God's Face

Reading: Psalm 80.1-7,17-19
Children seem to learn early to look at the face - especially the eyes - of the person to whom they are relating. We know if someone isnít looking at our eyes, but at our hair or chin.

While we agree we shouldnít "eyeball" people, there are some cultures where it is considered rude to meet eye-to-eye and face-to-face.

There may be times when we have to "face the music" in a direct confrontation of rebuke or anger. On the other hand, we appreciate the smile of approval and encouragement.

The Psalmist (identified as Asaph) sees the face of God turned away in anger, and looks for the radiant face of Godís favour and salvation - "Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved" (Ps. 80.3, repeated with increasing force in vv. 7 and 19).

What is the problem? Things arenít going well for them. Their prayers go unanswered. The Shepherd (v. 1) hasnít been leading them "beside quiet waters" (23.2). Instead, they have drunk "tears by the bowlful". Their enemies mock them (80.5-6).

Asaph recalls the grace of God in the exodus from slavery in Egypt. The nations were driven out of the land of promise - the ground was cleared for the planting of Godís "vine" and it filled the land (vv. 8-11).

But now it seems God has broken down his walls of protection around the vineyard so that wild boars and beasts now plunder it (vv. 12-13).

Why would God do that? Asaph doesnít say directly, but there are hints. Itís not just unanswered prayer - Godís anger smoulders against the prayers of his people. They are still going through all the routines of their religion - but not building a relationship with God.

Asaph looks forward to Godís restoration - "Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name" (v. 18).

Centuries later we hear Jesus calling the religious leaders of his day "hypocrites." He quoted Isaiahís words, "These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Matt. 15.8, from Isaiah 29.13).

Sometimes people keep up a few occasional religious routines - hoping to stay in Godís good books. But God has always intended that we live in a continual relationship with him.

We read in Genesis 3.8 that "the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Walking with God was the norm. This is a tragic verse which marks the breakdown of that norm.

By contrast we see the life of Jesus the Son of God - a life lived continually in the presence of the Father. His disciples noticed that his prayer-life wasnít a mechanical routine. Thatís why they asked him one day, "Lord, teach us to pray..." (Lk. 11.1). They heard from his lips the Aramaic word, "Abba" - the intimate family word for father, much like our "Daddy."

Paul writes that, through Jesus, we ourselves have been brought into that close intimate relationship with God. "Abba, Father" comes naturally to our lips too (Rom. 8.15; Gal. 4.6).

"Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved" (v. 19).

I am sure Asaph had in mind the words of the priestly prayer we know as the Aaronic blessing - "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace" (Num. 6.24-26). May that be our prayer for one another and for others too.

Prayer: Here we are, Lord. You see us and know us and all our circumstances. Sometimes we think you have forgotten us, turned away from us. But then we fear your face - perhaps we should keep going on our own way. Yet you want to restore us - to bless us and keep us, to make your face shine upon us and be gracious to us, to turn your face toward us and give us peace. Help us to receive your blessing that we may bring your blessing to others too - that together with them we may take our place in your family. Abba, our Father! In Jesusí name, Amen.

Shining Face

The face
is so expressive -
the window
of the heart.

The face
shows tiredness
and pain,
and disappointment,
and anger.

The face
turns away
to try to hide
and guilt.

The face
and trust,
and confidence.

The face of God
shines on us
in grace
and blessing.

restore our face
to know
your grace
and shine your love.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 3 September 2002.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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