Wisdom in Houses of Mourning

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 7.2-4
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Proverbs 4.7
Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Hebrews 12.1-2
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Reflection: Wisdom in Houses of Mourning
By John Tillman

What happens when a society addicted to activity, distraction, and consumption has every activity canceled, normal distractions displaced, and consumption disrupted? We mourn.

Solomon tells us that there is more wisdom to be gained in a house of mourning than one of celebrating. In some ways, the homes in which we are sheltering have become houses of mourning. We are certainly mourning the frenetic fantasy of fruitfulness that our former schedules gave us. Our economies, both global and personal, were accelerated and everything else was trimmed out so that we could push harder for greater gain. But were we really gaining in the ways that are important? Did we trim out the wrong things? What can we learn from this unexpected experience of mourning? 

Paul writes that we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us to run after Jesus, fixing our eyes on him. But in our previous life, pre-COVID-19, did we ever throw off anything to get closer to Jesus? Did we ever lay aside even one entanglement to grow deeper in faith? Did we fix our eyes more intently on Jesus than on our devices, work tasks, and investment portfolios? Did we strip even one thing out of our lives because it interfered with reading the Bible? Did we cancel even one activity in order to make more time to pray?

For the majority of us, the answers to these questions are probably “no.” Many of us may need to confess that what we tossed aside was Jesus, and the entanglement we escaped was the cords of loving-kindness that God sought to guide us by. We limited Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, to “when we have time” as if time was the issue and not our heart.

What if we learned from what we have lost how valuable what we still have is?
What if we, relieved of the burden of physically running from activity to activity, learned to run after Jesus spiritually?
What if we learned to make time with the most important things the most important time in our day?

I think personally we would be blown away by the tangible presence and power of God in our lives.
I think it would be a revelation.
And I think culturally the world would be blown away by the shockingly beautiful things God would call the church to do in the world.
I think it would be a revolution. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37) 
2 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:21)

Read more about Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer 
The inevitable next tragedy will come. Whether it is the result of unthinking violence, tragic accident, or premeditated and targeted hatred, we turn to God in prayer…

Read more about Fasting from the Feast
Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.

Cry, Creator, Cry!

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 53.10
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Proverbs 28.13-14
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
    but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,
    but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Luke 29.41-43
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Reflection: Cry, Creator, Cry!
By John Tillman

The cross is not necessarily the only way Jesus might have died. As an exercise of theological hypothesis, one can entertain the question, “What if Jesus had died another way?” 

In his moving epic poem, The Singer, author, pastor, and professor, Dr. Calvin Miller reimagined Jesus as The Singer, who sang the song of Earthmaker, the Father-Spirit. During his trial, The Singer’s lyre and his hands with which he played Earthmaker’s song are crushed by a mallet. Then, with his musical hands crushed into inoperability and unrecognizable form, he is stretched by a machine of death built into the wall of the city.

The people of the city toss into a hopper great stones representing the sins and crimes The Singer is accused of and the weight of them turns the great, geared, machine which, through cogs and levers, tightens the cables, stretching The Singer’s body until he dies.

The World Hater, Miller’s analogue for Satan, dances on the cables of the machine, crying out to the Creator with mockery:

“Look how he dies. Cry, Creator, Cry!
This is my day to stand upon the 
breast of God and claim my victory 
over love. You lost the gamble. In 
but an hour your lover will be pulp 
upon the gallows. Did you tell him 
when his fingers formed the world, 
that he would die on Terra, groaning 
with his hands crushed and whimpering 
in my great machine?”

Today on Good Friday, the crosshairs of the cross seemed to be centered on Jesus. Sin’s weight is heavy upon him as the hammer of God’s wrath comes down. But the target of God’s wrath is Sin. Sin dies in the crosshairs of the cross. Yes, Jesus dies, too. But for Jesus and for us, Sunday is coming. Resurrection Day. The Eighth Day. The first day of the New Creation.

But until that day comes, we sit mourning in the chaos and darkness. What we mourn, if we do so with proper understanding, is not a man’s death or a failed rebellion. What we mourn is our own participation in his trial. We mourn our own sin upon his back. We mourn our hands upon the nails and the hammer and our hands forcing bitter drink into his mouth.

