Today is Thursday, the twentieth of January, 2022, in the second week of Ordinary Time.
May the peace of Christ be with you, today.
Only three more days until Hamilton!
There’s not a lot going on around here, today. It’s one of my days that I’m always off (Monday and Thursday), so I’m home all day, and C continues to work from home, probably through next week, as well. She has an appointment with her foot doctor, later this morning. I ordered some groceries, but they’re coming from Amazon Fresh, because Albertson’s was booked up until tomorrow afternoon. I needed some things for this evening’s dinner, which will hopefully be chicken stir-fry.
I could have ventured out to the store, in person, but it’s really cold out there, today. Currently 24 and only supposed to get up to 34 today. Now, the low for tomorrow morning is predicted to be 18. In DFW, Texas, that’s stay-in-the-house cold. Fortunately, the precipitation possibility remains very low until Monday, when it is supposed to be above freezing all day. And, also, it has been in the sixties and seventies for the past week, for the most part, so the ground is probably still fairly warm, in comparison.
So I’ll move on to the devotional. I’ve already said some prayers for people, this morning. There are troubles all around, and people are losing loved ones all around us, as well. Some Covid-related, some not. These are simply tough times. I received word this morning that a young woman we have been praying for for the past two weeks, who had leukemia, but also came down with Covid, passed away, yesterday. She has seven kids, all home-schooled. It’s tragic, and it breaks my heart. And we wonder, when things like this happen, why God doesn’t act. Or maybe He did. His ways are so much higher than ours, and His understanding is infinitely beyond ours. But I guarantee that the “world,” the skeptics, mock statements like that.
TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS
Through Your window of presence In prayer to reside Of the Spiritual world We’ll dwell on that side Through Your window of grace An insight is shown Through the vision of soul The unknown is known Through Your window of sight The world disappears A glimpse of heaven Of being appears Through Your window of love Of heavenly grace Our home found in You We can always embrace
Right about now, I’m longing for that third stanza, for the world to disappear. Please check out Daryl’s inspiration poetry at the link provided.
“All those who sow, weeping, go out with songs of joy.”
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. (Mark 3:7-12 ESV)
People always flocked to Jesus because of what He was doing, not because of who He was. This is typical of human nature. We tend to read a passage like this and think that, because there were great crowds following Him, He was “successful.” This has translated into today’s mega-church. There are certain pastors around the country and the world who have managed to draw great crowds. But are they really “successful?”
I believe the measure of “success” is in the results. “The proof is in the pudding,” I’ve heard. For Jesus, I believe that, in the passage above, the evidence of success is in verse 11. The demons fell down before Him and declared His identity.
Just because a “church” is large does not mean that it is “successful.”
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.
There is a quote from Thomas Merton, in Spiritual Classics, which has grabbed my attention. “There are so many Christians who have practically no idea of the immense love of God for them, and of the power of that Love to do them good, to bring them happiness.” This quote is in a larger piece that speaks of the gift of contemplation to the Christian life.
Contemplation, as defined by Merton and others in the book I am reading, is nothing more than a way of paying intimate, close attention to God and His love for us, as well as our love for Him. In fact, Merton says that contemplation increases our love for Him. “It is the work of love and nothing is more effective in increasing our love for God.”
The condition, though, is closeness to God. We cannot remain at a distance, we cannot confine our lives “to a few routine exercises of piety and a few external acts of worship and service performed as a matter of duty.” Oddly enough, such people do, in fact, avoid sin and “respect God as a Master.” But, says Merton, “their heart does not belong to Him. They are not really interested in Him, except in order to insure themselves against losing heaven and going to hell.”
Do we only invite God when we need to “smooth our difficulties and to dispense rewards?”
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalms 1:1-6 ESV)
What obstacles stand in our way, in regard to this kind of interaction with God? What stereotypes do we need to work on, either about God, ourselves, or prayer?
One way of entering into contemplative prayer is to choose a passage of Scripture with rich meaning, such as Psalm 23, and read it, reflectively. When a particular phrase or word grabs the attention, focus on it. Contemplation is not, as some mistakenly think, “emptying the mind.” Far from it. However, it is largely intended to be wordless. This is harder for some of us who are inundated with words every day.
It is also suggested that visiting a quiet chapel, garden, or park would be helpful, if one is able to do that. I would go sit in the back yard, but, as mentioned earlier, it is prohibitively cold for that kind of activity, today.
