Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

2 Samuel 3:22-30 (Part 2 of 2)
Joab Murders Abner

In my first marriage there was much trouble. There were very few good years and those were early on. I will admit that my first wife had a rough row to hoe when it came to life. Her dad was killed in a head-on collision that also left her mother in a wheelchair for the remainder of her life. Miraculously, Lisa and her brother survived with just a few broken bones and some bruises (and this was back in the day when there were no seat belts in the back seats of cars). Her mother raised a son and a daughter from a wheelchair and she did the best she could with the help of close-by family members. However, because of the way Lisa had to grow up, people always made exceptions for her behavior and she blamed all the problems in her life on the way she had to grow up. Then, two weeks before we got married, her brother was also killed in a single car accident in the wee hours of June 28, 1980.

With that backdrop and the blow of her brother dying just before we got married, it was not long before Lisa began abusing drugs and became increasingly violent toward me. Her drug use was even unknown to me for much of these years between 1980-1984. She sobered up for awhile when she became pregnant with our first child, Meghan. It was after Meghan was born that her abuse of prescription narcotics began again and reached heights where I was basically parenting alone and cleaning up both my wife’s literal and metaphorical messes. During her first rehab visit in 1987, she had an affair. I don’t want to say I am a saint or anything but I tried to keep the marriage together. I would like to say it is because I was a Christian man and was trying to redeem what was broken. However, the real truth of it was that I was 25 years old, a father of a two year old of which I would have been granted custody, and I was simply too afraid to handle all that responsibility myself when I, myself, was still a kid, so to speak. During the following year in 1988, Lisa had a run in with the law that she could only escape by going into rehab once again. This time, it was a twelve-step program and not the mental health hospital approach of the previous rehab. She came away from that second rehab clean and sober (which would last quite a few years). Our second daughter, Taylor, was born during this period of sobriety. However, with her addictive personality, she became addicted to purchasing things – whether we had the money or not. Back in those days, the early 90’s, checks were still in vogue and I was chasing her bad checks constantly because she was spending more money than we had. All of these factors left me disillusioned, bitter, angry, tired, alone, fed up, and just profoundly sad all the time. That led to many fights that further enforced my defeatist feelings about life. I was in a dark place emotionally and spiritually.

In these pre-salvation days of mine, even I thought divorce was not a viable option. Not because of the high ideals of God about marriage, but because I knew how Lisa would react to it. I also knew of my own internal fortitude that I could not stand up to the expected mental and emotional onslaught that I knew she would give me. I knew that she would use my kids against me. Meghan and Taylor were the reasons that I got up each day in this marriage. So, leaving them just was something I was afraid to do. Leaving them with Lisa, I knew that they would be poisoned against me. It was a price I was not willing to pay. I was a chicken plain and simple. I was not willing to stand up for myself nor was I willing to walk away from kids. In these pre-salvation days, what is the best answer in a situation like this. Well, it disgusts me to think about it now, but in those days I was a different person. I played the martyr real well and said I deserved it and, well, Lisa had previously had her own affair. It was now my turn. It was OK. God just wanted me to be happy, right? I deserved it, right? When I look back at it, the whole thing was revenge for all the hell that Lisa had put me through over the years of our marriage.

I would like to say that our marriage survived the two affairs, hers and mine, but it did not survive mine. It was the beginning of two to three years of physical violence, and emotional terrorism (at home, while I was at work, you name it) on the part of Lisa. Finally, it came to the point that I had to leave or someone was really, actually going to die in that relationship. It had gotten that bad. From that point forward, although I had removed myself from a violent home and a emotionally abusive home, the physical violence may have stopped by the terrorism did not. For three full years after we split up, there was constant emotional terrorism. She became so consumed by revenge that it affected the rest of her life.

Although the public nature and the intensity of the terrorism stopped when Lisa remarried some 3 ½ years after we split up, she remained bitter toward me for the rest of her life. It consumed her. To hate me was her reason for existence. You were either for her or against her. She was so consumed by hatred and revenge that it spread to other people in her life to the put that she and her second husband ended isolated and alone. It was in part, I think part of the reason that she died at the early age of 55 years old (now 3 years ago). I will never forgot thinking that revenge killed her.

It was that idea of revenge, mine toward Lisa (in the years before I came to Christ as my Savior and Lord) and the all-consuming revenge of Lisa toward me, that came to mind when I read this passage again this morning. Now, with that backdrop from my life, let us read this passage, 2 Samuel 3:22-30:

 

22 But just after David had sent Abner away in safety, Joab and some of David’s troops returned from a raid, bringing much plunder with them. 23 When Joab arrived, he was told that Abner had just been there visiting the king and had been sent away in safety.

24 Joab rushed to the king and demanded, “What have you done? What do you mean by letting Abner get away? 25 You know perfectly well that he came to spy on you and find out everything you’re doing!”

26 Joab then left David and sent messengers to catch up with Abner, asking him to return. They found him at the well of Sirah and brought him back, though David knew nothing about it. 27 When Abner arrived back at Hebron, Joab took him aside at the gateway as if to speak with him privately. But then he stabbed Abner in the stomach and killed him in revenge for killing his brother Asahel.

28 When David heard about it, he declared, “I vow by the Lord that I and my kingdom are forever innocent of this crime against Abner son of Ner. 29 Joab and his family are the guilty ones. May the family of Joab be cursed in every generation with a man who has open sores or leprosy[a] or who walks on crutches[b] or dies by the sword or begs for food!”

