September 4, 2017

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Day Sixty: Preoccupation

READ:  Read the passage aloud slowly.  Haman is upset because the king ordered all those at the King’s Gate to bow to him, and Mordecai the Jew does not (see Esther 3:3-6).

ESTHER 5:9-13

(9-13)  Haman left the palace that day happy, beaming.  And then he saw Mordecai sitting at the King’s Gate ignoring him, oblivious to him.  Haman was curious with Mordecai.  But he held himself in and went on home.  He got his friends together with his wife Zeresh and started bragging about how much money he had, his many sons, all the times the king had honored him, and his promotions to the highest position in the government.  “On top of all that,” Haman continued, “Queen Esther invited me to a private dinner she gave for the king, just the three of us.  And she’s invited me to another one tomorrow.  But I can’t enjoy any of it when I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the King’s Gate.”

THINK:  Read the passage again slowly.

How did Haman’s preoccupations affect him?  What did those preoccupations reveal about the kind of person he was inside?

Haman was filled with hatred for the Jews.  Any time Mordecai did something that drew attention to the fact that he cared less about Haman (or the government) than he did about God, Haman became livid.  It’s no wonder that he was having a hard time enjoying the fact that he was about to go have dinner TWICE with the king, at the queen’s request.  Of course, had he known the reason why he was going, he would’ve realized that he had need to be preoccupied with more pressing matters, seeing how his plans to annihilate the Jews was about to outed to the king by the queen.

What preoccupations have filled your mind for the past 24 hours?  What do these preoccupations reveal about who you are inside?

Wow…this is a question.  Considering I am typing this up about 2 weeks late, I think it’s safe to say that my mind has been extremely preoccupied lately.  But, for the past 24 hours, I have found myself thinking about the classes I am about to start (the last 2 of my 4 intensives), missing my husband, needing a job, a few impending deadlines, the precarious state of my life come the first of the year, my sometimes overwhelming desire to FIX my life even though I am where I am because I trusted God in the first place.  So….yeah….I’ve been a little preoccupied.  What do these preoccupations say about me?  Well….that I wonder (and sometimes worry) A LOT about what tomorrow is going to look like rather than  trusting that the God who delivered me into my current set of circumstances will also deliver me to where I am supposed to be in the future.  My preoccupations say that I miss my husband.  They say that I have a hard time trusting God when life doesn’t make sense.  They say that I have an even harder time trusting God when I don’t get my way.  But…most of all, I think they say that I have a hard time trusting God because I have a hard time believing in His Love for me.

Now…don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that if I really believed He loved me that I wouldn’t worry at all.  What I think is that I would not think twice about bringing all my cares to him and leaving them at the cross.  One of the thoughts I had this past 24 hours had to do with the amount of things that I do not ever bring to God.  I was driving to my intensives, a 4-hour drive, in the drizzly rain, on somewhat slick roads, and about half-way here, I thought:  Maybe I should’ve stopped to ask God to keep me safe while I was driving.  I did, right then.  But my very next thought was: “Well, He’s either going to do it or He isn’t.  But…what if I pray that he keeps me safe, and then something happens?  I’m not unsafe now.  Maybe I shouldn’t jinx it.

The conclusion I came to (or that I am coming to as I keep typing) is:  my relationship with God looks like I spend a whole lot of time hoping that He is not as indifferent to me as I feel He is.  As a result, every pray I pray is hesitant, like a baby learning how to walk, whose every step is halted and shaky.  I think the major difference between me and the baby is that the baby doesn’t wonder if his feet are going to hold him up when he puts them back down on the floor.

But…the encouraging thing is:  I know that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).  So what that means is that each step I take toward God, hesitant though it may be, is an act of faith.  It has to be because I have to believe that He is a reward of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).  If I didn’t believe in the power of God and in the power of prayer, why would I go to Him at all?

I wouldn’t.  And before all this “garbage” happened in my life, I wasn’t really going to him.  I was not trusting God as if my very existence depended upon him.  I wasn’t really having to trust him for much at all.  As such, I never really came to a point of having a crisis of faith.  I never had to.  Of course, what that really means is that I really only had a picture of what faith should look like, rather than having faith itself.

What things would you like to be preoccupied with?

Hhhhmmmmm.  At this present moment….NOTHING.  I’ve had so much on my mind for so long, it’d be nice to have nothing to think about for a while.  I guess, though, more to the point, I’d like to not have so much to obsess or worry about.    I guess that brings me to the next portion of this devotional, as well as where I leave you for the day.  Take the rest of the time to do what the rest of the devotional says.  See where it takes you…….

