Devotion for the Week...
I've been reading Psalms lately. I have to admit that I struggle with reading the Psalms. I've never been a big fan of poetry, so I find it hard to slog through poem after poem after poem. Every now and then, though, there is a line that really captures my attention and I keep thinking about it for days.
This devotion was prompted by one such line. It's in Psalm 17, which was written by King David. David started out with "Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips. Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right" (vv. 1,2). Then he asks that God, "hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me" (vv. 8,9).
Now, I really don't identify with having mortal enemies who surround me. That's another reason why I find the Psalms hard to read. I just haven't had life experiences that made me feel attacked and in danger. Have you? If not, do you find it hard to identify with such Psalms?
But then, in verse 14, David wrote, "By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life."
Now, like I said, I don't feel like I have enemies, but that verse still grabbed hold of me. It's not that I feel I have enemies from whom I need to be saved. It's that there's the possibility I, we, could become 'those' people.
Those of this world whose reward is in this life.
This world and this life are all we know. It is all we've seen and experienced, so it's hard sometimes to remember that, as believers, we are not meant to live as people of this world. While praying for His disciples (and by extension, us), Jesus said, "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world" (John 17:14) and "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it" (v. 16).
But what exactly does it mean to be not of this world? Obviously, we're still here, so how do we live "in this world, but not of it" as the saying goes?
One approach is to try to avoid all unnecessary association with people who aren't Christians. It's like people think, 'we may have to work with them, but we aren't going to make friends with anyone who isn't in the church.' That's not the right approach though, because it goes completely against how Jesus lived. The religious leaders of Jesus' day actually followed this no-association approach and so they were confused by Jesus. "While
Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and
sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who
followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees
saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his
disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:15,16). Jesus didn't shy away from anyone's company and He certainly didn't shut Himself away with only those who believed as He did.
In fact, Jesus specifically prayed, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Since Jesus doesn't intend for us to be taken out of the world, it would seem to me that we should try our best to stay actively in the world, while somehow also not being of the world.
A tricky balance, to be sure, but I think the key lies in the verse from Psalms that I couldn't get out of my head. Remember, it said, "By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life" (Psalm 17:14).
The question is, where is your reward?
If everything we are working towards is on this earth (money, fame, popularity, the approval of others) then our reward is here on this earth too. Our reward is in this life. We become the very people David prayed to be saved from!
But if the reward we are working towards is one day hearing God say "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21), then our reward is not in this life.
The things of the world are enticing, which means we have to be constantly aware of our motives, constantly reminding ourselves that money, popularity and approval are not the reward we are seeking.