by John Ellis
Since today is the 24th, I prayed through Psalm 24 this morning, by God’s grace. While praying, the Holy Spirit confronted me with my spirit of discontentment, impatience, and overall sense of entitlement.
Earlier, while taking my kids to school, a light on the dash signaled low air pressure in one of the tires. At the school, I hopped out and did a quick visual inspection. The tires appeared fine, so I felt secure driving the two miles back to my house. At home, I checked the air pressure, discovered that one of the tires was indeed low, but I was unable to locate a nail that would explain the low air pressure.
My response was marked by irritation. I have a lot to do today at the church, and taking the car into the dealership interferes with my day’s schedule; this, in turn, interferes with my week’s schedule.
Now, for those who are wondering, yes, I could’ve probably taken care of this myself without the aid of the dealership. I know how to patch a tire, if that’s what’s needed. Except doing so would probably take as much time out of my day as allowing the dealership to fix it, and it would also run the risk of voiding the warranty.
Before driving to the dealership, though, I had two things on my schedule that I couldn’t forgo – 1. Praying Psalm 24. 2. Opening the church for a women’s Bible study.
As I began praying Psalm 24 back to God, I was struck by God’s sovereignty over all of creation and the immense material blessings that He has heaped on me and my family.
The Psalm of David opens with, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” A few verses later David claims that “He who has clean hands and a pure heart … will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
As somewhat of a disclaimer, I’m typing this while sitting in Bill Page Honda’s “costumer center,” away from my commentaries and other research tools, and I am not entirely convinced that I’m exegeting Psalm 24 correctly. However, if you’ve read Don Whitney’s book, you know that praying the Bible back to God isn’t about correctly exegeting God’s Word, although the goal isn’t incorrect exegesis either. Praying the Bible back to God is a way to allow the Scriptures to shape your prayers and encourage deeper, longer, and more meaningful prayers. At times, the passage will prompt something in your mind that is only tangentially connected to the verse. That’s ok. Pray it.
Anyway, I had opened my prayer by thanking God for allowing me to make it home without having to stop and change a flat tire on the side of the road. But I immediately felt the self-centeredness of that thanksgiving. Not that I’m not thankful that God allowed me to make it home without having to change a flat tire, and I’m definitely not saying that I shouldn’t be thankful for it. But, in the moment, what I was thanking God for was that the circumstances’ messing up of my day was being kept to a minimum, so far. Maybe that’s an ok thing to be thankful for. I don’t know. I do know that in the moment, my thankfulness was not proceeding from a thankful heart; it was proceeding from an irritated, entitled heart.
You see, I was concerned with how my material blessings were being inconvenienced. Worst case scenario, though, the tire needs to be replaced, you know what, make that all four tires need to be replaced, and my family’s lifestyles still does not skip a beat. Well, unless you count the fact that I will watch less ESPN this week because I’ll need to catch up on work. That hasn’t always been the case, though.
It wasn’t that long ago that the prospect of replacing a tire would’ve put our paycheck-to-paycheck budget into a tailspin. My wife and I know the stress of wondering how we’re going to pay the rent, much less pay for unexpected emergencies. And that’s the thing. Ten years ago, buying a new tire would’ve been an emergency; today, however, it means that I probably won’t get to watch as much TV this week as I was hoping.
Sadly, and evidencing the effects of the Fall, many people in this country suffer much existential angst and distress because of finances. There are families today that are frightened as they face the prospect of eviction, inability to buy needed shoes for the kids, and even no food tomorrow. The fact that this morning my first thought was a mental eye roll about having to rearrange my schedule is evidence of the vastness of the material blessings that have been poured over my family and evidence that I take those blessings for granted.
The fullness of the earth is indeed the Lord’s, including nails that end up in tires.
