Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. — Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
Have you ever watched a small dog when they think they are about to get a treat? The energy build up in them looks like a rocket firing its thrusters, ready to launch into space. Their tail wagging so fast seems to match the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. Then there is the uncontrollable shaking, enough to match the effects of an earthquake on a bowl of jello. Next comes the little whines and moans that sound like a race car engine running at maximum RPM’s. Without a hesitant thought, they explode at the speed of light to whatever it is they desire, knocking caution aside! Impetuous little creatures! Yes, aren’t we all though?
I remember long ago hearing a sermon that mentioned several times how impetuous the Apostle Peter was. He was always the first to jump in with a word or action. He jumped out of a boat in the midst of a storm because he wanted to walk on water like his Master Jesus. He tried to correct the Lord on occasions when he didn’t like what Jesus had just said. He even got excited as that little dog when he saw the glory of the Lord at the transfiguration. He would just react in whatever fashion struck him in an instant!
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9)
We all can have a tendency to react impulsively from time to time. Peter, James, and John (as well as the other apostles) had been sorrowful when Jesus said He would be turned over to the authorities to be killed. Jesus took the three up to the mountain to experience the transfiguration and show them His glory now, and yet to come. But, even after the crucifixion, even after seeing the future glory of their Master, they still had doubts of uncertainty. It was almost like they hadn’t listened and learned from their mountaintop experience. Later, James would write in his epistle that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19.) He seemed to be sharing a retrospectively learned lesson he gleaned watching Peter back on the mountain.
Do we have knee-jerk reactions to things we encounter daily? Are we quick with a reactive word of retaliation or disagreement when faced with something that goes against our thinking or beliefs? Do we get down or angered when life isn’t going the way we think it should be going? If you answered no to any of those questions, I applaud you for being the most controlled, even-keeled, and level-headed human being on the planet! Because I, for one, have only one answer to those questions…an emphatic YES! Many times we react without having full knowledge of the facts. We jump to conclusions that could be wrong because we didn’t know the whole story or see the big picture. We take a little bit of information and “run with it”, as they say. More times than not, though, this can lead us down the wrong path or worse. We may end up anguishing over things that we don’t really have the proper information regarding. When we know the full story, have all the facts, see the big picture, then when things happen we are better equipped to handle in proper fashion.
From birth to the grave, all our life experiences should be growing our understanding of how to handle things that might come our way. The more of life we experience, the wiser we can become at facing situations. Yet, it is important to also understand that what we come across in this world is not new. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes informed us that everything that happens in this world is not a new thing. He says; “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11) The old saying that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it! But, all has happened before and will happen again.
So the questions arise: are we learning from these truths? Do we tend to (symbolically) keep putting our hand on the hot stove when we know that it will hurt us when we touch it? The chaos and evil we are seeing in the world today shouldn’t come as a surprise, so why do we continue to react in shock and anger when we see evil flaunting itself? (I personally claim my excuse as being short-term memory problems.) I think that many of us have that very problem more often than we want to acknowledge. But why? Why don’t we remember the learned experiences God gives us from the mountaintops?
When God illuminates us to a Biblical truth, we have a tendency to act impulsively or even shocked as we look around and see rampant sin in the world. Or, when we peer out through the lens of Scripture at this fallen world, which includes those establishments that claim themselves as “churches” that, yet, are readily embracing sin and rejecting God, we get frazzled and upset that there are people who act like…well, fallen people. We need to remember that even ideologies like hedonism, which was once thought of as evil extremism, is not considered by the world as extreme anymore. It has almost become normalized in this fallen world. Again, this shouldn’t surprise us anymore. As the darkness descends faster and faster, people have given up on eternal hope and now embrace temporal pleasures at all cost. This is nothing new under the sun and it has all been clearly pointed out before through the Scriptures. A friend once said to me that “this world is at its ugliest. I don’t even hear the birds sing as I used to.” Sad. But, again, since this is not something new, why are we reacting like we do? We end up getting worked up over things (and people) when we should already know that this is the life around us as shown in the Bible. We would all know this already if we had we paid better attention to God and His Word.
