Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Women

Invitation to Prayer
No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red ‘x’ that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are. (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, xv).

The Psalm (Psalm 145:8-13)
The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

9 The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.

10 All you have made will praise you, O LORD;
your saints will extol you.

11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,

12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The LORD is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 23: 27-31)
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then " 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" 'For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

For Reflection
There is always more going on than we realize; there is more happening than our minds can take in. The weeping women saw the bloodied figure of Jesus struggling under the weight of his cross, staggering to his death. Such a sight was certainly a reason for weeping. But the weeping was misguided. Jesus doesn’t rebuke the women’s tears. He rebukes the lack of insight into what all of this means. A day of judgment is coming. Stop crying now and get ready for what is yet to take place.

Why don’t we weep over our sin and take seriously the Day of Judgment? Will such a thing actually happen?

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, your death on the cross was not meant to evoke our sadness, but our repentance. Break our hearts over the sin we see in the world and the sin we find in our own lives. Cause us to weep not only over your suffering and death, but over the refusal of many to turn to you for salvation. Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Simon

Invitation to Prayer

The practice of paying attention really does take time. Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than the blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else. We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criterion for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 24).
Bulleted List
The Psalm (Psalm 63:1-4)
O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 23:26)
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

For Reflection
Carrying the cross of Jesus was unexpected and inconvenient for Simon. Having made pilgrimage to Jerusalem from North Africa, Simon was minding his own business, going about his religious duties. Religious observances are typically something we do according to a schedule – attend a service, go to temple. The cross of Jesus reorders our plans, demanding participation and not mere “observance.”

Has identifying with Jesus ever disturbed what you had planned?

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, I am often content to mind my own business and practice my religion. You call me to take up a cross and follow you. Guard me from mere observances that actually keep me distant from you. Prepare me for the unexpected and inconvenient as I seek to follow you. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nothing to Prove

Invitation to Prayer
“Our dear Lord, who has given to us and taught us to pray the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer, grants to us also the spirit of prayer and of grace so that we pray with enthusiasm and earnest faith, properly and without ceasing, for we need to do this; he has asked us for it and therefore wants to have it from us. To Him be praise, honor, and thanksgiving. Amen." (Martin Luther quoted in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 63).

The Psalm (Psalm 130)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;

2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

6 My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 23:8-12)
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

For Reflection
Jesus’ silence before Herod isn’t the resigned quiet of one defeated. It’s more like waiting – waiting to strike, to deal the death blow just when the self-inflated antagonist thinks he’s won. That blow will come later, three days after the execution. But for now, Jesus has nothing to prove. He will not answer the questions. He will not squander a miracle by putting on a show. His silence in Herod’s court is not weak resignation. It’s powerful restraint.

Are there places or people that make you feel like you need to prove yourself? How do you handle it?

Closing Prayer
Too often, O God, I cave to the pressure to prove myself: to say something or do something impressive and memorable. I don’t want to live that way, chasing the approval of others, worried what they think of me. So let my thoughts be first of you – what it means to follow you, what kind of life pleases you. Then let the thoughts become lived behaviors that show you to the world around me. Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Insults

Invitation to Prayer
To have a carefully tested theology is good, but it’s not the same thing as knowing God. Too often theology ends shy of love, worship, service. Too often it gets stuck in smugness, dryness, rigidity. Too often it is as impersonal as calculus. Too often it is mere words. Jesus’ apostles were pretty much doctrinal flunkies, blunder-prone, befuddled, cotton-mouthed with folly. Meanwhile demons almost always showed themselves to be astute theologians (Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild, 29).

The Psalm (Psalm 20:1-5)
May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings. Selah

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 22:63-65)
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, "Prophesy! Who hit you?" And they said many other insulting things to him.

For Reflection
The essence of an insult is the way it demeans and belittles. The true prophetic identity of Jesus became a childish blindfold game, violent and vulgar amusement for the guards. We’d never be involved in something like that – but Jesus can be demeaned in respectable ways as well in ways that openly mock and ridicule. Anything that makes Jesus less than he is may rightly be regarded as an insult. Calling him anything other than Lord could be a form of mocking.

How do people today mock Jesus?

Closing Prayer
Without malice or intention I often belittle you, Lord Jesus. I live hurried and self-obsessed, and in my frenetic living you become small: religious window dressing on my life. Forgive these insults, and help me to live on bended knees, worshiping you as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When Darkness Reigns

Invitation to Prayer
When Jesus walked among humankind there was a certain simplicity to being his disciple. Primarily it meant to go with him in an attitude of observation, study, obedience, and imitation. Family and occupations were deserted for long periods to go with Jesus as he walked from place to place announcing, showing and explaining the here-and-now governance or action of God. Disciples had to be with him to learn how to do what he did (Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 6).

