A Prayer for Times of Trouble

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 24:10-12
10 If you falter in a time of trouble,
     how small is your strength!
 11 Rescue those being led away to death;
     hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
 12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
     does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
 Does not he who guards your life know it?
     Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?

Mark 14:38
38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Reflection: A Prayer for Times of Trouble
By Erin Newton

In the twilight hours before the cross, Jesus slipped into the garden to commune with the Father. His words spilled out into the world, “Abba, let this cup pass.” It was an hour of great need. The time of trouble was upon him. The great Creator of the world was hours away from death, minutes away from betrayal. Would he falter? Would he back away now?

He leaned down toward his friends and told them to watch and pray. He continues to call us to watch and pray:

Dear Lord, within the garden, give us the strength to endure the night.

         The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Your word declares wisdom as the source of our strength. Wisdom builds houses and guides us to victory. But we falter in times of trouble. Our faith is indeed small. Give to us strength through wisdom—not the power of our hands but the understanding of our hearts.

         The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Open our eyes to those who are perishing around us. Blind us from our own ambitions and comforts. Crucify the desires that serve only ourselves. Let us not slumber as you plead for the souls of this world.

         The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

For we can never truly say we did not know. You pointed to the harvest and told us it was ready. You told us to look after even the least of these. You gave the care of your mother to your beloved friend. We are all now your beloved friends.

         The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Lord, there is no corner of our hearts to which you are blind. All our motives, all our ambitions, all our desires are laid bare before your watchful eye. You who hold our lives now send us out into the dying world.

Your spirit was willing, and you were never weak. You rescued us as we staggered toward death. You knew the price that had to be paid. Grant us the strength of a crucified life that only comes through wisdom.

After Jesus prayed, the kiss of betrayal was laid upon his cheek. He was led from trial to torture to death with full acceptance that the cup would not pass. This is our example of wisdom. This is our example of not faltering in times of trouble.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry 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
Proverbs 24 (Listen 3:47)
Mark 14 (Listen 8:37)

Read more about Baring Your Soul
Jesus modeled this in his darkest moments in Gethsemane. “Take this cup away” is balanced with a trust in God’s will.

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Hot-Button Conundrums

Scripture Focus: Mark 10.4-10
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

Reflection: Hot-Button Conundrums
By John Tillman

Like all the religious leaders’ traps, this question posed a theological issue but was really a political maneuver.

Divorce was a hot-button issue because of a controversial national political figure with multiple divorces and sexual scandals. Some Jews loved him. They appreciated him restoring the Temple and wanted him to use Rome’s power to punish their enemies. Other Jews hated him. His gross ineptitude, pride, and lack of morality disgusted them. This ruler also had a violent history which included imprisoning the last prophet who spoke out about his marital controversy and having him beheaded.

In addition to potentially alienating female disciples and supporters, Jesus’ answer to this question could have gotten him killed. “Perhaps,” the leaders must have thought, “Herod will do our dirty work for us.”

Beyond the political, the Pharisees’ question about “lawful” divorce was about the man’s rights. They wanted to know if a man could divorce his wife and “send her away.” What happened to the woman was unimportant.

Their form of patriarchy often considered wives little better than servants or employees to be disposed of without guilt or cause. “Your services are no longer required. Clear out your desk for your replacement.”

Even when they were not trying to get him killed, the religious leaders often hoped Jesus would lose support by choosing a side in their debates. They presented problems that pitted God against Caesar, mercy against justice, and the weak against the strong. Jesus wasn’t having it.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
“Let any without sin throw the first stone at her.”
“What God has joined, let no one separate.”

Jesus refused to compromise truth because powerful people might be upset or followers might leave. Jesus also refused to weaponize laws to crush the weak or stroke self-righteous egos.

The right answer to difficult issues is not always in “the middle.” But Jesus stands in the center of God’s will. Stand with him. The right way is not always a “third way” or a fourth or fifth. Jesus’ way is the only way. Follow his way.

