Trusting God for Safety

Bible:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. Ezra 7:27-28, 8:15a, 21-23 ESV

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright. Psalm 20:7-8 ESV

Reflection:

A movie called Braveheart tells the story of a Scottish hero named William Wallace, who fought against an English king named Edward Longshanks. King Edward had conquered Scotland, but William Wallace inspired many Scottish men to join him to fight the English and win freedom back for Scotland. The Scottish met the English in a battle at Falkirk, and Wallace was counting on the help of two noblemen named Lochlan and Mornay and their armies. These two men, however, had been given money by King Edward, and they betrayed Wallace and fought against him and with the English. Because of that, Wallace lost the battle. The noblemen and their armies that he had trusted in had betrayed him and failed him.

Ezra was thankful to God for the favor of the king, but he knew that it would be foolish to put all of his trust in the king and his soldiers and horsemen to protect him. He knew that the favor and help of any earthly ruler could change, and also that it could fail. He encouraged all the people with him to put their trust in the only one who would never fail them. Ezra and everyone with him gathered together and prayed and fasted for three days to ask the Lord to be with them and protect them and help them reach their homeland safely, and God heard their prayers.

We are thankful when God works through police or the government or the armed forces to help and protect us, but we know that no earthly power will always be able to keep us perfectly safe. We might call the police when we need help, and we should certainly pray for our government and our armed forces. But the Lord is the only one we can trust completely to always be with us and help us. God came to us in Jesus to conquer sin and death and all the forces of evil on the cross, and because of this we know that no matter what happens on earth, he will keep us as his own people and bring us into his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that will last forever.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for bringing us into your kingdom. Please protect us and keep us yours, now and always. Amen.

Source:

Gibson, Mel, dir. Braveheart Paramount Pictures, 1995. Film.

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For Such a Time as This

Bible:

And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Esther 4:12-17 ESV

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6 ESV

Reflection:

One terrible morning a man came into a school near Atlanta, Georgia with a gun. He threatened to start shooting the hundreds of children and teachers and other workers in the school, and he started by threatening a bookkeeper who worked there, Antoinette Tuff. Ms. Tuff stayed calm and talked to the man. She called 911 and let them know what was happening, then she kept talking to the man with the gun and tried to calm him down. She let him know that she cared about him and that she also had been going through some difficult times. She told him that he would be okay and would be able to turn his life around if he surrendered to the police. The man did surrender when the police came, and he didn’t kill anyone at the school. Antoinette’s love and courage had made a difference, and she believed that God had put her in that place at that time for the purpose of saving the people in the school.

Esther was also in a dangerous situation. She was a Jew, and sooner or later that truth would come out and she would be put to death just like all the other Jews in the empire. Mordecai sent a message to Esther saying that he believed she had become the queen for the purpose of saving her people. He trusted that God would save his people, but he believed that God’s plan was to work through Esther. The queen was convinced by Mordecai’s message. She promised that she would risk her life and talk to King Ahasuerus. She asked for all the Jews of Susa to fast for three days, and she and her maids would do the same. This was their way of appealing to God for his help and protection. Esther knew that she might be put to death for appearing in the king’s presence without his invitation, but she said, “If I perish, I perish.” She was willing to lay her own life on the line to try to save her people.

God also gives us the time and place we live in, and he has work for us to do. We might not get to be heroes like Esther or Antoinette Tuff, but if we follow God’s ways in the vocations he gives us–brother or sister, son or daughter, student, friend–he will work through us to be a blessing to other people. God brought his Son Jesus into the world at the right place and time, and his purpose was to lay down his life to save us. Jesus died on the cross so that we could be forgiven and have life forever with God. Jesus helps us and forgives us when we don’t live up to the plans he has for us, and he walks with us and works through us every day to give his love and help to other people.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us our vocation. Help us to serve and help others so that they see your love in us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/us/georgia-school-shooting-hero/index.html

Cries for Help

Bible:

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. Esther 4:1-3 ESV

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! Psalm 44:23-26 ESV

Reflection:

People who are out sailing on a boat need to know how to call for help by radio if they get into some kind of trouble. There are three different types of distress calls that can be sent out if something goes wrong. If people run into some kind of danger that they want to warn others about, they use the distress call, “Securite,” a French word that means safety or security. It might be used if there is a log blocking an entrance channel, for example. For a more serious problem, such as running out of fuel and being stuck out on the water, or having someone on the boat hurt and needing medical attention, people use the signal, “Pan Pan.” The most serious distress call is, “Mayday!” This is only used if there is the danger of a loss of life or of the boat. If rescue authorities hear the distress call, “Mayday,” they will do everything they can to help the people who are in trouble.

When Mordecai and the other Jews throughout the empire heard about the edict that called for their death, they sent out a distress call to God. They knew that they were in terribly serious trouble, and that they wouldn’t be able to come through it safely without God’s help. They cried out loud and dressed themselves in rough, scratchy sackcloth and put ashes on themselves. Mordecai tore his clothes to show his terrible grief, and many people fasted, or went without food. In these actions they were all calling out to God to see their trouble and to come and help them.

