A Hobbit Devotional
By Ed Strauss
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2012 Ed Strauss
All rights reserved.
Out of Our Comfort Zones
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit....
It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
The Hobbit, CHAPTER 1
A very long time ago—so J.R.R. Tolkien tells us—a small, happy people called hobbits lived in a comfortable corner of Middle-earth known as the Shire.
Bilbo Baggins was one of the most comfort-loving hobbits of all. He came from a respectable, well-to-do family and enjoyed the luxury of a hobbit hole inside a hill featuring several bedrooms, washrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and wardrobes. Like all hobbits, Bilbo Baggins ate six meals a day when he could get them—and he usually could.
Now, most hobbits didn't experience quite as much luxury as Bilbo, but they still filled their dwellings with as many comforts and conveniences as they could. Hobbits worked hard to get such things, but they were accustomed to plenty in their pleasant, good land.
Like the hobbits, we in the modern West are quite prosperous compared with most others in the world. We have to work hard for our good things, true—but our work is generally rewarded: Our homes are comfortable and modern, and we eat good food, wear fashionable clothes, and enjoy quite a few luxuries beyond our actual needs.
It's great to live in a land of peace and plenty. And there's nothing wrong with enjoying our comforts and conveniences like big-screen TVs and all the latest gadgets. But being surrounded by material things can create a problem for us. It did for the hobbits.
As Tolkien tells us, the hobbits became so comfortable and self-absorbed that they paid less and less attention to what was happening in the lands around them "until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middleearth."
Of course, that wasn't how things were. Much of Middle-earth was falling into desperate times. A dark lord named Sauron (under the guise of the Necromancer) was entrenched in his stronghold in Mirkwood and beginning to mobilize armies of orcs. In the ancient land of Eriador, trolls were descending from their mountain haunts and devouring whole villages. East of the Misty Mountains, goblins and wargs were plotting to wipe out entire settlements of men. Goblin armies were brooding in Gundabad and would soon attempt to overrun the North. And there was Smaug the dragon.
But the hobbits, comfortably sheltered in the Shire, neither knew nor cared about the rest of the world.
Over four thousand years ago, some Israelites had a similar blind spot. The Canaanite warlord of Hazor had conquered the northern half of their country and oppressed them for twenty years. Then a soldier named Barak—urged by the judge Deborah—called the Israelites to rise up and fight. Tribes like Zebulun and Naphtali rushed into combat and fought heroically, risking their lives in the deadliest parts of the battlefield, but tribes like Reuben and Dan and Asher didn't even show. They sat around campfires watching their flocks or remained on the seacoast, loading their ships. Apparently, the Canaanites weren't their problem. They had peace and plenty and little concern over problems in the rest of their country (see Judges 4:1–7; 5:15–18).
But they should have been concerned—just as we should be moved by others' problems as well.
Some days it's perfectly fine to eat a second breakfast, curl up on the couch, and enjoy a TV show. But that can't be our whole life. At times we need to step out of our comfort zones and show concern for the world beyond our living room. No one person can solve all the planet's problems, of course—but an important first step is to be aware of those distant (and not-so-distant) places full of dark things like famines and wars and poverty. Many people desperately need a helping hand.
When we hear of floods or earthquakes, we can, of course, donate money. But stepping outside our comfort zone means more than just giving cash—it might mean rolling up our sleeves and getting involved personally, at a local charity or community organization or our church. And don't overlook helping your own family members in need.
Any worthy cause that improves even a small part of the world is worth giving ourselves to. We don't have to march to Lonely Mountain and back since there are needs right in our own communities, desperate situations right outside our doors.
When God blesses us with peace and plenty and leisure, that gives us an opportunity. Rather than hoarding our things and spending time on ourselves, we should enjoy what we have and reach out to others. Whether or not we have two chests full of treasure—like Bilbo at the end of his adventure—we'll do well to help the needy around us.
Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Philippians 2:4 NLT
A Welcome Rabble-Rouser
"I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business."
The Hobbit, CHAPTER 1
When Gandalf identified himself to Bilbo, the hobbit immediately remembered parties where the wizard told spellbinding tales of dragons and goblins and giants. Bilbo recalled—and raved over—Gandalf's spectacular fireworks displays. Then he stopped and asked warily if this was by chance the same Gandalf who, in years past, had talked impressionable young hobbits into "going off into the Blue for mad adventures."
