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Monday, September 18, 2023

through the sea

Opening Prayer: O Lord, your path always seems to lead through the sea and not around it.  Forgive me when I get so comfortable with the familiar that I fail to trust you to lead me out of my slavery and dysfunction.  Give me the courage and the strength and the grace to follow you, wherever it may lead.  Because following you always leads to freedom.

Scripture: Psalm 77:19-20

Journal: How has God brought you out of slavery?  How is God trying to get slavery out of you?  How does the process of going through the sea play into that?

Reflection:Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though you footprints were not seen.” (Psalm 77:19) A very wise man once said that there are actually two exodus stories in the book of Exodus.  The first is God getting Israel out of slavery and the second is God getting slavery out of Israel.  The first happened one day, as God led his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.  The second took forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  It seems that the comfortable and familiar, no matter how hard and dysfunctional, don’t loosen their grip on us easily.  The problem is that following Jesus almost never involves what is easy, comfortable, or familiar.

I’m coming to realize more and more that God’s way always leads through the sea—and then through the wilderness—not around it.  It is only by going through the sea, and then the wilderness, that God gets slavery out of us.  It is a long and arduous journey.  The life of slavery runs deep.  Its roots have dug way down into us and it will take some time and effort to pull them out.

“Freedom cannot abide in a heart dominated by desire, in a slave’s heart,” wrote John of the Cross.  “It abides in a liberated heart, in a child’s heart.”  Going through, not around, is how God brings that liberation about.  “There is no way out, only through,” wrote Gerald May.  And he was so right.  There is something about going through, instead of around, that is transforming.      

But the bottom line is that until we love our liberation more than we love our captivity, we will always be slaves.


Closing Prayer: Forgive me, O God when I love my captivity more than I love the freedom you are offering me.  Don’t just get me out of slavery, but also get slavery out of me.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

rule #1

Opening Prayer: My heart is not lifted up, O Lord, my eyes are not raised too high.  I do not occupy myself with great matters, or thing too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)

Scripture: Psalm 131:1-3

Journal: What is prayer?  How does this psalm invite you to pray?

Reflection: Be still.  Be quiet.  Drop your list. Abandon your agenda.  Stop your anxious spinning.  Listen to God.  Let him guide you.  Wean yourself off of the need to be everything to everyone.  Still and quiet your soul and just see what happens.  This is the first lesson in the school of prayer.


Closing Prayer: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. (1 Sam. 3:9)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

functional atheism

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to hear your knock during this time and open the door.  Come in and be with us and allow us to fully be with you. 

Scripture: Revelation 3:14-22

Journal: Where and how do self-sufficiency, productivity, and performance dominate your life

Reflection: Functional atheism.  What an interesting phrase.  It is the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me. Thus, it is not so much atheism in theological terms, but atheism in practical, functional terms.  Which makes it very subtle and hard to spot.  In fact, most functional atheists would probably not consider themselves atheists at all, they just live like they are.  The telltale signs of functional atheism are self-sufficiency, productivity, and performance—three things that are highly valued by the culture around us.  But three things that can also leave us spiritually dead and impoverished. 

Just look at the letter Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, for example. (Rev. 3:14-22) These were folks who professed that they both knew Jesus and sought to follow him, and yet the way they lived their lives said something much different.  In fact, Jesus described their love for him as tepid and lukewarm, which made him want to vomit.  There was no passion or zeal for God, only a falsely satisfied sense of self-sufficiency: “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”  So much so that they had left him out of their daily lives.  Jesus was on the outside looking in; knocking continually on the door of their hearts, longing for deep, vibrant, intimate relationship with them, and yet they left him outside.  Thus, the “believers” at the church of Laodicea were functional atheists.  They said they loved God, but they lived like he didn’t exist.

The admonition Jesus gave them was to stop relying on themselves and their own resources to manage life, to realize their poverty and their helplessness, and to turn to him to give them what they could not possibly provide for themselves: to be rich in spiritual treasure, to be clothed in his holiness and righteousness, and to be healed and made whole.  Only Jesus could give them those things, if only they would be willing to open the door.  The very life of their souls depended on it.


Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive us when we say that we love you, when our lives tell a much different story.  We know all too well our tendency to plow right through life on our own without inviting you in or asking for your guidance and direction.  To live according to our plans and agendas, rather than yours.  Forgive us, Lord Jesus.  Help us to have the courage and the strength and the grace to give every area of our lives totally and completely to you, with no holding back.


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

the essence of prayer

Opening Prayer: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him is his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Scripture: Psalm 27:4

Journal: What is the true essence of prayer?  How does that take shape in your life?

Reflection: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him is his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

That’s it.  That’s what prayer is all about.  In fact, that’s what life with God is, ultimately, all about.  In the midst of the chaos and commotion and turmoil of this life, a single-minded focus on God, and simply being with him, is of utmost importance.  It is so easy to get swept away with worry and care about the many things that we get distracted and forget about the one thing—Jesus. 