The Psalm (Psalm 27:1-5)
The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.
4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 22:52-53)
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns."

For Reflection
Darkness reigns whenever and wherever people live in fear. Jesus had never taken a weapon in hand, but his enemies came with swords and clubs. Jesus had walked and taught openly in Jerusalem, but his opponents never attempted to take him into custody when crowds could witness it. They came at night, armed and away from the traffic of Jerusalem. Judas led them to the garden, but their fear drove them there. And darkness reigned.

How do your fears cast darkness over your life?

Closing Prayer
Lord, you are my light and my salvation. Why then do my fears continue to throw clouds over my days, skewing my thoughts and making it hard to find you? Jesus, you are the light of the world. Send your blazing light into every part of my life today. Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Make it Happen?

Invitation to Prayer
A priest or minister will say, “Let us pray,” and we will all just bow our heads as though nothing out of the ordinary was about to take place. What is about to take place is that we are about to presume to talk to the One who made heaven and earth, and presume that we will be heard . . . There is something so astonishing about the whole notion of talking with God that sometimes I just want to lie down for a few minutes and catch my breath. Every once in a while I will hear someone say, “And I just told God I needed this or that,” and I wonder how it is they are still standing up (Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer, 79-80).

The Psalm (Psalm 68:4-10)
4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds—
his name is the LORD—
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families,
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
7 When you went out before your people, O God,
when you marched through the wasteland, Selah
8 the earth shook,
the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
9 You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 22:47-51)
While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.

For Reflection
Gethsemane is an odd place for those who are trying to follow Jesus and live his life. What Jesus asked his followers to do, they could not do (pray). What Jesus never mentioned to his followers, they are eager to do (use violence). A life weak in prayer often resorts to force when the crisis comes. Having been groggy in our calling upon God, we quickly take matters into our own hands.

Where are you experiencing the tension between quiet trust and decisive action in your life today?

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, I want to live in prayerful patience, yet ready to risk it all. I want to be alert to your presence in the world while being clear about what you’ve called me to do. Grant me wisdom to live in these tensions, waiting and working as you direct my steps. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Exhausted

Invitation to Prayer
It’s possible to get stuck in spiritual dryness for so long that you hardly feel a thirst for God anymore. You feel he’s been silent and distant and unresponsive, so you think about giving up on pursuing him. But the thirst never completely disappears. Even when we seem to have lost our desire for God, something within us aches for the only One who can meet the deepest need of our parched souls (Mark Roberts, No Holds Barred, 2-3).

The Psalm (Psalm 84:4-11)
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. Selah
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, O God of Jacob. Selah
9 Look upon our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

The Scripture reading (Luke 22:45-46)
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

For Reflection
They didn’t seem to get it the first time, so Jesus repeats himself. “Pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Given the sleepy state of Jesus’ friends, it appears that the great temptation isn’t some wicked behavior. What pulls us from giving prayerful attention to God is exhaustion. These disciples were “exhausted from sorrow.” Many others are weary with grief or fear or the drive to succeed.

What exhausts you today? How does that impact your praying?

Closing Prayer
O God, you are our strength. So many of our pursuits leave us exhausted and weary, short tempered with others and short in prayer with you. Rouse us from our sleepy routines that we might be vigilant in prayer, alert to your presence and work in our world. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In Strength and Anguish

Invitation to Prayer
Even when we are praying for or about things other than our own spiritual needs and growth, the effect of conversing with God cannot fail to have a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of our personality. That conversation, when it is truly a conversation, makes an indelible impression on our minds, ands our consciousness of him remains vivid as we go our way (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 184).

The Psalm (Psalm 34:1-8)
1 I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed are those who take refuge in him.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 22:41-44)
He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

For Reflection
Quite often we read our anguish as a sign of God’s absence. Watching Jesus pray in Gethsemane, we learn otherwise. As Jesus prayed he was strengthened by an angel. And yet, even in that strength, Jesus prayed in anguish, sweating blood as he struggled with God and God’s claim upon his life. God’s answer to our prayer does not remove our anguish, but sustains us in it.

What is there in your life that gives rise to “anguished” praying today?