Going back to that idea about us not having any idea of the immense love of God for us, Richard Foster comments that Merton seems to be teaching that “at its core contemplation is simply and profoundly falling in love with God over and over and over again.”
I am a little surprised that, after devoting four chapters to Job, Eugene H. Peterson, in Symphony of Salvation, only devotes one to the Psalms. However, in that one, I believe he does them justice.
The Psalms are a prayer book/song book. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the Psalms the prayer book of the Bible. If I’m not mistaken, the Psalms are where Peterson began when he began paraphrasing The Message. His reasoning was to get prayers in the hands of the people.
You see, we have misconceptions about prayer. We tend to think we aren’t “good enough,” and need to wait until we “clean up our act.” Or, we believe our vocabulary to be inadequate. Peterson’s response to these ways of thinking was to put the Psalms in peoples’ hands and tell them, “Go home and pray these. You’ve got wrong ideas about prayer; the praying you find in these psalms will dispel the wrong ideas and introduce you to the real thing.”
People are generally shocked when they do what he asked.
Please, GOD, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed. Treat me nice for a change; I'm so starved for affection. Can't you see I'm black and blue, beat up badly in bones and soul? GOD, how long will it take for you to let up? (Psalms 6:1-3 MSG)
God, don't just watch from the sidelines. Come on! Run to my side! My accusers—make them lose face. Those out to get me—make them look Like idiots, while I stretch out, reaching for you, and daily add praise to praise. (Psalms 71:12-14 MSG)
“Untutored, we tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not. Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be an ‘insider’ language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in our prayer. There is not.”
GOD, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalms 139:1, 23-24 MSG)
These are not the prayers of “nice people. And, if there is any doubt about that (I’m adding this part myself), one need only look as far as Psalm 137.
Alongside Babylon's rivers we sat on the banks; we cried and cried, remembering the good old days in Zion. Alongside the quaking aspens we stacked our unplayed harps; That's where our captors demanded songs, sarcastic and mocking: "Sing us a happy Zion song!" Oh, how could we ever sing GOD's song in this wasteland? If I ever forget you, Jerusalem, let my fingers wither and fall off like leaves. Let my tongue swell and turn black if I fail to remember you, If I fail, O dear Jerusalem, to honor you as my greatest. GOD, remember those Edomites, and remember the ruin of Jerusalem, That day they yelled out, "Wreck it, smash it to bits!" And you, Babylonians—ravagers! A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you've done to us; Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks! (Psalms 137:1-9 MSG)
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8 ESV)
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
(Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19 ESV)
These are a couple of good verses to spark some contemplation, by the way.
Father, there have been a couple of good topics today. I pray for us, Your people, that we would dispense with any misplaced notions of what constitutes “success.” May we always see success through Your eyes, and the eyes of Jesus, taking note that the result is what marks whether something is successful. Regardless of how many people flock to our ministries or church services . . . are we reaching the “least of these?” Are we clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, providing healing help to the sick, comforting the dying, freeing the oppressed?
Help me to do better at understanding Your immense love for us/me. Help me to be better at contemplating these things, trying to simply sit and love You, looking at You without adding my own words (which is really hard). Draw me into depths of intimacy with You that defy explanation and description. Give me “experience” with You that cannot be described. Help me to fall in love with You over and over and over again.
And, as for prayer, I have long been aware that prayer is not just for “nice” or “good” people. If it were, I would not bother, because, most of the time, I am neither one. But also, give me patience and tenacity, especially when, after we have been praying, a mother of seven home-schooled children dies anyway. This kind of thing affects me greatly. But let it affect me in the right direction, driving me further into You, rather than away from You. You have blessed us with the Psalms, and I have been diving into them a lot for the past decade or so. Remind me that I need to stay in them more. Help me to embrace the language of prayer that we get from the prayer book of our Bible. And help me to be as honest as possible when I pray.
Thank You for Your everlasting love.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life. (Psalms 23:6 MSG)
Today I am grateful:
1. for the Psalms and how they help me pray 2. for the everlasting love of God and how contemplation helps me enter into that love and fall in love with Him all over again' 3. that "success" isn't measured by how many people we attract 4. that those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy (Psalm 126) 5. for the sweet mercies of God, falling from heaven, fresh every morning
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. O, Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant us Your peace. (Agnus Dei)
Grace and peace, friends.