Every time I open my Bible, I find that God has something significant to say.
Not some vague platitude or high minded musing. Not some “good luck figuring out what in the world THAT has to do with potty training” passage. It always something insightful about my heart, my life, my day, my circumstance. And if I don’t see the connection yet — I wait. Because I know that I will. Before the day or the week has ended, that Word will come back and I will be reminded that God went before me in delivering it.
In a funny way, this experience always reminds me of playing Super Mario Brothers as a kid. Which is funny, because I never owned a game system. No Atari. No Sega. No Nintendo. Technically, when I was in 4th grade my mom bought an educational Leap-Frog-like-system at a garage sale, which I nicknamed “The Pretendo.” But it hardly seemed the same. I remember playing Mario at the home of some (cooler) neighborhood friend, and there were always certain things you had to have access to in order to make it to the next level. You needed to get that mushroom and grow, because the fire ball was guaranteed to take you down a peg. Or you needed to access that one brick, because the beanstalk that grew out of it was the only way to make it to the next round. You get the idea. If you weren’t armed with what you needed to run the gauntlet that day, you weren’t gonna make it. Or you were going to stumble across the finish line and find yourself starting in a hole tomorrow.
In a strange way, that has been my experience of daily time in scripture. There is something that God wants to put in my hands today. Something He wants me to know. A reminder He needs me to have. A promise He’ll give me to stand on. A concept to pay attention to. A pair of glasses I’ll need to filter my experiences, if I’m to have eyes to see what He’s up to today.
Sure, I could blunder through the day half blind and see if I can make it on my own, but why? There is always something good to be found in God’s Word. Always something that cuts to the core of who we are or what we’re going through. For me, it is a deeply mystical experience. I rarely go digging for something relevant to what I think I need to hear. Rather I choose a path of study and see what will be served up today. I let the text of the Bible intersect with the context of my life in whatever way He sees fit. Serve up what you will Spirit. You know better than I do what today requires. I open The Word with expectation, eager to see what manna will come.
Sometimes the connection is apparent, logical, immediate. Sometimes a word or a phrase sticks out and unsettles me, but I’m not sure why. I chew on that thought for the rest of the day, turning it over and over in my mind, seeing where the puzzle pieces fit. Sometimes what I read hits me on a deeply emotional level. My heart resonates with truth I don’t fully understand. That was the case today when I read Psalm 31.
(From verse 8), You have not given me into the hands of the enemy, but have set my feet in a spacious place.
Today the vision of “a spacious place” brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. What exactly is a spacious place? Why does this idea resonate so deeply? I do some digging.
The Hebrew word “merchab” is a noun that appears most often in the Psalms, and it means "a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place."
Life with two working parents and three small kids can feel incredibly cluttered. No sooner do we clean a room than we find some little hands have gone behind us and unearthed all that’s been sorted. We bathe a baby, he poops in the tub. Now we have to clean the tub. And bleach the toys. Or just lock the bathroom door so we don’t have to look at it for a few hours, and so the baby isn’t tempted to go back and play in the cess pool before our shame leads us to get the bleach. Someone always needs something. The needing is relentless. And for my introvert husband, there’s not a lot of mental or emotional space with all that needing.
Enter into that context, God’s text for us today.
What do I think The Father is saying?
Spacious places are a gift from God.
"You have set my feet in a spacious place." Other translations say:
“You set my feet where I can move freely” (Jewish Bible)
“You gave me room to breathe” (Message)
What beautiful, evocative pictures of peace and freedom and rest. What a sweet, sweet savior that would give us that (in general) and call my attention to it today (specifically). But there’s more. There are a total of 4 references to “a spacious place” in the Bible.
2 Samuel 22:20 I “He brought me out into a spacious place, he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Psalm 18:19 I “He brought me into a spacious place, he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Psalm 31:8 I “You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.”
Job 30:15-16 I “But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place, free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.”
There is no reference to a spacious place apart from God. There’s no “ravach" (which means “to breathe freely, to revive, to have ample room, to be refreshed”) apart from Him. No one discovers a spacious place solo. There’s no reference to winning a spacious place by your wit or your talent your nerve or hard work. The spacious place is always given (not earned) and it’s always given by God. He bought me into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me. He has not handed me over to my enemies. He sets my feet in a spacious place. He delivers us from our affections. He is wooing us from the jaws of distress.
The spacious place is given by Him and it’s found in Him. Period. So if I’m fighting for freedom today, I can stop. If I’m working for my own welfare, I can lay that down. If I’m afraid of what’s next — I can feel confident that He has brought me into a spacious place. Not because I’ve been good (I haven’t), but because He is good (always).
What might a faithful response look like?
Take notice of it. Enjoy it. Don’t take it for granted or pass it by.
While the gift of spacious places comes from God’s grace alone, it’s not as though we aren’t capable of passing such goodness by. Sometimes I think there is a discipline for observing the space that’s been given. Thomas Merton explains that the word “vacation” is from the Latin root “vacare,” which means “to empty.” Typically empty isn’t a positive sentiment. Something that is “vacant” is seen as useless, lifeless, void, abandoned. But a vacation turns this concept on its ear. That time is meant to be void of the deliverables and distractions that drive us. It’s a time when we’re (in theory) creating space to breathe and listen and rest and be. Vacation is an emptying that is also a gift.
Question: Am I being present to the spacious places God has given me today?
Is there somewhere that I need to create space? Maybe I choose not to multi-task while the kids are talking. Maybe I take a break from all the doing this afternoon for a moment of unscheduled playfulness. Maybe I turn off the music, sit in a quiet room and choose to listen for a bit today.
Question: Am I feeling afraid or nervous?
I may spend time rereading those well-worn (and now-memorized) words. He has rescued me. He delights in me. He will not hand me to my enemies. He sets my feet on a spacious place. Good news to live into today.
How about you?
What are your spacious places today?
Might He be inviting you to enjoy them? Challenging you to create space for them? Reminding you of His goodness? Promising you a safe place?
What has God been saying to you from your time with Him?