Day Sixty-Seven: Empty Comfort

READ: As you read the passage, consider what might have been comforting for Job and what might have left him more hurt than before.

Job 22:1-11
Once again, Eliphaz the Temanite took up this theme:
“Are any of us strong enough to give God a hand, or smart enough to give him advice? So what if you were righteous – would God Almighty even notice? Even if you gave a perfect performance, do you think he’d applaud? Do you think it’s because he cares about your purity that he’s disciplining you, putting you on the spot? Hardly! It’s because you’re a first-class moral failure, because there’s no end to your sins. When people came to you for help, you took the shirts off their backs, exploited their helplessness. You wouldn’t so much as give a drink to the thirsty, or food, not even a scrap, to the hungry. And there you sat, strong and honored by everyone, surrounded by immense wealth! You turned poor widows away from your door; heartless, you crushed orphans. Now you’re the one trapped in terror, paralyzed by fear. Suddenly the tables have turned! How do you like living in the dark, sightless, up to your neck in flood waters?”

THINK:
Have there been times when you wished people would refrain from giving you perfectly packaged and Christian cliches in an attempt to console you? “Pray harder.” “You’ll have to persevere.” “Oh, God’s just working on you.” “Search for the sin in your life and get rid of it.” “Obey God.” Maybe you didn’t know what you wanted in your suffering, but that definitely was’t it. Sometimes true comfort comes through silence and a hug.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar don’t offer comfort, but instead attempt to convince Job of his sins. This time it’s the social sin of neglecting the poor, hungry, and the naked – none of which Job is guilty of.
Who are the people you interact with on a regular basis who are suffering emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical pain?
What are some ways you can appropriately comfort them in their pain?

PRAY: Who are hurting people in your life? Pray for them, submitting to God’s guidance for how to best serve and minister to them.

LIVE: Consider a friend or acquaintance who needs comfort. Prayerfully approach a suffering individual, asking God to keep you from being someone who merely offers trite words that fall short.

I wrote about this very thing just a couple of days ago, being silent when you don’t have anything helpful to say. I have been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. I haven’t done it on purpose. What happens is that I just get so uncomfortable with the pain of the person sitting in front of me that I just ant it go away. I’ve wanted to be able to say something, anything to help them make some sense of a senseless situation. Or maybe, I just wanted to feel like I had done something more than just sit there. Or worse, often, I just wanted to stop feeling uncomfortable myself? How arrogant! The sad fact is, whether my intention was to do harm or not, I have done some harm.

For that realization, I have to say that this situation we’ve been living through has been a blessing. Another blessing is that I can even say that. This time a year ago, I’d have never been able to say that anything about this was a blessing. I had found a good thing or two that happened as a result of being allowed to go through our ordeal. But, to say that the whole thing is a blessing: NO! Not a year ago. Not almost 2 years ago now.

Yesterday, I was faced with a friend whose husband has been sick for a very long time.
He is currently in hospice care, and has been once before. He’s been close to “going home” many times. My friend was pretty certain that all she wanted for her man was peace and the healing that being called home to Heaven could bring. Yesterday, she had to tell me that he is getting close to the end. As prepared as this woman has been saying she is, when she stood before me yesterday, she was a mess. She and I did not get to know each other until after our situation started, and ever since, she has been a source of inspirational comfort for me many times. She understands suffering and has not had trite words to offer me. Yesterday, because of what I’ve had to go through, I was able to stand in front of her and have more than trite words of Scripture taken out of context and Christian cliches to offer her. It was no less painful standing before her, watching her heart break, but I didn’t feel like I just needed to make it go away because I was uncomfortable. I was able to look at her, allow her to feel her pain, allow her to be the most important person to me right at that moment, and respect what she was going through and how she was feeling, without feeling the need to minimize it or make sense of it.

