March 7, 2010

Possessions

Simplifying our lives is the Lenten discipline we are looking at this year. We’ve explored quieting the noise in our lives by taking time to be with God, like Rahab of Jericho. The P-Q-R-S-T principle can help us with that. Instead of giving up something like chocolate, we looked at the life of Naomi and saw how she was finally able to fill her hungry soul with a relationship with God.


This week we look at our possessions--do they control us or do we only own what we need? We all have possessions. Even if I don’t drive a BMW or shop on Rodeo Drive, I do own things. Our culture encourages us to think that more is better and that expensive equals superior quality. Abigail is a woman in the Old Testament who learned that this is not true.

When we first meet Abigail (I Samuel 25:3), she is the wife of a wealthy man, Nabal of Carmel. David (not yet king) is hiding from King Saul who wants to kill him and seeks a levy from Nabal for protecting his flocks. When Nabal rudely refuses, David orders “every man gird on his sword.” He heads out to destroy the man and his holdings. Abigail hears of the incident, intervenes, and saves Nabal’s life.

My Abigail is the fictionalized story of Abigail that I wrote. Abigail leaves the safety of her home to intercept David, with only one servant to guide her. She realizes that his wealth will not protect Nabal from the enraged warrior.

Our route climbed upward across the terraces owned by Nabal. The vines looked derelict, barren of their load of fruit and leaves. When we reached the last field, Paliel turned off the path into the wilderness. My heart caught with fear. I glanced back. Below me was the safety of the house and compound that was my home. The tent for Nabal’s guests shown white in the distance.


“I have to do this,” under my breath I reassured myself. “If I do not intercept David bar Jesse everyone will die for the slight my husband offered the messenger.”


“Is the wife of my master tired?” Paliel paused when he heard my voice.


“Lead the way,” my nod was firm.


A moment later the house was lost to view.


“How will you find the son of Jesse?” I asked.


“He will find us,” the reply was not entirely reassuring.


I glanced around at the trees, wondering if we were being watched. “How?”


Paliel saw my fearful look and tried to smile reassuringly even though he began to trot more rapidly. I had to grab a tuft of mane in order to keep my seat. My veil slid off and hung down my back. A few minutes later we burst from the trees onto an open, rocky plain. My guide stopped abruptly. I was glad I had a tight hold or I would have slid off the donkey when she stopped suddenly.


“He is coming,” Paliel indicated the mass of men marching toward us.


“Which is David?” My eyes scanned the approaching army. To my untrained eyes it looked like thousands of men.


“On the right,” without raising a hand, the shepherd directed me.


I saw a broad shouldered man. He had red hair just as Abel told us years earlier. The leader raised his hand and the men halted, almost as one. It was an impressive and frightening sight. I was startled when a man jogged out of the trees on our left. He approached David with a salute. I saw the young outlaw turn toward us. One hand rested on his sword, but I could not see his expression. My heart pounded.


“Pray the God of Israel gives you words to turn away his rage,” my guide muttered under his breath.


“Yes,” I barely breathed the word.


A moment later some impulse drove me to urge my mount forward toward the silent, watching men. From the corner of my eye, I saw Paliel take a step to stop me. Already I was beyond his reach. David took a few stiff steps in my direction. His hand never left the sword.


“What trick is this?” The first words from the man who filled my imagination were hard and cold.


Again I followed my intuition and slid off the donkey. I took one step. After a salaam, I took another. Now I could see his unusual blue eyes narrowed and watching me. Quickly I lowered my own and flattened myself onto the rocky ground in a position of abject humility with arms extended before me.


“Who are you?” Rock crunched as the man stepped close.


“Forgive your handmaid this impertinence,” I had to raise my head slightly to speak. “My husband is as his name. Nabal is a fool.”


There was no reply from the outlaw leader, although a quickly stifled chuckle came from his troops. I could see his bare feet not far from my outstretched hands. The rock under me was hard but I dared not shift my position.


With a deep breath I tried again. “Your maidservant did not see the messenger you sent to Nabal. It is known to me how my lord protected all the property of my husband. The man is foolish and blind to the generosity and kindness of my lord.”*

Abigail tells Nabal what she did “and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the Lord smote Nabal; and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead…[he] sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.” (I Samuel 25:37-39).

David has nothing to offer Abigail except his love, but she is happier with the expatriate and his band of followers than with all the wealth Nabal could offer.

