Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 (NRSVCE)
Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock that belongs to you,
which lives alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them feed in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
show us marvelous things.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old.
Micah is making a plea for God’s mercy here. Because of Israel’s sin, they have not been able to enjoy the rich pastures like those of Bashan and Gilead, as they were when they were first led to the Promised Land. Micah asks that God restore rich pastures to Israel. He acknowledges that this is only possible because of God’s mercy. Israel has sinned, and so their only path back to favor with God, their only way of receiving His blessings again, is for Him to have mercy on them. You can see the confidence Micah has that God will do so as well. God has shown He is merciful time and again with Israel, and God has already promised Israel will be restored. So Micah, recalling God’s past clemency and how God always delivers on His promises, expresses great hope that his prayer will be answered.
How often do we share Micah’s confidence in our own prayers? How often do we feel the weight of God’s mercy in our lives? It’s very easy to get into a routine with our spiritual lives, simply going through the motions. And there’s something to be said about that being a good thing as well, in the sense that when you are experiencing doubt or are going through troubled times and yet still “going through the motions” of your prayer and church routines, you demonstrate a strength of faith. A strength that says even when I am at my lowest, even when my doubt seems to take over my heart, I will still keep to my shepherd. I would argue that it’s moments like that which really prove our faith. It’s easy to remain faithful when times are good, when everything seems to be going our way and when it’s easy to believe. But it’s quite something else to be faithful when everything in your life is falling apart and when it feels as if your heart is entirely closed off from God. That’s where routine can help you to remain faithful.
But routine isn’t all good. It can be easy to become apathetic in our hearts, even if our actions still indicate everything is as it should be. Your prayers can start to lack any real desire, any real contemplation, any real hope. You simply know the words and recite them as if reading them off a prayer menu. The pious reverence you show for the eucharist can lack any sense of awe and devotion. It’s times like that when we need to stop ourselves and reflect on the things we do in our spiritual lives. We need to recognize the seriousness of our condition. We need to reflect on the magnitude of God’s mercy and the promises He has made for us. And like Micah, we need to have hope that our actions, our faithfulness, is not for naught. We need to have hope that God will answer our prayers, that God will fulfill His promises, and that we will one day feed in Bashan and Gilead.
Routine can be a very good thing for our spiritual lives. But it is best to interrupt routine with periods of reflection.