Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 11-13.
God’s love is unconditional, but his blessings are not. Think about that for a moment. You didn’t do anything to earn or deserve God’s love. It is unmerited. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” On the other hand, the blessings that flow from God’s hands are often dependent on our obedience. We can’t say that all of God’s blessings are conditional (consider how he sustains life for all of us), but many of them are. For an example, look at God’s words to the children of Israel as they prepare to live in the Promised Land:
The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today–to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul– then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.
In Egypt the rain fell scarcely where the Israelites lived, but the Nile river flowed by year-round and provided water for irrigation. The fields were wide and flat. Canals channeled the water to each man’s plot. The farmer or gardener turned the water on and off as needed by making an opening in the drainage ditch with his foot. In contrast the land of Palestine would be hilly and would not have a steady stream of water like the Nile. Instead the rain would fall seasonally, in the spring and fall, when most needed. God promised that he would watch over Israel continually, caring for the people and the land. But there’s a big if in the promise. If you’ve done any computer programming you’re familiar with if/then statements. They’re also a big part of treaties, and Deuteronomy is one big treaty between God and the Israelites. God says if you obey then I will send rain.
Where do you feel like you live today, in Egypt or Palestine?
- Do you live with a generous supply of what you need, wanting only a little shove with the foot to release it?
- Or do you live from day-to-day, with little stored up, dependent on God to send showers of blessing?
- Is your supply always in sight, like the Nile?
- Or must you see God’s heavenly riches with eyes of faith?
- Do your fields stretch out far and wide?
- Or do you tend a more hilly, hard-scrabble country?
You can look at this if/then lifestyle in two ways. On the one hand it makes God seem hard-nosed and perhaps vindictive if he holds back the rain. On the other hand, Israel agreed to this contract. In that light God is rewarding them for keeping the terms of the agreement. More than rewarding them, God promises to see to their every need. But they will have to trust God to keep his promise. They will depend on him. There will be no Nile River to fall back on should the rains fail.
That’s where believers live today, and it’s where God wants us. It’s our Promised Land, at least until we reach heaven. Whether we have much or little, we live by faith. We depend on God for our daily bread. We depend on him for all the showers of blessing he sends us, whether material or spiritual. Sometimes the rains don’t come as often or as full as we’d like. We must have faith as we wait. Sometimes we struggle long and hard in this hard-scrabble life with sickness or loss. We must remember that God keeps his promises. Sometimes we fail to obey God’s word and suffer discipline. Sometimes, when we remain faithful, God prunes us like grape vines, to make us more fruitful. Sometimes we go through trials so that we can learn patient endurance. In all these situations we tend our soul’s garden by trusting God to send each drop of rain.
Image by M. Dolly on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0.