Thoughts and Prayers

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 2.1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Prayer is not a passive, calm, quiet practice. — Tim Keller

Reflection: Thoughts and Prayers
By John Tillman

In our world, there is now pushback against even saying that we will pray over a situation. Thoughts and prayers as a hashtag has become a philosophical battlefield where people of faith and people frustrated by people of faith clash about the efficacy of prayer and the pointlessness of faith without works. (The language is, of course, not that academic.)

This pushback is based on a cultural assumption about prayer and an assumption about those who say they will pray. The first is that prayer is pointless and can’t help any situation. The second is that those who say they will pray, will not actually pray, and worse than that, will not follow through with any actions at all.

The cultural version of this type of empty prayer is engaging in the equally empty gesture of clicktivism—liking or sharing a post about an issue, but doing nothing substantive to address it. In a way, those who are decrying thoughts and prayers are praying unknowingly—they are calling out, they know not to whom, for real, tangible change and action.

The culture Paul was in prayed a lot. Prayer was everywhere. But in no religion was it so personal and direct as in Christianity. The type of prayer that Paul practiced and taught confronted both modern and ancient cultural assumptions and was attractive, not repulsive, to his culture. How?

One reason we see is that the kind of prayer that Paul engages in is fruitful in creating action—good desires and the deeds that follow. Paul’s prayers were not just words, but will and work. According to Paul deeds are prompted by faith, and faith is fueled by prayer life.

It is our actions, growing directly from the cultivated soil of prayer, that bear fruit that our world will gladly partake of.

When we follow the lead of godly, broken-hearted prayer, we will find ourselves acting in undeniably loving ways (against which there is no law), seeking out the lost, marginalized, and broken with Christ’s love, and suddenly realizing that people are no longer repelled by our thoughts and our prayers.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus was at a feast when: “He said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends and brothers or your relations or rich neighbors, in case they invite you back and repay you. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again.’” — Luke 14.12-14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

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 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Praying as Priests
May we pronounce this blessing not with words alone, but in how we live and walk through our world

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Read more about Artful Prayers
In the psalms, we…enter the lived emotion of the artists who bared their souls to God in prayers that were always intended to be performed.

Our Merciless Culture

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 1.13-14
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Our Merciless Culture
By John Tillman

The mercy and forgiveness offered to Paul is staggering, scandalous, and in our own time, practically impossible.

One of the least Christian things about American culture today is how we feel about forgiveness and mercy. We frown at forgiveness in general, but to forgive someone who harmed you or to forgive someone outside one’s tribe or group, is anathema. If you want to be an outcast, forgive someone outside your political party, your race, or your gender.

Every culture is a bit cynical about mercy and repentance. Reasonable skepticism is justifiable. Even the apostles didn’t accept Paul until Barnabas spoke up for him. The type of mercy extended to Paul and many others in scripture would never be tolerated or allowed today. 

Our culture has become anti-mercy, going past skepticism and walking into the wilderness of hatred and retributive violence. In recent years, when people have offered public forgiveness to individuals that everyone agreed did not deserve it, our world wouldn’t tolerate it. We are opposed to forgiveness. We go beyond refusing to forgive—we label forgiveness and mercy, not just foolish, but evil.

A culture that is invested in and glorifies hatred, retribution, payback, and vengeance cannot allow an act of mercy to stand as a simple act of mercy. It must be critiqued and spun. Media and pundits immediately will attempt to twist it, politicize it, and discount it.

Our world is desperate to explain away Christian forgiveness as something else. It must be enabling evil. It must be the result of racism. It must be a naive and foolish gesture. It must be anything other than Christian, gospel forgiveness. Never that.

Otherwise, we might be forced to set down our weapons of vengeance. Otherwise, we might be forced to question our treasured value of total war against our ideological enemies. Otherwise, we might have to abandon our “ends justify the means” political machinations. Otherwise, we might be forced to admit we need mercy ourselves.

Our world would like to pretend that it hates mercy because it cares for victims. But it requires it’s victims to stay victims, suffering eternally. Healing or restoration doesn’t fuel hatred, only pain does. Our culture’s interest in victims is only as fuel for hatred. Our world hates mercy because it loves hate.

As Christians, we must defeat hate by truly caring for victims and by forgiving in shocking and scandalous ways.

*Forgiveness and mercy does not mean abandoning the pursuit of justice through the law. It also does not mean asking victims to be quiet or to stop sharing their pain and their stories. For a short brush up on the tension between forgiveness and justice, see this Veritas Forum video with Rachael Denhollander.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
…You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth…
…My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.20, 24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

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 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about A True Example of Repentance
As permissive as our supposedly modern culture is, we are remarkably tribal about mercy.

Read more about In Our Least Favorite Commandment
There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”

Work, Ministry, and Generosity

Scripture Focus: 2 Thessalonians 3.7-9
We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.

Reflection: Work, Ministry, and Generosity
By John Tillman

Paul lived differently among different groups determined by their maturity, their cultural influences, and their spiritual need. Among some groups, he accepted and deeply relied on financial support. Among some groups, he paid his own way and worked in a secular trade in addition to serving the gospel. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people…” for the sake of the gospel.

Among the Thessalonians, Paul accepted no financial support, perhaps due to the fact that they were under greater persecution and hardship than others, or perhaps simply because he felt they needed the example of his hard labor. Paul served the Thessalonians, not only with his ministry work but with his “secular” work and using the gifts of other churches. 

The question for believers is, which church are you? Are you receiving ministry funded by others or are you supporting ministry to others in need? The answer may be “both” or the answer may change as your circumstances change.

