Day Fifty-Nine: Just Such a Time

READ:  As you read this story, imagine how you might feel if you were Esther:  You were chosen to be queen by a king who doesn’t know of your ethnicity, and now you’re hearing word of a political plot that will wipe out your people and your family.

ESTHER 4:7-14

(7-8) Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him.  He also told him the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to deposit in the royal bank to finance the massacre of the Jews.  Mordecai also gave him a copy of the bulletin that had been posted in Susa ordering the massacre so he could show it to Esther when he reported back with instructions to go to the king and intercede and plead  with him for her people.

(9-11) Hathach came back and told Esther everything Mordecai had said.  Esther talked it over with Hathach and then sent him back to Mordecai with this message:  “Everyone who works for the king here, and even the people out in the provinces, knows that there is a single fate for every man or woman who approaches the king without being invited:  death.  The one exception is if the king extends his gold scepter; then he or she may live.  And it’s been thirty days now since I’ve been invited to come to the king.”

(12-14) When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message:  “Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive.  If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out.  Who knows?  Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.”

THINK:  Focus your attention on either Esther’s fear of putting her life on the line for her people or Mordecai’s challenge to her in the face of her fear.  Meditatively read that part of the passage again.  Picture the speaker, including the situation from which the words are spoken.  Select one word or phrase to contemplate during your prayer time.

PRAY:  Prayerfully ponder a word or phrase from Mordecai or Esther and identify a memory that relates.  Maybe at one time you were called on to do something courageous–big or small–but couldn’t bring yourself to do it.  Or maybe you wonder why God would allow Esther to bear such a heavy responsibility.  Perhaps you were recently helped because someone took a stand for you.

Invite God the Father into your meditation.  Try not to analyze or push toward solutions.  Just notice what comes up and show it to him, as a child might show Daddy a favorite toy that’s broken or tell him about a fascinating discovery.

LIVE:  Take some time now to rest with the Father.  If you have more to say in your conversation with him about Esther’s dilemma, continue it.  If you have other subjects you’d like to talk to him about, do so.  But if you want to just sit in the presence of your loving Father, go ahead.

Dear Lord Jesus, I don’t know where to begin with this.  There are so many thoughts running through my head, and none of them seem to go together.  So…I will just offer up a prayer of peace and protection for all the people around the world that you know are suffering under the weight of fear of having to act courageously today.  Lord, we usually know when you are calling us to do something that we do not want to do.  We usually know when you are asking us because there is this overwhelming sense of not being able to get out from under the request.  For people who are struggling tonight, Lord, who know what you have called them to do but who are worried or anxious at the outcome, I pray for strength and courage.  Your word says to “fear not” and to “be anxious for nothing” but, sometimes, Lord, that is a tall order.  We know that you are the creator of the universe and that you know our comings and goings and the beginning from the end and that there is nothing you have asked us to do that you are unable to strengthen us to do, and there is nowhere you have asked us to go, that you have not already prepared the way.  We know that you only give us enough light for the step we’re on, or for the step you want us to move to.  In a world full of pre-planning, that kind of faith is hard.  Please be patient with us, Lord.  For we trust you, but we need help remembering that we can.  Sometimes we need help remembering that knowing you can help us is not always associated with knowing you will.  Help us to recall those times in the past when we have been afraid, but you met us there and guided us, so that we can take that next step in faith.  Help us to remember that we have, indeed, been created for such a time as this, for each and every step you call us to make.

In Jesus’ Name, I pray.  Amen.

Day Fifty-Eight: Zeal for Righteousness

READ:  Nehemiah 13:7-13

(7-9) I arrived in Jerusalem and learned of the wrong that Eliashib had done in turning over to him a room in the courts of The Temple of God.  I was angry, really angry, and threw everything in the room out into the street, all of Tobiah’s stuff.  Then I ordered that they ceremonially cleanse the room.  Only then did I put back the worship vessels of The Temple of God, along with the Grain-Offerings and the incense.

(10-13) And then I learned that the Levites hadn’t been given their regular food allotments.  So the Levites and singers who led the services of worship had all left and gone back to their farms.  I called the officials on the carpet, “Why has The Temple of God been abandoned?”  I got everyone back again and put them back on their jobs so that all Judah was again bringing in the tithe of grain, wine, and oil to the storerooms.  I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms.  I made Hanan son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah, their right-hand man.  These men had a reputation for honesty and hardwork.  They were responsible for distributing the rations to their brothers.

THINK:  In these earlier days, what do you notice about the way of life God required his people to abide by?  Why do you think this was important to him?  What do you think their relationship with God was like?  How might it be different from your relationship with him?

Stuffy.  Stifled.  Strict.  Oppressive.  Distinct.  Sanctified.  Disciplined.  Conspicuous.  Maybe a bit peculiar.  Do any of these describe the way you feel when you think about how God has asked His people to conduct themselves?  It’s not any wonder that so many people have a view of God as rule-driven and a relationship with Him as being no fun.  I know, in my own life, having had a hard time trusting the truth from the Bible about how God thinks about me, these words just amplified the thoughts and feelings that I would never measure up, that I would never be able to be good enough, or to do enough good to deserve what His Son did to save Creation from an eternity in Hell.

Now I know the depths of the truth of those thoughts and feelings, but I also know that they are exactly the reason Christ had to come and die on the cross.  The truth is:  if any one person could ever be good enough to live this life and not need Jesus as a sacrifice, then God would not have had to send Him.  Because if one person could do it, then everyone would have to have within themselves the ability to save themselves.  And we simply do not.  We are not able to save ourselves.  Period.

