Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How to Prosper, How to Fail

“And he sought God…and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.”
II Chronicles 26:5

Have you written your New Year’s resolutions?  I have, and you know what? They’re the same ones I had last year. We wish each other a “Happy New Year,” and others wish us a “Happy One” right back.

When we wish happiness for each other, what we’re really saying is “I hope you’re prosperous this year.” I want to be prosperous in 2012, not materially, but spiritually. I desire to draw closer to God than I did in 2011. I think when you get right down to it, “to be prosperous” is to “be blessed.”  Well, there’s no better place to find the “formula” for “prosperity, or blessings, or happiness” than in the Word of God.

Some months ago, I was reading in the book of II Chronicles the story of a king named Uzziah. He was only sixteen years old when the people of Judah took him and made him king. Uzziah feared God. The Bible says, “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord,” (v. 4)

If you want to have a Happy New Year, if you want to be “blessed,” and prosperous, you need to:

Do right.  Perhaps in the eyes of men you can be successful by lying, living an immoral lifestyle, and mistreating others in order to reach your goals this year. But when you do that, you’re not doing that which is right, and the key phrase is “in the sight of the Lord.” As long as Uzziah did what was right, God “made him to prosper.” I’ve heard it said, “Do right though the stars fall.” But we can only do right, when we know what’s right.  The will of God in our lives, the “what’s right” is found in the Word of God. One of your resolutions for this year should be to “read the Bible through.” Start in Genesis, and read it all the way through to the end of Revelation. Even though you don’t understand what you’re reading, read it anyway. If you’ll dedicate just twenty minutes every morning to systematically reading the Bible, in one year you will have finished reading it through. January has already gone? Then start now to read it through, and start all over in February of next year. Dedicate another fifteen minutes to memorizing verses and chapters, one new verse every week. Teach them to your children and grandchildren. There are many methods, many books that encourage people to memorize Scripture. There are even clubs that children can join, organized with the purpose of stimulating children’s memory to “hide the Word in their hearts.” But it’s you, Mom, who are responsible for that, not the church. I don’t know what your routine or your lifestyle is. But there’s nothing more important that you can include in the lives of your children than learning Bible verses by memory.

Uzziah was a good man, and he did what was right, and as long as he did what was right, God made him to prosper. What a simple formula!

But who of us can qualify as a good person, like the people we read of in the Bible? Well, even the good men, like King David, had their weaknesses.

There are at least three sins of which Uzziah was guilty in this story. If we’re honest these same three sins can be a hindrance to God’s prospering us this year.
  1. One of Uzziah’s weaknesses was his pride. “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction:” (verse 16) Sometimes success is the worst thing that can happen to us, because we’re lifted up in pride. Think about your goals you’ve set for this year. Why do you want to achieve what you want to achieve? If pride, the desire to have more, or to be better than others motivates you to do more this year than you did last year, this could be a reason for God’s failure to prosper you. Do you remember the story in the Bible of the mother of James and John? Matthew 20: 21 and 22 say she went to Jesus, and asked a favor of Him. She said, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” She wanted a place of preeminence for her sons, to show them off. Pride manifests itself in many ways in our lives. Sometimes we’re proud without even realizing it, because pride is very subtle. When we interrupt a conversation we’re showing a proud spirit with this attitude: “I know more than you do. What you’re saying is boring to me…it’s not as important as my opinion.” I don’t know if I just have a very critical spirit, but lately I’ve noticed how common it is for people not to pay attention to what others are saying. Sometimes it’s hard to detect. But when someone is very distracted when others are talking, at the same time it may be possible that the person talking is very boring, it could very well be for lack of courtesy. That’s a sign of pride. Sometimes I’m talking with someone, and some little something will distract them. It’s because they’re not interested in what I’m saying. When this happens with one of my children, I stand in front of the wall, and start talking to my curtain. It’s very obvious what I’m doing.  Maybe the word “bless” would be a better choice of words than “prosper.” I love the phrase some of my friends have written to me this year, “May you have a year full of the blessings of God,” which means, “May you have a prosperous year.”
  2. Uzziah rebelled against God. He entered the temple to make sacrifice and to burn incense upon the altar. This was the office of the priest, and the priest could even resist the king in this matter. Uzziah’s rebellion was manifested when he disrespected the position of the priest. How about you? Do you respect your husband’s position? What about the position of your son in law in his home? And the authority of your Pastor? The Bible says that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…” I Samuel 15:23 I say this kindly, but this year, let’s not be witches.
  3. Lack of self control. Uzziah got angry. He had the censer in his hand to burn it. While he was “wroth” or angry, “the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests…” (V. 19) This was the instant judgment of God. I haven’t seen your resolutions for this year, but I’m sure that most of them, if not all of them require discipline…self control. Have you decided to take off some pounds this year? That requires self control. Do you want to read the Bible through this year? You’re going to have to discipline yourself, get control of yourself. We all get angry, we lose control. We say things, we do things that we wish we hadn’t said or done. We should ask the Lord every morning of this year to take control of our actions, our thoughts, and even our moods. Do you ever wake up in a bad mood? You know what? It’s my very personal opinion that every woman should get up before anyone else in her household. Why? Because we set the atmosphere in our home, whether we’re a wife, mother or grandmother.   The lady of the house sets the mood of her children, her husband and her grandchildren. The First Person every lady should meet in the morning is the Lord…He’ll help you to start your day in a good mood.  No one likes to get out of bed on a cold morning. During the winter months, our bed is more delicious than any other time of the year. But just tell God, “Lord, help me to have enough character to get up, and spend time alone with You.” Guess what! Did you know He wants to spend time with you, more than you want to spend it with Him?

