Have you ever run a mile? I try to make it a habit to avoid this practice. But when I walk up to the starting line of Psalm 119, I stretch, bounce, take deep breaths, and get prepared. That is how I feel with George Herbert’s “Church Porch“. This is a beautiful sequence of wise thoughts that he laid out before actually beginning his Temple poems. It reminds me of Proverbs, Psalms, parts of Isaiah, and Paul. Imagine pulling a chair up near your grandfather’s armchair and leaning forward to watch the fire in his eyes as he shares some hard-won advice.
Granted, there is a lot of advise to be shared. We’ll take more than one day for this one!
This is introduced as wisdom for a young person, much like Proverbs 1. Different stanzas will connect with different people, but these are two I find interesting:
[Flee] idlenesse, which yet thou canst not [flee]
By dressing, mistressing, and complement.
If those take up thy day, the sunne will crie
Against thee: for his light was onely lent.
God gave thy soul brave wings; put not those feathers
Into a bed, to sleep out all ill weathers.
Art thou a Magistrate? then be severe:
If studious; copie fair, what time hath blurr’d;
Redeem truth from his jawes: if souldier,
Chase brave employments with a naked sword
Throughout the world. Fool not: for all may have,
If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave.
Do I lie around or spend my time working for a compliment? We were not meant to hibernate, Herbert says, but to fly! Redeem truth, fight hard, live the best life! What a rallying cry! So often I find myself slouching through my day, glumly completing tasks. Is there more to life?
Who keeps no guard upon himself, is slack,
And rots to nothing at the next great thaw.
Man is a shop of rules, a well truss’d pack,
Whose every parcell under-writes a law.
Lose not thy self, nor give thy humours way:
God gave them to thee under lock and key.
1 Corinthians 9: “27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Romans 6: “19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”
By all means use sometimes to be alone.
Salute thy self: see what thy soul doth wear.
Dare to look in thy chest; for ’tis thine own:
And tumble up and down what thou find’st there.
Who cannot rest till hee good fellows finde,
He breaks up house, turns out of doores his minde.
Are you ever afraid to be alone? We fill ourselves with the impressions of other people through music, television, conversations, being “social.” But when I am struggling to understand God, I often find that I have lost sight of who He is, who I am, and where He offers to meet me (not on my ground, on His!). Dare to examine your heart, Herbert says, in light of God’s word, and then change as needed! One of the most vulnerable passages in Scripture is Psalm 51 – David’s confession after murder, adultery, lying, and more.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
God, thank You for the wisdom of people who have gone through life and gleaned treasures from long years. And I often want to nod and move on, but please help this to stick! Please help me to listen, understand Your truth better through a different lens, and change. Where do I need to change? There is a grand and glorious path in life. I want to take it! To Your glory, Amen.