But what does that have to do with the question asked above, about why God requires His people to abide by so many rules?  If we are going to call ourselves His people, should there not be something markedly different about our lives, so that others living around us can see that we are different.  Even if that difference just looks odd or peculiar or conspicuous, at first.  And wouldn’t the fact that we do look odd, different, peculiar or conspicuous give us that many more opportunities to share the reason for our faith, to share the reason why we have chosen – on faith – to walk this absurd-looking path, that shouldn’t logically work, but seems to anyway?

We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.  What that means to me is that while we are here our lives should look different enough to make people wonder what in the world it is that makes us have so much peace and joy when the world is in a tailspin of chaos and agony and fear.  IN the world, but not OF the world.

But beyond that, God is holy.  If we are going to call ourselves His children, if we hope for Him to call us His children, we have to live our lives by the rules that He has set.  Who are we to question God’s “because I said so”?  If we know anything about God, it is that nothing happens without a reason.  Our inability to see the reason or to understand His motives shouldn’t matter.  Just like with our own children, who do not always get to know the why, for a myriad of reasons, neither do we.  And just like with our own children, who sometimes eventually reach an age where they are mature enough to handle hearing the reasoning behind the instruction, we also SOMETIMES reach a maturity level where God will reveal to us His behind-the-scenes work.  Then, what was so confusing or frustrating, becomes so perfectly clear that we wonder at why we ever questioned Him in the first place.

PRAY:  Become aware of God’s presence with you now.  Share your thoughts with him, including what you noticed about your own relationship with him.  Let this lead you into silent prayer, pondering what’s happened in your life since you last talked with him and whether there is anything you need to clear up.  Listen for what he might be saying in response to you.  If you don’t sense him saying anything directly, be open to other ways he might try to communicate with you (such as through other people or recent experiences).

Dear Lord, You are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  You alone can claim this.  You alone know the beginning from the end, and You Alone will decide what and when I get to know the ins and outs of even my own life.  Forgive me when I have failed to trust your sovereignty.  Forgive me when I have smirked at your holiness.  Forgive me when I have abused your grace by sinning and then just asking for your forgiveness with no real desire to repent and turn away from the actions you consider abhorrent.  I thank you that you remember that I am just dust.  I thank you that you saw me in all my sinfulness, knowing that I would let you down over and over and over again, and still decided that there was something in me worth saving.  Thank you that you love your creation so very much and that you are not willing that any should perish.

Abba Father, I do not know  why you have led my family to this fight we find ourselves in right now, but what I do know is you are leading us through it.  I know that every hard thing I have ever gone through has strengthened me for where I am right now.  And I know that all the hard things I am going through now are strengthening me for fights still to come.

Lord, when I think of our situation now, I envision an arrow that has been shot at a target.  An arrow does not have to try to find the target on its own.  Never once have I seen an arrow, in the air, wondering where it was supposed to go.  Help me to remember that you are the perfect archer, and you hit all the targets you aim at, and you nail the target every time.  It is humbling that you would pick me to be an arrow.  I desperately want to hit the target at which you have aimed me.

Some targets are closer and the path has been a straighter, faster shot.  Some targets are farther away, and you have had to aim higher to get a good trajectory and account for the wind, so the path takes longer than I want.  I can see the target.  I know where I am supposed to go.  I desperately want to get there, but I have to take the path that has been set for me.    Forgive me for doubting you in my frustration at how long the path is taking.  Help me to remember that I have hit every target you have selected for me, and for which I have allowed you to use me.  Your purposes will always be satisfied.  Some people will choose to be used by you.  Others will not.  Help me to remember, that when I am brave enough to allow myself to be used by you, Your Will is going to be accomplished.  Remind me of that when I start to feel like the path is taking too long.  I will arrive precisely on time for Your Agenda to be satisfied.  Never too soon.  Never too late.

And Dear Lord, help me to remember, when I cannot see the target, that you do not shoot an arrow just to shoot an arrow. Your Word does not return to you void.  Therefore, if you have sent it out into the world, it will happen.  By the same token, if you have fired me as an arrow, you will hit your mark.

All this I pray in Your Son’s Precious and Holy Name, Amen.

LIVE:  Think about the passion Nehemiah demonstrates for honoring God.  What would your life look like with more passion?  How might you honor God with your lifestyle the way Nehemiah desires to honor God?  Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. …Love others as well as you love yourself”  (Matthew 22:37, 29).  With this command in mind, think of one small new habit you could cultivate that would honor God in a particular area of your life.”

Day Fifty-Seven: Burden for the Poor

LIVE:  In preparation for this lesson, fast from one meal.  (Use discernment regarding fasting; check with your doctor before doing it.  If you can’t do it for whatever reason, that’s okay.)  When you feel the pangs of hunger, use that discomfort as a catalyst for this devotion.

READ:  Nehemiah 5:6-11  –  Read this slowly.

(6-7) I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints.  After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet.  I said, “Each one of you is gouging his brother.”

(7-8) Then I called a big meeting to deal with them.  I told them, “We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners.  And now you’re selling these same brothers back into debt slavery!  Does that mean that we have to buy them back again?”

They said nothing.  What could they say?

(9) “What you’re doing is wrong.  Is there no fear of God left in you?  Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?

(10-11) “I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money.  But this gouging them with interest has to stop.  Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now.  And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”

THINK:  While in Babylonian exile as a cupbearer to a foreign king, Nehemiah has a God-given burden:  to rebuild the ransacked walls of the forgotten city of Jerusalem and, in the process, to restore the hope of his people.  But in the midst of this massive architectural restoration project, the people are being abused by their own countrymen.

Nehemiah’s burden grows larger.  His burden now includes poverty and injustice.  Imagine yourself in Nehemiah’s shoes today.  What does this burden feel like?  Consider your empty stomach and write down how you feel.

PRAY:  Begin praying by listening for God’s heart regarding justice.  Ask him to show you people who need your prayers.  Then ask him to point out when you need to speak up on their behalf, and ask for the courage to actually follow through with it.

