Yesterday in church we learned about Josiah, who became king of Judah at age eight.
Who was King Josiah, what did he do, and why does it matter hundreds of years later?
Josiah had a notorious grandfather (Manasseh) – recorded as the most dastardly king of Judah. He had a son (Amon) that walked in his evil footsteps, leaving a poor spiritual heritage to his son, who was Josiah, the young king we are talking about here…
Josiah was eight years old when his father was assassinated. Early in his young royal life, Josiah was curious about spiritual things. Although his homeland was black with evil, Josiah still began to seek God.
It might be better to say that God drew him. God does that – and it’s often surprising. Especially when conditions around us don’t look promising, and we don’t appear to be headed in a holy direction.
All this drawing and wooing and curious interest about God made Josiah’s heart fertile ground. God was preparing his soft heart for an upsetting, earthshaking event that took place a few years later…
King Josiah told workers to clean out the temple. This was looking like a no-brainer job. Laborers were simply there to de-clutter, dust and organize. They were even told to keep track of their own hours. Things looked easy.
As trinkets were unearthed and dust flew, a scroll was discovered and brought to King Josiah.
This scroll was actually a treasured but forgotten book of the Law of God — given and practiced hundreds of years before.
Back when people followed God.
Back before people exchanged a loving God for a lie.
Reading the scroll aloud put a horrifying spotlight on Judah’s current state of affairs. God’s chosen people had been living in direct opposition to the words of this scroll-book. The nation was practicing child sacrifice and idol worship, even though generations before they had ousted people that were doing these same things.
When Josiah heard the words of the neglected book, he wept and tore his clothes.
Here they were, trying to tidy up the temple, making it sparkle and shine. But the temple – the spiritual heart of the nation– didn’t need dusting, it needed to be stripped down, disinfected, dismantled and rebuilt.
Josiah’s heart was overwhelmed and heavily grieved.
But Josiah wasn’t only stirred. He was changed.
Josiah turned the nation of Judah around 180 degrees.
(This thorough process involved lots of idols being ground to powder and piles of burnt bones.)
A woman named Huldah gave a prophecy at this point:
Judah be destroyed because of its abominations. It would be disciplined for the cries of its sacrificed children. But because of Josiah’s repentance and love for God’s discovered Word, Judah’s depressing end wouldn’t come during Josiah’s lifetime.
Lots of personal lessons here:
We should expect to see God’s Word in God’s house. It shouldn’t be hidden, neglected, unused or unpracticed.
Maybe we feel safe, knowing we will avoid the coming judgment. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t warn others. I want to be faithful to share God’s Word within my sphere of influence.
When I am confronted by God’s Word, do I change? Or, do I continue puttering around, just dusting the externals?
Josiah burned and destroyed the evidence and the promoters of idol worship in Judah. This made it impossible for the people to return to the former way of life. Have I made it easy or difficult to return to old, sinful ways? Burning bridges here can be a good thing…
300 years earlier, a prophet actually named Josiah by name, predicting that he would destroy idol worship in Judah. (I Kings 13:1-10) The Bible is bursting with fulfilled prophecies, confirming its truth.
After all that Josiah did to reform Judah, his son Jehoiakim went the opposite way. He heard God’s word, and what he didn’t like, he conveniently had cut out with a knife and burned. God has no grandchildren; our children need to surrender to God for themselves.
Josiah’s life ended on a strange note. He felt compelled to fight against Egypt, even though Pharaoh warned him that it really wasn’t his fight. Josiah did it anyway — he dressed up like a common person, was wounded and died. It’s always good to be reminded that even if a person’s life is resplendent and glorious, he or she is still just a person who makes mistakes.
After months of reading the book, seeing the book everywhere, hearing references made to the book, listening to radio programs about the book, and finally seeing the book on thrift store shelves, I was done thinking about Jabez for a while.
But last Sunday’s sermon centered around Jabez and his prayer. So, maybe it’s time for me to think about Jabez again and look more closely at his sincere conversation with God.
Jabez probably prayed many prayers, but one of these prayers is written out in 1 Chronicles for us to ponder. Like other seemingly unimportant details found in scripture, God included the prayer in His inspired Word for a reason…and it’s worth examining.
The prayer is pretty short and simple, easily fitting into a 280-character-limit Twitter tweet.
Jabez says to the God of Israel:
Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’
(And God granted him what he requested.)
