Zephaniah. Not the first book I think of when it comes to reading the Bible. In fact, without my classic Old Testament sing-song, I’m not even sure I would immediately connect that it is a book of the Bible. Let alone the teachings of a prophet whose job was to bring hard truth. Could you imagine showing up to a prosperous land and telling them they’re going to be destroyed? Doesn’t sound comforting, easy, or very believable, but that’s exactly what Zephaniah did. God wanted to destroy Judah for turning their back on him, and Zephaniah got to be the messenger.
Someone I respect greatly suggested I read Zephaniah recently. Even she didn’t know why, having not read it herself, but nonetheless she made the suggestion in faith. I’ve been reading it for the last two months, and guys…it’s only three chapters. After the first read through, I really wasn’t sure what to think. Sometimes the Old Testament can take me awhile to digest and I really have to dig in. That was just it, I needed to dig in.
What I’m learning is that I have to feed myself diligently in the study of His word and not just expect an easy resolution. This year has been very different for me in my relationship with God. Not necessarily good, or bad, but definitely different. Things that came more naturally seemed to get incredibly more challenging. Reading the Bible was one of them. It kind of felt like…dare I say, God turned His back on me. Though I now know that to not be true, at the time when the disparity started to creep in I wasn’t really sure what to think. A Dark Night of the Soul? Even as I write this something is working hard to cloud my thoughts and my vision and I’m done with it. This “thing” has been keeping me from writing my book, and honestly even being as open as I normally am in my writing here. I’m learning that perseverance is hard. Duh, but like…really hard. That exercising and living in freedom is even harder. But dang it, I want it, it’s what we were made for, so I will continue to fight for that space.
After reading and re-reading, and re-reading Zephaniah, I was trying to figure out what to read next. Nothing came to mind except Zephaniah so I dug back in with chapter 1. This time, it came to life.
In case you haven’t read Zephaniah (you know because, now I’m an expert, HA!) it’s a prophetic message delivered to Judah basically calling out their complacency and informing the citizens there that they are being turds, and will in fact be turned into turds (v.17, WYC). (I’m not making this stuff up guys!)
Anyway, I had one of those moments where you realize you’ve been staring at the same thing for far too long and you’re really just not sure what it is you’re looking at, but then suddenly the whole thing makes sense? Am I the only one this happens to?
Complacency and distraction. They freaking work so well together. Even though I knew the chapter was about complacency, I wasn’t seeing the very complacency that I was still sitting in. I’d assigned it so many other names, meanwhile God is over here trying to slap me in the face with the truth and I’m looking for all the other possible solutions. Here’s a few of my takeaways…
“I will consume man and beast;
I will consume the birds of the heavens,
The fish of the sea,
And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked.
I will cut off man from the face of the land,”
Says the Lord.” Zephaniah 1:3 NKJV
Stumbling blocks (aka idols). I had to have a John Crist moment and check my heart – what are my stumbling blocks? Sure when you say “idols” it’s easy to walk right on past, but stumbling blocks…jeepers. I have a list a mile long. Growing up in the church, or being regularly exposed to teachings we’ve all heard not to worship false idols (I mean, it’s a commandment!), but on a commonplace level – what does that mean? For me it broke down into this:
What am I holding onto that I need to let go or be loosened from?
What else am I actually worshipping by creating my own safety net?
I realized I’d built myself into a room of complacency bricked by my own need for a safety net. The things that wove that safety net together – those were the things I was worshipping. Those were the idols, stumbling blocks, pitfalls, that I’d been too distracted to see. It was time to name them one by one and let go.
Meanwhile, back in 640 BC Zephaniah is trying to get Judah to understand this very thing. Their safety nets of wealth, accomplishments, worshipping other gods “just in case”- its keeping them from living worship to the One true God. Looking at it from modern day perspective is so easy to call out what they’re doing wrong, but it took me reading this chapter at least 10 times to see the very same truths about myself.
“And I will destroy those who used to worship me
but now no longer do.