PRAY:  Pray this verse in your own words:  “Set your mind on things above” (Col. 3:2, NIV).  Ask God for guidance in what kind of person you want to be and what to focus on.

LIVE:  Dream about the kind of person whose mind is preoccupied with God.  Contemplation is a time for receiving from God.  Receive an image of yourself from him.  Embrace the future you.

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 Forty-Nine: Reflections on Week 7

There are a lot of things going through my mind as I start this not the least of which is that there is no way I am ever going to be able to pay back everyone for the kindnesses my family and I have received over the last 3 years.  There are two main reasons for this.  ONE:  even if I had been keeping track of all the monetary kindness I have been shown, there is plenty that I haven’t known of, and even more that nobody would ever cop to because of the desire to remain anonymous.  TWO:  many of the gifts and kindnesses I have received are priceless and, as such, I couldn’t even begin to assign a dollar value, or even hope to repay the favor exactly.  For how does one place a price-tag on a well-timed sermon that is just what you need right when you need it?  How does one place a dollar value on a hug from a friend? 

 

Nobody is asking me to pay them back.  That’s not where I’m going with this at all.  No, what I’m thinking about has more to do with the my inability to ever fully repay a debt when I cannot even comprehend its breadth.  Sounds a little like having one’s sins paid for by someone who never knew sin, who was perfect. 

 

The friends and church family who have helped me out so much, who have been there for me in ways I will likely never be able to comprehend, in many ways, I feel I owe my life to them.  Maybe not literally, but figuratively for sure.  There was nothing I could’ve done to deserve their kindness.  They just felt compelled to bless me and my family out of their own blessings.  As a friend of mine said today, “What?  It’s not ours anyway.  We’re just giving it back to God.”  Knowing that is the truth, but really experiencing the truth of it are two TOTALLY different things.  And if I feel like I could never repay these people for their kindness, and like I owe them a debt of gratitude for just making my life possible for the time being, how much more do I owe Christ who has, most assuredly, given His very life for me and, with his sacrifice, has paid my way into Heaven by paying off debts I didn’t even know I owed.  Is my obedience enough?  Is my praise enough?  My worship?  I could be cliché and say that I would pledge my undying devotion to Him, but I’m human, and that’d be a lie.  The truth is that my devotion will wane.  It has many times in the past, and likely it will in the future because I forget just how much I’ve been given and forgiven.  Then, something will happen that will remind me, and once again, I will be “on fire” for Jesus again.  Until the next time. 

 

Why is it always like this?  Because, far too often, I forget to remind myself of what all God has done for me.  I get bogged down in the busy-ness and daily-ness of life, and I forget to remind myself of the gospel of Jesus Christ that says I was a sinner and I needed a Savior. 

 

I can even take it one step farther.  Given all that I have received so freely from a God that I could never repay, how could I hold onto that gift so selfishly?  I did nothing to deserve it.  I could never earn it.  And yet, I benefit from the blessing of that gift everyday.  Yet, when it comes time to share with others, I balk.  I let fear stand in the way.  Where’s the undying devotion then?  Where is my obedience?  My praise?  My worship of the God that made my very life possible? 

 

Well…guess what?!  This week the county fair starts.  Our church has an evangelism booth at said fair.  I’ve worked the fear a couple of times, and have always let fear stand in the way of my saying anything substantial to passers-by, or even to those who stop.  Perhaps there is a reason I am having these thoughts and feelings on the eve of the week that I am scheduled for two shifts at that booth………..

 

Day Forty-Eight: Linking Arms

READ:  1 Chronicles 11:10-11 (or see the extended passage of 1 Chronicles 11:10-12:15)

 

10-11  These are the chiefs of David’s Mighty Men, the ones who linked arms with him as he took up his kingship, with all Israel joining in, helping him become king in just the way God had spoken regarding Israel.  The list of David’s Mighty Men:

          Jashobeam son of Hacmoni was chief of the Thirty.  Singlehandedly he killed three hundred men, killed them all in one skirmish.

 

THINK:  David’s Mighty Men were willing to risk their lives by crossing the Philistine military camp in order to bring David water from the Bethlehem well.  What incredible friendship!

          Discuss this passage with a friend or spiritual mentor.  What do you think about the idea of linking arms with others?  Is it awkward?  Is it worth the effort?

 

PRAY:  Tell God about any worries or insecurities you have about linking up with others.  Pray for the discernment to choose a few mature, like-minded people to link arms with you and the boldness to ask them for help.

 

LIVE:  Approach these individuals and ask them to link arms with you.

