This past Fall, I played golf for the first time. How’d I do? Well, if you know me, let’s just say I did exactly as well as you might expect me to do. And here’s the thing: if you’re an avid golfer, don’t be offended, but golf is the most boring sport in the world. After six holes, I was like: “Are we done?” But we weren’t. There were twelve more to go, and friends, that’s just stupid.
It was weeks later that my friend Glenn introduced me to the phrase “course management,” which I initially mistook for economics jargon until I did a Google search. Course management, as it turns out, refers to the way a golfer functions on a course. Things like: what club to use (and where), whether to hit the ball over or around the sand trap, that sort of thing. The questions that seemed foreign to me (and had to rely entirely on my teammates for) were second-nature to the seasoned pro. And if you golf regularly, you certainly enjoy it more when you have a better idea of what you’re doing.
In many ways the spiritual life is like that. I imagine the concept of “following God” must seem a daunting task to some. Read the Bible? Where do I start? Praying—especially out loud in a small group—must feel more awkward than a bad prom date.
We grow unsatisfied—expecting instant results—and give up too soon. We maintain some measure of faith—somewhere tucked away for safekeeping—in the hopes of passing our faith on to our children one day. But there can be no substitute for a lifetime of spiritual devotion.
In Genesis 48, we find Jacob looking toward the future. By now, he’s on his deathbed, but his memory is far from fading. As he recounts the past, he expresses confidence in God to sustain his descendants for the future.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.
2 “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
listen to Israel your father.
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
because you went up to your father’s bed;
then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
6 Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.
13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
he shall become a haven for ships,
and his border shall be at Sidon.
14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
crouching between the sheepfolds.
15 He saw that a resting place was good,
and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
and became a servant at forced labor.
16 “Dan shall judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that his rider falls backward.
18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.
19 “Raiders shall raid Gad,
but he shall raid at their heels.
20 “Asher’s food shall be rich,
and he shall yield royal delicacies.
21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears beautiful fawns.
22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
23 The archers bitterly attacked him,
shot at him, and harassed him severely,
24 yet his bow remained unmoved;
his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 by the God of your father who will help you,
by the Almighty who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
in the morning devouring the prey
and at evening dividing the spoil.”
28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
I believe the relationship between God’s activity and man’s to be largely mysterious. God’s gracious work in the lives of people like Jacob invariably says more about the greatness of God rather than the greatness of man. God works in amazing ways through his people—including you and me. But God still asks that we give him the chance to do so. Life is short. Time slips through our fingers like grains of sand. And again, there can be no substitute for a lifetime of faith. Grace defies our attempts to earn God’s blessing—but it provokes us toward effort to share this blessing with others. What are you doing to share your faith? What can you do to better partner with God?