Unity is a joy; worship a privilege. Ending religious division takes work, often ending in partial success. Restoring right ways takes work, of the hands and heart; often the heart heals faster than the hands can work. Becoming king, Hezekiah sends couriers north, inviting apostates passed over in the Assyrian deportation. Despite their spiritually rebellious past as Golden Calves worshipers; despite their being part of a politically rebellious brother-kingdom; despite being the unwanted, weak and uneducated; Hezekiah wants them. Reminds me of Jesus (Luke 14:15-24). Some laugh at his request, some join. Make no mistake; this is not just human beings returning physically and spiritually: “The power of God was at work in Judah to unite them to carry out the command of the king and his official by the word of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 30.12).
Having missed the appointed time, the revival continues as they ensure they don’t miss the alternative (30.2-3; Numbers 9.1-14). But the timing and Northern naysayers won’t be the only obstacles. Restoration can be messy. Repentance in the heart means hard work by the hands, unclean hands faithfully becoming clean. Due to their desire to honor God, this Passover has many people who “had eaten contrary to what was written” (30.18). Conscious of former spiritual rebellions, Hezekiah prays for atonement because this ceremonial uncleanness is due to circumstances beyond their control (30.18). This is a very priestly action (1 Chron.6.49; 2 Chron.29.24), possibly foreshadowing Christ as King and Priest; very priestly but very different than Uzziah (26:16-20). The prayer’s result is spiritual healing (2 Chron.30.20). This is the same word referencing Hezekiah’s physical healing (2 Kings 20:5,8). Again this mimics Jesus as He tells people their faith has saved (sozo), or made them well (sozo), spiritually and physically. The faithful and righteous king is so convinced in God’s grace; he willingly leads an imperfect Passover. Their two choices are to not celebrate for another year; or to celebrate imperfectly, but as perfectly as possible. This teaches us a great lesson on how to view the faithfulness and righteousness of God as we approach Him in imperfect form, but with whole hearts (30.19). Faithfulness and righteousness is not just the letter of the law. Keep it as perfectly as possible, but trust in God’s grace for spiritual healing.
Repentant and united, God’s people celebrate God’s Passover; and “there was great rejoicing in Jerusalem for nothing like this was known since the days of Solomon son of David, the king of Israel” (30.26).
Following the example of their king and spiritual leader, “Then the priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard their voice, and their prayer came into His holy dwelling place in heaven” (30.27). From earthly temple to heavenly Temple, there is healing, unity and worship.
Prayer Challenge: Pray about your attitude toward those returning, and about how you would handle the situation when perfect obedience is circumstantially impossible.
Three kings in a row, three generations, three battles, and three prayers. If this pattern had held true for every king, in every situation, then Judah would not have been exiled into a foreign abyss. Abijah, Asa, and now Jehoshaphat all rely upon God during times of national distress. A later king, Hezekiah, will do the same. Seeing we need God when in the middle of turmoil can be so much clearer than when we are in the rut of normality. Times of trouble, followed by divine rescue, show our true neediness for God.
Let’s backtrack to establish Jehoshaphat’s holy record. First, he respects God, enjoys and submits to God (2 Chron17.3-6). I love verse six, “his mind rejoiced in the LORD’s ways.” The first part describes Jehoshaphat personally, and the second what he does because of the first: “He again removed the high places and Asherah poles from Judah.” The right mindset leads to the right actions. Second, Jehoshaphat educates his people in God’s ways (17.7-9). Education is always a key to success, in every realm. Parents wouldn’t keep their children out of school knowing this, so why do parents too easily keep their children out of “Bible School?” The king knows a righteous nation is not maintained only by having a righteous government. Third, Jehoshaphat appoints wise judges (19.5-11). His nation is God’s nation, filled with God’s wisdom and laws.
Part of me wonders, why then did war come? Curiosity looks for divine reasons, but scripture does not always satisfy. Bad times come as temptations, tests, punishment and discipline. Sometimes even as gifts we fail to appreciate. However, life is not filled with having all questions answered. So let’s suffice with this. War comes because such is life. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen because people are good.
