By Lisa Huddleston
“You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalm 31:8).
It amazes me how God directs me to the right books at the right time—but I know he does. And Eugene Peterson’s, The Pastor, is the “just right book” for me right now in many ways. Of course, I love Peterson’s words, his brushstrokes that always manage to shape the faint images that float in my mind. He lets me know that I am not alone in my thoughts, and for that sense of camaraderie, I find peace in his words. But even more than the art of his expressions is the timeliness of his topics. God sent me this book right now because I have been pondering many of the same ideas over which Peterson hovers. Things like “What makes a church Church?” “What does it mean to be a part of the Body of Christ? “How does one recognize the voice of God in his life?” “When can one say that he has been or is being called?” Fuzzy things like that. Things without clear cut definitions or proper edges around them. The Pastor lets me breathe in the ambiguity and gives me room to explore my thoughts.
And one of these thoughts is currently taking precedence over the others. It is the idea of leaving space for God to be. In the chapter called, “Bezalel,” Peterson writes about the work of the artist in the church. He hearkens back to the Exodus and the man who was called to the role of giving form to the tabernacle that Yahweh painstakingly described to Moses. Peterson calls it “using the sensory (material, sound, texture) to give access to mystery, to the ‘behind the scenes’ of our ordinary lives—to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the vast world of beauty that inhabits, underlies, and permeates space … The Holy” (p. 176). The centerpiece of Bezalel’s work was the ark of the covenant, and in the center of that center was the mercy seat—the throne of Yahweh. But, as Peterson writes, “the mercy seat was not a seat at all. It was empty space, a void, an emptiness framed by the angel wings that marked the presence of the enthroned God, Yahweh” (p. 185). The space between the cherubim was room for God—a place for I AM to dwell.
That thought triggered another as I considered the space that Bezalel left for God—or rather that God designed for himself. Did I have a space like it within me? Now that I am the temple for I AM, is the space for him just as real as it was between the wings of the ark of the covenant. A space for I AM. Room for my God and his being. I know it sounds weird, but how was the I AM-ness of Yahweh finding room for expression in me? And did this constitute a call?
I hope you can go with me on this, or that you are willing to try, but what do we say when we are asked what we do? We answer, “I am a teacher.” Or “I am a doctor.” Or “I am an artist.” We do not say “We do teaching or doctoring or art” but rather we identify what we are. Is that at best the I AM filling his space in us? It may be so.
And then I considered that space. Was I keeping it for him? Was it a holy space only to be filled by I AM thoughts and presence and activities—and was there enough room for him in me? Was I letting false identities eat away at his space? A little clutter here and small pile there? Good things that filled my days and made me look important or made me more acceptable—but took up room for I AM and therefore diminished my calling?
And the thought of “spacious place” sent me to his word. To a Psalm I love and a promise I hope is as real for me as it was for David. David writes that God is his “rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me … for the sake of your name lead and guide me” (Ps. 31: 2-3). For the sake of I AM in him, David begged God to direct his path. He trusted in God only and spurned any substitutions (false idols) that might lead others astray—David rejoiced in God’s love and was made glad in God’s rescue! He let God set his feet in a spacious place, and trusted God to do his best with it. David was God’s anointed king and a man after God’s own heart.
I hope you have gotten here with me. To that place in the center of the center—in the Holy of Holies. The space between the wings and the mercy seat of I AM. Do you see the emptiness made for God? Is it real in you as it was for Bezalel and for David? Is it cleared of clutter and spaciously free for God to fill? Come, Lord Jesus, come. Let us be your own. Amen.