We Measure Up Because of the Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 29.31-32
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

From John: This is our last of Dena’s series on weary women of the Bible and we thank her so much for sharing her work with our readers and for sharing her experience with our student writers this summer. Dena has more books in the works and we encourage you to check out her social media pages and websites. You’ll also be hearing again from Dena here at some point in the future and we greatly look forward to it! Thank you, Dena!

Reflection: We Measure Up—Because of the Cross
By Dena Dyer

The drama in some of the Old Testament stories—such as Leah and Rachel’s rivalry over Jacob—reminds me of a modern reality show. Can you imagine sisters-by-blood being married to the same man? I’m sure Rachel felt terribly betrayed by Laban’s deception on what was supposed to be her wedding night. After a seven-year betrothal, she was deceived just as Jacob was.

The jealousy between the sisters became even more intense in the latter portion of chapter 29 and into chapter 30 of Genesis, when Leah began bearing children and gave Jacob four sons (Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah). Sadly, after delivering each of the first three boys, Leah voiced her desperate hope that Jacob would simply love her.

Any of us who have been rejected by someone of the opposite sex can empathize with Leah. But however broken-hearted Leah was, God remembered her:  ‘… the Lord saw that Leah was unloved…” (Genesis 29.31) and gave her four sons. 

Did you know it wasn’t just Leah who battled comparison and envy? Even though Rachel stole Jacob’s heart from day one, she was extremely jealous of Leah’s ability to bear children, even demanding Jacob “give me children or I die.” 

Here’s the irony: Leah often compared herself to Rachel and felt that she came up short, because Jacob loved her sister more. But Rachel compared herself to Leah and felt that she was on the losing end of the equation, because Leah was fertile.

The story of Rachel and Leah convicts me. Too often, I’m not content with the gifts God has given me. I feel envious of an acquaintance’s good financial fortune or get jealous of a friend’s achievement. Maybe you struggle in this way, as well. 

The enemy of our souls knows that he can use insecurities and doubts about our worth to tempt us to jealousy, envy—even self-hatred. He plants menacing thoughts in our heads: I’ll never measure up. I’m worthless. God can’t love me. God can’t use me. 

But we measure up because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’re worthy because of His righteousness. God loves us and He proved it once and for all on the cross. When we succumb to Satan’s schemes, we lose sight of who He has created us to be, and what He has specifically called us to do. 

I believe jealousy and envy are the result of not knowing our true worth in Christ. When we remember all that He has given and planned for us, we can rest secure and cheer others on. We don’t have to feel less-than because of their success.

I pray that the story of Leah and Rachel leads you and me to confess our sins of jealousy and envy and turn our attention back to God. After all, when we live in communion with Him, He makes our lives everything He created them to be—in His perfect timing.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4a

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)

Read more about Greed and Envy
It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed.

Read more about Resisting Culture’s Mold
Leah and Rachel are set against one another by their culture and family environment. They allow this cultural pressure to press them into a combative mold.

Don’t Lose Heart: God Hears Your Prayers

Scripture Focus: Luke 18.1-8
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Reflection: Don’t Lose Heart: God Hears Your Prayers
By Dena Dyer

Jesus often elevated women in his circle and stories, which was unusual at least and scandalous at most. In fact, the parable of the persistent widow is a specific example of the respect Jesus brought to women (especially those who were mistreated, misunderstood, or vulnerable in some way). 

In this particular parable, the widow asked a judge over and over to grant her justice, to no avail. According to the laws of the time, the judge was required by law to give her a hearing–but he refused because he was unjust, uncaring, and unfair.

However, he eventually got tired of listening and gave in to the widow’s persistent pleas: “But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (v. 4-5)    

Jesus says that God is the opposite of the judge—just, compassionate, and fair. He encourages his disciples to continue to make petitions, even when answers are not evident or immediate. 

I love this story, because somewhere along the line, I bought into the lie that God might view me as a pest if I prayed for a certain thing too much. I think it may have solidified for me when my boys were little and could “wear the horns off a Billy goat” (as we say in the South) asking for a toy or privilege.

God isn’t like us—or the unjust judge. He doesn’t grow weary of our prayers. Just listen to Isaiah 64:4 (NKJV): “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.” 

Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT) encourages us: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

At the end of the parable, Jesus says that He longs to find faith on the earth. If He was going to discourage believers from praying too long and hard about something, that would have been the time. Instead, He related the story to urge his disciples to “pray and not give up” (v. 1).

