Seeking God in God’s Way (1 Chronicles 15:13)

“Because you did not [carry the Ark] at the first, the LORD our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”

1 Chronicles 15:13

There are many ways that we can seek God, but only one that is acceptable to Him. David learned this in a difficult way. David first tried to bring the Ark into the city on a cart rather than on the shoulders of the Levites. God commanded that the Levites carry the Ark and David’s failure to obey cost a man his life. The cart hit a bump or the oxen pulling it got a little rowdy or something and that guy was worried that the Ark was going to fall. So, he put a hand on the Ark to steady it and fell down dead. Good motivation — wrong action.

Round two of trying to bring the Ark into Jerusalem sees David having realized that the trouble was not with God, but with God’s people — specifically, with the king of God’s people, David — who hadn’t obeyed and sought God in the way God prescribed. God had given directions, so it wasn’t as if there was some mystery surrounding the process.

The same is true today. There is one, and only one, way to approach God. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” The only way I can approach God; the only way anything I say or do or think can ever be acceptable to a holy God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. I’ve considered the necessity of doing God’s work in God’s way, and it is just as true now as it was when I first considered it. There is, I think, an added dimension to this account. See, the Ark was part of worship and prayer. The account of the Ark being brought into Jerusalem includes praising God. The Ark was to be placed in the Holy of Holies; the Most Holy Place and it was there that the high priest would yearly make atonement for the nation. The Ark contained The Law; the old covenant.

The parallel to this for the Christian is Jesus Christ, Himself. Jesus was brought into Jerusalem with praise and singing before His crucifixion. Jesus is the One Who makes atonement for us. The new covenant of grace is written in Jesus’ blood, poured out at the foot of the cross. No longer is it an Ark containing The Law that leads to our condemnation but a Savior Who took our condemnation upon Himself and invites us to be in Him.

In light of all of this, how does God command me to approach in prayer and in praise and in all aspects of worship? In humility. The Bible says that I should humble myself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift me up. The Bible says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. The psalmist says that I should enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart and His courts with praise. To seek God in God’s way is to come in humility and with thankfulness and praises. The littleness of me; the greatness of what God has done; and the greatness of Who God is. As I realize my smallness, I will become more thankful for all of the things God has done for me. As I recall all that He has done for me, it illuminates His character and I have cause to praise Him for Who He is.

I need to make that my habit in seeking God. My smallness — including confession of my sins. The greatness of His works. The greatness of Who He is. After that, I will have reached Him and we can spend time together.

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No Repeats (2 Kings 23:25)

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.

2 Kings 23:25

God does not make copies. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has had occasion to meet a decent number of people and find that no two are ever completely alike. Years ago, I was on a club swim team with a pair of identical twins. To the eye, they were completely the same. I’m sure there were scars or somesuch in places that I didn’t look at that distinguished the two, but I wasn’t all that concerned. In terms of personality, the two were different. Despite the similarities of appearance, their characters and personalities and demeanors were different.

So it is with the kings of Judah. One comes along who does so much evil that God cannot find it in Him to forgive (that is a LOT of evil) and that same diabolically evil king fathers a son who becomes the most righteous king in Judah’s history. Josiah is given a remarkable distinction by God. God lists Josiah as a king like whom there was none before or after with regard to following God wholeheartedly. Josiah was uniquely righteous, just as his father, Manasseh, had been uniquely wicked. Father and son present a strange and stark dichotomy.

So, too, is it with believers today. We may not carry the distinction of God saying that no one loves Him the way we do — never have; never will — but we are each uniquely crafted by God; one-of-a-kind works of art that He will never duplicate. I often look at my shortcomings and failures; my weaknesses and faults and find myself glad that God will not make another like me. One of me is quite sufficient. God, I think, had a different perspective. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that we are God’s poiema; His masterpieces; His poems. No poem, no work of art looks good in the early stages. All works of art — verbal or visual — are a hot mess at several points along the journey to becoming masterpieces. I visited a “local” museum that went to the trouble of scanning one of their pieces with x-ray. What they found is that the artist tried to place something in the painting that was eventually covered over. I sometimes think that my walk with God is like that painting. God begins to work something into the image of Him reflected in me — some little detail that will be just one more thing unique to the relationship between us — and I struggle against Him and mar the image so that He comes back and paints over it.

Only one of me will ever walk this Earth. Only one of any of us will ever be. Despite science-fiction’s predictions of cloning or storing our consciousnesses in computer banks to be loaded into immortal, robot bodies at a later time, we are unique. Being unique is a beautiful and terrible burden. To recognize that God never makes copies is to realize that He has given me gifts and talents and opportunities and relationships that have never existed before and never will again. And He has a purpose for these. He wants me to do something with them. Therein in the terrible burden of being unique — there is only one chance to get things right.

