We all can probably identify easily with today's scripture reference. As a GOOD Christian, we generally try to live our daily lives doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. Sometimes we slip up or stumble but it truly is our heart's desire to do right in His sight. And as I try to help raise my four-year-old grandson and teach him to behave properly I also try to help him understand that God is ALWAYS looking down on us and watching what we are doing. My grandson loves to hear the story of Jonah and how he decided to go to Tarshish because that sounded like a lot more fun than Nineveh. But Jonah forgot that God is always watching (Jonah 1:3, But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; . . .)
Today's scripture comes from the story of Amaziah who was the king of Judah for 25 years. The Bible doesn't give us a whole lot of details of all that happened during those 25 years but we do know he tried to do right in the sight of the Lord. In other words, he knew what he should do to be right with God, just as we should also know and do what will please the Lord. One of my daily prayers is that I and all other Christian believers in this country will live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. The reason I began praying that prayer years ago is because I believe that kind of living will most likely bring God's blessing upon our country.
Not being a Bible scholar I am guessing that the following piece of scripture picks up his story somewhere near the end of his reign: (1 Chronicles 25:14, Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.) I believe this took place near the end of his life because the remaining verses in that chapter speak of how he seemed to self-destruct.
Now, it is easy for us to read of how he put other gods before his God, and began to crash and burn. And then we go on to read the next chapter which covers the life of the next king, Uzziah. And, that is what we often do as we are reading scripture, especially if we are working our way through the Old Testament. But I believe that every verse in God's word was written to ME and YOU. And if that is so we need to stop and think about what we have just read. HE PUT OTHER GODS BEFORE HIS GOD. It kind of reminds me of when we sit in church and the preacher is speaking of something that people need to repent from - and we can ALWAYS think of some OTHER guy who needs to hear this. Now the Lord just may be using that preacher to speak to our own hearts, but His words may likely go in one ear and out the other if we have been doing what is right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.
So, what does God mean when he speaks of a perfect heart? And, the answer is: "I don't know." But I do know that just trying to do right in the sight of the Lord describes a lot of Christians I have known. And even I could see that their hearts didn't match their actions. At the very center of their hearts I think the Lord could probably find other gods. They may not have even been bad gods but their importance ranked much higher than that of the Living God. And maybe their lives were not headed for destruction but neither were they bound for the blessings of God. (Mark 4:23,24 - If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.) I guess you could say that they lived their lives according to Jonah's principle that "Tarshish sounds like a lot more fun than Nineveh."
We truly need to examine our lives on a daily basis and ask ourselves, "Am I just doing this because I know God is watching?" or "Will God bless me more if I do this or that?" or "Am I living this Christian life in order to (selfishly) get more from God?"
The bottom line is: "Do I have a heart-to-heart, living relationship with the Living God?" And, if that is not the case then I need to make some changes. I may or may not be headed down the same path as Amaziah but I am sure to be missing out on the good things God has to give me. We all recognize that sometimes change is not easy. That is because change is really what the Bible calls repentance. But that may be just what you need today. And, the easiest way to begin is by simply asking Him for the help you need to get to where He wants you to be in that relationship. And the interesting thing is, when we look for His help - He will help.
In the last blog posted I promised to return to this passage of scripture and consider some thoughts that come to mind related to the filling of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that when oil is mentioned in scripture it can generally be referred to as a type of the Holy Spirit. So, with that said, let us begin.
If you are like most working folks I have known, you have had days when you looked longingly toward the time when you could retire. I am now beyond that stage of life and can confirm that it feels pretty good waking up in the morning knowing that you do not have to get dressed, eat breakfast, grab a lunch, and head out to work where your schedule is decided upon by the your employer. That is the typical scenario of most working folks throughout the roughly 40-year period of their lives. I reached the age of retirement about twelve years ago at this writing. Since that time, within my circle of friends, I have seen many others reach that point. They all seem to express that same feeling of relief when they refer to the day on which they retired. Their schedule now has become their own, and in most cases, they do whatever they feel like doing upon the arrival of each new day.
When we look carefully at today's scripture we find that this poor widow also entered into a similar type of situation: Elisha told her, "Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." She had come from starvation near the point of death to comfort and contentment for the rest of her life. Whenever she needed cash she simply sold a little oil. And she apparently had plenty enough oil to last the rest of her life.
So, what does that have to do with our hopes for Early Retirement? Well, it depends upon how we apply the word RETIREMENT to our own lives.
