I did an in-depth study many years ago and reached a very important conclusion.
WHAT I do is important. Getting into God’s Word, learning what He wants me to do, and making sure I do the right thing… Important. But even more important than WHAT I do is WHY I do it.
In other words, motivation is everything. God doesn’t just want our actions to be right, our appearance and performance to be acceptable; He wants our hearts to be right. I can go to church, hug my neighbors, raise my hands in worship, give liberally in the offering… but if my heart isn’t in it, if I’m only going through the motions so I’ll look good to others or satisfy some legalistic need inside of me, I’M WRONG.
And if I’m wrong, the only thing I need to be doing is getting right. It’s time for me to go to Him and ask for His forgiveness and help, to pray with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10 (KJV)]
Our church is in the midst of a sermon series on the greatest Bible stories, and it started me thinking. If I were to preach on a Bible story, which would it be, and what would I say?
I decided I’d preach on the 3 Hebrew men and the fiery furnace. More to the point, I’d preach on the view from INSIDE that furnace.
Most of us probably know the story from the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the image King Nebuchadnezzar has commanded them to worship, so he has them bound and thrown into a furnace that is so hot it kills the guards who throw them in. However, it isn’t long before the king realizes something strange – there are FOUR men WALKING AROUND in the furnace, and the fourth looks like the Son of God.
So, being a snoop, I can’t help but wonder… What’s going on in there?
I mean, think about it. What has the fire – the fire that was supposed to destroy them – accomplished? It burned off their bonds, freeing them to walk around. Other than that, I see nothing. They’re inside it, yes, but they’re walking around with Jesus!
They are with Jesus! They have boldly declared that God is able to save them, putting their trust completely in Him, and HERE COMES JESUS! He doesn’t just rescue them; He rescues them and sticks around to hang out with them. What is He telling them while they’re in there? What are they discussing? Is He giving them encouragement, instruction, revealing what’s coming next?
There have been times in my life when I’ve been, through no fault of my own, thrown into a fiery furnace that should have destroyed me. What I’ve discovered is that, when I put my trust solely in Him as these three did, the fire ends up helping me grow instead.
When you’re in the furnace, you only have two things to look at – the flames and His face. Watch the flames and you’ll go down in them. Focus on His face and your life changes. Suddenly it’s just you and Him. In that setting, when God has your complete attention… It is truly amazing. In fact, I remember one time when I was in the midst of the fire and I begged Him to help me maintain that same walk even when I was brought out and surrounded once again by the distractions of the world. I knew my own weakness, you see, and my tendency to get distracted.
I think about those young men and wonder how they felt when they heard the king’s voice calling them out. What was their reaction? Did they ask Jesus, “Can we stay here with You for just a little longer?”
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
We have been created anew in Christ Jesus to do good things. Other translations say “good works.”
When being encouraged to do good works, some people answer by quoting Ephesians 2:8-9. (KJV For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.) Yes, we are saved by grace, through faith and not by our works; salvation is a gift. Now, if those who quote verses 8 and 9 would only continue to verse 10, they would see why God gave us the gift— “to do the good things he planned for us long ago”. God doesn’t give useless gifts; He gives gifts with a purpose. Knowing this, we realize we are responsible to find out what His plans for us are and to follow through and do what He expects us to do. As Ephesians 5:17 puts it, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
God prepared these works in advance, expecting us to do them. How much clearer can it get? God had a plan in mind, works lined out for each one of us, even before we accepted His gift of salvation. Now it’s our turn. Now it’s time for us to learn what those works are, pull ourselves together, and go get them done.
This is not merely something we can do; it is something we must do if we are to be pleasing to Him. After all, His Word says repeatedly that faith without works is dead. (James 2:17, 20, 26; KJV; Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.) Too, without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6, KJV, But without faith it is impossible to please Him…)
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Under his direction
These first three words are the key. We must submit to Him as part of His body, completely under His direction. If we won’t be under HIS direction, totally submitted to HIM, why do we call ourselves Christians? To be called a Christian is to be called Christ Like, and Jesus Christ was so completely submitted to His heavenly father that He willingly took the unimaginably horrendous path to the cross.
So, as we are under His direction…
the whole body
The whole body, every part of it, is “fitted together perfectly.”
is fitted together
This phrase is in the passive voice, which shows that it isn’t the body that is doing the fitting together. The “fitting together” is being done to the body by God. (I Corinthians 12:18, KJV But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.)