30 So Joab and his brother Abishai killed Abner because Abner had killed their brother Asahel at the battle of Gibeon.

In this passage, we see that Joab killed Abner in a rage of revenge. Seeking revenge will ruin your own peace of mind and create an environment of hatred that destroys everything in its path and increases the changes of a continuing tit for tat cycle of retaliation. I remember a movie called “The War” where kids fought over a tree fort and the fighting got so intense with their tit for tat violence toward one another that finally the tree fort ended up getting burned down to the ground. Nobody had anything then. Revenge is like that. It is like fire that consumes all the oxygen in its path.

Revenge is pride on a rampage. We take matters into our hands. We make ourselves God. We play God. We make it our god. Revenge can affect families for generations as we will see in the coming books in the Old Testament after 2 Samuel. The legacy of this murder extends in the book of 1 Kings (see 1 Kings 2:31-34). Revenge wins nothing but a temporary sense of victory and then we must prepare to receive retaliation.

As Christians, we must be the ones who stop the cycle of revenge. We must love those who hate us. We must pray for them. We must not take their attacks on us personally. We must take the high road and not respond in kind. We may through our prayers and our not responding in kind bring the other person to the table to resolve the issues once and for all and move on. We may not be buddy buddy with this person going forward but revenge gains nothing but a burnt fort. Revenge gains nothing but a burned out soul. Revenge belongs to the Lord. We must pray for the ones who seek revenge against us. We must love them as Jesus loved those who persecute them. Those who seek revenge are ruled by pride and not by God. Those who seek revenge should be looked on with eyes of sorrowful love. Retaliation and revenge only lead to an ever-widening circle of destruction that leaves us alone and isolated standing in our burned out tree fort.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Samuel 2:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)
David Anointed King of Judah

Three and half months ago, when we came to Moline for the final interview for the director of business/staff pastor role that I now currently hold, Elena and I made a vow to each other to not to discuss the job, the church, the staff, the people, and the feel and culture of the church until all of that weekend’s activities were complete (interviews, meals out, sightseeing, etc.). We had two full days of meetings, church tour, dinner out with the staff pastors and their wives, Sunday worship, Sunday lunch, and then finally Sunday afternoon, we were alone and we finally discussed it.

Although I had from the first phone interview been intrigued by the senior pastor here at Calvary, Tim Bowman, I was leaning toward accepting the position if offered, I wanted to see without influencing her decision-making how Elena was going to react to the situation. From others and from my own walk with the Lord, I knew if there was a catch in her spirit about this place then it was not the right place/right time combo for us. I have been told by others in full-time ministry and had learned through submission to the Lord in prayer that if God calls us to a church, he will call both of us to it not just one of us. For God is a God of unity and not discord. If just one of us was excited about this place and the other was not, it would never work, especially after the realities of full-time church ministry set in and the honeymoon period with this place was over. So, I am certain of one thing and that is if God calls you to a church, he will call your wife to it as well. Therefore, even though I was excited about the fact that the church wanted me and I just loved everything about the church and the potential for the job, I was eager to hear what my wife had to say that Sunday afternoon when we finally had time to ourselves between our last thing with the senior pastor and his wife and our flight leaving early the next morning.

When we started the conversation, it was obvious that she was as excited as I was about the possibility of the job offer. She was all-in with me if the job was offered and we would accept it. We knew that it would be a radical change to our lives but we had this mutual peace that this was the place for us (even though it was 12 ½ hours away from family and our friends in the Carolinas). We would have said yes right then if the job was offered. But we said that we needed to spend the rest of the evening praying about it to make sure our mutual feelings were of the Lord and not just some “we just got asked to the dance by the captain of the football team” kind of feeling. It seemed so obvious that this was the right place and the right time for us at this place and at this time. But we prayed about it and there was validation from God. Not some audible word from the Lord but that peaceful feeling that He gives us when we have aligned ourselves with His will and His plan for our lives.

So, here we are, almost three months into living in the Quad Cities, and three months into being a staff pastor and his wife at Calvary Church. It was obviously the right decision for us at this point in our walk with the Lord but even in the obvious things, we must bathe them in prayer just to make sure that we have not mistaken an ego massage for the will of God. Sometimes, there are things that seem so obviously right and we say that are the will of God because the circumstance aligns with our personal desires. However, it is only through prayer and seeking answers from God that we can discern the difference. That is what I thought of this morning as I read about David taking the move to Judah, which seemed a no-brainer, to the Lord in prayer to see if it was a valid thing to do or just some sentimental longing on David’s part. Let us read 2 Samuel 2:1-7 now:

2 After this, David asked the Lord, “Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?”

“Yes,” the Lord replied.

Then David asked, “Which town should I go to?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.

2 David’s two wives were Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel. So David and his wives 3 and his men and their families all moved to Judah, and they settled in the villages near Hebron. 4 Then the men of Judah came to David and anointed him king over the people of Judah.

When David heard that the men of Jabesh-gilead had buried Saul, 5 he sent them this message: “May the Lord bless you for being so loyal to your master Saul and giving him a decent burial. 6 May the Lord be loyal to you in return and reward you with his unfailing love! And I, too, will reward you for what you have done. 7 Now that Saul is dead, I ask you to be my strong and loyal subjects like the people of Judah, who have anointed me as their new king.”

