All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)
Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.
Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.
First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.
All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. Ezekiel 1:1 (NIV)
Ezekiel, like Daniel, was one of the exiles taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. The events of Ezekiel’s life, his visions and prophetic messages were roughly concurrent with those of Daniel. They were operating in the same time and space. While Daniel and his homeys were busy working in the royal administration, though Ezekiel appears to have been operating in different circles. Nebuchadnezzar took the best and brightest back to Babylon and Ezekiel, like Daniel and his trio, was clearly a man of great intellect. A priest, Ezekiel was a spiritual leader and certainly ministered to his fellow exiles in Babylon.
As I read the chapter this morning, I found myself thinking about this period of exile as it fits into the time line of the Great Story. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a climactic period of time in the story line. For five hundred years the kingdom of Israel and split-off kingdom of Judah have existed, but now those kingdoms are coming to an end and there is the definite sense that we’re closing the chapter on this section of the story. But, it’s definitely not the end – and that’s a big part of the theme in the visions of both Daniel and Ezekiel.
I’m fascinated by the fact that God was extremely active among this group of exiles in Babylon. Through the visions and experiences of Daniel we realize that God is at work even in the rise and fall of these other nations. Through Ezekiel we will experience an even larger amount and greater depth of prophetic word and word pictures. The bottom line is that God has a plan, and He is working the plan. After this part of the story, there will be a long period (roughly 400 years) of relative silence before the angel Gabriel breaks the silence with personal visits to two unlikely women.
Today, I’m thinking about my own personal story as a microcosm of the Great Story. My experience is that God has been particularly active during certain stretches of life’s journey and relatively silent in others. My journey has contained distinct periods of time and purpose that seem to stand in contrast to one another, yet I sense are the working out of a larger part of a larger story that is beyond me. Stories within stories. Wheels inside wheels. Layers upon layers. Some mornings I simply marvel at it all.
When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)
When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.
It was never my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.
As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.
Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.
Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)
One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our kitchen/dining room and was having an after school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she’s going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.
My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an envelope anonymous with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision.
“Timing is everything,” they say.
Along the journey I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In most every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.
In today’s chapter we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. This led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.
Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths we desired to take which God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up to us. I want to follow David’s example from this moment of his own journey, when he acknowledged and honored God’s timing.
For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17 (NIV)
Yesterday I was having coffee with my friend just as we have done every week or two for the past several years. He and I have a relationship that goes deep. We know the most intimate details of one another’s lives, and we have shared the journey with one another for a good stretch through some low valleys as well as a few mountain tops.
Over a hot cup of coffee I was sharing some things that are happening in life for Wendy and me. My friend recognized in my sharing the same thing that I have sensed in the past several months. There is a shift happening in life for Wendy and me at this point in our journey that is beyond our conscious thought or human ability to facilitate. Some of the paths we have intended to take were inexplicably closed to us, and in some cases their closure has been the source of confusion, grief, and intense sadness. Now, all of a sudden, other paths have opened up and, out of the confusion, we both have an incomprehensible peace in our hearts about this course adjustment. We can’t explain it, we didn’t see it coming, but we both recognize that it’s happening.
Wise King Solomon said, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Wendy and I have long recognized that there is a divine plan at work in our lives. We have plotted our course and headed out on paths we believed would lead us where we wanted to go and where were supposed to go, but our steps have ultimately been directed to different paths on a different course. We know that our stories and our paths are part of a larger story and purpose. We don’t always see it with our eyes, but when we experience the life shift as we have over the past several months, we both know it in our hearts.
I believe that there is a larger story being told and a greater purpose at work in this life for which our lives are but a bit part (Actually, I have come to love bit parts – but that’s a different blog post). As I read through John’s account of his vision I am struck by the parallel we’re experiencing in our lives. I read the chapters and follow along as John is led through some strange visions. I catch little pieces I recognize but I largely struggle to see clearly what they mean in the whole. Underneath it all, however, I have an incomprehensible peace in knowing that there is a story being told whose chapters were written outside of time, and there is a divine purpose unfolding in today’s headlines which lead towards a conclusion that has long been foreshadowed. For Wendy and me, our job is to walk the steps established, to press on in the course, and to play out our bit parts to the best of our gifts and abilities.
When I was a young man, I couldn’t wait to grow up. There is a natural progression of time and life, but there was something in me that wanted desperately to push everything forward. My restless, extroverted nature was always pushing the clock. I wanted to got. I wanted to move. I wanted to push things forward. Perhaps this was the result of being the youngest or perhaps there was a spiritual restlessness in me. In any event, I was always pushing the timeline to get to adulthood as quickly as possible. I graduated from high school early. I went to college early. I got married early, and I had chidren early.