I have known since this whole thing started that everything I would go through would help me when I started working as a counselor, but I had no idea it would help me to become a better friend too. Even if that’s all I get from this, if it keeps me from being one of Job’s friends to one of my friends, what a gift that would be to those who I call friend!

Day Sixty-Five: The Mystery of a Mighty God

READ: Read the passage. In Job’s response to his recent tragedy, notice the powerful feelings that underlie his words: fear, anger, grief, and hope.

JOB 9:2-4, 14-23
(2-4) “The question is, ‘How can mere mortals get right with God?’ If we wanted to bring our cases before him, what would chance would we have? Not one in a thousand! God’s wisdom is deep, God’s power so immense, who could take him on and come out in one piece?
(14-20) “So now could I ever argue with him, construct a defense that would influence God? Even though I’m innocent, I could never prove it; I can only throw myself on the Judge’s mercy. If I called on God and he himself answered me, then, and only then, would I believe that he’d heard me. As it is, he knocks me about from pillar to post, beating me up, black-and-blue, for no good reason. He won’t even let me catch my breath, piles bitterness upon bitterness. If it’s a question of who’s stronger, he wins, hands down! If it’s a question of justice, who’ll serve him the subpoena? Even though innocent, anything I say incriminates me; blameless as I am, my defense just makes me sound worse.
(21-23) “Believe me, I’m blameless. I don’t understand whats going on. I hate my life! Since either way it ends up the same, I can only conclude that God destroys the good right along with the bad. When calamity hits and brings sudden death, he folds his arms, aloof from the despair of the innocent.”

THINK: What phrase in Job’s lament stands out to you? Spend time meditating on it. Mentally chew it the way you would chew a piece of gum–repeat it to yourself, pausing each time to see where it leads your mind and emotions.

PRAY: Keeping your phrase in mind, picture God in the room with you. How do you relate to his presence? Maybe you sit in reverence at his power, wisdom, and justice, realizing you’ve forgotten or minimized those qualities lately. Maybe you feel anguish like Job. Maybe you open up to your desire for a rescuer, for Christ’s mercy.
At the end of this time, recall what this experience held for you. Write down for future reference anything that seemed significant.

LIVE: During the next week, before your begin your times of prayerful reading, recall your picture of God in the room. Recollect who he was to you and retain this image of him in your mind during each prayer time. Let that aspect of God mingle with the God you relate to during the week.

Such powerful words Job uses here. There was a time when I would have thought that talking this way to the Creator would have been tantamount to heresy, to begging God to strike me down. There have been times when I have felt this way that I’m not sure, had I said what I really wanted to say, that He wouldn’t have struck me down. But, the longer I walk through this life, and the more hardships I see and live through, the more convinced I become that being just this honest with God, yet not disrespectful of His Power and Glory and Majesty, are precisely what He wants from me. After all, would I not be this honest with my earthly father? If I had been as hurt and betrayed as Job felt, wouldn’t I spill my guts to my earthly father, in hopes that he’d be able to help me, or comfort me. Of course, I would. And if I would be this honest with my earthly father, when he can’t possibly know what I’m thinking, why wouldn’t I be this honest with my Heavenly Father when He already knows it all anyway.

Likewise, if I was going to a physician or a counselor, wouldn’t I also share all that I could, in hopes of finding a cure, or receiving some sort of help or therapy or advice that would lead me out of the darkness I was in? And yet, how often do I refuse to go to God?

But…that’s not what strikes me about this passage. What sticks with me here is how Job accuses God of being aloof from the despair of the innocent. I don’t know that I can even count the number of times I’ve felt that way since our mess started. Like God was just sitting up there on his throne on high, completely untouched by all the heartache and pain down here, particularly mine.

I’m not sure that aloof is the right word. At least, not now. But, it’s precisely the word I’d have used as recently as about 6 months ago. I don’t believe that God is aloof. I think that he is saddened by the fact that His Creation lives with the effects of sin, every day. I think it pains him when those who were created in his image have to suffer. But, because He is God, He can take those hard times and touch circumstances and use them to transform us more into the image of Christ and to do so in such a way that it is utterly unmistakable that HE is the one doing the work!