Closing Prayer
Our days are filled with both blessings and anguish, O God. Make us thankful in the blessings and give us strength for that which brings anguish and pain. Use every experience of life to deepen our humility for the good we receive, and our compassion for all who suffer, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tempted . . . Yet Again

Invitation to Prayer
The setting is a garden named Gethsemane, meaning “Oil Press.” Jesus and his disciples “often met” here (John 18:2). The “often met” suggests that it was a place that Jesus and his disciples found convenient and congenial for prayer when they came on feast-day pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The prayers at the Oil Press fused what Jesus said at the [last] supper with what Jesus did on the cross (Eugene Peterson, Tell it Slant, p. 234).

The Psalm (Psalm 43:3-5)
3 Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 22:39-40)
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."

For Reflection
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus endured a period of temptation in the wilderness. Now at the end of his ministry, Jesus enters Gethsemane to finish with finality what was started in the wilderness three years earlier. Another struggle with temptation as Jesus wrestles with what awaits him. We do not hear Satan’s voice in Gethsemane, but the struggle is just as real – and this time we are involved. Jesus calls us to prayer and readiness.

What shape does temptation take in your life during an ordinary week?

Closing Prayer
We are vulnerable, O God, and often unaware of the enemy that seeks to destroy our faith and hinder our walk with you. Make us alert to all that lured us from you. Make us faithful in prayer, that we might follow you obediently, no matter where that leads. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Bread, Our Sins

Invitation to Prayer
A kingdom-of-heaven life consists of things to do and ways to think, but if there is no prayer at the center nothing lives. Prayer is the heart that pumps blood into all the words and acts. Prayer is not just one more thing in an inventory of elements that make up a following-Jesus, kingdom-of-heaven life. Prayer is the heart (Eugene Peterson, Tell it Slant, p. 167).

The Psalm (Psalm 8:1-5)
1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 11:3-4)
“. . . Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation."

For Reflection
The second part of the Lord’s Prayer turns to our needs, both physical and spiritual. God is faithful to give us what we need to survive each day. We are given bread for our bodies, and we are given forgiveness for our souls. Too long without bread and we grow weak. Too long without forgiveness and we grow calloused in our guilt.

Most of us plan to eat daily. Do we likewise feel the daily need for forgiveness?

Closing prayer
Our needs often make us anxious, O Lord: The bills that pile up, the babies we’re raising, the bread we need. We will trust you today, knowing that you will give exactly what we need in all things. We will give thanks today, recognizing that we live each day by your grace. Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Joy of A Heavy Burden*

Lectionary Readings for March 14
Morning Prayer: Psalms 39, 64
Jeremiah 5: 20-31
John 7:1-13
Romans 3:19-31

Jeremiah called it a fire in his bones.

Preachers of old spoke of unction.

Whatever it was worked in Paul’s soul as some kind of compulsion, causing him to exclaim “Woe to me if I preach not the gospel.”

Mark Buchanan calls it a Holy Must. It is a burden, a weight laid upon the heart and mind, a weight that can only be lifted or cast aside by speaking or writing. This burden is a gift, at one and the same time the heart’s yearning and the heart’s ache.

And this burden is something I too often lack. I’ve said plenty of words on a Sunday morning simply because someone expected me to say them. I’ve said them as a liturgist – praying or calling for the offering or speaking a word of benediction as purses were being gathered and car keys being fished out of pockets.

I’ve spoken them in classrooms. The words were true enough, doctrinally sound and theologically sturdy. But being right won’t feed a congregation. Better to be burdened, or perhaps – better to be burdened and right.

Having spent several years wearing the mantle of “preacher” I know there were weeks when I spoke from the pulpit because it was my job to do so. I stood there eagerly on some weeks, but not all. Nothing feels worse to the preacher than a light burden on Sunday morning. The message should feel like weight for which the task of teaching or preaching gives relief. If the task feels like a weight, something isn’t right.



********

So I spend a few moments with the lectionary readings for this day and find myself praying for a burden. I know the vocation of teacher in the church can’t be carried out only “when I feel like it.” But I don’t want to get skilled or comfortable as a pastor who talks without having something to say.

The Psalm leaves me somewhat puzzled. It opens with the resolve of the Psalmist to guard his mouth so that he might not sin with his tongue. I’ve made similar commitments to myself, usually after saying something stupid or after speaking in anger. I’ve felt this way when I know I’ve used words to do impression management, trying to sound clever or insightful or empathetic.