They no longer ask for the Lord’s guidance
or seek my blessings.” Zephaniah 1:6 NLT
Part of the reason God is so angry is because while some of these people simply aren’t seeking Him, others have made the conscious decision to just stop seeking Him all together. Which seems like common sense, right? If I’m a Christ follower, then I should be in fact, seeking Christ. Well, I couldn’t help but shake the heart of what Zephaniah was possibly trying to communicate here:
What am I actually doing to seek Him?
Spoiler alert, while discipline can come from habit – it doesn’t mean that God will only speak to you in one way, forever and ever amen. (Hi, I’m Ashlee and I really, really like to put our limitless God into a limited box. ) So, uh..I had to ask myself – what am I doing to seek Him? If I’m aware that my routine Bible study and prayer time isn’t drawing me as close as I want to be, then isn’t it my responsibility to continue to dig and/or sit in that space of being willing to listen? Even if it means, dare I say, slow down? Again, I had to check myself. Was I reading the Word simply to read it, or taking the time to really understand that word and how it applies to the bigger story?
“And it shall come to pass at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And punish the men
Who are settled in complacency,
Who say in their heart,
‘The Lord will not do good,
Nor will He do evil.’” – Zephaniah 1:12 NKJV
You might be thinking, jeez Ashlee, this verse literally mentions complacency – how did you not see it? Well of course I saw it, I just didn’t want to assume it was about me. Isn’t that the difficult part? Having to humble yourself, admit your wrongdoing or belief, and ask for forgiveness? Bleh. So hard, but so dang good. It wasn’t just about complacency, but the heart behind it:
What agreements have I made in my heart that aren’t true?
Typically, I don’t just wake up and decide, “Hmm. I think today is a good stay to start being complacent.” I don’t think that’s how it goes for most any of us, thankfully! The downside to that being is it seems to start with the tiniest of agreements that root themselves down deep in our hearts. (See where it says, “who say in their heart, ‘the Lord will not do good, Nor will He do evil.”) They started to believe a falsehood about our God…and sadly I will be the first to admit, I’d done the same.
I’m really trying to get better at reading multiple translations, and meatier portions because context is obviously such a huge piece to understanding. After reading thru a handful of the above translations, I decided to end with The Message’s version because it just has a way of putting things so bluntly sometimes. It didn’t disappoint…
“I will punish those who dress up like foreign priests and priestesses,
Who introduce pagan prayers and practices;
And I’ll punish all who import pagan superstitions
that turn holy places into hellholes.” Zephaniah 1:8-9
Turning holy places into hellholes? Surely not me. But if I wasn’t even willing to consider that I could be doing such a thing, I recognized that I was keeping myself in that heart of complacency. I had to ask…
What am I doing out of obligation or rote routine that’s bringing mockery to the very meaning of worshipping Christ?
How was I turning a holy place into a hellhole? I can say with certainty that it was never my intent to execute such a twisted concept. But, ahem, I think it’s something we’re all capable of, and probably doing more than we think. In other words, what are we doing possibly out of guilt or legality, that is bringing damage more than its bringing glory? When we choose to stay silent instead of speak out, going with the flow instead of standing still (or even going the opposite direction), allowing obligation or tradition to motivate our actions…then that’s exactly what we’re doing. Mocking, destroying, belittling the true call of discipleship. I certainly don’t believe anyone wants to declare, “Yes, I do enjoy turning holy places into hellholes.” Anyone? Me neither. The life of discipleship is a radical one, even when it seems that your day to day is mundane – it’s not.
At the end of the day, I want to know I’ve given my all. That living with intention to bring glory to Him is the heart behind all my actions and that His very word is my truth. I want to see where I’ve allowed myself to become complacent, call it out, and move forward. I want steadfast perseverance to know Him, and to make Him known. And you know what else? I don’t want God to call me a turd. So, goodbye complacency. Your home is no longer here. You are bound by the blood and you are not welcome back. Have a nice life (ya turd.)