Counting Waves

Scripture Focus: Psalm 3.5
5 I lie down and sleep;
     I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 4.8
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
     for you alone, Lord,
     make me dwell in safety.

From John: I’m pleased to tell you that for the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing twice a week from Erin while I’m working on another project. I look forward to hearing her voice more often during this time.

Reflection: Counting Waves
By Erin Newton

As a child prone to nightmares, I learned that a sleepful night was a dreamless night. As an adult, those sleepful nights were interrupted by crying babies or nagging thoughts about the day.

Restful sleep is a luxury. In our fast-paced world, our tragedy-filled world, our stress-inducing world—sleep is often minimal, fitful, or both. When was the last time I laid down in peace and slept?

Psalm 3 is a call for deliverance. Pleading for God to arise and deliver, the psalmist recounts the number of enemies and their mocking voices. Psalm 4 asks God for deliverance from distress. Calling for relief and mercy, the psalmist seeks the ear and attention of God. The world around them is not at peace.

I lie down and sleep.

In peace, I will lie down and sleep.

It is not the circumstances of life that lead the psalmist to close his eyes without fear or anxiety. God is a shield for his people. God is an open receiver for his people. God is the sustainer of his people. These two psalms can boast of a good night’s rest because God stands ready amidst their turbulent lives.

Turbulence usually keeps us awake. We toss and turn, thinking about how we will pay our next mortgage, how we will tell our kids about cancer, how lonely we are, how much we have messed up—and more. We fret well; we don’t sleep well.

One day, many centuries ago, Jesus got in a boat with his friends. The group set sail upon the winds of the Galilean Sea. The journey was underway, the day had been long, and Jesus laid down in peace to sleep. Suddenly, the winds shifted, and the waves tossed. A storm came over the sea; the boat was swamped with waves. But Jesus remained asleep within the boat.

The disciples urged Jesus to awake, their voices strained with fear. “Teacher, do you not care if we drown?” Their world was not at peace. Their hearts were not at peace.

But Jesus did care. He stood ready amidst the turbulent waves. And the waves were still. Jesus knew that God protects, God hears, and God sustains.

As we lay down, may our minds drift to thoughts of our Lord speaking over the waves—speaking over the lie that he doesn’t care if we drown: Hush, hush, be still.  

He cares.  

Divine Hours Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 16 (Listen 4:03)
Psalms 1-2 (Listen 1:56)

Read more about State of Our Souls
Reflecting on the work of Christ in our lives is something we must repeat…an anchor in these storm-tossed waves of life.

Read more about Bearing Cursing
Rather than lashing out, may we seek consolation in God and humbly endure insults in the name of Jesus.

Joab’s Play

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 14.1, 19-20
1 Joab son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom… 

19 The king asked, “Isn’t the hand of Joab with you in all this?” 
The woman answered, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right or to the left from anything my lord the king says. Yes, it was your servant Joab who instructed me to do this and who put all these words into the mouth of your servant. 20 Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation…

Reflection: Joab’s Play
By John Tillman

Joab is one of the most fascinating and frustrating characters in the Bible. On one page, he’s a heroic general and David’s loyal friend. On the next, he’s an out-of-control assassin. He’d risk life and reputation to carry out David’s will, even when it was murder. Then he’d risk the same to subvert David’s will, even when it was peaceful.

In this chapter, Joab acts not as a military tactician but a dramatic one. He writes a script, a compelling, emotional story. He casts an actress, a wise woman in her own right. He plans the production for maximum effect on David and the public opinion of the court.

Plays often carry great truth and wisdom. Joab, as playwright, gave his actress these wise words: “But that [banishment] is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” Joab wrote a gospel play for David. Why? “To change the present situation,” the wise woman tells us.

Joab pricked David’s conscience to bring Absalom home. But Joab only cared about David, not Absalom. Also, Absalom was unrepentant. In this same chapter, Joab ignored Absalom until he burned down Joab’s field to get his attention. Later, when commanded by David to spare Absalom, Joab killed him. Joab’s play was to benefit David, not Absalom. 

Despite Joab’s callous reasoning, dishonesty, and inconsistent character, his words hold truth. God devises ways for us, the banished, to come back to him.

But God’s plot goes beyond the shortcomings of Joab’s play. God, the King of Kings, doesn’t have to be shamed into forgiving us. God initiates and accomplishes our return. God doesn’t receive us just to make himself feel better or look better. It’s us he wants, not good PR.

