Most of my thoughts today find themselves in orbit around a concept seen throughout the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s leapt out of the pages and into my own life as well.
It started when studying Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians, urging them to focus on eternity and not to be distracted by the temporary things that can dissuade and distract. It’s a beautiful piece (and a familiar one) where Paul resolves that the once profitable things in life he now considers “loss for the sake of Christ.” Of course, that’s easier said than done.
The issue is that the things that “dissuade and distract” seem so nice. And they do, in fact, satisfy us for a bit. We know they will feel good, quench the thirst and appease the hunger in that moment. And when we are desperate or undisciplined, it’s the quick and easy choice. Esau needed to eat. And in a moment of poverty, a birthright wasn’t going to satisfy the need.
The Israelites were in a similar position when entering the Promised Land. The book of Numbers details a story where two (and a half) of the famous twelve tribes decided that the land on the wrong side of the Jordan River was suitable for their livestock. Lush with grass, waterfront property so to speak, and a noticeable lack of Canaanites to fight made for a spot even Baby Bear could love (it was just right).
I’m sure it was just fine. I’m sure it looked great. And it was probably was okay. But it wasn’t the Promised Land. It wasn’t the place that God had called them to inhabit. It was a good, temporarily satisfying place on the way to what God had intended and that was just fine for them.
And sometimes that’s just fine for me as well.
I’m tempted all the time to turn the stones around me into bread – to use my own power or abilities to make my own way and feed my own hunger for various things. Waiting on God to provide or doing the diligent work to get to my final destination are things that don’t come naturally to me. My own inclination, as an only child (and human), is toward the immediate solution.
I’m drawn toward this, I think, because not only do I have the tendency to settle, but I’m watching this tendency all around me. Husbands and wives settling on the wrong side of their marriage and choosing the easy way to satisfy their frustrations in the arms of another. Leaders settling on the wrong side of their calling and giving up because the river seems too wide. All of us are so grateful for any “Get Out of Jail Free” card that we’ll snatch it the moment the “chance” comes.
But that’s not the calling. And we know it. We know that even as artists there is a deep work to be done to pursue excellence.
We all have rivers to cross and lands to inhabit. And part of me wishes I still had my birthright.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.