Number Your Days

In our youth we tend to anticipate the future with a sense of certainty that only the naive can possess. As we mature into adulthood, we embrace the challenges before us with fresh eyes and ready energy, but with no experience and little understanding of what lies ahead. Mid-life comes faster upon us than we could ever have expected. The constant drone of responsibility and necessity drown out the earlier thrill of ambition and replace it with the burden of history and reality. As age advances, difficulties of daily living create new challenges, so that as experience, knowledge, and time combine to create wisdom, perspective toward life grows ever more reflective and spiritual. Such we notice in the words of Moses in the prayer recorded for our benefit as Psalm 90.

Perspective about life begins with the realization of just how much man needs God. He provides the place of safety most needed by every soul for all time (Psa. 90:1). While man remains limited, frail, and bound by time, God transcends all of these to provide everything man requires (Psa. 90:2). Indeed, man only gains perspective by contemplating his ultimate demise (Psa. 90:3), all the while remembering that while men pass through life, God’s existence stands above life itself (Psa. 90:4). Generations rise and fall, but God is there through them all (Psa. 90:5-6). Therefore, the perspective man most needs lies in his recognition that God, standing outside of time and above mankind, will also judge every man (Psa. 90:7) for all our sins, whether hidden or advertised (Psa. 90:8). Despite all man’s bluster, everything we do will be judged by God; therefore, we have nothing to boast of in this life but should humbly live realizing what awaits us in the end (Psa. 90:9). This changes how we see life immensely. Whatever time we have upon the earth, it is short and filled with responsibility (Psa. 90:10) because all that we do will be judged by God. Indeed, death itself should be a constant reminder of that reality (Psa. 90:11). This is why we should spend our days focusing on pleasing God and building that perspective in preparation for eternity (Psa. 90:12). However, along with this, God offers yet another layer to the perspective man should have toward life. God cares for man and wants to help (Psa. 90:13). What a comfort this should be for all of life! He will indeed judge us, but He offers His mercy in the meanwhile to give life joy and meaning (Psa. 90:14). In the difficulties we face upon this earth, which He allows, He also promises to be with us and aid us (Psa. 90:15-16). This final promise, this reality built upon God’s character, offers hope in life and beyond, for God loves to bless and longs to help. He will provide what we need to overcome adversity in life, address the challenges of the world, and prepare for the judgment as we enter eternity (Psa. 90:17).

This is a great God, and serving Him, we can also have a great life. When placed in the context of Moses’ own life and service, finally learning to serve at the age of eighty and getting to view Canaan, his life’s work, shortly before his death, the prayer he offers here can surely motivate us to build a future with God, share our heartaches with God, and thus prepare for an eternity with God.

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The Hometown of God’s People

The city of Jerusalem regularly appears in the news throughout the world due to its historical and political significance in the struggle of competing worldviews, religions, and even civilizations. While the current political conflict between Jews and Muslims, clearly seen in various security checkpoints, and the religious conflict represented by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall speak to the modern division in the city, this merely echoes its role throughout many centuries. However, the Bible introduces the city of Salem as the home of Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God and Salem’s king (Gen. 14). Centuries later the Israelites found it inhabited by the Jebusites (Jsh. 10) until the children of Judah took the city (Jdg. 1:8), though the Jebusites recaptured it sometime afterward (Jsh. 15:63), remaining in their possession until David recaptured it and made it the capital city (2 Sam. 5), continuing in that capacity until its destruction by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Sometime during the latter portion of this captivity, when Jerusalem still lay in rubble, the sons of Korah likely penned Psalm 87, an ode to Jerusalem, in a sense, that offers hope for the rebirth of the city, looking unto even greater things.

