On my 29th birthday, I started a practice that I have celebrated each year since on my birthday. I was struggling with turning 29 and thus, decided to embrace the number just a little bit by reading the Psalm that was associated with my new year. Wow! I was awed by Psalm 29 and decided to commit the whole psalm to memory, specifically for this part of it: “The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is majestic…The voice of the Lord strips the forest bare and all in his temple cry, ‘Glory!’”
These words resonated so much in me because I wanted to invite the Lord’s voice into my life in a more significant way. I was captured by both the destruction (of my false self) and the worship (with my new self) of God. As the year went along, I really began to be shaped by and find communion with God through those verses in Psalms 29 in a way that I had not before experienced.
This practice of reading the Psalm associated with my new age has become my birthday tradition. Some years, it has been a lament, others a psalm of joy. This year, on my 37th birthday, I’ve discovered that Psalm 37 is a Psalm written by David and is an acrostic poem. In an acrostic poem, the first letter in each successive line, when taken in order, spells out a word, or in the case of the acrostics in Psalms, are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Of course this doesn’t translate into in English in quite the same way, but I love knowing that this Psalm was written with a sense of completeness, order, and artistry. The particular phrases that caught my eye are verses 3-4 (CEB):
Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Enjoy the Lord, and he will give you what your heart asks.
Many people know verse 4, as it is often quoted as a word of hope and encouragement. I’ve even heard it criticized for having a sort of prosperity-focused interpretation that some may say only reinforces a sense of self-focused individualism (the motivation for finding delight in God is so that one might have the desires of one’s heart). However as I’m reading these two verses together (especially on my 37th birthday), I am struck by verse 3 especially: Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Remember, this is one of the psalms of David. He knew how important the land was to the people of God. In fact, he was the quintessential king of the United Monarchy, when Israel was establishing firm borders. Of course this implies that it was establishing these borders through war, but the promise of the land for which generations had been longing was being realized. So David said in this psalm to “live in the land” and “farm faithfulness.”
Living in the land has a beautiful imagery to me. For the Israelites, it meant to put down roots (figuratively and literally), to cultivate the land, to trust God’s provision. For me, today, it means that I need to “live in the land” of my life now, in Winfield, KS, USA! It is often tempting to live for a time in the future, in the past, in one’s hopes and dreams, or even in one’s fears. But for me, living in the land means that I will embrace the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about right here and now. I will embrace the promised abundance (especially of God’s grace), and the call to bring heaven to earth through living out God’s Kingdom. I’ll live in the land as one who has inherited God’s blessing and not mourn what the locusts have eaten, or what I think I deserve to be given. This year, I’m not just going to occupy the space in which I reside, but I’m going to live in it—embrace it, share it, and see it as a blessing. All my gifts, limitations, freedoms, relationships, positions, and responsibilities—those are the land in which I live, and I will live in it.
As empowering as I found this phrase, I found the next phrase even more empowering. The second half of the sentence, “Live in the land” includes the admonition to “farm faithfulness.” I love this phrase in the CEB. It also is powerful imagery. Instead of farming animals, or crops, one is told to farm faithfulness. It’s as if I hear the instruction: grow your ability to be true, diligent and obedient. Cultivate habits that enable you to trust God and be faithful in your relationships with God and others. When the weeds creep in, and they will creep in, do the hard work of love, forgiveness, perseverance, and giving and receiving grace. I’ve learned that certain practices help me in this pursuit. Prayer, study, meeting regularly with other Christians who seek the same things, intentionally seeking to engage with those most in need, and worship. These practices are my tools, my sustenance, and that which helps me to grow in faithfulness.
While the temptation may be strong to can’t skip the farming part for the blessing part in 37:4, “Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks,” we cannot skip over it. Our hearts must trust that God has our best interest at heart, that what we have is enough, that the suffering that we endure is not going to destroy us. And this trust is built only through farming faithfulness. Yes, I pray that that I would enjoy the Lord and that God will give me what my heart asks, but in the days and months ahead, as I work through Psalm 37 and live in the land, my first thought is that I might be found faithful. And for today, that is enough.