Yes indeed—the same Gandalf. (As if there were others of that name running around.)
Bilbo's coming adventure was by no means the first that Gandalf had arranged in the Shire. The wizard had a reputation for getting quiet, respectable hobbits to do strange things—such as running away to see elves or sailing off in ships to distant lands. Shire-folk even considered climbing trees risky business!
To be sure, hobbits enjoyed hearing Gandalf's tales, but most of them didn't want to have an adventure of their own. So when Gandalf said he was looking for someone to share in a quest, Bilbo quickly replied that the wizard was searching the wrong neighborhood. Hobbits here were settled, common-sense folk who didn't like unusual things to disrupt their daily schedule—thank you very much.
Thrill-seekers among us might want to write off Bilbo as a stick in the mud. Boring! Where's his sense of adventure?
But the hobbit had a point: While adventures do inject excitement into our lives, they are not entirely a rush of fun on a roller coaster. Being part of a great adventure is more than just enjoying new experiences; it can also be sticking to a dull, difficult path when our mind and body scream to run off to the right or left. Great adventures often involve tough choices and lonely stands for what we know to be true. They may require forging on when it would be so much easier to turn back.
And adventures often come along at inconvenient times. They can seem more like interruptions than exciting opportunities. Like Bilbo, few of us really welcome rabble-rousers who appear on our doorstep with those kinds of adventures—the ones that throw our carefully planned schedules (and lives) into an uproar.
Unless ... the adventure is for a very great cause, and brings very great rewards.
Following Jesus offers great rewards, and that's why He delights in stirring us up—in sending us off into the Blue on mad adventures. Just as Gandalf was fully aware of how some people viewed him ("They say I am a nuisance and a disturber of the peace"), Jesus heard the same kinds of things from His opponents: "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching" (Luke 23:5 NIV). And indeed He did. Today, Jesus rouses us to action, and for those who love Him, He's a most welcome rabble-rouser.
For two thousand years Jesus has called people to discipleship—the greatest adventure of all. In every generation, Christians have put their faith in Jesus and followed Him into exciting (and sometimes very difficult) adventures. We might wonder, "But is the adventure of discipleship for today?" Yes, definitely. Jesus hasn't changed, since He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8 NKJV).
Jesus still says, "Come, follow me." And He says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves" (Matthew 4:19; 16:24 NIV). That may mean giving up things we enjoy, the daily comforts we've become used to. Some may follow Mother Teresa's footsteps to the slums of Calcutta, but for most of us, following Jesus happens in Hometown, U.S.A. There, we'll live sacrificially, looking for opportunities to serve, being open to Jesus' adventure every day.
There will be excitement—sometimes more than we wish for—and there will be hardships. We'll probably experience dreary times when it seems like we're trudging through darkness with no end in sight. Fortunately, there will probably not be giant spiders to battle.
But for all the trouble and discomfort we'll face, Jesus has promised great rewards—and not only in heaven. There's a great satisfaction here and now that comes from knowing we're giving our lives to a good and noble cause.
Like Gandalf, Jesus is more than just a great storyteller—He calls people to follow Him in a self-sacrificing way. Like Gandalf, Jesus is "still in the business" of arranging grand adventures. If you'll follow Him through hardships and persecution, He promises that "your reward is great in heaven" (Luke 6:23 NKJV).
He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself.
The Hobbit, CHAPTER 1
Bilbo certainly did like visitors. His hallway had "lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats," indicating he didn't expect one or two guests at a time. He liked his house full.
Now, all hobbits were hospitable, but Bilbo took feasting and merry-making to a new level. He was a regular party animal. Remember the party he threw on his hundred and eleventh birthday—the party? (See the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring.) The Shire had never seen such an extravagant celebration.
And the party wasn't an isolated incident. Tolkien doesn't describe every bash Bilbo hosted, but we can be quite sure that he had them. There he was, a well-to-do bachelor, living alone in a huge hobbit hole with many bedrooms for guests. Bilbo had enough beds to accommodate thirteen dwarves at once, though a few had to sleep on couches.
