Prayer for Outcasts—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on 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, on March 8, 2022, based on Proverbs 27.8 and Leviticus 19.34.
It was selected by reader, David: 
“Amen, Thank you for this reminder of what our call is.  We can all pray.”

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 27.8
8 Like a bird that flees its nest
is anyone who flees from home.

Leviticus 19.34
34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Image: Today’s image comes from the painting, War Refugees in the Snow by Alfred Ost, painted in 1914.

Reflection: Prayer for Outcasts—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There have been many crises in history that have caused waves of migrants, refugees, and immigrants to flee their homes.

Some of the largest refugee movements in history happened during World War II when from 1939 to 1959 approximately 20 million people fled Europe. Our current decade, however, has nearly matched that 20-year stretch. Approximately 17.8 million refugees have fled Ukraine, Myanmar, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, and Libya, since 2011.

Refugee crises will continue to grow as nations and prideful leaders continue to choose violence.

Welcoming the stranger is a consistent command throughout the Bible. One must work hard not to pick up on it, but some do go out of their way to avoid it. It may be normative in the world of politics to stigmatize, persecute, and ghettoize foreigners, but it is antithetical to biblical living.

Welcoming the stranger is counter-cultural, not only today but in its original context. The evil treatment Israel received in Egypt is the experience God holds up as the source of his commands to welcome and treat well strangers and foreigners. “As Egypt was, you must not be. As you were treated, you must never allow others to be treated. Do unto others as you would wish they had done to your ancestors.” (Exodus 22.21; Leviticus 19.33-34; Deuteronomy 10.18-19)

In reflection on the continuation of the Ukrainian war, the widening flow of refugees, and a sobering awareness that this conflict has the potential to encompass other countries, we pause today to pray for migrants, immigrants, and refugees.

Prayer for Outcasts
Lord, we pray, today, for those who flee. Aid their flight.
May they avoid danger, escaping the fowler’s snare.
May they find fair winds, lifting their wings and spirits.
May they settle among the branches of the righteous who are like trees, providing healing for the nations.

We pray for those who are called by God to welcome them.
May our hearts overflow with the love of God for his children
May our eyes see the image of God in each face
May rivers of living water flow from our hearts that will satisfy, not just their physical needs, but their needs for emotional shelter, food, and healing.

When they flee violence, let us show gentleness.
When they flee hatred, let us show love.
When they flee scarcity, let us sate them.
When they flee abuse, let us console them.
When they flee oppression, let us free them.

Music: “God Help the Outcasts” — Hunchback of Notre Dame

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne. — Psalm 47.5-8

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

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 2 (Listen 4:55) 
2 Corinthians 13 (Listen 2:19)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Your recommended posts from the last 12 months have blessed us! Which one helped you overcome fear?

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

Temptation Has No Gender—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on 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, on February 11, 2022, based on Proverbs 2.12-19
It was selected by reader, EN: 
“This was really encouraging as a woman. In some circles, being a woman automatically makes you guilty of temptation but this was a good dose of truth to correct those erroneous assumptions.”

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 2.12-19
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, 
from men whose words are perverse, 
13 who have left the straight paths 
to walk in dark ways, 
14 who delight in doing wrong 
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, 
15 whose paths are crooked 
and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, 
from the wayward woman with her seductive words, 
17 who has left the partner of her youth 
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death 
and her paths to the spirits of the dead. 
19 None who go to her return 
or attain the paths of life.

Reflection: Temptation Has No Gender
By John Tillman

Much ink has been spent in Christendom warning men to avoid female temptresses. Today’s reading, a warning to “my son” about an “adulterous woman,” is one that is often cited. The lessons are valid and needed.

The proliferation of pornography is exploding and prostitution and pornography are seeking normalization, even for minors. The pornography industry, like the tobacco industry before it, taps addiction as an income stream. Physical and psychological damage to customers and performers is callously counted as the cost of doing business.

However, porn isn’t just for men, and men also commonly initiate adulterous (or abusive) sexual relationships. All people need to be warned about infidelity and the predatory industry of porn. 
In addition, these passages have been often misused to paint all women as temptresses and all men as victims. The twisted extremes of “purity culture” taught women to treat their bodies like unexploded lust bombs on a hair-trigger. If a dress strap fell off of a shoulder, or a skirt hem rose up too high when sitting down, the lust explosion that could destroy a young (or old) man’s morality would be their fault. Men, instead of being protectors, demanded protection. Women were taught to bear the burden of dressing to protect men’s eyes and souls.

