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.

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, December 23rd, 2020, based on readings from John 13 and Luke 2.
It was selected by reader, Russell in Saitama, Japan
“I always thought this was a strange Christmas carol, in that it never mentions Jesus or His birth. I’m glad to know that the author was ‘passionately focused on Christ,’ in spite of this omission.”

Scripture Focus: John 13.13-15
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Luke 2.13-14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Readers’ Choice 
By Jon Polk

After graduating in 1837 from the Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edmund Hamilton Sears settled in as pastor in the country town of Wayland. The church was impressed with his character and preaching and Sears, who never had ambitions for a prominent city congregation, was enamored by the quiet beauty of the little parish.

One can sense parochial tranquility in his most famous hymn.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old…
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sears’ family would quickly grow to four children, compelling him to seek out a larger church which could support them. In 1840, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Lancaster, where he would serve for seven years.

The work in Lancaster was difficult and Sears suffered from illness, depression, and an eventual breakdown. Ultimately, his condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to project his preaching voice loud enough for the congregation to hear.

To facilitate recovery, he returned to Wayland for a year of rest. When healthy, he was invited to return to the Wayland church part-time, which freed him to use his gifts in writing.

In the aftermath of his personal struggles, he wrote “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” in 1849. At the time, the U.S. was reeling from the Mexican War and struggling with slavery as the Civil War drew near.

His sadness is palpable in the lyrics.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long…
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring…

Sears’ theology was passionately focused on Christ; he preached “The word ‘Jesus’ opens the heart and touches the place of tears.” He maintained that Christ alone had bridged the great divide between God and humanity.

As a result, he believed that we are responsible for implementing God’s peace in the world, consequently he preached for equality of women and men, opposing killing even in war, and against the evils of slavery.

This work towards peace is reflected in the carol’s hopeful ending.

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Following his life struggles, Sears managed to find his own peace and eventually a new purpose as a full-time writer. In his most read work, The Fourth Gospel: The Heart of Christ, he writes, “My consciousness at one time may give me an inward sense of moral ruin and disorder. I may see a creation rise out of this chaos… a peace more sweet than the tranquility of the morning… It comes not from inward beholdings of the Deity, but of what He does…”

Listen:It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Over the Rhine
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
“I will establish your line forever, and preserve your throne for all generations.” — Psalm 89.3-4

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 9 (Listen – 4:42)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

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Read more about Ennobled by the Incarnation
Jesus comes not to condemn our humanity but to share in it. The incarnation is an ennobling epiphany

Rulers with Borrowed Scepters

Scripture Focus: Genesis 49.10
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, 
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, 
until he to whom it belongs shall come 
and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 

Luke 2.30-32
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 
and the glory of your people Israel.”

Reflection: Rulers with Borrowed Scepters
By John Tillman

Most of what Israel says to Judah has little to do with the son in front of him, but the Son who was to come through him.

The ruler prophesied would eventually come to Judah. The staff of rulership that Israel saw, resting between the feet of Judah’s descendants, would one day be claimed and taken up. 

Ten tribes broke away from the Davidic kings’ after Solomon’s death. The Northern secessionists kept the name, Israel, and the Southern kingdom, composed of Judah and Benjamin, was called Judah after the tribe of its rulers.

Judah and Benjamin managed to preserve their identities and heritage through Babylonian captivity and, eventually, were returned to their capital of Jerusalem to rebuild. The northern tribes were less successful, if at all, in holding on to their unique identity. This is perhaps due to how muddled and corrupted their identity was even before captivity. 

The Northern kingdom never had a ruler who could be classified as “good.” In fact, King Ahab, whose name is synonymous with poor leadership and corruption, might be considered one of the better kings Israel ever had. He set quite a low bar, but most who came after him were even worse. Almost half of the kings of Israel took the throne by insurrection or assassination.

The rulers of Judah fared better but still suffered political swings from evil and idolatrous rulers to pious and faithful reformers. However, none of them were the one foreseen. That is Jesus alone.

Jesus is the king we are waiting for—every other ruler is using a borrowed scepter. 

From Joseph’s beneficent Pharaoh to Moses’s genocidal Pharaoh, rulers are highly variable. But no ruler, not the best of Pharaohs or of Judah’s kings, not any emperor or empire past, present, or future, is worthy of our unswerving loyalty. Any of them will betray our hopes. None of them can be trusted to deliver us. The best human rulers are but poor stand-ins for Christ and the worst of them are anti-Christs.

No matter if we live under Pharaohs or Sauls, under Davids or under Ahabs, under Hezekiah’s or under Nebuchadnezzars, they are only shadows that will pass and grass that will dry up and blow away. 

We, like Simeon, (Luke 2.25) are waiting for our true king, Jesus, the root of Jesse, the “glory of Israel.” (Luke 2.29-32) Our king and kingdom are from another place. (John 18.36

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge. — Psalm 108.2

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

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen – 4:54) 
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

Read more about To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic
Jonah took God’s messages to wicked kings, foreign and domestic.

