I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.
Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.
Exertion And Elegance
A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.
Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.
The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.
Meek Like A Bee
But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?
Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and thatit is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.
To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.
For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).
How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.
We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.
How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?
Spiritual Bees Extract Good
If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.
There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…
So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.
Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.
But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.
Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
What do you know about David? I mean, beyond slaying Goliath and sleeping with Bathsheba?
Did you know that Godsaid (Acts 13:2), “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart“?
Why was David a Man after God’s Heart?
Why did David receive such an honor? What was it about David that would have God give him such high praise?
I don’t know all the reasons why. But I think they include the way he worshiped with his whole heart (Psalm 86:12), fearlessly fought for God’s glory (1 Samuel 17:45), and persistently sought the LORD’s face (2 Samuel 21:1).
But I think there’s another reason.
David was God’s man because David took God’s discipline with meekness. Whether it came directly from the hand of a holy God or through the second cause of a sinful man, David received it as from a loving God who intended his good. He did not “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:5b).
In other words, he neither blew it off nor withered into a self-pitying heap.
Which is probably why he could say, Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.
David was used to God’s hand. He was a tamed horse, easily steered, not a foolish mule or a bucking bronco. The Latin word for meekness is mansuetus. It means tame, a compound of the words that mean “used to” and “hand.”
If meekness is key to delighting God’s heart, then how can we grow more meek?
Curses And Stones
Well. It turns out meekness grows when we are provoked. Like when Shimei hurled curses and stones.
Shimei was a pain in King David’s neck. He was a distant relative of King Saul, and a bitter provocateur. Now, decades after Saul’s death, he still resents David’s kingship. Shimei is not afraid to kick a man— even a king—when he’s down.
Here’s the scene: King David is running for his life, fleeing a hostile takeover by his usurper son Absalom. He and his loyal followers are just outside the city when they hear Shimei heckling, “Get out, get out, you worthless man. The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul… you are caught in your own evil” (2 Samuel 16:8).
To which Abishai, a loyal, right hand man asks, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”
A less meek, wounded dog would have.
But David didn’t.
Leave Him Alone
He didn’t let Abishai take revenge. Even though it was well within his power to avenge Shimei, he did not. Instead, I think he realized that God might be speaking to him through this cursing critic.
Here’s David’s reply,
Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.
2 Samuel 16:11-13
He that is down fears no fall, John Bunyan wrote. The king is down, running from his rebel son while Shimei goes alongside, hurling curses and stones.
But David calls off Abishai. He doesn’t defend himself, but leaves vengeance to God.
He lets Shimei speak.
3 Reasons David Let Shimei Speak
Bible teacher David Guzik offers three reasons why David let Shimei curse. He doesn’t use the word meek, but do you hear it?
David let Shimei speak because:
1. He saw the hand of God in every circumstance (The LORD has said to him). He knew that God was more than able to shut Shimei up; David didn’t need to give the order.
2. He put the “Shimei problem” in perspective. (See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite?) David knew that his real problem was Absalom not Shimei, and he did not lose this perspective.
3. He knew that God’s hand was on the future as well as the present. (It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day) David knew that God would take care of the future.
But that doesn’t mean David didn’t grieve.
In 2 Samuel 15 we read, David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.
This is a monarchy—in order for Absalom to take the throne, David must die. David weeps for the people he loves, people he can no longer lead.
But there is another reason for David’s weeping…When Nathan confronted David with the sin of adultery and murder, he predicted that evil would rise from the house of David against him—as a direct result of David’s sin. He is not just mourning his son. He is mourning the consequences of his sin.
The man after God’s own heart experienced God’s forgiveness (Psalm 32:1). But he still mourned the consequences of his sin. David’s sin with Bathsheba brought consequences on himself, his family and his kingdom.
So he wept.
But godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. We do well to weep over our sin
So David wept.
And David Slept
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
That’s what Psalm 3 verse 5 says. David wrote that. But do you know when?
The superscript over the third Psalm reads, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
When David wrote “How many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1), he is not just waxing poetic. There were literally thousands of people risen against him. David had massive, life-threatening, family-disintegrating, career-shattering problems.
And yet, David slept.
There was an army trying to kill him. His own son hated him to death. His family had turned against him. Yet God was a shield about him, his glory, and the lifter of his head.
So David slept.
Do you take discipline like David?
In the face of discipline, David did what maturing children of God do. It’s explained Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when you are corrected by him.” The meek avoid both extremes.
David didn’t take God’s discipline lightly. He didn’t “blow it off” as if his sin was no big deal. He wept.
But he also didn’t crumble into a heap. David did what the meek do when they’re disciplined: He confessed his sin and trusted God’s love. Then he slept.
He wept and then he slept.
