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Confronting a killer (1)

Maintaining a sense of urgency isn’t an easy thing for most of us. It tends to move in and out of our lives like the tide. If you’re a student, it’s easy when the paper is due or the final is tomorrow, but it’s another story when it comes to the everyday matters of attending class, keeping your notes organized, and staying current with your readings. “After all,” you might tell yourself, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

If your days as a formal student are behind you, it’s still easy to slide into a routine that pushes urgency about important matters to the margins. If we’re not careful, our “To Do List” can be dominated by things that reflect wants rather than needs, things we enjoy rather than things that are necessary.

Zephaniah is writing sometime during the reign of King Josiah (1:1), who comes to the throne at the age of eight and reigns until 609 BC (2 Chronicles 34:1). At sixteen he begins to purge Jerusalem and Judah of idolatry. At twenty-four he initiates a second wave of reform as the people reaffirm their commitment to God’s covenant and the Passover is celebrated (2 Kings 23). Despite all these efforts, Judah continues to drift from God seen from the ministry of Jeremiah. Since Zephaniah speaks of punishing Josiah’s sons (1:9), he writes toward the end of Josiah’s reign but before 612 BC when Nineveh fell (2:13).

There’s something tragic about Josiah’s efforts not producing a lasting change. He was a good man who gave his all to bring about righteousness in the land. Yet beyond him and a few others, it doesn’t appear as if there was much urgency among the people. That’s difficult to understand since their neighbors to the north (Israel) had been conquered and scattered a century before as a result of their failure to listen to Yahweh. Moreover, God had placed Judah under judgment due to the sins of Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh (2 Kings 21:10ff). If they had any hope (see 3:7; Jeremiah 18:1-10; and the book of Jonah), they had to repent and turn to God. It’s hard to imagine any situation calling for greater urgency!

Zephaniah tells them, “Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger” (2:3). More hope! More reason to seek God. Yet still no sustained sense of urgency about turning to God. Zephaniah says even Yahweh is surprised by their failure to turn to Him (3:7)!

There’s real benefit to be had in appropriating Zephaniah’s message to ourselves in regard to reflecting upon our own sense of spiritual urgency. We all know from experience that it’s not hard to slip into complacency (In fact, it requires no effort!). And yet it is spiritually destructive (see 1:12). When you look at Jesus’ life and think about the urgency He displayed in regard to important matters, it’s hard not to connect it with His prayer life. For Him and for us, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the two; urgency is cultivated through prayer and prayer is necessitated by urgency. I’m not suggesting that prayer is all that’s involved in overcoming complacency, but it’s an important component and a good place to begin.

It was tragic that Judah didn’t listen to Zephaniah and suffered greatly because of it. It would be just as sad if we didn’t learn from their example. If complacency has the upper hand in your life—do something about it!

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