 

Merciful Heavens, Dear Readers.  If I’ve had one discussion about linking arms with people over the course of the past 18 months, I’ve had dozens.  It seems that God has me right smack-dab in the middle of having to link arms with people when all I really want is to not have to.  Funny thing is:  I never really considered myself to be a person who had a hard time asking for help.  I guess I just never really ran across anything I thought of as insurmountable.  And if I did, I guess I just deemed it outside of God’s will, so I didn’t try. 

 

So, let’s see.  What could possibly worry someone about having to link up with others?  What worried me?  Well….what if what I think is important isn’t?  What if I need help and nobody is there?  I was asking God to deliver me from this situation – that would’ve been help that I couldn’t do for myself – and he wouldn’t do that.  So why should I believe that he’s going to put it on the hearts of others to help me in my hour of need?  Why would he do that when he could’ve just delivered me and wouldn’t? 

 

The conclusion I’ve come to – the only one I’ve been able to draw that seems to make any sense for where I am in my life right now – is that I needed to see how the body of Christ can work when they are led by the Lord.  In all my desire not to have to link up with people, I’ve had no other choice.  And what I have witnessed, and what my children and parents and husband have witnessed, is God working through people – is Jesus with skin on, working to support one of his own.  When I felt like God had dropped me on my head, and had no reason to believe that others wouldn’t do the same, what He has shown me is that we do all need each other.  There are some gifts that I have that the body needs.  That’s why God gave them to me.  Likewise, there are gifts that people around me need to share, and they needed to be shared with me (for now), and I needed to see them being shared.  And my kids and my husband and my parents and countless other people around me who I’m sure I will never realize needed to see this, have needed to see these gifts being shared.  I have no idea why God chose my family for this time or this time for my family, but I believe that someone needs to see our church family being the church family RIGHT NOW for this season.  And maybe, just maybe, someone in our own congregation needed a chance to take a step up and BE the church, to be the participant in the body of Christ that He called them to be.  I don’t know.  I am sure that there are wonderful and glorious things happening through our situation that I will not get to know this side of Heaven, but they are happening for sure. 

 

I do have to say that there is one thing I am grateful for, that I knew even before I got the point where I am now that I would be grateful for.  Under PRAY, it says to ask God for discernment to choose a few mature, like-minded people to link arms with.  I knew, when all this first started that, if things didn’t go my way, I wouldn’t even have the luxury of turning my back on God because of the people I had surrounded myself with.  My closest friends through this whole ordeal have let me whine and cry and mope, but they have not let me live in a pit of despair.  These friends have known me long enough to see things in me that I have doubted or lost sight of or questioned if those things were ever there, and they have repeated back to me things I’ve said in the past that I’d forgotten I believed when I was at my lowest.  They have helped me to stand back up and brush myself off.  But, they have also challenged me through my doubt.  They have made me ask myself if I ever really believed those things I said.  They have not shied away from asking me hard questions and telling me hard truths even when they’ve tried to make me laugh and told me to take it easy on myself.  They have been gracious and merciful, but they’ve worn their steel-toed boots in the process, because sometimes I just need a good, swift kick in the pants.  They have laughed with me (and sometimes at me).  They have cried with me and they have cried for me.  They have prayed with me and they have prayed for me.  They have rejoiced with me and mourned with me, and they have all comforted me with the comfort they themselves have received (at one time or another) from Christ Jesus himself.  In short, they have been to me – and my whole family – the very representation of the God and Christ that I thought had deemed me unworthy of helping by not delivering me in the first place. 

 

Dear Friends, if you find yourself floundering tonight, wondering where God is, why He seems to have left you out in the world, all alone, with no intention of saving you, might I suggest you look around you.  Is there someone in your life who just won’t go away?  Is there someone in your life who insists on being nice to you and you find yourself wondering why, or what it is this person could possibly want from you, because you know you have nothing to offer?  Maybe that is your lifeline and you don’t recognize it.

 

Or maybe you find that there is someone in your life that you’re drawn to and don’t know why.  Have you made an effort to talk to that person?  Might I suggest that by refusing to talk to that person, you may be missing a divine appointment.  It takes a little bit of effort.  You might even be really uncomfortable at first.  Please, please, please…make the effort.  You never know if your next best friend is just a conversation away.  You never know if someday that person will be your lifeline when you need a friend.  Without a doubt, God has put you right where you are for some reason.  Without a doubt, he has put in your way the people who are in your life right now.  Aren’t you the least bit curious to find out why? 

Day Forty-Seven: God’s White-Hot Anger

READ:  2 Kings 22:11-17 (or the extended passage at 2 Kings 22 & 23)

 

(11-13) When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay.  And then he called for Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the royal secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal aide.  He ordered them all:  “Go and pray to God for me and for this people–for all Judah!  Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this book that has just been found!  God’s anger must be burning furiously against us–our ancestors haven’t obeyed a thing written in this book, followed none of the instructions directed to us.”