For the record, blessings do not primarily mean material things. In fact, as opposed to the false religion called “Prosperity Gospel” that worships the god of money, when the Bible speaks of blessings, it’s almost always referencing our position in Jesus and the benefits of sanctification that results from our position in Jesus. Material things are a blessing, no doubt, but the Bible never promises that Christians will receive material blessings this side of the Second Advent. The blessings Christians can count on receiving are the kind that provide eternal change that is evidenced, in part, by our response to the temporal.
Shamefully, my response this morning to the temporal revealed idols in my heart. At the least, I should’ve opened my prayer by thanking God for giving me a car with which to collect nails in the tires. My response to all things, the fullness of the earth, which is the Lord’s, should be a response of joy and contentment because of my salvation. I saw a vivid display of that kind of response years before I bowed the knee in repentance and faith before Jesus.
About fourteen years ago, while delivering pizzas on Valentine’s Day, my hardened, unrepentant heart was cracked by the joy evidenced by a couple who were living in very unfortunate circumstances, from a human perspective.
Their house was tiny and run down. A rickety, warped wheelchair ramp led up to the sagging front door, which was open. I cautiously reached in and knocked on the open door; a voice cheerily called out of the dimly lit house, “Please, come in. You can set the pizza on the table.”
As a safety rule, for obvious reasons, pizza delivery drivers are not supposed to go inside of people’s houses. I tended to keep that rule. As I gingerly put a foot barely inside of the door, I hesitated long enough to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimness of the house. The voice kindly encouraged, “The table is right there. The money is on the table.”
It was then that I noticed the man in the wheelchair. It was pretty obvious that he was a quadriplegic. In his twenties, he smiled at me and repeated his instructions. As I stepped forward, the man’s wife entered the room from the kitchen. Using forearm crutches, she laboriously moved to beside her husband and placed her hand on his head. “We love Papa Johns; it’s our annual Valentine’s Day meal,” she proudly stated.
I couldn’t speak. Glancing around the room mostly devoid of furniture, I noticed that their only decorations were pictures of themselves, always smiling, and Bibles. Lots of Bibles. Probably not as many as I remember, but at that point in my life, the presence of a single Bible was an annoyance. This time, however, not so much, which troubled me at the time.
I set the pizza on the table, took the money, and mumbled “you’re welcome,” in response to the couple’s expressions of gratitude.
Driving away from their house, I had to brush away tears. But I didn’t know what to think about the whole ordeal. I was angry, but as an atheist, I didn’t know what or whom I was supposed to be angry at. I was touched, but also bitterly felt that I would never experience the joy or love that couple appeared to possess. And the Bibles confused me. If there is a God, they should be angry at Him, I believed.
Not having talked to them, I realize that this is a bit of speculation on my part, but that couple were recipients of God’s blessing from Psalm 24:5. And, assuming that my speculation is correct, and I believe that it is, they received that blessing because their identity was in the one who has clean hands and a pure heart and who never lifted up his soul to what is false nor swore deceitfully. That couple was blessed because they were putting their faith, identity, and only hope in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their joy was rooted in Jesus, and transcended their temporal circumstances
Mimicking that couple, and, more importantly, mimicking Jesus, my responses to everything, good and bad, should reflect my gratefulness for being adopted into the family of God – the real blessing. My responses should also reflect the reality that my physical circumstances do not define my identity.
My circumstances should always be a reminder of my position in Christ. As a Christian, nothing happens to me that is separate from the blessing of being adopted into God’s family. God is making all things new, and His glory and the lifting up of Jesus is the point of my sanctification. Flat tires should cause me to turn my eyes to Jesus with a heart of thankfulness. God is sovereign over all, and He is working all things out for good for those who are putting their faith in Jesus. All things include nails in tires.
Soli Deo Gloria
(As way of a bookend to the primary anecdote, it was a nail in the tire. Which I’m thankful for because if it weren’t a nail in the tire, I would’ve had quite a bit of editing to do.)
 Not to mention that if there’s a nail or other object in the sidewall, I’d have to take the car in to get a new tire anyway.