The Blooming Desert

Scripture Focus: Psalm 63
1 You, God, are my God, 
earnestly I seek you; 
I thirst for you, 
my whole being longs for you, 
in a dry and parched land 
where there is no water. 
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary 
and beheld your power and your glory. 
3 Because your love is better than life, 
my lips will glorify you. 
4 I will praise you as long as I live, 
and in your name I will lift up my hands. 
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; 
with singing lips my mouth will praise you. 
6 On my bed I remember you; 
I think of you through the watches of the night. 
7 Because you are my help, 
I sing in the shadow of your wings. 
8 I cling to you; 
your right hand upholds me. 
9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; 
they will go down to the depths of the earth. 
10 They will be given over to the sword 
and become food for jackals. 
11 But the king will rejoice in God; 
all who swear by God will glory in him, 
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Reflection: The Blooming Desert
By John Tillman

Cartoons I watched on lazy Saturdays had a familiar visual gag to depict hunger. Two companions would be stranded without food on a deserted island. Maddened by hunger, one would watch the other slowly turn into a delicious-looking ham or a turkey leg. Meanwhile, the other would watch their companion turn into a bucket of fried chicken. Soon they would chase each other around the island, but they were chasing an illusion.

David’s desert Psalm mentions things one might fantasize about in the desert or on a deserted island. He speaks of the richest of foods and of his thirst being quenched. David’s spiritual analogy may have been inspired by physical reality.

Spiritually, we live in a desert where there is no water. We walk in a land where no food grows.

Everything our culture says to drink causes thirst rather than quenches it. Everything our culture says to consume poisons health rather than promotes it. Our world is a spiritual food desert where the only food available is not true food at all. The impulses and instincts they call life-giving make us starved and shriveled devils.

“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials “for the sake of humanity,” and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.” — CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Satisfying instinct leaves us unsatisfied. Filling physical desire leaves us unfulfilled. Like the cartoon companions, we chase seemingly satisfying illusions. Not only are they not real, but if we ever catch them, we’d reap only sorrow and guilt.

David found life that really matters is not fed by natural things. God is better than food, better than drink, better than sleep. He is the bread and water of life. He is our peace and our rest.

Jesus is a fountain springing up in the desert that enlivens the driest, most hopeless ground. When we drink deeply of living water, we can make the desert bloom.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The Lord is my shepherd, and nothing is wanting to me. In green pastures, He has settled me.

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 13 (Listen 4:33)
Psalms 62-63 (Listen 2:42)

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
Christ and the Israelites weren’t hungry in the desert for no reason. Nor are we.

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Hidden Co-heirs

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 11.1-3
11 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. 2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. 3 He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.

Reflection: Hidden Co-heirs
By John Tillman

A wicked leader sets out to slaughter heirs to the throne, including babies who could one day be a threat. But one child is miraculously, bravely, hidden away until the throne is reclaimed and evil confronted.

We’ve seen this familiar story dressed up as a fairytale, played out in magical realms, and soaring through space in science fiction epics. The “hidden heir” has many faces. Cinderella. John Snow. Luke and Leia. Harry Potter. 

Biblical versions of the hidden heir include Moses, David, and Joash. All were secretly saved or hidden and one day rose to restore righteousness and destroy evil.

There are multiple wicked kings and queens in scripture. Athaliah is less well-known than Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, despite the fact that she more than equals Jezebel in evil. Not content to influence a king, Athaliah takes Judah’s throne herself in a bloody massacre. She rules by violence and bloodshed, reminding us that ruthlessness and violence are not solely male traits.

Bravery and decisiveness are also not gendered traits. They are exemplified by Athaliah’s faithful sister, Jehosheba, who takes dangerous and necessary action to save Joash. Joash is hidden in the Temple and raised by the priest, Jehoiada.

Are all leaders raised up by God? In a way. However, God allows some wicked leaders to worm their way to the top, only to be thrown down. God often uses those hidden away in obscurity to topple those who manipulate their way into powerful positions. Judging which type of leader is rising can be a challenge to our discernment.

The greatest hidden heir is Jesus. Jesus was hidden in the womb of a brave woman, in the indignity of a manger, in the refugee community in Egypt, in the despised town of Nazareth. And finally, hidden in the grave before being marvelously revealed as its conqueror.