(14-17) Hilkiah the priest , Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went straight to Huldah the prophetess.  She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, who was in charge of the palace wardrobe.  She lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.  The five men consulted with her.  In response to them she said, “God’s word, the God of Israel:  Tell the man who sent you here that I’m on my way to bring the doom of judgment on this place and this people.  Every word written in the book read by the king of Judah will happen.  And why?  Because they’ve deserted me and taken up with other gods, made me thoroughly angry by setting up their god-making businesses.  My anger is raging white-hot against this place and nobody is going to put it out.”

 

THINK:  Read the passage again.  As you do, listen for words or images that especially impact you, such as raging anger that “nobody is going to put…out,” or the king ripping his robes “in dismay.”

 

PRAY:  Take time to silently repeat this word or phrase from the passage or to let the image play itself out in your mind.  See how it matches with your thoughts, feelings, and memories.  Eventually let your contemplation lead you to consider whether there are any questionable or sinful areas of your life that you have been ignoring lately.  Can you tell why you’ve been ignoring them?  Bring them before God.  What is your posture?

 

LIVE:  Picture this God whose “anger is raging white-hot.”  What’s it like to be before him?  Now see Jesus, the mediator between the holy God pictured in this passage and the sinful people God loves.  Turn to Jesus and together examine your heart.  Watch his response to the sinful areas you noticed.  What is he inviting you to do in response to what you see?  Respond to his invitation.  Watch God the Father accept Jesus’ redemption of your sin–see God’s white-hot anger cool–and experience being welcomed back into full fellowship with him once more.

 

My dear readers, I am happy for the chance to deliver each of these devotional days to you.  I think this one, however, does not need anything more from me.  You know what God is speaking to you.  I know what God is speaking to me.  I pray that each of us has the courage to take a good, honest look at ourselves and find those areas God would have us see, those areas that need to be addressed, that we’ve been withholding from God, and find out why.  I pray for the strength to get brutally honest, knowing that God cares more about our character than our comfort, and that we would allow him to do the work necessary to pry those sinful areas out of our heart, regardless of how deeply lodged they are.  Then, I pray that we would allow Him to fill those areas of our hearts with what ought to be there:  more of Him and more of His Word.

Day Forty-Six: Investing in People

READ:  2 Kings 11:17-12:2 (or the extended passage of 2 Kings 11 & 12

 

(17) Jehoiada now made a covenant between God and the king and the people.  They were God’s people.  Another covenant was made between the king and the people.

(18-20) The people poured into the temple of Baal and tore it down, smashing the altar and images to smithereens.  They killed Mattan the priest in front of the altar.

          Jehoiada then stationed sentries in The Temple of God.  He arranged for the officers of the bodyguard and the palace security, along with the people themselves, to escort the king down from The Temple of God through the Gate of the Guards and into the palace.  There he sat on the royal throne.  Everybody celebrated the event.  And the city was safe and undisturbed–they had killed Athaliah with the royal sword.

(21) Joash was seven years old when he became king.

(1) In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash began his kingly rule.  He was king for forty years in Jerusalem.  His mother’s name was Gazelle.  She was from Beersheba.

(2) Taught and trained by Jehoiada the priest, Joash did what pleased God for as long as he lived.

 

THINK:  Read the passage again slowly, trying to picture the priest Jehoiada and his young pupil, Joash, who becomes one of the few good kings of Judah.

          (1) What about Jehoiada do you most admire or dislike?

          (2) How would you like, or not like, to resemble Jehoiada as a teacher and leader?  (Think of a teacher as anyone from whom others learn, and think of a leader as anyone who finds others following him or her.  Even in friendships, sometimes one friend is the teacher and the other is the student, although they may not realize it.)

 

In this day and age, I appreciate anyone who is capable and willing to pick a hard to place to stand and stay there.  It takes courage to do the right thing, especially when it becomes uncomfortable.  So, when I see someone able to do that, even fighting against the odds to stand there, and remain steadfast, I cheer them on.  THAT is what I admire about Jehoiada.  In a time when the nation of Israel had basically turned her back on God, there as a man who would not.  This man went on to be a teacher to one of the last good kings of the Israel.

 

In response to question #2, my kids come to mind.  I pray that I am setting a good example for them.  There’ve been times when I’ve had my doubts.  For sure, they will have plenty to tell their future spouses or a therapist about all the times I’ve messed up.  But, I hope that they can always say that, when I did them wrong, I always made an effort to right that wrong and that I did so without making excuses, or without trying to justify or rationalize my errors in a desperate attempt to look less guilty or to make myself feel better.