Since there is a 93-page book written about this simple prayer, I won’t try to dissect it myself. I just want to randomly, digitally scribble down some thoughts that come to mind when I think about the real person that prayed this prayer, and what I can learn from the whole thing. (Without peeking at the book.)
Jabez’s name means “pain, or born through pain.” His prayer states “….bless me that I may not cause pain.” I love that he accepts his birth, his circumstances, the part of life that he cannot change. But, he prays to go beyond his lot in life. And God can do that. He did it for Jabez. He can do it for me. I need to ask God for it.
Jabez prayed like a child would ask a parent: “Give me! I need! I want! And I want a lot! I want more!” But he asks with good motives: so God’s hand would be with him. That means Jabez wants God around — to watch over him, bless him, lead him. He wants to please God, follow God and have God smile at what he does. He is willing to be obedient and live in fellowship with God.
Jabez trusted God to keep him from evil (or harm.)
There’s more to learn about Jabez and his prayer — I might have to pick up that book again, after all.
But for now, the obscure, honorable, praying Jabez of 3,000 + years ago has prompted me to write my own prayer.
So, here is the unfamous, non-bestselling, yet sincere Prayer of Lisa:
God, would you please help me overcome my natural, inborn weaknesses? My sin…my flesh…my selfishness? I need You to help me walk by Your Spirit — I can’t do it by myself!. I need so much more of You and so much less of me — every day. Make me to see Your workings in my life. Yank me (gently, please?) out of my comfort zone, where I tend to hang out. But always remind me You are there, and give me courage to go beyond the borders of what I think I can do. There’s nothing too hard for You to accomplish — even through imperfect me. Keep me from veering off into evil —deviating from Your Path. May I never cause pain to Your Holy Name. Amen.
Little Anders was radiant as he skipped up to the front of the church.
The teacher, carrying mysteriously covered paper cups, asked:
“Who is brave enough to do a job?”
The energetic arm of Anders shot up into the sky, beating every other arm belonging to the age-eight-and-under crowd.
Unknowingly, the teacher passed him by. A curly, freckled blonde girl was handed a cup. A little boy with a shiny, scrubbed face grabbed a cup. The tanned kids that just got back from Florida held their cups. Eager boys and quiet girls got cups.
[ Note: There was a little girl in the crowd that didn’t want a cup or a brave job. Six-year-old Anna was smart enough not to volunteer for an uncertain task…besides, she didn’t know if the job would interfere with her family’s after-church dinner plans… ]
But Anders never got a cup.
One by one, the numbered cups were opened and tiny Easter tokens were discovered inside: a purple piece of cloth, a stone, a dice, a rubber band whip and a thorny twig were all uncovered and explained in the Resurrection Day picture lesson.
And the last cup — symbolizing the Tomb of Jesus — was empty.
We watched as Anders’ big eyes looked around at all of the lucky cupbearers.
The teacher dismissed the little people. The smiling parade left Anders behind, who lingered at the podium.
He whispered, “But I said I would be brave.”
Then, with big eyes that looked a little watery, he slipped into the back row.
I can’t stop thinking about Anders. I want to buy a whole box of paper cups, fill them up and bring them to church next week — for Anders.
He needs to know someone cares. He needs to know we were watching him and felt his pain.
And, he needs to get a special gift, above what he expected.
“Everyone from church is in Florida,” my children announced yesterday morning, as our slush-encrusted van dutifully hauled us to church.
There were several brave souls who apparently got left in Minnesota.
They were there, filling up rows and singing hymns with us.
The lively verse that begins: “I sing the mighty power of God, who filled the earth with food…” set my stomach growling, because it was also potluck Sunday, and Melanie’s aromatic chicken drummies were calling my name from the kitchen.
Hearing about Jonah put me and my stomach back on track.
There are several historical accounts of people having been swallowed by sea creatures – and surviving.
The culture Jonah ran from (Ninevah & the ancient Assyrians) happened to worship a merman-like fish god. That’s ironic.
I marveled at Jonah’s selfishness – not going, not doing what God clearly asked. If God clearly tells you something, you should do it, right? God’s words to me are in His book. Do I listen?
And Jonah’s pity-party at the end of the book. The account of Jonah is so…me.
The potluck was grand. I avoided its desserts, but made up for that later at home.
I had meaningful conversations with a few friends, learning something new about two of them.
Free day-old bread on the back table is a happy thing.
Vivian brought us our weekly 4 dozen blushed brown farm eggs.
Simon’s family brought a new outdoor game that will go viral — at least at church graduation open houses.
Looking back, it was a pretty good day to not be in Florida.