I heard something in class today, that helps me keep this in perspective. I’ve known it all along I guess, but had forgotten somewhere along the way.
Christ suffered here on earth, what makes us think we won’t.
Something else I believe: if there’s no God, then there is no hope that any of the suffering we experience will ever make any sense or ever come to any good use.
Where I am now is at the point that I am choosing every day to have faith that God is telling me the truth. I am choosing every day to picture God, sitting in the room with me, telling me He understands that what I’m going through is hard, but also that I can do it. I will make it through this. I picture Him telling me that He wants me to trust Him with all my ugliness since He’s already seen it, and loves me anyway. I picture Him asking me to share with Him those thoughts very thoughts that would make me sound just like Job does in this passage, and trust that He is not going to kick me out of the kingdom or tell me that I can’t come Home when He calls me. I picture Him asking me to believe Him, to believe in Him and to have Faith that I can believe the Bible is true when it says He loves me and does not show partiality. I picture Him saying to Satan, “Have you seen my servant, Patty? Look at her.” Then, I picture Satan looking at him, saying, “well, of course, you’ve protected her for her whole life. Why wouldn’t she love you. Take her life away from her. Take her husband away from her. Then see if she doesn’t turn her back on you.” I picture the same scenario with my husband in Job’s place, with my children in Job’s place. Then, I pray for strength to carry on, trusting that God will not leave us or forsake us, and that He will trade our ashes for beauty, one day. It has been promised, and I will choose to trust it daily, until I can learn to rest in it.

Day Sixty-Four: Giving Comfort

READ:  Read the passage aloud slowly, keeping in mind that Eliphaz from Teman is speaking to his friend Job, who has just experienced the death of his children and the loss of all he had.

JOB 5:17-21

(17-19)  “So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you!  Mind you, don’t despise the discipline of the Almighty God!  True, he wounds, but he also dresses the wound; the same hand that hurts you, heals you.  From one disaster after another he delivers you; no matter what the calamity, the evil can’t touch you–

(20-21)  “In famine, he’ll keep you from starving; in war, from being gutted by the sword.  You’ll be protected from vicious gossip and live fearless through any catastrophe.

THINK:  Read the passage again and put yourself in the place of Job, who listened to these words.  How do they fall on your ear?

Read the passage again and put yourself in the place of Eliphaz.  What feelings and attitudes fill you as you speak these words?

  1. What makes a comforter really helpful? Is telling the truth enough?
  2. What did Job need from Eliphaz?
  3. What might be in the heart of a person who preaches at someone who is so far down?

PRAY:  Ask the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to give you what is needed to truly comfort despairing people.  If you want guidance for your prayer, ask the Comforter to give you tools to help people in trouble go to him.  Ask him to give you tools to draw them out to say to him whatever they need to express.  Plead with the Comforter to make you his messenger, to prevent you from moralizing and giving advice.

LIVE:  Rest your mind on someone who is in deep trouble.  Pray only the word PEACE for them–no suggestions, no fixing, no rescuing.  Just trusting.

I have been Eliphaz so many times in my life I cannot even count.  Maybe that sounds weird coming from a counselor.  Maybe it just sounds insecure.  It ought to.  Because for myself, I can say that when I have sounded like Eliphaz it has been because I have been extremely insecure.  It has happened most often when someone is sitting in front of me telling me a sad story of something that has happened in his (or her) life, and I’ve wanted to say something so desperately to make sense out of all of it.  As if I could.  I’ve wanted to make it better.  I’ve wanted to be comforting but never felt like I had words enough to express my deep sorrow.

Then, my life went sideways.  I had plenty of people to talk to, plenty of people willing to listen, who actually cared when they asked me how I felt.  And the people who helped me the most were the ones who had no idea what to say, and said so.  Or, they said nothing at all.  They didn’t try to make sense of my life for me.  They didn’t offer me trite passages of Scripture, taken out of context.