When we are under His direction, allowing Him to fit us together—letting Him put us where He wants us instead of insisting on putting ourselves where we want to be—we will be fitted together perfectly.
as each part does
Every part of the body has work to do. If a part of the human body refuses to work, the whole body suffers. The same is true of Christ’s body. We are not just here to be. We are here to do. (Ephesians 2:10, KJV, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.)
its own special work
God gives each of us work to do and we can either do that work or not do it. If we choose to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do it well or poorly. If we choose not to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do nothing or to do someone else’s work instead.
We’ve a world of choices and only one is acceptable—to do that special work that God has set aside specifically for us. To do anything else is to fail Him, the body, and ourselves.
This even holds true when we decide to do ‘extra’ work. While being faithful to our own special work, we might still have enough time that we choose to go help another part of the body as well. This can be a wonderful thing, but if we move against His direction, stepping out on our own accord, the whole body will suffer.
This is not to say a man cannot be active in more than one ministry. If God directs him to serve in multiple areas, God will also orchestrate his service. If, however, he chooses to serve in multiple ministries against God’s direction, he is asking for trouble to visit not only him, but every ministry he touches.
We each have our own special work to do and He expects us to do it and do it with excellence!
it helps the other parts grow
What a gift! Can anything greater be said of a man than that he helps others grow? No. Here is a promise, a result, worth working toward!
And, to consider this from the other side, if this member of Christ’s body chooses not to be under His direction, not to fit in his assigned spot perfectly, not to do the special work God has assigned specifically to him, then he will inevitably hinder the other parts in their growth.
How much better it is to do what we know to do and do it in the way God intends!
so that the whole body is healthy
This is one third of what should be our goal, and is God’s goal, for the body of Christ—that we as the body be healthy and growing and full of love.
Unfortunately, though many individual churches are healthy, this cannot be said of the church as a whole, at least not here in the United States. Many churches have experienced splits and too often church members are not surprised when they learn of other members’ immorality. One can also find church buildings for sale in this nation that are available for purchase not because the churches have grown too large for them, but rather because they’ve died.
Obviously, if the church as a whole is not healthy, it is also not growing. I was somewhat surprised at one point, though I wasn’t too very shocked, to hear my pastor say in a sermon that the church in the U.S. has not grown since the 1970s. If this is true, something is obviously wrong.
and full of love
This, perhaps, is the saddest thing of all. God is love; you would think that His church would necessarily be full of love, but in how many churches will you find no gossip, no murmuring, no backbiting, no complaining… If a church is truly full of love, there is no room for these things.
So we, the body, fail the test. We are not fitted together perfectly, with each part doing its own special work. Why?
Because too many of us have never learned the difference between being a volunteer and being a called out, chosen one—the difference between one who casually offers, “I’ll do it,” knowing he has the option of quitting later, and the one who answers the call of his Lord, fully prepared to do anything and everything he is told to do. If the church is to be healthy, to grow and to be full of love, we as individuals must grow up first, moving beyond “I’m only a volunteer!” and into “I am a called out child of God who will fulfill my destiny!”
The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them.
Okay, this is beyond my ability to understand. They were standing on sand – in the desert – looking at Canaan. It was bad enough that they didn’t just believe and obey God, following where He led. Even worse, they could not accept the beauty and bounty of the place He had called them to and chose to stay in the desert instead.
The desert! They chose to stay in the barren, dry places where there was only enough food and water for their massive numbers because God took care of them! They chose a life of wandering with no home, trekking through the desert (where God had to take care of them) instead of trusting Him and moving on over into the lush bounty of Canaan – which He had already told them would be theirs. Why?
I think the bottom line is that we humans tend to prefer the challenges we know. The challenges Israel faced in the desert were so familiar, and God’s care through those challenges so consistent, that they were (and I use the word in a skewed fashion) comfortable. In truth, I think they took God’s care in the desert so for granted that they hardly recognized it anymore. Stepping over into Canaan, though, would have meant trusting God to care for them in new areas and…oh…
Until then, God had done everything for them, or had Moses or specific others do it. They knew, though, that in Canaan they would be called upon to do something – to take up arms and fight for the ground God had promised them. They were like baby Christians who don’t want to grow up! Or, I suppose, it is rather the other way around – today’s perpetually babyish Christians are very much like these children of God.