Jerusalem would not return to greatness, however, because of the power of Israel or the grand design of an empire. Rather, the LORD Himself desired its restoration for His purposes, and this made Jerusalem holy (Psa. 87:1). God’s love for the city, rooted in His plan to use it, motivated its rebuilding (Psa. 87:2), so that the basis for its praise is rooted not in the past but in its potential: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Psa. 87:3). The means and significance of this purpose would center on how Gentiles from Israel’s greatest enemies and from far away lands would one day call Yahweh their God and think of Jerusalem as their place of origin (Psa. 87:4), all due to God’s provision (Psa. 87:5-6). Despite its destruction, which fulfilled God’s will, Jerusalem would become the source of blessing once more (Psa. 87:7).

Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the Jews rebuilt the temple, and under the leadership of Nehemiah, they rebuilt the city. The LORD thus raised Jerusalem from the dead to serve His purposes. But while the Jews rejoiced in the restoration of temple worship, God and this psalm looked beyond the return of the Jews to their capital and pointed to the time when Jerusalem would serve as the place from which Christianity would rise (Acts 2) and offer Gentiles reason to embrace the city with thankfulness because of the message of the gospel that sprang forth from within its walls. Jerusalem deserves to be celebrated and embraced—not simply for its storied history, but for its spiritual significance—not as the capital of a holy land, but as the place from which God made it possible for people of all nations to become His holy people (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and have reason to think of Jerusalem as their hometown.

What Do We Really Need?

All of us are poor and needy at heart, whether we realize it and admit it or not. Indeed, often a stubborn heart and rebellious spirit keeps us from enjoying full access to the depth of God’s care because we refuse to acknowledge our needs, our weaknesses, and our true situation, choosing instead to try to do everything ourselves, including much that is impossible for us to do. Is it then any wonder that anxiety holds sway when we fail to turn to the One available and able to come to our aid? David, despite fighting as a soldier and reigning as king, had a heart for God so tender that he turned regularly to Him in great humility to ask and even plead for the needs of his soul, as Psalm 86 provides more than adequate evidence.

In the first seven verses David calls on God to preserve him, to save him, to show him mercy, and to give him a reason to rejoice by answering his prayer in the affirmative. However, the basis for his request shows how his mindset  differed from how we often see ourselves and therefore approach God. David came to God specifically because he saw himself as “poor and needy” (Psa. 86:1) and because God is so much more: holy, trustworthy, good, ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy. Indeed, David had confidence in coming to God because of how positively God contrasts with man—a concept quite opposite from the 21st century desire to lower God to man’s level. But the LORD’s nature especially qualifies Him to help us because His uniqueness makes Him capable of doing what no one else can do (Psa. 86:8). He alone deserves recognition as truly great and therefore worthy of worship (Psa. 86:9), and He has proven such by the power displayed in miraculous and wondrous works performed in times past. Truly, He alone is God (Psa. 86:10). For this reason, we can have complete confidence in His instruction and guidance (Psa. 86:11). Because of this, we can have confidence in His deliverance (Psa. 86:12-14). But more than that, we can have confidence in all these things because of His character. “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psa. 86:15). Surely we have every reason to turn to our God and do His will, because His will is in our best interest, and He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

Only Jehovah God can provide all that we need. And we need Him desperately. Therefore, let us humble our hearts and acknowledge our need, let us realize the great power and mercy of the one true God and reach out to Him with confidence that He will do what is best for us. As long as we live upon this earth, we will face struggles without and struggles within, but through it all, we have a God on whom we can always rely. This is why, regardless of our problems and regardless of our situation, the faithful can lift their voices to heaven and cry, “Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your maidservant. Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (Psa. 86:16-17).

The Doorkeeper’s Privilege

Have you ever felt that combination of frustration and longing when you desperately wanted to be somewhere, surrounded by friends and family, but instead found yourself elsewhere by forces outside of your control, practically alone, and daydreaming about all that you were missing? It might have been a family reunion, a concert, or just a group of friends from school getting together to talk about old times. Whatever the occasion, missing it creates a loneliness that gnaws at you deep within. But what if you are missing out on a spiritual reunion, a gathering to worship, and an opportunity of fellowship? If these things truly matter to you, missing them will hurt deeply, because you find yourself separated from the community and the joy that means the most. Faithful Christians who are shut-in and unable to gather with the saints to worship, study, and work—except perhaps occasionally—can appreciate this feeling, knowing how much the simple visit of one brother or sister means in soothing the soul. However, the sons of Korah who penned Psalm 84 understood this as well, and these inspired words capture the essence of longing and the hope of renewal that can provide spiritual solace for those in a similar situation today.

