Removing the High Places

English: PEin Karem, nestled in the hills in s...

The books of the Kings in the Old Testament have a fairly simple way of evaluating leaders: they either did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord, or they did what was evil. The rest of the information about their kingdoms we are told we can find in the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

One phrase is used over and over in these books: removing the high places.“He did evil, he did not remove the high places” or “He did good, but he did not remove the high places, “He did good, he removed the high places”.

The High Places were places of idolatry. They were literally ‘high places’: hills and ridges looked up to by those in the lower lands. They usually had an altar or a pole — something symbolic of worship focusing on man and not God. It was an exchange; exchanging looking up to Heaven and to a sovereign God with looking up to the hills. “Exchanging the truth of God for a lie”; a poor substitute yet a comfort of sorts.

The Psalmist speaks of those high places. “I look up to the hills, where does my help come from?” The question lays it out – does help, does security, does strength, come from the hills? Come from the high places – those places of false promise and deceptive dreams?

It got me thinking about the ‘high places’ in my life. The high places have included jobs, status, reputation, ministry, even parenting (when they were little and did what I wanted) — sadly the list is endless. I hang onto these high places with a tight fist and greedy fingers. If I give them up, what then? Where will I hang my allegiance? The high places are often compelling – they are present and I can see them; they give instant gratification and temporary security; a pay check and affirmation. The high places are easy. They are already there and besides, others look to them, why not me?

And yet I want to be known as one who did good and got rid of the high places, no matter what it takes.

There are times when God has forcibly removed those high places; times when I have sensed he loves me too much to allow me to continue on the path of idolatry. Other times, while there have been warning signs not to look to the high places, I haven’t always heeded them.

The Psalmist answers his own question later in the verse “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth”. It’s the verbal commitment to renounce that which is false and exchange it with truth; to take down those high places and replace them with God himself.

Today may my prayer echo that of the Psalmist and in that echo may my worship be transformed.

Page 30 to Page 250

I was reminded recently, by a pastor, that in the classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian is delivered from his burden on page 30 but there are still 250 pages that follow full of ups and downs. Today is a day when I wish the book ended at page 30. Why, at times, is this life of faith so difficult?

I think of Tevya, the father in Fiddler on the Roof. At one point he looks up to Heaven, and in exasperation as though talking with a friend he exclaims

I know we are the chosen people, but couldn’t you choose someone else?!

Only the Psalmist has spoken truer words. The Psalms don’t sanitize words, and anesthetize feelings. They portray people in deep agony, living out a life of faith that just doesn’t make sense sometimes. Consider the words from Psalm 43 verse 5:

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Or Psalm 69:20:

Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.

What I love about these verses is that you don’t hear the poet say “I know I shouldn’t feel this way and I have it so much better than so many other people. I am a King after all and I live in a palace (theologians among you, am I not correct? This is David we’re talking about. King David with gold, and servants and a heart after God) Instead David speaks in stark honesty and in honesty he is comforted.

So today, when I wish the story for Christian ended at the high of page 30, I seek strength for the remaining pages. Who among us hasn’t had times when life just sucks and faith seems to make it harder? In honesty I come before God and in honesty the words that continue to burrow their way under my skin and into my heart are the words “Hope in God, for I will yet praise him”