A Psalm for the Stuck

Scripture Focus: Psalm 111:1-10
1 Praise the Lord.
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
    in the council of the upright and in the assembly.
2 Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
    giving them the lands of other nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
    enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He provided redemption for his people;
    he ordained his covenant forever—
    holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

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Reflection: A Psalm for the Stuck
By Liz Daye

Lately, I’ve been in a funky season of “stuckness.” My prayerful attempts at thankfulness have felt like a half-hearted lie. It’s like a weird ongoing wrestling match with a constant inquiry: What is God like? More importantly, what is God like for those feeling secretly and utterly stuck? Thankfully, the psalmist’s words in chapter 111 do something interesting. They reveal practical language that aids us in loosening that sticky grip. 

God reveals his message through his methods. So, it matters that God often uses story and poetry to reveal what he’s like. Why? Because God isn’t more interested in providing answers than offering us himself

Psalm 111’s poetic passage is a psalm of thankfulness. The Hebrew acrostic form of the poem serves as a memory tool. By remembering the story of the exodus, the psalmist contextualizes what God is like, while also referencing covenants of old and pondering promises. Remembrance intertwines with worship giving a gentle invitation towards thankfulness. 

And in wondering about the relationship between God’s majesty and glory, and his grace and compassion, it matters that there is no separation between these various qualities. His grace is glorious. His compassion is majestic. And all of these attributes are characterized by faithfulness and justice. (111:7). Faithfulness and justice for whom? For the ones who were wild enough to let God “unstick” them from the pharaoh’s grasp, thanking God all the way out into the wilderness. 

Too often our individualistic conceptualizations of thankfulness aren’t merely incomplete, they leave us stuck. Yet this psalm shows us that thankfulness moves God’s people towards a God who moves toward his people. Direction and purpose are inherent to thankfulness. Thankfulness to God in the psalm isn’t abstract. It’s particular- personal. The interplay of these relational qualities reveals the triune God through the thankfulness of his people. What is God like? God is the deliverer of the “stuck.” Majestic and glorious. Gracious and compassionate. 

Israel’s thankfulness is rooted in the story of their belonging. The psalm is how they remember. How do you remember what God is like? This psalm is a communal reminder to look backward together, so that we can look ahead together. Thankfulness isn’t our arrival point, nor is it a means to an end. Thankfulness frees us so we can move again, together. It’s the beginning, middle, and there is no end. “To Him belongs eternal praise” (111:10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 44 (Listen 5:12)
Psalms 110-111 (Listen 1:57)

Read more about Forward-Looking Remembering
Remembering is not “living in the past”… instead it informs our hope for a future that God has for us.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
A portion of every donation during Student Writers Month goes toward stipends/scholarships for these students. Donate today.

Calluses Aren’t Forever

Scripture Focus: Acts 28.23-28
23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 
26 “ ‘Go to this people and say, 
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; 
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; 
they hardly hear with their ears, 
and they have closed their eyes. 
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 
hear with their ears, 
understand with their hearts 
and turn, and I would heal them.’  
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Reflection: Calluses Aren’t Forever
By John Tillman

Calluses develop. We aren’t born with them.

Frequent friction forms calluses that are intended to protect us and, in some cases, help us. I have not played guitar in a long time, but my left hand used to have callus-tipped fingers. Even without a guitar in my hand, calluses marked me as an instrumentalist. If I nervously drummed my fingers on a table or desk, the tell-tale percussive taps of my calloused left hand were louder and sharper than the muted taps from my right.

Before the calluses formed, my tender fingertips could not stand to practice long without severe pain from the pressure and friction of the tiny metal strings. Once formed, the calluses, helped me play longer. (But not much better, unfortunately.)

The calloused hands of manual laborers testify to the hard work they regularly do. You don’t get calloused hands doing yard work once a week. You get them changing tires, or replacing roofs, or landscaping for long hours daily.

Physical calluses are badges of honor for hard work, frequently done. They indicate, in most cases, dedication and strength. The Bible speaks of calluses that are non-physical. We can have calloused ears that don’t hear, calloused hearts that don’t feel, calloused minds that refuse gospel arguments, and calloused souls that reject God.

Calluses of ears, hearts, minds, and souls don’t develop, as physical ones do, from hard work and frequent use. They develop from avoiding hard things and refusing to listen. When Paul addressed the Jewish community in Rome, “some were convinced…but others would not believe.” Paul quoted a warning from Isaiah to these individuals that they would become calloused. (Isaiah 6.9-10) Jesus also referred to this warning. (Matthew 13.13-16

After his warning, Isaiah asked, “How long, Lord?” (Isaiah 6.11) The Lord’s answer included suffering and destruction, but also hope. God told Isaiah that the calloused hearts, ears, and eyes were temporary. Jesus and Paul knew this too. Calluses aren’t forever.

