Dear Grace Church Family,
Can people change? Yes, if God, our creator, is working that change. Can our life’s obstacles be overcome? Yes, if God, our guide, is clearing our path. The things that impede us, especially those impediments to life within us, can change too, if we remember and invite God’s power to work miracles in us. Our Psalmist today reminds us that this is what God does.
Psalm 78: Rock Removal. Highway One, in California, is one of the most scenic and breathtaking routes in the world. It winds its way along the Coast from Baja to the Oregon border. Much of it was first traveled by the Franciscan Fathers who built California’s storied missions in the 1700’s. Some parts of it, though, are fairly recent additions; parts in places that even the intrepid padres couldn’t make a safe path and had to turn inland. These parts were built in the 20th century with machines and blasting equipment; a triumph of human engineering. A triumph that is, until mother nature intervenes and periodically closes it. Just such a closure occurred a few years ago when a mountainous 30-foot boulder was exposed by the rains. It teetered above the Pacific Coast Highway posing a serious risk to life and limb. Cal-trans investigated all sorts of traditional and newer, high-tech methods, but there was no workable way to clear this 1,200-ton pebble. In the end, they used a super-sized jackhammer, and ever-so-carefully chipped it apart, bit by bit.
By now you may have guessed that I just might be searching for a metaphor here. And you’re right! This is it: you and I all have rocks in our lives. Some are huge. Some are small. They may be at our feet as stumbling stones blocking our faith walk or causing us to trip; or strung around our necks as millstones threatening to sink us down; or lurking in our hearts, shielding us, we think from pain, but actually keeping us from love, hope, and joy; and perhaps even rocks inside our heads making us plain hardheaded toward others and God. Shakespeare’s Othello says, “My heart is turned to stone: I strike it, and it hurts my hand.’’ The rocks of our lives hurt us. If we even notice our stumbling stones, our rocks of heart or head, our weights about our necks, our sins, our blindness, our denials, bigotries, hatreds, angers, prides, betrayals, and jealousies that we carry, or trip over, hurting ourselves.
So how do we deal with the boulders that hover over our lives, or squat stubbornly across the road, impeding our progress? Who can deal with this? God can. God will. The Psalm today praises God, saying, “He split rocks open in the wilderness … He made streams come out of the rock.” He did so in the desert. He can do so to us. The Psalm revisits a critical chapter in the lives of the Israelites. The author, Asaph, perhaps a teacher or a priest, announces his intention at the beginning: “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth” (78:1). Then he begins to remind his listeners of God’s past activity in their lives.
The reason the psalmist recounts these interventions is so that “they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God,…” (78:7).You would think that if you have a God who is acting on your behalf in such ways, having hope would not be a big problem. Even rocks, rather than being obstacles, are split open to provide the waters of salvation.
But then, the Psalmist reminds the people that when they withdraw from God, God may honor their desire and leave them to their own devices. Yet, God is also gracious, he says. When God’s people turn to God, God turns to them. In fact, God actually turns to us even before we turn to him, as God did the Children of Israel in our Psalm. Even though we deserve to have to deal with these rocks in our own strength and wisdom, drilling a hole, dropping in a stick of TNT, and blasting away with no help for the flyrock risk to ourselves or those around us. But when we confess our sins, approach God in humility, and surrender to the God of cloud and fire, of parted waters and miracles, we find God perfectly able to deal with the rocks in our lives. This is what the Psalmist is attempting to remind the Israelites and us in this Psalm.
So how does God take care of these rocks? God deals with each of us in different ways. God may create a detour around the rock, providing a path in the wilderness that we’d not yet seen, or show us some toeholds and handholds to enable us to climb over the rock. Or, like the Caltrans engineers, God may simply chip away at these obstacles until they can be removed. God starts when we invite him to start the process of change in our lives. We give God total access to the rocks that impede our lives. We become faithful in prayer, and in meditation upon God’s Word. We start to trust implicitly in God’s will, God’s methods, and God’s timing.
And just what happens when these rocks split open? The Psalmist tells us, that God, “gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers” (78:15-16). The obstacles in our lives may look like insurmountable boulders to you and me, but they’re not. So, if you’re feeling inclined to turn to God for help, remember, that means God has already turned toward you. So, turn to the Lord. Ask for help and let God’s expansive power work on your life-obstacles. Let God turn your boulders into blessings.