Well-meaning people will try to trap us with hot-button issues and conundrums in hopes we will compromise the gospel to be loved by the world or by them. To the best of our ability, let us resist entrapment. Hold both truth and compassion; refuse to compromise either.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85.10

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 20 (Listen 3:19)
Mark 10 (Listen 6:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 21 (Listen 3:12Mark 11 (Listen 3:59)
Proverbs 22 (Listen 2:59Mark 12 (Listen 6:10)

Read more about The Catch All Commandment
Each one acquires as much as he can; the other may fare as best he can. And yet we pretend to be godly…

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When immersed in the Bible, it’s easier to keep from getting lost in cultural storms. Read with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

Elijah Must Come First

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.9-13
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. 
11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 
12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” 

Reflection: Elijah Must Come First
By John Tillman

At the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James, and John are joined by Moses and Elijah. These prophets experienced God’s glory on mountains in the past. Now they experienced God’s glory in Jesus.

After the transfiguration there is a discussion about John the Baptizer and the role of “Elijah” as the disciples walk back down the mountain with Jesus.

For Elijah, the transfiguration “mountain top moment” follows his past experiences of a mountain of triumph and a mountain of despair.

On his mountain of despair a storm, earthquake, and fire passed. Then Elijah heard the whispering voice of God and emerged from hiding, covering his face. On the mountain of transfiguration, Elijah, face uncovered, speaks with Jesus, who commands storms, shakes the Earth, and baptizes his followers with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus says that Elijah “comes” and “has come.” John the Baptizer was the Elijah of his day, preparing the way for Jesus. John, like Elijah, had ups and downs. In one passage he proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God and in another questioned if he should be looking for someone else.

In my life, I often waver between cynicism and hope. One week, I despair at anything getting done or getting better. Then, the next week, I throw myself into work and celebrate even minor improvements.

One day, considering the state of the world and the Church, I’m ready for Christ to come, burn it all down, and start over. On another day, I’m praying for time as I happily tilt at windmills with the idealistic energy of Don Quixote and threaten giants with the bright hope of young David, swinging a stone.

Despair is natural if change relies on us, but it doesn’t. Change relies on us relying on God. For change to occur, Elijah must come first. 

Come down the mountain and be Elijah. Stand in the wilderness and be John the Baptizer.

Be a voice crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way for one greater than ourselves. Call our age to repentance. Challenge the false prophets and point out their failure. Turn the hearts of children to parents and parents to children. Set the axe to the roots of hypocrisy.  Set in motion the restoration of all things.

We all have mountains of victory and despair in our past and present, but a mountain of transfiguration rises in our future.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “Now the hour had come for the Son of man to be glorified. In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls on earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” — John 12.23-24

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

​Today’s Readings
Mark 9  (Listen 6:16)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
To burn out of our souls our preoccupation with ourselves we require a different kind of axe and a different kind of fire. Thankfully, Jesus stands ready to supply both.

Read more about Hate Conflict? Love Truth
Who is responsible for stirring up conflict?…the deceitful man…normalizes conflict, conceals conflict, and stigmatizes dissent.

Faith After the Storm

Scripture Focus: Mark 4.37-41
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” 

Reflection: Faith After the Storm
By John Tillman

How tired Christ must have been to sleep during the storm. 

Mark gives us the beautiful eyewitness detail of Christ asleep on a cushion. Jesus had healed and preached all day long. Then he had preached it all again to his disciples, who had heard the stories but, like the crowd, had difficulty understanding.

Jesus was so exhausted that the wildly rocking boat, the crashing waves, and even the boat filling up with water didn’t wake him. Jesus slept on in the midst of this terrible storm, until his shaken disciples shook him awake.

The disciples didn’t seem to wake Jesus expecting him to save them from the storm. They merely woke him to complain about his treatment of them. “Don’t you care that we are going to drown?” The drowning seems a foregone conclusion. There is no direct request, merely bitterness and accusation. 