When we were helpless and in terrible distress because of our sins, we weren’t even able to call out to God for help, but he saw our trouble and he responded to our need. He sent Jesus, our Savior, to come to us and to give his life for us. Jesus defeated sin and death and all the forces of evil that had us in their power when he died on the cross and rose again. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are saved from everything that would separate us from God. We know that when we have troubles, we can cry out to God, and that he will hear us. He promises that he will always hear and answer our prayers in the way that is best.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing our cries for help, and for the help you’ve given us in Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.great-lakes-sailing.com/Distress_Call.html

How to Really Be Religious

Bible:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in. Isaiah 58:6-12 ESV

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 ESV

Reflection:

Harold Hill was a con man who knew how to get money out of people by tricking them, then he would leave town before they could get their money back or punish him. Harold Hill’s game was to pretend he was a band leader and a music teacher, and he would sell band instruments and uniforms to the parents of all the boys in a town. He promised them that their sons would be able to play their instruments beautifully even though he never gave them any lessons. He said they would learn how to play by the “think method,” which meant they were just supposed to think about music. He tricked everyone into town into believing that having a band instrument and a fancy band uniform would make boys into good musicians, without any lessons or any practice.

God’s people thought that they could be religious just by fasting and acting very religious and solemn, but the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah to warn them that there was much more to being truly religious than fasting. God wanted his people to stop hurting and taking advantage of others, especially those who were poor and weak. He wanted them to share their food with people who were hungry, give homeless people a place to live, and give clothes to people who didn’t have any. The Lord wanted them to remember that they were all his people, and family to each other, and to help each other the way a family does. God promised that he would give wonderful blessings to the people who did these things. He would hear and answer them when they prayed and restore their weak, broken nation.

We want to live God’s way and respond to his love by caring for others and helping them and showing them love. But we don’t always do the things that we know please God. We are selfish and ignore others who need help, and keep all of the Lord’s blessings for ourselves. But God came to us in Jesus to help us and love us. Jesus suffered and gave his life for us on the cross, and because of that we have forgiveness every day for all our sins, including our sins of selfishness and of not caring about others. God sends us his Holy Spirit to help us live the lives of love that he wants us to. We give love to others because God has given us so much love that we never need to worry about running out of his love or his forgiveness or his blessings.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for all the love you show us every day. Please help us to share that love with others, especially people who are in need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

DaCosta, Morton, dir. The Music Man Warner Brothers, 1962. Film.

Fasting with Bad Hearts

Bible:

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:3-5 ESV

[Jesus said:] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:23-28 ESV

Reflection:

Patty and Violet were making mud pies together. They took a hose and added water to some dirt, then sloshed it around with their feet and mixed it around with their hands. Then they sat down in the mud and started working on their mud pies. When Charlie Brown walked by, Patty and Violet were very dirty. Their hair was messy, and their dresses and arms and legs and faces were all streaked with mud. Charlie Brown told them what a mess they were. “Wait until your mothers see you!” he warned them. But the girls couldn’t understand what the problem was. “Why? What’s wrong? We’ve got our aprons on!” they said.

God’s people were just as silly as Patty and Violet. They had turned away from God and sinned in many ways against him, but they thought that they were very righteous because they went without food and sat in ashes and wore rough, scratchy sackcloth against their skin. They seemed to be very religious when they did this, but even when they fasted they also were fighting and quarreling and even hitting each other with their fists! They were enjoying their solemn fasts and at the same time being unfair to their workers and taking advantage of them. They couldn’t understand why God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to warn them that they weren’t pleasing God with their fasting. Just as Patty and Violet thought their aprons would cover them and keep them clean from all the mud they were playing in, God’s people thought their fasting would keep them clean from sin and keep them right with God.

God doesn’t look at a few nice or religious things we do, but he looks inside, at our hearts. He looks for love and trust and obedience, and if he doesn’t see that, it doesn’t matter what we do to look righteous. The Lord will judge us as sinful and wrong based on what is in our hearts. This is a really scary thought, because we all have thoughts of anger and selfishness and rebellion against God inside ourselves. No one can ever be right with God in the heart. But Jesus came with a heart that was perfectly loving and obedient to his Heavenly Father. Jesus paid for all our sins, including the sins of our hearts, when he died for us on the cross. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven every day, and God sends us his Holy Spirit to give us new hearts of faith and trust.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us so that all our sins could be forgiven. Please give us new and better hearts every day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004, p. 59.

A National Day of Prayer

Bible:

Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord.

Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?

The seed shrivels under the clods;
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
because the grain has dried up.
How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep suffer. Joel 1:14-18

If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.” I Kings 8:37-40 ESV

Reflection:

All through the history of the United States and also during the time of the colonies, there have been days of prayer for the nation, especially when the country was threatened by some trouble. In 1746 a French admiral sailed for New England with a very powerful fleet of 70 ships and 13,000 troops. He wanted to recapture a city in Nova Scotia, and then destroy the colonies from Boston and New York and all the way to Georgia! The governor of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of prayer and fasting for the people to ask God to protect them. After that day of prayer a hurricane destroyed the French fleet and sank many of the ships, and they weren’t able to attack the colonies.

God doesn’t always answer prayers in that way, but he does invite his people to pray to him when they are in trouble. When Solomon dedicated the temple he said that in times to come there might be locusts or other things destroying the crops, and if God’s people came together and prayed toward the temple, he asked God to hear from heaven and forgive and help them. Now the prophet Joel was calling for a national day of prayer and fasting because of the trouble the country was in. He hoped that God would hear their prayers and have mercy on them.

God cares about his people when they are in trouble, and he helps them in the way that is best. When all the people in the world were in trouble with sin, he sent Jesus, our Savior, to help us. Jesus took all the sins that separated us from God and caused us trouble and sadness, and he carried them to the cross. He died on the cross to pay for our sins. Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins every day, and he helps us when we have problems. We can always go to God in prayer, by ourselves, and also together with God’s people, and know that he will hear us and help us.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing our prayers, and thank you for sending Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/history_of_prayer_in_america