalized reasons they could not keep it. The army they were supposed to annihilate proved too powerful, so they let them live in the mountains. The women they were not supposed to marry were too much to resist. The treaties they were not to sign were an easy way out of a bloody battle.
So I guess I can’t be too hard on them. I have my own hang-ups, my own idols. Like them, I sacrifice obedience for the sake of comfort and convenience.
It’s easy to make promises at the end of the day. The hard part is keeping them come morning. I wish I could wave my magic wand and quit practicing the ways of an idiot (ie one who does the same thing repeatedly and expects a different result). It’s not that easy though. Part of the need for spiritual discipline is because we need to recognize the areas that need work.
So I get out of bed early and open my Bible and read about an entire race of people that struggled with the same things I do. I read about the dedication with which a loving God pursues, trains, corrects and forgive them. I read that the same Jesus who came as the ultimate rescuer came to rescue, pursue, train, correct and forgive me.
And I vow to press on. Continuing to struggle does not mean I am loosing a battle. It means only that I am struggling--not giving in, but pressing on.