Day 31 – March 27

It’s Friday, March 27. My name is Gina and it’s great to be back with you for another day of scripture reading, listening to the Lord and praying together.

Theme: Look for God in the ordinary

Scripture: John 7:1–2, 10, 25–30 (Living Bible)

Reflection

In his Daily Study Bible commentary on this passage, William Barclay wrote that even though some of the people initially asked themselves, “Could this Jesus perhaps be the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?” almost immediately they dismissed the possibility.

Why? Because there was a saying among them that the Messiah would magically appear on the world stage as if from nowhere. His coming would be an unprecedented, miraculous event that no one could possibly misunderstand.

So, they reasoned, Jesus could not be the Messiah because they knew where and how he had grown up, just like any other ordinary person. Basically, they believed God is found only in the extraordinary, not in the ordinary.

Thanks be to God that this is not true! If we can’t find Him at work in the mundane moments of our ordinary lives, where can we hope to find Him?

Sometimes, Christians describe those rare, profound, life-changing encounters with the living God as “mountaintop experiences.” In those moments, we stand on some kind of spiritual summit and are overcome with an awesome view of God, not unlike how small and astonished we feel on a mountain peak, overwhelmed by the mountain’s ancient strength and colossal size.

The problem is that, as any mountain climber or hiker knows, we spend far more time climbing to that summit and then coming back down again, than we do enjoying and resting in the spectacular view on top. If we are so obsessed with the climactic moment on the peak, we will miss the fragile wildflowers, the scampering squirrels, the breeze whispering through the tree branches, and the half-hidden mushrooms that greet us along the way.

We mortals are ordinary; much of our lives seem mundane and repetitious. And our extraordinary God meets us here. He is at work in our everyday moments. He is there to greet us as we awaken on those sometimes dreary Mondays, when we feel that we are going to repeat this week everything we did last week. God is working in us through every futile and hopeless endeavor that we perform anyway, because it’s right. He walks beside us in every enormous task at which we relentlessly chip away, a little bit at a time, even though we worry we will never finish.

God might speak to us through a popular song on the radio, even if it wasn’t written or performed by a Christian. He might reveal to us a special truth when we least expect it, such as in a casual conversation with a friend, or while we are watching a movie.

When we engage in a quick purchase at the local market, God might use our friendly conversation to open the salesperson’s heart to the Holy Spirit, just a little. When we pick up a some trash on the street, when we smile and say “hi” at a passing stranger, when we let the car cut in front of us on the highway, or bring a hot meal to a sick neighbor, God is there and working.

The message that Jesus preached was essentially this: Get ready! The dazzling, extraordinary kingdom of God is breaking through into this ordinary, gritty, everyday world! In my very self, I am merging the two into one, so that every day is a day recreated in God’s glorious kingdom! (Mark 9:1 , Luke 11:20) In Luke 17, Jesus told the religious leaders, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

It can be tempting to look for God in the drama or the crisis. When the prophet Elijah fled to a desert cave following an exhausting power encounter with God’s enemies, God met him there to encourage him. God instructed Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Behold, the LORD is about to pass by.”

The writer of 1 Kings 9 then tells what happened: “A great and mighty wind tore into the mountains and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.

“And after the fire came a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Isn’t it beautiful that Elijah knew God so well that Elijah didn’t come out during the mighty wind, or the earthquake or the fire? He didn’t recognize God there. It was when he heard the still, small voice that Elijah sensed God’s presence, and went out to meet God.

When we have walked with God even a little while, we have the potential to recognize His still small voice each time He speaks. We can cultivate this sensitivity to God in our ordinary moments by simply getting to know God better every day. By practicing the regular study of scripture, and talking to God and listening to Him, we learn to see God in our ordinary moments. We can bring to God our questions, and because we keep our spiritual antennae raised, so to speak, later that day or week when He answers us, we will immediately know His answer. We will be sensitive to those subtle nudges to do something or call someone. Later, with the benefit of hindsight, we will look back to know it was the Spirit we heard, and be glad that we obeyed Him.

By inviting God into our ordinary, our lives can become truly extraordinary.