Many ministers, especially bi-vocational ministers, feel deeply these words of Paul, “we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” Pray this week especially for pastors and ministers who are laboring to serve the gospel—many of them bi-vocational, working one or more secular jobs to support their ministry. Consider your level of financial support for those ministries to which you are connected.

For those who are financial supporters of their churches and other ministries, giving can be a way of bringing greater meaning to the workplace. Work of any kind is already a holy endeavor for the Christian as we are commanded to work “as unto the Lord.” But if one is donating a certain percentage of one’s income, then as one goes through the day’s work, one can prayerfully remember, as each hour passes, the percentage of that hour that is being given over to support Christ’s work in the world.

Spiritual growth always has a purpose that we become more like Christ. As believers, our generosity is just one area in which the Holy Spirit may challenge us to grow. Financially supporting ministry work connects us more closely to the work and ministry of Christ. Growing in giving causes us to be made more into the image and pattern of Christ. Generosity transforms our work into an instrument for cultivating faith—planting seeds for the spreading of the gospel of Christ. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; when the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. Psalm 103.15-16

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -2:16)

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 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about How to Know When to Give
Give without question or hesitation to whomever the Spirit directs you to give.

Read more about The Context of The Widow’s Mite
The bright light of the widow’s faith shines within the darkness of hypocrisy and abuse.

The Crux of Repentance

Scripture Focus: 2 Thessalonians 2.13-14
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Crux of Repentance

By John Tillman

We acknowledge that Jesus said “It is finished.” But still we often want to “do our part.” We are like a patron in a five star restaurant being served a dish prepared by a master chef which we then we drown in ketchup.

The unmerited favor of Christ is an acquired taste. Most of us are gauche enough to like our grace flavored with a little bit of earning it.

But, don’t we have to do… something? What about repentance? What about sanctification? What about growing more like Christ?

Where the call of the gospel, the work of Christ, our belief in him, and the first steps of our sanctification meet is the crux of repentance.

“If you believe, you must every day renounce, as dung and dross, your privileges, your obedience, your baptism, your sanctification, your duties, your graces, your tears, your meltings, your humblings, and nothing but Christ must be held up.” — Thomas Wilcox

We often are so unwilling to renounce anything. So unwilling to part with anything. So unwilling to lay down anything.

If only our repentance looked more like that of the thief on the cross. His hands are open, holding nothing. He is naked, hiding nothing. He is humble, asking nothing. He simply believes.

Our hands are full of work and achievements. Our sins we dress in the finest of intentions. Our demands are not only for Heaven in the future, but tangible blessing now. We want one pie in the sky and one on earth too.

It is important to distinguish that acts of repentance are not a precursor or a down payment that secures our forgiveness. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit—no longer behind the veil of the temple but living in us—is our down payment from Christ.

Just as Christ completed his work on the cross for us, his Holy Spirit will complete a transforming work in us, if we let him.

May we repent as the thief and allow Christ to do his work. The man lived mere hours as a believer, but look what God has done with those hours.

“If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is, that he can do even more now that he liveth and reigneth. All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of his grace?” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

What may the Holy Spirit do in you?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Show me you ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusteed all the day long. — Psalm 25.3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen -2:32)

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 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
Sanctification and moralism both introduce change, but only one is spiritual and is powered by the gospel.

Read more about A Trinity of Neglect :: Readers’ Choice
The king expected growth in the servant. Growth of the gold would only be a side effect.

More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: ‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4.
We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

Reflection: More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Paul uses the term “more and more“ twice in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Thessalonians. Both times he is pleased with where the believers are currently, yet hoping for and encouraging them toward more. 

Sanctification is easy to confuse with moralism. 

To the moralist, “more and more” means more rules and ratings.
To those being sanctified, “more and more” means fewer outward rules and more inner change.

Through sanctification, we are slowly transformed by influences beyond our selves—-the Holy Spirit’s power and the reading of God’s Word. In sanctification, we focus on change in our lives, not others.

Through moralism, we transform scriptures into affirmations of our faithfulness and condemnation of others’ sinfulness. In moralism, we focus on others lives, measuring ourselves against them instead of scripture. 

Sanctification and moralism both introduce change, but only one is spiritual and is powered by the gospel. Let us pray this prayer over the weekend that we may not be more “moral.” But that, instead, we may be more like Christ.

More and More and Less and Less
Gracious Father, we know…

We cannot do “more and more” of the things Christ calls us to without doing “less and less” of some other things.

More and more of Christ in our life means less and less of us. He must become greater and we must become less.

Give us more and less, Father… 
More of Christ’s love for others less of our love of self. 
More of Christ’s grace for others and less of our grudging forgiveness. 
More of Christ’s hatred of sin and less of our hatred of those whose sins are different than ours.
More of Christ’s Word, the Bible, and less of the algorithmic sales machines that social media has become.
More of spreading the good news of the gospel and less of spreading the worst news we can find about our enemies.

We know that we will be at our happiest, at our most fulfilled, and at our most true self when we continually surrender more and more to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

No Christian is ever perfect until perfectly conformed to Christ. Conform us, Lord.
No Christian is ever righteous without the righteousness of Christ. Make us righteous, Lord.
No Christian can say, “It is finished.” Christ came to say it for us. Finish your work in us, Lord.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:19)
1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen -2:24)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51), 1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen -2:37)
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13),  2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen -1:52)

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 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Christ, the True Hero
We are not the saviors, but the ones in need of saving. It is Christ, not us, who is the hero of our cities and our world.

Read more about The Law that leads to Grace :: Guided Prayer
We cannot live by the Law. If we could, then Christ’s death was for no purpose.

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