“After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.” —Deuteronomy 4:25-26
Reward and punishment may work as a training technique for animals, but it does not work when it comes to God’s dealings with us. Listen to what my friend Phillip Yancey observes:
The Bible itself records a kind of behavior-modification experiment on a national scale—God’s covenant with the Israelites. For a time, God resolved to reward and punish his people with strict consistency, as detailed in the book of Deuteronomy. What were some of the results of obedience? Prosperous cities...guaranteed military victories and total immunity to diseases. What about the punishment? If they disobeyed, violence and crime, infertility and crop failure. So what resulted from this reward and punishment system? Within 50 years, the Israelites disintegrated into a state of anarchy and much of the rest of the Old Testament recounts the dreary history of those predicted curses coming true.
Years later when New Testament authors referred to that history, they saw those days of reward and punishment in a new light. They said the Old Testament law serves as an object lesson: It demonstrates that human beings are incapable of fulfilling a contract with God.
James 2:13 announces that “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ! You can rejoice that you do not live in a reward-and-punishment type of world. God did not punish my stiff-necked, teenage stubbornness with a broken neck, and he will not zap you with a lightning bolt if you sin. So today, forgive others of their trespasses against you, as he—the Lord Jesus—has forgiven you. It’s all about mercy. It’s all about grace.
Oh, how grateful I am for your mercy and grace, Lord Jesus.
“The eye never has enough of seeing, or the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
No verse better describes the plight of a man without God in his life: bored, and itching for something more. People look for happiness in marriage, money, and mischief, but nothing completes their joy. Our desires and cravings continue to irritate, making us restless for more. But earth can never satisfy, it can never keep its promises.
I sometimes see this on nights when I wheel into a hotel after a speaking engagement. The bedtime hour has long passed, but the lounge is still crowded, smoky, noisy and packed with people on a search. What’s even more sad is to pass that lounge the next morning and still see people leaning on the bar and fingering a half-empty drink. The scene is not unlike that described by W. H. Auden...
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day.
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play
Lest we know where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the dark
Who have never been happy or good.
It’s strange how people are bent on mad pursuit, making the same mistakes every day, hoping that life will some day reveal an answer, even though the experiences of most have taught them otherwise. Why do people keep seeking and pushing past the boredom? Because people have to. Our seeking is a stirring of a fundamental need that simply must be satisfied—our need for God. Every desire, longing, aspiration, hunger and thirst is no less than a desire for God.
Are you bored? Anxious? Toying with temptation? Looking for something new, exciting or enticing to satisfy some inner craving? Listen to those wants. They show you what you really desire: “...God is the answer to our deepest longings” I Corinthians 6:13 (Phillips).
I want to be satisfied with you, Lord. Completely. Remind me of this when my heart starts to wander.
These devotionals were first sent out October 30 & 31, 2006. To subscribe to Joni’s Daily Devotional Delivery, go to: www.joniandfriends.org/