Do you know people with gospel-resistant calluses? Do they stop their ears? Do they refuse to listen? (Acts 7.51-52) Don’t give up on them. Pray that they will stop resisting.

I no longer play guitar and today my left hand is as soft and sensitive as my right. Stay sensitive to those with calloused hearts. Reducing friction allows calluses to soften. Paul spoke “all day long” and some believed. Have patience and don’t be ashamed to share the gospel with the calloused.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” — Matthew 7.13-14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 41 (Listen 5:00)
Acts 28 (Listen 4:56)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 42 (Listen 4:11), Psalm 107 (Listen 4:12)
Isaiah 43 (Listen 4:06), Psalms 108-109 (Listen 4:28)

Read more about Types of Blindness
Even those who already believe can be blinded…There are many types of blindness. Jesus heals them all.

Read more about Student Writers Month
Support our 2024 student writers. Donations from July 15 through August 9th will go to scholarship stipends. Read student bios and donate through our website.

Someone Must Pay

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 40.1-2, 9-10
1 Comfort, comfort my people, 
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
and proclaim to her 
that her hard service has been completed, 
that her sin has been paid for, 
that she has received from the Lord’s hand 
double for all her sins. 

9 You who bring good news to Zion, 
go up on a high mountain. 
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,  
lift up your voice with a shout, 
lift it up, do not be afraid; 
say to the towns of Judah, 
“Here is your God!” 
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, 
and he rules with a mighty arm. 
See, his reward is with him, 
and his recompense accompanies him.

Reflection: Someone Must Pay
By John Tillman

When a baseball flies through a window.
When a distracted driver rear-ends a car.
When a phone, knocked to the ground, shatters.

When property is damaged, humans have a common instinct: “Somebody has to pay for that.” If we damage the property, the “somebody,” is us. If someone else damages our property, we seek restitution from them.

Even those who deny God or the Bible have a sense of this kind of justice. They cannot explain these intuitions or ground them in any logical cause, but they have them. The desire for justice is part of our created nature—a sliver of shattered imago dei within.

Sin goes beyond breaking God’s rules carved on stone tablets. Sin harms us, other humans, or God’s world, and for this reason, sin breaks God’s heart. This is why David, who harmed Bathsheba, Uriah, and Joab, says he sinned against God. (Psalm 51.4) This is why David’s line of kings, who crushed the poor, widows, and foreigners and promoted idolatry, grift, and violence, sinned against God. Sin is harm instead of health, poison instead of nutrition, and decay instead of cultivation. Someone must pay.

Shattered glass in windows, automobiles, and phone screens can easily be repaired or replaced. But what if the damage goes beyond cracked glass or bent metal? What about losses that cannot be replaced with an identical item from the shelf of a store? What about harm that is not easily assigned a monetary value? What recompense can we give for even a ruined day, much less a ruined life?

We often use metaphors of payment to discuss sin and salvation. There were earthly “payments” for Judah’s sins. Political and military defeat and exile were coming. But that didn’t pay for it. How could 70 years in exile pay for generations of harm?

We may have earthly consequences we must pay for our sins and failures. But these don’t pay for our sins.

Like Judah, our comfort is that God’s mercy, through Jesus Christ, cancels the sins of the repentant. Jesus brings reward and recompense we could never carry. He restores things we destroyed, repairs things we broke, and repays what we stole.

Join the voice in the wilderness proclaiming good news. (Luke 4.17-21) Speak tenderly of comfort to those harmed. Tell sinful Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias, and the world to repent and believe the good news. (Luke 24.46-47; Acts 1.8)

For every harm, Jesus paid it all.Music:Jesus Paid it All” lyrics by Elvina M. Hall, recording by Shane and Shane.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion. — Psalm 116.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 40 (Listen 5:09)
Acts 27 (Listen 6:09)

Read more about Treasure in Our Sacks
We come with the false belief that we must buy blessings and the false pride that we have the means with which to do it.

Read more about Unobligated God
But thank God that he pays debts that he does not owe. He is a God who gives when he has no obligation.

Ozymandias & Hezekiah

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 39:8
8 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

Reflection: Ozymandias & Hezekiah
By Erin Newton

In the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a traveler comes upon an ancient statue’s remains that were just two stumps of legs that stood upon an inscription: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! The sad fate of the statue closes the poem: Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

This poem echoes the prophetic oracle spoken to Hezekiah. The king of Israel, puffed up by his own accomplishments, took the Babylonian envoy on a tour of his grandiosity. He showed them his storehouses of gold, silver, oil, and spices. These things heralded his life of luxury. Hezekiah also showed off his armory, his storehouse of weapons. This revealed his power and might.

