Recentering on Christ

Scripture Focus: Psalm 104.1
1 Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

Reflection: Recentering on Christ
By John Tillman

The psalms are more than instructions and more than inspiration. They are not dry diaries or droning histories, but the living, breathing faith of those interacting with the Holy Spirit. 

Their artistry allows us to enter the prayer room and experience both sides of a holy conversation between human artists and the creator of all. Their art is most practical for those who are seeking God in a world connected by technology. Work, news, and ephemera, now know no boundaries and pop into our hand-held devices unbidden.  

Jonathan Edwards, when in difficulty at work, made use of the scripture, of intercession, and of community to recenter himself on Christ. He describes the experience in the following journal entry:

“In the morning my desires seemed to rise, and ascend up freely to God. Was busy most of the day in translating prayers into the language of the Delaware Indians; met with great difficulty… But though I was much discouraged with the extreme difficulty of that work, God supported me; and especially in the evening gave me sweet refreshment.

In prayer my soul was enlarged, and my faith drawn into sensible exercise; was enabled to cry to God for [them]; and though the work of their conversion appeared impossible with man, yet with God I saw all things were possible.

My faith was much strengthened, by observing the wonderful assistance God afforded his servants Nehemiah and Ezra, in reforming his people, and re-establishing his ancient church.

I was much assisted in prayer for dear Christian friends, and for others that I apprehended to be Christ-less… [I] was enabled to be instant in prayer for them; and hoped that God would bow the heavens and come down for their salvation. It seemed to me there could be no impediment sufficient to obstruct that glorious work, seeing the living God, as I strongly hoped, was engaged for it.

I continued in a solemn frame, lifting up my heart to God for assistance and grace, that I might be more mortified to this present world, that my whole soul might be taken up continually in concern for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Continued in this frame until I dropped asleep.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. — Psalm 86.11

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

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 28  (Listen 4:45)
Psalms 104 (Listen 3:37)

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God Loves Mere Mortals

Scripture Focus: Psalm 103:13-16
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.

Reflection: God Loves Mere Mortals
By Erin Newton

I came across a poem recently by Donna Ashworth called “Joy Chose You.” The opening lines read: Joy does not arrive with a fanfare on a red carpet strewn with the flowers of a perfect life. 

The words captured the beauty of joy in the midst of the harsh reality of imperfection. I was struck later by the words of Psalm 103, “The Lord has compassion… for he remembers that we are dust.” How does our mortality relate to divine compassion, I wondered. Is it not also true that compassion does not arrive with fanfare or among those with a perfect life? 

The psalmist begins with praise— Bless the Lord! The psalmist recounts all the reasons we praise God. He forgives and he heals. He redeems and he crowns. He satisfies and he renews. All of this and we are mere mortals. 

As each year passes, we are reminded of our mortality whether it is a new diagnosis for ourselves or a loved one buried within the earth. Only in our fearless youth are we less aware of how not immortal our bodies are. We feel each new ache and see each new wrinkle. Our minds sometimes fade and memory lags. 

But despite our weakness, frailty, and mortality— divine compassion envelops our lives. It does not care that we are fading flowers and withering grass. God’s compassion for us is not measured by our fitness or vitality. The poem also said, “Joy cares nothing of your messy home, or your bank balance, or your waistline.” And neither does compassion. 

We are not made to earn God’s compassion. There is no standard to which we must attain before compassion is given to us. 

We are mortals living a very human life. Our emotions will get away from us. Our faith will be shaken. We will question and complain. We are the Jobs and the Noahs and the Miriams. God knows this. Compassion is still given. 

The psalmist often calls the recipients of divine compassion, “those who fear him.” That is not to say those who reject God are cut off from his compassion. God so loved the world. Compassion stands ready, perhaps just ignored or unembraced. 

