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?