Let’s not become weary of praying or lose heart, because if we are asking according to God’s will, He hears us and will answer in His time and way. Also, let’s be sure to seek what God seeks—like justice for those who have long been denied it–with determination and persistence. 

Finally, let’s act when He tells us to, because often prayer and action go together. After all, you and I may end up being the answer to someone’s prayers.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning, I cry out to you, for in your world is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 17 (Listen – 5:00)
2 Corinthians 10 (Listen -2:45)

Read more about Don’t Waste the Waiting
Do our prayers focus on us and our problems, or on what will draw us closer to the heart of Jesus? Or does weariness win over worship?

Read more about Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer
If prayer is relationship, then when God weeps, we should join. What friend would weep, whom we would not join in weeping.

Don’t Waste the Waiting

Scripture Focus: Luke 2.36-38
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Reflection: Don’t Waste the Waiting
By Dena Dyer

The prophetess Anna was widowed after only seven years of marriage. But instead of wallowing in grief, Anna dedicated herself to the service of the Lord and trusted that she would see the Messiah before she died. Upon seeing Jesus at his temple dedication, she gave thanks to God and spoke about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. How good of God to allow Anna to see our Savior before she left this earth!
 
Anna recognized Jesus as the Promised One, thanking God for Him. She exemplifies Romans 5.2-5 (NIV): “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Anna’s suffering did not lead to bitterness, but to perseverance. That perseverance formed her character. And her character, forged in the fires of waiting and worshipping, led this prophetess to a fervent hope of seeing God’s glory.

Do you and I have this kind of hope, one that isn’t fixated on what the world might give but what will most glorify God? Do our prayers focus on us and our problems, or on what will draw us closer to the heart of Jesus? Or does weariness win over worship?

Most days, my prayers are for financial provision or health for me and my loved ones, instead of for God’s glory to be shown and His purposes fulfilled.

Anna’s faithful love for the Savior convicts and challenges me. It breaks apart my excuses for not worshipping more (protests of “I’m too old/too tired/too weak/too busy” seem silly when I hold them up to her example) and points me towards a life of persistent, faithful surrender. Instead of waiting out her last years with worry, Anna stayed connected to God and His people. She was fruitful, and God multiplied her act of obedience.

During one particularly long waiting season, after running ahead of God in various ways, I confessed my impatience and frustration. During that moment, I distinctly felt the Holy Spirit say, “Don’t waste the waiting.” I understood this to mean that I was to submit and trust, instead of running ahead of my Heavenly Father. And after a time of repentance, I did just that. And though my situation remained the same, my next few months felt a lot more peaceful and joyful.

I wish I had allowed the season of unanswered prayer to turn me towards God and not away from Him. What if, like Anna, I had worshipped God instead of fretting? Instead, I wasted months when God could have been holding me close to His heart, teaching me His truths and growing my relationship with Him. It was my loss. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes; don’t waste the waiting.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 10 (Listen – 3:19)
2 Corinthians 3 (Listen -2:25)

Read more about Waiting at the Beautiful Gate
The man Peter and John heal in this passage is a man who waited.

Read more about How Are You Waiting?
When we do the joyful work of anticipation and preparation for Christ’s Advent, we may find that it is actually we who are coming home.

How to Cope with Barren Seasons

Scripture Focus: Luke 1.5-7
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

From John: This month, on Tuesdays, we welcome guest writer, Dena Dyer. Dena graciously has donated her talents to our ministry in many ways, including sharing her wisdom about writing with our student writers in online sessions. I know you will be blessed by her series this month on weary women of the Bible.

Reflection: How to Cope with Barren Seasons
By Dena Dyer

Imagine with me: Elizabeth, a barren older woman married to the priest Zechariah, prepares a simple supper of fish, bread, and figs for her husband. Perhaps she hears children playing, and her heart grows heavy with the sound. 

Suddenly, Zechariah bursts through the door, motioning for his wife to sit. He rushes around the room, finding first a tablet and then a writing instrument. Elizabeth’s brow furrows as she sits down. Her hand flutters towards her chest, as if to quell the furious beating in her heart. Has he become gravely ill? Is that why he isn’t speaking? Or has something happened in the temple?

As her worries mount, Zechariah reveals on the tablet the astounding news the angel Gabriel told him. 