One thing I’ve discovered about justice over the course of our situation is that it is seldom swift.  Maybe as swift as possible, but never as swift as we’d like.  Think about it.  Whenever someone has done you wrong, is it ever remedied fast enough?  When the courts get involved, things slow down to a snail’s pace.  Then, evidence or no, the case goes the way the people trying it think it ought to go, or whichever way is going to make the appropriate people look as good as possible, or prevent them from looking horrible.  I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the truth of the matter is:  the truth rarely counts for much.  Except with God.

God commands us to seek justice, to love mercy, to take care of the widows and orphans.  Seems like those commands match up with the burdens of poverty and injustice Nehemiah was feeling.  Sad to think so little has changed over the years.  Jesus talks about how, when we visit the people in prison, or feed people without food, or clothe the naked, we are doing the same to him.  The book of James warns against seeing someone cold and telling them to “Go, in peace, and be filled” without offering them what they need to actually be filled because judgment is without mercy to those who’ve shown no mercy.

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting to leave to go visit my husband who sits in jail, this verse hits home.  I am getting to visit my husband because of the people around me who’ve fed and clothed a widow and her orphaned children.  This is a bit of a stretch, I realize.  My husband is not dead.  My children still have both of their parents.  But considering our source of support has been taken away from us, we resemble a widow and orphans.  I do not wish this position on anyone, really; but the lessons it is teaching are invaluable.  And humbling.

Today, I don’t really need to pray for God to show me who needs my prayers.  I’m about to go to a place full of people I may never know that need prayers, who have families that need prayers.  Though I am not personally in a position to be able to physically or financially help these people, my husband has been doing all he can to help those around him who’ve not received justice from one of the only systems in the world that – supposedly – prides itself on preferring that 100 guilty men would go free than one innocent man would go to prison.

Even so…Dear Heavenly Father, You alone know for what purposes you have placed each one of us here.  If there are people around us that need what we have to offer, please show us.  If “all we can do” is pray for them, let their names be on our lips in prayer as often as we pray.  If you have given us the financial wherewithal to help those folks, give us an urge to do so that we cannot ignore.  If they merely need a listening ear, may we be willing to be inconvenienced enough to give them the time they need.  Relationships are messy and dirty, Lord.  Help us to be willing to get dirty and messy with the people who need it the most, and let us do so without reservation when that’s what you require.       In Jesus Name, I pray, AMEN.

Day Fifty-Six: Reflections on Week 8

I am in Kansas (and sometimes Missouri) visiting my husband.  As I was driving to my hotel yesterday, I was looking at all the perfectly manicured fields of crops.  I was thinking that we’ve come a long way since the days of Little House on the Prayer when one man and a horse would plow a field.  Now we have tractors with GPS designed to make sure that farmers can get the maximum amount of usage out of their fields as possible.  The GPS directs the tractor and the farmer gets to sit in the sometimes-air conditioned cab checking Facebook or Pinterest (that’d be me), while the tractor practically drives itself.  It is a model of efficiency.  Albeit an expensive model.  Any farmer will tell you that the equipment that comes with being a “for-profit” farmer (and I use that term fairly loosely) is quite expensive.  That got me to thinking:  what would I be willing to pay for someone to sit on high and direct my life so that I got the maximum amount of use out of it and precious little wasted space, all my rows would be plowed straight, and all I had to do is sit back and take direction.  It seems it’d be priceless.  Then, it occurred to me:  I already have it.  I just forget to turn it on.

How many times, as Christians, do we – as adopted sons and daughters, having access to all the power given to Christ – forget to appropriate that power as we go about our daily lives.  All we have to do is go to God in prayer.  And yet…we choose to see if we can do it on our own, and wonder why we live so much of our lives frustrated!

Today, as I was on my way to visit my husband, a song came on the radio I’ve never heard before.  It’s called “Say Amen” by a group called Finding Favour (go check out the video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRcvcF_0_9M).  There’s a line in the song:  Anybody here who’s walked through the fire – say Amen.  It’s referencing the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel.

I remember when the ladies in our church did the Precepts Bible Study by Kay Arthur on the book of Daniel.  When we did the chapter that covered this story, my family was still in the early stages of our current ordeal (we had not even been to trial yet).  Anyway…I remember thinking, at that time, that we were sitting in the fire, and I was starting to feel scorched.  HA!  We were getting closer to the furnace, and it was hot.  That’s for certain!  We had not been thrown in yet.

Then, for the first year Rabbit was gone, I thought, for sure, that I was going to be consumed in the flames.  Surely, it was just a matter of time.  But, day after day, I got a little stronger, a little more determined, and started looking around, noticing that I was not burning up.  I was no less mad about being in the fire, or at the insane miscarriage of justice that landed us there, but I was not burning up.  Yeah…it’s hot. I’ve sweated plenty.  But I’ve not been consumed.  My family has not been consumed.  My husband has not been consumed.  Our spirits have not been quenched.  Instead, we have been made to see that hat Satan really wants is to destroy the family.  Our family.  He hates the family.  And he knows that if he can destroy the family then he will have effectively destroyed the church!

This whole time I’ve been thinking that we’ve been making it because we are just too stubborn to quit.  And while I think that’s partially true, it’s not the whole truth.  As my mom once told me, you can break a stubborn horse.  But a strong-spirited horse will never be broken.  It may appear broken for a bit, but it is merely waiting for the chance to break free!

I’ve been using the word surreal to describe how it feels to be walking through this and not feel like I’m falling apart.  That’s not the right word.  Supernatural is a better word.

There are marriages and families falling apart every day, and even more than normal amounts for inmates.  Why should it be that our family has not only NOT fallen apart, but is easily as strong as before in most ways, and EVEN STRONGER in others if not for divine intervention, if not for the Grace and mercy of a Heavenly Father, and His Son standing in the fiery furnace with us?!  It just doesn’t happen?!  It’s just not logical.

