Eating With Enemies

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 6.17-18, 20-23
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 
18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. 

20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. 
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” 
22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. 

Matthew 26.52-54
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 

Psalm 23.5
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

Reflection: Eating With Enemies
By John Tillman

Elisha was, perhaps, never more Christ-like than when he led an army of his political enemies into the citadel of his spiritual enemies and then directed everyone to sit and eat a meal together.

This wasn’t a kumbaya moment where everyone held hands and decided to get along. It was a power play. Elisha demonstrated that God alone was king—not Joram, not the king of Aram, Yahweh. Elisha, through God’s power, prepared a table in the presence of his enemies and made them eat together. (Psalm 23.5)

However, no demonstration of God’s power is sufficient to prevent human rebellion. After a short peace in which Aram avoided Israel’s territory, hostilities resumed. After calling Elisha, “Father,” and being obedient during a crisis, Joram and Israel’s kings returned to their idolatry.

No miracle or display of power can sustain faith. The Bible proves over and over that miraculous signs and wonders will not convince us to abandon our idols for long.

Sin is too ingrained in us to be sanded off, like a minor imperfection. Sin is too bold to be frightened away. It crouches at our door. It seeks to master us. It asks to sift us. It hovers over us like a mighty predator. It surrounds us like an army.

Yet, we are not without hope. Like Elisha’s servant, we need our eyes opened to realize those with us are greater than those with them. He that is within us is greater than he that is in the world. (1 John 4.4) The sin that stalks us, has been defeated by the one who walks with us. (Psalm 23.4) The sin that crouches at our door has been nailed to Christ’s cross. (Genesis 4.7) Sin intends to sift us, but Christ has prayed for us. (Luke 22.32)

Like Peter, we will deny Christ, draw our swords, and sin. But we can turn back and strengthen others. Walking with Christ, we will be led to eat with our enemies rather than destroy them.

When Christ leads us into the heavenly city, we will find ourselves dining and worshipping with people we harmed or who harmed us. Christ’s love will cover all, Christ’s justice will restore our hurts and harms, and we will feast together.

However, we shouldn’t wait for eternity. Let us call on God’s power for peace, not destruction. Let us love our enemies today. Through Christ, enemies can eat together in peace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. — Psalm 31.24

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:05)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)

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God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust.

Christ, Our Double Portion

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 2.11-14
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Reflection: Christ, Our Double Portion
By John Tillman

Before parting the Jordan river to recross it, Elisha asked, “Where now is the God of Elijah?”

Elisha was present for much of Elijah’s ministry. He knew he was following and learning from a legend. The entire prophetic community seemed to realize that this legend would soon be taken by the Lord.

We often connect God’s presence with the presence of people who taught us about him or who have been faithful to him. Elisha said, “the God of Elijah.” We may think about the God of our parents or our pastors or other faith leaders. Elisha pushed away discussion with his fellow prophets of Elijah’s departure. We may push away thoughts of losing people upon whom we have relied. 

When Christian heroes, mentors, or friends pass, we often have an emotional and a spiritual reaction. We dread losing these voices. Will God be with us like he was with them? Will God work in our lives in the same way he did through them?

Many of us have looked around and wondered, “Where is the God of the past?” Will he show his power today as he did then? Like Gideon, we question God based on our circumstances. (Judges 6.13) Like Elijah, we question God’s support. (1 Kings 19.14

God answers Elisha by parting the Jordan. Elijah’s God is with Elisha and is still our God today. God is with us now, regardless of what past leader has died, has failed, or has fallen into sin. God is our God and we are his prophets and priests in the world.

The cloak Elisha picked up was not dropped by accident. It was meant for him. It was his anointing. Elijah threw it over Elisha’s back as he plowed to call him away from a simple life of farming into the dangerous employment of prophesying to wicked kings. (1 Kings 19.19)

The “double portion” that Elisha asked for is ours in Christ. Our mantle and anointing is the Holy Spirit of God which has been laid on our shoulders. Like Elisha, we have been called from plowing hardened earth to prophesying to hardened hearts. Like Peter, we are called from spreading nets for fish to spreading the gospel to people.

