God Removes Our Shame

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.
“On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
” – Zephaniah 3:9-13

The book of Zephaniah drew my eyes and heart this morning as I read of how God will deal with everyone who rebels against Him. That includes Israel, the surrounding nations, you and I. It is a terrible terrifying reality to behold. And yet, at the end of the book, in the final chapter, we read of the hope God offers and we can have peace.

What caught my attention was the core issue in this text. It’s subtle but present nevertheless and if one isn’t looking closely they may pass quickly over it. First, God transforms the speech of people from an unholy speech to a pure speech. Why? So that “all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” There is something about the purity of speech that enables people to address God more directly and serve him in a more united, unified way. Then they bring God his offering in an act of worship. This is not the core issue in the text but one that stormed my mind with questions, “How has my language been unclean and how might it be affecting my connection with God and ability to serve Him? How might it affect my offering in worship to Him? How can I address this NOW?” Thankfully, we see it is God who is willing and able to change the speech of His people and so my prayer is for NOW. God, please change my tongue NOW so that I can be more connected, better serving and offer a purer form of worship.

The second paragraph is where the core issue in the text can be mined. If one reflects on how they have acted before the Lord one can be consumed with shame. Even now, in our day, we can allow our guilt about what we have done to affect our person through shame that forms how we perceive ourselves. This shame comes from having a more clearer picture of God and His love and how we have rebelled against Him — fighting for our own right to rule and ignoring His rightful claim as Lord over all. But God removes our shame — He reshapes His people. How? By removing our pride that self-exalts and haughtiness that stands before holy God with bold brashness declaring ourselves righteous. Pride is the core issue of it all. Pride affects our speech. Pride affects our rebellion. Pride affects how we defend/justify ourselves. Pride affects how we serve God, how we worship God and how we act towards each other.

In looking at the text we see its the “proudly exultant ones” that get removed so that “you should no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.” So which is it? Is it my pride God removes or is it the proud God removes? This is a very confusing sentence! I think it is worded precisely to be what it is — a choice and an understanding. If, in the full presence of God, we cling to our rebellious pride, we WILL be removed. We will be the proudly exultant ones. But if we humble ourselves God removes our shame and recreates us as a people who are humble and lowly, who seek refuge in the Lord. We will act in just ways. We will speak truth and not deceive. We shall be satisfied, be at peace and not fear anyone who seeks to intimidate and harm because we are the Lord’s people. His transformative power affects our speech, our pride, our justice, our truth-telling, who we rely on for safety, provision, rest and protection. This COMPLETELY redefines our identity! We are who God transforms us to be not the sins we have committed in the past. God removes our shame. GOD removes our shame so we can live in fruitful harmony with Him. O how I want that for myself today.

God of Zephaniah — our holy loving God, please continue Your work in my life today. Transform my speech so that it is pleasing to you and filled with worship, truth and without deception. Will you transform my heart that clings to my pride — my pride that gets me into trouble and causes me to be rebellious against you bringing me shame — remove my shame, I pray, so that I can be free and at peace with You and others. May I seek refuge in You alone and not allow the world to intimidate me with all their threats and empty promises of pleasure, security and power. Thank You for hearing Your people’s prayers to be transformed for in making us new creations we bring honour and glory to You as we bear witness in our world. Amen.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
– Psalms 23

The Ear-Worm Of Worry

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a song playing over and over in your head? Or perhaps throughout the day you hear yourself humming the same song continually. Yeah. Those little gems are called “ear-worms.” Those are the songs with melodies or riffs that do NOT leave your brain.

They first present themselves as “catchy little tunes” and you find yourself believing these innocent songs are really good. Good rhythm? Check. Good melody? Well, it is catchy so, check. Good lyrics? Not necessarily but check. By the 100th time its repeated itself you find yourself surrendering. It will eventually fade. You’ll eventually forget “One kiss is all it takes — Fallin’ in love with me — Possibilities — I look like all you need” or, “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy — But here’s my number, so call me maybe.” There…you are welcome ?. But when you wake up in the middle of the night and the songs have played like theme music to your dreams its all you can do to maintain sanity. There is no pause button. There is no mute. There is no forward button because forwarding to the end only makes it play again. You are caught in an ear-worm which simply needs to fade out over time or be replaced…with another ear worm.

I find worry is a lot like an ear-worm. In fact, I propose it IS an ear-worm. At first, we have a concern and it may be a valid one. And we ponder it, pray about it and think about solutions. It could be a situation of conflict with a friend that went south and we replay the scene over and over in order to figure out where exactly it all went wrong. It could be the loss of a job. Applying to a new job. It could be wanting to ask someone out on a date. There are positive ear-worms as well, like holding your baby for the first time or your first kiss. It could be words of encouragement. But I find its the worries riddled with anxiety that really stick the most. Those are the ones that haunt my dreams and wake me up. Those don’t give me energy they consume my energy. Then I begin to worry and that only amps up the power and enlarges what initially were simply concerns.

I begin to create a story board about where these concerns will lead. I think of the best and worst case scenario but, if I’m honest, the ones that take the lead lines are the ones with the worst endings. Will everything be ok? Will I be enough? Am I showing my strain to others and if so, how do I explain it without sharing what I am thinking about and going through? What do we do with these ear-worms of worry? How do we stop them from consuming us? I have found a couple of solutions:

First, actually talk them through out loud with another person you trust — one who will listen and not try to fix. One who understands these concerns don’t define you and are willing to simply take them as concerns. Then, if the sharing goes well, they can give feedback.

In fact, the second aspect is actually getting feedback. Play out the best and worst case scenarios with your confidante. When we bring our worries out into the light we often find them to be much smaller than we built up in our mind or even non-existent. Silly even.

Third, continue to bring them to Jesus in prayer…but then LEAVE THEM with Jesus in your prayer. In fact, here is where inserting another ear-worm could and should come into play. THIS ear-worm is actually helpful and gives hope. THIS ear-worm replaces the other with words of affirmation, care and clarity. Jesus said…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Several aspects are interesting and this reflection is certainly not exhaustive of the text. First, Jesus offers you a rest. You can come to him and have a moment to exhale. Breath. Find your feet again. Take a moment. But then, he asks you to take HIS yoke upon you. WHAT? I want to offload weight not take more on! Look at what he offers. Your yoke was heavy laden and draining…Jesus’s yoke provides learning from him on how to balance the weight in a gentle way that won’t crush you and you’ll actually find rest for your soul in the midst of carrying on. His yoke is easy. Why is that? How can that be? It’s because we think we are in control and when we are not in control we begin to worry and carry around the weight of results knowing we can’t influence or change what will be. But Jesus is the Lord of the universe. He knows and wants what is best for you and HIS yoke is one of trust. Believe in Jesus that he will provide rest for your soul by being the one in control and giving you all you need for the future. His burden is light because his power + his love = only our good. Even in the middle of a storm we might leave damaged he will work that to our good. He has done that for me several times and I know he can and will do that for you as well…because he loves you.

I know its hard to imagine. You may be in the middle of something huge and life-changing at this very moment. Still Jesus calls out asking you to come to him for rest. He is trustworthy. He is mighty. And he cares for you. I don’t know HOW he will take your burden but his promise is clear. Not if but when. When you bring it to him to take care of. So before you is a choice: you can worry about things you cannot control and have this ear-worm of worry haunt you without mercy. OR, you can come to the one who offers mercy and rest and he can take control for you. He’ll give you rest. He’ll lighten your load. I pray you’ll release your burden to King Jesus and experience his peace today.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20