When someone first turns his life over to God, He takes total care of them as if they were literal babies – answering every prayer instantly (like a parent responding to a baby’s cry) and often in astoundingly miraculous ways, but then God requires them to grow up – to start using and exercising their faith – to DO something…to take up arms and fight for the ground He has promised them. The funny thing is that God usually ends up fighting the battles for us after we take up arms to fight (just as He did for Israel once they actually crossed on over into Canaan); He just wants us to get up off our blessed assurance and move. But too many refuse. They aren’t willing to take up arms and step forward into His promises, trusting Him to take care of them through everything. No, they would rather stay in babyhood where they don’t have to do anything (but also can’t own or be anything); they would rather stay in the desert.
I’ve seen myself in Israel before, but until meditating on this passage I had never really seen their walk as a parallel to my spiritual walk; yet it is. What they did as a nation I may (or may not) do as a Christian – gaining or losing ground accordingly. Help me, Lord, to keep moving forward!
Reading on into verses 34-39 you see the consequences of Israel’s refusal to grow up. They thought they would be just fine if they stayed in babyhood, in the desert, but because they first disobeyed God’s call to move forward and then, when they did move, moved on their own terms…
When we disobey God in any way we are in sin, and unconfessed sin always has consequences. In their case, it became greater sin. (v. 34-39) “Israel failed to destroy the nations in the land, as the lord had told them to. Instead, they mingled among the pagans and adopted their evil customs. They worshipped their idols, and this led to their downfall. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the lord’s sight.”
It’s true; there is no such thing as standing still with God. We must continually move forward. It is also true that genuine obedience is doing what God says, when God says, how God says and all God says. Israel did finally cross over into Canaan, but even then they failed to do all God said – destroy the nations of the land. They let some remain and, because they did, they “fell” into horrible sin and later paid an unimagined price for that sin. God has great mercy, but (v. 43) “Again and again he delivered them, but they continued to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin.”
God was still merciful, and did deliver them in the end, but how different would it have been if they had obeyed Him, and fully, the first time? Where, for instance, would Israel be today? Where would I be today if I had always obeyed Him, and fully, the first time?
I love these words. In modern terms this means – “it WILL happen.” These words were spoken to the children of Israel, but since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) they can also be spoken over us. Of course, there is one “little” condition; it follows the next word – the IF.
thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day
Now, Moses was speaking of a particular list of commandments, a rather long list. Jesus later simplified matters by giving two commandments that cover everything. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Luke 10:27) This really does cover it all. If we truly love God with all that we are, we will make it our business to seek out those things that please Him and bring honor to Him and, likewise, we will actively avoid anything that displeases or dishonors Him. If we truly love Him with all our hearts, we will listen intently for His voice because it is our favorite thing to hear, and we will do whatever He tells us to do. And of course, if we do all of this, loving our neighbors as ourselves will be easy.
the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth
Again, God is speaking to Israel, but we have been adopted into that family, having been made heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom 8:17).
The thought of one people group (“Nation” translates as “people group” rather than being a political or geographical descriptor.) being exalted above all other people groups of the earth can be an uncomfortable thing to consider, but God said it, so think about it we must.
2And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
There’s that “if” again! Something will happen IF we hearken unto the voice of the Lord our God, IF we listen for it and pay attention to what it says. The Hebrew word used here is fairly pointed; it means “to hear intelligently” and often implies obedience.
Of course, if we are listening to His voice and doing what He says, we won’t be standing still; we’ll be busy about His work. And as we move forward with Him something will happen. He says that all (not some) of the blessings He is about to promise will come on us. As we move forward with Him, the blessings will come rushing up behind us and overtake us. How very opposite this picture is to the one mankind envisions. Most people feel the need to chase after the blessings, but God sees just the opposite – that it is Him we chase after and then the blessings chase after us. Matthew 6:33 comes to mind. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
The “all these things” mentioned in this verse is discussed in the verses above; it refers to all the things the Gentiles (or those who don’t know Him) seek. Every one of those things is covered by the blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy 28. Once again, Jesus takes a lot of Scripture and condenses it down to the bare essentials. He’s still saying the same thing, but in a different way; I love it!
3Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
This verse covers a lot of ground – in the literal sense. Some translations say you will be blessed in the city and the country, which implies that no matter where you are, as long as it’s where God wants you to be, the blessings will overtake you. You can also see it as the city and the field being the two different places a person of that day would work, in which case it would be clear that wherever you work, as long as you’re listening to God’s voice and actively doing what He wants you to do, the blessings will find and overtake you.
4Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body
Here is a promise any parent can appreciate! As long as I hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord my God, being faithful to pay attention to and do all He tells me to do, my children will be blessed. This one promise, alone, should be enough to motivate any parent to stay in the absolute center of God’s will!
Other translations present this promise slightly differently. The New Living Translation says that you will be blessed with many children. To people in an agrarian culture, which Israel was, “many children” does mean “great blessings.”
Regardless of translation, God obviously intends for our children to be blessed and a blessing.
and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Again, God is speaking to an agrarian, or land-based, society here, so these were the primary areas in which a man made his wealth. He is saying in this portion of verse that whatever you do to make money, be it farming, ranching, sheep herding or anything else (as long as you are doing what He wants you to do), you will be blessed.
It is interesting to note that Proverbs 10:22 says, The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow to it. The word translated as “blessed” in Deuteronomy 28 is the root of the word translated as “blessing” in Proverbs 10:22. Looking at the definition, it is clear that the implication is definitely “prosperity.” It is God’s intent that we prosper financially.
5Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Baskets were used for many things in Old Testament days. One of the ways in which a basket was used was carrying purchases home from the market. In some parts of the US today people still refer to those cards we push around inside grocery stores as baskets. I and many others walk in the knowledge of this Scripture when we go shopping, starting our shopping trips with, “Father, I thank You my basket is blessed.” I’m not the only one who has developed a reputation for finding bargains, and I’m convinced that our gift for bargain hunting is a result of our taking this particular blessing seriously.
As I said, baskets were used in many ways, and in any way a basket would be used God said it would be blessed.
The word “store” is interesting. Not only did they not have stores as we know them when this Word from God was given, but I have also seen the word translated as “kneading trough.” I went to my copy of Strong’s and found that kneading trough is, indeed, the more accurate translation.
Now, before anyone decides I’m questioning the accuracy of Scripture, let me point out that words change in meaning over time. How many words have we seen this happen to even in recent decades? (Look up the word “geek” in an older dictionary and you’ll see what I mean.) It is entirely possible that a kneading trough was called a “store” when King James had his translators work on producing a Bible that the common man could read.
Regardless, I appreciate the blessing on the kneading trough as much as I do the blessing on the basket. Not only are the efforts of one who goes out to work, to “earn a living,” blessed, but the work of the one who keeps the home is blessed as well. Bread was a huge part of the diet during Biblical times, so for the kneading trough to be blessed was a great thing. By implication, the bread made in that trough would also be blessed, and that blessed bread could only be a blessing to those who ate it.
6Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
Whether you’re coming or going, you’re blessed as long as you meet the requirements of the blessing. Here again is a promise of blessing that is great enough to motivate the person who takes it seriously.
If one were guaranteed such a thing – that the blessing of the Lord (that causes you to prosper) would be on one every time one came in or went out – would it not make sense to fulfill the condition? The fact is, we are guaranteed that blessing!
7The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
There are many instances recorded in the Old Testament when both Israel as a whole and individuals experienced this promise in operation. This is not to say that Israel never had to fight, but in many cases she didn’t, and in many more instances God did the vast majority of the work Himself
Jericho fell without Israel lifting anything but her voice. Only after the walls fell did Israel enter battle. (Joshua 6)
Kings came from all parts of the country to attack Israel in Joshua 11, and in one day they were all destroyed. Their combined army was many times larger than Israel’s, but Israel was right with God and walking in His promise.
God enabled David and his mighty men to prevail in battle even when the entire Israelite army fled, leaving them to fight alone. My two favorite accounts are in II Samuel 23:9-12
Any time one enemy comes against the child of God who is walking as God commands, that enemy does not only come out against the child, but rather he comes out against the Father and his child. No matter what enemy we face, we have our Father’s promise that we do not face that enemy alone, and that if we will just stand firm our enemy will fall!
8The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses,
The emphasis here is awesome. God doesn’t merely bless you in your storehouses; He commands the blessing on you in your storehouses. The storehouse, of course, was where the wealth of the people was stored. Today it could be a savings account or any number of other things. Whatever your storehouse is, know that as long as you meet the requirements in verse 1, God commands a blessing on it.
and in all that thou settest thine hand unto
Remember we’re talking about a commanded blessing here, and look at where God is commanding the blessing. …all that thou settest thine hand unto.