 

PRAY:  Pray for people who look up to you–either for good or bad.  In that case, you are their teacher and leader.  Ask God who he is asking you to reach out to as an informal teacher or leader.  Or you may want to simply pray about what you pass on to others.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, there are days when I am painfully aware that I do not put forth the example you prefer.  Some days, I don’t even put forth the example I would prefer.  But Lord, I pray that, on those days, I would not diminish terribly your name in the eyes of those that desperately need to see you.  I ask forgiveness for when I’ve led others astray.  I pray for the wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen.  I pray for the words to say that I might honor you, and for the appropriate actions to take when something more than words are required, and I pray for discernment to know the difference.  I pray for strength not to act when I shouldn’t.  I pray for the courage to act when action is necessary. 

 

LIVE:  Sit in the quiet with God, holding before him those who follow you or look up to you.  You might wish to ask God, “What do I need to know about myself as a teacher or leader?”  Ideas might not come to you right away.  Note those that do, and keep watch for them in the coming days and weeks.

 

If you are a parent, then you already have an idea who your followers are.  But, what you may not have realized yet is that your children’s friends, if they visit often, could also be your followers.  It never occurred to me until my kids were in high school, and one of my daughter’s friends remarked about how cool it was that we had “rules and stuff.”  For her, it was a given, and sometimes an annoying one.  But for her friend, who seemed to have no curfew, and who frequently was locked out of his house, it was a novelty.  Not long after making that remark, this young man found out that his family was about to move, and he asked if he could come stay with us.  It didn’t happen for a number of reasons, not the least of which comes down to the fact that moving is just a part of military life, and for whatever reason, God decided this young man needed to be born into a military family, and with that, comes having to move. 

 

Take a look around.  See who’s watching you.  Maybe you teach Sunday School.  Are the siblings of your students watching you?  Are their parents?  Are you a crossing guard?  Are you employed outside the home?  There are probably many more people watching you than you think?  Likely, there are as many people watching you as you are watching.  If that’s the case, then isn’t it also likely that your sphere of influence is much larger than you think?  Isn’t it possible that you are affecting many more people than maybe you thought when you initially read this passage?  Keeping that in mind, what example are you setting? 

Day Forty-Five: False Hopes?

READ: 2 Kings 4:20, 24-29 (or the extended passage of 2 Kings 4:8-37)

(20) The servant took him in his arms and carried him to his mother. He lay on her lap until noon and died…
(24-25) She went ahead and saddled the donkey, ordering her servant, “Take the lead–and go as fast as you can; I’ll tell you if you’re going too fast.” And so off she went. She came to the Holy Man at Mount Carmel.
(25-26) The Holy Man, spotting her while she was still a long way off, said to his servant, Gehazi, “Look out there; why, it’s the Shunammite woman. Quickly now. Ask her, ‘Is something wrong? Are you all right? Your husband? Your child?'”
She said, “Everything’s fine.”
(27) But when she reached the Holy Man at the mountain, she threw herself at his feet and held tightly to him.
Gehazi came up to pull her away, but the Holy Man said, “Leave her alone–can’t you see that she’s in distress? But God hasn’t let me in on why; I’m completely in the dark.”
(28) Then she spoke up: “Did I ask for a son, master? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t tease me with false hopes’?”
(29) He ordered Gehazi, “Don’t lose a minute–grab my staff and run as fast as you can. If you meet anyone, don’t even take time to greet him and if anyone greets you, don’t even answer. Lay my staff across the boy’s face.”

THINK: Have you ever felt the bitter sting of shattered hopes and desires? The barren woman from Shunem knows the sting intimately–her grief here seems to confirm the doubt she experienced earlier when the holy man, Elisha, prophesied that she would have a son. At the time of the prophecy, not wanting to her hopes up, she wouldn’t even let on that she desired a son. Now she seems to wish she’d never hoped at all.
Notice Elisha’s response to the woman in her fear, grief, and regret. Take several minutes to think about this. How might Elisha’s response reflect God’s response to her? What might God have been feeling as he watched her struggle with her son’s death?

I cannot imagine what God must have been feeling as he watched this woman. I’m still coming to grips with the idea that God’s heart could break for his children when He is the author of some of the situations that cause them such grief. I can somewhat understand it from a parent’s point of view, but I know that I am mostly unable prevent the suffering my children will endure. I also realize that I am not doing my children many favors if I intervene in all their suffering, in an attempt to bring them to an end. I get it.

But, since I’m human, I really just want my suffering to end, and if it can end before it ever has to start, well then…all the better. Especially if I’ve not done anything wrong in the first place. Suffering because I’m guilty is far easier to tolerate than suffering when I’m innocent.
Yes, I know…there’s a verse in Hebrews that mentions how we’ve not yet suffering till the shedding of blood. But…pain is pain. And avoidance of pain is often a greater motivator than seeking out pleasure.