In this passage, we see that, although David knew he would become king (1 Samuel 16:13, 23:17, 24:20) and although the time seemed right, now that Saul was dead, David still asked God if he should move back to Judah, the home territory of his tribe. Before moving ahead with what seems obvious, first bring the matter before the Lord, who alone knows the best timing.

Lord, teach us to discern the difference between our personal desires and your will. Help us to understand your will. Help us to use Your Word to help us discern the difference between ego and your will. Help us to always check our desires against that which is consistent with your nature. Help us to develop and deepen our prayer lives so that we become intimate enough with you that we can sense your will for our lives and the difference between selfish desires and your will.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 23:1-29 (Part 1 of 3)
David Hides in the Wilderness

If you have ever been a dad to small children, you probably still have nightmares about the phrase, “some assembly required.” That phrase even haunts us as adults. About a year and a half ago, when we moved into our cute little bungaloo in the Mill Village (our second home while living in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area). Our first home in Duncan (which was built in 2007 and was only 3 years old when we bought it), the house had a built-in recessed area where we could put our television. It had compartments too where you could put the components of your entertainment system (cable box, DVD player, Apple TV box, etc.). It was just above the fireplace. It was a cool idea by whomever designed the house. However, at our next home which was in Lyman’s mill village that we bought in late 2016. The community was a collection of older houses built in the early to mid-1920s. All of the houses in this neighborhood had been remodeled and flipped. In most cases, the remodels retained the character of the old 1920s homes while adding modern conveniences. Ours was no different. It was just the neatest old house and we loved it.

However, one thing it did not have was that recessed entertainment center area that our previous home had. The living room/great room or whatever you want to call it was just a room with no built-ins. So to accommodate all the electronics of my entertainment system and the wires that go along with it, I figured that I needed to buy and entertainment center. I looked at the big name store websites and there were ones that I really liked that were made out of cherry wood or mahogany or other such fine woods. These things were fine pieces of furniture, ya know, and they had fine furniture price tags too. Most were well over a thousand dollars. That was money I just didn’t want to spend. So, I began looking at websites like wayfair.com and others like it. I finally settled on an entertainment center that looked good but that only costs like $380 before shipping and handling. I patted myself on the back for my frugality and placed the order and then waited for the shipment to arrive.

When the thing arrived, I figured it would be in a couple of boxes. However, when it arrived on my front porch via UPS, I first had to pause and pray for forgiveness from the UPS delivery guy after I tried to lift what I thought was going to be something lightweight! Holy moly, that box was as heavy as it was long. It is a sure bet that the UPS guy was cussing me the whole time he was trying to get that thing up the three steps from the street to our sidewalk to the porch and then those 10 very steep 1920’s steps up to the porch itself. You should have seen me trying to get that thing into the house by myself. It was one those times where you walk it back and forth one side to the other and then lifting it over the lip of the doorway was fun. Finally inside, I had to walk it into the middle of the living room. Then, if getting it into the house was not fun enough, there was the opening of the box and then the finding out about the contents.

Since the box was so long and so tightly packed, it was difficult to get it opened. I had to use a box cutter to get it open; trying ever so carefully not to scrape, cut or scar anything on the inside of the box. In order to get it open as it lay on the floor and as heavy as it was there was no way I was going to stand it up and open it. I had to leave it laying on its side and cut it open the length of the box. Like I said, all the while trying to be aware that I had to cut it carefully so as not to penetrate too deeply into the box such that I would scrape or scar the contents. That was fun! Not!

Finally, after getting all the box cut open so I could basically fold out the top half of the box and reveal the contents. Oh my God! The opening of the box revealed like a billion long, short, and medium sized wooden pieces, and bags of fixture attachments, nuts, bolts, screws and wooden dowels. There weren’t a billion wooden pieces but there were at 200 I would venture to guess. Usually, I am a guy that just plows right into building something and then looking at the instructions later. Usually, it often requires me to re-do some parts of the assembly process too but most of the time, the project is small and the re-do’s are not that extensive. Most of the time, projects like this are pretty intuitive to me. However, this time was different. This was to be 5ft 8in or 9in tall entertainment center with shelves and cabinets and all…I said and I cannot emphasize this enough, ALL….did I say, ALL!!!…all of it required assembly. There was absolutely no portion of this entertainment center that came pre-assembled. So, there was no intuititiveness about it. All the boards, shelves, backings, attachments, nuts, bolts, screws and dowels were by themselves not looking anything like any of it going together. I tried to segregate everything by their part numbers or sizes. I had stacks of wooden pieces all over the living room and part of the kitchen/dining room. It was going to be a massive undertaking for which I had no idea how to start.

That nightmare of my not just “some assembly required” but “all assembly required” entertainment center was what I thought of this morning as I read through this chapter and noticed what David did before he did anything else. I hope you notice it to when you read this passage/chapter, 1 Samuel 23. There was something I had to do with that entertainment center first before I did anything else also. Let’s read the passage/chapter together now so that we can begin to tie together my illustration with this passage.

Chapter 23
1 One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. 2 David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?”

“Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him.

3 But David’s men said, “We’re afraid even here in Judah. We certainly don’t want to go to Keilah to fight the whole Philistine army!”

4 So David asked the Lord again, and again the Lord replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.”

5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They slaughtered the Philistines and took all their livestock and rescued the people of Keilah. 6 Now when Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he brought the ephod with him.

7 Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” 8 So Saul mobilized his entire army to march to Keilah and besiege David and his men.