In one way, Jesus is our Temple and priest and we are hidden in him. In another way, Jesus hides himself in us and we must bring him out, proclaiming his rule to the wicked kings and queens of this world.

May we proclaim and reveal the hidden-in-plain-sight kingdom of Jesus. Those with eyes to see will follow his light. Those with ears to hear will rejoice at his words. Wickedness and evil will be thrown down and all who follow him will be co-heirs with him when he is marvelously revealed. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me; I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me, because I have come from heaven, not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. Now the will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me, but that I should raise it up on the last day. It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person on the last day.” — John 6.37-40

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen 7:38)
Psalms 60-61 (Listen 2:27)

Read more about Offal Leaders
God smeared their faces with offal, but some keep trying to wipe it off and pretend nothing is wrong.

Read more about Leadership Material?
Today–just as he did in the period of the judges–God is calling up new leaders for our churches and communities.

A Model of Faithfulness

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 8:1-6
1 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years.” 2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.

3 At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to appeal to the king for her house and land. 4 The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.” 5 Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to appeal to the king for her house and land.

Gehazi said, “This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” 6 The king asked the woman about it, and she told him.

Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, “Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now.”

Reflection: A Model of Faithfulness
By Jon Polk

Who do you run to? When met with times of hardship or uncertainty, where does your faith rest?

The Shunammite woman, one of many unnamed faithful women in scripture, found herself in a rough spot. Out of the country for seven years, upon her return she discovered that her house and land had been claimed by others. Now apparently widowed, this was a devastating blow to her livelihood.

Note that she is no ordinary unnamed woman. This is the woman whose son had been raised from the dead. Let’s go back to 2 Kings 4.

A wealthy woman in the village of Shunem heard that the prophet Elisha was coming through town. She prepared a meal for him, and he began to stop there for dinner regularly as he passed through their city. This faithful woman convinced her husband to add an extra, furnished room to their home so that Elisha would have a place to stay during his visits.

Elisha was so moved by her generosity that he asked what he might do for her. His servant Gehazi mentioned that she didn’t have a son and that settled it, Elisha prophesied that within a year’s time, the woman would give birth to a son.

A boy was born as promised, but during childhood, he tragically died unexpectedly. She brought Elisha back to her home, he prayed, and the boy was healed.

In both cases, the death of her son and the loss of her property, the Shunammite woman’s faith did not waiver. There is no indication in either instance that she panicked or was hysterical. Her faith was not dependent on God’s provision but on God’s presence. 

Back to chapter 8, she approached the king straightaway with an appeal for her house and land. At the exact same moment, Gehazi was explaining to the king how Elisha had raised a woman’s son back to life. Coincidence? 

When she recounted her story to the king, he was moved to intervene on her behalf and restored her property, including all the income from the land since the day she left.

This unnamed woman is a model of faithfulness. She recognized Elisha as God’s prophet and provided food and lodging for him. When the promised son died, she confidently called Elisha. When all her belongings were taken away, she approached the king with the same confidence.

During challenging times in life, maintaining faith can be difficult, but we can run to God. In times of uncertainty and instability, we can trust God’s providence.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him, there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 8 (Listen 5:18)
Psalms 55 (Listen 2:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 9 (Listen 6:32Psalms 56-57 (Listen 3:11)
2 Kings 10 (Listen 6:30Psalms 58-59 (Listen 2:32)

Read more about Ordinary Measure of Faithfulness
The Shunammite woman is a tale of the slow, quiet, and ordinary walk of faithfulness.

Read more about God, Can You Hear Me?
It can feel like God is slow to respond. We confuse the patience of God as the endorsement of evil.

Betrayal and Failure — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 52.1-4
1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero? 
Why do you boast all day long, 
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? 
2 You who practice deceit, 
your tongue plots destruction; 
it is like a sharpened razor. 
3 You love evil rather than good, 
falsehood rather than speaking the truth. 
4 You love every harmful word, 
you deceitful tongue! 

Psalm 53.1-3
1 The fool says in his heart, 
“There is no God.” 
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; 
there is no one who does good. 
2 God looks down from heaven 
on all mankind 
to see if there are any who understand, 
any who seek God. 
3 Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; 
there is no one who does good, 
not even one. 

