The Home-sick Sojourner (A Meditation on Psalm 119:19-20)
I am a sojourner on the earth; Hide not your commandments from me; My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. Psalm 119: 19-20
Have you ever been in a situation where it was obvious that you didn’t belong? I tend to stand out a little when I travel overseas. I’m no Gene Kelly in “An American in Paris”, but I know when I don’t fit in. Sometimes it’s my clothes, sometimes it’s my size, and sometimes it’s just everything about me.
Did you know that the average American male shoulder width is roughly 18 inches wide? Well, mine measure in at just over 24 inches. While that’s not incredibly unusual, the airlines seem to think so; it’s enough to require a strong shoulder rub by the time I peel myself out of the airplane seat. It’s even more obvious when traveling to Asian countries where the average male stature is significantly smaller than the average American – I awkwardly stick out like a sore thumb. That’s not all… in fact, size is just the beginning. I don’t speak the language, my money isn’t worth the same, I don’t have a bank account there, I don’t prefer the foods, I don’t drink the same drink, and I don’t share the same interests with the people. I work hard to be polite, but its plainly clear to all the locals that I do not belong… I’m a foreigner. In fact, I’m not just a foreigner, I’m an American foreigner. You may not know the difference, but trust me, the locals know an American when they see one.
Traveling can be lonely, but there is one part of my day that I absolutely look forward to when I’m away – the phone call or text message home. It warms my heart, lifts me up and stirs my affections for the ones that I love. When I’m away, I call or text home constantly… in the taxi, between meetings, at dinner, when I wake up and when I go to sleep. Sometimes I even wake up restless in the middle of the night and send a message to my sweet wife. I spend the extra money on the airplane for Wi-Fi access, just so that I can keep the conversation going a little bit longer. If I were to let it, it would consume my mind, consume my heart, and consume my actions. Some people may call this being “home-sick”, but I’m not immobilized - the simple truth is that I’m in a land where I just don’t belong, and all I long for is to be home. What’s more, when I travel, I have a job to do – a very specific job representing the company that has sent me and earning a living for my family. Travel may be a lot more comfortable (and fast) these days compared to riding camels or donkeys, but the condition of a sojourner is still the same… you’re not at home.
The Bible tells of many sojourners, or strangers traveling in a foreign land. Adam and Eve became sojourners after they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Abraham was a sojourner, called out of the land of the Chaldeans to the land that the Lord promised him. The Israelites sojourned in Egypt for many years. In fact, we see in the Bible that this pattern and symbol of sojourning echoes throughout scripture, with an ultimate crescendo in the incarnation of Jesus Christ Himself – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Isaiah 53 tells us that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (vs. 3). Jesus walked the earth as a sojourner and like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are all sojourners on this earth, in a dry and weary land - we do not belong here. The Psalmist accurately but passionately proclaims in Psalm 119:19-20 that “I am a sojourner on the earth” and begs God “Hide not your commandments from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” In John 6:68 Simon Peter says to Jesus when faced with the prospect of being sent away “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Our mind, our heart and our actions should be consumed with the business of our Father, fully. For our joy, and for His Glory, the Bible spells this out in numerous commandments – pray without ceasing, hide God’s Word in your heart, treasure the Kingdom, eat the bread of life, and drink the blood of His covenant. In fact, God has even surrounded us with reminders of His glory (creation) everywhere we turn – even our own bodies were made in His image. A real sojourner doesn’t get distracted by even the sweetest treasures that the foreign land has to offer – he knows that his real treasure is found in the Kingdom of God. 1 Peter 2:11 tells us “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Earlier in verse 9-10 Peter tells us why: “… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” In fact, Paul’s second letter to Timothy even describes us as soldiers and succinctly reminds us that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (vs.4).
The work that Christ accomplished on the cross, and the grace and mercy extended to you and I as sinners worthy of nothing more than an eternity in hell, should grow inside of you a love and passion for nothing other than the renown of His name. Is the Kingdom of God your treasure? “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). My friend, nothing in this foreign land that we sojourn in is sweeter, richer, or finer than our savior Jesus Christ – don’t be distracted by the side show. Like David, be fully consumed with a longing for God’s rules… what else on this earth could possibly be more valuable or treasured than the words of the God of the Universe, the King of Kings? When David begs God not to hide his commandments from him, it reminds me of when no one picks up the phone at home when I call home – oh how my heart sinks! Unlike the humanly, other end of an unanswered phone, God is always faithful – His Word will be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.
I’ve often heard the phrase “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good”. I must admit, a part of that saying feels good… but it is a dangerously unbiblical sentiment that for many will divert them far away from the narrow road. To the contrary, I’d like to challenge you to sell, in joy, ALL that you have and buy the field – you’re a sojourner! There is no love apart from Christ, there is no life apart from Christ, and there is no joy apart from Christ. Unless you are 100% heavenly minded, and treasure God above all, the simple fact is that you will be of absolutely no earthly good – you’ll be too worried about your stuff, your feelings, and your kingdom to be bothered with God’s. You cannot represent the King of Kings with a heart distracted toward earthly things. It’s all perishing my friends - like the rich man who went away from Jesus sad after being told to sell everything that he has and give it to the poor – if you do not abide in Christ the Bible tells us that we risk perishing as well: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” John 15:6.
If you feel like sometimes you don’t belong, you’re right, you don’t. You are a sojourner, on your way home – don’t get entangled in civilian pursuits. Store up your treasures in Christ, not in this perishing world. Abide in Christ, delight in His Word, and obey through an outpouring of love to the world around you who is perishing and running in a full sprint toward an eternity in hell. I’m home-sick, how about you?