Advent: Positioned For Blessing

Today’s verses may seem an odd choice as a stand-alone source for an Advent devotional.

But when you dig a little deeper, they are a beautiful affirmation of how God used ordinary people to bring about His extraordinary purposes.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were two humble and obedient Jews living their lives according to the Law. As a priest, Zechariah was responsible to serve in the Temple two weeks of every year. He’d been faithfully doing his duty for years. Elizabeth had done hers too.

But they were fruitless. Elizabeth was barren. And barren women (in those days) were considered cursed.

And then something amazing happened.

Zechariah, chosen by lot, seemingly random, is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord. A sacred trust, a holy encounter representing the prayers of all Israel and especially those positioned outside in the temple courtyard.

Faith, Fiction, Friends: Zechariah: From Priest to Speechless to Prophet

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

Luke 1: 5-10 NIV

We will stop here for today although I’m sure most of you know where our story is going.

I’m glad to take things a little slow. Because when I race through verses full of detail I tend to miss important insights. And there are several in these words that help my heart.

Doing my daily duty can be pretty boring.

Living a life of faithful obedience sometimes becomes a burden. And when obedience doesn’t lead to blessing but perhaps even to pain I can lose heart.

Luke reminds me that being precisely where God wants me to be doing exactly what He’s called me to do may lead to unimagined and unanticipated blessing.

Don't Grow Weary | Ellie May's Garden of Grace

Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea that their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem would change everything.

But it did.

And that was just the beginning.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you ever tire of daily routine, regular responsibility? Does this passage challenge that attitude?
  • Scripture teaches that God is in control even when it seems like chance rules. Is that a comforting thought? Why or why not?
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story echoes that of Abraham and Sarah. An old couple, past the age of childbearing whom God blesses with not just any child but a child of promise. How does their story once again that God is the God of the impossible and improbable?
  • Prayer is likened to incense throughout the Bible. I sometimes like to light a scented candle in the still dark early morning hours when I talk to God. Do you have any physical representations that help your heart connect with the Father?

PRAYER:

Father God,

I admit it-sometimes I’m just flat out tired of doing what’s expected of me. Dishes and laundry and ordinary work are dull and hardly rewarding. Obedience takes self-control. I’m not always interested in being who I ought to be especially when I feel like maybe there’s no upside to sacrificing fun for duty.

Even worse, I feel cheated when I’ve been a “good girl” and still not received the desire of my heart. In fact, the desire of my heart has been snatched away.

Help me feel Your Presence speaking courage and strength to my soul when I grow weary of doing well. Help me show up every time and everywhere You want me to be. Let the truth that there is no better place to be than in the center of Your will sink deep into my spirit.

You have a plan and You work through perfectly ordinary people to bring it to life. Who knows? It might be me doing my daily duty that impacts eternity. Thank You for inviting me to be part of the Eternal Story.

Amen

Repost: The Prayer of the Average and Broken

I am so thankful for my children.

While I was the teacher for their early years, they are now teaching me.

fiona and cash at home (2)

From my daughter, Fiona:

It’s tempting to look at someone doing a hard thing (like foster care) or living out a hard truth (like child loss) and label them as “special”, “brave”, “extraordinary”, or “chosen by God for a big purpose”.

Read the rest here:  The Prayer of the Average and Broken

Costly Obedience

If the only place you get your food is the grocery store with overflowing shelves and more choices than any one person truly needs, then this verse won’t mean much to you.

If you’ve never depended on a homemade pantry stocked with home-canned jars for your winter supply, it’s hard to understand.

But if you’ve ever had to choose between putting that last bit of corn into the ground or into your mouth, you won’t have any trouble imagining the tears that flow as you place each kernel beneath the dirt with a prayer begging for a bumper crop.

And then you wait.

Because only the planting in faith is MY business.  The growing is God’s.

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
    will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
  Those who weep as they walk
    and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy,
    when they bring home the harvest.

Psalm 126:5-6 VOICE

In dark and burdensome seasons of life, I am tempted to cling tightly to what I can hold in MY hand instead of clinging tightly in faith to the One Who holds me in HIS hand.

Sowing in tears is choosing to walk obediently even when obedience is costly and there is no visible evidence that it will produce a good result.

There may be a long wait-perhaps my entire lifetime-to see the harvest of choosing obedience in faith.

But there WILL be a harvest.

He guarantees it.

And then the tears will turn to JOY.

sow in tears 2

 

 

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

I love the idea of Random Acts of Kindness-it’s a beautiful way to spread love and joy in our broken world.

With a few dollars or a few minutes, I have the opportunity to make someone’s day brighter, their burden lighter and remind them that not everyone is “out to get them”.

BUT-as I’ve written before here:  Relational Acts of Kindness, it’s relatively easy to do my good deed and walk away.

When I bless a stranger, my work is done.

I feel good, they feel good-it’s all good.