But, then, there were people who did have something to offer.  You know who they were?  The people who had truly suffered in their lives.  The comfort they offered, through a well-timed passage of scripture that helped them while they were suffering:  that was golden!  But…to be honest, I don’t even remember most of those scriptures.  What I remember most was the overwhelming sense of being heard and understood.  I had been comforted with the comfort they had received when they most needed it.  Their spirits ministered to mine in my deepest hour (or hours) of need.  It was in those moments that I felt most loved!

It was in those moments, too, that I learned the benefits and blessings and comfort of just sitting with someone who is hurting.  Of being willing to hear anything that needed to be said.  Of being willing to sit in the uncomfortable silence if there weren’t words enough to express the hurt.

I don’t think I will ever know all the whys concerning our situation.  Finally, I’m getting to the point that I don’t feel it will be necessary.  What I do know is that this situation could not have been better timed in my education as a Christian counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist.  Before this thing happened in my family’s life, I had serious doubts.  I doubted if I was pursuing the right line of education.  I doubted if I would ever be able to help anybody.  I didn’t doubt enough to quit.  But then…I don’t quit.  By the time you have as much money invested in something as I have in this, you don’t quit.  Even if you don’t do anything with it, you don’t quit.  Even when life knocks you sideways and you feel like you have no business trying to finish something as “high-falootin'” as a Master’s Degree, you don’t quit.

So, I didn’t quit.  And now, here I am, in the last of my classes, and – because of this thing that has happened in my life – I am certain that I have pursued the right line of work.  Not only am I certain that I am in the right degree field, but I am convinced that I did not actually choose it.

In fact, the last time I was here at Liberty, taking the first two of my four intensives, people asked me why I chose the Marriage and Family program instead of the License Professional Counselor program.  The only answer I could give:  I didn’t, actually.  It chose me.  In the first place, I had no idea there was such a thing as a Licensed Professional Counseling program when I first signed on at Liberty.  But, I knew that I wanted to help families.  My husband and I had both lived through our own parents’ divorces, and we were making it, so I also wanted to be able to offer my services to struggling couples.  So…the first person I talked to suggested the Marriage and Family program and that’s what I took.  It was just as simple, and unplanned, as that.

And now…here I am.  And once I decided to stop whining about the valley God decided to lead me through, I began to see the beauty all around me.  It seems weird to say it, and I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I have come to see beauty in the midst of suffering.  Or, in the vulnerability and the sweetness of the depth of relationships that suffering can have if you let God do His Work.

Don’t get me wrong.  The process of suffering is ugly.  It hurts and it doesn’t make sense most of the time.  But, if you can look past what’s on the surface, look past the walls people are putting up, and sit with them long enough to trust that you are safe, you will start to see the real person underneath.  You will come to a place of being able to love that person as God loves them.  And you will see their true beauty.  With some people it happens faster than with others.  But, fortunately, when you grow up with people who’ve been deeply hurt, you learn really quickly not to let walls and angry barks scare you away.  You learn to stick with it, because you know, deep down in your soul, that every person is worth listening to.  BUT, you have to get over yourself, and your urge to fix them.  They don’t need fixing!  They need to be heard.  They need to know that someone values them the way their Creator does.

THAT’S WHAT TRUE COMFORT LOOKS LIKE.

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank you for coming down out of heaven to make a way for us to be able to get there.  Thank you that you made a way for us to have peace on this earth, even in the midst of trials and suffering.

Thank you that you do not leave us alone until your work is completed.  Thank you for your patience.

I pray, now, for those who are hurting today.  I pray that you would comfort them.  I pray that you would send them people to comfort them and hold them, and let them be as ugly as they need to be.  But, most of all, I pray for them peace.  I don’t know all the answers.  Nobody does, but you.  So, only You can offer the peace that passes all understanding.  For all the hurting in the world, for anyone reading this that desperately needs your Comfort right now, please rain it down upon them right now.  Make it unmistakably obvious.  Make it tangible even.