One way to prevent abuse of this passage is to recognize that it sits in balance with the four lines before it. A father is telling his son of the dangers that wisdom will save him from—but female seduction is not the first thing on his mind. The first dangers mentioned are the temptations of evil men. 

Sections of scripture that mirror each other like this are intended to cast light on each other. We must widen our gaze in the scriptures, especially in Proverbs, where matched pairs in tension with each other draw us deeper than the surface reading of either one alone.

The picture of the female temptress informs the image of the men of wickedness. The temptations of leaving straight paths for ones that are dark and wicked tell us more about how one is seduced sexually.

Seduction and temptation are not feminine (or masculine), nor are they limited to sexual pleasures. Carnality includes the lust of the eyes and of pride, not just the lust of the flesh. (1 John 2.16) Power, wealth, indulgence, sexuality…nothing escapes the corruption of sin and no gender is exempt from responsibility.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out 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

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 33(Listen -4:46)
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen – 4:04)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
We look forward to more of your recommended posts from the last 12 months. Which one helped you understand scripture?

Read more about The Sins Behind Sexual Sins
Many times sexual sins are a symptom of other sins such as greed, selfishness, inequality, and oppression.

Inspired Utterance

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 30.1-5
1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance. 
This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God, 
but I can prevail. 
2 Surely I am only a brute, not a man; 
I do not have human understanding. 
3 I have not learned wisdom, 
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. 
4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? 
Whose hands have gathered up the wind? 
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? 
Who has established all the ends of the earth? 
What is his name, and what is the name of his son? 
Surely you know! 
5 “Every word of God is flawless; 
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 

Reflection: Inspired Utterance
By John Tillman

We do not know who Agur, Jakeh, or Ithiel are. They are mentioned nowhere else in scripture. 

Agur expresses that without God’s wisdom, humans are little better than brute animals. This could be a general description of our culture. 

Our culture claims to set us free, allowing our individual hearts, feelings, experiences, and opinions to self-determine truth, right, and wrong, however, this doesn’t set anyone free. “Personal truth” makes every person a dictator who must either enslave the world to their “truth” or be enslaved by the conflicting “truths” of others.

“Follow your hearts” sounds supportive until someone follows their heart to commit adultery, rape, or create pornography. “Do what feels good” sounds fun until someone “feels good” making racist artwork, overdosing on drugs, or defrauding the poor. “Speak your truth” sounds freeing until one person’s truth causes deaths (or war) over a lie.

Agur, whoever he is, must have read Job. His writing reflects Job’s concepts. Agur knows we need a dose of humility. He issues a challenge to himself and to the reader — a challenge for those who think themselves wise. “Have you gone to heaven? Have you gathered the wind, held the waters, set the boundaries of the earth? If you didn’t, surely you know who did!” 

If Agur read Job, Jesus seems to have read them both. Jesus echoed Agur when he said, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” (John 3.11-13) Jesus also expected that those who “study the scriptures diligently” should find, not just wisdom, but testimony about himself. (John 5.39-40) All scripture testifies about Jesus and the wisdom we find there is from him. (Luke 24.27)

We may not know who Agur is, but we know the name of the Holy One he reveres and references — the source of true wisdom. The setter of the boundaries of the earth, the holder of the waters, the gatherer of the wind, and the one who comes down from heaven, is Jesus. He is the flawless Word of God and is a shield to all who take refuge in him.

In his refuge, we find wisdom, peace, mercy, and understanding that can change us from brutish beings enslaved to our urges into true humans — images of God upon the earth.

Lord, give us inspired utterances that reveal you to others as the source of wisdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing — Psalm 34.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
Today’s Readings
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50) Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen – 2:21) Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

Read more about Blessings of the Dispossessed
“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears”

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 29.1-2, 4, 12
1 Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes 
will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. 
2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; 
when the wicked rule, the people groan.

4 By justice a king gives a country stability, 
but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

12 If a ruler listens to lies, 
all his officials become wicked. 

Psalm 97.1-3, 10
1 The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; 
let the distant shores rejoice. 
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him; 
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 
3 Fire goes before him 
and consumes his foes on every side. 

