Exactly, what prayer was that?
Luke 1: Your prayer has been heard.
For Zechariah it’s an once-in-a-lifetime event. He’s the priest who’ll enter the sanctuary and burn incense before the Lord. As he carefully and reverently goes about this task he sees movement to the right of the altar, then, out of nowhere an angel of the Lord appears. Zechariah would run if he could, but instead just stands there, eyes wide, mouth open, face to face with an archangel. The angel speaks reassuringly, and, to the old priest’s surprise, calls him by name. Then this angel adds, “Your prayer has been heard.” I wonder what thoughts raced through Zechariah’s mind in that instant. Here’s what I think: I imagine the old priest thinking, “What prayer is that?” You see, there was a time in his and Elizabeth’s lives when they prayed for a child most every day. They were young then and all the other couples they knew were having babies. However, time was passing and they remained childless. The years passed and they were no longer a young couple. They prayed about this less and then they gave up, disappointed but trusting God with their emptiness. Now, years later, when Gabriel says, “Your prayer has been answered” my guess is that the “baby prayer” is the farthest thing from Zechariah’s mind. Zachariah might have forgotten the prayer, but God hasn’t. Now, at the time that seems way too late for this senior adult couple, God is about to move. Once again I’m reminded that God’s ways aren’t my ways and his schedule isn’t my schedule. Beyond that, I see that God’s ways are the right ways and his time is always the right time. This realization has plenty of practical applications in my life today.
Take Away: Never doubt the power of prayer.
What God expects of us
Micah 6: He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do.
This passage is one of the gems of the Old Testament. Micah asks the rhetorical question: “How can I…show proper respect to the high God?” He wonders if bigger offerings will do it: lots of rams and barrels of oil. He wonders if following the practice of the pagans and offering his child as a sacrifice will satisfy the Lord. Having asked the question he then states the answer. God has already made his desires for the human race abundantly clear. Micah says, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” Micah’s insight into God’s purposes for people is breathtaking. Some have called this the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament. I do well to take this dusty old statement of God’s purpose for humanity and use it as a guide to my life. How am I doing on the “fair and just, compassionate and love” standard set here? Do I have a handle on not taking myself too seriously while taking God very seriously? There’s nothing in the Bible any more “contemporary” than this statement.
Take Away: Am I living up to the standard of the Lord?
Leadership and accountability
2Kings 14: God wasn’t yet ready to blot out the name of Israel from history, so he used Jeroboam son of Jehoash to save them.
Jeroboam II, king of Israel is another in the line of leaders of Israel who doesn’t make the grade. He could do better. In fact, he should. Instead he continues the march away from God, even as so many of his predecessors have done before him. Leaders can’t force morality but they can model it. Beyond that, leaders, even especially powerful ones, must give account of themselves to Almighty God. Still, Jeroboam has some successes: military victories that win back territory that’s been lost to their enemies. We’re told here that God is helping Jeroboam do that, not because he favors this pitiful king but for his own purposes. Although the day of destruction and defeat is coming, for now the Lord isn’t ready for Israel to be defeated. Because of that he helps Jeroboam lead Israel in some specific ways. This is good for Israel. Still though, Jeroboam will face a God who’s displeased with him. I see here that even though God acts according to his own agenda it doesn’t get people off the hook when they fail of their own free will.
Take Away: Ultimately, we will each give account of ourselves to the Lord.
Run for your life
2Kings 9: Then open the door and get out of there as fast as you can.
The final chapter on the story of wicked Ahab and Jezebel is about to be written. Ahab is already dead, killed in battle, and now his son Joram sits on the throne of Israel. However, the Lord is about to keep his word that this family will not remain in power. Elisha sends a “junior prophet” to General Jehu. The prophet is to anoint him king and then he’s to run for his life. Apparently, Jehu doesn’t need much of a nudge to mount a coop and take over the country and almost immediately he moves decisively against Joram and his mother Jezebel. I’m interested in the order of Elisha that his representative name Jehu king and then get away from him as quickly as possible. Apparently, in spite of his being anointed king, Jehu remains a heartless, wicked man who’s going to be used of God but will never be a man of God. Elisha doesn’t want his associate to have any more contact with such a man than is necessary. If that’s correct, the lesson is that God’s people sometimes need to make alliances with those who are far from being righteous. We’re to work with them to accomplish some greater good but we’re also to be careful to remember who we are and not allow ourselves to be pulled into their lifestyles.
Take Away: While the Lord uses unlikely and unworthy people to accomplish his purposes, his people should be careful in their connections to them.
God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.
Caution, God at work here
Genesis 39: As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him.
When Joseph is sold into slavery the last word to come to mind is “blessed.” Things don’t look like they’re going to turn out “very well.” Being sold into slavery indicates one’s being cursed rather than blessed. However, God’s at work here and the first part of the story gives us little indication of what the last part’s going to look like. While being sold into slavery isn’t one of our common concerns, it’s true that life takes some unexpected and unwelcome turns. The thing is that such events are, in the least, God’s providential will. That is, he isn’t pulling strings, forcing people to do bad things, but he does allow it to happen. In fact, the Lord specializes in turning stuff like this upside down. Because of that, sometimes things start out looking pretty messy, more like a demolition project than any kind of construction. The key in the passage before us today is the phrase “God was with Joseph.” In fact, that’s the key to the whole Joseph story. It’s almost as though there’s a sign: “Caution, God at work here.” For every setback there’s a more than equal advance. When God’s at work, the end of the story is always “things went very well.” It may not seem to be that way at any given point along the journey, but that’s how it is going to end.
Take away: We don’t always understand all that’s happening, but when God’s at work, things turn out just fine.