What is coming is the most important morning since God first said, “let there be light.”
So, let us mourn tonight. For joy comes in the morning.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 28 (Listen 3:07) 
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen -2:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 29 (Listen 2:44), 2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -2:16)
Proverbs 30 (Listen 3:51), 1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:59)

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
So, on this Good Friday, we will join Christ in his suffering, praying excerpts from this psalm prayed on the cross.

Read more about Choose to Hope in the Cross
The two thieves represent two choices…These choices stand as constant reminders that the cross of Christ demands a response.

The Prince of Peace not Pacification

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 24.1-2
Do not envy the wicked,
    do not desire their company;
for their hearts plot violence,
    and their lips talk about making trouble.

Matthew 21.4-5
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

*This week will follow the events of Holy Week in our reflections, tying them, where applicable to our daily readings.

Reflection:  The Prince of Peace not Pacification
By John Tillman

After the triumph of Jesus entering Jerusalem, Monday, might seem anti-climactic to some of his followers. 

During the triumphal entry, the more politically motivated and “patriotic” of Christ’s disciples must have sensed a growing momentum against the elitist immoral government. The palm branches they waved were symbols of the failed Maccabean rebellion and an expression of nationalistic, patriotic pride. Christ went out of his way to arrive in a manner that both fit this paradigm and shatter it at the same time. Riding into the city on a colt referenced a well-known Messianic prophecy and identified Jesus as the promised Messianic King. Many would also react with glee when he cleansed the temple, just as we would if authorities took down a price-gouging opportunist selling hand-sanitizer.

But on Monday all that energy seems to fizzle out. Jesus does not march on the palaces of the rich. He does not pull down and replace corrupt leaders or cast off Roman oppression. Things do not go the way people expected. In the Old Testament stories they were used to, when the king purified the temple, what followed was the defeat of Israel’s enemies and a period of political victory and peace.

Jesus, instead, remains consistent in representing the kind of kingdom he has been describing and demonstrating all along. The revolution Jesus enacts is a spiritual one and is greater than any temporal imaginings of the crowds or his more revolutionary-minded followers.

The revolution Jesus begins will defeat the enemy of Sin—a far more dangerous enemy than Rome. 
The revolution Jesus begins will win a victory over death, not over human leaders who are destined to die anyway. 
The revolution Jesus begins will bring to us eternal peace with God, not broker meaningless earthly “peace.” 

The earthly definition of peace that we are used to is disingenuous. Like the ironically named “Ministry of Peace” in George Orwell’s 1984, we don’t want peace—we want to win wars. We want “Peace in our time” and on our terms. Many times we, like the Jerusalem crowds, might prefer a Prince of Pacification instead of a Prince of Peace.

As we anticipate Jesus’ arrival to our Jerusalem and as we follow him may we avoid the disillusionment that plagued Judas and other politically motivated disciples. Let us see Jesus as the Prince of Peace he truly is letting go of any dreams of earthly power.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 24 (Listen 3:47) 
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -1:44)

Read more about Following Through Jerusalem
In our social media, drama-driven world, we often long for someone to silence our critics and win our battles. We equate winning arguments with advancing the kingdom.

Read more about Tobiahs and Little Foxes
In a pre-visualization of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, Nehemiah has to literally throw out the old baggage of the past (Tobiah and his belongings)

Examine the Examen

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 21.1.2
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water
    that he channels toward all who please him.
A person may think their own ways are right,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.

Colossians 4.2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Reflection: Examine the Examen
By John Tillman

The Examen is not a prayer to change your prayer life but to change the rest of your life. The Prayer of Examen, first recorded by St. Ignatius, is a prayer that has been used throughout the Church since the 16th century. The Examen, like a good tutor, schools us in practicing the presence of God.

In this prayer, we reflect on our day, find God in the midst of everyday life, assess our motives, desires, struggles, and opportunities, and move forward into the future with repentance, faith, thankfulness, and joy.

