Prayer From the Cave :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Mrs. DeKuiper from Franklin, TN
As I read this post, my students and I were preparing to visit Mammoth Cave. In preparation for the cave tour, I began shifting from self-focused fear to cave-minded determination to train my heart and body to move strong through the cave. This devotional directly inspired me to become physically ready for the dark, slippery trek as it spiritually reminded me to keep kingdom-focused in my teaching.  

Scripture Focus: Psalm 142.1-2
I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Reflection: Prayer From the Cave :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 8th, 2019
By John Tillman

Watching a skilled athlete, chef, or performer may be entertainment for the masses but can be a master class for the observant. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When we read the Psalms, we observe masters at prayer. If we read with more than a passing glance we can see their technique well enough to improve our own. Like someone analyzing the handgrip of a pinch-hitter may improve his own swing, we can analyze how tightly the psalmist grips the hand of God and do likewise. Like someone noticing the way a champion tennis player shifts her feet in the instant before the serve may adjust his own return technique, we can detect the psalmist’s shift from self-focused complaining to kingdom minded proclamation and train our hearts to move in a new way. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 142 notes the importance of being instructed in prayer in this manner:

“This maschil is written for our instruction. It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences. The disciples said unto the Son of David, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ and here David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to supplication from beneath a cloud.”

We have but to watch and read the Psalms with careful observation and our own prayers may be approached with new energy, new attitudes, and new aptitudes.

Prayer does not come easier in dark times, but we may feel it does since we more quickly and easily turn to it in distress. Spurgeon also notes that caves, such as the one this psalm is written from, make excellent places to pray:

“Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his later days.”

May we pray in our caves.
May we pray in our palaces.
May we pray in our soul cages, and pray for those in physical cages.
May we not allow any earthly light to keep us from seeking an inner, humble cave to pray in.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God. — Psalm 42.1

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 7-8 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 6 (Listen – 3:28)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42) Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)
1 Samuel 10 (Listen – 4:34) Romans 8 (Listen – 6:62)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Read more about Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Our Least Favorite Commandment :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, CJS
It is so hard in this world today to not see the injustices around us—every single day.  Some days I don’t even want to read the news feeds or listen to the TV.  Injustice is everywhere. This post helped me bring my own personal struggle with this entire topic into a spiritual zone.  It calmed me and helped me think more clearly about the whole subject. The title is so very appropriate!

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”


Scripture Focus: Psalm 137.4-6
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Reflection: Our Least Favorite Commandment :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 5th, 2019
By John Tillman

When violence or injustice harms those close to us, we typically react with admirable compassion toward the victims. “Even sinners do that.”

What is more revealing of a heart shaped by Christ is how we act toward perpetrators. Down in the comment streams below fundraisers and bake sales, you will also find our baser instincts. You will find those vowing violence against the perpetrators. You will find those calling for merciless application of the fullest extent of the law’s punishment. You will find those wishing prison rape on the attackers.

All hearts shaped by our violent culture react this way. Even Christian communities react this way—sometimes when they have only been attacked with harsh words. There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

Our first instinctive thought regarding injustice is, “someone has to pay.” And we prefer “justice” done by our own hands, in our own way. 

In scripture there are often violent men and calls for violent actions. Psalm 137 has long been struggled over by faithful believers as almost too terrible to exist in the same Bible with Psalm 139 that speaks tenderly of life in the womb. (Yet, even Psalm 139 calls for the death of the wicked.)

Speaking of this most violent of Psalms, Charles Spurgeon recognized that as bitter as the psalmist’s cry is, he still is relinquishing his own anger to be tempered by God into the sword of justice and administered by God at a time of his own choosing. 

“We may rest assured that every unrighteous power is doomed to destruction and that, from the throne of God, justice will be measured out to all whose law is force, whose rule is selfishness, and whose policy is oppression…shall despots crush virtue beneath their iron heel and never be punished? Time will show.” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Injustice is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us. Yet we rest assured that Christ who is before us, behind us, beneath us, and above us sees it too. God has given judgment to the Son and he will carry it out. All “whose policy is oppression,” will answer to the judgment of Christ.

The next time we think, “someone has to pay,” may we also hear the voice of Christ speak within us saying, “I will pay. It is finished. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will give thanks for what you have done and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly. — Psalm 52.9

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 5-6 (Listen – 6:03) 
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

Thank You!
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Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
Our verbal hyperbole is being borne out in actions…online opinion, that leads to opposition, that leads to violence or threats of violence.

The Scripture Cannot Be Set Aside :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Susan from the Marble Mtn. Wilderness in Northern California
This exposition of John 10:35 was a timely reminder to me of how I endanger and risk stunting my spiritual growth and effectiveness by neglecting regular Bible reading. I ask myself, “Why do you forego the very thing that gives you so much joy? Why do you plunge into the day under the tyranny of the urgent when you have experienced so much serenity and stability by reading Scripture for even ten minutes??!!” Thanks to Park Forum for daily reminders and the audio access to keep pulling me back to my first love. 

Scripture Focus: John 10.35
Scripture cannot be set aside…

Reflection: The Scripture Cannot Be Set Aside :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published March 20th, 2019
By John Tillman

The Greek word translated “set aside,” (lyō) carries an implication beyond not ignoring the parts of the Bible we don’t like. It refers to unbinding or untying things bound together for a purpose. This would include untying the thongs of sandals (as used by John the Baptist), loosening bandages (as used by Jesus regarding Lazarus) or even the bonds of marriage (as referenced by Paul). It also applies metaphorically to dissolving any kind of union or agreement, declaring something unlawful, dissolving the authority of someone or something, or destruction by breaking apart into pieces, a meaning Jesus used referring to the destruction of the temple.