I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on this verse over the years, but still need to spend more. The scope is downright astounding. God commands the blessing on me in all I set my hand to. As my pastor is so fond of saying, “all means ALL.” No matter what I set my hand to, as long as I fulfill the conditions in verse one, God commands the blessing on me in it. I realize, of course, that there are things I can do to negate that blessing – You are snared by the words of your mouth comes to mind. But looking at this blessing, and considering that as long as I do everything the way I’m supposed to, God commands it…that’s big. That’s enormous. That’s more than I can reduce to a few words on paper.
and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
This is a two-fold promise, spoken first to the nation of Israel and now to me. God promised to give Israel a land that was their own, a place they could call home where they would be able to raise their children and make their living with herds of cattle, farms, or whatever else they chose to put their hands to. God promised, too, that He would bless them there. He kept both promises. As long as Israel put Him first, they prospered in this new land God gave them. They prospered tremendously.
God’s promise holds true for us today as well. Our land may be a rented apartment, but as long as we follow Him and Him alone, not turning aside to serve other gods (money, work, etc.) He will give us that land and bless us in it.
9The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.
Again, God is speaking to the people of Israel here. I see no problem, however, with taking this verse to mean Christians today. If we follow our Lord’s commandments and walk in His ways we are called by His name; we are called Christians. We have been established a holy people unto Him.
10And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.
In the past, I gave little thought to this verse. In light of the events of recent years, however, I find them to be more than interesting. Christians and Jews around the world are under attack and both Israel and the United States, which many perceive to be a Christian nation, have been attacked in multiple ways. Much of this is just life, but I cannot help but wonder how much of the overall attack against Israel and Christianity is motivated by a simple fear of those who are called by the name of the Lord.
11And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
It is interesting that this list ends as it does. The implication, to me, is that these things will happen only as long as we are where God wants us to be – geographically speaking. He says He’ll do them in the land He swore to our fathers to give us, not anywhere else.
And what will He do? He’ll make us plenteous in goods – seeing to it that we have plenty of “good things.” He will also make us plenteous in the fruit of our bodies – giving us plenty of children. Finally, He promises to make us plenteous in both the fruit of our cattle and the fruit of our ground – increasing the number of our livestock (stock traders might want to take this one seriously) and giving us abundant crops.
He is, essentially, repeating the promises made in verse four, and any good student knows that when a teacher repeats himself it pays to give attention to what he is saying.
12The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand:
To farmers this is a true prosperity promise. You can plant all the seed you want to, but if the rain doesn’t come at the right time, in season, your crop will fail. (We’re setting modern irrigation aside for the moment) No matter how hard a farmer of this time period worked with his hands, he relied of God to open up the heavens and give rain to his land at the right time.
We may not be a nation of farmers anymore, but it isn’t hard to translate this to fit today’s ways of making wealth. We still work with our hands, if in myriad ways, and God still opens up His good treasure and pours out whatever is needed to cause the work of our hands to be blessed. Just as the farmer did all he knew to do and trusted God to bless it, so should we do all we know to do and trust God to bless it.
in his season
I clearly remember the day these three words exploded off the page for me. I was reading right along when it suddenly dawned on me that this is quite specific. I went immediately to God and asked Him what He meant.
The most obvious answer is that God’s season is not necessarily man’s season, and that I can’t tell God when to pour out His blessing on the work of my hands. I went to God with the question, though, because I felt this was only a partial answer at best, and I was right.
God’s season, put simply, is whenever He chooses for it to be. He is not bound by “seasons.” Any business man can understand this concept. Some businesses, perhaps most, are generally considered to be seasonal – be those seasons literal (summer, winter, etc.) or figurative (Christmas, tax season, etc.). A business man who operates under the standard assumptions of the business world may expect his business to do poorly during a specific season. God says differently. He says here that He will bless all the work of our hands as long as we meet His conditions, so He reserves the right to open His good treasure and give rain to your land in His season, even if that time is one during which the world would consider such a thing to be impossible.
and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
At a glance, this seems like a command, but we must remember that God is giving us promises here; the command has already been given. So this is a promise He is making to us, a promise that we shall prosper so greatly in every way that we will be able to lend to all sorts of people (many nations) and never have to borrow. How different this is from the manner in which modern man lives!
13And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath;
I particularly appreciate the first six words here – “And the Lord shall make thee.” I’ve tried doing it all on my own, advancing myself, promoting me; it’s a lot of work and doesn’t work anywhere near as well as one might expect. It is far better to let God handle the promotions, to let Him move you to the front of the line. Self promotion can only get one so far. When God makes you the head, you are the head.