But rest assured, beloved, you do not have to earn God’s love. Your mortality does not diminish divine compassion. The days the flesh “wins out” do not diminish divine compassion. God loves you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

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

Today’s Readings

1 Chronicles 26-27  (Listen 9:31)
Psalms 103 (Listen 2:07)

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Baring Your Soul

Scripture Focus: Psalm 102.16-21
16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion 
and appear in his glory. 
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; 
he will not despise their plea. 
18 Let this be written for a future generation, 
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 
19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, 
from heaven he viewed the earth, 
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners 
and release those condemned to death.” 
21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion 
and his praise in Jerusalem 

Reflection: Baring Your Soul
By John Tillman

Who do you bare your soul to when complaints bubble up from your heart? A stranger? A work colleague? 

It can be a horrible day, yet when strangers ask, “How are you?” we’ll mumble, “Fine. How are you?” and move along.

What is really lacking in these interactions is trust. How can we share deep hurt with those we do not trust deeply? In his commentary on Psalm 102, Federico Villanueva says, “We normally do not express our negative emotions to people we don’t know well, because it is like baring our soul.”

The first problem is one of understanding. A complex work-related problem will get blank stares from those uninformed about our industry. Our financial fears will seem either fanciful or frivolous to those outside our socio-economic level. Someone who doesn’t experience the same prejudices we face can’t truly know how it feels to be discriminated against.

Another hesitation comes when we fear judgment. If we complain, won’t they find us selfish? If we are angry, won’t they be afraid of us? If we are fearful, won’t they be ashamed of us?

Those with whom we have a loving, trusting relationship, however, can be trusted. We trust them to give us the comfort we need and to correct our shortcomings without despising us for our weaknesses.

Lament must be reserved for those who love us. This is why God is the perfect person to whom we can take all our laments.

Villanueva points out that Psalm 102 has sections of lament layered between hymns declaring trust in God. As you take your harshest, most raw emotions to God, sandwich them with statements of trust. Jesus modeled this in his darkest moments in Gethsemane. “Take this cup away” is balanced with a trust in God’s will. “Not my will, but yours.”

This is not to “stay positive” or spare God’s feelings. It is a reminder to us that the very reason we can pour out our deepest hurts to him is that God is worthy of our deepest trust. It is because he is holy that he is good.

The psalmist wrote this for us. We are those people, “not yet created,” who are mentioned by the psalmist. Jesus also mentioned us in prayer and has a special attentiveness to those hurting, struggling, and doubting.

Open up to Jesus today. Bare your soul to the most trustworthy listener.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken hearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed. — Psalm 34.17-18

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

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 24-25  (Listen 7:01)
Psalms 102 (Listen 2:45)

Read more about Lamenting With Job
Lament can swallow up complaining in our lives. Lament is frequent and important in the Bible and should be in our lives as well.

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Tremble in Hope

Scripture Focus: Psalm 99.1-9
1 The Lord reigns, 
let the nations tremble; 
he sits enthroned between the cherubim, 
let the earth shake. 
2 Great is the Lord in Zion; 
he is exalted over all the nations. 
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name— 
he is holy. 
4 The King is mighty, he loves justice— 
you have established equity; 
in Jacob you have done 
what is just and right. 
5 Exalt the Lord our God 
and worship at his footstool; 
he is holy. 
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, 
Samuel was among those who called on his name; 
they called on the Lord 
and he answered them. 
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; 
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them. 
8 Lord our God, 
you answered them; 
you were to Israel a forgiving God, 
though you punished their misdeeds. 
9 Exalt the Lord our God 
and worship at his holy mountain, 
for the Lord our God is holy. 

Reflection: Tremble in Hope
By John Tillman

God loves justice, the psalmist says. Nations should tremble before him when their rulers, courts, or laws do not establish justice.

Justice fails when victims are ignored, not believed, or when evidence is covered up. Justice fails when prominence, power, or personality prevent prosecutions from proceeding. Justice fails when it falls heavily only on the poor and powerless, while the wealthy and well-connected find leniency.

Are we establishing justice or undermining it? 