All this leads us to the prayer before battle. Jehoshaphat has led his people towards a close covenant relationship with God. So seeing him lead his army in prayer, and before that with fasting, is expected (20.5-12). Read his historically focused, deeply trusting, monotheistic themed prayer. God has already proved Himself. When the king leads his army, he gives his soldiers a great “pep talk.” Afterwards something incredible happens, something I don’t know if ever happens before or again. Singers lead the battle (20.20-21). “Worship” is not reserved for the temple. Worship is part of the battle plan!
Let’s backtrack again. Before the battle, after receiving the news of the vast number of the enemy, 2 Chronicles 20.3 says, “Jehoshaphat was afraid.” Being faithful, righteous, a great leader, none of these declare fear is impossible or a sign of weakness. Fear often is simply being honest with ourselves and God. Once he prays, his confidence returns. That is the power of prayer. So follow your fears with prayers, even fasting and singing. What a great legacy to pass on to other generations.
Prayer Challenge: Don’t think of fear as weakness. Consider it proof of honesty that needs to be followed by prayer. Hasn’t God proved more powerful than our fear?
If you could have any super-power, what would you choose? Let me suggest an unusual one; that once a lesson is learned, you never forget it. Gone would be the days of parents asking, “How many times have I told you?!” The answer would be “Only once!” More importantly, we would never forget God’s lessons. If there is any particular definition of being human, it could be we keep unlearning lessons learned.
King “Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 14.2). He removes pagan altars, high places; shatters pagan sacred pillars and chops down Asherah poles, and even more (14.3). The result is – peace: “No one made war with him in those days because the LORD gave him rest” because “We sought Him and He gave us rest on every side” (14.1,5,6-7).
Then an invasion begins. Did Asa offend God so as to remove divine protection? No. Did the enemy, Zerah the Cushite, somehow overcome the Almighty to pursue war? Impossible. God’s earthly rewards are not guaranteed forever, nor are they without tests. The invading Cushites have 1 million armed men marching into Judah (14.9). The total number of troops landed on D-Day was only around 130,000-156,000. Asa has 300,000. Asa has Yahweh. Asa prays, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, LORD our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You” (14.11). Soon after victory, Azariah the prophet encourages and admonishes in the same promise: “The LORD is with you when you are with Him” (15.2). Great prayer; great victory; unforgettable lesson learned, right?
Lessons learned don’t always stay learned. Israel’s King Baasha battles against Judah. Unknown to Asa, this is a gift from God (16.7). Much smaller than the Cushite invasion, God is still needed to win. Asa either forgets, or pride makes him think otherwise. What a mistake thinking we only need God for big problems. Remember Asa’s prayer, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength.” Whether mighty or mighty weak, we need God. Asa fails the test. Instead of relying on God, Asa makes a treaty with a pagan king, Aram’s Ben-hadad. A seer, Hanani, comes to rebuke Asa saying, “Because you depended on the king of Aram and have not depended on the LORD your God, the army of the King of Aram has escaped from your hand” (16.7). The result is, “you will have wars from now on” (16.9). Why? Asa did not depend upon God to win his battles, defeat his enemies, and to solve his problems.
Have many battles are we fighting, how many failures, all because we forget we can’t win without God? Like Asa, do we learn, then unlearn God’s lesson? Depend on God.
Prayer Challenge: Today it is simple. Pray not to unlearn lessons learned.
Good-hearted people sometimes suggest after a sermon, “The next time you preach that, you need to include….” Sometimes I do; sometimes I had already excluded it due to time restriction – could you really sit through a sermon that included everything the Bible says on every topic? There is, however, another reason not to include everything. It doesn’t fit the story you’re trying to tell. A good story jells around a theme, has a point.
If we look at Abijah’s reign only in 2 Chronicles 13, he is a very godly leader, exceptional even. Nothing negative is stated or implied. If we look only at 1 Kings (there called Abijam), we see nothing positive, except for a hint of good: “he was not completely devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been” (1 Kgs 15.3).
Both accounts agree there is war between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel often wins due to its stronger army and greater economic power. Think of the North vs. the South in America’s Civil War. When Abijah’s army defeats an army twice its size, and strategically out-maneuvered, there is a divine cause.