Those are just a couple of the things that occurred to me over this last week that I thought I would share with you.

I don’t have all the answers to my own stuff, so I could not dream of giving you answers.  But what I can tell you is who does.  Turn on your GPS, folks.  Let God’s Position System direct you in the path you should go.  Even if it means you end up walking toward and into a fiery furnace.  As the saying goes, “If He leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it.”  But the best thing about God is that He goes before you, preparing the way.  If you are in the furnace, trust that God was there before you, beckoning to you, asking you to endure the refiner’s fire, so that you can come even closer to bearing the image of your Creator.  He wants to burn off all the impurities in you so that He can see His reflection in you!  For that kind of work, He has to be right up there, at the furnace, turning you over and over in his hands, pulling you out, checking on you, looking to see if all the dross has burned off yet.  If not, he’ll put you back.  But not forever.  But…hot or not, He’s still there.

Anyway…that’s all I’ve got for today.  I hope you had a good weekend.  Talk to you tomorrow!

Day Fifty-Five: What Can We Say for Ourselves?

READ:  Ezra 9:10-15 (or see the EXTENDED PASSAGE:  Ezra 7, 9:1-10:19)

(10-12) “And now, our God, after all this what can we say for ourselves?  For we have thrown your commands to the wind, the commands you gave us through your servants the prophets.  They told us, ‘The land you’re taking over is a polluted land, polluted with the obscene vulgarities of the people who live there; they’ve filled it with their moral rot from one end to the other.  Whatever you do, don’t give your daughters in marriage to their sons nor marry your sons to their daughters.  Don’t cultivate their good opinion; don’t make over them and get them to like you so you can make a lot of money and build up a tidy estate to hand down to your children.’

(13-15) “And now this, on top of all we’ve already suffered because of our evil ways and accumulated guilt, even though you, dear God, punished us far less that we deserved and even went ahead and gave us this present escape.  Yet here we are, at it again, breaking your commandments by intermarrying with the people who practice all these obscenities!  Are you angry to the point of wiping us out completely, without even a few stragglers, with no way out at all?  You are the righteous God of Israel.  We are, right now, a small band of escapees.  Look at us, openly standing here, guilty before you.  No one can last long like this.”

THINK:  Think about how you relate to this prayer.  Have you ever felt similar remorse to what Ezra expresses here?  Maybe you feel frustration with the injustices of your community or nation, or maybe you experience guilt on a deep level–not for anything in particular, but just a general sense of not getting it right, ever.  What have you done with that feeling?  Stuffed it?  Allowed it to constantly criticize what you do and say?  Have you ever thought of sharing it with God?

PRAY:  Ezra’s raw confession of messing up before God indicates that he feels very secure in God’s merciful love; otherwise, being this defenseless before anyone is hard.

Read Ezra’s prayer again, looking for a word, a phrase, or even something about his tone that resonates with you.  Take several minutes to mull this over, and listen for what it gives voice to in your heart.  Allow yourself to make Ezra’s prayer your own, repeating it and following him in prayer to God.  Or perhaps you don’t identify with what he says, yet beyond your words is a pain you want to share with God.  Sit with him in this.

LIVE:  When you mess up today, remember Ezra, and remember God’s merciful love.

One of the many things I’ve dealt with over the course of the time my husband has been gone is my tendency to catastrophize things.  I have a tendency to fall into a pattern of all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking that can keep me from being creative enough to think outside the box, and come up with alternate solutions to my problems.  This all-or-nothing thinking tends to spill over into my daily walk with the Lord as well and, many times, I’ve allowed myself to be driven to a point where I think I can’t do anything right, or that nothing is ever going to go my way.  When I get like this, especially right after I’ve sinned, I begin to feel like there’s nothing I can do right and that I’m always going to mess up.  That, my friends, is condemnation.

Condemnation does not come from God.  Conviction, on the other hand, that feeling – like your conscience – that tells you “You really need to do…..” or “Maybe you should call….”  Conviction is that feeling nudging you into obedience because you can’t not do what he’s asking you to do.

I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve noticed about condemnation:  it tends to rear its ugly head right around the time that I am struggling the most.  So, right about the time we need God the most, and the grace he wants to give us for the steps we are on at the moment, up pops this little imp of a voice to tell us:  “Surely, this time, you’ve gone too far.  Surely, NOW, he’s going to write you off. ”  Let me share something with you.  The plain and simple fact that you feel like you must go to God to ask forgiveness is your proof that Satan is lying.  If God was going to write you off this time, why would he bother to let you know that you need to make amends.  If he was truly done with you, why wouldn’t he just leave you to your own devices?

Dear Heavenly Father, you know us inside and out, coming and going.  You know our rising up and lying down and every hair on our heads.  We know that we can never be good enough to merit anything you deign to give us and, far too often, we have snub what kindnesses you have given us because they don’t look the way we’d like them to or expected or hoped they would.  Forgive us, Lord, for those times when we’ve bought the lie that we can do anything good for you on our own strength.

Day Fifty-Four: Open Arms

READ:  Read the passage several times.

2 Chronicles 30:1, 5-9

(1, 5) Then Hezekiah invited all of Israel and Judah, with personal letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, to come to The Temple of God in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God…. And they sent out the invitation from one end of the country to the other, from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north:  “Come and celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God in Jerusalem,”  No one living had ever celebrated it properly.