Thank you for loving us!

In Jesus’ Name I pray,

Amen.

Day Sixty-Three: Reflections on Week Nine

Admittedly, it’s been longer than 9 weeks since I started writing out these devotionals.  Life happens and things like quiet time and bible study, far too often, get pushed to the side.  One would think that I’d have figured out that self-preservation doesn’t work if I’m not actually taking care to preserve myself by way of keeping my sanity a priority, but…….

So, anyway.  Here we are at Week 9.  I’m wrapping up the third of my 4 intensives.  This one has dealt with group counseling.  And ya know, you just can’t get a feel for what counseling is going to be like until you do it – both the participation and the facilitation – and this week, I’ve done both.

What I’ve come away with has been pretty remarkable.

Before I begin with the reflection part, let me give some background.  I have actually been enrolled in this class before.  Last summer.  However, when I signed up, the person on the other end of the phone did not tell me that a month would be enough time to get all the work done IF I was trying to take another intensive as well – which I was.  So, after 3 weeks of trying to bust my tail to get all the work done, I decided that I needed to withdraw from both of the courses.  I believe this was the Sovereign Hand of God leading this decision.  My husband had just been sent away and the kids and I had just moved to our new residence.  I was trying to unpack and wrap up work for 3 other classes I was taking.  I was overwhelmed, stressed, emotional and – pretty much – just running on autopilot.  All I was trying to do was push through to get the work done.  I wasn’t really learning it.  And my wounds were still so fresh that, had I come to the class last summer, I would not have been able to participate the way that I have this year.  Everything would’ve been about me, and I would’ve brought the group atmosphere WAAAAAY down.

Now, for what I’ve learned.   We just cannot go through life on our own. This is not really a new revelation.  It’s something I’ve heard many times before.  But what I realized this past week is that there is a life the group develops that is uniquely its own.  Learning that – seeing it first hand – and pairing it with the knowledge that we have been designed to be in relationships, adds an element to group counseling that makes it very different from individual counseling.  It’s a very rewarding experience, and I am thankful NOW that Liberty has required these intensives as part of their degree completion plans.  My education would not have been complete without them.

But, what if we take this lesson beyond the scope of my classes and counseling.  What if we extend it to the real world and how we do life here on this earth.

What if we were intentional about our relationships?  What if we sought to be the best version of ourselves in all of our relationships instead of just letting things happen with whomever may cross out paths?  What would our lives be like if we really prioritized the most important relationships in our lives?  What might that look like?  How would our relationships with our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends change?

What if we started by prioritizing our relationships with The Lord first?

What if we took the command to love him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength seriously?  Is it possible that the whole “loving our neighbors as ourselves” might be just a little easier?  And even if it wasn’t, wouldn’t it make choosing to stick with those relationships a little easier?  Because, then, we’d be staying for a different reason!

One thing we’d learn really quickly is just how much we truly value life.  We’d see just how seriously we take the notion that ALL MEN are created in the image of God.  You.  Me.  The homeless guy on the street.  The sex offender.  The terrorist.  Yeah!  All those folks!  I am no better than my fellow man.  BUT…by that same token, I am also no worse.  And comparing myself to any standard other than that of Christ is holding myself up to a faulty measure, and I will come away with a warped sense of my own worth and yours.

I think I could probably go on, but I am going to try to put into practice some wise words I read earlier today:

Once you’ve made your point, stop talking.

Day Sixty-Two: God Gives, God Takes

READ:  Read the passage, noticing God’s involvement in the story and circling God each time he is mentioned.

JOB 1:1, 8-11, 21

(1) Job was a man who lived in Uz.  He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion….

(8) God said to Satan, “Have you noticed my friend Job?  There’s no one quite like him–honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil.”

