“It’s Just a Thing”

 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them.” Ezekiel 7:10-11, 19-20

I recently discovered something dear to me was broken. I initially felt sick–an irreplaceable decades-old treasure from someone I loved was in pieces. I didn’t even want to look. But as I thought on the ‘travesty’ with an eternal perspective, the freedom started to come, peace took over as I opened my hands. It is only a thing! I will not take this with me! What has given delight in its beauty has served its purpose, and I can rest in that.

God’s strong judgment on Israel through His prophet Ezekiel hits hard on the all-consuming greed and accumulation of man. Amassed wealth of silver and gold, the abundance of things, beautiful adornments, had become their idol– their sustenance and pleasure and identity and cause for boasting without which they were not satisfied. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:2-5) Misplaced affection had taken over as first love, and a jealous God will have nothing to do with that. Is there any thing I am valuing more than I should?

Good Father, First Love, I am rich only in You. Keep all You entrust to me in proper perspective. Remind me, and keep me reminding myself, these are just things, vehicles for the working out of Your plans for me and for the glory of You. (Revelation 2:4; 3:17; Ephesians 2:10)

Gifts from Engedi

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. God equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” Psalm 18:2-3,17-19,30,32,35

David, anointed but not yet crowned king, is in the wilderness, prey hunted by a jealous, capricious King Saul. Engedi is snarly, rough, and a cave would offer welcome relief from the heat but an uncertain security, and there David hid from Saul and his army five times the number of his own… Heart thumping, please don’t echo… the royal entourage is coming in heavily… and Saul stops. Do I take him out, this crazed pursuer? No, he is God’s anointed, and God’s time and ways are perfect. I shall prove my loyalty to my sovereign.

He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord‘s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord‘s anointed.’ So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage.” 1 Samuel 24:6-8 

It was the wilderness of Engedi that manifested the grace of God– His enabling of David’s heart to trust, his hands to do the right thing, his development as a strong, patient, and persuasive leader of his troops, his tongue to extol his divine Protector and LORD. David’s ‘training’ in Engedi was actually divine water to the weary soul of the hunted– not his choice, but God’s benevolent necessity as He prepared him to lead Israel. He wrote at least two psalms from this experience, 57 and 142.

Almighty Master, lead me with steadfast heart to Your waterfall in the wilderness, Your merciful refuge in the storm, Your song in the dark caves, Your way of escape when under attack. Keep me trusting that You are working out Your purpose for me in every Engedi. (Psalm 57:7; 77:6; 1 Corinthians 10:13)

“Whatever You Do”

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of [his] conscience. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24,27-28,31-33 

Paul was sold out. He who had grown up as a stickler for Jewish laws had been transformed into one who followed a different code– that of “whatever you do, do for God– His glory, His purposes, His people, His gospel.” Our human bent is to conform to rules, regulations, diets, schedules, agendas, to-do lists; we crave some kind of order or plan and adjust our lives accordingly to accomplish whatever end we are pursuing.

But the Lord calls us here to invert that thinking inside out, and put Him and others first, always. This is radical, and often requires radical change in our intention and will. Only God can transform my selfish filter of ‘efficient, comfortable, productive, safe, makes me feel good, what I deserve, possible, what I have time for, what I want/like to do,’ into one of ‘helpful, upbuilding, the good of others, the sake of others’ conscience, the glory of God, no offense, please others, their advantage, that they might be saved.’

How many decisions do I make that advance my agenda and satisfy my wants and desires? How might I adjust my daily plans, what might I do differently, what might I give up, if I were really aiming to glorify God in everything, and do all for the good of others?

O God, have Your way with me, through and through! I am Your servant in whom You are to be glorified. You created all things for Yourself. Revolutionize my thinking and motives and energy by Your good and powerful Spirit, that I might breathe, think, plan, and do all for Your glory and the good of others, just as my Savior Jesus did. All to Him I owe. (Isaiah 49:3; Colossians 1:16; Philippians 2:3-5)

 

The Peace of Release

Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.’ Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace.’ Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah.” 1 Samuel 1:15-17,19

Hannah, beloved by her husband Elkanah, was a troubled woman. Provoked and irritated by his other wife Peninah, barren and therefore looked down upon, anguished in longing and feeling empty, she poured out her heart to the Lord. Eli the priest observed her silent but moving lips as she prayed at the temple, and initially misunderstood her as drunk. But there was something about her interaction with the Divine during this prayer, and Eli’s blessing, that set her heart at peace. There is nothing like the release of our cares, hurts, consternations, unmet desires, what-ifs, to the great Burden Bearer. He meets with us, He hears, He receives, He says, “I have this, and I have you.”

