WITH HOPE: Sing a new song

Published 9:41 pm Sunday, May 22, 2022

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Have you ever had a moment that caused you to completely start over? A time when it looked like everything you had thought before — everything you had believed — wasn’t true?  

Meriwether Lewis was chosen to lead the Corps of Discovery Expedition that would run from 1804 through 1806. The U.S. had just completed the Louisiana Purchase. Now someone would need to explore and chart what was assumed to be a water passage from the east, clear across this central part of the young country.

Off they went across the frontier, and eventually on hoping to get through what was then called “The Western Territory” all the way to the Pacific. The mission was urgent, especially because the U.S. president wanted his own people to map and conquer this wild, uncharted west before Britain or Spain planted their own flags there.

Tod Bolsinger’s bestselling book Canoeing the Mountains captures for church leaders the implications of this now well-chronicled story in American history. I believe this story pairs beautifully with Psalm 98 to frame life under God’s good keeping. 

Bolsinger makes a helpful observation. You see, this expedition was based on two critical and false assumptions. One was that there was a navigable waterway that would stretch all the way across our country from the east to the west coast. All they had to do was to take their canoes and get out there and follow it. Or, so they thought. 

The second false assumption was that the Central and Western parts of the country would look just like the only known part of the U.S. at that time, the already well-inhabited eastern part. Imagine, then, when they topped the first mountains still carrying their canoes. From that height, all they could see were more snow-capped mountains ahead. 

Now, their canoes and their old assumptions about life would be useless for the foreseeable. According to historical geographer John Logan Allen, that moment atop the Lemhi Pass was when ‘the geography of hope’… gave way to the ‘geography of reality.’

You’ve been there? We all probably have. As I look back now, sometimes there was a stark moment like the one Lewis and Clark experienced. One when the beautiful, flat plain and easily navigable waterways I expected to find turned out to just be more snow-capped mountains ahead.  

Other times, life required more retrospect in order for me to see that things hadn’t quite squared up with what I had assumed or hoped or planned or wanted. The Psalmist has a message for us today. Sing a new song.

Bolsinger tells churches, and today I remind all of us personally, that “When our old maps fail us, something within us dies, he says. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful — and absolutely critical.”

1 O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things… 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 

You thought the career path or the job you enjoyed would be the job you had for the rest of your working years. Until it wasn’t. You thought the dominant employer in the area would just always be, and that life would be just as it always had been. Until a mountain popped up on the horizon. 

You thought the person you married would be the person you stayed married to. Until they weren’t. You thought the good health you enjoyed, or that your loved one enjoyed, would be the good health you would enjoy until the accident, the illness or the decline.

You thought the dream, the plan you had mapped out would be the path you could follow if you just worked hard enough. Until it turned out that your dream would never be. I will tell you this, and for now it’s all I know. Every time — and I think I do mean every single time — life has messed things up for me, I have thought that surely this was it. The mountain I would not get over. Or one mountain too many.

At the very least, I just didn’t know what to do next. Instead, God’s movement in my life, that has been there all along, eventually took me into a new chapter.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.