Mr. Baggins loved playing host; he just wanted to know who his guests were and when they were coming. He was not so fond of strangers showing up unannounced. So when those thirteen dwarves knocked on his door, trooped in, and made themselves at home, Bilbo was rather put out. After hurrying to his kitchen to load food and drink on trays, he became very hot, red in the face, and annoyed.
The hobbit didn't know these dwarves—he hadn't invited them, yet they had barged in and imposed on his kindness, ordering raspberry jam and mince-pies, cheese and salad, tea and coffee, eggs, cold chicken, pickles, and cakes as if he were a waiter. Bilbo was flustered. Worse, he had a growing fear that he might run out of pastries and other food. Not only would that embarrass him, but Shire custom dictated a host feed his guests first—even if the host himself had to go hungry!
Mr. Baggins didn't enjoy last-minute scrambles. He didn't like food to run out. His one hundred and eleventh birthday party was an example of the way he preferred to do things. Presents were ordered a year ahead of time. Wagons of party supplies arrived weeks early. Food deliveries were organized and punctual. Invitations were sent out to select guests, and Bilbo meticulously ticked off names as he received replies accepting his invitations.
The unexpected party, on the other hand, was not Bilbo's type, and dwarves were not his kind of guests. Early on, Bilbo had even wished that Gandalf would leave. The wizard was bad enough. But dwarves? They took the cake—literally.
The unexpected party was no fun at all, and parties are supposed to be fun, aren't they? Doesn't common sense dictate that parties are happy times?
Yes, they are—and God loves a good party, too. He commanded the Israelites to celebrate several joyful feasts during the year, and in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus compared God to a father who shouted, "Let's have a feast and celebrate" (Luke 15:23 NIV). Soon there was food and music and dancing.
God wants us to enjoy celebrations with our friends and family. He wants us to enjoy good times and good food with our loved ones. But there's more to the story than that. He also calls us to be cheerful hosts at inconvenient times—and He expects us to be welcoming even when the guests aren't the kind of people we'd normally invite.
Out of fairness to Bilbo, most of us don't like it when strange people show up unannounced and we're ransacking the fridge and cupboards trying to find food for them. Most of us wouldn't have been half as hospitable as Bilbo if thirteen hungry, bearded strangers showed up at our doorstep. Yet the apostle Peter tells us, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9 NKJV).
Jesus went a step further when He said, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed" (Luke 14:12–14 NIV). The book of Hebrews adds: "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" (Hebrews 13:2 NLT).
It seems that hungry dwarves are just the kind of folks who'd appear on Jesus' banquet list.
Most of the uninvited guests at our doors will be neither angels nor dwarves. But they might be odd characters, not be part of the "popular crowd." They might be relatives we're not completely delighted to see. In those moments, it may be difficult to follow Jesus' words. But the Bible is clear: If we want to be blessed, we need to be cheerful and hospitable.
A Reversal of Fortunes
"After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could ... sinking as low as blacksmith-work or even coalmining."
The Hobbit, CHAPTER 1
Dwarves had a reputation for being materialistic, greedy for gold and jewels. But they were very hard workers, so when they managed to strike a mother lode and become rich, well ... they'd earned it.
Skilled artisans, dwarves not only carved awe-inspiring palaces in stone, they created jewelry of breathtaking beauty. So it was with Thorin's people: His great-grandfather had found the Arkenstone, a gem unlike any other, and his grandfather Thror had hoarded vast quantities of gold and jewels under Lonely Mountain. They established the kingdom of Erebor and were fabulously prosperous and happy.
Then the dragon came, bringing death, misery, and poverty.
In one terrible night of burning and horror, catastrophe overwhelmed the dwarves. Many were slain, and those who survived fled. While the foul worm inhabited their great halls and slept upon their wealth, the dwarves went south "into long and homeless wandering." They wandered up and down the land, taking whatever work they could find, mining coal and blacksmithing. Afterward, they settled in the Blue Mountains, northwest of the Shire. They earned a living, but it was pitiful compared to what they'd lost. Thorin became king, heir to the House of Durin, but spent his entire adult life as a common laborer.
Maybe dwarvish greed is a strong phrase in Thorin's context. Should we have a little empathy instead?
Another long-ago people suffered a similar loss—and warrant a similar sympathy. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Hobbit Devotional by Ed Strauss. Copyright © 2012 Ed Strauss. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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