Before the battle, Abijah lectures Jeroboam in loyalty to God and to David. Unlike most days, today the king’s heart is fully devoted to God. Today, Jeroboam is called an apostate and a traitor (13.4-9). He even describes Jeroboam as being so base, that all a non-Levite needs to do to be named a priest is bring, “a young bull and seven rams” (13.9). How meaningless the position of priest has become in Jeroboam’s religion. Abijah’s description of Judah’ religious activity is one of Mosaical orthodoxy (13.10-12).
During the battle, Judah “turned and discovered that the battle was in front of them and behind them, so they cried out to the LORD. Then the priests blew the trumpets, and the men of Judah raised the battle cry” (13.14-15). What is the result? “God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah (13.15). More people died in Israel’s army, 500,000; than the total number in Judah’s army, 400,000.
Twice the size didn’t matter. This is David and Goliath all over again. This is us too. Life is filled with being outnumbered. Being faithful to God can be disheartening. Numbers are tempting, and often influences what churches we decide to join, or who are our friends. Being surrounded by our enemies can be threatening. How easy is it to give in and give up when we see no alternatives? How do we win our battles? God saves those who are true to Him…despite times when we are not. Win with God. That’s the theme.
Prayer Challenge: When feeling outnumbered and surrounded, look inwardly. Is your heart fully devoted to God? If not, repent. If so, look up in prayer to the One who is greater than your fears.
What does God do more than anything else? Maybe the answer is tied to another question. What does man do more than anything else?
Like any other man, Solomon’s greatest accomplishment is connected to God. All great things are connected to God. David’s son finishes what David began. He built a temple for Yahweh. His great accomplishment though is understandably greatly inadequate: “But will God indeed live on earth, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built” (2 Chronicles 6.18). God is too great for anything less than God.
“But will God indeed live on earth?” “But will God the Son indeed live on earth?” Such shows the utter paradox of One whom the highest heaven cannot contain, living in the form of a man on this lowly earth. This man who was Jesus was God’s temple on earth; God’s walking tabernacle. But why a temple? Why an incarnation? In the prayer of Solomon dedicating the temple of Yahweh, there is a recurring word, “hear,” often found in a recurring phrase, “May you hear,” followed by a recurring plea, “and forgive.”
The purpose of the temple was to glorify God, and more. It was a place for man to come to God, because God came to man in the temple: “The glory of the LORD filled the temple” (7.1). Do you see Jesus again in this? Jesus becoming man was to glorify God, and more. He came to man so man could come to God, because God came to man in the flesh. Jesus showed them what they could not see, God.
“What did Jesus actually bring if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets…. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God….” (Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI).
Besides God, there is something else man sees when seeing God: his sinfulness, his spiritual inadequacy. What does God do more than anything else? One answer might be, hearing our prayers. While amazing, that a divine being whom the heavens cannot contain, takes the time to listen to failed humans, there is another possible answer even more wonderful. Remember, it might be tied to what man does more than anything else. Man sins. The temple was a place of forgiveness. Jesus is our place of forgiveness. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus shows us the Father (John 14.6-7). What does God do more than anything else? Could it be that He forgives?
Prayer Challenge: When we pray, let us focus on how many times God forgives; and then pray to be more like God.
Imagine getting a job where you have had no previous experience. Nervous? Plus, you are the youngest person in the office, and yet you have been chosen to be the boss. More nervous? The owner of the company tells you, you have his full support and that you can have anything you need, including naming your own salary if you wish, or requesting life-time employment and job security. What would you ask for?
In my early 20’s I looked up to a man not much older than myself, amazed at his knowledge. His intellectual capacity far exceeded mine. He was about 25 years old, and soon I would be too. I couldn’t wait to be twenty-five, because then I would be like him, and know sooooo much. On my 25th birthday, I remember waking up very disappointed.
No, I didn’t switch topics between the first and second paragraph. Have you figured out your answer yet? Would it be a large salary? Would you want tenure so you could never be fired? Or would you not even think of wants? The first paragraph is not a hypothetical situation. It is a true life story, updating the situation, recasting it into today. The new, young, inexperienced employee is…Solomon.