While the exact date of the psalm eludes us, the internal clues provided by the content suggest the words of those swept away in Babylonian captivity, but likely before the destruction of the temple. Thus, one who had ministered in the temple and anticipated journeying to Jerusalem for the annual feasts found himself unable to return but only able to remember and imagine. O how he loved coming before the LORD where He dwelled (Psa. 84:1), and now this had been taken from him; the loss compelled him to cry out (Psa. 84:2). Even birds could take shelter on the temple grounds, while he was left only with his memories (Psa. 84:3). He envisions the journey through the barrenness of the Valley of Baca, but he sees it as an opportunity rather than a burden (Psa. 84:6). Therefore, unable to make the journey, he longs for God to accept his prayer offered in isolation (Psa. 84:8), a prayer asking for protection in difficult circumstances, including for the deposed king led away in shame (Psa. 84:9).

While the background of the psalm has a tinge of sadness, the message centers on spiritual joy. For despite his own situation, he sees what so many forget. (1) Worshiping God, bowing before His presence, and praising His name is a privilege we should not take for granted (Psa. 84:4). (2) When you find your strength in God, the more time you spend with Him and serving Him, the stronger you become (Psa. 84:5, 7). (3) The stronger our faith in God, the more happiness and joy we can allow into our lives, because we will see all that God makes possible (Psa. 84:11-12). He so wanted to experience this once more that he concludes standing on the threshold looking in from the outside to glimpse for just a moment the blessings that come from God are vastly superior to living in comfort in a wicked land: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psa. 84:10). We are not in captivity—not yet. But let us learn from the psalmist and appreciate our blessings today and not wait until they are taken from us.

You Are Gods

The psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 82:6, “You are gods,” has created confusion among Bible students, commentators, and preachers for generations, even with Jesus’ own comment on the passage. The word itself is exactly the same as the word translated “God” throughout the remainder of the psalm, and yet the context clearly dictates that it refers to others. But to whom? That has been the real question. The nature of the word elohim is fairly broad. It is plural and refers either to “mighty ones” or to the “One who is mighty” (though with the plural still present, indicating His majesty, the trinity, or perhaps even both). Some have maintained that the word here refers to angels as does happen on occasion; however, the nature of the responsibilities cited in verses two through four in particular indicate men. But, if so, why did he call them “gods”?

The setting of the psalm provides insight into the structure, the emphasis, and the specific meaning given by Jesus. In the opening verse Asaph presents an ancient courtroom scene with God presiding over all those with some kind of authority, exercising judgment over those mighty ones (Psa. 82:1) similar to how God told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:15-16) and similar in responsibility to those judges Moses appointed at his father-in-law’s recommendation (Ex. 18:25-26). He then presents the accusation as God calls the people in power to account for their failures to judge fairly, essentially charging them with partiality in letting the guilty go free while failing to protect those in need for whose protection the law was given (Psa. 82:2-4). As He brings His argument to a close, He maintains that these people who have been given great authority do not appreciate it or understand the role they have been given, using it selfishly and creating instability in society as a result of their decisions (Psa. 82:5). Thus, in the next two verses He contrasts the greatness of the responsibility with which they were charged with the death sentence against them because of how miserably they have failed to conduct themselves appropriate to the authority given them (Psa. 82:6-7). Therefore, when God told them, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High” (Psa. 82:6), He was emphasizing the responsibility of the authority they had taken on and that they themselves remained under the authority of the Most High God. Therefore, because they had abused that authority, they would suffer the consequences and lose all the authority they had treated as if they had by right instead of by responsibility. However, all judgment depends on the One who judges the earth. The nations are his, and all judgment should reflect the same (Psa. 82:8).