As long as Uzziah sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. As long as he did what was right, he was prosperous. But when he was lifted up in pride, when he rebelled, and when he lost his temper, “the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar.” (v. 19) “And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord:…” (v. 21)

Imagine being a queen one day, surrounded by people who serve you, and probably love you, who live for your comfort, and the next moment to live in a “several house;” …apart, alone, with no one to care for you. Does that sound like people you know who are in nursing homes? What a lonely life some people live. My heart goes out to them. But I often wonder how many lonely elderly people are where they are, because when they were younger, they didn’t seek the Lord. Maybe they were rebellious, and proud, and had no control over their temper, and they lost their children. Their family rejects them, as though they had leprosy.

Just like King Uzziah, you can enjoy the prosperity of God today in your life. But if you don’t seek Him, you’ll end up like the king did, apart from those who surround you today.

What does 2012 hold for you? Prosperity or loneliness? Blessings or curses? It’s up to you!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chapter 13 - "Letter to Lorie"

I have two desks…one in my bedroom that I use when my house is full of children and grandchildren, and one in my living room. This desk I use exclusively for e-mailing (because I don’t have good coverage in my bedroom), or when my house is empty and quiet.

I’m sitting at my living room desk this morning, so you know I’m all alone.

Because I live across the drive from our church here, and because some of my children live within walking distance of my house, I usually sit at my bedroom desk for my early morning writing. Except for the men who came out for 6:00 prayer meeting this morning, I have enjoyed delicious peace and quiet, and at the risk of sounding pious, which I’m not, I’ve enjoyed fellowshipping with the Lord this morning.

Unless you have lived in a busy, noisy house for most of your life, you have no idea how I treasure these rare times…getting up in the morning to a peaceful house, with exactly the amount of dirty dishes I left in the sink last night…none, when I’m alone.

I love watching daybreak through my living room window, walking outside and into our peaceful church building, to turn off the outside lights.

But there’s an obvious downside to solitude. There’s no one around, specifically, no children.

We, and especially I, need to be so careful that we don’t take things and people for granted. I love solitude because it’s so rare to me. But what about the lonely widows all over the world, or the ladies who never had children, or the elderly grandmothers in nursing homes whose children have forgotten them (although sometimes it may be their fault). I must constantly remind myself of how very, very blessed I am to be literally surrounded by people who love me, and whom I love.

While I thank the Lord every morning for this special alone-time He’s given to me, I also know that with time, this could begin to turn into loneliness and boredom because of the lack of challenge of seeing a nice clean house, and all the laundry done. Those are things that keep my life full of “up hills,” and the joy and satisfaction of finally having all those dishes done and actually put away. When I’m alone, those tasks are mere “few-minute-jobs,” and sooner or later turn into routine. There’s no longer pleasure in seeing all my counter tops clean, laundry folded and put away, and not one single thing out of order.

Always-full-cupboards take on a ho-hum effect, and I don’t even have to check to see if I’m out of eggs, since I’m the only one baking and eating here.

With that in mind, I would like to direct this chapter to those mothers who would consider my life right now like a vacation to a lovely Pacific island, or wherever she would like to be…anywhere except where she is right now…surrounded…no, overwhelmed with housework, homework, church work, mission work, and just work in general.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, and always this time of the year, my mind goes back to our children’s college years…the hardest mothering years of my life. In a few days, my children would be returning to college after a two-week Christmas vacation.