At the moment we kiss the rod of his discipline meekness is being formed in us. We are growing into men and women after God’s heart.
But David’s is a tough act to follow.
I Hang My Head
A friend cared enough to confront me about some unkind words I spoke to her recently. I listened to her and agreed.
Guilty as charged.
But I hung my head. I was a puppy cowering beside her on the bench, my tail between my legs. My friend called me on that too.
Why are you sitting like that, with your head down?
I’m a complex case and I know it. But a big part of the answer was the obvious one.
I guess I still don’t like to be corrected.
It’s part of the “all or nothing” syndrome. Does it challenge you too?
It rears its head in relationships this way: When I realize I’ve hurt someone, I’m tempted to disengage and walk away. That’s the “nothing.” But the “all” would have me go hyper-verbal, defending my cause and explaining why her thin skin is the problem.
But that’s not what David did. All-or-nothing is not how the man after God’s own heart took discipline.
What about you?
Like great David’s Greater Son, David entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). He didn’t face off with Shimei. He accepted hard words because he trusted that God would right wrongs.
When you face discipline, even from the mouth of a sinful man, will you let the LORD be the shield about you, your glory and the lifter of your head?
What about you? Are you moving toward David’s wept-then-slept response? Do you graciously accept God’s discipline while trusting in His love?
The Lifter Of My Head
My friend Jen told me a story about her four-year old. Grace did something very naughty one morning. She made a mural on the wall with Jen’s Sharpies.
So they had a talk. Then Jen sent Grace to her room.
When lunchtime came, Grace slunk in, chin down, eyes glued to the floor.
But Jen loves Grace. That’s why she disciplined her and why she knelt beside her and stroked her tear-smeared cheeks.
Then Jen did what God does. She lifted up her child’s head.
And Grace did what meek ones do. She melted in her mama’s hug.
Let us pray that we may kiss the rod and bless the hand that holds it.
Let us pray unto God that we may see His hand in every affliction and say, as David does, “Oh, Lord, Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me!”
We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.
To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop too. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”
So why do I disclose this much?
Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear me this as a brag on me, because I’m boasting in the grace of God: I slept like a baby last night.
Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.
When It’s Hard To Sleep
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9
The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
What happened this week marks not months but years of prayers answered with Not yet, if not No. That answer, this waiting, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.
At least, without the right pillow.
But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me. When I travel, I take my pillow. The extra space it takes to bring my just-right pillow is well worth it.
That pillow helps me sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.
Providence Is A Soft Pillow
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic.Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.
The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.
Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.
Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.
Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.
My Times Are In Your Hands
But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a
My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”
Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.
Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.
And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”
Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow.Mark 4:37-38a
As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.
Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”
For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.
Into Your Hand
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5
How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:
Into your hand I commit my spirit.
I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Luke 23:44-46, ESV
Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.
I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.
Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them…
And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.
Numbers 20:8, 11-12
Do you ever wonder at how God doles out discipline? Like when He stopped his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land simply because he struck a rock? How sometimes divine judgement seems too severe for the crime?
Moses had been told to strike a rock before (Ex. 17:1-7). And God himself had called his people rebels. I’ve written about these rebels before. So what’s so wrong with Moses doing the same?
After all, Psalm 106 tells us that the people sorely provoked Moses. They angered God too. And it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.
Can we really blame Moses for lashing out?
Who Can Blame Moses?
Moses was God’s servant, His pick among all the men on earth to lead His people out of slavery. The “Man of God”- as Psalm 90 calls him- brought the Israelites out of Egypt through the Sea and for 40 years led them through the wilderness. You’d expect that Moses would be the one to bring them to the Promised Land.
He was not. Because God did blame Moses. He found fault in Moses and held him responsible. That’s what blame means.
Numbers 20:12 makes that clear: Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. The offense was serious enough in God’s eyes to ban Moses from leading Israel into Canaan Land.
But you’re in good company if you’ve struggled with this. Scholars have called it “one of the most difficult problems in the Old Testament.” Articles have been written to explain. Nineteenth-century pastor Alexander MacLaren asked “Was his momentary failure not far too severely punished?”
Like banning dessert for a year because a son stole a cookie. Or denying a week at camp for a minute of sassy talk.
If you are hotheaded and tempestuous before you were saved, you’ll have that same tendency to burn up, to be hotheaded after you are saved…
Moses was a tempestuous man. He had a fiery and a burning spirit… Moses had it back there in the land of Egypt when he saw that Egyptian wronging that Israelite slave, and he killed him with his bare fists [Exodus 2:11-12]. And it comes out again here.
Now what happens to you when you’re saved is by the side of that burning spirit, God will put a spirit of grace and intercession by which you’re able to command and to control that volatile spirit. But you’ve still got it…And on the inside of our souls there goes civil war all the time, a’fighting, and a’struggling all the days of your life.