While parading his wealth and power, the text says that Hezekiah did this gladly. He was proud of what he had. He was proud of the level of luxury he had secured for himself. He was proud of the level of might he had obtained. Did he not just recover from an illness of insanity? Did we not just read about the oppression of the poor, hungry, and vulnerable?

Despite the reality of his own mortality and the suffering of the people, Hezekiah was still sick—sick with pride. Look on my works and despair!

Isaiah rebuked the king and foretold of destruction. Like the statue in the desert, everything he 
boasted in would be gone. All of his spices, gold, and silver would be carried away to the same place the envoy came from. In his pride and arrogance, he had tried to impress the same people who would later imprison his community.

Hezekiah’s reply can be read in one of two ways: he either accepted the divine fate of his people with some sort of faith-bound resolve or he remained focused on himself, pleased that at least the destruction would come after him.

Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I think Hezekiah was still exhibiting self-absorption. His joy was bound up in his wealth and power. He gleefully exalted himself by exhibiting what he had. In the end, his concern was always for himself.

How we view our responsibility for the world that remains after us tells more about our character than what fills our storehouses. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
What terror you inspire! Who can stand before you when you are angry? — Psalm 76.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 39 (Listen 1:35)
Acts 26 (Listen 5:17)

Read more about Open Letter to Students of the Bible
Festus believed Paul was crazy…Paul, however, was no fool, no lunatic. Paul had great learning but a greater ministry.

Read more about A Sin We Are Proud Of
Our culture has a hard time seeing what Hezekiah did wrong…Storing up for ourselves is prudence…our own peace and prosperity is honorable.

The Impression That We Give

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 38.15-19
15 But what can I say? 
He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. 
I will walk humbly all my years 
because of this anguish of my soul. 
16 Lord, by such things people live; 
and my spirit finds life in them too. 
You restored me to health 
and let me live. 
17 Surely it was for my benefit 
that I suffered such anguish. 
In your love you kept me 
from the pit of destruction; 
you have put all my sins 
behind your back. 
18 For the grave cannot praise you, 
death cannot sing your praise; 
those who go down to the pit 
cannot hope for your faithfulness. 
19 The living, the living—they praise you, 
as I am doing today; 
parents tell their children 
about your faithfulness. 

Reflection: The Impression That We Give
By John Tillman

Have you ever been close to tragedy or been close to folks who have?

If you are humming a tune right now, you probably recognize the question above as the opening line of a popular song from 1997. “The Impression That I Get” doesn’t give the first impression of a song with deep meaning. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones bouncy, ska-infused beat sounds like a perfect summer party jam for the beach or pool, with a chorus people love to scream-sing along with. But the lyrics are deeper than a party pool or the shallow swim area at the beach. The song discusses seeing someone’s tragedy up close and doubting if you would have the faith, the strength, or the courage to face it.

“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested
I’d like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested and think “There but for the grace go I”
Might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out”

We find out a lot about Hezekiah’s faith when he faces a deadly illness. Hezekiah described a painful time of emotional anguish as being crushed by the jaws of a devouring lion. Yet in prayer, weeping, and lament, Hezekiah reached out to God and was miraculously healed.

In Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, he found that the survivors of Nazi death camps had in common a transcendent source of meaning outside of career, family, or possessions. The greatest sources of inner hope and meaning are not self-created but discovered in God. 

With purpose, we suffer on. With hope for something better, even if we’ll never experience it, we endure the present. Meaning and hope discovered in God create and sustain courage and cannot be taken away in suffering, even if everything, including your life, is. 

What we discover in God, we must help guide others to discover. Hezekiah’s psalm isn’t a party jam but it is a freedom song, a testament of faith and hope not fear and panic. The next generation has plenty of panic and fear. They need the hope and purpose we discover in the gospel. Pain is not purposeless and God’s grace is sufficient for us. (2 Corinthians 12.9)

What stories of suffering have you been telling and what songs of hope have you been singing?
What impression of God’s faithfulness do we give?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the harp, O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul which you have redeemed.
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.22-24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 38 (Listen 3:20)
Acts 25 (Listen 4:40)

Read more about From the Crucible of Suffering
Deep richness comes to people who face suffering biblically…joy and contentment difficult experiences cannot steal.

Read more about Worthy of Suffering
Every time the work was hindered, the apostles persevered. They had to…no, they got to continue preaching through many dangers.