Hunting for discipleship in the Old Testament – part two
God is often present in the common place. Unfortunately, I don’t always look for Him in common places. It’s easier to spot God’s presence in a packed worship service, the extraordinary healing of people, or dynamic Bible teaching. I’m learning that He inhabits everyday places as well.
Everyday places are important to our Lord. In fact, these common places are “blessing locations” – those spaces where God’s favor resides. It’s in these places that disciples live. It’s in these places that Psalm 128 directs our attention.
Psalm 128 pictures living in common places.
The Psalmist paints a rich vision of the life that disciples inhabit. We discover that our neighborhood, vocation, and family matter to God. In fact, these everyday arenas are the places where God’s blessing resides.
Psalm 128 is a down-to-earth picture of a life filled with God’s favor and blessing; a life lived in reverence of Him and committed to walk in His ways (128:1). The very nature of “blessing” encourages and strengthens us. Who isn’t energized when we realize that we’re been lavished with “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3)! Our loving father longs for us to experience and extend this blessing to the common places we inhabit. How do we get started?
The first common place is the local. The blessed person “shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands” (128:2). The “fruit of the labor” takes place in a local setting — a farm, a home, or a place of business. In an agrarian culture, fruit naturally came from one’s local place, the land on which people lived.
“Land” or place is important to God. For the Israelite, the land was a trust from God, given from a generous father (Exodus 20:12). They were to embody Genesis 2:15, living as stewards who “serve and preserve the fertile earth.” Caring for the local is an act of obedience. Caring for the local was Adam and Eve’s prime directive. We’re to make the local a better place to live.
Jesus made loving local when He summarized the Old Testament into two commands – loving God and loving our neighbor. By definition, a neighbor is someone “living or located near another.” Neighbors are local regular relationships with a shared history.
Even when dispersed in captivity, the Israelites were commanded to seek the “peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7 NIV) — the local place they lived in. They were expected to make the local – a place of captivity — a better place to live. Helping the local flourish marks the life of a blessed person.
When we live in the common place of a neighborhood we do good to the people around us. Commenting on the book of Titus, theologian John Stott writes that “it’s not enough for Christians to be law-abiding . . . we are to be public-spirited as well, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 2:14; 3:1,8). A disciple’s simple task is to make their neighborhood — the local — a better place to live.
This is new territory for me. I always considered my neighborhood as only a mission field – a place to evangelize. It is this but it’s also something more. Living as a disciple in my neighborhood means taking time to love my neighbors and to love the place. Loving the place means helping my physical neighborhood, and the people who live there, flourish. Jesus expects us to love locally. How am I doing this?
- Peggy and I regularly rake leaves and shovel snow for the widows in our neighborhood.
- We maintain our home and property adding to the beauty and value of the neighborhood.
- We stay informed of zoning issues, new commercial development, and pending regulations that could affect our neighborhood.
When a disciple makes the local a place to love people, choosing to help a neighborhood flourish, we experience and extend God’s blessing.
There’s another implication behind the “fruit of their labor.” Not only does this passage speak to a local place but also how one labors or works. This work can be either outside or inside the home.
Instead of the vanity of working for myself (Psalm 127:1), a disciple brings the kingdom to his or her work — allowing the light of Christ to push aside the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16). God’s desire is that I “take pleasure in all [my] toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Disciples make their labor meaningful and pleasurable by bringing the Kingdom to work with them.
Bringing the Kingdom to work turns my workplace into an opportunity to extend the Kingdom’s influence – bringing values like excellence, fairness, justice, and love to a local place. These values are found in the gospel and in the lives we lead. What can this look like?
My friend Ben brings the kingdom to work in his medical profession. On the wall behind where his patients sit in his office is an embroidered cross stitch by his wife. What does it say? In elaborate script it reads “Imago Dei” – Latin for “made in the image of God.”
Every time Ben counsels his patients, his sight takes in this cross stitch reminding him that these people are not medical procedures but individuals made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly. Wouldn’t you like to see this doctor! Ben brings the Kingdom to work turning his place of employment into a place of blessing for others.
Women (and sometimes men) who work at home can bring the Kingdom to work in the ordinary task of food preparation. Author Norman Wirzba writes that “Eating mattered to Jesus . . . eating is the daily enactment of our dependence on other people, the land and ultimately God.” Jesus’ primary evangelism tool was the meal. God is present in the common place of eating.
A local neighborhood and the work we do are the common places disciples inhabit. It’s these common places that our Lord wants to bless. Disciples are committed to helping their neighborhoods, neighbors, and workplaces flourish because the local and one’s labor are important to Him. Jesus expects love to be local. We’re blessed when we inhabit these local ordinary places for His glory.
Psalm 128 helps answer the question, “Disciples for what?” The “what” is sending disciples to love locally, help their neighborhoods flourish, and take the Kingdom to work. The local and our labor are the common places where God’s presence and blessing belong and where the gospel needs to be advanced.
Check out my latest book from Moody Publishers. Walk With Me: Simple Principles for Disciplemaking will help you simply, practically, and relationally disciple others where you live, work, or play. You can order at www.moodypublishers.com.