Elisha wasn’t called to be Elijah but to be God’s. We have the same calling. Be God’s.

Music: Elijah, by Rich Mullins. (Rich Mullins often signed autographs, “Be God’s.”)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116.8

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

Read more about Ahab and David
God will have mercy whenever there is true repentance. Persevere in sharing the gospel with the strength and boldness of Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha.

Read more about Over Jordan
In transition from Moses to Joshua, from Elijah to Elisha, and from John the Baptist to Jesus, the Jordan symbolizes a change in leadership.

Muscle Memory

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 1.16
He told the king, “This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?

Reflection: Muscle Memory
By Erin Newton

Anything we do repeatedly becomes muscle memory. Without thinking our body moves out of habit. We learn new skills intentionally or subconsciously through our environment. For many, our upbringing shapes how we react: good and bad.

Ahab had died and his son Ahaziah took the throne. He was no better than his father and was listed among the evil kings of Israel. He was a product of his environment, raised by parents who delighted in persecuting others. But now, Ahaziah was critically injured. Fearful and uncertain, he looked for answers. Just as he was raised, he avoided God and looked to the idols.

God warned Elijah of the king’s sin. The prophet condemned Ahaziah for looking for hope outside of God. With the king’s life in the balance, death was proclaimed. The prophecy was fulfilled. Ahaziah adopted the sinful behavior of his father and suffered the same tragic death.

For generations, the kings had increasingly turned aside from following God. The habit of seeking one of many foreign idols had become instinctive. Each new king was further desensitized to wickedness. The call of the prophet was to speak truth to deaf ears trusting someday one would finally hear.

Our spirit has “muscle memory” of sorts. Our heart is shaped and trained by our thoughts and actions each day. If the heart is daily practicing hate, gossip, jealousy, rage, divisiveness, or lust, that will become the natural impulse. Professional golfers to hobby knitters all know the importance of practicing the right way of doing something. In the same way, our hearts must be trained to seek God.

Breaking away from old habits can be extremely difficult. Christians are told to be devoted to prayer, encourage one another, continue meeting together, and study the Scriptures. Each of these are daily routines that build spiritual habits. The spiritual disciples keep the heart sensitive to wickedness and open ears to hear the truth.

How can you incorporate new practices in your life that will develop a heart for following God? The commute to work can include moments of prayer. The wait before a doctor’s appointment can be used to read a few verses. The silence of the shower can be an oasis of meditating on truth. Little by little, we discipline our hearts and minds toward godliness, or we create habits that work to destroy our lives.

“…train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4.7b)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

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

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)

Read more about Milk of the Word, A Precedent to Growth
Even the simplest of disciplines, church attendance, has been in decline since 1959. We can’t, therefore, blame millennials for it.

Read more about For Sustainable Cultivation
Oh, God, planter of the first garden, cultivator of all creation,
We ask you to teach us to cultivate our hearts.

To Whom We Pray

From John: 
Read the Bible. Reflect and pray. 

That is the two-pronged, ultra-simplified vision that we have for our readers. This week and part of next we take some time to curate and comment on some classic readings about prayer that may strengthen and encourage us in the practice of prayer.

Reflection: To Whom We Pray
By John Tillman

Many cultures pray. Some pray with greater frequency, devotion, and earnestness than much of Christianity. But the outcomes of prayer depend more upon the faithfulness of the one who hears, rather than the one who prays. Madeleine L’Engle asks the question, “Whom do we pray to?” in her book, And It Was Good.

“If we are to pray, we must know where our prayers are directed. Jesus prayed to his Father. And here again, we have, in this century, a source of confusion…Jesus called the Master of the Universe Abba—daddy. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was a man he could admire…but what about the rest of us, living in this time of extreme sexual confusion?

