Devotional Thought for the Year:
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths. 4 I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe. Psalm 23:3b-4 (CEV)
I love to speak of paths and ways, because we are travelers, journeying to our home in heaven, our Father’s land. But don’t forget that, though a path may have some particularly difficult stretches, and may occasionally involve wading across a river or passing through an almost impenetrable wood, as a rule it will be quite passable and hold no surprises for us. The danger lies in routine, in imagining that God cannot be here, in the things of each instant, because they are so simple and ordinary!
I am tired.
In the last year, almost 10 percent of my congregation passed away. Not one from Covid. And that was only a small part of the trauma my people endured…
This year seems to be competitive so far. Yesterday, I received news of a mentor whose health is failing. Then, a message that a staff member’s sister is in ICU after a drunk hit her head-on. I was with my mom, who had a procedure that confirmed another complicated procedure is needed. Four other people with other serious health issues came to my attention.
I am tired.
Did I say that?
If I am honest, there are days I wonder if I am on the right path. One of my elders joked that we change the church’s name so that trouble and trauma would have a more challenging time finding us. I wonder what I had done, which caused all this mess and all this trauma. Am I the bad luck charm that causes all the trauma, all the stress, the crap that invades the world around us?
This path that St. Josemaria mentioned is one that is one that has particularly difficult stretches. It seems that we are going through such a time right now. Like the forests in a Tolkein novel, the forest seems impenetrable, the dark valleys where things that terrify surround us. ( I think those show up in his novels because he endured them as he journeyed with Jesus.)
It is those dark valleys that David walked through that caused Psalm 23 to be written. The CEV translation broke the sentences a little differently, which hit me this morning. For before and after the mention of those dark valleys, there is the assurance of the presence of God. Hie leading, His protection, His PRESENCE.
Amid the weariness, hearing this is so needed. St. Josemaria notes that danger is found when we imagine God is not there… that He is not in each instant. I know that, but I need to hear it as well.
He is here… HE IS HERE!
Realizing that I can find the rest I need, even if it is only for a moment in a praise song, in a word that reminds me of His love, His mercy, His presence.
When we realize that, our weariness changes form. It changes, no longer communicated by groans, to that with sighs of peace For we know the hope created by our destination; and we know Who it is to guide us on the journey.
Be still, find your rest in Jesus, with whom we have died at the cross so that we are raised in His glory and peace.
If you don’t understand this, please give me a call – or drop me a message. These days, this forest is too challenging to take on, on your own.
Fazio, Mariano . Last of the Romantics: St. Josemaria in the Twenty-First Century (p. 149). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition. (taken from Friends of God by St Josemaria Escriva , p 313-314)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 Moses built an altar and named it “The LORD Gives Me Victory.” 16 Then Moses explained, “This is because I depended on the LORD. But in future generations, the LORD will have to fight the Amalekites again.” Exodus 17:15-16 CEV
Raw belief, a passion for others
grows in me,
encircling each moment
with instinctive prayer.
I will carry the freshness
of the dry lands after rain.
Compassion lives in me again.
Perhaps thy views of the Gospel plan are confused, or thou mayest be placing some little reliance on thyself, instead of trusting simply and entirely to the Lord Jesus.
As I am going through advent, the Old Testament readings each week promise life in a way that seems, impossible. A complete utopia where enemies have become friends, where those that can’t do, where those who prey on others, now protect and nurture them. A time when those who are broken, rejoice in being restored, in being healed.
It is as Paul says, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has any man imagined…” (my Adaptation of 1 Cor. 2:9)
As I read the lesson this morning from Exodus, one concept stuck more in my mind than anything else. “the LORD will have to fight the Amalekites again.” Maybe it is because I’ve fought the same battles over and over again. That has led me, personally into a tired, nearly pessimistic view, on which wonders about Christ’s return. I get tired of the battles, I get tired of the traumas, I get tired of seeing people manipulated, and division being the cause of the day.
Even as I write this, I am being drawn back to Spurgeon’s gentle correct… about relying on myself. While I saw the promise of more battles, I didn’t see it is the LORD that will fight them, and I forgot the battle in context, where they just had to depend on God’s promise for victory.
When I stop trying, and simply entrust it to Jesus, some wonderful, miraculous things happen. I see that raw belief growing in some people I work with, I see their passion for others growing, and for them to see God ministering through them. I look around at what some would call amazing coincidences, and I see God’s hand at work, for the coincidences are too amazing.
When I leave it in God’s hands, I see the victories, not the promise of more challenges, and even then, I realize what Moses did, those challenges will meet God head-on and will suffer defeat again.
Prayer will grow in me too, for seeing God at work stimulates prayer, knowing He will respond. Then I will see the growth, and the freshness that comes, as God pours out the blessings, just as they always are being poured out.