Likewise, I appreciate His promise to make me above only and not beneath. There have been too many times in my life, when I tried to accomplish things on my own power, when I ended up on the bottom with a world of ‘stuff’ piled on top of me. This should be a completely unnatural position for the child of God. It is much better to do things His way so that He can keep me on top.
if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: 14And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
Once again we see the conditions we must meet, and we see them expanded upon. We have to listen for God’s commandments, whether they come to us through His written word or spoken directly to our spirits. We must also both pay attention to them and do what He tells us to do.
And we must never go aside from His commandments, either. This is important. When walking a path towards a goal, if you veer to the left of the right even the tiniest bit, you will not reach your destination; you will end up somewhere else entirely. According to this Scripture, if we go aside from God’s will for us, veering to the left or the right even a little, our destination will be other gods and we will end up serving them.
That seems a strong thing to say, but I didn’t say it, God did. Christians do this very thing all of the time, veering off a little to the right to serve the god of self, veering off slightly to the left to serve the god of money. Whatever the god’s name, be it Little League or work, or even children or church (Anything, when placed before God on one’s list of priorities, becomes a god.), if we end up serving it first, it becomes our master and we are no longer serving GOD. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, no man can serve two masters.
And, consequently, for the one who has turned aside to serve another god, this first part of Deuteronomy 28 no longer applies. This person now falls into the category of people covered by the rest of the chapter, as Israel did more than once.
But thank God for His mercy, for just as Israel repeatedly repented and was delivered from the hands of her enemies, so might we also repent and be set free to walk the blessed path of His will once again.
Have you ever seen a beautiful example of bonsai? All my life, I’ve been drawn to tiny pots holding miniature trees that have been trained to grow ever so gracefully into living art. They bring me joy and, having seen them so many times, I thought I knew bonsai.
But now I know a bonsai artist. He posts pictures of his ongoing projects on Facebook, and through him I have learned so much more – including just how much I don’t know about the art. First, bonsai comes in all shapes and sizes from the tiny trees I’ve seen to trees so tall he needs help to move them. Second, he doesn’t generally start with nursery-perfect trees, but rather goes out on his own to find truly interesting specimens that show promise of greatness…at least to his trained eye. Then comes the real work.
Focused on producing the ideal product, he begins by selecting just the right the pot. After settling the tree’s roots in its new home, he sets it aside, letting it sit there and grow. He does nothing but nurture it until he knows its roots are established and it is healthy. Then, and only then, does he begin the careful and entirely deliberate pruning process.
I don’t know what goes on inside his head, but I do know that each move he makes is deliberate. He removes branches that are unhealthy or don’t belong in the final design, pieces that get in the way of the special beauty he wants to reveal. Then, having done this, he pulls out his wire and wraps those branches with it so he can ever so gently train them to grow exactly as he sees them in his mind’s eye.
It was a revelation when I saw it. Bonsai isn’t those tiny trees I’ve always admired; it’s careful, thoughtful, pruning and training.
So is Christianity – our development as Christians. When we’re born again, God repots us, putting us in a place where our roots can settle and we can grow strong. Unlike the bonsai trees, we have it within our power to move from this place, but if we’re wise we choose to remain.
Having repotted us and given us time to grow, once He judges that we are settled in, strong, and health enough, He begins a very deliberate pruning process. This is when life gets challenging and exciting all at the same time. Some things we exult in. When He delivers us from addictions that have plagued us, we feel suddenly free. When He gently removes things that have been blinding us, freeing us to truly see Him, we rejoice. Other changes He makes are more painful. We may not want to leave behind things like dangerous friends, bad habits, etc., but if we do…
If we trust His vision, that He sees clearly the promise within us and has a plan for making us beautiful, we submit to the pruning.
Then comes the next step. Having pruned away the deadwood and offensive branches, He pulls out His wire and begins to shape us. Patiently, gently, He nudges us to learn to show love, to be forgiving, to walk in integrity, to be faithful… He helps us learn to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives and, in general, to grow to look like Him. I have this image in my mind of Him sometimes sitting back, like my bonsai artist friend, and smiling softly in satisfaction as we begin to truly take shape.
Bonsai is a slow art, one that requires mind-blowing patience on the part of the artist as his pieces take years to develop. Our growth as Christians is the same. I thank God that His mercy, grace, and patience with me are new every morning.