There was plenty of sexual confusion in Jesus’ world too, especially in the Roman culture where license and perversion were the order of the day. Nevertheless, Jesus constantly referred to his heavenly Father, and he taught us to pray: Our Father.”

Our century is not unique in being obsessed with sex and awash in sexual confusion. The image of fathers is, historically, troublesome for many.

“For those of us who are only confused or hurt by this image…Perhaps it helps to remember that it is an image…a way of groping toward the real.”

L’Engle recognizes some need to overcome broken father images to see God properly and she has a suggestion… 

“Some of us may find in the image of the Father the parent that we always longed for, and needed, the parent that our human father never was. What is it that we trust most? Is it the turning of the stars in the heavens? That, for me, is another image of the Creator.”

In coming to know God through prayer, we can transcend false and broken father images with the true image of Abba.

“It is Jesus of Nazareth, the Word as a human being, who calls God Abba…if the Word, as Jesus, could call out, “Abba!” so can I.

We all have our own images, and they nourish us, but ultimately the Lord to whom we pray is beyond all images, all imagining.”

When we begin in prayer with the image of God as our loving father we take the first steps of faith toward our true home and truest family, in the kingdom of God.
May our prayers, and their resulting actions, remake in our own mind and in our world the image of a good father.

*Quotations from And It Was Good, by Madeleine L’Engle
*Good, Good Father — by Housefires

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.— Psalm 90:14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 25 (Listen -5:24)
Hebrews 7  (Listen -4:01)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Prayer and Faith

From John: 
Rather than strictly following our readings in Hebrews or Kings and Chronicles this week, we will pursue a week of thematic reflections on one of the issues closest to the heart of the mission and vision of The Park Forum—prayer. 

Read the Bible. Reflect and pray. 

That is the two-pronged, ultra-simplified vision that we have for our readers. This week and part of next we take some time to curate and comment on some classic readings about prayer that may strengthen and encourage us in the practice of prayer.

Reflection: Prayer and Faith
By John Tillman

“In any study of the principles and procedure of prayer, of its activities and enterprises, first place, must, of necessity, be given to faith.” — E.M Bounds

E.M. Bounds’ classic works on prayer are a staple of many theological libraries.
At the beginning of his volume, The Necessity of Prayer, Bounds is clear that what is necessary for prayer, is faith.

“Faith is the initial quality in the heart of any man who essays to talk to the unseen. He must, out of sheer helplessness, stretch forth hands of faith. He must believe, where he cannot prove. In the ultimate issue, prayer is simply faith, claiming its natural yet marvelous prerogatives— faith taking possession of its illimitable inheritance. True godliness is just as true, steady and persevering in the realms of faith as it is in the province of prayer. Moreover: when faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.”

Does our faith falter and feel weak? Reconnect our faith to the power of prayer.
Do we feel that God is distant from us? It is we who have moved. Draw near in prayer.

“Prayer projects faith on God, and God on the world. Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God. In his cursing of the fig tree, our Lord demonstrated His power. Following that, he proceeded to declare, that large powers were committed to faith and prayer, not in order to kill but to make alive, not to blast but to bless.”

Can we truly, and honestly say that we have consistently wielded the power of prayer to bless rather than blast our enemies?

“Is faith growing or declining as the years go by? Does faith stand strong and foursquare, these days, as iniquity abounds and the love of many grows cold? Does faith maintain its hold, as religion tends to become a mere formality and worldliness increasingly prevails? The inquiry of our Lord, may, with great appropriateness, be ours, ‘When the Son of Man comes,” he asks, “will he find faith on the earth?’ We believe that he will, and it is ours, in this our day, to see to it that the lamp of faith is trimmed and burning, lest He come who shall come, and that right early.”

*Quotations condensed and language updated from The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “And give them the help they long for.”— Psalm 12:5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 24 (Listen -3:21)
Hebrews 6  (Listen -2:5)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

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