After being appointed king, Solomon is at Gibeon, sacrificing and praying with his people. Yahweh appears to him in a dream, saying, “Ask. What should I give to you?” (2 Chronicles 1.7). Wow, what an opportunity. Imagine your employer coming to you, or the owner of the company, and asking, “What do you want? Name it and it is yours.”
Solomon answers by beginning with God’s grace: “You have shown great and faithful love to my father David, and You have made me king in his place” (1.8). Praising God takes priority over receiving God’s gifts. How can we ask for more if we aren’t thankful for what we have? Solomon knows what he has he didn’t get on merit. “Now grant me wisdom and knowledge so that I may lead these people, for who can judge this great people of Yours?” (1.10). Simply rephrased, Solomon is asking for help. Asking for help is a confession of inadequacy. Knowing he is inadequate is not a sign of a debilitating lack of self-confidence, but self-awareness brought on by humility and an acute awareness of reality.
Before David died, he told Solomon to be a man (1 Kings 2.2). Using one word to define manhood, I would choose, “Responsible.” Being king is a responsibility wherein others are dependent on Solomon. All the money in the world would not make Solomon adequate, or make the right decisions for him. Responsibility does not come from a paycheck, but from within and from above. Hearing his request, the owner of Israel granted His employee wisdom and knowledge, along with riches and glory (1.11-12).
Prayer Challenge: Is it easier to pray for wisdom or to believe we need it. Pray not only for wisdom, but that we will truly understand how dependent we are on God for wisdom.
News Alert! Paul was human! Excuse the hyperbole, but I wonder sometimes if we inappropriately place Paul on a pedestal far above us, a little above Peter, and just a tad below Jesus. The humanity of Peter is easy to see and empathize with; just ask anyone with the habit of inserting foot into mouth. Peter even needed rebuking; by both Jesus and Paul. But Paul, do we ever see human weakness in Paul?
Compare Paul’s reactions to dying in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 1. Paul is in prison at the time of writing, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil.1:21). He doesn’t even know which one to choose (v.22). Death is described euphemistically as a “desire to depart” (v.23). How calm. How philosophical. How theoretical.
Compare that demeanor and language to “our affliction,” “completely overwhelmed,” “beyond our strength,” and “personally had a death sentence” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Not quite so calm, philosophical or theoretical. Why the difference? Paul is human.
First, how human is it to be able to remain calm when simply discussing the possibility instead of the reality of death? All of us know we will die, unless Jesus returns first. We even joke about it. But hearing the news from the doctor changes the perspective, doesn’t it? Being at the other end of a gun or knife is terrifying. Second, Paul lets us in on a divine secret. God allows this death sentence “so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor.1:9). Even the great Paul needs reminding not to fear dying. Preaching the resurrection is different than living the hope. Third, while no one knows what the affliction is in 2 Corinthians, many believe it is the wild animals in Ephesus that Paul fought (1 Cor.15:32). Different manners of death understandably produce different reactions. Being beheaded is humane compared to being torn limb from limb. Finally, although the two epistles are only separated by around 5 years, Paul is more mature and experienced in Philippians. Older people handle death differently than the young.
So, Paul is human. I’m sure that wasn’t news to him.
If the God of all comfort, comforts us so that we can comfort those in affliction (2 Cor.1.3-4); then God gives what He is, and we give what we receive. We want to love people out of their hurt, but some hurt so deeply, it is stronger than any love. Any human love, that is. Consider, “For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through the Christ our comfort also overflows” (2 Cor.1:5). To “comfort” means to come along side of for the purpose of strengthening. It hurts us when we realize our love is not strong enough to overflow the hurt of those we love. So love people into Christ, love them in your relationships; but only Christ’s love can heal their hurt so as to overcome and become victors. If you are hurting, realize Christ’s suffering was greater than yours, which means His comfort is greater than your hurt. “Be healed,” not by a miracle; be healed by the sufferings and comfort of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if the prayer would change if offered to God after the collection had been counted? Would it be depressing, or one of praise? Every Sunday Christians contribute for the ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Before the Lord’s Supper we often sing a song “to prepare our minds.” Before the contribution we also should have our minds prepared to give as we have prospered (1 Corinthians 16.2), as cheerfully decided in our own hearts (2 Corinthians 9.7). A prelude to giving includes first giving of ourselves (2 Corinthians 8.5).