PRAY: Explore your own heart to see if there are any deep desires there that you are afraid to trust God with. Can you tell him why you hold back? Ask him to show you his response to your desires and to help you trust him more, just as the Shunammite woman trusted Elisha enough to expose her anguish to him.

There are only a few desires right now that I do not really want to trust God with. I don’t even want to mention them these days, for the same reason. The phrase “Once bitten, Twice shy” comes to mind. It isn’t that I don’t believe God has my best interest at heart, or the best interests of all the family members involved and affected by our current situation. It’s just that, if my will and His don’t intersect again, I wonder how I’ll handle it. Will I be as upset as before? Will it jar me as much as it did last time? I know that I can’t live in the past, but I wonder if I am really going to be strong enough for the future to which God has called me. Yes…I know that He equips those He calls, and that these present trials are strengthening me for the future ones, but sometimes pain can make one doubt….. Are you like me? Do you often wonder if it matters if you show God your anger or suffering? What if you really think you need for your situation to be over and God doesn’t? Do you have enough faith to ask God to shore up your weak spots?

LIVE: Henri Nouwen wrote, “At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, ‘I love you, I knit you together in your mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13).” Ponder this quote. What might your life look like if you were to take God at his word, believing that he knows all about you and cares for you as tenderly as Elisha cared for the Shunammite? How might you pray differently? Live differently?

I am trying to get to the point where I can believe like this, pray like this. It’s simple, really. Just believe. Trust. And then pray. “BUT” the brain says. “Did God really say…?” Satan says. Why is it so hard to take God at His Word? Is it that it’s hard, or is it that we’ve been doing things our own way for so long that we have a hard time letting go of the need/desire to have our own way in exchange for something better?

I am not going to add my prayer here. I think this needs to be something far more personal than ought to be shared here. But, I do pray that if God has spoken to you through this, the way He has spoken to me, I pray that you would share your heart with God, just one more time. For just one more time, allow God a glimpse into your inmost being, knowing (of course) that He already knows what is there; he just wants you to trust Him with it. I pray that you would open your heart up to Him and tell Him, prayerfully, what you think and feel, and ask Him to strengthen you to trust Him with just one more thing. Then, I pray for the courage to do it again tomorrow.

Day Forty-Four: Because of His Repentance

READ: 1 Kings 21:20-29 or see the Expanded Passage of 1 Kings 20-21

 

(20-22) Ahab answered Elijah, “My enemy!  So, you’ve run me down!”

     “Yes, I’ve found you out,” said Elijah.  “And because you’ve bought into the business of the evil, defying God. ‘I will most certainly bring doom upon you, make mincemeat of your descendants, kill of every sorry male wretch who’s even remotely connected with the name Ahab.  And I’ll bring down on you the same fate that fell on Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah–you’ve made me that angry by making Israel sin.'”

(23-24) As for Jezebel, God said, “Dogs will fight over the flesh of Jezebel all over Jezreel.  Anyone tainted by Ahab who dies in the city will be eaten by stray dogs; corpses in the country will be eaten by carrion crows.”

(25-26) Ahab, pushed by his wife Jezebel and in open defiance of God, set an all-time record in making big business of evil.  He indulged in outrageous obscenities in the world of idols, copying the Amorites whom God had earlier kicked out of Israelite territory.

(27) When Ahab heard what Elijah had to say, he ripped his clothes to shreds, dressed in penitential rough burlap, and fasted.  He even slept in coarse burlap pajamas.  He tiptoed around, quiet as a mouse.

(28-29) Then God spoke to Elijah the Tishbite:  “Do you see how penitently submissive Ahab has become to me?  Because of his repentance I’ll not bring the doom during his lifetime; Ahab’s son, though, will get it.”

 

THINK:  Imagine yourself as Elijah, noticing what you think and feel throughout this tale.  (See the expanded passage for more details.)  Read the passage again until you reach God’s words to Ahab and Jezebel, and the description of what they have done to defy him.  Pause there.

 

PRAY:  As you picture yourself speaking God’s words of judgment to Ahab, listen to what you are saying.  What does God’s anger toward this enemy make you feel?  Do you feel the same anger God does over injustice?  If not, what does Ahab’s sin make you feel?  When you picture the three of you there–Ahab, God, and you–what position is your inclined to take toward each of them?  Talk to God about your response.