(9-10) Satan retorted, “so do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?  Why, no one ever had it so good!  You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does–he can’t lose!

(11) “But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away everything that is his?  He’d curse you right to your face, that’s what.”….

(21) Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.           God gives, God takes.  God’s name be ever blessed.

THINK:  Notice the interaction between God and Satan.  Does it bother you that God is bartering with Satan with Job’s life?  Is this the God you know?

Notice the words of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.  God gives, God takes.  God’s name be ever blessed.”  If you lost everything–family, fortune, and eventually your health–would you be able to say such a thing?  Why or why not?  What would have to happen for you to utter similar words–and actually mean them?

PRAY:  Spend time meditating on the gut-honest yet God-honoring words of Job.  Let your emotions serve as a backdrop to your prayers.  Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you in the silence.

LIVE:  Today as you use different objects (your car, computer, TV, and so on) and as you enter different places (your home, school, workplace, and so on), consider how you might respond if God instantly removed an item without explanation.

What’s funny is that I’ve read this passage many times and have always so compartmentalized what happened to Job in terms of the conversation between God and Satan and how Job had all his land taken away that I’ve missed many of the correlations to my own life sometimes.  Sitting in my current situation, it’s easy to make a comparison of my life to that of Job, in terms of my husband because he’s really the one who has had everything stripped from him.  However, now that I think about it:  I’ve had just enough stripped from me to make me be able to see this passage differently, to make me able to see the correlation.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had many things wrenched away from me.  But, every time, after the hurting was over, and after I’d finished whining and complaining about whatever it was that I lost, I was able to see that loss was not the prevailing theme.  I had gained some things too.  But what’s more important is that the value of the things that I have gained far outweighs the hurt that losing them caused.

To date, most of the things that I’ve lost or that have been taken away from me, have not been given back to me.  Some of those things, I wouldn’t want back.  Some of those things I like to think I might want back, but I cannot imagine that my life would be better if I got them.  So for now, there’s only one thing that has been taken from me that I know I will receive back, and can hardly wait until it is returned.  My husband.  But, until then, I know that God is working in the both of us, preparing us to be even better for each other than when we were separated.  But not just better for each other.  Better for the work he has planned for us as a couple when he returns.  Better servants.  Better friends.  Better parents.  And more humble.  More submissive to God’s will and plan for our lives.  Ready to answer whatever call he has placed on our lives because we will have conquered something that we never thought we could have.

So…until that glorious day, I will continue to walk, with my head held high, waiting expectantly, hopeful that it is sooner than later, but with the knowledge that whenever that day comes, I will be fully prepared for it, and the world my husband and I will re-enter as a couple will have been being prepared for us.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you so much for all you do for us.  Thank you for this world that you have so lovingly created and that each one of us has been created in your image.  Thank you for loving us so much that you gave up your son to die on the cross that we all might have a chance to spend eternity in paradise with you.

Be with us Lord.  You know that we are just dust.  You know how easy it is to get attached to the fleeting things of this world, and how easy it is to forget that we would have nothing but that, by grace, you have decided to gift us with all that we have.  Lord, help us to be thankful for everyone and everything in our lives that we have received from you.  And help us to see that THAT is everything we have.  Help us to remember to hold all those things and all those people with an open hand so that it doesn’t hurt quite so much when you ask for them back, or when you require that we sacrifice them.

Thank you, Lord, for everyone who has stopped by this humble, little blog and decided to return.  I have no words but the ones you give me.  And Lord, please, when the words do not come from you, don’t let them come at all.

I thank you for today.  For every breath I was given.  For every breath my children took.  For every breath my husband takes all the way over in Kansas.  I thank you for my family.  For my friends.  For my mentors.  And Lord, I thank you for the people who have hurt me, because that hurt has caused me to have to turn to you if I am going to heal.

I praise your Holy Name.  And all this I pray in your son’s precious name, the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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-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.