Psalm 139 became precious to me in the last few weeks of Dad’s life on earth. So much of it echoes Dad’s unfailing, undying trust in the Lord. Dad lived daily conscious of God’s presence in him. Psalm 139 verses 1 to 4 say:
‘O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.’ (NIV 84)
While I have many great memories of Dad this is what endures. Dad was explicit in his trust and wonder that God would always protect and provide, and, that God had taken hold of him. This was for Dad the most wonderful thing. These words were true for Dad:
‘You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.’
I’m not canonizing Dad. There were times of doubt and struggle in Dad’s life. Thankfully it was God who took hold of Dad and so ... ‘no trouble or hardship or persecution ... nor anything else in all creation ... [was] able to separate [him] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8). Or in the words of Psalm 139:
‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.’
There are many words I could use to describe Dad and he was many things at many times. Personally I loved hunting, playing tennis, getting firewood and listening to his stories. I loved playing chess less, because he was too good at it!!
Sometimes it’s difficult to be around someone who is good, passionate, even a crusader about something. Dad’s greatest legacy, I think, is that he was zealous for the One who made him. That meant though he loved and remained ever faithful to Mum, though he loved and provided for us, his number one priority in life was driven by the reality of the following words:
‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’
Dad was imperfectly yet profoundly single-minded about the mission of God on earth. He was obsessed with knowing God and making him known. He studied God’s word, often literally dawn to dusk because:
‘How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.’
Sometimes it’s hard to live around people of single-minded devotion. What matters most about campaigners I guess is what they campaign for. It matters what the object of their desire and determination is. There are many voices that clamour for our deliberate, intentional, passionate service. These are, in varying degrees, deserving of our time and effort. There is only one, ultimate voice, however, that is deserving service of such single-minded devotion it may be called obsession. We should be obsessed with God, because he deserves nothing less than a life of living sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12). God alone deserves this much.
This is what drove Dad, and, as with crusaders of all types, that was sometimes really great and at other times human passion maybe outshone the generous grace and humility that we who were close to Dad knew & loved. Dad’s passionate campaigning and contending for the faith was, at its best, a defensive response against the dishonour and misrepresentation of the God he loved so dearly. Psalm 139 has been helpful for me to see this:
‘If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.’
I take strength from Dad’s enduring legacy of loving God so wholeheartedly that necessitates brave opposition to the enemies of God. Of course we, as Dad did, must do this in humble self-awareness that it could in fact be our own fear of exposure or rejection that might cause us to react and attack in a wrongly offensive way. The end of Psalm 139 is apt:
‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’
When I remember Dad I admire him. I admire his single- minded devotion to knowing Jesus and making him known. He, like Paul writing to the Philippian believers, seemed ‘to consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord ... not having a righteousness of his own ... but that which is through faith in Christ ... he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection ... he pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him ... he pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3]’.