Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
It is usually very quiet as I leave my house in the morning to begin my walk to the office. I walk through our neighborhood, often making the first tracks in the new fallen snow. Four blocks from our house the street ends at the river. At this point I follow a paved path onto a footbridge that spans the river and leads me into the adjacent neighborhood. Just before the bridge there is a small open area with a split rail fence that borders the drop-off to the river. The weather and the years have taken their toll on this short span of fence. Several of the rails have fallen out and many of the posts are leaning out toward the precipice. As I walk past, I wonder how long it will take before someone restores the fence.
Fences serve several purposes. Fences are used to define property lines. They are a mute reminder that one piece of property is distinct from another. Fences are often used to secure privacy, especially within town, where the houses are close together. There is such a fence that runs along one side of our backyard, shielding the neighbor’s backyard from ours. Many fences are put in place for our protection. They warn us of danger and keep us from accidentally getting harmed. Some of these fences are formidable, able to prevent a person from crossing into the danger zone. Some of these fences are more like warning signs, such as the short span of split rail fence that borders the edge of the drop-off to the river. Whenever we encounter a fence, we can choose to heed its warning or we can choose to ignore it. Many times, when we choose to ignore a fence, there are consequences.
King David understood about fences. As the King of Israel, it was his responsibility to maintain the fences that kept Israel safe and the distinct people of God. But one day King David made the choice to climb over one of those fences, by having sexual relations with Bathsheba, another man’s wife. David didn’t start out to climb over that fence. It began with a series of choices that ultimately led him astray. The scriptures tell us that when it was customary for kings to go out to war, David stayed home. David had a duty to lead the army of Israel in defense of the nation. He chose to delegate that responsibility to others. He allowed a gap to be created in an important fence.
While the army was actively in the field, David was idly wandering his palace. One day, while he was on his roof top overlooking the city, something caught his attention. He saw Bathsheba bathing. What he should have done was turn away, but instead he continued to gaze on this sight. At that point another fence was broken down. His gaze turned to lust and he instructed his servants to bring this beautiful woman to him. Another rail of the fence was taken away. The consequence of his climbing over the fence was that Bathsheba became pregnant.
In a panic, David tried his best to reconstruct the fence, but to no avail. He called for Bathsheba’s husband to come home, hoping that he would have sexual relations with his wife and cover up David’s sin. But Uriah was more noble that David and refused to sleep with his wife while his comrades were serving in the field. So David broke down another fence and had Uriah maneuvered into a place where he would be killed. David thought that he had safely covered his tracks, but his fences remained broken down, until Nathan, the prophet, confronted David and he had to own up to his deeds. Psalm 51 is David’s honest attempt to rebuild his fences.
God has placed fences in our lives for our good. These fences are like the split rail fence along the river. If we faithfully maintain God’s fences, then they will protect us from undue hard. But if we neglect God’s fences, we face real danger. The problem is that we are quick to put up fences for other people while our own fences are in disrepair. We are quick to decry the poor condition of other people’s fences and ignore our own. God has not charged us with monitoring other people’s fences. He has given us the responsibility for our own.
There times in all of our lives when our fences are in need of repair. They may be broken down because we have neglected them or because we have intentionally climbed over. When we become aware of a breath in our fence, it is time to take steps to repair it. God has placed fences in our lives for our good. He has given us the responsibility to maintain them. They are there to remind us that we have been called to live distinct lives in this world. They are there to warn us of danger that we may not be aware of. They are there to give us the freedom to enjoy our relationship with Christ without fear.
Have you checked your fences lately? Are they in need of repair? Are some of the rails loose or missing? Broken fences need to be repaired. They are there for our benefit, but they will help us only if they are maintained.
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.