Unlike Absalom, we don’t need to burn anything down to get God’s attention. He doesn’t say, like David, “Come back, but you can’t see my face.” With repentance, we are fully welcomed in. And unlike Absalom, who ended his life hung in a tree, Jesus hung in a tree for us.

Let us be actors in God’s gospel play, taking up our cross and our role. Let us play our part, speaking words that the Holy Spirit puts in our mouths. Let us have faith that if we let the gospel play out in our lives, our words and actions can “change the present situation.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; 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

2 Samuel 14 (Listen 5:57)
Revelation 22 (Listen 3:59)

Read more about Bringing Back the Banished
Our king didn’t grant us partial forgiveness, keeping us from his presence. He died in our place, hung on the tree we were doomed for…

Read The Bible With Us
There’s never a bad time to start a Bible reading plan. Find joy in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

Jesus, Our Blessed One — A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 1.1-3
1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Reflection: Jesus, Our Blessed One — A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Psalm 1 can be prayed as a framework for the working of the gospel in our lives. It is less an aspirational claim that we can strive for righteousness but a recognition that we can yield fruit only in Christ, grafted into his stream-planted trunk.

Blessed is the One
May we be among those who bless your name, Lord.
May we walk with you through the cheering crowds
Guiding a humble donkey that carries our king,
And also through the narrow streets of suffering, 
Carrying our cross, stepping in your bloody footprints of sacrifice.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord

Lord, guide our walk, day to day 
Shape our steps, words, and actions
Differentiate our gait of faith from that of the world.
May our steps follow your grace.
May our words tell of your love.
May our actions emulate your servanthood and sacrifice.

Watch over our way, Lord, but we know that we stumble…

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction…
They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand

We are not blameless. We are not righteous.
When we honestly and humbly look in our hearts, we find wickedness there.
Burn up our chaff with your breath
Separate us from sin so we will not be separated from your presence.

Blessed is the one
    whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

We aspire, Lord, to fulfill this psalmist’s prayer.
We aspire to delight in your law.
We aspire to meditate day and night.

But we rely, Lord, not on our striving but on Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Blessed One, who delights in your law.
Jesus is the Blessed One, whose leaf does not wither.
We are merely grafted in branches, partaking of his righteousness.
Our fruit, our flourishing, and our faith are drawn up from his roots.
He makes us prosper and spreads the seed of his gospel over the earth.

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

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 15 (Listen 6:06)
Psalms 1-2 (Listen 2:05)

Read more about Family Tree
We can be grafted in to the family tree of Christ and bear the same fruit that he wants to bring about in our lives.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Our devotionals are free to read, but they aren’t free to produce or publish. Please consider becoming a donor and supporting our ad-free content.

No Sympathy for Babylon

Scripture Focus: Revelation 19.1-6
1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: 

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 
2 for true and just are his judgments. 
He has condemned the great prostitute 
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. 
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 
3 And again they shouted: 
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” 
4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: 
“Amen, Hallelujah!” 
5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying: 
“Praise our God, 
all you his servants, 
you who fear him, 
both great and small!” 
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: 
For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 

Reflection: No Sympathy for Babylon
By John Tillman

When nations fall, the world stands in horror. But one day, a nation will fall that has caused so much evil that choruses of praise will break out from all those who suffered under its rule. 

Babylon will fall.

In Revelation 18, John showed us nations and business owners mourning Babylon’s fall. They didn’t care about the lives she’d snuffed out. They lamented the loss of profits she put in their pockets. (Revelation 18.9-18) The Rolling Stones had a hit song entitled, “Sympathy for the Devil.” But in this chapter, John sympathizes with sufferers and shares the voices of Babylon’s victims shouting a three-fold, “Hallelujah” at Babylon’s fate.

In the Bible, Babylon is both literal and metaphorical. Babylon appears on the scene in the story of the Tower of Babel, then echoes through scripture like the peals of a warning bell, telling us, “Beware, beware, beware!” It is a real empire and also a symbol of all empires, cities, leaders, and powers on Earth.

Biblical authors paint other cities and empires with Babylon’s colors. In Revelation she is Rome but throughout scripture Egypt, Assyria, Nineveh, and even Jerusalem and Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) were painted as Babylon. From the biblical authors’ perspective, Babylon hasn’t fully fallen yet. Only stumbled.

