When God says “yes”
1 Samuel 1: Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried — inconsolably.
As I begin reading the books of Samuel the first thing I hear is the prayer of a broken hearted woman named Hannah. Young women across the ages have longed for children and that desire is especially true in this age, 3000 years ago. In her society much of Hannah’s worth as a human being is dependent on her ability to have offspring. Even her good husband’s efforts to make her feel better about herself fail. On a trip to Shiloh everything comes to a head. In her misery Hannah pours out her heart to God at this place of worship. The Lord hears her prayer and answers, bringing not only relief to this good woman, but the beginning of restoration to Israel which has fallen far from God. I wish I understood why God hears and responds to Hannah’s prayer and not similar prayers prayed by people just as good and just as miserable as she. I know that God cares for hurting people and provides strength and comfort for them, and, sometimes he says “yes.” The rest of the time, we do the only thing we know to do: we trust him with that which we don’t understand.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the times when the answer is “yes” – trust him in the times when the answer isn’t the one we want.
Revelation 16: Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me.
The seven bowls of God’s wrath bring untold misery to the earth. Some of the miseries remind us of what happened in the limited region of Egypt during the ten plagues. In this case, though, the suffering is worldwide. When God’s attention specifically turns to the Beast and his unholy trinity they rally the nations of the earth to fight back. Armageddon is at hand. There’s so much here that I don’t understand that I’m ashamed of myself. Here I am in the book called “Revelation” and I’m constantly reminded that I’m missing whatever it is I’m supposed to grasp. Still, once in a while I’m graciously given something to which I can cling. Even if I don’t get it, I’m advised to “Keep watch!” and to be “ready.” Jesus said the same thing during his earthly ministry and now he repeats it. Even as I muddle through these pictures of judgment filled with symbolism that I’m missing more than understanding, I’m encouraged to simply hang in there. I may not understand Armageddon but I understand what it means to stand fast in my relationship with the Lord. Ultimately, it’s that that matters much more than my poor grasp on the precise meaning of passages like this.
Take Away: Even when you don’t understand what’s going on stand fast in the faith. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most anyway.
Revelation 13: Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.
As I struggle my way through symbolism that has challenged Bible scholars across the centuries it’s nice to find some firm footing, if for just a moment. I can’t identify the Beast or the Beast’s puppet or solve the 666 riddle. Since John writes to specific congregations in a specific place and time I don’t buy into any interpretation that can only be grasped 2000 years in the future, so the 666 reference, in particular has to make sense historically, but again, I’m not the go to guy for this kind of stuff. What I do like is the momentary firm footing of “Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.” Their situation doesn’t sound very good. There’s some kind of leopard-bear-lion Beast dominating the whole world. This Beast hates the Church and intends to destroy it. Life is hard under this persecution (is it Rome or some future event or both?) and it appears that the Church will be crushed. God’s people, though, stand firm. In spite of prison and the sword their passion for Christ empowers them. In the face of this crisis of (literally) Biblical proportions they “stand their ground.” That’s exactly what God’s people do. It’s not that we travel easy roads, smelling roses all the way. Sometimes we take some hits that are anything but easy. We don’t like it and we do all we can to avoid it, but in the end, whatever comes we passionately and faithfully stand for God. Even as I have a hard time getting the rest of this passage into focus, my view of this truth is 20/20.
Take Away: The Lord’s people have staying power even in impossible situations.
The final three of the seven trumpets are called the “woe-trumpets.” Following the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the woe ushered in by it, there’s an interlude before the final trumpet sounds. Mysterious things happen. A mighty angel calls out and is answered by Seven Thunders. John dutifully starts to write it all down but is told, as the prophet Daniel was told centuries earlier, to seal up what he’s just heard. To this day any effort to understand this scene is more a guess than anything else. Simply put, no one has a clue as to what’s happening here. For an event in a book called “Revelation” it feels quite strange to have John commanded to silence. However, not knowing or understanding something leaves us in familiar territory. Frankly, what I do know of spiritual matters might fill a thimble. What I don’t know would fill an ocean. That doesn’t mean that I rejoice in my ignorance. I want to know all that’s knowable and understand all that’s understandable. This mysterious passage reminds me that not only am I not expected to fully understand everything that there are some things I’m not allowed to understand even in part. In some cases, I explore the best I can, grasp as I’m able and then move on, trusting God with all the mysteries that are beyond my grasp. In the specific case of this passage, I read it, scratch my head a bit, and move on; filing this mystery with a million others that I must leave in the capable hands of the Almighty.
Take Away: We don’t understand many of the things of God, but we can know him. That’s enough.
The book of the Bible that promises to make things plain to us
Revelation 1: A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah. God gave it to make plain to his servants what is about to happen.
It’s interesting that a book of the Bible that states its purpose to be “revealing” and making “plain” God’s intentions is considered by most people to be secretive, filled with hidden meanings and puzzles that can only be unraveled thousands of years after it was written. To some extent I think its John’s own fault. He likes to write using symbols and poetry. Also in play, I think, are the advances of technology John never imagined. He writes this letter thinking it’ll be passed around among seven churches. He never imagines that 1500 years later an invention will allow his letter to be mass produced and put in the hands of anyone who wants to read it. Had he thought about people greatly removed from the seven churches reading and trying to understand his words he might have at least added a few footnotes for those of us reading his writing hundreds of years later and under vastly different circumstances. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing here for us today. In fact, it’s just the opposite. John’s Revelation connects us to Jesus in a way very different than do the Gospels or the Epistles. Here, we get a glimpse of how things look when viewed from heaven’s side. As long as I remember the purpose of this book – that it’s a revelation of Jesus — it has great value to me. Also, let me remind you that I’m writing devotionally here so don’t expect me to find any secret messages or unique interpretations here.