I find it much harder to purpose to be kind every day to the people I actually KNOW-the one who may have said cutting things in the past, the one who consistently rubs me the wrong way, the one I feel is lazy or subversive or just holds opinions with which I disagree.

How about the one I thought would show up to help but didn’t?  Or the one who has told tales about me or my family?  The one who lets her children run wild at church? The one who makes others uncomfortable with her dress, or language, or lack of social skill?

Being kind to THAT person is hard.

I want to turn the other way.  I want to make excuses.  I want to pretend that my kindness toward strangers balances my lack of kindness to those with whom I walk daily.

It doesn’t.

I am called to be kind at precisely that place where it is most difficult.  I am called to act in love toward just that person who is most unloveable.  I am called to lay down my life where it looks most likely to be unappreciated.

ephesians-4-31-32

Denying myself is the very method by which Christ builds His kingdom.

Offering my body as a living sacrifice is the pressure He applies to mold my flesh into His likeness

washing-feet-beauty

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave—just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”

Matthew 20:27-29 PHILLIPS

 

 

Do Good, Be Light, Extend Hope

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:14-17 MSG

James doesn’t mess around.

He says what a lot of people are thinking but are too timid to speak aloud.

I like that.

We could use a good dose of his brand of preaching in the church today.  Let’s stop pretending that following Jesus is just about getting our theology right.  Let’s stop acting like going to church, serving on committees or teaching Sunday School is the best indicator of where my heart is relative to my Savior.

Let’s face facts:  if my life does not look different than the lives of those who do not know Jesus, then either I don’t know Him or I’m not paying attention to what He’s telling me to do.

I have been blessed on this grief journey by a few dedicated friends who go out of their way to do good, be light and extend hope to my heart when I’m barely holding on.  They have chosen, often sacrificially, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my life.

And they make a difference!

Sometimes it’s a card in the mail, sometimes a text or message and sometimes a visit-but they DO something.  They might not understand why God is putting me on their heart, but they obey the prompting.

So if the Spirit is nudging you to reach out to someone, don’t ignore Him or put it off. Sure, praying is important.  We are commanded to do that.

But we are also commanded to be physically present and to extend practical help to hurting hearts.  We are supposed to BE the hands and feet of Jesus.

Who knows, I might be the answer to my own prayer that God send encouragement to someone else.

I can choose to do good.

do-all-the-good

I can choose to shine light.

let-light-shine

I can choose to share hope.

hope-and-heart

And my small gesture be the very thread that holds a broken heart together.  

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17 NIV

 

 

Willful Obedience

How many times have we seen it or experienced it ourselves?

bratty-child

 

That moment when a young child cries, WHY do I have to do it?!!!”

In reply an exasperated mama says, “Because I TOLD you to!!!”

Then the moment of truth:  either the child complies (reluctantly perhaps) or chooses willful disobedience.

When my children were little, we lived on a fairly busy road with our driveway a short distance from the edge of the pavement.  I was shepherding four young ones and could not possibly keep an eye on each one every second of every day.

So early on we established a rule:  You never step on blacktop pavement without holding the hand of an adult.

I explained that the road was dangerous.  But let’s face it, the ability of  a two year old to understand “dangerous” is limited.

Because of the faithful love they experienced in our home, my children trusted me even though they did not fully comprehend the need to obey.

And this rule was never broken as long as we lived there.

It kept them safe.

These last months I have felt like an angry, willful child-I’ve asked God, “Why do I have to affirm Your goodness? Why do I have to believe You are in control?  Why do I have to keep on keeping on when all I want to do is lie down and give up?”

And, honestly, the only answer I’ve gotten is, “Because I told you to.”

He has not given me special revelation nor has He whispered unique comfort to my heart.

No answer as to why MY son was taken.

No insight into how these circumstances play into His greater plan and purpose for my life or for anyone else’s life.

So I face a moment of truth:  will I choose obedience?  Will I choose to continue to follow my Savior and trust my Heavenly Father?. 

Will I rest in the faithful love He has showered on me all my days and hold tighter to the hope I have in Christ?

Or will I walk away because I don’t get what I want and I don’t understand?

The apostles faced a similar test many times.  One which speaks to my heart occurred just after Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand.

When Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life, many turned away because they found the words offensive and hard to believe.

bread-of-life

The crowd had readily accepted physical blessing from His hand, but hesitated when the blessing wasn’t something they could touch or comprehend.

They were unprepared to follow Him if they didn’t understand.

Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?”

Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, “Does this offend you?”

From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!”

John 6: 60-61, 66-69

Simon Peter chose to follow because he believed and accepted a core truth:  Jesus IS the Holy One of God.  He IS the Bread of Heaven.  He IS the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Like the crowd, I cry out, “This teaching (of Your sovereignty, of Your goodness, of Your love for me) is hard! Who can accept it (in light of my experience)?

But as an act of will, even in the midst of so many unanswered questions, I will choose to follow and obey because only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?
― C.S. Lewis