Sunday, January 29, 2012

The opportunity of provocation

He (Elkanah) had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of other other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And her rival (Peninnah) used to provoke her (Hannah) grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat...She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly."
1 Samuel 1

Hannah knew provocation. She lived a life of maternal barrenness next to the woman with whom she shared a husband - Peninnah, who was nothing but fruitful. And Peninnah took full advantage of Hannah's barrenness. She provoked her about it. She sought much to irritate her. Every year, continuously, Hannah heard words that grieved her. So much so to the point that she was deeply distressed and wept bitterly. She was unable to eat. Her broken heart weighed her down. She was worn and anxious from the incitement.

And one day, in her deep distress and ongoing weeping, she prayed to the LORD. She vowed that if the LORD looked on her affliction and gave her a son, that she would give him to the LORD all the days of his life. And in His great purposes, He did just that. The LORD who had closed her womb, opened it. Hannah conceived and bore a son, whom she named Samuel.

Samuel, who is from the LORD, becomes the last of the judges and the prophet who initiates the beginning of the monarchy, anointing the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David. He stressed the importance of following the LORD's commands to both the people and their king in order for it to go well with them. He prayed constantly for them, instructing them in the way that was right, and walked before them all of his days.

Samuel existed because of the LORD, birthed from the context of a broken heart. Samuel came to be out of the prayer from a woman who endured words that said Samuel was not. Samuel's life was one of paramount purpose, bringing restoration to a woman's life that had been mocked to the point of deep distress.

And here in a late season, the reality that God's saving plan is fulfilled in the ongoing day-to-day lives of human beings has hit me afresh. For I've been provoked. It's been continuous, year after year, but the present moment has weighed down my heart . And I've had myself a good cry. And I've wept. The kind, for instance, where you have to leave church before the very end so as to avoid contact with anyone: my mascara was not waterproof and I could not get myself together. I'm worn from the provocation.

And though my form of my barrenness may differ, I too have dropped myself before the LORD and cried out for Him to remember me. And I know that He does, because He is with me at this very moment. And I too have asked Him to look on my affliction, and I know that He does because He is my El Roi. And I have vowed that I would allow Him to use this area of affliction for His glory, entrusting it to Him all the days of my life. For I believe His intent is to bring forth life from the circumstances that have set a tone of provocation. And I believe that He will birth in me something for His kingdom purposes, just as He birthed in Hannah a judge and prophet who marked the history of Israel in profound ways.

You may be far from a "Hannah" season. There may be no person, circumstance or thing inciting such frustration, heaviness and weeping in you that you're presently on the floor before the LORD. But if you are, I pray that He strengthens your inner being with courage to believe that He brings forth life from death. So hold on sister, for blessed are all those who wait for Him. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sin of omission

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

I've got a soft spot for my boy Gideon. He's a scaredy-cat, plagued by fear and unbelief, yet not necessarily paralyzed by it. At the very beginning of the introduction of his character, two examples of Gideon's lifestyle of fear appear. First, in Judges 6:11, we see Gideon threshing out wheat in a winepress, hiding himself and his sustenance from the enemy. Later, in Judges 6:25-27, the LORD asks Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal that his father has and to instead build an altar to the LORD on top of it.

In both instances, Gideon is afraid. He is afraid of his enemy  the Midianites, others' perception of his actions and perhaps even the reaction of the idol he has established in his life. What would Baal do to he and his family? What would his father do to him? What could the Midianites do to him? Even further, what could this LORD do to him?

In spite of his fears, he goes forth and does the thing. He walks in that which God called him to walk in. He threshes the wheat, even though he is hiding from his enemy. And he tears down the altar of Baal, establishing an altar of God in its place, despite the fact that he does it at night, too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day (Judges 6:27).

I see so much of myself in his story. Yet in a recent season, mine has an added dose of sin. Unlike Gideon, I did not go forth and do the thing. Gideon hid himself in the cleft of a mountainside or under the covering of a dark night sky, yet he still responded to God's call. On the other hand, I allowed myself to be paralyzed by fear and flat out failed to respond. I froze and my standing still equated itself to the sin of omission. Delayed obedience meant disobedience this time.

Gideon learned to function in his lifestyle of fear. He's got the act of threshing wheat in an awkward environment down pat. He's got the Baal worship thing down, surely established as a pattern of worship early in his life. It may or may not be working for him, but he's still doing it. Yours truly however, can't even claim that I was functioning well in this particular area. I wanted to be a functioning fearaholic at best, but God in His mercy, wasn't going to allow that either.

God speaks to Gideon early on: "I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell" (Judges 6:10). And He has firmly, lovingly, spoken a word to me a few weeks ago: "I am the LORD your God Shelly, you shall not fear ..." That my friend, is a command, not an option, based on who my God is.

I am His, created and equipped to do the good works He has called me to do. And the same is true for you sister. You were created in His image, called to bear much fruit in areas that He has prepared in advance for you. Things He has called just you to do. Giftings He has given you. Resurrection power working in you, in this season, at this moment, for His glory.

He doesn't need me to make His name great. He doesn't need you either. But we are given the unspeakable gift of participating in His Kingdom purposes. Lord, in your mercy, I sure don't want to miss it.

So I'm going to go forth and do the thing, even if I do it afraid for a little while. For soon, I will walk more boldly in the spirit of power, love and discipline He has given me, realizing that He has not given me a spirit of timidity (2 Timothy 1:7).

I'll do it afraid then, backed by the power of a God who is more than able.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

You are beautiful to me

They are appalled
Your laws believed to be confining
Your truth believed to be irrelevant
Your life believed to be merely that of a great spiritual man

They are appalled
Your words believed to be heresy (John 6:52-54)
Your ascension believed to be unreal
Your existence believed to be finite rather than a living, continuously involved, intimate God

They are appalled
Your appearance so disfigured, beyond that of any man
Your form marred beyond human likeness (Isaiah 52:14)
Your kingship questioned and mocked

But I am in love
Your laws my freedom
Your truth my delight (Psalm 119:14)
Your life perfect, the atonement for my sin

And I am in love
Your words, divine revelation of the wonders of your Person
Your ascension, now at the right hand of God, ruling over all (1 Peter 3:22)
Your existence, with the first thru the last of all generations (Rev. 1:8)

And I am in love
Your appearance, robed in majesty and armed with strength
Your form, a slain Lamb at the center of the Throne, a Spirit, omnipresent
Your kingship, the Holy One of Israel, besides you, there is no God (Isaiah 43:15)

My zeal consumes me
Show us your beauty Lord