There are many versions of the Examen. We have, over the years, published and used different versions of the prayer ourselves, including the version at this link. I have studied and used versions of the prayer from different writers and my own church pastors and find each iteration to be helpful. The Examen can be customized to fit the way you communicate with God, the time you give to it, and how you implement it and get it in your memory. The simplest, shortest way to summarize the Examen may be the following five words: 

Below, let us follow a version of the Examen specifically adapted to the realities of life in a time of quarantine and social distancing.

Take a few moments to relax and release your mind from any concerns that you are holding on to. Just pause. Realize you are in God’s presence and have been continually. Even alone in your home (or surrounded and crowded by your sequestered family…), he is in our midst.

Once settled peacefully, thank God for his presence and ask for his grace to be more aware of him, especially in the next few minutes.

Review the past day and God’s presence with you. We may be socially distant from our friends and community, but God is not distant. When did you sense him? What opportunities did you take to interact with or act on behalf of Jesus? 

Celebrate moments in which Christ’s grace, love, and righteousness shone through you. Humbly acknowledge that these moments were empowered by the Holy Spirit and not yourself. 

You will also recall shortcomings and failures. Confess sins with the knowledge that Jesus has forgiven you. Confess not just actions of sin, but motivations behind them. (Not just that you shouted in anger but that you have an unhealthy desire for dominance and control rooted in a failure to trust God…)

Celebrate your forgiveness, reinstatement, and acceptance through Jesus. The good news, the gospel, is that although we fail consistently, in Christ, we are loved, accepted, and forgiven continually and that Christ is at work in and through us for our sanctification and perfection.

Look forward to tomorrow, with faith and anticipation of the presence of Christ going before you and being with you.

Ask for grace to be more aware of his presence with you going forward, and close with the Lord’s prayer or another prayer chosen from scripture.

Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name.
Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,… make your way straight before me. — Psalm 5.8

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 21 (Listen 3:12) 
Colossians 4 (Listen -2:21)

Read more about Presence is Precious
The presence of God is a precious thing…Moses tells God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us…”


Read more about Recalling the Failures
Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.

Breathing Prayers

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 18.14
The human spirit can endure in sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Reflection: Breathing Prayers
By John Tillman

The social, financial, and mental health costs of this sickness are pushing our culture to the end of the ability of the “human spirit” to endure. We are worn out with anxiety. We are weighed down by ballooning financial burdens. We have lost jobs and profits and we are fearful of losing family, friends, and acquaintances.

How can we possibly endure? What can keep our spirits from being crushed? One source of unending strength and endurance may come through what Richard Foster calls, “Unceasing Prayer.”

Most of us know the famous Pauline verse, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5.17). It is merely the shortest of the many New Testament directives to pray unceasingly. (Romans 12.12; Ephesians 6.18; Colossians 4.2; Philippians 4.6; Hebrews 13.15; Luke 18.1

Few Christians, however, have taken steps to put unceasing prayer into practice.

One of the simplest methods for doing this—and therefore a good place to start—is called “breath prayers.” This practice is outlined in detail in Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

Breath prayers are simply short prayers which can be said “in a breath.” These are often taken from scripture. One famous breath prayer is adapted from Luke 18.13, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

You can find your own breath prayers from throughout the scripture. Any scripture that God brings to your mind is useful as a breath prayer. A deep familiarity with scripture (made possible by regular and repetitive reading) will make this a more common occurrence in one’s life.

It is perhaps a little too long to be called a breath prayer, but one scripture-based prayer that my wife and I pray regularly is based on Galatians 5:22-23. “Come Holy Spirit, we pray that your fruit would be in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Out of your relationship with God, you can also write your own breath prayers. They can come from complaints, from questions about the Bible, from sermons, from requests, or just a simple acknowledgment of need. Some examples of these may be, “God give me grace.” “God help me forgive.” “Christ, speak through me.” 

Repeating these prayers throughout one’s day keeps one’s mind connected to Christ, keeps one’s steps closer to his will, and readys one’s heart for the next discipline.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 18 (Listen 2:23) 
Colossians 1 (Listen -4:18)

Read more about Praying as Priests
As followers of God today, a part of our identity is as carriers of the blessings of God that are intended for the world.

Read more about Praying Through Betrayal and Failure
May we respond to boasts with humility, to deceit with the truth, to evil with good, and to harm with healing words of comfort and love.

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