The Psalmist says “I’ll guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence” (Psalm 39:1). It isn’t clear to me if the speaker is reluctant to openly identify with God and God’s cause in the presence of the wicked – or if the speaker wants to be careful not to bring reproach on God’s name while the godless are able to hear it.

Whatever is going on, it doesn’t last for long. Funny thing about burdens: they are not alleviated by silence. They can’t be dealt with privately, introversion or extroversion notwithstanding. The Psalmist says he kept his mouth shut to no avail; his distress grew worse.

“As I mused, the fire burned” (Ps. 39:3). God, grant it. I’ve mused often, only to get sleepy.

The fire burns and then the Psalmist speaks with his tongue. However, he doesn’t speak to the wicked. Those from whom he had guarded his words, those whose presence kept him quiet, they are not addressed. Rather, the Psalmist speaks to God.

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am” (Ps. 39:4).

The most important words we speak are not spoken in classrooms or from pulpits or by hospital beds. Maybe the most urgent words we utter are directed to God. And if those words carry no burden, we’ll not likely have a burden when it comes to speaking or writing other words.

The focus of the Psalmist’s prayer is the brevity of life. Again, this isn’t what I expected. I wonder about burdens and the time we’re given to deal with them. For me, this Psalm is a reminder that I don’t have forever. There is not limitless time in which to discover the burden and then deal with it by speaking what is given to speak. The clock is ticking.



********

I carry that thought to the reading from John 7. The opening scene of the chapter is all about timing. The Feast of Booths is being celebrated in Jerusalem. Jesus’ brothers, with questionable sincerity, urge him to go to Jerusalem and take advantage of the great public gathering. This is savvy marketing, masses of people in one place at the same time. But John throws in the observation that Jesus’ brothers didn’t really believe in him. Their counsel is barely disguised mocking.

Jesus replies that his time has not yet come, basically saying “You guys go ahead. I’ll come when I’m good and ready – or not at all.” Indeed, Jesus remains in Galilee, but then he ends up making the trip up to Jerusalem. However, he goes quietly, keeping a very low profile.

But it seems that during the course of the Festival a burden is growing. By the middle of the Feast Jesus goes to the Temple and begins teaching (Jn. 7:14). And then at the end of the Feast Jesus stands up and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn. 7:37).

From guarded and quiet, to standing up and crying out. There is a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking. The writer of Ecclesiastes had that right



********

The burden is seen most clearly in the prophets, and especially in the life and words of Jeremiah. In the reading today from Jeremiah 5 the burden is captured in two phrases: Declare this . . . proclaim it. And that’s what the prophet does.

What I notice today is that Jeremiah addressed his words to a “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but see not, who have ears but hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21).

I wonder if this has something to do with my own lack of burden. I have eyes, but I don’t always see. I have ears, but I don’t always hear.

There’s too much to see, and there’s so much to hear. I can make perfect sense of the scriptures I read, but sense isn’t the point. A burden is. Something discovered that I can’t wait to share or tell about.

Strange isn’t it? A light burden is actually painful. The heavy burden is a joy.

*This concept of "burden" is dealt with especially well in Andy Stanley's Communicating for a Change.

Friday, March 13, 2009

First Things First

Invitation to Prayer
All the major catechisms of the Christian faith include the Lord’s Prayer as one of the three foundational documents. The other two foundational documents are the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. The Apostles’ Creed tells us what we believe. The Ten Commandments tell how we are to behave. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how we are to pray. Think of it as belief, action and prayer. It’s all right there (Ray Pritchard, And When You Pray, pp. 8-9).

The Psalm (Psalm 139:1-4)
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 11:2)
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
" 'Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

For Reflection
The prayer Jesus gave us reminds us that we don’t pray to get something. We pray to get in touch with someone. God comes first, and our first thoughts in prayer gravitate to who God is (the name) and what God is doing in this world (Kingdom). Our first words seek to honor the name and recognize God’s rule over all things.

We think of “hallowed” as an adjective – like “hallowed” ground. How does that word become action? How does God cause his name to be “hallowed?”

Closing Prayer
Let my first thoughts this day be centered on you, O Lord – not the economy or the kids or the oil change that needs to be done. Before the news and the noise swell to fill my hours, I want to honor your name and remember that you govern this world. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pray This Way

Invitation to Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is the central prayer of the Christian faith. It is the only prayer our Lord ever taught his disciples to pray. Everything we need to prayer about can be found in that prayer. If it’s not in there somewhere, then we probably don’t need to be praying about it (Ray Pritchard, And When You Pray, p. 2).