10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil, 
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones 
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 

Reflection: Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment
By John Tillman

Imprecatory Psalms and proverbs about people being destroyed might not make sense in a quiet suburban, well-to-do neighborhood. In our comfortable life in the United States, there is something seriously wrong with our hearts if we find ourselves praying that God’s fire would consume our enemies. James and John are rebuked by Christ for this desire (Luke 9.53-55) and they had far more justification than any modern Western Christian.

In a warzone, however, wickedness removes its disguises. Death is dealt out by aggressors, and many aggressors receive death as their reward. The lies of wicked rulers corrupt those around them and cost lives. Wicked men following wicked leaders kill and are killed carrying out the will of their leaders. The innocent suffer in war, just as they do at any time, but God often uses the evil of war to destroy evil men who stir up the destruction. 

God appealed to Pharaoh through Moses to soften his heart and release the Israelites. However, after repeated refusals, God hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his army specifically so that he could destroy them in the Red Sea. It is a miracle of judgment that they would be so foolish. (Exodus 14.2-9, 23-28)

Three companies of soldiers came to arrest Elijah. The prophet called down fire to destroy the first two. But the commander of the third group softened his heart, begged for his life and they were spared. (2 Kings 1.9-15)

There have been reports out of Ukraine of miraculous events causing the crashing of aircraft, the failure of rockets to hit targets, and the miring of tanks and vehicles of war in the mud. Many surrendering Russian soldiers have reported both reluctance and ignorance of their mission. It is a miracle of deliverance that they would lay down arms.

We pray for more than just miracles of fire that fails to burn God’s children (Daniel 3.26-27) and weapons that do not prosper against the innocent. We pray also for the even more miraculous deliverance of the hearts of evil leaders to change. We pray commanders holding unjust orders would rebel, and the fingers of those told to fire upon the innocent would freeze as they think of their own families.

May wickedness be defeated not only on battlefields in the countryside and cities but on the battlefields in the hearts of men and women sent to war.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. — Psalm 43.3

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 29 (Listen – 2:44)
Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Ways of Canaan, Ways of Christ
We must admire gentleness instead of brutality in our leaders…Our priestly task is to set before the world a better way, a light in the darkness.

Read more about Prayer for the Poor at War
We pray for the poor at war and the powerful who send them. Lord, fight for the weak and the powerless. Frustrate the plans of the powerful.

The Church Underground

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 28.12, 28
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; 
but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; 
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. 

Reflection: The Church Underground
By Erin Newton

This is written a week in advance. By the time this is published, the war in Ukraine may be drastically different.

When we read verses about power, our minds will quickly spawn the images of this war. For some, it includes the memories of past conflicts. Corrupt leadership can come in the form of local leaders, bad bosses, or abusive parents. It is not difficult to imagine someone who fits the role of a wicked leader.

These two proverbs tell a story. When the righteous are leaders, celebration and joy fill the air. Their righteousness is a means of safety and security for everyone because this type of person is filled with mercy and justice. There is the sense of freedom to live one’s life in a carefree manner because of this leader.

But the wicked leader creates a suffocating atmosphere where hiding is necessary. Emotions are suddenly guarded. There is no freedom in expression because the leader creates a sense of danger.

The Israelites were accustomed to living under the rule of wicked leaders. Some were domestic kings: Rehoboam, Ahab, Manasseh, etc. Some were foreigners who invaded the land and subjugated the people: Sennacherib of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

During these wicked reigns, some Israelites went into hiding. Prophets hid in a cave from the threat of Ahab. David fled to the wilderness to escape Saul. Jeremiah hid as Jehoiakim burned the prophet’s scroll.

Courage is rightly applauded and admired, but we learn from history that there are times in which removing oneself from danger is the best option.

We can learn how to persevere under the leadership of a wicked ruler by looking at those who went into hiding. David spent years in the wilderness wrestling with his frustrations about God and his circumstance. He expressed the depths of his pain. Yet, songs of praise were penned to help buoy his faith in God.

Already, word of churches going underground has circulated. Orthodox priests travel to air-raid shelters to commune with believers. This has been the way of God’s people for millennia.

Churches in intolerant nations go underground. Believers may hide their faith from wicked rulers, but within each heart, a greater depth of faith can be found.

May we pray for the time to come that the righteous may thrive and that the power of wicked leaders will perish. Come, Lord Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” — Psalm 46.11

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 28 (Listen – 3:07)
Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about Praying for the Persecuted
May we hold up before God’s throne in prayer, members of God’s church threatened by the state, by religious militias, and by other dangerous forces.

Read more about A Hymn of the Oppressed
History might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.