Before David’s prayer of praise (1 Chronicles 29), he takes up a collection for the building of the temple. He is amazed. He acknowledges this is God’s work, help is needed, God deserves the glory, he gave his personal best (29.1-3). In conclusion, like an invitation to a sermon, is the summons, “Now who will volunteer to consecrated himself to the LORD today?” (29.5). The result is the leaders “gave willingly” (29.6); “the people rejoiced because of their leaders’ willingness to give” (29.9); the leaders “had given to the LORD with a whole heart” (29.9). Let’s rewrite this prayer to fit our times. Notice how the prayer echoes the reality within the givers. Read carefully and compare to the prayers offered before the contribution:
“May You be praised, our Father, from eternity to eternity. Yours is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and Jesus is exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name. But who are we that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand. For we live before You as foreigners and temporary residents in Your presence as were all our spiritual ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. All this wealth that we’ve provided for building your kingdom for Your holy name comes from Your hand; everything belongs to You. I know, my God, that You test the heart and that You are pleased with what is right. We have willingly given all these things with an upright heart, and have seen Your people who are present here giving joyfully and willingly to You. Lord God of our ancestors, keep this desire forever in the thoughts of the hearts of Your people, and confirm their hearts toward You. Give us and our families a whole heart to keep and to carry out all Your commands, Your decrees, and Your statutes, and to build Your kingdom for which we have made provision. In Christ, Amen.”
Prayer Challenge: How happy are we to give and be able to give? Pray for happiness.
Do you get paid to do your job? Of course, you do, that is why you work. If they stopped paying, you would quit. That is, unless, you enjoy your job so much it is like a hobby you get paid to do. They say if you enjoy your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. For that kind of job, you would do it regardless of the pay. You just might have to work another job to compensate for the one you’d do for free.
As a preacher, I get paid. I have also not been paid, and have turned down money. I have been underpaid; and some have argued overpaid. Joking around, I tell people I don’t go to church because I want to, but because I am paid to. I also “complain” my Boss makes me work on Sundays! Some joke back that I get paid to work only 1 or 2 days a week. Some are not joking! Getting serious, I like to tell people that I do not get paid to preach, but I get paid so I can preach. I hope you can understand the difference.
What if someone asked you to pray for them, would you? What if they offered to compensate you for your time in prayer? You’d turn them down, right? What if someone promised they would pray for you if you paid them to? You’d be both befuddled and offended. Sadly, that sounds just strange enough to be real on some televangelist TV show. And yet….
David is a great organizer. After moving the Tabernacle to Jerusalem, he gets busy organizing things and people. That includes the Levites. Basically, David put them out of a job. Their main responsibility before was to move the Tabernacle and its furniture. In the wilderness, this was a heavy responsibility, both literally and spiritually. Since “the LORD God of Israel has given rest to His people, and He has come to stay in Jerusalem forever” (1 Chronicles 23.25); “the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the equipment for its service” (23.26). When it became permanent in Jerusalem, both in Tabernacle and Temple form, David took away their work. So he assigned them new jobs along with some of the old (23.25-32). One of their new responsibilities was to “stand every morning to give thanks and praise to the LORD, and likewise in the evening” (23.30). Considering the tithes of the Israelites supported the priests and the Levites, simply put, the Levites got paid to pray.
What if you got paid to pray? What if you got paid to attend church? What if when you walked through the doors, you received a ticket with a number, and at the end of services the winning number would be called out? Would you be more involved? Would you go with a different attitude? Of course, all that would be totally unbiblical today. But in the days of David, the Levites got paid to pray. It was their job. What a great job.
Prayer Challenge: Attitude is not everything, but it is most everything. God doesn’t pay us to worship or serve Him. But Christ did pay the price so we could. When we pray, Thank Jesus for paying the price we could not afford.