Seventh Sunday After Epiphany: The Psalms Passage – Praying the psalms

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.”

(Psalm 119:33-40)

Dearest Lord God,

I desire above all things to understand what you want me to do in my life. So often I am not sure what to do, or where to go, or how to decide what should be done. I founder and struggle with issues large and small, and feel so helpless when I am stymied in wise living according to your wisdom. In short, I feel foolish and lost.

Help me O Lord to find my way. Give me understanding and the wisdom that is informed by Holy Wisdom. Remind me of your commandments and how they apply to my life. Remind me to live as you would have me life and not according to my own human will or the agenda of this fallen world.

And forgive me when I go astray. Forgive all of humanity as we stray away from the commandments, precepts and decrees that come from the Divine. Guide us back with gentleness, kindness, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. And prompt us to deal gently with others, as we would wish to be dealt with. For we are all children under One God, each one of us striving to live a life that is righteous and honorable in your sight.

We pray these things according to what we have learned from the Spirit, and in hopes that we may continue to learn how to life in the light of your Word. Amen! Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Gospel Passage – Back to the basics, like prayer

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

For those who knew Jesus, knew him as a man who worked the earth, they knew where the place was that he prayed, or where his favorite places to pray were. Matthew, Mark, James, Peter, and John – they knew where he was when he was off praying. And those were times when he was not to be disturbed, and they I am sure guarded and protected Jesus alone time with God. But when he was done and ready to rejoin the group, they asked – teach us to pray.

He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Verses 2 – 4)

In some gospels the pray is a little bit longer with more of the familiar parts to it that have come down to us. But the important parts are there. This is prayer to a God who loves us as a parent loves a child – unconditionally and without end. But this is also a God who is holy above and beyond all of our understanding. This a God who has plans for us, and plans for creation; and some days those plans will come to completion. This is a God who provides for us; not only for our bodily needs but for our need of forgiveness – which reminds me that this year’s lectionary theme is confession, penance, and forgiveness. How wonderful that this passage brings that theme back around – or at least back to my attention!

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(Verses 5 -13)

When we truly ask the Lord for what our deepest needs are, we do not ask in vain. There is a commonly used phrase – “The Lord will not give more than you can handle.” But I do not know that is completely true. I know there have been things “given” into my life that I cannot handle. Plain straight-up truth – I can not handle them. So how have I survived them, thus far? Because what I cannot handle, God does. Now, you may say that God “gave” me what was needed. But I do not and can not put such faith in my self. It was God who did the doing and handling.

So, how do we tie this all together? Prayer. We pray to God, as Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We pray – maybe not in ways that seem obvious and explicit for the need of confession, penance, and forgiveness – but God gets the message that is what we need. We pray for what we need to handle things in this life. And assurance that in the life to come we will be with God. And God gives us these things – the things we truly need; and not the things that would harm us.

May you pray, beloved reader. May you pray the prayers that God and our Lord Jesus Christ has taught you. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany: The Psalm Passage – A Prayer for God’s Preeminence

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (Psalm 71:1)

What does that mean to you, beloved reader, never being put to shame? If it wasn’t the fact that it is the Divine being I asked, I would say it is an impossible idea. Either the one asking would have to be made so perfect, or the Divine would be consistently hiding or “magically” correcting everything.

But in reading the biblical commentaries I see that they take a different meaning from this verse. The writer wishes never to be put to shame by believing and relying on God; that the onus in on God to come through and be all that the believer hopes. This to me seems be just as big a request. It depends so much, beloved reader, on the attitude and actions of the believer and demands that God be whatever it is the the believer wants and needs our Lord to be.

“In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

(Verses 2 – 3)

I guess what I feel is missing from this petition is the desire to be so changed and formed by God that we are aligned to God instead of God aligning to us. But it could well be the feeling and attitude that I, myself, am bringing to these verses. So maybe it is my attitude and perspective that needs to be realigned.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.” (Verses 4-6)

Lord God,
I come with all my faults and failings; and with my attitude and will that battles against your judgment, guidance, and precepts. I pray Lord that yours might win, and that mine would fade away so that it seems like they never existed. May your guidance for my life be what I follow, and your wisdom what I guide my life by. Rescue me from all those who come against me; but more importantly Lord, rescue me from myself! Selah!

Second Week of Advent – Prayer and Blessing for You, Beloved Reader (The Epistles Passage)

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

I have not made it a habit to respond to each individual person when I get a notice that they have started following my blog. I do try to respond to each comment. But even if I do not reach out to each individual person, I am pleased and thankful each time someone new joins the group. From the first time you, beloved reader, read one of my posts the salutation of “beloved reader” includes you. Not because I know you but because you are beloved by God and by extension beloved by me. So I do thank God each time I remember you, beloved reader.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart. . . “ (Verses 6 to 7a)

I do not know, beloved reader, what you think of me except and beyond the moment you decided to follow my blog. It is the writer of Philippians who has made this assumption, and even then he means only those he is directly addressing. If/when this letter was passed around, he may not have know who they are. But the second part of verse does note this qualifier.

“ . . . for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Verse 7b)

The writer of Philippians (attributed by some to Paul) feels strongly the belief in a common God unites believers. And it is true; my assumption that by deciding to follow this blog you have found something here that feeds your soul and spirit. And that is enough for me to belief that your faith life encompasses belief in God.