9 But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and ask the Lord what he should do. 10 Then David prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul is planning to come and destroy Keilah because I am here. 11 Will the leaders of Keilah betray me to him?[a] And will Saul actually come as I have heard? O Lord, God of Israel, please tell me.”

And the Lord said, “He will come.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the leaders of Keilah betray me and my men to Saul?”

And the Lord replied, “Yes, they will betray you.”

13 So David and his men—about 600 of them now—left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Word soon reached Saul that David had escaped, so he didn’t go to Keilah after all. 14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”

21 “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! 22 Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. 23 Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” 24 So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

Meanwhile, David and his men had moved into the wilderness of Maon in the Arabah Valley south of Jeshimon. 25 When David heard that Saul and his men were searching for him, he went even farther into the wilderness to the great rock, and he remained there in the wilderness of Maon. But Saul kept after him in the wilderness.

26 Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, 27 an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again. 28 So Saul quit chasing David and returned to fight the Philistines. Ever since that time, the place where David was camped has been called the Rock of Escape.[b] 29 [c]David then went to live in the strongholds of En-gedi.

In this chapter/passage, we see that David sought the Lord’s guidance before he took action. He prayed and then he listened. He listened to God’s directions and then proceeded accordingly. Rather than trying to find God’s will after the fact or having to pray to God that He will undo the results of our hasty decisions, we should take time to discern God’s will beforehand. We can hear Him speak through the counsel of others, His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our heart, as well as through the circumstances of our lives.

With my “all assembly required” entertainment center, I had to go to the instruction manual first. This project was so massive that I had to do that before I started. Otherwise, I would not have been able to tell one part from another and the sequence in which the multiplicity of parts needed to be put together. I HAD to study the instructions. Aren’t our lives like that sometimes. Sometimes, the problems that we face are too big for us just to blindly jump into them. We need to pray for God’s guidance. We need to seek His wisdom. We need to seek understanding of how this step will lead to a next step. As we pray through a problem from day to day, we see how God is fitting it all together into a greater whole. We can begin to see the finished product as we pray through our problems each and every day.

That’s what David does in this passage before he gets started on his escape plan. He prays. He seeks God’s guidance through prayer. And He follows God’s instructions. When we seek God’s guidance, we must follow His instruction plan. He guides us through prayer. He also guides us by us reading His Word. We must then put that knowledge from God into action. David prayed first. David then put God’s answer into action.

Do you pray first and act second? Or are you like me where you act first and then ask God for a re-do? Let us take some wisdom from David here. If you are like me, you need this lesson – pray first, act second.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 19:11-17
Michal Saves David’s Life

I remember an episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled “The Egg Salad Equivalency” in which Sheldon presents a scenario to the girls on the show about a real life situation over which he wants advice on how to react.

In this so called hypothetical scenario, the characters had the silliest of names. There’s Ricardo Shillyshally. There was Tondelaya della Ventimiglia and Sheldon renamed himself as Doctor Einstein von Brainstorm. The names were changed, in Sheldon’s mind, so no one could figure out who he was really talking about. Or so he thought. Just the outrageousness of the names made the scenario presented in the scene so hilarious. For the purposes of our blog today, I will borrow two of the names from that episode of my favorite show. I will use Ricardo Shillyshally and Tondelaya. However, in my scenario, Tondelaya will become Ricardo’s daughter instead of co-worker. Let’s present the scenario now…

There is a man, let’s call him Ricardo Shillyshally and Ricardo had a daughter named Tondelaya Shillyshally. Ricardo loves Tondelaya without reservation. He just wants what’s best for Tondelaya. He sees Tondelaya wasting her potential. He has helped her out of several jams in life. He has given her cars. Tondelaya disappears from Ricardo’s life for months on end over the past four or five years. She surfaces in his life when there is a financial crisis in her life. She swears every time that Ricardo helps her that she will be more active part of his life. But again and again, she disappears from his life and will stay underground and away from him until the next crisis occurs. Ricardo doesn’t understand why she disappears, but the contact always stops. Phone calls are not returned. Text messages are not responded to. Maybe it’s because she thinks Ricardo will demand changes in her lifestyle. Who knows? The contact always stops after a week or two after she has gotten what she wants.

Ricardo just wants her to quit living her hand to mouth existence and grow up. Tondelaya says she has a job with a baby sitting service now so according to Tondelaya she is working and has a career. Ricardo just wants her to use her brilliance to become something greater than a babysitter. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being a babysitter working for a babysitting service but most girls who do it don’t do it forever. Some do. But most don’t. Ricardo knows that this is just the latest in a line of jobs for Tondelaya who is avoiding having to grow up.

Ricardo just wants her to be able to take care of herself when he’s gone. He doesn’t want to go to his grave worried about her. He doesn’t care if she is corporate CEO or salesperson at a shoe store or whatever. Just whatever that maybe, just be able to have a house or an apartment, a place to live and be able to put food on the table and pay for your own transportation. These are the simple hopes that Ricardo has for Tondelaya. He is not requiring that she do what he thinks her potential is (which he thinks is great since she is so smart just naturally). He thinks that anyone who can justify her hand-to-mouth existence as being temporary and the greatness being just over the next hill for a decade has great ability if applied to her true talents and giftedness in life. His prayer for her is that she finds her passion for what she wants to contribute to the world and is able to feed and clothe herself and put a roof over her own head without anybody helping her. That’s all Ricardo wants for Tondelaya as any parent wants for their child.