David held out his hand to me. I jumped to my feet and almost tripped in my eagerness to be away from my family before anyone said anything to embarrass me. My fingers shook as I extended them to meet the broad palm. The torches by the tent lit his face. In the blue eyes I read desire. A wave of warmth flooded through me.


“Come, my love, walk with me,” his words were soft.


My doubts disappeared when his hand closed around mine. I forgot my family and friends who watched our departure. We strolled away from the tents and campfires to the outer edges of the camp. It was quiet beyond the men and their families. I reveled in being with the young warrior even though he did not say a word. Gradually, though, I felt the suspicion and hurt spoiling my delight as Abel’s words returned to circle around like ravens. My footsteps slowed and I tugged at my hand. We stopped beside a tree. David turned my shoulders gently so that I faced him. My heart beat rapidly when he took my face between his palms.


“Abigail, tell me what troubles you,” he pleaded. The blue eyes were very tender. “I can sense that you are worried. Your family will be safe.”


“It is not that,” half ashamed I mumbled a reply.


“Whatever troubles my Abigail, I will make right,” the man’s voice caressed me.


Gentle thumbs stroking my cheeks almost made me forget my distress. The way my name sounded on his lips was so different from the cold way Nabal addressed me as ‘Wife’ and never spoke my name.


“You…you…have another wife,” after a stumbling start I blurted out my discovery. Immediately I sought to absolve my companion. “I did not know that Michal is here.”


David lifted his head. He stared past me for a moment. Then he pulled me to a seat on his lap under the tree.
...
For several minutes I forgot that there was another wife, even if she was a child.


“As a great leader you should have many wives.” Although it hurt me to say the words, I knew that my husband would be expected to make alliances. “Many wives will prove that you are wealthy and powerful.”


David shrugged. “Such are the contingencies of politics. The road the Almighty set me on is not without pitfalls. There are those who urge me to attack and take the throne by force. I know that is not the right way. The Holy One will show me the time. That is why I need a wise and lovely woman to walk beside me as confidant and lover.”


His words made me blush in the darkness.


Very softly I answered, “I will do my best,”


“You are the bride I chose for myself,” tenderly the man assured me. “I AM has given me blessing in you.”


When the strong arms drew me close, I surrendered to the delight of his kisses. Ahinoham was forgotten. I thought I could reach up and touch the stars they seemed so bright and close to the ground when David drew back.*

Possessions can gain control over us. Too often we try to keep up with the Jones’ rather than keeping it simply to the necessities of life. Abigail learned that having David’s love was more important than all of Nabal’s flocks and fields. More importantly, when in danger she was able to remember that it was God who provided all that was needed.

“I forgot,” in the darkness of my self-imposed covert I gasped in repentance. “When I was a child I knew that I AM was in everything. Then I lost sight of the greatness of the Living Lord. God is the One who created me and the One who gives me all I need.”


With the realization came a lightening of my heart. I breathed a petition, half praise and half awe as I lifted my head. “We are not forgotten. The Almighty knows where we are even if David does not. Even though we are surrounded by enemies we are protected. God you raised David to lead men guide him here to save us.”


I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. It was strange that amid the danger and fear I found faith again.*

Last year our home was broken into. It was an upsetting experience. What I discovered was that the things I most regretted losing were not those of relatively greater monetary value. The items I still get a twinge over are the pieces of jewelry that were handed down from mother to daughter for several generations. They weren’t worth a lot—no giant diamond rings—but they were a link to my past.

In looking at simplifying during Lent, possessions are an important piece of the puzzle. A question I need to ask regularly about the ‘things’ in my life is: “do I own my possessions or do they possess me?” If I am able to hold ‘my property’ lightly, I will likely find myself closer to a simple and more holy life. Jesus warns us “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21). Later in the same passage, he reminds us that God cares for the lilies and birds. “Your heavenly father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 7:32-33)

No matter how poor we may think we are, there are many in the world who have much less than we do. I wonder if there is anything I could give to a Thrift Shop or other organization that would benefit others. What could I simplify from my life and not miss at all? Is there a part of your possessions that need simplifying?

Next week we’ll visit Leah, a very misunderstood woman who doubted her own worth.

*All quotations are from My Abigail by Cynthia Davis. Available online from Amazon.com and the author.

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