Last Sunday, it was my privilege to speak at the Chapel I pastored for twelve years. What began as a small Bible study became a congregation and then a true church. As the Lord has led my wife and me through recent life changes, we are no longer able to be there regularly, so the Chapel has developed a new leadership team that will take them into a greater future than any of us envisioned when we began its ministry so long ago.
In my message, I encouraged those in attendance to consider Elton Trueblood’s suggestion that we “live life in chapters.”
To expand his metaphor: you have to write the first chapter before you can write the second chapter. It’s important to know when the first chapter is completed and the second chapter should begin. The first chapter contains information that is essential to the second chapter. But living in the present chapter rather than in the past and the future is vital.
It occurs to me that Trueblood’s metaphor is relevant not only to churches and to church members but to pastors as well. This is obvious at those times when the Lord leads us to conclude our ministry with one church and move to serve another congregation. But if we stay with a church for any length of time, we will find ourselves moving through chapters of change even in the midst of our ministry there.
These can be positive, such as chapters of growth and advance. They can be negative, such as chapters of staff conflict, financial setbacks, and other hardships. I have experienced both and know firsthand that change can be disorienting and feels like loss.
If you’re in the midst of changing chapters, perhaps some reflections from Psalm 36:7–9 will be helpful.
The text begins: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!” (v. 7a).
- “Precious” could be translated “valuable, rare” as with a “precious” stone.
- “Is” shows that this is true no matter what. Circumstances cannot change the character of God.
- “Steadfast love” translates hesed, the Hebrew correspondent to agape. It speaks of unconditional love, loyalty, and faithfulness.
- “O God!” is “O Elohim,” one of the many names of God. It means “Supreme One” or “Mighty One.” Here we see that our God is both mighty and loving, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. The one attribute does not cancel but reinforces the other.
This love, like a “precious” stone, is valuable because it is so rare. No one but God can love us like this. And our Father must love us like this since the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He loves each of us as if there were only one of us (St. Augustine). There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less than when his Son died on the cross for you.
Consequently, “The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (v. 7b).
- The “children of mankind” translates “the offspring of Adam,” thus referring to every one of us.
- They “take refuge.” This is the present-tense decision to flee to God for the shelter we need from the storms of life.
- They do this “in the shadow of your wings.” This is an odd statement since God is Spirit and obviously doesn’t have “wings.” It’s a Hebrew idiom picturing chicks being so close to their mother that they live in the very shadow of the wings she spreads over them.
To stand in someone’s shadow is to be extremely close to them. So it can be for each of us: we can and should be this close to God as our refuge today.
What happens when we choose to do this?
“They feast on the abundance of your house” (v. 8a).
- “Feast” in the Hebrew means to “eat until we are completely full.”
- We can do this because of the “abundance” of God’s “house” where we make him our refuge by sheltering in the shadow of his wings.
Consequently, “you give them drink from the river of your delights” (v. 8b).
- “Give them drink” is sometimes used for irrigating a field, making water completely and constantly available where it is needed.
- In this case, God gives us drink “from the river of your delights.” “River” refers to a flooded river, a torrential stream, while “delights” describes that which is joyful, beautiful, the finest imaginable.
Now we come to the central image I want us to claim: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (v. 9).
- The “fountain” of life refers to the “source” or “spring” of eternal life which is found in God’s love for us (John 3:16; 10:10).
- As a result, “in your light do we see light.” Literally, “in the daylight you produce and own we are able to see and understand the light we need.”
What principles for living in chapters can we discern from this powerful metaphor?
One: Stay in God’s light every moment of every day.
The Bible famously says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Lamps in the biblical era were very small and provided only enough light for the next step. In the same way, we can ask for this light every day. The psalmist prayed: “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” (Psalm 43:3).
Two: Give God’s light to those in the dark.
Jesus called us “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), which requires that we reflect the One who is “the light of the world (John 8:12). This light is essential because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Three: Trust what you cannot see to the God who sees you.
Charles Spurgeon observed: “God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.”
Why do you need to “trust his heart” today?