However, right now, Ricardo knows that the next phone from Tondelaya will be when she is in a financial jam and needs her daddy, Ricardo, to help her out of it. He prays that one day the cycle will be broken and she flies like Ricardo knows she can. But for now, he will love her. But for now, he is weary that she will reappear when she needs something next time and then disappear again and continue to live in her hand-to-mouth world where success remains just over the next hill.

That story of Ricardo Shillyshally and his youngest daughter, Tondelaya, reminds us all of how sometimes a family member will use us to get what they want. That’s what I thought of this afternoon as I read through the passage, 1 Samuel 19:11-17. Let’s read it and then deal with how we respond to such things:

11 Then Saul sent troops to watch David’s house. They were told to kill David when he came out the next morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t escape tonight, you will be dead by morning.” 12 So she helped him climb out through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then she took an idol[a] and put it in his bed, covered it with blankets, and put a cushion of goat’s hair at its head.

14 When the troops came to arrest David, she told them he was sick and couldn’t get out of bed.

15 But Saul sent the troops back to get David. He ordered, “Bring him to me in his bed so I can kill him!” 16 But when they came to carry David out, they discovered that it was only an idol in the bed with a cushion of goat’s hair at its head.

17 “Why have you betrayed me like this and let my enemy escape?” Saul demanded of Michal.

“I had to,” Michal replied. “He threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him.”

In this passage, we again see Saul put a family member in a compromising spot. He put his daughter in the position of either enabling her father to get what he wanted or doing what is best and right in this situation. How many of us reading this blog have a family member who takes advantage of the fact that we are kin to them to further their own agenda? How many of us reading this blog have a family member who uses us to get what they want and then disappear until the next time they need something. How many of us have broken hearts over these situations? I am sure that Michal did not flippantly disobey her father. She probably agonized over it. She probably wanted to give her father what he wanted but she had to weigh that against what was best and right.

In today’s story, it is Ricardo Shillyshally and Tondelaya, his child. But the story is quite familiar. You can insert your own names of how this situation (whether it be family members, friends, distant relatives, coworkers, and so on) applies to you. We’ve all experienced being used by someone to get what they want.

In today’s passage, Saul simply uses his own daughter to get what he wanted. He did not care that Michal may have loved David. That was of no matter to Saul. He wanted David’s head and nothing else would do. It didn’t matter if he had to use his own relationship with his own daughter to get to David. Only Michal realized that Saul was not being a godly man in his request. He was asking his daughter to betray her husband. He was asking her to be a party to murder. What he asked of his daughter was so wrong on so many levels. But did that matter to Saul? No. He was trying to get what he wanted in his jealous rage. Nothing else matter. Relationships did not matter. Loyalty did not matter. Family did not matter. It was just Saul uses whatever way he could to get what he wanted. It was Saul manipulating his relationship with a family member once again (remember in the last passage he ask is other child, Jonathan, to participate in something that was morally wrong).

So in the 21st century such things still happen. People use us. People manipulate us to get what they want and then sometimes disappear from our lives when we are no longer useful to them in their self-centered world. How do we respond?

Patience, prayer, and discernment is how we respond. Biblical patience is tolerant of the imperfections, faults, and differences in others. It gives the other person time to change and room to make some mistakes in the process. Paul lists patience as the first quality that describes love (1 Cor. 13:4). If you’re not patient, you’re not loving! It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Like all fruit, it takes time and effort to cultivate. Patience with others does not come naturally. It is counter-intuitive to our nature. When others use us to get what they want and disappear, we typically want to hold back and get angry. That’s our natural inclination. To be patient with someone who uses us to get what they want is a tall order. Is it not?

Patience only comes through prayer. Prayer is not where we demand of God to do things our way but we ask Him to work in a situation that we cannot solve. We in that process give up control of the problem to the Lord. We pray for the person who just seems to want to use us for what they can get. We pray that God brings about situations in their lives that will reveal their need for Jesus Christ. We pray that God brings about situations that will bring them to see God’s love for them. That will change everything in their lives just as it did for us. When we pray for them to come to Jesus, it will change their mindset on everything including how they treat other people.

God certainly wants us to be patient with others. It is definitely a fruit of the spirit. God wants us to have a forgiving spirit and that is only achieved through patience. Patience is only achieved through prayer. In the meantime, though, until the person that uses us displays the fruits of the spirit that we have prayed for, God gives us discernment. Discernment is when we love people just as God requires but discernment is God-given wisdom in knowing how to respond. Discernment is loving people but responding in ways that are healthy for both parties. Discernment is sometimes loving people with a “no”. Discernment is sometimes saying no because it is best even though saying yes would be easier.

Saul was someone who used people to get what he wanted. He tried to use his kids to get what he wanted (to kill David). However, even though Jonathan and Michal loved their dad, they had the discernment not to follow through with Saul’s immoral requests on them.