Now it comes out again here in Moses. Moses had…such high hopes for the [next generation] that when they fell back into that old way of their fathers, of murmuring, and finding fault with God- Moses was irritated. His spirit burned within him.
To us it seems so forgivable. To us it seems a harsh punishment for a weakness in Moses’ temperament.
I ask again. Why this divine decision?
Why Was God So Hard On Moses?
Because instead of doing what God said- “Speak to the rock, and water will gush out” [Numbers 20:8]-Moses dishonored God and disobeyed. “He lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock,” [Numbers 20:11].
Let’s don’t miss God’s mercy in his judgment: Despite the people’s grumbling, despite the disobedience of Moses, God gave water abundantly, to his rebel people and their animals.
Still came the consequence: “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them,” [Numbers 20:12].
God barred Moses from entering the land because he did not believe the Lord or uphold the Lord as holy.
Moses overtly disobeyed God [Numbers 20:8, 11]. That was the first sin.
His second sin was disbelief. “Because you did not believe in me,” God said. Just speaking to the rock wasn’t enough. Moses took matters into his own hands. He took his rod and struck twice. He didn’t believe that to speak to it was good enough.
But there’s one more layer that helps me understand why this particular sin, striking the rock twice, was so offensive to God.
God has great care for his types. (And that Rock was Christ.)
If I read one commentary on Numbers 20, I read a dozen, and every one brought out this point home:
When Moses struck the rock, he “broke the type.”
That might sound confusing. Let me explain.
Do you remember God’s direction to Moses? “See that you make every thing according to the pattern showed to you on the mount” [Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrews 8:5; 9:23]. When the tabernacle was erected, did you hear the refrain?
It went like this, “Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.” The curtains and veil and lampstand and altar and basin and table- all were to be “just so,” as the God commanded. Because each of these things had a meaning that extended past itself.
They were types, or pictures of the person or the thing represented or prefigured. So when God barred his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land it wasn’t simply for striking a rock.
It was for striking the Rock. Because the rock was a type. The Rock was a picture of Christ.
Struck Only Once
God had told Moses to strike the Rock once before [Exodus 17:6]. But he was not to strike it again. Because the Rock represents God’s beloved Son, the Suffering Servant, our Jesus Christ.
Christ was struck once. He died once [Hebrews 9:27-28], never to die again. Scripture is so clear on this point.
Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”
1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.”
Hebrews 10:10, “[W]e are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Hebrews 10:12, “But Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…”
There is an infinite difference between the painful things that come into our lives and discipline us—designed for our good that we may share God’s holiness as loved children—and that terrible experience of pure retribution where we simply bear what we deserve and experience God’s justice forever.
I think the lady at my table did what many of us do.
She conflated- combined- two ideas into one that really are not the same. She joined the false idea- that God’s children will never suffer on earth because of their sin- with the glorious truth that God’s children will never- here or hereafter– never suffer the wrath of God.
Jesus took that- He was struck for that- once and for all. He bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). The record of our debt was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:15). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Hallelujah and amen!
But this incident with Moses shows us in heart-achingly, vivid color that this side of glory, sin still has consequences.
For Our Instruction, That We Might Have Hope
When Canaan was so close Moses could taste it- it’s gargantuan grapes and pomegranates and figs-Moses pled with God to reconsider. So he could just to cross the Jordan.
This was a bitter disappointment to Moses. He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land. God did not give Moses what he asked for. “Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more. Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” (Deuteronomy 3:26)
Remember too, how David could not build the temple because he had shed so much blood? How his first child with Bathsheba died?
I think we’re supposed to learn from Moses-and David-to take heed lest we fall, because even for God’s blood-bought children, sin still has consequences in this life.
But even their examples, Scriptures says, are meant to give us hope.
The Good Lord does not forget His saints. There’s more to the Moses story.
God had some better thing for [Moses], and He has some better thing for you, in God’s will, in God’s time, in God’s purpose. He may interdict it now, maybe take it away from us now, maybe the dregs of bitter disappointment we drink in the cup now, but some day, some time, some hour, somewhere, God has some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40] as He had some better thing for Moses [Matthew 17:1-3].
Moses bore God’s discipline for his sin. Rather than speak to Rock he disbelieved and disobeyed and struck the Rock- representing Christ- not once but twice.
Though he was sorely provoked, Moses wasn’t given a pass. He died on the Mountain. He did not enter the Promised Land.
But when the-Rock-who-was-Christ walked this earth and was transfigured on the mountain, you do know who was granted the privilege of standing with him in His glory, don’t you?
Because some day, some time, some hour, somewhere...
And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness…
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.