How often do we pray to Jesus without faith but with bucket-fulls of complaints and accusations?

Don’t you care? Why don’t you answer? What’s wrong with you?

After Jesus calms the storm, we expect the disciples’ fears to be as calm as the sea. Instead, they are even more terrified. 

Jesus asleep on the cushion is a punching bag for our emotions. Asleep, he cannot dispute our complaints, our fears, or our version of events. 

Jesus standing and commanding the storm is intimidating and disturbing. He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around. Jesus is not a servile employee behind the desk of God’s complaint department. Instead, he can demand our service and command our compliance. His power and position cannot be debated or bargained with. His rebuke of the storm may rebuke us as well. “Quiet. Be still.” We may be as terrified by a Jesus who calms storms as we are by the storms themselves.

After the storm, Jesus says, “Do you still have no faith?”

Whatever degree of faith we have after the storm, Jesus is willing to do great things through us, as he did through the disciples. Like the disciples, we must contemplate the fearful question, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Spend some time meditating on this question. Who is this Jesus?

As you do, may the storms of your heart be stilled and calmed by Christ. The winds and waves listen to his rebukes. We can, too.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to  be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. — Psalm 66.9

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen 3:45
Mark 4  (Listen 5:01)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 15 (Listen 3:36), Mark 5  (Listen 5:21)
Proverbs 16 (Listen 3:15), Mark 6  (Listen 7:23)

Read more about Fear in the Boat
So we will suffer and make our way through together with Christ, looking always to him who is with us in the boat.

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In Medias Res

Scripture Focus: Mark 1.1-8
1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way” — 
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, 
make straight paths for him.’ ” 

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection: In Medias Res
By John Tillman

The Latin literary term, in medias res, means “in the middle of things.” It refers to narratives beginning in the middle of the action. No exposition. No introduction. The action just starts.

Stephen King’s epic series The Dark Tower begins with, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed…” These nameless men, one running before, one following behind, lead us into the desert and the rest of the story. 

Vince Gilligan’s addictive show, Breaking Bad, opens with a man in his underwear crashing an RV as sirens sound in the desert. Then he steps out into the road holding a pistol to face the consequences of something we don’t fully understand yet.

Mark begins his story in the desert with a mysterious, strangely dressed man. Mark says John the Baptist “appeared” in the wilderness.

John’s backstory is fascinating. He is a miracle child, announced by an angel, born to a barren couple in their twilight years. John first met and responded to Jesus while still in the womb. Mark cuts those scenes. The only hint of backstory is the mention of a prophecy about a mysterious messenger who comes to announce a mighty king. This reference is just one more way Mark tells us we are beginning in the middle.

John appears in the desert, then Jesus appears in the water. In the middle of a line of sinners, he comes to John, submitting to a baptism of repentance.

When John baptized others, they repented from sin, exited the desert of temptation, and followed a righteous God. When John baptized Jesus, heaven was torn open. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus along with the loving approval of God the Father. Then Jesus, the sinless one, entered the desert of temptation to prove he was the righteous king John announced.

We all meet Jesus in medias res, in the middle of our lives, our troubles, our tragedies, our deserts. We might be fleeing something or chasing something. We might have made a wreck of our lives. There may be sirens sounding in the distance.

Jesus goes into the desert and to the cross to face our consequences and win our victory. He faces what we flee. He obtains what we pursue. He repairs what we wreck.

Because of Jesus, we have the chance to be one who goes before him, announcing the coming of the kingdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

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

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 11 (Listen 3:41
Mark 1  (Listen 5:05)

Read more about King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
Israel fell into sin in the desert. Jesus would resist sin in the desert. Everything that Israel had lost or failed to do, Jesus would accomplish.

Read more about Visionaries Not Vigilantes
God calls Moses, not with a sword in his hand, but a staff. He doesn’t need vigilantes. He needs visionaries.