Dear Lord, when we get discouraging news, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose sight of hope in you. Yet when good things happen it’s easy to be thankful at first, then get distracted or caught in even more expectations so that what was good isn’t good to us anymore. I realize how needy and how insatiable I can be, a consumer of your encouragement and impatient about your work. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for what you have done. For the ways you have worked and the ways you are working. Remind me of your calling and presence, that I don’t get caught up in what I want, when I want it. I need patience, and as a way of pursuing that, I offer thanksgiving rather than complaint.
Sometimes I want the world to burn, or at least those parts of it that seem to interfere or ruin my goals. You want the world to blossom, to be filled with love, and hope, and joy, and participation. May I see the world as you see it, and contribute to my part of the world with the grace and wisdom and truth that you want for it. May I be who you called me to be, where you have called me to be. Be with me as I navigate frustrations and opportunities. Be with those I know who are dealing with hurts and trials.
May we see your work and know your presence this week. Amen.
1. Psalm 147
2. Reading through Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai
We’ve all heard (and probably used) the phrase, “It’s about time.” It’s a way of indicating something happening that has stretched our patience, been delayed far past expectation. Or sometimes we use it when justice is served when it’s been delayed.
We’re impatient sure, but sometimes the answers or justice we look for objectively take too long to see. The world, we learned in Proverbs, is supposed to function in a certain way. Though not everyone agrees which way that is, so run head into each other.
There’s a lot of different ways that people think the world should function and we’re caught in a chorus of many different songs playing at once. Different lyrics, different beats, conflicting chords. When we try to harmonize with so many different melodies, the result isn’t very pleasing.
What song do we sing? What are our chords? What do we tune with?
While the prophets can seem repetitive, especially at this point in reading through the Bible, it helps to see they’re a lot more than judgment and threats with the occasional burst of relief. They are calling the people, calling us, to be in tune with God. To show us what it means to be in tune with God, what song God is singing, what we need to focus on, what we need to listen to. In all the cacophony, with all the noise, we need the reminders because they’re not always intuitive and match our expectations.
That’s what is so great about reading through Scripture. We think we know more than we actually know, and assume a lot of what we hear is actually what God is about. Scripture sets us straight on a lot of points. Some are reminders, some are surprising.
There’s a lot of both in this collection of prophets, but two particularly stood out to me.
One, the book of Jonah is such an amazing testimony of God’s goals versus our own. Most of us are very familiar with the basic story, Jonah is called to be a prophet to Ninevah, he runs away, is swallowed by a fish, becomes a prophet. In this is the tricky aspect that God is concerned about Ninevah, not just the people of Israel, that the story of God’s work has many chapters not all of which are focused on in the Bible. Story here is not meant as “fiction” but as a telling of God’s work in history. Ninevah is the enemy, after all, and Jonah has a lot of reasons to hate them and wish them the worst. They are the oppressor. They have all the privilege. God wants them to be saved, not destroyed, so he invites them to repentance.
Jonah isn’t afraid for himself, he’s afraid of God’s grace. Jonah wants punishment. God seeks reconciliation. Far too often we see Jonah as a coward or lacking focus. He’s actually taking a pretty bold stand for his version of justice. God won’t let him run away from grace, however.
That’s the message throughout the prophets: God offers grace, God offers hope, God seeks justice and goodness and righteousness for all people. We can’t just take the name of God and do what we want for God and expect God to just be happy for the attention. God isn’t a needy friend. God is Lord. If we ignore the Bible, the revelation of God’s work, we can lose sight of this calling and be out of tune even when we think we are doing what is best.
The second part that stood out to me probably reflects a lot of my own current frustrations. What do we do when things are bad, not getting better, all our work seems a waste of time, and no matter what we do things aren’t bearing fruit.
It’s from the book of Habbakuk and reminds me of a similar passage in Daniel where the three friends of Daniel are about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. It’s easy to lose patience, to see the world’s response as God’s rejection, to give up hope. But that’s ditching God’s tune to listen to others. Daniel’s friends said that even if God didn’t save them, he was still God and they weren’t going to worship some statue or king. Habbakuk fills this theme out even more in 3:17-18, words that are oddly very hopeful for me. Because they acknowledge the struggle and insist on patience in God’s timing. I needed that message today:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
This is a revelation, Scripture, given to us. It is also a choice. The prophets confront us with a choice. Who do we serve? Where will we focus our time and energy? Where will terms like “love,” “justice,” “hope,” “success” be defined? If we look to the world, they tell us ways to live and ways to spend and ways to fight. God doesn’t pull us out of the world, God calls us into this world in ways that match his calling and goals and definition. We are called to sing God’s song and dance according to God’s music.
It’s the fullness of life. And that’s what we’re invited into every moment of every day, even and especially when things don’t make sense and we don’t see why we should keep doing it.
Don’t give up and don’t give in. God is doing a good work for those who trust. And for those who don’t? God doesn’t like competition and doesn’t like mixed messages and doesn’t like falsehood. Those who seek to “eat the fruit” of the forbidden tree, finding life without orienting in God, will get cast out. There’s not hope in that way. The only way is with God.
What passage or theme stood out to you in these books?
3. Reading Through Revelation 14-18
While not often done, it’s very appropriate to read Revelation along with the minor prophets. The theme is very much the same, even though the style is very different. The genre of apocalyptic is given us a much more vivid experience of the message of God’s judgment and salvation. It’s meant to evoke not only thoughts and lessons, but our emotions and whole self. We’re taken past the point of rational analysis and into the world of art, nature, symbols, which draw us into a mystery that is also a truth about how the world is, how it was, how it will be. If we peel back the layer of our experience of reality (which we can’t do) and see the bigger picture (which we can’t) this is what the experience would be like in words that at least make some sense.
History is gathered together and the story of the world told in a way that helps the reader realize that our battle is not simply “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” But this does not mean our battle is only spiritual or only about heaven. The war encounters and intersects our reality on a scope well beyond us but within our experience of the struggles, hardships, suffering. This message to those being persecuted in the early church is a message, oddly, of hope. The evil will be judged and like the prophets said to the oppressing nations so too does John tell us here, that God is not passive and God is not overcome, God is engaged and God will be victorious. It won’t go well for those who oppose him.
Hold on, that’s what we’re told. This book isn’t about engaging in code-breaking, or meant to inspire fear or anxiety or hate. This book can’t evoke feelings that go against the fruit of the Spirit and the call of Christ as we read about in the writings of Paul and the letters of John. We’re called to patience, hope, love, even peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding because we know the source of peace isn’t ours to control.
Judgment happens, and those who are evil and oppress others may thrive for a while, they may think they are on the top of the world. But the world will swallow them up, and God will be shown victorious.
Where will you stand today in light of this message? Where do you see God’s victory today? Where do you need hope that God is in charge and asking you to be patient for salvation?
4. Psalm 148
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry. Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week. Start where you can and then continue on.
I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff!
Since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.
Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage.
It helps to share as we learn from each other.
Our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering. Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.
Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.