Who is it that has used you to get what they want? Remember patience. Remember prayer. Remember discernment.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 1:9-18 (Part 2 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer for a Son

If you were alive back in the late 70’s to mid-80’s, there was a show called Fantasy Island, starring Ricardo Motalban. Fantasy Island was a unique resort in the Pacific Ocean, where there was very little that the mysterious overseer, Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Motalban), could not provide. Visitors could experience adventures that should be impossible, but this island could deliver. However, what actually happened was often far more than they expected as they faced challenges that test their character in ways they never imagined. “Da plane, da plane!” was the famous line uttered by vertically challenged Herve Villachase in his role as “Tattoo”, Mr. Roake’s little assistant. The plane he was talking about, of course, was the one that was delivering new arrivals to the island, each of whom had lain down a sizable sum of money to have his or her personal fantasies fulfilled. Mr. Roarke would take it upon himself to greet every guest as they stepped onto the island and then describes to Tattoo the nature of their fantasy request. Of course, being a supernaturally-powered mentor, Mr. Roarke very rarely allowed his guests’ fantasies to play out in the way they expected them to.

And quite often the fantasies themselves were used to teach each guest an important moral — one intended to open their eyes to some facet of their own lives they might have been neglecting. Or to teach them to appreciate what they have. Or just simply, to be careful what you wish for. But rather often, everybody just had a good time, even if it wasn’t what they were expecting. It was predictable formula each week even though the characters and the fantasies that they wished to live out were different, the pattern was the same. During the first half of the show, the guest characters would be living out their fantasy and it was working for them. It would be great. During the second 30 minutes of the show, things would start going wrong with the fantasy and the guest character would complain to Roarke how the fantasy was not at all what they were expecting. Then, in that moment, Roarke would teach some moral lesson to the guest character based on the experience. By show’s end, the guest character had come to terms with the way the fantasy played out and the lesson that they learned from it. Everybody was happy. Got back on the plane and went home. Each changed in some way by their experience on Fantasy Island.

We all have fantasies of what life would be like if we just had the opportunity to do something. For example, here in the last few blogs, I have been lamenting the lack of God’s action on His calling on my life to be in full-time ministry. Maybe, I should go to Fantasy Island and have Mr. Roarke show me what it would be like. Maybe, I would find out that it is more than I bargained for. Maybe, even though I am aware of all the unique pressures of being a pastor, as I have been close to the pastorate most of my life, it is a whole different thing to live it out. In my Fantasy Island adventure, maybe Mr. Roarke would design to expose my ability to deal with the pressures of being a full-time vocational pastor. Maybe, Mr. Roarke would put me through the paces of being a full-time pastor. I read something once about a job description for a pastor that said it was a job description fit only for Superman. It said,

“A pastor is expected to make house calls as willingly as yesterday’s country doctor, to shake hands and smile like a politician on the campaign trail, to entertain like a stand-up comedian, to teach the Scriptures like a theology professor, and to counsel like a psychologist with the wisdom of Solomon. He should run the church like a top-level business executive, handle finances like a career accountant, and deal with the public like an expert diplomat at the United Nations. No wonder so many pastors are confused about just what is expected of them and how they will ever manage to live up to all those expectations. – excerpt Frank Minirth and others, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), 165.

Maybe, Mr. Roarke would arrange events during my fantasy that would expose cracks in my moral fiber, and my ability to make good moral choices. Maybe, he would expose areas of my life where I am not spiritually as mature as I will need to be as a pastor. Maybe, he will arrange things to show me that I am just not ready yet. As well, maybe he will show me what my true ministry calling will be – maybe its not as a pulpit pastor. Maybe, it is as teaching pastor such as a discipleship pastor. Maybe, it is as a teacher in a seminary. Or maybe it will confirm that God is readying me for just that right group of people in the right place at the right time at the right church that either exists or will be planted by me. Maybe, during my trip to Fantasy Island, I will learn who that people group is and will set me on fire to seek them out.

That’s what I thought of this morning – being careful what we pray for and being careful about demanding things from God in prayer. Let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 1:9-18, once again, now:

9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.[b]”

12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

In this passage, we see that we must be careful what we promise God in prayer because He may just take you up on it! Hannah so desperately wanted a child that she was willing to strike a bargain with God. God took her up on her promise, and to Hannah’s credit, she did her part, even though it was painful (see 1 Samuel 1:27-28). Although we are not in a position to bargain or barter with God, He may still choose to answer a prayer that has an attached promise. When you pray, ask yourself “will I follow through on this promise that I made to God if He grants my request?” It is dishonest and dangerous to ignore a promise, especially to God. God keeps His promises and so should we.

This episode in Hannah’s life reminds us that we must have trust that God will shine the light on what we need to see when we are ready to see. Sometimes that is so difficult to do and we begin to bargain with God. How would you like to be Hannah. So desperate for a child and then have to later give him up to the priests at the Tabernacle. Of course this was all part of God’s plan and we see that play out in 1 Samuel – heck the book carries the name of Hannah’s son, sure fire evidence that this was part of God’s plan. But what about us. If there was ever an impatient people, it is 21st century Americans. We want what we want and we want it now. That’s our mentality. We, as Christians in America, often act the same way with God. We want him to fulfill our dream prayers immediately. Sometimes, God’s best answer to us is no response or a not yet response. Let us remember that we work on God’s timetable and not ours. Let us remember to have trust that the Creator of all things has a plan for your life and mine. It may not always play out in the exact timing or in the exact manner we envision. But we must trust the Lord. We must as limited humans trust the Eternal Creator God. We must trust in the Lord. We must trust Him even when it seems like He is not doing anything for an extended period of time. Let us trust that He is pruning us and readying us for His answer to our prayers and for the fruition of His plan for our lives. We will have our moment with God where He reveals why things turned out the way they did and we will have our eyes opened. We will then grasp why things happened the way they did and then use that live out what His plan for our lives really is. It’s not Fantasy Island. It is the real deal.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 1:9-18 (Part 1 of 3)
Hannah’s Prayer for a Son