Psalm 54.1-5
1 Save me, O God, by your name; 
vindicate me by your might. 
2 Hear my prayer, O God; 
listen to the words of my mouth. 
3 Arrogant foes are attacking me; 
ruthless people are trying to kill me— 
people without regard for God. l 
4 Surely God is my help; 
the Lord is the one who sustains me. 
5 Let evil recoil on those who slander me; 
in your faithfulness destroy them. 

Reflection: Betrayal and Failure — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

David has many failures and betrayals to look back on. He failed to please Saul. He failed to heal the king’s madness with prayer or musical ministry. He failed to protect his allies, who were slaughtered by Doeg. As a result, David and all those who support him are on the run.

David dealt with betrayal and failure by going to God in heartfelt, weeping, raging emotion. Behind the scenes of the historical record, the Psalms show what was going on in David’s heart. David’s roiling emotions, violent anger, and desires for revenge are all honestly laid before God.

All of us deal with betrayals and failure. We’ve been betrayed by leaders, by institutions, by our faith communities, by former heroes, and even by our friends or family. We wonder how long they can continue to boast, to harm others, to bluster on as if they are in the right…

God can handle our response to betrayal. Jesus was betrayed in greater, more public, and more painful ways than we can imagine. No matter how much pain you are in or how angry you are…you aren’t too angry to speak to God honestly, and you aren’t too far gone for him to give you comfort and to suffer in spirit with you.

Today we pray a prayer, combining passages from Psalms 52-54 

Betrayal and Failure
Our culture favors the boastful.
(even when we claim not to)
But you do not, Lord.

  Why do you boast all day long,
You who practice deceit,
  You love evil rather than good,
   falsehood rather than speaking the truth.
You love every harmful word,
    you deceitful tongue!

May we respond to boasts with humility, to deceit with the truth, to evil with good, and to harm with healing words of comfort and love.

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
    there is no one who does good.

God looks down from heaven
    on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

Arrogant foes are attacking me;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
    people without regard for God.

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him. — Psalm 33.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 7 (Listen 3:55)
Psalms 52-54 (Listen 3:18)

Read more about An Officer and Four Leper Men
God does not call them “outcasts,” he calls them “my precious children.”

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
For Christians to fail to condemn, or worse, to directly endorse this type of violence is a great moral and theological failing.

You Matter

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 6:5-7
5 As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”
6 The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. 7 “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

Reflection: You Matter
By Erin Newton

I don’t have anything to pay my taxes. A coin appears in the fish’s mouth.

The wine has run out. Water is transformed.

The tool I borrowed fell into the river. The ax-head floats.

Have you ever started a prayer request with the disclaimer, “I know this is no big deal…” or even avoided sharing a request because it seemed so insignificant in comparison to others?

My brother died. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

I have bled for a decade. The hem cures a lifetime disease.

They are trying to burn us alive. The three men survive unscathed.

We pray for the big ones—the big needs that seem to warrant prayer because our ability is so evidently outmatched. When we think we are strong, we forget to ask for help. Or maybe we think some things are too small for God.

The story of the floating ax is seven verses long. It is brushed over rather quickly in most commentaries in just one paragraph. It follows a larger miracle—a big one—as Naaman is healed of leprosy. The lack of attention for this physics-defying event reflects our assumption that some things are too small to bother God.

Or maybe it’s just too mundane. Why would God care about a borrowed tool? It was just a tool. Replaceable. Inanimate. Perhaps a little old. Maybe a little dull. Definitely a little broken.

What if the reluctance to ask for help in the little things reflects how we think God looks at us? Do we think God only cares about the big things and the important people?

For all the verses that speak of God’s love for his creation, we sometimes love ourselves very little. We think God only cares about the military commanders with leprosy, not an unnamed prophet cutting down trees.  

The next verses speak of the servant’s miraculous vision of Elisha surrounded by a host of angels, hills covered in horses, and chariots of fire. Nestled among these big miracles is the simple recovery of a borrowed ax.

In our world that promotes grandeur and importance, God still cares about the littlest of things. He sees the faithful person doing a day’s work, nothing grand, nothing glorious, and he cares.
There is no need for a disclaimer on “little” prayers. God’s attentiveness poured out for you comes in the same measure as it is with the highest-ranking officer.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 6 (Listen 5:05)
Psalms 51 (Listen 2:19)

Read more about Don’t Lose Heart: God Hears Your Prayers
God isn’t like us—or the unjust judge. He doesn’t grow weary of our prayers.

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