(6-9) The king gave the orders, and the couriers delivered the invitation from the king and his leaders throughout Israel and Judah.  The invitation read:  “O Israelites!  Come back to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he can return to you who have survived the predations of the kings of Assyria.  Don’t repeat the sins of your ancestors who turned their backs on God, the God of their ancestors who then brought them to ruin–you can see the ruins all around you.  Don’t be pigheaded as your ancestors were.  Clasp God’s outstretched hand.  Come to his Temple of holy worship, consecrated for all time.  Serve God, your God.  You’ll no longer be in danger of his hot anger.  If you come back to God, your captive relatives and children will be treated compassionately and allowed to come home.  Your God is gracious and kind and won’t snub you–come back and he’ll welcome you with open arms.

THINK:  As you read, listen for a new perspective on the way life is, or the way God is, that stands out to you today.  Perhaps you will notice that God can have dangerously “hot anger,” yet under other circumstances he is tender and open to a people who have walked far away from intimacy with him.  Maybe you’ll be struck by the pigheadedness that kept some Israelites from taking “God’s outstretched hand.”

PRAY:  Study the perspective you’ve absorbed, looking at it from different angles and holding it up against different experiences you’ve hand.  Do you ever fear approaching God because you worry he might snub you?  Have you ever refused grace?  Consider a specific situation.  Then become aware of God’s presence with you.  Tell him what was going on during that time.  How does the God of this passage (offering his “outstretched hand” to the Israelites) compare to your image of God in that situation?

I have frequently worried that God might snub me and, many times, that fear has kept me from approaching him boldly.  It has kept me from feeling like I could hold Him to His word.  The Bible is full of promises.  I know this.  But it’s so much easier to believe that those promises will hold true for others than for me, especially when I’m in the throes of a pity party.  I constantly have to remind myself of the verse that says that God is no respecter of persons.  I know that verse was referring to judgment, but wouldn’t it also extend to his promises.  If His grace is sufficient for you, then it must be sufficient for me too.  If his provision, his timing, his love are always perfect for you, then, they must always be perfect for me, as well.  So then…that means the problem is not God, but me.  Refusing to reach out and grab hold of God’s hand because I fear He will snub me says more about me than it does about him.  It says I have a faith problem.

A friend of mine once gave me an analogy that, I think, fits this situation perfectly.

Imagine there’s a chair in front of you.  Do you ever wonder if the chair is going to hold you up before you sit in it?  If it looks rickety, maybe.  But if it looks new, if it looks sound, you just sit.  You don’t stop and wonder.  That’s faith.  It isn’t faith until you place your bottom on the seat and let it have your full weight.  It’s not faith to think the chair can hold you.  It’s not even faith to know that the manufacturer says it can hold up to 200 pounds.  Faith comes with the sitting and resting on the chair, trusting that it won’t crumble under you and let you fall hard on your backside.

I have to admit:  for a huge chunk of my life, I have not had that kind of faith.  I’ve had the dip-my-toes-in-the-water kind of faith.  Yes, I can swim.  But, yes, I could also drown.  I’ve let fear of drowning keep me from plunging into the depths of this walk of Christianity.  This time 18+ months ago, I was operating on faith.  I took a plunge.  A scary one.  And for the better part of the last 18 months, it has felt like a sat on a chair that gave way underneath my weight.  But I think what I’m finally starting to see is that I had constructed the chair that I tried to sit on.  Jesus was not my foundation.  No…my foundation had been the carefully constructed plan I had made for my life, and that had pretty much worked out the way I thought it would.  Sure, there had been times when all I had to go on was actual faith.  Many times.  What I have discovered over this last year-and-a-half is that those time when I was operating purely on faith in the Lord were times when I was struggling, times when I knew there was no way I could help myself out of the situation I was in.  All I could do was obey God, every day, and pray that He knew what was best for me and that His plan would work itself out.  And it did.  Every.  Single.  Time.  That simple fact is the one thing that has kept me afloat since this whole thing started.  Everything hard I’ve ever had to go through, for which I’ve had nothing to rely on other than God, has worked out just exactly the way it needed to.  And, it was not over one second sooner than it needed to be, and it didn’t last one second longer than He needed it to.

Have I snubbed God’s grace?  Sure.  Who hasn’t?  But the one area where I have not, the one area that I never really realized that grace was active and abundant in my life:  perseverance.  It takes grace to persevere.  There have been many days where, by the end of the day, I was “SO DONE.”  But the grace of God is that tomorrow does not have to be like today.  And I can get up and do what I need to do tomorrow because I need to get up and do it.  I have children at home, watching me.  If I give up, what kind of example will I be setting?  Do they see me low?  Of course.  There have been days when I have told them that I just need a “mental health day” and they have to go to their rooms and I go to mine, and “we” let me recover.  My youngest is not fond of having to spend too much time alone, so this is practically punishment for him.  This means that I have to use a lot of finesse when I am breaking this news to him.  Lots of reassurance that he is NOT in trouble is often needed.  So, I cannot take these days often.  Besides, it feels indulgent.  And not in a good way.  I know, deep down, what I really NEED most on those days is to get up and do something for someone else.  But sometimes, it takes me a little bit to remember that.  So, once I do, I get up, get over myself, and get on with life.  I think that is a measure of grace as well.

So, dear readers, I don’t know where you are in life, right now.  Maybe you are going through a hard time and feel like nothing is making sense and like you are struggling just to make it through the day.  Maybe you are a mom, living for naptime and bedtime because you feel like you are going to go crazy.  Maybe you are a dad just hoping you don’t screw up your kids because you are the man of the house and there is more pressure associated with this job than you ever dreamed.  I have just one prayer for you, just one word of encouragement.

PERSEVERE.

Keep going.  Don’t stop.  God will meet you every single step of the way.  When you find that He isn’t meeting you, or you feel like you haven’t heard from Him in a while, pull back from your “schedule” and see if maybe you haven’t run ahead of God.  He has plenty of grace for the step you are on, but you have to stay on the step He wants you on.  Otherwise, you are just running on your own steam.  And, eventually, you are going to run out of steam altogether.