Yesterday, I wrote of the barrenness that I feel in my call to ministry. I had been bitter about it, despondent about it, to the point of being angry with God about it. I vacillated between that emotion and even being angry at myself for why I was even pursuing it as if it were not a calling but a desire of my own heart. Is all this education I am seeking a delaying tactic to keep myself from realizing the reality of this not being a true calling? Am I just climbing up a tree like a squirrel looking for a nut but there are no nuts to be found in the tree? I admit that my prayer life has been wanting throughout my walk with the Lord that began 16 years ago. It is the primary area that I have yet to truly mature. But this drought of what is it that God wants from me has led me to seek Him more in prayer. At first, these prayers about this situation with my calling to ministry were very selfish. God, why are you not doing anything? God, I am falling your calling on my life, now, do your part! You know the drill when you are immature in prayer. We pray for the things that we want. We think that if we pray it that it should come to pass because it is what we want and we prayed with all the right Christian-ese buzz words. We think if we pray in just the right way that God will give us the desires of our heart. In our freeze-dried, microwaved, ready in just one minute hot pocket world, we think that if we pray it that God should spit out the result we desire immediately. I have been like that over the past year or so about this calling that has been a burden on my heart since 2011.

What I have learned through this time of barrenness is that sometimes you just gotta learn to pray for God’s will. There is a tension between what we know as our heart’s desire and God’s will that we may not always be certain of. We have to learn to take our anguish, our worry, our frustration, our anger to the Lord in prayer and honestly pray. Not just some selfish ranting. Not just saying the right buzz words. But honestly lifting up our concerns to the Lord. When we really pray, the process changes us. For me, the prayers have drawn me to one indelible conclusion because I constantly hear from my Lord that for now I need to keep plowing the field in front of me and be faithful in the field that I am currently plowing. He will led me to the next field to plow when He sees that I am ready for it. There has been a sense of calm that has come from that repeated line that comes to me from God to “keep plowing the field in front of you!”

That’s what I thought of this morning is how, through honest, emotional, gut-wrenching prayer, Hannah goes from anguish to peace. It reminds me of the path that I am on myself where nothing is being birthed from my calling to ministry…just yet. But I have peace about doing what I am doing right now and it is only through heartfelt prayer and switching from saying to God what I want in a way that I think He wants to hear it to true prayer for peace and understanding and trust in Him to open the doors that He has for me. Let’s read this passage, 1 Samuel 1:9-18, now:

9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle.[a] 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.[b]”

12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

In this passage, we see that Hannah had good reason to feel discouraged and bitter. She was unable to bear children. She shared a husband with a woman who ridiculed her (1 Samuel 1:7). Her loving husband could not solve her problem (1:8). Even the high priest misunderstood her motives (1:14). But instead of retaliating in bitterness, hatred and anger or giving up hope altogether, Hannah prayed. She brought her problem honestly before God. Each of us may face times of barrenness when we “can’t have the baby we desire,” so to speak, or “nothing is coming to birth” in in our work, our service to the Lord, or in our relationships. It is difficult to pray sometimes when we feel so ineffective. However, as Hannah discovered, prayer opens the way for God to do what He do as only He can do it!

I am at peace right now with the field that I am plowing. There is ministry in what I am doing right now. There are things that I am learning right now both in school and in my exposure to my leadership at church that are of great value. There are ministry opportunities that I am experiencing now through the teaching opportunities at church. There are ministry opportunities in this, my blog. There are ministry opportunities in everything that I do every day. It is all part of being faithful and realizing that whatever big thing that God may have for me in the future depends on how faithful I am in being the caretaker of the field in which He has me planted now. Faithful in the small things now will lead to faithfulness in the big things later. We must see our lives on a day to day basis as the ministry that God has for us right now and live that ministry to the fullest. It is all about faithfulness. It is all about faith. It is all about trusting that God has a whole lot better view of the big picture of my life than I do. Hannah walked about with peace. I have come to a place of peace. You can too about whatever is troubling you. God is a big God and we need to trust Him and listen to Him and seek His voice. It starts with prayer. Prayer changes us. It does not change God. Prayer moves us toward God and not God toward us. Prayer opens our ears to hear what He has to say.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 2 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

I told my wife last night that the Lord had been working on me to spend time doing a daily devotional with her. We both do our separate Bible studies and prayers. However, we have never really done any type of devotional or Bible study together. We have never really sat down and discussed Scripture together except maybe as part of a larger group of people in small group. So last night we began making a reading of Scripture part of our evening meal. So, often, we make small talk about the day’s activity at the dinner table and scarf down the wonderful meals that my wife prepares for me. Thus, the meals that it takes her an hour or so to prepare are consumed and gone within a half hour at the most, but last night we actually sat at the table for an hour because we had more to discuss than our separate histories of the day just passed.

