Reading the Office this morning, I was reminded of a formative influence in my life: In early boyhood, I lived in a neighborhood where the other boys were all older than me. I grew up wanting to be just like them, good, bad, or indifferent. I thought of this today while reading Psalm 73.
Like others, this psalm contrasts the temptation of envying the wicked with the benefits of listening to God. It begins:
How good God is to Israel,
to those who are pure of heart.
Yet my feet came close to stumbling,
my steps had almost slipped
for I was filled with envy of the proud
when I saw how the wicked prosper.
When you're seven and the posse you're running with is nine or ten, you're filled with envy and you will stumble, even if your chums aren't technically "wicked." The classic, never-to-be-forgotten incident occurred on a construction site, where some of the guys were having a rock fight. The clueless innocent, I wanted in on the action. I walked onto the scene only to get a two-pointed rock hurled squarely and accurately at my eye socket. When I ran home and into the kitchen holding my eye, with blood streaming down my cheek, Mom feared the worst. Fortunately, one point of the rock had hit my brow and the other my cheekbone, and all I got for my stupidity was five stitches above my eye and a boo-boo strip beneath.
While the older boys rode circles around me on their bikes, I was still on training wheels. When the older boys slept out in the woods by a campfire, I was the one who wanted to go home. When the older boys talked about sex and even experimented with it, I was like—what the heck?
Yet I was always in your presence;
you were holding me by my right hand.
Fortunately, no single influence can lead us permanently astray. I came to believe—through a series of "coincidences" too amazing to deny—that something good and powerful had me by the hand. I can see His influence working through my father and my mother, through my pastor and my mentor, through my wife and my daughters, through my church and my pastor now, and so on through my life.
I am often fascinated to think that each of us still has a little child inside us. That big, tough guy striding down the street? Spanky. That sexy babe vamping? Darla. But as innocent as that little child may be, that child is also completely susceptible to evil.
For example, today: I come late to blogging. Others have been on the scene five or six years already. I want to catch up with the big boys (and girls). I want to ride a bike. But that kind of envy, and I can see it every single day, will get me nothing but trouble. I have to say my few words while others are spinning powerful paragraphs and remember Who's holding my hand.
David Wiper, Billy Nickerson, Steve Ahlers, Tom Leaf, others whose names I forget . . . I wonder where they are today. Are they still throwing rocks at each other? Or do they ponder what the Psalmist says?—
What else have I in heaven but you?
Apart from you I want nothing on earth.
My body and my heart faint for joy;
God is my possession for ever.
All those who abandon you shall perish;
you will destroy all those who are faithless.
To be near God is my happiness.
I have made the Lord God my refuge.
I will tell of all your works
at the gates of the city of Zion.