LIVE:  Close your time today by saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Speak the words aloud very slowly.  Picture the righteous but compassionate God described in this passage, the One who is hearing your prayer now:  “Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are.  Set the world right, do what’s best–as above, so below.  Keep us alive with three square meals.  Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.  Keep up safe from ourselves and the Devil.  You’re in charge!  You can do anything you want!  You’re ablaze with beauty!  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

I pray you all have a blessed day!  Take care of yourselves.  And remember, God gives us EACH DAY our DAILY BREAD.  We don’t get to keep yesterday’s bread.  And he won’t lend us the bread for tomorrow.  Trust that he has rationed you just enough bread for today because He loves you fully.  Today.  And because He wants you to trust Him for tomorrow’s ration tomorrow, He has set aside for you a ration for tomorrow as well.  He is already there.  He has a place prepared for you.  So, walk today, trusting that today He’s got you covered; and tomorrow, He will too.

Day Fifty-Three: F.R.O.G. – Fully Rely on God

READ:  Read this passage aloud slowly.

2 Chronicles 16:7-9

Just after that, Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said, “Because you went for help to the king of Aram and didn’t ask God for help, you’ve lost a victory over the army of the king of Aram.  Didn’t the Ethiopians and Libyans come against you with superior forces, completely outclassing you with their chariots and cavalry?  But you asked God for help and he gave you victory.  God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.  You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help.  Now you’re in trouble–one round of war after another.”

THINK:  Read the passage again slowly.  Previously Asa had been a good king.  After hearing convicting prophecy, he “took a deep breath, then rolled up his sleeves, and went to work” cleaning out the temples (15:8).

(1) Which phrase or idea sticks with you?

…that Asa “went for help to the king of Aram and didn’t ask God for help”

…that “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him”

…that not relying on God results in “one round of war after another”

…other

(2) Why does that idea stick with you?

(3) The theme of this passage could be summed up in the acronym FROG, standing for Fully Rely On God.  Consider your life – for what large or small issues might you FROG that you have not thought of before?  (Don’t use this passage to beat yourself up; that’s not profitable.  Use it instead as a springboard to ask God for guidance.)

The thing that sticks with me in this passage, because I’ve been so guilty of it over the years, it “You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help.”  There are times when God puts you in the position that you have to go to others for help.  But there are also times when God just wants you to turn to Him.

For instance, there have been times in my marriage when my husband and I have had a plan.  We’ve worked the plan.  Things have gone well.  Then, all of a sudden, someone will come along with an idea that stirs up some of my old insecurities, and I immediately go off-script in an effort to make what we are doing seem less weird to the person I’m talking to.  Once I go off that direction, it can be hard to get me back.  Eventually, I reached a point in my walk with the Lord, that He started letting suggestions and advice from others take their toll on my marriage.  That, in turn, fed into my old insecurities, seeming to justify the fact that I felt that way already.  Things would start going poorly, the insecurity would grow, the plan would go awry, and then, I would have to go to my husband and apologize for not trusting the plan, and then I would have to ask forgiveness from God for not trusting Him.  All of this from trying to please someone other than God.

PRAY:  Thank God that you can fully rely on him.  Admire God for his divine alertness and for how relying on him keeps you out of “trouble – one round of war after another.”  Take your time so that you fully explore your gratitude and admiration.

Abba Father, it is a little embarrassing to admit that what I know of the peace that comes from relying on you far too often has come from having to live through the lack of peace I’ve had from not trusting you.  But, I am thankful that I have that experience to draw off of.  Now, especially.  In a time when I have no idea what in the world to do, and it seems like I’m trying to plan for the future and live day-by-day, both at the same time, and not knowing how in the world that is supposed to look, all I can do is take the next step I feel is being directed by you.  Most days, it makes no sense, though I desperately want it to.  And sometimes, even more than wanting it myself, I wish that I could explain it to others.  If I could make some sense out of things, I could relax a little bit.  But, yes, I hear you tell me:  where would be the need for faith!?

Dear Heavenly Father, for everyone reading who is going through something tonight they really wish they understood, or wish was over, I pray for peace.  I pray for the faith to keep walking.  I pray that they would not pluck up in doubt what they planted in faith.  Give them the strength and grace to keep walking toward you, and toward your plan for their lives, even when they are surrounded by nay-sayers.  Put people in their way who will encourage them to keep searching for your will for their lives, and who will encourage them to pursue that will regardless of whether or not they themselves understand it.

Dear Lord, you exist outside of time and space.  All that is happening to us, has already happened in your timeline.  You know all, you see all, and you have orchestrated all this for our own benefit and your own glory.  Help us to trust that nothing is taking you by surprise.  Help us to remember that, in your timeline, all that is happening to us now has already happened.  Therefore, you already know the beginning from the end, and have our steps ordered in such a way that we will come to the end you want us to come to IF we trust you enough to seek your help and walk in the way you lay out for us!

So, Lord, we believe, but help our unbelief.  Help us to seek you for each step of the way, every day.  And help us to remember, each day, to F.R.O.G. – FULLY RELY ON GOD!

LIVE:  Take some deep breaths and ponder what it would feel like in your gut to rely on God all the time, every day.  Taste the sweetness of reliance so it’s not a chore but the absolute best way to live.

Day Fifty-Two: Dedication Ceremonies

READ:  2 Chronicles 6:12-18

(12-16) Before the entire congregation of Israel, Solomon took his position at the Altar of God and stretched out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze dais seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet high and placed it inside the court; that’s where he now stood.  Then he knelt in full view of the whole congregation, stretched his hands to heaven, and prayed:

God, O God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below, who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and unfailingly loves them while they sincerely live in obedience to your way.  You kept your word to David my father, your promise.  You did exactly what you promised–every detail.  The proof is before us today!