We began a study of the Psalms last night. Not some fancy devotional written by some high powered Christian author or scholar. Just reading a Psalm and discussing what we each gleaned from it. Last night, we began at the beginning with Psalm 1. In that psalm, David says:

1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law, day and night.
3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
In that psalm, David is praising the Lord for the fact that He is the source of all we need. He is the river from which our tree draws its strength and sustenance. The river is a symbol for God’s Word and we must stay connected to it or we begin to decay and be blown about by the whims of our desires, the whims of the latest cause celeb, the latest self help guru, and any other form of self-determined worship or anything we believe in other than God. How do we stay connected to the river of God? It is through God’s Word. David says that we should mediate on His Word, His law, day and night. It must be part of what we do each and every day. When we fail to make God’s Word part of our daily lives, we begin to let decaying thoughts have greater rule in our lives. When we withdraw our tree’s roots from the river for His Holy Word, we are like chaff blown by the wind. We lose our anchor and we lose our way and become enamored with things that are not of God and tend toward defining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. As we continually lower the bar of what is acceptable (because we have no standard of God to measure it by since we are not in His Word), we lead ourselves down a path of destruction, all the while thinking that it’s OK for me to live this life of sin – like the story of a frog who sits in an pot of water where the temperature is slowly increased and the frog is OK with it until it kills him.

Likewise, last night as part of my studies for my doctoral program, I finished up my fifth book of required read. This book was one entitled, Prayer, by Tim Keller. One of the best quotes from those final 50 something pages that I read last night was this,

Paul said we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) meaning that we should if possible, do everything all day with conscious reference to God (1 Cor. 10:31). There should be a background music of thankfulness and joy behind every incident in our day, audible only to us (Col. 3:16-17). This kind of spontaneous and constant prayer during the day should be a habit of the heart.

However, this daily and constant communion and realization of the presence of the Lord in every aspect of our day will not happen unless we take up the discipline of regular, daily prayer.

p.240, Prayer, by Tim Keller

It often amazes me how God drives home points to me, words I need to hear, from multiple different avenues. That’s how I often figure out that it’s a God thing – when I hear the same message from God, a message that I need to hear a specific time in my life, from multiple sources that are not necessarily cognizant of the other one speaking the same message to me. God provides me with a synchronous message from multiple, unrelated sources.

So, here, between the first psalm in the Bible, a powerful quote from Tim Keller’s book, and now here in Judges, the message is clear. OK I get it Lord. In order for us to stay grounded in that which is holy, and honorable and righteous, that those things that are of you, we must do more than give lip service to God. We must do more than read the Bible to say we have read the Bible. We must make God’s Word so integral in our lives that we meditate on it day and night. We must have an intimate relationship with the Lord such that His Word is the background music of our day to day lives. From this passage, we see that Israel has forgotten how to be God’s people because they no longer make God’s Word a part of their daily lives. They are like the chaff mentioned in Psalm 1. They had so begun living for themselves or living in such a way being God’s people was just lip service that they sank into their own evil ways that led to their oppression. Without obedience to God, He withdrew his blessing from Israel and they became fat and sassy in the own self-involved lives and allowed themselves to get conquered, raided, oppressed, destroyed.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, let us focus on the fact that as we have seen throughout Judges so far that the Israelites are often far from God and must get into situations where they are oppressed before they seek God again. Let us concentrate on the first seven (7) verses of this passage once again, but this time, look at them from that perspective of Israel crying out to God, as it seems, only when they get in trouble. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that, again, the Israelites hit rock bottom before turning back to God. How much suffering they could have avoided if they had trusted Him! Turning to God should not be our last resort. We should look to Him for help each day. This isn’t to say that life will be easy, but God will give us the strength to live through them. Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope. Call on God first in every situation.

Why is it that we only cry out to God when we get in trouble? Why is that we think we are self-sufficient when things are going good and that God is simply the backstop for the wild pitches of life. We only cry out to God when things get out of control. He is our last resort. Why is it that personal success is often the worst recipe for our relationship with God. We ignore Him til we encounter something that we cannot handle. Israel of the Bible is the mirror of ourselves. We worship God when we need to. We worship God when things get so bad that we can’t handle our lives. Once the crisis is past, we return to our evil ways. Sorry, God, I was just kidding about having a deeper relationship with you. There’s still my sins that I enjoy committing too much to subject myself to your authority full time! Even we Christians are that way sometimes when we are not daily grounded in God’s Word and meditation on His Word and prayer about how His Word applies to our lives.

When we are not daily grounded and founded in an intimate relationship with God through study and prayer, daily study and prayer, we begin to bend God’s Word to make living in the culture easier. We begin to make God’s Word be inconsistent with itself. We begin to make the Bible say what we want it to say. We begin to make certain sins acceptable just to fit in with the culture or to justify the evil that we participate in.

The point is clear from David in Psalm 1, from Tim Keller in his book about prayer, and from the lesson of Israel here in this passage. We must firmly plant our roots in God’s Word daily. We must study His Word and understand it and understand how each passage fits into the grand narrative of the Bible, and understand what it reveals about God, what universal and eternal truths of God it reveals. We must meditate on God’s Word and on the wondrous character of God every day and every night. We must be aware of God’s presence with us as we go about our day in everything that we do. We must have specific prayer time where we have intimate talks with the Lord and seek His will for our lives. All of this leads to intimate knowledge and intimate love of the Lord to the point that we are firmly grounded in the water of God’s river. We are not blown about by the wind. We are secure in His love for us and we are not subject to the whims of culture and we know the difference between what is of God and that which is not. Message received. Let us not be like Israel with their cycles of obedience and disobedience. Let us stay with the Lord. Let us be so intimately in love with Him that it is our greatest desire and pleasure to please Him and only Him – our audience of one!

Amen and Amen.