My three-year-old son has somehow tapped into an innate knack for negotiation. We are driving home from an errand in the evening and from a quiet backseat he suddenly begins informing me of the plan for when we get home. We’re not going to take a nap. We are going to watch a movie with a snack and then put on jammies, he says. And he concludes by actually stating,"That’s my deal.” He can really only count to ten, but if I say two Oreos, he knows he can say four to try to get three.
I remember first discovering Google Earth. I spent hours fascinated by its ability to scale seamlessly from cosmos to street corner. I looked up places I had lived, visited, or never seen before—both the spectacular and the lackluster, the crowded and the uninhabited. Even so, the quality and features of the tool have vastly improved over the years. While writing this, I have pulled it up and double-clicked until the screen was all green, then until a particular grey mass appeared in the midst of the green, until lines and colors emerged, until familiar road patterns came into view, then the corner of Peachtree and Spring, and finally until Peachtree’s courtyard filled the entire screen. I almost expected to see our gardener Mai walking back and forth, tending to all the greenery.
Psalm 104 takes us a similar telescoping journey. The shape of it leaves no rock unturned. It surveys the skies, the land, the primordial forces and foundations of the earth. It treads the mountains and follows the rivers as they shape the landscape.
Then it begins to populate the scene: birds and trees, castle and grass. It moves into the dimension of time: the seasons, the gleaming and gloaming of days, the way they give rhythm to human work and economy.
This no mere catalog of scientific observations. It is an awestruck response to the creating and refreshing work of the Spirit in all things. At every level, the hand of God is present and providing. All the way from most massive to the most minute and mundane, there is care. And it all works as whole. The primordial force of water is wielded to feed and grow and move.
Pray Psalm 104 today and throughout your week. Let it open your eyes to the things all around you everyday that speak of God’s care for creation.
“Seek the Lord and live.” This refrain desperately echoes through Amos 5. The people of God has fallen into the have been blessed—but blinded—by prosperity and comfort. They are confident and secure. They have beautiful homes. Their crops are thriving, and their kids are in good schools. Even more than that, they remain good church-going folk; their piety is impeccable. But their wealth oppresses. They are so worried about maintaining their standard of living that they reject or ignore anything that poses a threat. Amos has things to say about this, as the prophets tend to. Seeking the Lord cannot be confined to formal worship; it spills out into the streets.
Amos warns them that if their religion does not care for the poor, it is deceitful and doomed. God cares so much more for justice than rituals, songs, and offerings that he is willing to consume his own house: “he will devour Beth-el ('the house of the Lord’)” (Amos 5:6). Consider for a moment that our beautiful sanctuary could fall to ruin or irrelevance if we do not seek the Lord and “establish justice at the gate.” (Amos 5:15).
Now to the Gospel. Here comes one seeking the Lord, seeking good. He doesn’t seem to be another skeptic trying to trap Jesus; he asks and answers with sincerity, and “Jesus, looking at him, loves him” (Mark 10:21). But then Jesus pierces the final barrier between this man and life that is true, good, and beautiful: "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). He is blinded and bound by the things he possesses—or rather the things that possess him. Like Amos’s audience, he is impeccable in principle, but wealth has isolated him from the true treasure and source of life. The stakes are too high. He can’t surrender to such a life of insecurity.
This may sound more like preaching than prayerful reflection. But it may be the case that we need to allow the Word of God—“living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)—to slice open not only our prayers but our pocketbooks—which is not too far a jump. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."