Keep it up, God, O God of Israel!  Continue to keep the promises you made to David my father when you said, “You’ll always have a descendant to represent my rule on Israel’s throne, on the one condition that your sons are as careful to live obediently in my presence as you have.”

(17) O God, God of Israel, let this all happen —

Confirm and establish it!

(18) Can it be that God will actually move in our neighborhood?  Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built.’

THINK:  King Solomon, son of King David, built the famous temple to the Lord on Mount Zion in Jerusalem as a gathering place for the Jews to worship Yahweh.  It took him years to build this temple, and at its completion he assembled all the people for a public dedication.  To dedicate something is to set it aside for a special purpose.  As you read the dedication prayer of Solomon, notice the gratitude and the humility of the king as he prays.

What precious aspects of your life (for example, people, positions, locations, important events, yourself) do you need to set solely aside for the Lord as a public reminder that all you have belongs to God?  What would it take for you to do that…and with the attitude of Solomon?

One thing that has been difficult for me over the course of this past year is remembering the words of a picture I saw once that says:  “Don’t pluck up in doubt what you planted in faith.”  This has applied to my life in so many ways this past year, but in the pursuit of my education, I have really had to cling tight to those words.  When all this mess started, my plan was to continue with my education until it was done, and then, use it.  I had no idea what else to do.  I still don’t, most of the time.  What I do know is that every time I’ve set out to get a job, something has happened to get in the way.  I’m not talking about part-time work, that’ll allow me to make a little extra cash.  I’m talking about full-time employment so that I can fully support the family.  Surely, that’s what an able-bodied person ought to do.  Yet, every time I’ve put in an application, I’ve been passed over.  I’ve been close on two or three jobs, and something has happened – at the last minute – that stopped me from getting the job.    I still have applications out.  I’m still looking.  But…my practicum starts in the spring, and my internship in the summer.  And both of those are going to need to be paid, or else God is going to have to open other doors that I’m not able to see right now.

PRAY:  Write out a prayer of dedication to God for an individual, situation, event, or position.

Dear Heavenly Father, only You know the plans you have for me right now.  I wish I did, but something tells me that I’d most likely jump the gun and run ahead of your will because I just so desperately want something resembling normal in my life right now.  The thing is:  I’ve never wanted normal.  Not for my Christian walk.  So, please, help me to trust you with these plans.  Keep my eyes open for the opportunities you are making available to me, and help me to know when you are shutting doors that I am tempted to try to push through.  Though there are so many things I should dedicate to you and leave them in your ever-capable hands, right now, I am entrusting my education and my future plans to you.  Help me to leave them there, rather than always trying to snatch them back out of your hands.

In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

LIVE:  Keep your dedication prayer so you can occasionally refer to it.  In fact, if you wish, make a note on your calendar a few weeks from today to reread your prayer.  At that time, think about what’s different in your life due to your dedication.

Day Fifty-One: Our Lives are Mere Shadows

READ:  David is blessing God in this passage.  To see his entire prayer, read the expanded passage, seeing how he dedicates to God the money and materials generously given by him and all the Israelites for building the temple.

1 Chronicles 29:12-19

(12-13) Riches and glory come from you,

you’re ruler over all;

You hold strength and power in the palm of your hand

to build up and strengthen all.

And here we are, O God, our God, giving thanks to you,

praising your splendid Name.

(14-19) “But me — who am I, and who are these my people, that we should presume to be giving something to you?  Everything comes from you; all we’re doing is giving back what we’ve been given from your generous hand.  As far as you’re concerned, we’re homeless, shiftless wanderers, like our ancestors, our lives are mere shadows, hardly anything to us.  God, our God, all these materials–these piles of stuff for building a house of worship for you, honoring your Holy Name–it all came from you!  I know, dear God, that you care nothing for the surface – you want us, our true selves – and so I have given from the heart, honestly and happily.  And now see all these people doing the same, giving freely, willingly – what a joy!  O God, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, keep this generous spirit alive forever in these people always, keep their hearts set firmly in you.  And give my son Solomon an uncluttered and focused heart so that he can obey what you command, live by your directions and counsel, and carry through with building The Temple for which I have provided.

THINK:  When David talks about our lives as “mere shadows”–that everything we have is actually only being borrowed from God–how does that strike you?  What item do you own, or what relationship do you have, that you hold more tightly that you would a shadow?  Be honest.

So…be honest, huh?!  Well, the one thing that I held the dearest – more dear to my heart than God (remember, I am being honest) – was my relationship with my husband.  Then, my control over my life.  Actually, I guess those two were probably interchangeable.  I’ve realized that in the last year-and-a-half.  I’ve always had a pretty tight grip on most things I love.  It’s hard to learn to let go, or to hold things with an open hand, as some of my friends put it.  The scripture from Job:  the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away comes to mind.  I don’t know, but I’m curious if this last year we’ve been through would’ve been so hard had I not been so determined not to let go of what God was asking of me.

PRAY:  As you approach God in prayer, picture yourself bringing with you the item that is hard to hold loosely.  Talk to God about what keeps you attached to it.  Don’t try to navigate the prayer so that by the end you are letting go of your treasured thing.  Don’t try to force yourself to be less attached to it than you actually are.  Simply talk to God while you imaginatively hold it tightly in your hands, and tell him about why it’s so important to you.  Keep in mind that if you are still in the same position internally at the end of your prayer time, that’s okay.

I find it interesting, and a bit convicting, that this part of the day’s devotional says not to try to manipulate the prayer so that, by the end of it, I am letting go of my treasured thing.  Usually, that is precisely what I end up trying to do because I would rather be “right” than be honest.  Sometimes, honest is not pleasing.  Sometimes, my honest feels down-right nasty.  And I find myself questioning, why on earth, would God listen to a prayer that is not nice, let alone answer one.  A part of me knows that God is more interested in my being able to be honest with him, since honesty is a sign of intimacy in a relationship.  However, the part of me that does not want to be a disappointment, just wants him to be pleased with me.  So…I try to tell Him what I think He would rather hear.  It seems, we are always children in some respects.