Several times in the last few days I have either received e-mails, or talked with ladies whose children will soon be leaving home. In most of these cases, this child is the firstborn, and so a first for these moms.

So I’ve been trying to put myself in their places, and empathize with them. How easy that is for me!

Several months ago, I received an e-mail from a lovely missionary wife/mom. They were fixing to say goodbye to their firstborn. WOW! What vivid memories that brought to my mind. So I share with you the letter I wrote in response to her e-mail. I have changed names, and a few circumstances and places “to protect the innocent.”

Dearest Lorie, (not her real name)

I have already marked July 10 on my calendar with "Smith’s return to Africa without college child," because I'm assuming the child you are leaving behind will be starting college, and that she will be attending Bible College.

My heart goes out to you, and I have absolutely no words of comfort to offer.  For twelve years I waved good bye more times than I care to remember to our eight children, and I can truthfully say that college years were the hardest part of my mothering years.  If your family is like ours was, there will be tears.  You will try to cram all the fun into the last days, and give her all the advice and money you can possible part with.

There will be those many "just one last hug."  I remember thinking, "I don't want to forget what her hair smells like"...or "Will he remember to change his sheets at least once a week? Will he run out of toothpaste?"

If you ask me, Lorie, that's when we really truly "give our children to the Lord."  Dedicating her to the Lord on a Sunday morning when she's a newborn is only symbolic; and we did it with all eight of our children.  If I ever did shed tears on those occasions, they were merely sentimental.

Tears shed while driving away from the dorm, and looking out the back window until you can't see him anymore (what if he runs out to tell me something, just as I look away?)...those are the true tears at the very core of what it means to be a mother, and literally give him back to the Lord.

And although I can't do one single thing to ease your almost physical pain of that parting, I can assure you with all my heart...looking back, as if I were looking through the back window of our old van...looking back over the past nine years since our last one graduated, it is one of the best decisions you will ever make.

Our children are sinners, and they married sinners, and made little sinners.  But if my children ever have amounted to anything for the Lord, in part, and in a huge, huge part, it is because of all the people who influenced their lives during those grueling years:  our pastor most of all; their teachers, classmates (well, some of them), the kids they picked up on their bus routes; members of the church; and pastors and missionaries, whom they would have never in a million years ever met had they not been attending Bible College.  I believe David is a missionary to Ukraine today partly because of the influence of a Russian missionary he had the honor of picking up at the airport and escorting during his college years.

Your children probably need Bible College more than the average child who attends a good church in America, simply because he DOESN’T attend a good church in America.  I can't tell you how ignorant our children were in almost everything from singing in a choir, to eating in a cafeteria.  Their college years gave them (don't laugh) poise and confidence.  Our children needed the exposure to all that they needed in order to be who they are today, and to do what they do.  Never could my husband and I have given them all that.

A few weeks ago one of my children called me early one morning.  "Mom, I just wanted to call you and thank you for all you've done for me through the years.  I believe I'm serving the Lord today because of you."  And I said, "You are who you are because of many, many people God has put into your life."  And probably most of those people were there during his college years.

Please know that on July 10, my prayers and thoughts will be with you, as well as the days before and after your departure.

Your friend,
Mrs. Billie Sloan
Nahum 1:7

I have shared that letter with you for two reasons:

1.      If you’re a “college mom,” or if you’re fixing to say goodbye to your child who will soon be leaving the nest, take heart. This is part of being a mom. Remember, your child needs the people God puts in her life in order to become the person He wants her to be. I’m assuming, of course, that your child is leaving with your blessings.
2.      Recently, three of my daughters and I were privileged to get to spend a week together, without babies, homeschooling, or housework. What precious memories we made together! One of my daughters commented, “I feel like I’ve been on a honeymoon with Jesus.” I told her, “One of these days, you are going to suddenly wake up to a quiet house. All your children will be gone. You’ll go downstairs, and everything will be in order, and there won’t be one single toy or one stray sock in the floor. You’re going to leisurely pour your coffee, and have your quiet time without having your ear tuned to the baby’s bedroom the minute she wakes up. And you’re going to remember how simple life was back then…noisy and busy, but simple.” If you’re longing for a little peace and quiet, a little freedom from incessant laundry and wiping runny noses, and senseless dusting of furniture, fast-forward your life for a few minutes. One of these days, you’ll be sitting at your “empty-house-desk,” wishing with all your heart that your life were as simple as the days when the most important decision you had to make was whether to have mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese to go with the roast you just put in the oven.