What Prayer Delivers

Scripture: Romans 5.1-2
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Reflection: What Prayer Delivers
By John Tillman

We have often written, and discussed in our community that prayer is not a grocery list for God. That’s not what it means for God to be our Deliverer. Those who treat prayer so, will continually be disappointed at what must seem a very poor return on investment.

Some in the church have set prayer up to fail with this kind of teaching—attempting to create a longing for prayer through a materialistic longing for a better job, or positive, tangible outcomes in life. Teaching such as this short-circuits the real and actual longing for prayer that already exists in each person. Roberta C. Bondi discusses this in her essay, The Paradox of Prayer.

There is a deeper reason for our longing for prayer. We are so made that we cannot live fully without it. Prayer is central to the Christian life. It joins us to God, and it leads us to ourselves in God.

Prayer is something far deeper in the human soul than a list of materialistic items. It comes from longings that each person feels—a longing for identity, a longing for connection, a longing for purpose.

In prayer we find things that are more valuable than what a “deliverer god” (lowercase) might pick up at the shop on the way over. We discover who we are, who loves us, and to whom we are to carry that love—for we are God’s delivery system, not the other way around.

Prayer connects us to God, to our true selves, and to our true purpose. Bondi continues:

It is the place where we can be completely ourselves. In prayer we can see ourselves as we are and be truthful about what we see. We can enjoy our own gifts and wonder at all we have been given. We can argue with God about who we are and who we have been. We can acknowledge our mistakes and set them aside. Most important, we can learn to love God, ourselves as belonging to God, and other people as images of God, because we are shaped at our very deepest levels by our prayer.

*Quotes from Roberta C. Bondi’s essay, The Paradox of Prayer, in Communion, Community, Commonweal, edited by John S. Mogabgab.

The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me… Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

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

Where Judgment Falls

Scripture: 1 Samuel 2.12
Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests. — JRR Tolkien

Reflection: Where Judgment Falls
By John Tillman

Eli’s sons were corrupt in the extreme. They stole from the offerings of the people, committing financial sins and threatening violence toward those who objected. They used their spiritual positions of power to manipulate and pressure women at the tabernacle for sexual favors. The Bible says Eli and his sons grew fat off of the offerings of the people. They are a textbook case of spiritual abuse and financial malfeasance in the name of ministry.

Anyone, even unbelievers, can name a pastor or church they consider to be a Hophni or a Phinehas. Among non-believers and those leaving the church, some common reasons are corrupt, abusive, or just plain bad leadership.

Ministers who are corrupt or simply incompetent and foolish are nothing new to Christianity. JRR Tolkien wrote to his son concerning this issue.

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church for any such reasons…Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).

It can be difficult to worship God under corrupt leaders and it can even be difficult to celebrate their good moments. Hannah received her prophecy and blessing of Samuel’s birth through the tainted ministry of Eli and his sons, but rather than redeeming their ministry, it was the first step in God wiping them out.

Samuel comes to remind us that judgment is coming for the Hophni’s, Phinehas’s, and Eli’s of the world, and for us as well. That judgment has fallen on Christ, and we all receive his same mercy.

The Request for Presence
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

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

Room For Hannah

Scripture: 1 Samuel 1.13-14
Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

Reflection: Room For Hannah
By John Tillman

Eli’s judgmental and graceless confrontation of Hannah is ironic given that he had trouble confronting and dealing with the corruption of his own sons who served in the Tabernacle.

Hannah’s emotional distress, rather than bringing compassion, brought judgment and harsh words. In the intervening millennia, churches and ministers haven’t gotten much better at receiving with grace those who are in emotional distress.

At times, we do a better job of accepting the exuberant dancing of King David than the distraught expressions of Hannah. (And some churches don’t accept either) Church staff and attendees often reflect an unspoken belief that Christian Life has no place for sadness.

Churches are under a lot of pressure, after all, to be friendly, welcoming, life-affirming places. But if we fail to affirm life in its full spectrum of emotions we aren’t affirming life in total — merely positively charged life. As Christians, to address people in emotional distress as Jesus addressed those he ministered to, we must love them before they are healed, and even if they never are.

We need to show love to those suffering from the very real hurts and disfigurements of the soul that are caused by emotional distress. We need to approach these people and love them as the Savior did — touching them, giving them our attention, and reminding all those who are gathered that these people are a part of our community.

When someone is part of your community, you make space for them. You don’t force them to make do. We need to clear out some space for people in emotional distress — theological space, physical space, and liturgical space.

