SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/God in the Middle
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 1:00 AM
"Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, "The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers' households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. . . then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards." (Numbers 2:1-2,17)
Perhaps you are familiar with the television program, 'Malcomb in the Middle', which centered around the life of a young boy who possessed a 'Dennis the Menace' precocity which propelled him into the middle of every situation. No matter what was happening in the show, you could rest assured that it was linked somehow to Malcomb.
I thought of that character as I pondered this passage where we find God strategically centered in the midst of the camp of Israel. Here, at the beginning of Israel's record of the wilderness wanderings, God gives specific instructions regarding what place He is to hold among the people. In the coming months and years, the nation would learn what it truly meant to follow Him, to worship Him, to believe in Him. Nothing would be left to the imagination of the people. Rather, God made it abundantly clear that He desired to occupy a central place in the lives of the people and nation whom He had delivered from bondage.
Notice that the tent of meeting (the Tabernacle) - the symbol of God's presence - was to be set up exactly in the middle of the encampment. All of the tribes of Israel were given their specific camping locations around the Tabernacle. For forty years this did not vary. The Tabernacle was always set up in the middle. Then also notice that even when on the move, it was the Tabernacle, carried by the Levites which occupied the central position in the march. The lesson was clear -- whether encamped or on the move God was to occupy the central place in the lives of His people. Their whole existence was to take on a "God-in-the-Middle" frame of reference.
You know what? I don't think that our lives should be that very different. It is my thinking that as believers, we too are to adopt this "God-in-the-Middle" way of thinking. Our lives are to center around Him. We adjust our agendas and schedules to accommodate Him and not the other way around. Now, let me ask you this - Is God in the middle of your life? In an honest response you might say that you're not too sure about that. In fact, you may even admit that you aren't too sure what a "God in the Middle" life would even look like. Well, let's think about that for a moment.
What would it look like to have God in the middle of your life? For that matter, what does a God-centered home look like? - a God-focused workplace? - a God-centered vacation? How would things be different if God were in the middle of our Halls of Congress or in the middle of our local schools, or even (and here I begin to meddle) in the middle of our churches and services of worship?
You might ask, 'Isn't He there in the middle already?' - as if His presence and centralization is just assumed. But the fact of the matter is that so often we go through our day without God in the middle, and worse still, we don't much run into Him anywhere out along the edges of our day. Oh, perhaps we don't begin our day purposing in our hearts to leave God behind, but neither is there a conscious decision to invite Him along. Throughout the day, with no consciousness of His presence, we fail to give thanks for mercies received or the goodness by which our lives are enriched. There is no seeking of God's wisdom or help on a regular basis, but only when we find ourselves in over our heads in a difficulty beyond our strength. Almost never is the day begun with a prayer of surrender asking God to guide us coupled with a promise to follow. You see, I think "God-in-the-Middle" has to do with heart as much as with overt actions - a heart that readily cries out: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen."
Well, that sounds good, you say, but why, then, is it so difficult to live that way? Well, it might possible have something to do with our sinfulness. You see, as a sinful people (as was Israel) it is often quite uncomfortable to have a Holy God in our midst. Everything about Him only serves to remind us of our iniquity. Every glimpse at His Law shows us just how far short we have fallen from His glory. Then, also, a "God-in-the-Middle" implies the necessity that all else be oriented around Him and not around ourselves or our own selfish desires. In other words, "God-in-the-Middle" means that we must let go of the reins. His voice is that which we are to heed. His steps we follow. His Will we obey. In other words, owning that we are not masters of our own domain, we assume the more humbled position of servant to the King.
Now, let me ask you again - is God in the middle of your life? It's Sunday morning and you're at home mowing your lawn. Is God in the middle then? You've entered the voting booth without even a smidgen of prayerful thought as to how God wants you to vote. Is God in the middle there? Someone hurt you deeply and you refuse to forgive. Is God in the middle? You're sitting in church during worship while mentally going over your agenda for the coming week. Is God in the middle? Think about it!