God establishes equity, the psalmist says. He loves even, level, and straight paths with fair access. God has no favorites. He poured his Holy Spirit onto men and women, Jews, Greeks, and every other race. His rule, justice, and gospel allow all people and places to live in unity and brotherhood.

Equity dies as tribalism and racism take hold. Jealousy, suspicion, and fear produce hatred. Fearing others’ success exposes our greed and selfishness. Refusing to lift others up gives tacit approval to those who pushed them down.

Are we insisting on equity or resisting it?

What nations do (and what individuals support) does not go unnoticed or unpunished. Sometimes, God punishes from without, sending one nation to crush another for their sins. Sometimes, God punishes from within, allowing nations to fall on their own swords or poison themselves…

Whether committed by dictators or appointed representatives, wicked deeds blossom, and the poisonous fruit stains the fingers and mouths of those who profit from it. Their dead bodies lie exposed beneath the trees as a warning, yet those hungry for power take the fruit and plant it in their gardens. This has happened, will happen, and is happening.

Are we eating the fruit of wickedness? 

If we tremble in conviction, we do not tremble without hope.

The psalmist also says God is forgiving. He punishes but also restores. He exiles but also calls us home. Wicked nations and individuals who repent will find him willing to bless.

Never lose hope. Christians are most gullible and vulnerable to manipulation when we lose hope and fail to trust in God. Grasping for hope in this world, we are liable to take the hand of the devil. 

When all seems lost, it isn’t. Our faith is founded on a moment when all hope seemed lost. Jesus went to the grave praying in hope to God. We can tremble in hope that our God will forgive and redeem us as we worship him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in your; I have said to the Lord, “ You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

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

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 23  (Listen 4:20)
Psalms 99-101 (Listen 2:48)

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Maturity is shown when we agree with God not about others’ sins but about our own.

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Holidays and Death’s Silence

Scripture Focus: Psalm 94:17
17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
    I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

Reflection: Holidays and Death’s Silence
By Erin Newton

“What is there really to be thankful for this year?” I sat outside with my dad talking about the upcoming holidays. This is our first major holiday without my mom and there is the painful silence of her absence.

Holidays have all the promises of cheer and merriment as well as the oppressive weight of forced happiness and performative joy. Another friend lamented, “I feel rushed and unable to enjoy the season.” We all feel some sort of pressure from outside circumstances or inward expectations.

Psalm 94 would not be a text you would choose for Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. It is a plea for God to enact justice against the wicked. The cry is to God as judge and avenger. But the psalmist’s foot is slipping. Life has become perilous. Anxiety sets in.

In many ways Psalm 94 is a perfect choice for this season. International wars rage around us. Family battles seem no less destructive. Undeserved suffering continues to plague our everyday life.

The Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord had given me help…” The recognition of crises, trauma, grief, pain, hopelessness, and our weakness to remedy it is important. In the same way I have been asked how I manage continuing school or writing or hosting Bible studies in the midst of the never-ending grief. My heart responds, “If it had not been for…,” and I continue with some truth that has anchored me in this turbulent time.

If it had not been for the truth of heaven, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

If it had not been for the psalms of lament, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

If it had not been for the hand of Jesus ministering through the hands of a friend who sits quietly next to me as I cry, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

There are the anchors of faith to buoy us up from the depths of darkness. We remain in the waters, tossing and drifting at sea. But we remain afloat, perhaps just in survival mode as the waves of a busy, social-event-filled month crash over us.

Let us take a moment to consider how God supports us by his unfailing love (v. 18) and gives us joy through his consolation (v. 19). Meditate on how you would finish the phrase, “If it had not been for…”  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 19-20 (Listen 5:02)
Psalms 94 (Listen 2:08)

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 21 (Listen 5:03Psalms 95-96 (Listen 2:37)
1 Chronicles 22 (Listen 3:25Psalms 97-98 (Listen 2:19)

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The abyss of despair is like the watery depths of the ocean…The feeling is crushing—helpless, hopeless, vulnerable.

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