This stinging rebuke of leaders treating themselves as the authority rather than God has many applications. It certainly applies to governmental leaders at every level, as Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way (Dan. 4:32). But the emphasis within the psalm goes much deeper because of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh—a name not mentioned in this psalm. Jesus defended Himself and the authority with which He taught and worked using this passage. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, ‘You are gods’”? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’” (Jn. 10:34-36). The Jews were upset that Jesus called Himself “the Son of God” because of its implications of displaying divine character, which happened by submission. However, Jesus pointed out that He had been given far more authority by God Himself than those judges of old whom God had called “gods.” Therefore, their emphasis on the terminology failed the test of scripture and revealed their lack of substance. But even more than that, Jesus here emphasized the responsibility of fulfilling the role given completely and unselfishly by submitting to God’s will rather than treating it as an earned honor. Leaders should never forget that they exist to serve. No matter how high the office or important the role, in the end all answer to God according to faithfulness in fulfilling His will (Jas. 3:1).

Remember

I will admit that my memory is not what it used to be. When I was younger, I remembered vocabulary words quickly and easily, information for tests pretty well, and a lot of trivial information better than most. At one time I could have told you the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys for the first twenty years of their existence, and I could remember the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions even if I had no other exposure to the topic. It shows that the problem with memory is not necessarily ability, but often attention. Parents often act as if their children are incapable of learning basic Bible facts or memorizing Bible verses, but those same children can quote every Disney movie they have seen verbatim. While our memory may not function as well as we age, we can compensate by focusing on the right things to remember. Paul emphasized this in Philippians 4:8 when he wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). In Psalm 77 the descendants of Asaph provide yet another important aspect of memory and the importance of choice. During times of turmoil, memories can quickly turn to better times, leading to self-pity and despair. However, if instead we choose to remember these things from a spiritual perspective, focused on God, they can lead us away from despair and toward greater faith.

When the psalmist cried out to God because of how badly he hurt inside, he refused the comfort available and chose a sleepless night instead (Psa. 77:1-2). He remembered God enough to pray, but his dismay caused him to complain rather than reflect (Psa. 77:3). Most have experienced similar situations, times when we faced a problem to which no solution seemed possible, something that kept us up at night. We not only lacked the correct answer, we did not even know where to begin explaining the problem (Psa. 77:4).  During times like these, it can be easy to become impatient and demanding with God—so much that we can blame Him for our problems because He does not immediately ease our pain. We question God, but we do not really think about the answers He has provided (Psa. 77:5-9). However, while Asaph felt this way at first, he eventually gained a greater perspective. Rather than comparing his plight to past deliverances God made possible, He recognized that the important thing to remember is that God did indeed make that possible and deliver (Psa. 77:10). If we would take the time to read through the Bible and reflect on what God did for His people, then we cannot but be impressed (Psa. 77:11-12). For when we then approach God in worship and humble ourselves in greater reflection, we realize just how great He truly is (Psa. 77:13). He has shown His power, declared His strength, and exhibited His love from the beginning of time (Psa. 77:14-19). He led Israel out of Egypt (Psa. 77:20), and He sent Jesus to lead us out of our sin (Matt. 11:28-30; 26:28; Acts 2:38; 1 Jn. 1:5-10). These are the things we need to remember when we are facing trials. God is still there, and God still cares (1 Pet. 5:7). We just need to remember it.

God is Known

The broad secularization of society that has occurred over the last few generations has led to increased immorality, decreased devotion, and compromised conviction—even among those still purporting to love and adore God. In the wake of societal changes, missional churches have morphed their mission to the point they have become an unofficial arm of government bureaucracy. The emerging church movement accepted the premises of postmodernism and made cultural compromise their central doctrine. The official positions of various religious organizations on major moral issues facing society have, for the most part, displayed more interest in being accepted by society than standing up for their Savior. And what should we expect? Once you treat compromise as a guiding principle, the gutter becomes the finish line. However, while we tend to view these changes through the lens of recent history, the world—and false religion with it—actually has settled back to its norm. God’s people have always been a major minority, and they will continue to be such until the end of time. But in the meantime, Christians have a responsibility not to allow the negativity of religious antipathy to alter our faith. Instead, we should become beacons to the world, proclaiming through our faithfulness that God is real, God is great, and God is known, for this was the message of Psalm 76.