Josiah got it right. He turned to God wholeheartedly and went for broke in his devotion. How about me?

God Is Listening (2 Kings 19:14, 20)

Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard.'”

2 Kings 19:14, 20

Where am I taking my problems?

Hezekiah had a major problem in the form of Sennacharib. The king of Assyria had an impressive military history and an army with such a reputation that cities would sooner commit suicide than be conquered by the Assyrians. Hezekiah was staring down the metaphorical barrel of a loaded gun. He does what came naturally to him: take it to God. His prayer says a great deal about him and his relationship with God and how he saw things, but that’s not my focus this morning.

Do I expect God to work without me asking Him to?

God’s message to Hezekiah — through Isaiah — begins in a pretty straightforward manner. God says, “You prayed. I heard. I will act.” But that sequence begs the question: Would God still have acted if Hezekiah had not prayed? We will never know, because Hezekiah did pray and God did act and things turned out good for Judah in that instance.

The application is all about prayer. My problems are pas grand chose for God — hardly worth calling problematic. But they may be insurmountable obstacles to me. Am I, like Hezekiah, taking my concerns to God? I have seen God answer prayers in my life, but not as often as I would like. And maybe, just maybe, that’s because I do not often enough take my problems and concerns to God in prayer. He promises to hear; He tells Hezekiah that He has heard. But there’s an important note made in God’s words to Hezekiah: because you have prayed. God heard because Hezekiah spoke. Am I speaking to and with God? God is listening, but He will hear nothing from me unless I speak.

Doesn’t Matter (2 Kings 11:21)

Joash was seven years old when he became king.

2 Kings 11:21

The message of Joash and one or two other kings of Israel is interesting: Age does not matter to God. See, Joash was seven (7) years old when he became king of Judah and he turned out to be one of the better kings Judah had. Joash was faithful to God and had a heart for repairing the temple.

This point — that age is not a relevant disqualifier for serving God — needs to be made and reiterated. When I was a younger man — say, thirteen — I got involved in church ministries. I played a part in the drama ministry at the church I then attended. Children younger than that got involved in that same ministry. Our youth did not disqualify us for being used of God. In the case of drama, it uniquely qualified us for certain work. Age does not disqualify in the other direction, either. Moses was 80 when God sent him to Pharaoh. Caleb was 85 when he took possession of the mountains promised to him … and “taking possession” is subtitled “killing giants — plural.” Being “old” does not disqualify a person from God’s service either.

I see two bits of application in this passage. One, I need to put myself in a place where I am ready to be used by God. Caleb was ready. Moses was ready, even though he didn’t know it. Joash was ready, even though he was taking the throne of a kingdom when he was only 7. Two, I need to raise up my daughter in such a way that she, too, is ready for whatever God has for her whenever He has it for her. He may call her to Himself and His service when she is a young girl; He may not call her to active service until she is older. When she is called is not the relevant thing for me, but that I, as a father, raise my daughter in the fear and admonition of the Lord so that she is ready to answer when He calls.

He Sees (2 Kings 8:11)

He [Elisha] fixed his gaze steadily until he [Hazael] was ashamed, and the man of God wept.

2 Kings 8:11

Sometimes a look is enough to make us uncomfortable. But this was more than just a look that Elisha was giving Hazael. This was God allowing Elisha to see what Hazael would become. And that sort of insight made Hazael uncomfortable.

Jesus did the same thing to people when He walked the Earth. Jesus didn’t just look at people, He saw them — saw into them and through them and saw everything they were and would be.

What does He see in me? Does His gaze make me uncomfortable? Since He is looking from eternity, the view is different. He sees not only what I am at this precise moment (underwhelming as it may be), but everything that I will ever be. And that makes me uncomfortable sometimes, in part because I do not see it. He’s looking at me, but seeing something about which I have no clue. The same thing happened to Hazael with Elisha. Elisha saw what Hazael could not even guess at. God sees in me and in everyone things about which we may not yet have the faintest inkling. But they’re in there. The greatness and meanness, the nobility and pettiness, all of it from beginning to end is laid bare before God. I live under that gaze; under the scrutiny of the Artist bringing His creation to completion — Do I feel that gaze? Am I aware of His eyes on me? Judging purely by how often I find myself messing things up, my answer would have to be “No.” I need to live with the knowledge that that gaze; that scrutiny; that insight is always turned my way; always shaping me and moving me toward the end goal of the Artist’s masterpiece — as it is every believer. He sees me. Do I see Him?