“For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Verses 8-11)

I have deliberately placed this blessing and prayer from Paul (for that is what it is) on Saturday so that it might carry you into the second Sunday of Advent. Advent, in addition to preparation, is a time of anticipation of God’s blessing and gift to us. May you feel the blessing of God this season, and thank you beloved reader for deciding to read what I write. Shalom!

First Week of Advent – A Prayer written by another but bestowed upon you! (The Epistle Passage)

When the writer of I Thessalonians (thought to be Paul) prays, I stop and pay attention. I may disagree with him at times, but not his prayers. And many times, like the passage, I wish I could take it as my own – either as a prayer on my behalf or as a prayer I want to pray for others. In this particular instance, I would pray it on your behalf, beloved reader.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.” (I Thessalonians 3:9-10)

Now, let my explain a little. I am not assuming that there is anything lacking in your faith. I would never make that judgment. But if you do have needs, spiritual and/or faith needs, it would be my most fervent prayer that those things are given and bestowed upon you. Not because of anything I might say or write, but that Spirit would gift you with those things. I do not know if Paul meant that he/himself/personally would restore or bestow (although at times/when I am in a certain mood, I would not put it past him). However, beloved reader, you do give me joy when I think of you, all of you, out there making time in your day to read what I have to say/write.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (Verses 11-13)

Amen! And selah! May the beginning days of this season of Advent find you increasing and abounding in love!

Season After Pentecost – Speaking and praying from the heart – Hannah’s story (The Old Testament Passage)

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (I Samuel 1:4-8)

Elkanah knew what grieved Hannah. But there was nothing he could do. He was not insensitive to what his other wife, Hannah’s “rival” was doing. And I would imagine when they were home Hannah’s “rival” kept her comments to herself. But away from home, when they were not being heard or watched by the rest of the household, Peninnah could not and did not resist.

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk.” (Verses 9 to 13)

It seems to be Hannah’s curse to be made fun of and be misunderstood. How far from fulfilling a priestly role must Eli have been if he misunderstood silent pray as drunkenness.

So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (Verses 14 to 16)

And bless Hannah for gently and humbly setting him straight. It speaks a great deal of her character that she did not become insulted by his misinterpretation of the situation.

Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” (Verses 17-20)

How good it is to pour out one’s heart to God, and to those who listen with compassion, care and support to our woes. It makes even the saddest heart shake off the tears and seek out joy. It is a good story, this story of Hannah, to remind us of the benefits of recommitting and renewing our relationship with God. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our sadness that we think no one, not even God can understand how we feel. But we forget that God knows our heart and spirit, and is waiting for us to come to the Divine and speak from our heart to God.

May you, beloved reader, open your heart to God and let all that is there spill out. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Outfitted for doing God’s work (The Epistles Passage)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Every so often I give great credence to this – that the true enemies are not of physical form and not part of humanity, but forces of “evil” that are like specters ruining and destroying. They are what cause humanity to stumble and all the terrible things in the world to happen; of course, they have their “minions” (not to be confused with the adorable little yellow guys who are not really evil) who carry out the evil so it is manifested physically. But there is also the forces of darkness that some how cause things to happen. And then other times I do not believe there is a force of evil and darkness; just people who are mean, nasty, cruel, violent etc for reason that are flesh-based and not spirit-based.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Verses 13-17)

Because, if we believe that there is a spiritual force of evil that can ruin our lives, we are giving power and credence to the nameless fears that seem poised to spring upon us and destroy us. If we give into the fear, it may stop us from confronting the evil that is in the flesh because we fear the source of that evil. Who are we, we might think, to put on the “armor of God” and battle forces that are beyond our knowledge, experience and understanding. And who is this writer of Ephesians who thinks we are able to?!

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” (Verses 18-20)

The times that I think “fate” and “destiny” are more than philosophical words or terms; when I believe that something is preventing me from doing what I planned, and I believe that “something” is the devil or another such being – those are the times I get scared. And think maybe I should not be brave. I am not an “armor” type of person.

I used to image (not imagine, meaning pretend to) myself putting on “Godly” armor and going out to “battle” evil. Sometimes the “Godly” armor won; but sometimes I was unable to fight off or ward off . . . or whatever word you want to us, and the “evil” won. So I set aside the “Godly” armor, and decided to just do as God would have me do; doing what I can, praying about all things, and letting God worry about the rest. And won’t you know it . . . situations started to untangle and smooth themselves out. Hurdles, crises, and obstacles just sort of faded away. Of course there were had times, and I had my shared of sorrows. But I no longer counted it as who had “won” or “lost” as if it were some contest of good and evil.

That there is evil, I have no doubt. And whether it comes in fleshly form or spiritual form or some bizarre hybrid that is lurking out there . . . some where . . . I don’t give it thought or pause. I go where God sends me, do what God guides me to do, and pray for what I need to accomplish what God has set before me to do. Just me – no belt or breastplate; no shield, arrows helmet or sword. And when walking in Christ’s footsteps, simple shoes will do.

May you, beloved reader, image as you need to in order that you might follow Christ and go where God leads. Selah!