Henri Nouwen said it this way: “Prayer is entering into the presence of God here and now.  Prayer is the way I which we become present to the moment and listen to God who is with us.  God is always where we are.  God is with us until the end of time.  We have to be here.  We have to listen.  We have to be attentive.  Prayer is the discipline of attentiveness, of being here.

“I really want you to ask you to practice prayer as a practice of the presence of God.  You don’t have to say many words.  You don’t have to have deep thoughts.  You don’t have to worry about how to think.  You can just be where you are and say, ‘I love you.  I love you.  I know you love me and I love you.  I don’t have any big things to say.  I don’t have any profound words to express, but I am here and I want you to be with me and I want to be with you.’  It’s that simple.  It is a very simple thing.  Prayer is not complicated.  It is not difficult.”

The true essence of prayer is simply being with God—dwelling, gazing, and seeking.  I don’t know why we make it so complicated.


Closing Prayer: Here I am, Lord.  Be with me and give me the grace to be with you.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

awakened to love

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you are far more interested in awakening us than you are in shaming us.  Awaken us now to your unfailing love and deep affection, so that we might be captured by your beauty and forever changed by your passion.

Scripture: John 4:16-18

Journal: What are your “husbands?”  What are the things, or who are the people, that distract you from depending on the love of the Father?  How are you depending on people for love that only God can give? 

Reflection: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have aid is quite true.” (John 4:18)

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not trying to shame, but to awaken.  Awakening, however, is not a tidy process.  In fact, it can be pretty messy.  For in order to truly awaken someone, they must first be made aware of how they have been lulled to sleep.  Their needy patterns and strategies must be exposed, recognized, and acknowledged before true awakening can take place.

But who in their right mind wants to be exposed?  Only someone who realizes deep inside that their lives have taken a terribly wrong turn.  Only someone who yearns for and longs for and hopes for a life that’s better than the one they are living.  Only someone who is longing to experience a love that is deeper and wider and longer and higher than any love they have yet to experience. 

That’s where we have to trust the heart of Jesus, that his intent is love and never shame.  That he alone can love us with the depth and the passion and the intimacy we most deeply long for.  That when he exposes us it is with the utmost gentleness and kindness and compassion, for it is his invitation to name what is wrong within us and return to what is good and true. 

The heart of Jesus is to expose and awaken, to name and invite.  Because, ultimately, he doesn’t want us to settle for less than the life and the love he created us for.  He doesn’t want us to live at the mercy of others.  He doesn’t want us to be dependent on the attention and affection of those around us, when it is only he who can give us the attention and affection we most deeply need.  Helping us to realize that and helping us to stop being the attention and affection whores that we are, is what spiritual awakening is really all about.  It certainly was for the woman at the well. 


Closing Prayer: Forgive me, Lord Jesus, when I try to fill my soul with lesser loves.  For only your Greater Love will truly satisfy.  Help me to turn away from the broken wells I run to and come only to you, the spring of living water.


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

he will

Opening Prayer: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Scripture: Luke 5:12-13

Journal: Do you really believe that Jesus will touch you and heal you?

Reflection: “The cause why we are so troubled with these sins is because of our ignorance of love.  To this knowledge we are most blind, for some of us believe that God is all powerful and able to do all, and that He is all wisdom and knows how to do all.  But that He is all love and will do all, there we stop.  This ignorance is that which most hinders God’s lovers.  There persists a fear that hinders us because of paying attention to ourselves and the sins we have done in the past.  We do not know how to despise the sin of self-hatred, as we do other sins which we recognize.” ~Julian of Norwich


Closing Prayer: Listen as Jesus says to you: “I am willing.  Be clean!”

Friday, June 9, 2023

deep healing

Opening Prayer: Heal us, O God, in a deep and beautiful way.  For it is healing that we need and only you can offer it.  Heal our hearts, heal our lives, and heal our world.  Our wounds are the source of most of our conflicts and issues and dysfunctions, so touch us with your healing hands of love and make us alive and whole and free.  Amen.

Scripture: Mark 2:1-12

Journal: Where are you in need of healing?  What are the deeper issues?  Will you let Jesus touch and heal you in those deeper places?

Reflection: Jesus always sees beyond the presenting problem to the core.  He doesn’t just want to touch the surface, but the deeper places.  Touching those deep places within us is the only way we can experience real healing and wholeness.

Thus, Jesus knew that the problem with the paralytic wasn’t merely his legs, it was so much more than that.  The real problem was his heart, so healing just his legs would stop far short of the healing that was most desperately needed.  If Jesus would have healed the paralyzed man's legs, without healing his heart, the man still wouldn't have been whole.

Maybe you have prayed for years for God’s intervention in some area of your life, and yet, for the most part, those prayers have seemingly gone unanswered.  That area of your life remains unchanged.  Here’s a thought: maybe it’s because you are praying for the wrong thing.  Maybe you too, are praying for your legs, when there is a much deeper issue that must be addressed.  God wants to get his hands on that place.  He wants to heal you at your deepest levels, but in order to do that he needs you to recognize exactly what the problem is.  Are you willing to go there with him?


Closing Prayer: O Jesus, I need healing—deep, deep healing; and you are the only one who can give it.  Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.