One of my biggest losses from the fire was that of my personal library. I had thousands of books in a variety of subjects – probably more than I would ever have needed. All my reading ambitions were contained in that collection. So it was a challenge to start over by having to buy new books. But thankfully there have been lots of pastors and friends who have offered help by donating out of their collections. Their gifts have helped me to replenish my supply.
Among the books I received was one that came from my in-laws, who are very devout Lutherans. They sent me a brand-new copy of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. It’s basically the doctrinal standard for Lutheranism; it includes the Augsburg Confession with an apology (i.e. an explanation/defense of it), Luther’s Smalcald Articles, the Formula of Concord, and Luther’s Small and Larger Catechisms. It’s good stuff! I’ve been reading it since March and I’m almost finished.
One thing I noticed were Luther’s instructions for table grace. It’s common for Christians to say grace before meals, but Luther’s instructions included devotions for both before and after the meal. The Lord’s prayer is prayed each time and several scriptures are recited (including Psalm 145:15-16, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 147:9-11). This was interesting to me. It’s normative for most of us to say a blessing before we eat. Then when we’re done, we’ll excuse ourselves and go watch TV or do whatever. But the norm that Luther taught was for devotions both before and after the meal.
Warren Wiersbe, a well-known Baptist preacher who died recently, brought this custom up in one of his commentaries on Deuteronomy. He mentioned the example of Simon, his “Swedish preacher-uncle,” who made it his practice to say grace before and after meals. Wiersbe observed: “It’s natural to give thanks for food when we’re hungry, but it’s also wise to give thanks after we’re full.”
That is true indeed! In fact, it’s all too easy to treat God like a 911 phone call when you have emergency needs and cry out for help. But then when the problem’s solved, you get back to forgetting about God. This is why Deuteronomy 8:11-18 gives these words of caution: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Notice the pattern here. Sometimes it puts things in perspective when we can think about our experiences in the worst and the best of times. These verses take the people of Israel through the range of their history. There was the worst of times where they were living in the desert with scorpions, snakes, parched ground, and a dearth of resources. And there’s also the best of times, when there are anticipations of plentiful food, good homes to live in, economic resources (in an agrarian culture this would consist of herds and flocks), and an abundance of wealth. Can you think of your worst of times? What were they like? Can you think of your best of times, and what have they been like?
When things are well, there’s always this danger of being sucked into the myth of the self-made man. So we are warned not to start thinking that “my power and the might of my hand” was what made everything turn out so well. This is a deification of the self, which invariably means forgetting about God.
We’re always dependent on God. It’s good to be reminded of that. Situations of scarcity show us our dependency on God. And this should help to keep us from becoming arrogant when we’re in a situation of plentitude. We can say with Paul (as he writes in Philippians 4:12-13), “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
God bless you
Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.