The only way for the church to become a counter-cultural, welcoming place when it comes to aiding those in emotional distress is if we, the members, do so. May we observe, see, and move to aid the hurting around us with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Parts of this devotional were previously published on Ministry Accelerator’s blog.

– September is Suicide Prevention month. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. You can pledge, as an individual or organization to participate in National Day of Prayer for Faith Hope and Life, by following this link.

The Greeting
Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.3

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 1 (Listen – 4:13)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Samuel 2 (Listen – 6:09) Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)
1 Samuel 3 (Listen – 3:03) Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

Redemption at Work in Generosity

Scripture: Ruth 2.20
He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.

Reflection: Redemption at Work in Generosity
By John Tillman

Our culture is obsessed with romance. (To the tune of thirty percent of the fiction market and over a billion dollars a year) However, as tempting as it is to interpret Boaz’s actions in Ruth’s second chapter to an instant romantic attachment, gleaning doesn’t make for a good “meet-cute.”

Gleaning was a part of the social safety net put in place by the communal regulations of the Old Testament covenant. Ruth’s story puts a relational microscope on this practice.

Landowners, the CEOs of Israel’s agrarian society, had a holy responsibility to not wring every grain of profit from their fields—to not harvest the edges and corners of the field, and to not pick up dropped grain or return for forgotten sheaves. This runs counter to our modern business mentality of efficiency at all costs and it seems that the community of Bethlehem wasn’t fully living up to these ideals either.

Boaz’s warnings not to glean elsewhere and his assurances of good treatment in his field are strong indicators to us that gleaners were seldom well treated. His statement, “I have told the men not to lay a hand on you,” is a particularly telling hint at the kind of treatment that Ruth was likely to get elsewhere and may indeed already have received before Boaz arrived.

Then as now, the marginalized are the easiest targets for harassment and violence, and it is up to people of faith to intervene.

The redemptive view of work, profit, and charity in Ruth, asserts that ownership is custodial—that the fruits of investment are meant to benefit the entire community. The initiative to provide assistance must sync up with the initiative to seek it. Systems and programs for the marginalized are nice and societies should have them. But compassion goes further.

Living generously is more than giving out of “our” profit that we have harvested. It is recognizing that the profit never belonged to us. It is more than giving a prescribed percentage of income to carefully vetted charities or happily paying taxes for social programs. Generosity is making room in our lives, our fields, and our communities for the marginalized and the needy. Fulfilling religious or social law is compliance. Generosity means going beyond what is expected.

The Call to Prayer
Let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful. — Psalm 68.3

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ruth 3-4 (Listen – 5:24)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

Ruth, the Immigrant

Scripture: Ruth 2.6
The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.

Reflection: Ruth, the Immigrant
By John Tillman

Ruth’s story is attractive for those who long for a quid-pro-quo relationship between their good deeds and God’s blessings.

This line of teaching focuses on Ruth’s hard work to aid Naomi, but usually skips the antecedent action in which Ruth had a controversial interracial marriage with a Jewish immigrant and, following his death, chose to abandon her biological family, her culture, her country, and her religion to seek a home among a people who had pledged to wipe out her race in the previous generation, but hadn’t quite succeeded yet.

Ruth, the immigrant, isn’t a version of the story we think about much, but it is the primary way those who interacted with Ruth would have thought of her. With our gift of hindsight, we associate Ruth with her great-grandchild, Israel’s greatest earthly king, David. But to everyone else, Ruth was “the Moabite.” She would have been seen as a dangerous immigrant—one of “those women” the law warns Israel about, who would seduce and lead Israel into sin. By remembering that Ruth is an immigrant, we get a clearer picture of her story.

More important than showing us the value of hard work, or kindness, or having a successful marriage, Ruth shows us how God’s grace helps us immigrate from our own selfish kingdoms to the kingdom of God through repentance. Ruth shows us how to turn our back on our self and what we have known, to abandon what is best for us by the world’s standard, and to turn our face toward a new God and a new kingdom.

Ruth becomes a member of a new community and, by grace, she joins the lineage of a new family—the family of Jesus. Our place in Jesus’ family is as much by grace as Ruth’s place in His genealogy. Ruth is an example of God’s grace extending, through Israel, to the Gentiles, and eventually, to us.

Boaz, the son of Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, and Ruth, the Moabitess, make a life together in the promised land. This is a unique picture of God’s mercy and grace. By rights they shouldn’t be here. Yet they not only live, they flourish, and they foreshadow the Gospel spreading beyond Israel to the nations.

The Morning Psalm
Hallelujah! When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech — Psalm 114

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ruth 2 (Listen – 3:56)
Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

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