Peace on the Gulf at sunset

I remember a time years ago when I had been greatly weighed down by a particular care, and it came back to mind. I knew I had shared it with someone and felt that comfort and liberation of a shared burden….but I couldn’t recall which friend it was. The more I thought, the specific night came back to me. I had taken a walk and poured out my every thought to my Lord! He was my dearest friend and confidante, He the One in Whom I’d found release!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”                                                                                                    ~Joseph Medlicott Scriven‎ (1855)

Prince of Peace, I release all my concerns to You, knowing You care for me. You who carried every burden to the cross still delight to carry them for Your own today. Guard my heart, keep me coming to You in thankful, constant prayer. (Isaiah 9:6; 1 Peter 5:7)

 

God’s Mysterious Moves

Then Achish called David and said to him, ‘As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.’ And David said to Achish, ‘But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?’ And Achish answered David and said, ‘I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, “He shall not go up with us to the battle.” Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.’ So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel.” 1 Samuel 29:6-11

David was confused and disappointed at Achish’s command to leave the battlefield, but the unfolding of God’s mysterious and providential ways reveals God’s divine purpose and His love for His man. King Saul’s violent jealousy and mental instability had rendered David’s present position in service to him precarious, so David had deserted to the Philistines. He was a stellar warrior, but the Philistine commander feared he would turn on them in the heat of battle, especially if they were engaged against his own Hebrew people. What he didn’t know when he was sent back was that the Lord had revealed to Saul that he and his sons would die and Israel would be taken by the Philistines that very day. (1 Samuel 28:18-19)

South Africa mountains

What he also didn’t know, but discovered upon his return to Ziklag, was that the Amalekites had just raided their city. “When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.” Finding his strength in the LORD his God, he sought His guidance whether to pursue the Amalekites. God said yes, and “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds.” God knew his coronation was near, and had moved mysteriously not only to protect him from battle against Saul and Jonathan, his best friend, but to enable him to rescue his wives and the inhabitants of Ziklag. (1 Samuel 30:3-8, 18-20; 31:1-6)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

Lord, You know all things, Your ways are high and holy, Your deeds are perfect and always filtered in love. Please turn disappointments and turns of events I do not understand here in the lowlands into new and deeper trust in You Who dwell on high, whether I ever see their reason or not. Have Your way with me. You are good, and all You do is good, and I choose to trust You. (Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 18:30; 119:68)

Used of God

“One of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house.’ Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seats of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. She rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain. When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.” 1 Samuel 25:14-15,17-18,20,23

I love Abigail. She is wise, creative, generous, brave. As the chapter unfolds from the rude rejection of David’s men’s reasonable request and his intent to retaliate, she asks David’s forgiveness. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel,my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself.” (28-31) Selfless Abigail cares about the overall good of her people as well as David’s reputation and future. Her faith in God’s promises concerning David is unwavering, and her swift, bold intervention prevents catastrophe and harm. David acknowledges it as from the Lord.

Sheep, South Africa

David said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!  Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.”’ Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, ‘Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.’” 32-35

How willing am I to be used by God for others’, and Jesus’s, sake? If I act on their behalf, am I impulsive or thoughtful, self-guided or God-directed? Do I take into account the big picture of God’s overall purpose and honor, and plan accordingly? Am I amenable to taking risk, or reluctant? He gives insight, wisdom, methods, courage, and favor as we yield to Him and trust His leading. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:3-6)

Lord, cause me to care for Your causes, and to be alert to Your call to use me, available to act promptly, generously, and with discretion for Your people and Your kingdom’s sake. May all I do bring recognition of Your impetus and goodness, for Your glory. And may I willingly receive warning and help from others, accepting gratefully Your grace to me through them.

In Exile, God Speaks

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” Numbers 9:1

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-2

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Job 38:1

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Revelation 1:1-3

Every word of Scripture is God-breathed and instructive (2 Timothy 3:16). God packs even simple words and introductions with meaning, intentionally teaching and encouraging us as we read carefully. When we find ourselves in some kind of exile– from estranged family members, friends who have dropped out of our lives, or the companionship of co-workers because we have chosen to take a stand for God; or whirlwind– of busyness, or whining, or the bombardment of the world’s enticements; or wilderness– of loneliness, unmet longings, betrayal, or the waiting room of prayer, God is nigh.

DSC_0946

He not only visits us, but abides with us there in the dark, and speaks love and insight and messages we could not receive in any other place in the same way. Do I listen? Am I willing to cease from discontent or complaining or working my way out, to be quiet from fretting over the injustice or hurt or the prayers that aren’t answered as and when I like, to tune in to the Almighty? Sometimes He speaks in whispers (1 Kings 19:11-12). These greats of Scripture– Moses, Ezekiel, Job, John– were in hard places, but they were in the Spirit and attentive, therefore inspired, helped, taught, and used mightily through the voice of God to them there.

O You Who ride the heavens to my help, Who are present in the flood and fire, thank You for Your presence in my bereft places of body, mind, and Spirit. May I always prepare a place for You in the wilderness, and respond gratefully and willingly to all You say. (Deuteronomy 33:20; Isaiah 43:2; 40:3)