Babylon sang shanties on the decks of slave ships in the North Atlantic. It thrived in Hitler’s Germany. It preened in South African Apartheid and in the Jim Crow South. It rode shotgun with rape squads during genocides on every continent.

Babylon is still alive today and we can see its signs. Pride and the abuse of power. Greed and the crushing of the poor. Lust and the dehumanizing industry of smut. Gluttony and the never-ending appetite for more. These are Babylon’s bloody calling cards of evil. We see these bloody cards played from the hands of leaders of nations, political parties, international corporations, and other groups.

It’s easy to point fingers at others. But we need to examine ourselves. God calls us to “come out” of Babylon. (Revelation 18.4) That tells us that we are living there. When Babylon falls, will we sing dirges with the kings and merchants or hallelujahs with her victims?

Babylon woos and confuses. She tempts, taunts, and tricks. Are we seduced? Or maybe just sympathetic? 

The painful question is…How much of our hearts belong to Babylon?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 11 (Listen 4:25)
Revelation 19 (Listen 3:47)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 12 (Listen 5:25Revelation 20 (Listen 2:49)
2 Samuel 13 (Listen 6:39Revelation 21 (Listen 4:34)

Read more about Come Out of Babylon
“Come out of her,” Christ cries. “Don’t look back longingly,” warns the angel of the Lord…Babylon is a test of the heart.

Read more about Come Out of Captivity
Christ’s kingdom of light exposes the darkness of our human kingdoms. We find this not only in Revelation, but throughout the scriptures.

Cost of Immature Leadership

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 10
2 David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away. 

Reflection: Cost of Immature Leadership
By John Tillman

David, who mourned his enemy, Saul, sent peaceful envoys to express sympathy to Hanun, the young Ammonite king, on his father’s death. Nahash, the former king, had shown kindness to David, and he sought to return that kindness. But the young king’s advisors sowed suspicion, conspiracy, and fear. Hanun believed them. He chose the politics of humiliation and intimidation, treating the envoys horribly. 

Wartime captives would be shaved and marched naked. Shaving half the envoy’s beards and cutting off half their clothing to expose their buttocks was more than rude. It implied they were on their way to being prisoners. What one did to a king’s representative was the same as doing it to that king. Hanun implied, intentionally or not, that David would soon be his humiliated captive. It was effectively a declaration of war. After the envoys left, Hanun seemed to realize he acted rashly and foolishly. 

David showed compassion to his envoys, but wasn’t intimidated by Hunan’s rash actions. Despite insults and threats, David didn’t leap to war. He waited, moving to defend Israel after Hanun hired mercenary armies. Hanun spent big to cover his bluster, but desperate military spending couldn’t save him. Joab easily won the first conflict, and then David rode out to battle, eventually subduing Hanun and all the kingdoms called in as reinforcements. In the final battle, over 40,000 of the soldiers supporting Hanun died.

David’s envoys were naked for a time. Hanun’s foolishness lies naked for all time.

When kings are careless, spiteful, and insulting, war and death are often the result. Many times in recent years, violence has erupted after violent, careless words from political leaders. Many times, leaders have embraced the politics of humiliation and intimidation. Too often, Christians have applauded this. Many times, people have died for leaders’ careless and rash words.

David’s example is not always good. But in this case, he kept a level head in the face of insults and intimidation, had compassion on those humiliated by others, and acted decisively to defend against violence and threats.

May we distance ourselves from rash, immature leaders like Hanun. May we grow in our own leadership and influence, showing empathy, even to our enemies, acting compassionately toward victims and the oppressed, defending the humiliated, and refusing to bow to or tolerate violence.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Thus says Yahweh, “Let the sage boast no more of wisdom, nor the valiant of valor, nor the wealthy of riches! But let anyone who wants to boast, boast of this: of understanding and knowing me. For I am Yahweh, who acts with faithful love, justice, and uprightness on earth; yes, these are what please me,” Yahweh declares. — Jeremiah 9.22-24

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 10 (Listen 3:19)
Revelation 18 (Listen 4:48)

Read more about Puking Prophets of Success
By hubris they are humiliated. By turning away they become blind. By not listening they become deaf.

Read more about Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)
But despite their words of judgment to the kings and rulers of Judah and Israel, both men deeply loved their country, their kings, and the people.