Part of the issue lies with the church and where the attendee’s have been placing their focus. I can say with near certainty that the majority of their attention is not on God and His glory. It is more often than not on themselves. Like the pagan worshippers of yesteryear, “churches” today are filled with consumer Christians. They have the “what can I get from God” and “God plus something” mentality, among other issues that are running rampant within their walls. I think that some of us are aghast by what we are seeing around us these days because God is awakening some who are taking time to listen to His Word. But for others, they focus their time, effort, and energy injecting themselves into everything other than God and His truth. They press hard to have their say in all matters, push their agendas into programs, keep everyone busy with busy things. Many tend to ask “why God” when looking for answers about the fallen world’s conditions, but don’t stop once to listen and learn from the One who sustains all things in existence. Even in prayer, their voice is loudest with requests, and even demands, to God without a praise or worship for all He has done. Essentially, this is called self-exultation.
How so many tend to forget the lessons from the past like Mary and Martha. There can certainly be a balance between being fed and serving. But for many, it is often too much of one thing and not enough of the other. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10:38-42
Matthew Henry put it best when he wrote that “religious exercises are not vain things, but, if we mismanage them, they become vain to us.” There is nothing wrong with having a zeal to doing things, but we must remember that zeal and passion by itself will go terribly amiss. People are shocked at the condition of the world because they spend their time talking over God and not stopping to listen, reflect, and grow. When we focus our attention on God and His Word first and foremost, we then tend to have a deeper desire to know Him, love Him, and trust Him more in this fallen world. We learn that He does have all things under His providence and will, and as such…we take comfort and strength in facing the daily matters around us. We are not shocked or surprised when evil rears its ugly head, because we know that in the end of all things…God! As such, we need to use our knowledge and experiences along with our zeal and passion to strive for a corrective balance in our day to day life! We can worship and glorify God most by focusing on His Word and truth, placing them in our hearts. But, also still serve His Church by sharing His truth and tending to His flock. It is just a matter of where lies our priorities in the things we say and do!
Our flesh keeps getting in the way of our spiritual understanding and retention. I tend to trip over my own flesh as easy as tripping over shoe laces. We learn, yet so quickly forget. Peter, John, and James were exposed to a truth that should have solidified their faith and trust in their Messiah. From what they experienced, there should have never been a worry about the coming cross, knowing that on the other side was the redemption that all mankind desperately needed to have peace with God. Yet, impetuousness and worldly distractions caused them to miss key elements in their walk with Christ. Peter had zeal, but he lost focus with Jesus while worrying more on humanly matters. Even the vast majority of todays church have their priorities skewed from the proper goal. When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we know that all things are taken care of by His hand. The storms around us are of no worry. We know they are coming, that they are here, but we rest in our Savior’s hands…He has overcome the world!
I personally need to remember that there will be mountain top experiences from God that should teach, encourage, and comfort me. But when I return back to the sorrows of this world, I need to remember His glory and be able rest in the truths I’ve learned. If I don’t, then I have to ask myself “what did I forget on that mountain?” The three Apostles saw the glory, yet when the sorrow storms hit they quickly forgot. Jesus kept saying that on the 3rd day He will rise, be raised up! We get a proper perspective of the lowlands from a higher point of view. Jesus gave them that. God gives us His Word to help us remember what our perspective can, and should, be. When we reign in our hastiness and our impulsive mannerisms and speech, we tend to hear His Word more clearly, know His will more clearly, and can glorify and worship Him more sincerely. God provides His Light and Truth to us on the mountaintops so we can survive the valleys. We just need to put aside our distractions, laying aside every weight and the sin that entangles us, and listen…to Him.
God tells us in His Word in Isaiah 46:8-10 to “Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’”.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 summarizes our duties proper saying “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”