 

LIVE:  Meditate on the following prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (1979):  “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:  O come, let us adore him,” Notice what your response is.  If there is something you need to repent of today, go to God and receive his mercy.  If you want to adore him for his compassion, spend time doing so.  If you don’t want to adore God, take time to open yourself to the reality that he is praiseworthy.  Don’t force yourself to feel things you don’t feel or say things you don’t mean, but do consider the reality acknowledged in the prayer.

 

As I sit here thinking about this lesson and what I want to say in response to the reading and the questions, Signature of Divine (Yahweh) by Needtobreathe is on my Pandora “Needtobbreathe” station.  For some reason, their songs, and other more alternative groups like these help me to think and focus.  I think it’s because they are so alternative that I have to pay more attention to understand what they are saying in parts, or to understand what they are meaning.  I’m not sure what it is, but I know that hearing about Yahweh going before me is good for my soul as I think about what I want to type. 

 

Yahweh is so high above me that it is difficult to imagine, as the song says, that we truly are the signature of the Divine.  How can it be that The Holy Trinity would pour so much into mankind that would turn their backs on the gift?  How can it be that God would send His Only Son to act as propitiation for the sins of men who would never come to know or accept the gift of His Life?  Of Eternal Life? 

 

How could it be that God would send His Only Son for a man like Ahab?  How could God possibly show such mercy to a man who didn’t seem to care one lick for the rules of the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt to give them the Promised Land?  To clarify:  that is not a statement of judgment upon Ahab, regarding his sins as any worse than any of mine.  To God, there is no difference between Ahab’s sins and mine.  God has shown me easily as much mercy as Ahab’s whether I’ve realized it fully or not.  The question is more about why, in the world, God would do such a thing in the first place. 

 

Of course, the answer is:  because He is willing that none should perish, but that all would repent and make Jesus Lord of their lives so that we could spend eternity with our Creator.   That’s it.  It feels like there ought to be a “but” here.  But there isn’t.  It’s just that simple.  He wants us.  And He wants us to want Him back.  That’s it.  That is the heart of compassion, true compassion, that only a Creator can show His creation.  And with that, I will close.

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are Lord of all.  All things were created by you for your good pleasure.  Even the unlikeliest of sinners can be redeemed and fulfill the purpose for which You created them, if only they accept that Christ is Your Son, they repent and receive Him into their hearts as Lord and Savior.  Nobody is too far gone that they can escape Your Hand of Grace and Mercy.  Though we run to the ends of the Universe, there is nowhere we can go to get away from you, for you created it all with just a word, and all of creation obeys your voice.  All of creation will bow to your will sooner or later.  Lord, I pray that, tonight, for anyone reading this who may be lost, thinking that they’ve gone so far away from you that they have to make their way back to you, you would reassure them, that you are there.  Wherever that is, you are there.  If there is anyone reading this who has an ache in their souls, an emptiness they’ve been trying to fill with sex or money or drugs or work or pornography or gambling, show them that there is only one place that emptiness can be filled and that is at the well of living waters, Jesus Christ, who satisfies eternally so that they no longer have to thirst after things that always leaving them feeling more and more empty.  May they be like Ahab, penitent to the point of tearing their clothes and crying out to you desperately for mercy.  Meet them where they are tonight, Lord.  Meet each one us right where we are.  There is not a one of us who can make it through our next hour without you.  And for some others of us, we need you for our next minute, our next second. 

          For those of us who have already answered your call, help us to walk obediently in that calling.  Help us to be Jesus with skin on, and help us to glorify your name.  Where there is hurting, help us to be a comfort.  Where there is darkness, help us to be a light.

          For the people who sit in prisons all over the world, for your name’s sake, please offer them solace and a person to witness to.  Strengthen their spirits, Lord.  Meet their needs in such a way that their jailers cannot help but know that the Lord of All Creation is at work.

          Though we do not deserve it, Lord, be merciful unto us.  We need you more than we can possibly understand.

In Your Son’s Precious and Holy Name I pray, Amen.

 

 

Go here to check out the lyrics:  http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/needtobreathe/signatureofdivineyahweh.html

Go here to check out a YouTube video of the song, that shows the lyrics while the song plays in the background:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWDRRuM9z1Q

 

Day Forty-Three: When Trusting God is a Handful

READ:  1 Kings 17:7-16.  Read this slowly.

 

(7-9) Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought.  Then God spoke to him (Elijah):  “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there.  I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you”

(10-11) So he got up and went to Zarephath.  As he came to the entrance of the village, he met a woman, a widow, fathering firewood.  He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug?  I need a drink.”  As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”

(12) She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit.  I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me.  After we eat it, we’ll die.”

(13-14) Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing.  Go ahead and do what you’ve said.  But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here.  Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son.  This is the word of the God of Israel: “The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.”