Looking back on my life journey (from just over the hill), I can see the natural consequences and difficult life lessons that resulted in me trying to constantly push time and circumstances to acheive my own personal will and desires. As I’ve progressed in my journey I’ve come to a deep appreciation of God’s divine timing. I have increasingly learned the contentment required to wait for to be at peace in the moment and to wait for God to move.
In the story of David and Saul we see another stark contrast between the two men in this regard. David was anointed king as a child, but has patiently refused to push God’s hand by taking Saul’s life and stepping up the timeline to his ascension as monarch. I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy, especially since it resulted in years of being an outlaw and living in exile. Saul, however, was always pushing his own will. It was what got him into hot water in the first place and in today’s chapter we see that he has still not learned the lesson. His decision to consult a medium and conjure up Samuel’s spirit is just another illustration of Saul’s refusal to be content with God’s will and timing.
Today, I’m taking stock of the circumstances of my life in which I feel impatience. There are a number of them. Naming them one by one, I am choosing to let go of my will and timing. Instead, I am handing them over once more to God and entrusting them to His perfect will and divine schedule.
“May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.” – David (1 Samuel 24:12)
“I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” – King Saul (1 Samuel 24:20)
“Timing,” as they say, “is everything.”
When I was a young believer in high school, I had an afterschool job. My boss at this particular job became a mentor to me. He spent an early morning each week studying God’s Message, taught me disciplines critical for this faith journey, and generously provided opportunities for me that became essential to my maturity. He also had a vision of starting a consulting business based on Biblical principles, and he wanted me to be a part of it. One day while having lunch at Wendy’s he laid out his vision, asked me to consider going to business school and getting an M.B.A. with the expressed intent of joining his consulting group. As much as I desired to please him, I knew in my heart that it was not the right step to take. I went a different direction, and during college my mentor and I lost touch. I did not speak to him for many years.
For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, you know that I chose (though I believe my steps were directed) a different path than the one my mentor wanted for me. Rather than business, I chose to become a theatre major. Fast forward past college. Rather than a consulting practice I chose to go into pastoral ministry and then into parachurch ministry in which I raised financial support to cover part of my income. In a series of events I will not take the time to share in this post, I suddenly found myself being directed away from this particular parachurch ministry with no earthly idea what my next steps would be.
As fate (a.k.a. God) would have it, one of my financial supporters was my old boss and mentor with whom I had gotten back in touch after six or so years. When I called him to let him know not to send a support check the next month as I was leaving my position he asked what my plans were. I told him I had no earthly idea what I was going to do next, but I knew I had to leave my position immediately. That afternoon he asked to meet with me and offered me the position with the consulting firm he had envisioned and discussed with me back when I was in high school. I took the position and in 2014 I will celebrate 20 years in my job. In 2005 my dear mentor and friend retired and I have been privileged and blessed to be a partner and owner of the company ever since.
I look back on this experience and it has been a life lesson to me of God’s timing. My boss had a clear vision of the path I should take and the position he wanted to hire me to fulfill. When he laid out his vision to me I knew in my heart that it was not the right path, nor the right timing. As I have written elsewhere in this blog, I now see with 20/20 hindsight how being a theatre major uniquely prepared me to be successful in the position I was hired to fill. Likewise, my experiences in six years of ministry taught me life lessons that were essential to preparing me for the role I would eventually fulfill in business.
In today’s chapter, we continue to watch as the story of David’s ascent to the throne of Israel unfolds. He was anointed as King of Israel while a young man, but he was not ready to take up the mantel of monarch. It would be 20-30 years before David would be in the position God ultimately had for him. Over those many years David would develop the experience and skills necessary for his position as King.
We also continue to see the contrast of the bookend monarchs. David refuses to take a shortcut on God’s timing. He refuses to try and make his ascent to the throne happen by killing Saul even though he appears to have justifiable reason for doing so. David wants the throne in God’s time, not his own. Saul, on the other hand, continues to pursue David despite knowing that God’s anointing has left him and gone to David. He refuses to humble himself and instead gives into fear, seeking to kill David before David wipes out his family and his legacy.
Today, I am grateful for God’s timing. I believe that there is a divine plan for me. I can look back and see it unfold. I can look forward and trust that it will continue to play out. My job is to trust God, be faithful in walking the path laid out for me today, and respect the ultimate plan.