At first, she laughs in disbelief, just like her ancestor Sarah did. Then she sees Zechariah’s face. “You’re serious!” she exclaims, as her husband takes her in his arms. They embrace for a long time as tears stream down their faces. Their God has blessed them, more than they could have ever imagined. 

Luke 1:25 notes that Elizabeth said, ‘Look what the Lord has done for me! My people were ashamed of me, but now the Lord has taken away that shame.” In biblical times, infertility was seen as a curse. Husbands with barren wives could even divorce them and find another woman to bear their children.

Elizabeth’s name means “God is my oath” or “My God is good fortune.” God took note of the elderly couple’s obedience to keep their oaths to Him, and they experienced the good fortune God showered down on them. Elizabeth gave birth to the baby who would grow up to be John the Baptist. He paved the way for, and baptized, the Savior of the world. Indeed, God overwhelmed her with mercy. 

Later in the first chapter of Luke, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when her cousin Mary, pregnant with the promised Messiah, visited the older woman. Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’”

We all have barren places in our lives, areas which are littered with broken dreams and unanswered prayers. God’s ways are mysterious, which means we don’t often get to see the big picture or realize why He allows us to suffer. Yet, He challenges us to draw near to Him and pour out our souls, trusting in His character instead of shutting Him out or running from Him.

If we’re to have a heart that honors Him, let’s model our faith after Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s and not allow unanswered prayers to determine whether we’ll be obedient or not. Because we know He is rich in mercy and extravagant in grace, let’s pray in confident expectation that God is working ALL things, even barren seasons, for His purposes and glory.

Whether we see our prayers answered here or in our future heavenly home, we will be blessed when we believe that God will fulfill His promises to us.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 1 (Listen – 3:54) 
1 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 4:25)

Read more about 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.

Read more about Under His Covering
She trusted him to provide for her in a myriad ways and leaned on him to give her strength throughout Jesus’ birth and life.

Who’s the Good Guy?

Scripture Focus: Judges 15.18-20
18 Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. 

20 Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Student Writers Month:
In July, The Park Forum welcomed college and seminary student writers pursuing ministry careers. This year, like last year, we have one more “bonus” student writer for you writing on yesterday’s reading, Judges 15. We will start with your selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals tomorrow. For more info about our yearly Student Writer program, see our website. To submit a Readers’ Choice post, follow this link.

Reflection: Who’s the Good Guy?
By Ava Ligh

We love the “Lord of the Rings” films and the entire Marvel repertoire because we long to root for a good guy. In these stories, we are spared the difficulty of figuring out who is good and who is bad.

Judges chronicles the moral decline of Israel once they occupy the promised land. By the time we get to Samson, it is no longer clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. On the surface, it would appear readers should root for the people of God, the Israelites. But it becomes confusing when the actions of God’s people are indistinguishable from the actions of God’s enemies.

Samson appears to be a hero when, with superhuman strength, he kills 1,000 Philistines, the enemies of God and his people, with the jawbone of a donkey. Except we know that the Philistines raided the men of Lehi because Samson had struck and killed some of their men.

Why?
Because the Philistines had set Samson’s wife and father-in-law on fire. 
Why? 
Because Samson set their harvested grain and olives on fire. 

Can one be a hero if he created the problem that he then solves?

Bible stories like this are confusing. It is easier on us if we flatten out real people by making complex human beings either all good or all bad. This is a form of dehumanization. It takes mental strength and energy to tolerate ambiguity. However, we can tolerate that people are complex mixes of good and bad because there is someone we can look to who is purely and only good.

For all of his faults, Samson knows who is truly good, and the author of Hebrews recognizes his faith (Hebrews 11.32-34). Samson knows that it was God who “granted this great salvation” to the Israelites. Samson also knows that it is God who can provide water for his thirst.

We, like Samson, often need to be reminded through our limitations that our strength comes from the true hero and that we depend on his living water to sustain us. Jesus is unambiguously good and the source from which we receive our strength and living water. With his help, we can love and accept complex people. And he says to each of us “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4.14).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“This is my son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” — Luke 9.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
It is time to hear from you about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021) that have challenged, comforted, and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.
https://forms.gle/ozM13qvW9ouSWhJS7

Read more about Do Not Hold Men (or Women) Up as Sinless
We must stop confusing a man failing with the gospel failing.