I love my wife. I want to please her and make her happy. I want to provide for her and give her what her heart desires. Sometimes I just don’t know what that is. Several years ago, Doris had emergency surgery. She went in through the ER and our wonderful friend, Dr. David McKnight, met her there and performed surgery late at night. Of course, as a dutiful, doting husband I stayed right there with her, pacing and eating Fritos in the waiting room. About midnight, Dr. McKnight came out and said she was fine; “Surgery went well. She is in recovery and will be asleep all night.” He went on to suggest I go home and get some sleep and come back early in the morning. So I did, I reluctantly went home, but arrived back at the hospital before 6am.
To my surprise, Doris was sitting up in the bed, hair combed, make-up on, smiling from ear to ear. She looked like a million bucks. I couldn’t believe it. Apparently, the cyst that had been removed was making her so sick, had her feeling so bad, that immediately after removal she felt wonderful. Praise God. Thank You Jesus. Glory hallelujah. Great story so far, right? Well, here’s where it takes a dark turn.
Doris said, and I quote, “I feel great. There is no reason for you to stay here at the hospital all day. Just go and come back this evening.”
I responded with an authoritative, “Huh?”
Doris repeats herself, “Really, I’m fine. I don’t need you here. Just go. Come back and we will have supper together.”
To which I reply with and even more confident, “Well, okay.” We kissed the passionate hospital breath kiss and I left.
Now this is a good place to dig deep into the brain of our hero. (That would be me.) I had planned to spend the whole day at the hospital with my wife. I had taken off work and told everyone involved I would not be in. The boys were both in school. All these thoughts running through my head from her room to the elevator. It was in the elevator that two other epiphanyal thoughts struck me. 1. It is a beautiful early spring day. And 2. I have a brand-new Zebco spinning rod that has never been tried out. Conclusion, in the words of that wonderful St. Peter, “I’m going out to fish.” (John 21:3)
It was a gorgeous day, quietly wading the streams of Middle Tennessee. I was communing with nature, praising God, thanking Him for my wife, and catching a ton of smallmouth bass on my little, ultralight reel. What could be more perfect, right? I’m having a blast, Doris is resting peacefully, God is on the throne, and all is right with the world. Wrong Gung Den! There is trouble brewing in paradise.
I casually saunter (here’s a hint guys, don’t ever saunter when your wife is in the hospital.) into the hospital room. My face has just a healthy hint of sunburn from the wonderful day in the wild. Doris greets me happily, she is rested and reposed, genuinely glad to see me. And then she asks, “What did you do today?” And you know what? I TOLD HER. It was the most amazing metamorphosis I have ever seen. She went from Cinderella to Attilla the Hun in a nano-second. Her head spun all the way around three times. Her eyes flashed real fire. And she said in a voice that sounded an awful lot like Darth Vader, “You left me in the hospital and went FISHING?” Lucky for me I realized it was a rhetorical question and did not require and answer. Also lucky for me, I quickly surmised that rehearsing the exact conversation of this morning would not be a good idea. Who knew that “just go and take the day off” did not mean “go have fun fishing?” I just quietly ate my hospital soup and knew that this would all pass in a year or two.
Knowing just what someone wants from us is not as easy as it seems. That is especially true for me and God. I do love Him. I do want to serve Him well and please Him and make Him happy. But I have had a thousand voices, from my 2nd grade Sunday School teacher to my favorite TV evangelist, tell me a thousand different things that I need to do to please God. It used to have a lot to do with how I dressed and whether or not I danced. (Actually, if you’ve ever seen me dance you might agree that God is not pleased with that.) Later in life I learned it was not about that stuff but about the gifts that I had or didn’t have. “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. Blockin’ out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this and don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?” (Those great theologians, Five Man Electrical Band) Finally, I learned that God didn’t want my outward appearance or my charismatic gifts to please Him. It was all about my heart. But what does THAT mean?
Look, I want to live in a way that is pleasing to God, but I need a little help to know what He wants from me. Well, have I got a deal for you. In Deuteronomy 10, right in the middle of our History Lessons, Moses gives about as definitive a statement about what God wants from us as there is in scripture. Read verse 12. “And now O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God and live in a way that pleases Him, and love and serve Him with all your heart and soul.” Verse 13 expounds a little more, “And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.” There it is, as simple as can be, fear God, live right, love and serve Him. It’s still not absolutely clear but we are getting closer.
Fear God sounds a little ominous, but I think it is about have a real awareness of who He is and who I am not. Rule number 1: There is an all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator God who runs and rules the universe and is intimately interested in the smallest details of my life. Rule number 2: That’s not me! Yesterday’s Proverb reading (9:10) said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Not cowering in terror, afraid of His every move, but understanding that He IS and that everything originates with Him. Pleasing God begins with me just giving Him His props in ALL things. I think I’m going to buy a new car. Okay. What does God want? I think I’ll date this girl. Okay. What does God want? I think I’ll stay mad at this person for a while and hold a grudge. Okay. What Does God want? To fear God is just to put Him at the head of the line in all of my decision-making processes.
Live right. Well, okay. That’s kind of what this whole discussion is about isn’t it? I get some help here from another Old Testament passage, Micah 6:8, “O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Integrity. Humility. Mercy. Simple enough? Well, have you tried all three at the same time. I keep my word and tell the truth. Got this integrity thing whipped. I’m pretty proud of myself. Oops. There goes humility. Or, I stand for what is right. Everybody needs to believe what the Bible says and look and act and talk and think just like me. Right? Great, mercy just went flying out the window. To live right seems to me to do my best to follow God’s ways while understanding I don’t know it all and I can’t judge how other people are doing it.
Here’s the last one, because I have to wrap this thing up, love and serve Him. Now we are getting down to it. Here is what God wants from me. He wants me to acknowledge that it all starts with Him. (Fear Him.) He wants me to live each day in a way that points to Him and not to me. (Live right.) And He wants me to truly, genuinely, understand His goodness and graciousness to me so that I cannot help but love Him and live all my actions out of that love. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” and He just wants me to love Him back.
Doris has had other sick days since that one. I haven’t gone fishing on those days. Why? Because I fear her? Well, yes, but that’s not my point. Because I love her. Because I am aware everyday that anything good in my life is connected to her and she means the world to me. I stay by her side, not out of duty but out of desire. And you know what, I have also had plenty of days to go fishing since then, days that she wanted me to, when she said, “It’s such a pretty day, why don’t you call Branches and not go in today and go fishing?” Her love for me makes her desire my happiness and my love for her makes me desire her happiness. And God’s love for us… even more than that. When we grasp that, it will bring us to the place that we just WANT to do what He requires. We live right, and love justice, and seek mercy, and walk humbly, because we want to respond to His wonderful love for us. Isn’t that good? And every once in a while, when you get a day off, I’ve got a sweet little Zebco spinning rod you can borrow…