(15-16) And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked.  And it turned out as he said–daily food for her and her family.  The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty:  God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!

 

THINK:  Read the passage slowly again.  This time notice the repetitive phrases and words that seem to shimmer.  Are there any in this passage that you sense God saying directly to you?

(1) How do you resemble Elijah, the loner who was perhaps content by the solitary brook but now has to venture into Palestinian territory and ask a widow for her last dime?

(2) How do you identify with the widow and feel that Elijah is asking too much?  How difficult is it for you to give up the last handful of flour?  How difficult is it for you to give up the last handful of flour?  Hold out your hand in front of you.  Open and close it.  Imagine that the amount of flour your hand could hold is all that stands between you and death.

(3) How do you think the widow felt every time she put her hand in the jar and there was another handful of flour?

 

This is one of those devotionals that I sit in front of and stare at for hours, walk away from, ponder, come back, and still, do not want to tackle.  Have you ever read something that you needed to interact with, felt it calling to you, urging you to learn the lesson it is trying to deliver, but you just don’t want to?  Lessons like this make me want to just take the day off, skip this devotional, and move on.  Why would I decide to blog my way through a devotional that would most definitely challenge me to up my game?  And in front of people, too.  So far, dear readers, none of my followers are people that I encounter every day, but I know my friends and family read them.  And by putting down what I feel this lesson is trying to teach me, I am putting myself in the position of being challenged about putting feet to my faith.  And wouldn’t you know….I’ve never been one who agreed with the sentiment:  “Those who can’t do, teach.”  I can’t just “teach” this lesson.  I have to do it too.  And after all this, I can’t not share what’s been shown to me through this passage. 

 

As for #1 – there have been many times in my life when I have been quite content to sit by the brook, literally and figuratively.  But, one cannot merely sit and while one’s life away.  Eventually God asks for movement.  Indeed, he requires it.  In the case of Elijah, eventually the brook dried up because of the drought.  Guess it was time to move.  In my case, he allowed my husband to go to jail.

 

As for #2 – When I read the passage, one of my first thoughts is always: how presumptuous.  I know the passage says that God has instructed the woman, so she must be prepared.  But how she was prepared we are not told.  We don’t know what God told her.  All we know is that Elijah is asking her to feed him out of what is supposed to be her last meal.  I imagine that the whole time she is preparing the meal for Elijah, she is probably praying, hoping that she is not sentencing herself and her son to death for feeding a stranger, holding out hope that this God of Elijah’s is going to make good on his promise.

 

As for #3 – If this were me, I would be holding my breath every time I put my hand in the jar, and breathing a sigh of relief every time I found there was more flour there, enough flour there for today.

 

PRAY:  Ask God what might be your jar of flour today–something that needs filling up.  It’s okay to tell God he’s asking too much.  At first, the widow did just that.  Trusting God is a process.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, you know the jars of flour you need to be filling for me, in my life right now, as do I.  Every time you ask me to have a little more faith, to trust you just a little bit more, I wonder if this time is going to be the time you let me fall.  Well, you’ve not let me fall yet.  But, often I wonder if you might be asking too much.  Some days are easier than others.  I like those days.  But some days, trusting you is hard and I don’t want to have to trust you with any more.  Please be with me on those days.  Help me to be an example to my children who are watching every step I make.  Help me to show them that, no matter how hard today is, you hold all our tomorrows in your hands.  You have already prepared those days for us and, today, you are preparing us for them.  The strength we gain from remaining steadfast today, will help us to remain steadfast tomorrow.  And the little bit further that you push us tomorrow will make us stronger for the day after that, until, before we know it, we have managed to walk through whatever it is you have lead us to, and had strength enough for the journey.  Thank you for the easy days, too.  The days when we can sit and rest and not work on strength-training.  Rest is refreshing and we need it; so thank you for the days that are not hard.  Thank you for remembering that we are just dust, and for occasionally requiring just a little less of us than you do on other days.

 

LIVE:  Consider how it would feel to trust God this much.  How would your life be different if you trusted God with just a little more every single morning, as the widow did?

 

I have to be honest.  RIGHT NOW, I do not want to think about what my life would look like if I had to trust God with just a little more every single morning.  Perhaps because, most days, I feel like I’m living this.  I’ve had to have more faith this past 18 months than ever in my life.  It’s scary and exhilarating – like a roller coaster with its slow ups and fast downs, twists and turns that flip you upside down, this way and that, only it doesn’t end in 30 seconds.  So, for now, my faith is mostly wrapped up in the fact that I’ve not gotten off the roller coaster yet, in choosing to ride it all the way to the end, regardless of when or where it stops.

 

How about you?