The negative, that Scripture cannot be “untied,” implies the positive, that Scripture is tied together for a purpose. The reason that we cannot set aside the Scriptures that we don’t like, is that Scripture must be considered holistically. Each part is bound up with the others for a purpose.

Considering all of Scripture together without breaking it apart requires patience and a deep familiarity with Scripture. The religious leaders were setting aside scriptures that were inconvenient or required sacrifice on their part. We do this as well, however modern Christians are “setting aside” the Scripture in a different way—by not reading it.

This is one of the reasons we desire to encourage daily Bible reading. Any increase of Bible reading is a benefit and blessing for the reader, but following a plan such as ours, that covers the entire Bible at a sustainable pace is helpful for our need to interpret the Bible together as one piece.

Jesus once chastised the Sadducees, saying ““You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God…” Are we in the same danger?

All devout Jews of that time discussed theology and spirituality based on a common, widespread knowledge of Scripture, and many would have large sections of the Pentateuch memorized. How well do we know the Scriptures?

Whether teaching his disciples, the crowds, or debating opponents, Jesus relied on his audiences’ deep familiarity with the Scriptures. Could Jesus do the same with us?  

Are we literate enough regarding Scripture to engage Jesus in a conversation about important theological concepts? Whatever your level of Bible literacy, ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you, as Jesus did with the Emmaus couple. Read as you walk and the Holy Spirit will help you understand the Scriptures.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The earth, O Lord, is full of your love; instruct me in your statutes. — Psalm 119.64

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 4 (Listen – 3:56) 
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Balaams and Balaks :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Brian, from Washington D.C.
I get angry at church leaders that promote one candidate or politician…Not at the politician. It breaks my heart because my secular neighbors tell me how much they hate the church because of the hypocrisy of our leaders.

Scripture Focus: Number 22.6
Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.

Reflection: Balaams and Balaks :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published May 13th, 2019
By John Tillman

Last week we celebrated the bravery of the prophet, Nathan, who confronted King David with his sins and described the terrible consequences that would be the result of the king’s actions.

This week’s readings begin with a very different prophet—one who could not be further from the ethical stance of Nathan—Balaam. Balaam is not concerned with whether what the king wants is right or moral. He does not care about reconciling men or nations to God as Nathan does. Balaam’s prophecies are for sale. But rather than allow Balaam to put words in his mouth, God puts his words in Balaam’s mouth.

God takes extreme measures. He causes Balaam’s donkey to speak to him to get his attention. Then, once Balaam sees the threatening angel, God sternly warns Balaam to only say what God tells him to say. Although God speaks through Balaam, there is no relationship of love or trust—no expectation of good faith.

In the end, Balaam says what God commands. This could be because he is overwhelmed by the visions or because he is simply obeying out of fear of the angel who threatened him. Scripture does not tell us.

Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from Balaam is that there will always be prophets willing to buddy up to powerful, political leaders. These modern Balaams do their best to put words in God’s mouth that are pleasing to the powerful.

There are many political leaders today who are just like Balak. They want prophets of God to come to them, stand with them, worship with them, and bless their evil practices and desires. And there are many Balaams in the world today who claim to speak for God and yet seem willing to tickle the ears of the powerful in exchange for assurances of influence and power.

As God’s people, we can’t do much about the Balaams or the Balaks of the world. We must leave them up to God, for he is more than able to deal with them according to their sins.

Instead, we must simply keep serving our God and following him through our desert of sojourn. When the Balaams look down on us, may they be unable to deny the beauty of the love of God that is among us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his mercy endures for ever. — Psalm 136.1-3

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 3 (Listen – 3:03) 
Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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Read more about Resisting Herods
The conditions in which the gospel makes its way in the World have little to do with influence and wealth and power.

No Princes :: Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason from Texas
If our faith in God is based on people, then it becomes like a reed in the wind, swaying with every economic downturn and electoral cycle.

Scripture Focus: Psalm 146.3
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

Reflection: No Princes :: Readers’ Choice
Originally published July 11th, 2019
By John Tillman

How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God? This can cause problems in two ways. 

In the first, it can cause otherwise faithful people to bend over backward to defend a corrupt leader because to admit that the leader failed or that corruption was present would reflect badly on God’s work. Or it might even mean that the man was never “God’s man” in the first place and we had been duped by him. Unable to admit this, we rally to support and deny any accusation or attack, deaf to evidence or appeal.

The second is, in a way, the equal and opposite reaction. It causes people to believe that they must abandon faith in God because of a leader who broke faith or gave into corruption or abused his power. (It is almost always a man who does this…) Unable to separate their faith from the identity of the leader, they abandon faith.

In both of these cases, the followers’ faith was never in God in the first place.

Let us pray using some of the words of Psalm 146, asking God to protect our faith from even resting a little finger on the unworthy foundation of princes or kings or leaders. May our faith be built solely and solidly upon Jesus, his cross of suffering, and his glorious resurrection.

No Princes
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

The princes of this land cannot save us, nor do they intend to.
Their fine bracelets are shackles.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Even the greatest of princes will die, will fall, will fail.
Their plans will come to nothing and that nothing will come to those who trusted in them.

There is only one prince we must serve—the Prince of Peace…

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free
The Lord gives sight to the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

May we befriend the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow.

And may we live to see the ways of the wicked frustrated, the chains of the prisoners fall, the blind lead us on with new sight, the bowed down rise up to run.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50.2

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 2 (Listen – 6:09), 
Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about When Nations Pray :: Worldwide Prayer
Help us to incarnate a gospel that evangelizes and emancipates those in need as a real and relevant demonstration of our living Christ.

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