Good morning. Today is Saturday, January 26, 2013.
Today is “Spouses Day.” If I wrote down all the wonderful things about my spouse, I would run out of time to do my devotion this morning. Let me just say that I am tremendously blessed by God to have Christi in my life these last 28+ years. From that first date on December 7, 1984, to this day, have been the most wonderful years of my life, and they are getting better all the time. My love for her grows stronger every day.
Since the church moved setup to Sunday mornings, Saturday has become a pretty lazy day around here, which I like. We need a day like this, to be able to just rest and recuperate. Sure, there are a couple of necessary errands. We have to go to the grocery store today. We also have some library books to tend to, but trips to the library are like free candy to me. I love the library. We may make a side trip to Office Depot and Half-Price Books, too. We are running low on paper, and I have some books to sell off. Oh, and I need to practice for tomorrow’s worship celebration, as well. Right now, it’s coffee and devotional time. Speaking of coffee, my cup’s almost empty. Be right back.
Hey, thanks for waiting!
(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)
On this date in 1885, Charles “Chinese” Gordon fell at the hands of a Muslim fanatic called “the Mahdi.” Gordon was a British major general, and had the nickname “Chinese Gordon” because of his “daring leadership in helping to put down rebel Chinese warlords in the Taiping Rebellion.” He was described as a “classic case of Victorian complexity.” He was charitable, helping orphaned children when not actively engaged in soldiering. “He meditated three hours a day with his Bible, was celibate throughout his life and looked forward to death to meet his God. Queen Victoria’s secretary referred to him as ‘that Christian lunatic.’” In 1884, he was sent to the Sudan because the Mahdi was threatening British interests in Egypt by taking over the Sudan with a large army. He arrived in Khartoum, and organized a defense consisting mostly of Sudanese and Egyptian soldiers. Gordon stood firm, even though there was no real chance of him defeating the Muslim army. Prime Minister Gladstone had authorized relief forces, but they were incessantly delayed. As the final assault came, early on the morning of January 26, the Muslim horde ravaged Khartoum, “leaving the streets red with blood.” Gordon fell back to the royal palace and awaited his enemies on the outside staircase. Crying out, “Strike! Strike hard!,” he fell in a “rain of spear thrusts. The relief force arrived two days later.” Gordon’s effigy resides in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but his body was never found.
Today’s birthday is Bob Uecker, born on this date in 1935. Uecker played six years of professional baseball with the Milwaukee Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Atlanta Braves. He was nicknamed “Mr. Baseball” by Johnny Carson of The Tonight Show, and is on the top ten list for most passed balls by a catcher in a single season. Uecker is perhaps most known for his clowning around both on and off the field. In one instance, he kidnapped a tuba from a band at a game, running round in the outfield catching fly balls with it. One possible reason for his excessive amount of passed balls is that he spent much of the season catching knuckleball thrower Phil Niekro. Uecker once said that the best way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up. Uecker once hit a home run off of future hall-of-famer Sandy Koufax, joking later that he thought that would keep Koufax out of the Hall of Fame. He currently works as an announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers.
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. Psalm 59:9
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. Psalm 103:6
Father, I pray that you show me something new or reinforce something already learned, as I look into your word this morning. Teach me your ways that I may walk in your truth. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
Today, I’m reading Isaiah 23. The entire chapter (eighteen verses) is an “oracle concerning Tyre,” which was a prominent Phoenician port on the Mediterranean. I won’t quote the entire chapter here, but pick out several verses.
1 The oracle concerning Tyre. Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for Tyre is laid waste, without house or harbor! From the land of Cyprus it is revealed to them.
2 Be still, O inhabitants of the coast; the merchants of Sidon, who cross the sea, have filled you.
7 Is this your exultant city whose origin is from days of old, whose feet carried her to settle far away?
8 Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
9 The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory, to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.
14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is laid waste.
17 At the end of seventy years, the LORD will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.
18 Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the LORD. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the LORD.
Tyre was known for “her revelry, far-flung influence, wealth, and fame” (Reformation Study Bible notes). Isaiah points out that the defeat of Tyre (which would also affect her twin city, Sidon) is part of God’s plan and purpose. After the “seventy years,” which probably does not refer to a specific period of time, but, rather, a period of time ordained by God, signifying fullness, the city would acknowledge God’s sovereignty, and pay tribute.
Today, in A Year With God, I begin a section on the discipline of prayer. Prayer is defined as “interactive conversation with God about what we and God are thinking and doing together.” It is how we come to God; it is how we participate in this “with-God life,” and our “growing love relationship with him.” Prayer has been described as “friendship with God,” the “key to the heart of God, the one place we truly belong.” In spite of all of this, prayer seems to be a constant source of either confusion or guilt for many Christians. We either think we aren’t praying enough (been there) or that we aren’t praying in the right way (been there, too). We make it seem like punishment, or at least something very unlike friendship, more like a duty we feel like we have to do.