Read more about The Thriving Tree
Zedekiah didn’t make his bad decisions alone. A host of religious leaders and yes-men helped.

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Carols of Advent Peace

Scripture Focus: John 13.13-15
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Luke 2.13-14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear — Carols of Advent Peace
By Jon Polk

After graduating in 1837 from the Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edmund Hamilton Sears settled in as pastor in the country town of Wayland. The church was impressed with his character and preaching and Sears, who never had ambitions for a prominent city congregation, was enamored by the quiet beauty of the little parish.

One can sense parochial tranquility in his most famous hymn.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old…

The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sears’ family would quickly grow to four children, compelling him to seek out a larger church which could support them. In 1840, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Lancaster, where he would serve for seven years.

The work in Lancaster was difficult and Sears suffered from illness, depression, and an eventual breakdown. Ultimately, his condition deteriorated to the point where he was unable to project his preaching voice loud enough for the congregation to hear.

To facilitate recovery, he returned to Wayland for a year of rest. When healthy, he was invited to return to the Wayland church part-time, which freed him to use his gifts in writing.

In the aftermath of his personal struggles, he wrote “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” in 1849. At the time, the U.S. was reeling from the Mexican War and struggling with slavery as the Civil War drew near.

His sadness is palpable in the lyrics.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long…

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring…

Sears’ theology was passionately focused on Christ; he preached “The word ‘Jesus’ opens the heart and touches the place of tears.” He maintained that Christ alone had bridged the great divide between God and humanity.

As a result, he believed that we are responsible for implementing God’s peace in the world, consequently he preached for equality of women and men, opposing killing even in war, and against the evils of slavery.

This work towards peace is reflected in the carol’s hopeful ending.

When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Following his life struggles, Sears managed to find his own peace and eventually a new purpose as a full-time writer. In his most read work, The Fourth Gospel: The Heart of Christ, he writes,

My consciousness at one time may give me an inward sense of moral ruin and disorder. I may see a creation rise out of this chaos… a peace more sweet than the tranquility of the morning… It comes not from inward beholdings of the Deity, but of what He does…

Listen: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear by Over the Rhine
Read: Lyrics at Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send our your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. — Psalm 43.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 10 (Listen – 2:11)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
It is only through the support of our donors that we are able to continue this work. Consider joining them today.

Read more about From Silence, Peace :: Peace of Advent
The God who turned his back, came back. He came to speak peace to the people who had chosen death instead of life.

Angels We Have Heard on High — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: John 4.28-30, 39
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”

Luke 2.15-18
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

From John: I personally have been very much looking forward to the next two weeks. Jon Polk has always been one of the key sources in my life to learn about unique music and artists worth discovering. He is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. I know you will be blessed by his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: Angels We Have Heard on High — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

Whenever I recall the familiar passage from Luke chapter two, I cannot help but hear it narrated from the classic words of the King James Version in the voice of philosopher and theologian, Linus Van Pelt.

“Lights, please. ‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’” (Luke 2.8)

The grandiose birth announcement proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds is one of the iconic images of the Christmas story. What Christmas pageant doesn’t feature a couple of shepherds in bathrobes and an angel in a white baptismal robe with a glorious, gold glitter halo?

Of course, this portion of the nativity narrative also forms the basis of many of the carols of Christmas. You may recognize one of the favorites as the “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-ria” song.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is an English paraphrase of a traditional French Christmas carol, “Les Anges dans Nos Compagnes” (literally, ‘the angels in our countryside’), by James Chadwick, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, England. The flourishing chorus, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest,” the first line proclaimed by the gathered angelic host in Luke’s nativity account.

Picture the scene. Shepherds in the countryside somewhere out beyond the edge of the city. Tired, weary, and worn out from the day’s work, but they still must take shifts watching the sheep overnight. Their occupation places them on the lowest rung of the first century social and economic ladder.

Everything changed for them on that fateful night when they heard that first “Glory to God in the highest!”

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song.

Joy. Radically transforming, immense, unmistakable joy. These shepherds, normally social outcasts, are now the first ones to be privy to the good news of great joy. What do they do after they find the baby? They head into town to spread the joyous news! 

Look for those around you who need a little joy this year. Spend some time this Advent season spreading joy however you can. We can all provide an encouraging word, a helping hand, or a few extra moments of our time. Like those early shepherds in the countryside, we carry a joy that is designed to be given away.

After all, in the words of Linus Van Pelt, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Listen: Angels We Have Heard on High by Future of Forestry
Listen: Les Anges dans Nos Compagnes by Bruce Cockburn
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. — Psalm 118.24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 1 (Listen – 3:37)
John 4 (Listen – 6:37)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
You can give year-round support for biblical literacy and spiritual rhythms in cities around the world for about the same amount as streaming internet services.

Read more about Do We Know Him? :: Love of Advent
Jesus went out of his way to reach out to those who were considered unreachable, and more than that, unworthy of being reached.

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