I have the pleasure of coaching a high school boys’ basketball team at our local YMCA. Every Saturday afternoon during the winter months, these young men come out to compete and to have fun. Sometimes, however, the first gets in the way of the second, especially when one of the guys feels like the referee missed a foul. The arms spread out and they get that look of, “What are you, blind?” Occasionally, those words are just thoughts in their heads but statements from their lips. Most of the refs understand that these are competitive young men and will give them a warning. It then becomes the job of us coaches to find a way to get through the frustration and anger with a simple but important message: play on.
I think Malachi could have coached at the YMCA. In Malachi 3, Malachi brings this message to the Jews:
You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the LORD of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.”
The people are feeling frustrated, wondering what good comes from being obedient when they see evildoers prospering. I imagine their faces looked kind of like the faces of the guys on my team when they look at the refs and say, “How could you miss that?”
Malachi’s message to these people: play on.
Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the LORD and thought on his name. They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:16-18)
It is frustrating to see sin rewarded and injustice go unpunished. We want the ref’s whistle to blow immediately, for retribution to be instantaneous. As long as it is someone’s sin and injustice and not our own, that is.
Malachi encouraged the Jewish people, and encourages us, to live with the whole game, the Upper Story, in mind. In the short term, it may look like it is more beneficial, more rewarding, to choose unrighteousness over righteousness, to choose selfishness over selflessness. As God’s people, we are called to play on, to keep living how we know our LORD has instructed and coached us to live; for, in the grand scope of eternity, God is taking note of our choices and actions. He remembers, and He is even now preparing for that moment when He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
We can choose to live every day guided by the desire to hear those words from God, or we can choose to live every day frustrated. We can give in to the temptation of the short-term, to play by the world’s rules, or we can “play on” in the wisdom and knowledge that God’s righteousness ultimately wins the day.
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)