This psalm is, in essence, a song of victory. While the timeframe is unclear, the nature of the victory is certainly reminiscent of the LORD’s striking of the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:36) during the reign of Hezekiah, sending the powerful army back home in disgrace. Judah and Jerusalem, as well as perhaps even the temple, identify the place, if these are meant literally (Psa. 76:1-2). The description of a defeated army retreating from the presence of God (Isa. 76:3-4) after God kept them from being able to wage war against His people (Psa. 76:5-6) provides astounding imagery, reminding us that no power or enemy is too great for God to defeat. And that remains true today. The nature of the enemy may take a different form, and the victory may come in a different manner, but God still wields His power. Therefore, the lessons learned from this incident and recorded by the descendants of Asaph should strengthen our faith and bolster our courage. God reigns, and God judges; therefore, God should be feared by all who oppose Him (Psa. 76:7-9), and we can rest assured that God will find a way to ensure justice will be done (Psa. 76:10). Therefore, “Make vows to the Lord your God, and pay them; Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared” (Psa. 76:11 ) rather than the governments of men who seek to do harm to God’s people (Psa. 76:12).

We do not suffer from the same threats as Israel did; therefore, we should not expect the same kind of response from God. However, when we are faithfully God’s people, we can have confidence that God knows our plight, feels for us, and will do something about it when the time is right. While we wait, our responsibility is to make sure that God is known to others by showing them that He is known to us.

Waiting for Relief

Waiting—just waiting—can prove painfully difficult, especially when the anxieties of life pressure and surround us. Many can appreciate the stress of waiting for a doctor’s call following a test. Is it cancer? My heart? Or nothing that big at all? In the midst of a struggle, after bad news has come in wave after wave, a feeling of helplessness sets in, weighing heavily on the heart and encouraging doubt, so that the acceptance of dire circumstances begins to cause hope to waver. Such weariness had taken hold when Psalm 74 was penned, beginning with the cry, “O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” (Psa. 74:1).

The nature of the circumstances described within this psalm speaks of no event during the lifetime of David and Asaph. Even the cry itself looks back in time (Psa. 74:2). But more than this, the situation speaks of “perpetual desolations” and damage to “the sanctuary” (Psa. 74:3) caused by enemies who raised their flag in Israel’s capital (Psa. 74:3-4), destroying the beauty of the temple (Psa. 74:5-7) and attempting to obliterate Israel’s memory of God altogether (Psa. 74:8). The ascribed authorship therefore must refer to the singers who followed Asaph, perhaps descended from him, and called themselves by his name, writing following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. As such, they had turned against all that God had said and no longer enjoyed His guidance and protection (Psa. 74:9). Is it then any wonder that they cried out in pain, “O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?” (Psa. 74:10). They finally realized that God had withdrawn from them, and realized just how much they needed Him (Psa. 74:11).

But here the psalm turns, growing more personal and reflective. Finally, after losing the kingdom, the psalmist realizes that God is his rightful King, and has been all along (Psa. 74:12). He proved it when He accomplished His salvation in parting the Red Sea, accomplishing in fact what other gods only claimed (Psa. 74:13-15). He proved it by His power over nature (Psa. 74:16-17). Thus, the psalmist recalls the great deliverance of the LORD and longs for a return of such feats (Psa. 74:18-19). However, rather than assume their right to His care, rather than presume their special character as His people, the psalmist appeals to the covenant the LORD made with them (Psa. 74:20), to their promise of returning their allegiance and love to Him and Him alone (Psa. 74:21), and to the cause of justice against an ungodly people (Psa. 74:22-23).