Elisha told this poor widow to go and borrow as many barrels as she could find. Her sons even helped round them up. We are not told the total number of barrels but they may not have been too difficult to collect as folks generally have little need for an empty barrel. As she poured the oil from her pot into each barrel God kept refilling that little pot with more oil. Had she and her sons been too busy to go out and collect barrels who knows how soon the oil would have been exhausted. But she was willing to put forth the effort to borrow as many barrels as could be found. So now, since the example set by this poor widow seems to be a type from the old testament, how should we look for ways to apply it to our own lives? Please consider these thoughts that passed through my mind as I read this lately:
When we are born again God's Holy Spirit comes to dwell within our bodily vessel. We have a very weak relationship with the Lord on that day. Some folks seem to be satisfied with that weak relationship. But others are not content to struggle day-by-day, living in a world filled with temptation to sin and other enticements that quench the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They realize that, to become more acquainted with God they need to hang out with Him on a regular day-by-day basis. Because hanging out helps them to become more and more familiar with His likes and dislikes, just as when we spend time with anyone else we wish to befriend.
But here is the issue we all face: Where do we find the time to do this? After all, we get up early in the morning, go about our day, and go to bed at night. And there are very few folks who generally find themselves with idle time to spend each day. Well, I believe one of the key words in today's scripture is the word, borrow. We each have 24 hours at our disposal each day. We have been blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit within ourselves. God sets no limit on how filled we can become with His Holy Spirit. And I have found that the more time I spend with Him, the more I am aware of His Holy Spirit within me. And, the more awareness I have of His presence, the more I can relinquish my cares and troubles to Him and realize the true feeling of retirement from the issues of life. But I learned long ago that I needed to borrow from that reservoir of 24 hours each day in order to satisfy my hunger for His presence.
In today's culture of busy-business it may not be that easy for some folks to find any empty barrels. But if we look diligently we can find them. For example, did you ever consider the evening television prime-time entertainment industry to be an empty barrel. How about Facebook, or YouTube, or Twitter, or . . . you fill in the blanks. There is nothing wrong with using these mediums as a means of pleasure in our lives, but when you stop to consider how many of the 24 hours are spent each day looking into an empty barrel such as these, we may want to consider borrowing from them and filling each one with the comforting oil of God's growing presence in our lives. Early retirement may be in the evening for some or in the morning for others. But God promises that there is no limit to the number of empty barrels He will fill for each of us. Find some empty barrels; spend some time filling them with His presence, and retire your heart from the cares and burdens of this temporary life on earth.
There are so many ways this passage of scripture could be applied to all of our lives. And if you have been a child of God for very long you have surely heard messages preached and lessons taught on how important this story is for each of us.
If you are looking for some interesting reading in the old testament you can find some heart-blessing stories in the book of 2 Kings where we read of the miracles God performed through the ministry of the prophet Elisha. That is where I was reading this morning as I worked my way slowly through the word of God one more time. As I read this section of scripture two thoughts passed through my mind and settled in my heart. And I will take a moment and share them with you in today's blog.
The first thought has to do with hardships we face from time to time. For, if this woman would never have lost her husband, this type of the filling of the Holy Spirit would not be here to teach us a valuable lesson. But her husband did die, leaving her and her two sons without any means to support themselves. And we are brought into the picture when there is NO food left on the shelves and all she has in her possession is a small pot of oil. Oil has no nutritional value in itself so at first glance it was of no use to her and her sons. There was no welfare system available. She did not become a beggar. Women at that time were not employable. She had no other option but to turn to the man of God.
Most of us have never been in a situation like that of this poor woman. But there have been times in our lives when we may have felt like we were. In a previous blog I think I mentioned how, when I was teaching in the public schools and was told I would be teaching electronics the following year. I had NO idea of what the word even meant at that time. But if I were to keep my teaching job I had to begin borrowing barrels. As it turned out I took an electronics course during the summer and fell in love with the subject to the point that I became licensed to operate a commercial broadcast station. And a couple of years later became chief engineer of a Christian broadcast station and began serving the Lord full time for many years. There have been a few other times similar to that but I will let you recollect on your own experiences.
The important thing we should learn from this is that God often brings about hardship in preparation for a blessing. As this poor widow turned to the man of God for help, we need to do the same when the hardships of life come along. Our Man of God is Jesus. Philippians 4:19 - "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Not only did this widow end up with enough oil to pay her debt but as the scriptures says, ". . .and live thou and thy children of the rest.
God took that small pot of oil and turned it into a 401(k) left to her by her husband. Without his death it would never have become available. Keep in mind; God did not turn her hardship into a life of ease - He simply met her needs. And He promises to do the same for each of us who truly put our trust in Him.
OK, that was the first thought that settled into my heart this morning. I originally planned on putting both into this single blog, but my preference is to keep these as short as possible. So we will consider the next blog as part two. In the mean time let us count the blessings of what we do have, and put our trust in the Lord for all things that confront us, rather than becoming angry or depressed over our current circumstances - which is so often our first reaction.