To give some encouragement, Richard Foster, author of Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, says, “We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself–the intimate, ongoing interaction with God–that these matters are cared for in due time.”
From personal experience, I can agree with this, “If we set forward on this journey of prayer, we will change and so will the world around us.” God uses our prayers to transform us, “to make us more like Christ.” As this transformation occurs, we will find that the motives become more pure, and that we will be praying for “the right things.” Romans 8:26 says, Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. My desire in this journey is to be praying the heart of God.
Today’s reading is called “Simple Prayer.” The scripture reading is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
16 Rejoice always,
17 pray without ceasing,
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do we understand what Paul meant by “pray without ceasing?” Richard Foster speaks of something he calls “simple prayer,” which is “bringing ourselves and all of our needs and circumstances to God in prayer, even if our concerns feel petty and selfish and ordinary.” Have you ever told God how frustrated you were when you couldn’t find a parking place? Have we cried out to God in frustration when a co-worker treats us rudely? Have I gotten to the place where I share even the smallest pleasures with God in thanksgiving? “Simple prayer” is sharing everything with God, the good and the bad. Look at the pages of the Bible, the people it describes. They constantly “complain and celebrate, gloat and weep.”
I am challenged to engage in this “simple prayer” over the course of the next ten days, sharing all the events in my life with God, “hopes, desires, frustrations, and anger.” One key to this is to not try to present myself as “better or more holy” than I feel that I am. And truthfully, how often do we try to “holify” ourselves in our prayers? I grew up Southern Baptist (I guess I still am…sort of), and in the traditional church that I grew up in, those Sunday morning public prayers, by both pastors and lay-persons, were full of pomp and piety. But God is not fooled. He knows our deepest thoughts, desires, and emotions, so why not just go ahead and tell him? We need not worry about being “too self-centered” or even that we share something with God that we know to be sin. Confession, right? We are told to confess sin…what about confessing sinful desires? That’s one way to get it out there so that the Spirit can help us overcome it, right? The book suggests a prayer for a starting place:
I am, O God, a jumbled mass of motives.
One moment I am adoring you, and the next I am shaking my fist at you.
I vacillate between mounting hope, and deepening despair.
I am full of faith, and full of doubt.
I want the best for others, and am jealous when they get it.
Even so, God, I will not run from your presence. Nor will I pretend to be what I am not. Thank you for accepting me with all my contradictions. Amen.~~Richard J Foster, Prayers from the Heart
I see myself in that prayer, very much so. I’m looking forward to the next ten days, assuming I can remember to do this, as well as the remainder of the readings on this discipline. I’ve been praying for God to teach me more about prayer, so here we go.
I am reminded by In Touch magazine today, that I need not have any fears or anxieties about life. There are things that we should fear…large, poisonous snakes, for example. But we should never fear those things that might happen. How much joy is stolen from us today, as we allow anxiety to creep in over what may happen tomorrow? Our attention should, rather, be focused on “the One who promises to hold us in His hand.” Isaiah 41:10-13 says this:
10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Here are some quotes about fear:
Jesus came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians–why afraid?”~~Augustine of Hippo
The fear of God kills all other fears.~~Hugh Black
The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.~~Oswald Chambers
Only he who can say, “The Lord is my strength,” can say, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”~~Alexander McClaren
Father, I thank you for bringing me closer to you in the realm of prayer. The lines quoted in the prayer above fit me so well. One moment I am full of hope and faith, and the next, I am teetering on the brink of despair and doubt. I need to make these things… I was about to say I need to make these things known to you. How silly of me. There is nothing that you do not know. So what is the point of prayer? Prayer is for me. When I vocalize (or subvocalize, if I am praying silently) these things, they are brought to the forefront of knowledge. It is confession. When I confess my anger to you, then I am no longer trying to hide it or suppress it. When I put it right out there, then I have placed myself in a position to be aided by your Spirit in overcoming the anger, frustration, sinful desire, or anxiety. This is the purpose of “simple prayer.” It will change me. I pray that you remind me constantly over the next few day to blurt out these prayers to you. Not just once a day, but constantly, throughout the day. I want to be so intimately close to you, with nothing hidden. I cannot hide any piece of myself from your all-seeing eyes. Therefore, it is only to my detriment when I attempt to do so. And perhaps, there are moments when I am not trying to hide from you, rather, I’m trying to hide from me! I’m reminded of a line from a song by Daniel Amos that says, “Shine the light on…shine the light on me. Oh, no, who is that? Oh, no, it’s me!” That’s how we are sometimes. We don’t want to know the truth about ourselves. I ask you to show me the truth about me, and in doing so, mold me to be more like Christ. May the life of Jesus be fully formed in me.
Lord, I pray for the remainder of this day. May our errands go smoothly today, and may we approach everything else in this day with a casual spirit and attitude. There is no hurry. We have no deadlines. This is a day of rest, and we are thankful for it.
Engage God today. Try some “simple prayer.” Let him know how you feel. He already knows anyway, so go ahead and admit it. May we all grow closer to him.
Grace and peace, friends.