The Psalm (Psalm 5:1-3)
1 Give ear to my words, O LORD,
consider my sighing.
2 Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 11:2-4)
He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.

For Reflection
This past Sunday our Senior Pastor, Vic Pentz, challenged us to pray the Lord’s Prayer everyday this week. It’s Thursday, but you can still jump in and do it. Who knows – you may keep praying it right through the entire Lenten season. Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, but more often it breeds carelessness. Our aim this week is to come once again to this model prayer with care and attention.

What phrase (or phrases) of the Lord’s Prayer resonate with you in a particular way today? Why?

Closing Prayer
What you have given us, Lord Jesus, is so simple. And yet our spirits are so sluggish, as if you have placed some monumental task before us. We give you thanks for these precious words. Make us confident as we say then yet again, knowing that we have said all that needs to be said. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teach Us to Pray

Invitation to Prayer:
Our problem is that we assume prayer is something we master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position where we are competent and in control. But in praying we come “underneath” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent. “To pray,” writes Emilie Griffin, “means willing to be na├»ve.” (Richard Foster, Prayer, p. 7-8).

The Psalm (Psalm 84:1-7)
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. Selah
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 11:1)
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

For Reflection
Rather than drawing us closer to God, prayer often becomes a wedge because we feel incompetent in our praying. We leave prayer for others who seem more “spiritual” or “mature” in their faith. In so doing, we miss a great gift that God has for us. Even the first disciples needed to be taught how to pray. And they asked for what they needed.

Who in your life has taught you to pray or modeled prayer for you?

Closing Prayer:
With those first disciples, Lord Jesus, we ask for help in our praying. You have already given us words to say. Now give us hearts that yearn to pray. Amen.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Singular Focus

Invitation to Prayer:
When one prays in strange places and at strange times one can’t kneel, to be sure. I won’t say this doesn’t matter. The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both the better for it. Bless the body. Mine has led me into many scrapes, but I’ve led it into far more . . . The relevant point is that kneeling does matter, but other things matter more. A concentrated mind and a sitting body make for better prayer than a kneeling body and a mind half asleep (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 17-18).

The Psalm (Psalm 95:1-7)
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

The Scripture Reading (Luke 9:57-62)
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

For Reflection
These words of Jesus dismiss both our good intentions and other honorable obligations that claim us. Such things hinder the life of faith, or so it seems. Jesus is intent on being clear about what we can expect (no place to lay the head). He calls for a place of highest urgency and priority in our lives (even above family!). Interestingly, we never see the reaction of those to whom these words were spoken.

What would your response have been? What is it today?

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, let every part of this day, every aspect of my life, be a place where I follow you. At home, on the job, wherever this day leads, I will follow you with a singular focus. Grant me grace to do so, I pray. Amen.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Make Ready

Invitation to Prayer:
You do not become a person of prayer and then begin to pray. It works the other way around. If you say enough prayers, you may yet become a person of prayer. But you will not become one if you do not pray (Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer, p. 96).

The Psalm (Psalm 1)
Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.

The Scripture reading (Luke 9: 51-56)
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

For Reflection
The language most commonly used for the Christian life is “following” Jesus. Indeed that is what we do. That is what Jesus called those first disciples to do. But following is not all that we do. Jesus also sends us ahead to “get things ready for him.” Those who follow are also sent.

Where are you being sent today? One you are there, how do you “make ready” for Jesus?

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, it seems like my days are often shaped by habit and obligation. I go where I’m expected. I will live this day differently, knowing that you have ordered my steps and have sent me ahead. Let my presence “make ready” for you so that your presence may become real to others around me. Amen.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Resolve

Invitation to Prayer:
Lord, it is your will and command that we should come to you and pray. So I now come to please you. I ask you to forgive and to remove my sins which weigh heavily upon me. Let them not prevent me from coming to you in prayer. ( Luther’s Prayers, Herbert F. Brokering, ed.)

The Psalm: (Ps. 145:14-19)
The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.

The Scripture Reading: (Luke 9:51-53)
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

For Reflection:
With resolve and clarity of purpose Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem. The way there took him through some difficult terrain, places where neither he nor his followers were welcomed. Without firm resolve we will avoid such places, not seeking to go to them or through them.

Where are the “Samaritan villages” in your world?

Closing Prayer:
As this season of Lent begins, O Lord, give me a settled determination to walk this journey. Grant me the kind of resolve that directs my steps to the world you love and sustains me in difficult places. Amen.