Take Away: When reading any book of the Bible it’s important to understand its purpose and read it with that purpose in mind.
The blazing truth of the resurrection is so bright that it overwhelms everything else in this passage; and well it should. After all, it’s the center piece of the gospel message. Still, since I’ve been here many times before I can afford to shade my eyes and look around a bit. Somewhere around the third or fourth level of importance I see a bit of a theme here. Right after the resurrection Jesus reminds the women that he told them that all this would happen. “Then they remembered Jesus’ words.” Then, the women to go the disciples with the best news ever told, but “the apostles didn’t believe a word of it.” Peter, though, goes to the tomb. He “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” Later, Jesus himself joins two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They’re so clueless about everything that he calls them “thick-headed” and “slow-hearted.” That night Jesus appears to all his disciples at once, but “they still couldn’t believe what they were seeing.” All of this takes place following the resurrection. These people, followers of Jesus, his friends, his disciples, his supporters, struggle to get their heads and hearts around what this is all about. So, I sit here more than 2000 years after the fact reading, once again, the story of the resurrection. I can draw from a rich tradition of theology, doctrine, and scholarship of the Bible. Still, I wonder: do I really get it? Have I gotten so used to the blazing light of the resurrection that I fail to embrace it? If so, I need to stop everything else and go back to the garden and spend some time there.
Take Away: For the resurrection to matter to me I have to take time to get my heart around it and fully embrace it.
Waiting for God’s response
Habakkuk 2: If it seems slow in coming wait…it will come right on time.
The prophet has stated his concerns to the Almighty. He’s troubled that a holy God would use such unholy people as his workers in the world. Having asked his questions of God, Habakkuk braces himself for God’s answer. The first thing he hears from God is that the Lord does, indeed, have an answer for him. The second message he receives is that sometimes God’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for, and when they do come, it’s plain that God not only answered well, but the answer came at just the right time. This passage is a wonderful blessing to all who have dealt with hard things in their lives; who have asked God for help in understanding them but haven’t yet received an answer. At such times God’s word to Habakkuk is also his word to us: “wait.” I’m not a big fan of waiting but in this passage I’m reminded that God hasn’t forgotten me and he isn’t ignoring me. At just the right time – in God’s time – the answer will come. When it does, it will have been well worth the wait.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for.
Don’t worry about it
Daniel 12: Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax.
The things Daniel sees contain some disturbing and confusing information. He’s concerned about that. He doesn’t want to miss out on the message he’s been given. However, God’s messenger tells him not to worry about it. What he’s been shown is a long way off and, while some will waste a great deal of energy “running around, trying to figure out what’s going on” Daniel isn’t expected to grasp it all. Rather, he’s to merely pass the word along and when the time is right it’ll be opened up to those who need to understand. When he’s done that, Daniel’s off the hook. He’s to go about living life without fretting or worrying about how it will all play out. The Lord’s final message to Daniel is “relax.” I firmly believe that there are crucial events in world history when God puts specific people in a specific place for just that moment. However, most of us are called to simply live for God day by day. We don’t have to figure it all out and we don’t have to become famous Christians. If I give my life to Jesus and by his grace live for him I can “relax.” As Daniel’s promised, “When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”
Take Away: Most of us are called to simply live for the Lord day by day.
First steps of a long journey
Daniel 2: Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings.
So, with Nebuchadnezzar now convinced that the Lord is God and Master of all, things are going to smooth out for the Hebrews, right? Wrong! Truth be told, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t a clue. He takes Daniel’s dream interpretation and goes right out to build a statue of himself, based on that dream. He then demands that everyone, including those who worship the Master of all kings, bow down to him instead. I’m telling you he’s clueless! The dream episode impacts Nebuchadnezzar and in that his attitude concerning God Almighty changes. However, his application of this new knowledge is skewed and greatly lacking. In fact, he’s years away from anything close to a humble relationship with his Creator. I’ve seen it in people’s lives. A person prays the sinner’s prayer and receives Christ and then, within two weeks does something so ill advised that I can hardly believe it. At one time I would have concluded that they had “back slid.” However, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s true that some have “looked back” others are still in the process of becoming believers. They aren’t sure what it means to follow Jesus, so they do silly stuff and stumble along, putting their spiritual lives in great jeopardy. Nebuchadnezzar has made a big move in declaring Daniel’s God the God of all gods. However, he’s a long way from what that God of all gods wants to accomplish in his life. In fact, his journey has only begun.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the crisis moments, but at the same time, recognize that they are but stepping stones in a longer journey.
Our final refuge
Job 19: Still, I know that God lives.
There’s much that Job doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand why his children died in a terrible storm, or why his considerable wealth was taken away on that same day. He doesn’t understand why he’s suffering so and he doesn’t understand why he was ever born in the first place. One biggie is that he doesn’t understand why God won’t answer his plea for a hearing to straighten out this whole mess. There isn’t much solid ground for Job these days. So much of what he has thought of as firm has slipped away, including what he believes about God and how the Lord works in the world. In fact, there remains just one place of solid footing. It’s here that he takes his stand: “I know that God lives.” Thankfully, few people in history have faced the tragedy and loss Job did. However, for all of us, the day comes as we near our last breath when we’re left with only the bare essentials. On that day, I pray that I, too, will find that one remaining firm place to take my stand: “I know that God lives.”
Take Away: When we come to the crucial moments of life we have to decide what is and isn’t essential.