The difference is my eyes see them…. and my heart begins to resound with praise.
An excerpt from Today’s Meditation in the Morning Prayer at northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-pra yer for December 9th. written by Andy Raine
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 You spoke to me, and I listened to every word. I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness. 17 I did not spend my time with other people, laughing and having a good time. In obedience to your orders I stayed by myself and was filled with anger. 18 Why do I keep on suffering? Why are my wounds incurable? Why won’t they heal? Do you intend to disappoint me like a stream that goes dry in the summer?” 19 To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them. Jeremiah 15:16-19 (TEV)
7 LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8 Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9 But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)
224 Interior dryness is not lukewarmness. When a person is lukewarm the waters of grace slide over him without being soaked in. In contrast, there are dry lands which seem arid but which, with a few drops of rain at the right time, yield abundant flowers and delicious fruit. That is why I ask: When are we going to be convinced? How important it is to be docile to the divine calls which come at each moment of the day, because it is precisely there that God is awaiting us! (1)
There are days where events and situations occur in such a way, I have to wonder if God is on vacation.
It might be that the burdens i deal with just tire me our, that as prayer requests seem to add up, as more and more people I know have to deal with severe trauma and grief.
It could be the burdens that come as I try to balance being a pastor and a father, as days go longer than I thought, or I don’t get the break I need somewhere in the middle. Or that somehow my own physical and personal issues challenge me as well.
It could be that working with some people is such a challenge, even as Jeremiah notes, as they continue to rebel against God, thinking their own way is better. Today they don’t kill those who would warn them, they just laugh it off, or simply ignore it and do what they want to do, not thinking about the consequences, and that God does have a reason for the guidance He gives us. You can tell them, and sometimes they will listen, and sometimes they will come back, with tears in their eyes…. we pray that God would reveal Himself to them in a way they can’t deny… to quote the gospels, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets (and the gospels and epistles), they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31 (NLT)
Whether the people we deal with are victims or the guilty, or even both simultaneously, why does it take so long for them to be restored? Why do we have to see them struggle? Why can’t everything be fixed, why can’t prayer work like a magic wand….? Why doesn’t God just fix their problems – both the problems of the good and the bad? After all, isn’t that what ministry is about?
Why do Jeremiah’s whines resonate deeply within the souls of so many pastors, priests, lay leaders in every form of ministry, including those who are parents?
is there a cure for how we feel when we wonder why God hasn’t provided the answer to our prayers?
One of the steps is to deal with the issue of self-righteousness.
That’s God’s answer in the first quote from Jeremiah. He doesn’t tell Jeremiah to force the people to return. God tells Jeremiah to return!
Jeremiah, you come back, you get back to doing what I’ve called you to do. You serve, you stop whining, stop making it sound like you are the martyr, the suffering servant. Proclaim Christ (though it was in the nature of prophecy for Jeremiah – we can point more clearly to the cross) Time to end the self-pitying, the grass is greener ( or in my case, the leaves ae more colorful) over there.
When we stop making ourselves out to be the crucified one, the martyr of God’s cause,
I love Josemaria’s answer, for it changes the game. When there is no answer to prayers, we usually either blame God (as Jeremiah does) or we think there is something wrong with our prayer – either our heart, or our form, that God’s not listening because something we have done is prohibiting the God of the universe from either hearing our prayer, or taking action upon it.
There is a difference between being in rebellion from God, and being in a dry spell, of not praying because we don’t trust or know God is there, and wondering why the prayers aren’t answered yet. Sometimes, that dryness is needed, because we have to learn that God is there….even when we can’t see Him. We have to learn to be stiil, to wait on the Lord, to know that He is God.
It from such dryness that a revival can spring, that incredible growth may com. Some places are like gardens, slow and steady, others are like the desert – where a light rain on Tuesday is followed by plants literally bursting forth. It is that message, the very gospel that causes such, that snapped Jeremiah out of his silence, it is that gospel message that causes the life that seems to be buried to explode out of our parched souls. It is that word of God that brings to us the perspective of God’s love, of His desire, of His work that quickens people, that quickens us.
The gospel message of God’s love, that draws us to Him, that reveals how deep and high, how broad, how wide, that love is… for us.
A love that answers those prayers, in ways we can’t quite understand, yet ways fulfilling His promise to never leave or forsake us. The promises that nothing can separate us from Him, even the valley of the shadow of death. The gospel that says even though we think His words we proclaim may return void, they won’t. He has promised.
And knowing Him, remembering His promises, we return from our whining to get back to our calling, to proclaiming that love we need to know ourselves to others.
And then, they come… they find that love, they find the healing for the brokenness they chose…. and our prayers… well they are answered.
For He is our God, our refuge, and we are His people, the children He cares for by providing them peace.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 964-968). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.