You are righteous, Lord,
and your laws are right.
The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
My zeal wears me out,
for my enemies ignore your words.
Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.
- Psalm 119:137-144
I was writing a devotion for our church’s prayer team the other day and I got lost in thought. Actually, I was modifying an old post, converting it into a devotion. I talked about the different voices that you might hear in your head, and I got a little impish and added, “or if you are like me, it might not be a voice at all, just the squirrel that lives in my head, moving around a few acorns, in the dark.”
But then, I thought why did I not say pecans? Sure, we had plenty of oak trees with tons of acorns in the South, but the nut of choice was the pecan. That got me to thinking about an old nutty tale about my mother’s mother, MawMaw.
MawMaw was in her upper seventies at the time, about six or seven years after my wife and I married – reference the photo. MawMaw is behind my wife and in front of my sister. MawMaw was picking pecans, about this time of the year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She had two pecan trees in the vacant lot next to her house. One of the trees rarely produced many pecans, but it did a bountiful job of fertilizing the blossoms of the other tree. MawMaw had a picking device so that she did not have to bend over. It was a small metal cup at the end of a stick with wire instead of a bottom for the cup (spring loaded so that you could dump the contents of the cup). All MawMaw had to do was to push the cup over a pecan. The pecan would slide between the wires and then get trapped in the cup. When the cup was full, MawMaw would push a level attached to the spring against the edge of her large bucket and the cup would dump its contents. She never had to bend over, important for someone almost 80 at the time.
On this occasion, she completely filled her bucket with pecans. On the way back to the kitchen, she passed beneath an old oak tree. She heard the squirrels playing overhead, and suddenly, she felt something brush past her arm, the one holding the bucket of pecans. It was a squirrel. It bounced off her arm and the bucket. The squirrel got to its feet but was very wobbly. MawMaw looked up, and the lowest limb of the oak tree was about 40 feet in the air. This old tree had been there since before the Mayflower had landed at Plymouth Rock. A couple of lower limbs had been cut to protect the roof of the house. I had once found proof that Native American Chickasaw had ground corn by hand under the shade of the tree, finding the mortar and pestle made of stone between the tree roots.
MawMaw then turned her attention back to the squirrel and said, “If you want the nuts that bad, you can have them all!” She then dumped the pecans onto the squirrel and walked back in the house. Her morning’s work was wasted. But MawMaw was like me, if she got a story out of it, nothing was wasted.
She did check up on the squirrel. He got up and he and his squirrel friends had gathered most of the pile of nuts and hidden them by night fall, and all the nuts were gone by the next morning.
As I thought of that old story, old since MawMaw has been gone for over 35 years, I think of the zeal of the squirrel. When the nuts lay in the grass, they were not a sufficient prize to risk being eaten by a predator. But when there was one bucket of pecans, all right there for the taking, it was worth the risk of jumping from such a height.
First, when you consider how big the squirrel is compared to how far he jumped, could you compare that to a much larger human jumping from a ten-story building? We would not survive. We would break something falling from 40 feet, maybe even die from that height, but the squirrel took a few minutes to shake it off and then ran up the tree, carrying a nut. God made each animal a little differently, I think. And no, it was not a flying squirrel. It was probably a gray squirrel or maybe a red squirrel.
You might think that the squirrel was lazy. The nuts had been sitting on the ground for a few days. They could have been picked by the squirrels at any time, but only when gathered into one spot did it seem worth the risk.
And I think of my journey of faith, and I do not see the zeal of the squirrel. My faith journey should be the most important thing in my life, but I slip and fall all the time, sometimes tripping over the same rough spot in the path. I should know that spot is there by now. Our journey is not a smooth one, not in the path or in our energy level as we move along the path.
Then I read this portion of Psalm 119, and I learned that even the psalmist had that problem. His zeal wore him out. Note: If you think about this extremely long psalm as being just too long to read, the psalm is based on the Hebrew alphabet, an eight-verse poem for each of the 22 letters. Thinking of it that way, it becomes something easy to read through.
In this eight-verse section, Tsadhe, צ, the psalmist talks of loving God’s Law, but his enemies are strong, and his zeal is worn out. Yet, God’s promises are tested and proven to be true. So, if we love God’s Law, we love God Himself, we know that His Law is righteous, and we know His promises will be kept; then why do we tire of wanting to be more like Him every second of every day? Why do we stumble?
Maybe the squirrels point to that as well. The pecans had been scattered over the ground. They were weak in that they could not risk a predator catching them when they went after one nut, but a bucket full of nuts was a different matter. When we see a short-ranged goal, and we see the potential of the Joy that we will have for accomplishing that goal, we could risk diving into Satan’s lair to get the prize. Yes, we have a predator, but unlike the predators that would eat a squirrel, Satan has no other power than to tempt us. Our biggest weakness is within us, our sin nature.
So, as the squirrel in my head moves nuts around in the dark (I should probably clean my ears so the squirrel can have a little light…), I see that even the psalmist had moments where the zeal waned, and the tired body lay prone, ready to be attacked. Will I resist next time? Do I have the power to resist temptation?
Not without Jesus Christ, who is in me.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.