Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Danger of Getting Fat and Happy

In Deuteronomy, Moses has finished leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. It is just on the other side of that river. The forty years of wandering are over and the people are about to reach the land that is overflowing with milk and honey (after, of course, a little bit of warfare that will be necessary to get rid of the current occupants). God has told Moses that as punishment, he will not be permitted to cross into the Promised Land himself. Under God's instruction, Moses calls all of the Israelites together and speaks to them, telling them "all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them." Deuteronomy 1:3 (NIV)

There is a lot in that speech that can and should be studied. One of those things that I have been thinking about is the warning in Deuteronomy 8:10-20.

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. . . . You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed, Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God."

The New Living Translation has a slightly different version that I find interesting. Both translations tell of Moses talking about God leading the people out of slavery. From there (replaced with the ellipses above), Moses talks about how God cared for the people as they wandered the desert, providing protection, water, manna, etc. Picking up at 8:17, the NLT reads "He did all this so you would never say to yourself, 'I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.'"

It is a subtle distinction, and one that may not even really exist if you read the NIV version with that in mind. But I think it is important not only that Moses is warning against thinking that we are responsible for our successes, but reminding us that God has done so much for us that we should never be able to make that mistake. These words are just as applicable now as they were at the time. Sure, I haven't had a host of plagues befall my enemies, had the Red Sea parted so that I could escape, have water spring forth from rocks or have food fall from the sky, but I have had protection from God. I have been provided for. I have had solutions present themselves that I never would have dreamed possible. How many times have all of us thought, or said, "There but for the grace of God go I"?

When something good happens, when we achieve success, it is easy to look back at the hard work we did to get there. The hours that we put in working towards that goal; the training or studying. And, of course, to some degree, all that is fair. We did make sacrifices and work hard. But, it is then that it is important to remember that it is all because of what God has done for us. How He guided us, put us in the right place at the right time, surrounded us with the right people, presented the right opportunities. If we forget that, and forget to give glory to God for our successes, we lose focus. We start to focus on the fame, or the adulations, or the money, or the certificate. In short, we focus on the earthly rewards. Those can become gods with a little g that Moses warned of and explained will lead to our destruction.

Too often, I go to God in prayer only asking for something - in times of trouble, or when I need guidance. It is good and right to turn to God in those times. It is equally good and right, however, to turn to God in times of celebration, too. Just to take time to thank Him and to praise Him. I hope that you will join me today in taking a few minutes to give thanks to God.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

I kept a poster on my wall in college that said, "The saddest thing about being an atheist is having no one to thank."

I found myself praying in the car today, and then wondering what people who don't pray do when they need to talk to God.