The exact circumstances of this psalm may seem remote to most people today; however, this is because we see this situation only from a physical rather than a spiritual standpoint. We identify too much with our country and not enough with our God. Therefore, we should re-read the psalm with a spiritual heart and consider the ramifications of spiritual captivity, living in a world that is openly hostile to Christ’s kingdom. When we see Satan on the march in the decisions made in government, when we see the destruction of morality in the direction of society, and when we see the cornerstones of spiritual freedom mocked, torn down, and burned one after another by a people declaring their moral, ethical, and sometimes even religious superiority, surely we can identify with the plea of the psalmist! How long must we wait until God is once more respected and acknowledged? How long must we wait to restore respect for God’s Word as truth? How long must we wait while enduring the scorn of the ungodly? How long indeed! The psalmist did not know the answer, and neither do we. But the enduring answer remains the same. We must come to our senses as a people, give ourselves wholly to our God, and let Him handle the timing while we devote ourselves to faithfulness. This was the answer for the Jews in Babylonian captivity, and it is the answer for God’s people today.

Then I Understood

Understanding the suffering of the righteous and the comfort of the wicked has perplexed people at least since the time of Job. This problem has led some to blame God, some to blame themselves, and some to blame anyone and everyone. Doctrinal confusion does not help. Those who confuse God’s sovereignty with absolute interference in everything unnecessarily create a contradiction, effectively treating even evil as God’s will. However, for most the problem is personal. They do not stop and contemplate doctrinal implications in the midst of a crisis; they simply want an explanation, just as Job did. Asaph, a chief singer appointed by David after he brought the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 16:5), had such concerns and wrote what he learned from the experience in what we know as Psalm 73.

The challenge for God’s people lies in developing an eternal perspective while living in a temporal world. This is the key to appreciating the goodness of God and maintaining personal purity, especially when the world uses temporary circumstances to try to create doubt (Psa. 73:1-2). Now more than ever, we become aware of the wealth, power, and pleasures many in the world enjoy (Psa. 73:3-5) due to the interconnectedness of society through various media. Thus, people who would otherwise be content find new reasons to envy, sometimes just through a simple post on Facebook or Twitter. However, while the material wealth of the wicked may have an appeal, we too easily forget about the character many have used to procure it (Psa. 73:6-9). Christians marvel at their worldly friends who seem to have everything they could possibly desire. It would be easy, if divorced from eternity, to fall into the trap of accepting their philosophy and worldview in justification (Psa. 73:10-11). Such a snare, dependent upon a short-term view of man’s existence, has great spiritual consequences. When people concentrate solely on the material (Psa. 73:12), they also cease to appreciate the spiritual (Psa. 73:13), including the rebuke that God offers to such self-absorption (Psa. 73:14). It is thus this realization of the true consequences of worldliness and separation from the godly that provides a needed course correction to our thinking (Psa. 73:15). However, as Asaph found, the recognition of this conflict can be difficult, even after the decision to remain faithful to God (Psa. 73:16). But his next statement powerfully points all who follow back to righteousness: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end” (Psa. 73:17). Bowing down before God, bringing eternity into view, and listening to His Word brought all the perspective and answers he needed. God will judge the wicked (Psa. 73:18) and their wealth and power has an end (Psa. 73:19-20). The world presents itself as permanent, when it is the most temporary of all. Therefore, it is essential to remind ourselves daily of the value of the soul, the value of forgiveness, and the value of eternal life.  These have lasting value with which material benefit cannot compare.

It is easy to fall under the spell of materialism and worldliness, and coming to your senses to see their folly can be a humbling experience (Psa. 73:21-22). But this can produce great growth as well, because we learn to trust the wisdom of God as the only sure Guide into eternity (Psa. 73:23-24). From this we learn true devotion and the true nature of this world (Psa. 73:25-27). And from this we gain a purpose that transcends the physical universe (Psa. 73:28). God does not condone wickedness, nor does He ignore it. He allows it today, and it tests us in the present. But the key is following God’s revealed will regardless, so that the eternal is what we follow into eternity.

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