Luckily, this part goes on to encourage me not to try to force myself to be less attached to “it” than I actually am.  Good thing!  I would have a hard time not being attached to my husband and marriage.  Especially since I took vows (twice – once in a marriage, and once in a renewal) stating that I would stick with the guy until death we do part.  How can I offer that up to God and pretend that I am not attached to it?  I know, essentially, what I have to do is to not place that marriage in a position above where I place God.  I know that my prayer needs to be that our marriage would honor and glorify God.  But, HONESTLY, most of the time, I just want to live with and grow old with this man.  I know that God has not taken that away from me for good, just for now.  But the just for now has also taken a father away from his children.  The Navy did that for years.  But, he was ready to be home.  He was about to retire.  We were about to have him all to ourselves.  And now, THIS!
LIVE:  Take a few more minutes to reflect on what talking to God was like as you held on to the item you’re unwilling to give up – at least not easily.  Did you feel guilty or uncomfortable, or do you have trouble being honest with him?  Why might that be?

I haven’t had trouble being honest with God.  This time.  I don’t feel guilty not wanting to let go of my marriage or relationship in order to fully entrust it to God.  I’ve come to realize that it’s a process.  I want to want what God wants for me.  But, the truth is, quite often it’s a scary prospect.  I know that He has plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future.  And I know that future will include my husband.  It has to because we are not divorced, and he did not die.  He has just been removed from us temporarily.  We often joke that, instead of being on deployment for the Navy, now he is on a deployment for the Lord.  The reasons he is gone ABSOLUTELY BITE!  We did nothing to “deserve” this.  Standing accused and being convicted of something you didn’t do is AWFUL!  But my man is not the first, and he certainly will not be the last.  Especially in a society where the victim must always be right and the repercussions for lying are non-existent.  But…that is not my responsibility.  My responsibility is to live my life in a way that honors and glorifies God, and train up my children to do the same, regardless of what life throws at us.  I wish I could say that I’m getting it right.  Maybe more than that, I wish I could say that I felt like I was getting it right.  Or at least, I wish I felt like I was striking out less than I am.  I also wish I felt like I was standing on ground that was a little sturdier than I feel like it is.  Most days, all I’ve got is the will not to quit.  And, I’m convinced that is what’s going to propel me through to the end.  Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but gets up again; so, I’m going to keep getting back up.

How about you?

Day Fifty: Shout From the Mountaintops

READ:  1 Chronicles 16:23-29

(or the extended passage of 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, also known as “David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving)

          Read the passage slowly, keeping in mind that “Shout Bravo!” here means something like “give credit to.”

 

(23-27) Sing to God, everyone and everything!

     Get out his salvation news every day!

Publish his glory among the godless nations,

     his wonders to all races and religions.

And why?  Because God is great–well worth praising!

     No god or goddess comes close in honor.

All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,

     but God made the cosmos!

Splendor and majesty flow out of him,

     strength and joy fill his place.

 

(26-29) Should Bravo! To God, families of the peoples,

     in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength:  Bravo!

Shout Bravo! To his famous Name,

     lift high an offering and enter his presence!

Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!

 

          Read the passage aloud again, but do it this time as if you are speaking convincingly, first to “everyone and everything” (verse 23 addresses the entire planet, including the vegetation and animals of the earth), then to all the “families of the peoples” (verse 28, all nations, all tribes, all classes of people).

 

THINK:  Read the passage again silently and ponder the following:

  1. Consider the words you most relish. What phrase did you particularly enjoy saying as you read the passage dramatically?

The part of this psalm that I most enjoy saying is:  “…God made the cosmos.  Splendor and majesty flow out of him, strength and joy fill his place.”

  1. What would you most want the earth to know or understand about God?

What I most want the earth to know or understand about God is that the salvation that Christ will bring when He comes again will be for the entire earth, not just for mankind, but for the rest of creation as well.

  1. What would you most want the families of the earth to know or understand about God?

What I most want the people of the earth to know is that there is no god or goddess that could come close in honor, to include ourselves. 

 

PRAY:  Being by asking God to lead you in your prayer.  Wait for him.  Once you get started, you may wish to say something like, “O God, I’m so glad you are…” and finish with ideas from this psalm.

 

O God, I’m so glad you are merciful to us when we fall.  I am glad that you hear our prayers even when we do not deserve your kindness.  Your kindness do not just extend to us, they extend to the whole earth.  Everywhere we turn, there is something remarkable and beautiful and terrific to look at and appreciate.  May we give your creation the respect it deserves, but never more than the Creator.

 

LIVE:  If you could shout this psalm from anywhere in the world, where would that be?  (It might be on a specific mountaintop or by a certain waterfall or even before an international group, such as the United Nations.)  Picture yourself saying these verses from your heart in that setting, without embarrassment or any other reservation.  Rest in your boldness.

 

The weather has been so nice today, that we opened the windows and doors to let the fresh air in.  It’s dark now, and I still have my windows open, and I can hear crickets and tree frogs outside.  It’s such a soothing sound that my son has even made a “playlist” of crickets and rain on a nature sounds app I have on my iPad.  The thing is:  the window has been open for so long and I’ve gotten busy doing other things so that I had practically forgotten about having my windows open or being able to hear the crickets.  Perhaps that’s why God says to “Be still and know that He is God.”  He’s there.  He’s talking.  But with our busy-ness of life, we get so used to the noise around us that we forget to pay attention to His voice.  How about we all slow down a notch or two, throttle down, and see if we can’t hear God whispering to us in the stillness and quiet.