Old Fashioned Ultra Non-Violence (2 Kings 6:21-23)

Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” He answered, “You shall not kill. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.

2 Kings 6:21-23

The situation: The king of Aram kept plotting to come into Israel and kill the king of Israel (northern kingdom, not Judah), but Elisha kept telling the king of Israel what was going to happen so that it looked like there was a spy in the court of the king of Aram. When the king of Aram found out it was Elisha, he brought the army down to surround and capture the prophet. Elisha prays that the army would be made blind, then leads this blind army up to the king of Israel and this morning’s verse is where things from there.

I know folks who read through the OT and see only a God of mayhem. They see God commanding that this or that people be wiped out for their wickedness. They see God siding with Judah or Samaria (northern kingdom) or a united Israel in wars. They see all the violence and none of the humor or mercy. This morning’s verse is an example of both. Elisha asks for something that, in other places, would result in the battle going for Israel and the enemy being slaughtered. Doesn’t happen here. Elisha, the guy this blind army came to capture, then leads the blind army right into the middle of their enemy’s strongest position; surrounded by their enemy; without chance of escape or victory. But the enemy army isn’t killed. Instead, Elisha tells the king to feed these guys and send them on their way.

There are people who say that war is not the answer; that violence doesn’t solve anything. Truly, whether or not war is the answer depends on the question and violence is sometimes marvelously effective in solving problems. I was given swats as a child and I learned that certain things were not done because of it. It was a mild bit of violence, but it solved the problem of my disobedience with a quickness. Hitler’s regime would not have been stopped by diplomacy. That was tried and failed. War was the only option left to a world that had tried the peaceful option. All of that to say that the folks who parrot these inane statements have obviously missed the point of history. These same folks are the ones who claim that God is violent and whatever else they want to lay to His account. I’m not clear on all of it, I think He’s pretty darn awesome on every day ending in -y. God is completely justified in doling out violence when He determines that it is the only valid solution.

That’s not what He does here. Here, He doles out some old fashioned, ultra non-violence. Why “ultra”? I cannot think of a non-violence that would have been more likely to make the Arameans soil themselves than this.  There are times when non-violence can be so much more frightening than violence. I mean, these guys just got marched right into the heart of the enemy. They walked blindly (literally) into a life-threatening situation. Instead of death, they are fed and sent home. The result: And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel. That is impressive.

How can I apply this to myself? Well, God tells me that I’m engaged in a spiritual war and that my enemies are not physical enemies, but spiritual ones. Paul writes that I [n]ever take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21) My job is to leave room for God to handle business; to do good even, maybe especially, to those who harm me. Jesus said it, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) A little old fashioned, ultra non-violence can sometimes go a long way.

A Hard Thing (2 Kings 2:10)

He said, “You have asked a hard thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be.”

2 Kings 2:10

Elisha has stuck with Elijah right up to the point of God taking him (Elijah) up into Heaven. Elijah asks what Elisha wants Elijah to do for him before he goes and Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. This morning’s verse is Elijah’s response. Elsewhere in The Bible, the question will be asked: Is anything too difficult for the LORD? The answer, of course, is no. So the question that presents itself to me this morning is: How is a double portion of Elijah’s spirit a difficult thing and for whom is it difficult?

It might be that Elijah is saying that it is difficult for him. He has asked God for many things, some of them quite odd, and God has granted each and every one except death — that request God seems to deny for a long, long time as Elijah is taken bodily into Heaven. So Elijah might be saying that taking Elisha’s request to God is challenging. I don’t think that’s it, though.

It might be that the request, if granted, would make Elisha’s life difficult. Elijah had been sent to kings to tell them about their wrongdoing and impending judgment. He had throw-downs with false prophets and close encounters of the divine kind. Elijah’s ministry is such that none had come before that were like it and none was to come after that was its equal. Perhaps Elijah had been granted insight to know that God would send a prophecy that the forerunner of the Messiah would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. Perhaps not. Either way, to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit would be a challenging thing.

Am I asking for hard things? Nothing is too difficult for God, but am I asking for things that will challenge me and stretch me and take me out of my comfort zone? The answer is almost always “No.” I, like most people I know, prefer not to venture very far afield from my comfort zone. But to walk with God is to know that He will walk us well away from the places we find comfortable. Though I do not ask for it, I do receive it. But how different would my walk with God be if I sought out the difficult thing? I do not know and will not know unless I do so.