Reflection questions

  1. Do I actively look for God each day in the ordinary moments and nudges?
  2. Where have I seen God at work in my life or speaking to me recently?
  3. What are three ways I could cultivate my awareness of God in my everyday moments?

Prayer

Our miraculous, extraordinary God,

Thank You, Jesus, for stepping out of the wonders and glory of Your heavenly realm to burst into our ordinary, earthly world with Your divine activity. Because You walked our soil as fully human and fully God, in Your very presence You began the process of merging together the Kingdom of God with our sometimes repetitious and even painful earthly existence. Everywhere that Your kingdom breaks through into ours, You redeem our ordinary with Your extraordinary. You are creating and recreating, renewing, refreshing, and redeeming.

Teach us how to attune our hearts and minds to Your still, small voice, so that we don’t miss Your activity and guidance in our everyday moments. Help us to obey those little nudges, and to look for Your open doors and opportunities where You place them.

When we find ourselves in times of weariness, boredom, and futility, open our eyes to Your flashing beacons of kingdom light. In 2 Kings 6, Your prophet Elisha’s servant was filled with despair when he saw the power and strength of an advancing army. In fear, he cried to Elisha, “What will we do?” Elisha then prayed, “’Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’ And the Lord opened the young man’s eyes so that he could see horses of fire and chariots of fire everywhere upon the mountain!”

Like this servant, please open our eyes to Your glorious presence and Your heavenly army that is invisible to our earthly eyes, but at work everywhere all around us, all the time. Show us how to join You in all that You are doing to reclaim and redeem ourselves, our families, our communities, nations and our world.

We commit to persevere in the ordinary and mundane, trusting that Your extraordinary work continues. We love You, Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture is from:

Psalm 34:15–22

Day 30 – March 26

It’s Thursday, March 26. Welcome back to our daily Lent Journey podcast. My name is Gina. Let’s spend some time focused on God and His word, and pray together.

Theme: We can intercede for God’s grace to others

Scripture: Exodus 32:7–14 (Living Bible)

Reflection

Intercede is defined by dictionary.com as: to act in behalf of someone in difficulty or trouble, as by pleading or petition; to attempt to reconcile differences between two people or groups; mediate.

In this story, Moses interceded for the Hebrew people. He stood between them and God’s anger, begging God not to punish the people for their astonishing rebellion against Him—almost immediately after He had rescued them from centuries of Egypt’s harsh slavery.

Moses could have just thrown up his hands and said, “Do what You want to them, Lord. They deserve whatever punishment You give them.”

And they did deserve it. But Moses was filled with compassion and he desperately begged God to spare them.

There are other stories like this. Abraham interceded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, when similarly God wanted to destroy them because they were full of injustice, violence and evil.

In the book of Job, God instructs Job’s friends to make sacrifices to God in front of Job, and ask Job to pray to God for them, so God would not punish them for speaking wrongly of God.

Jesus, as He died on the cross, interceded with God for those who were murdering Him, saying, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Stephen, in the book of Acts, repeated these words as he was being stoned to death for testifying that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was the Son of God.

In 1 Timothy 2, the writer instructs the young Christian Timothy, “Here are my directions: Pray much for others; plead for God’s mercy upon them; give thanks for all he is going to do for them. Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility, so that we can live in peace and quietness, spending our time in godly living and thinking much about the Lord.This is good and pleases God our Savior, for he longs for all to be saved…”

The language of these examples implies that intercession is done with a determined commitment, and an attitude of great passion and longing. The situation may be desperate. People are in danger of going into eternity separated from God forever. Nations or people groups are in danger of a long delayed, but justice-restoring, judgment after years of injustice, exploiting or oppressing the weak and vulnerable, and worshiping other gods, including their own power and prosperity. Believers are severely oppressed and weakened spiritually, physically, or mentally and emotionally, and need others who are stronger and more refreshed to take up the battle on their behalf through intercessory prayer.

What does it mean for us to intercede for others, and for whom should we intercede?

  1. We can intercede, as in Timothy, for God’s mercy and grace on our government leaders and all those in authority over us, such as teachers, law enforcement, business and community leaders. They need wisdom and expertise, boldness and compassion. Pray that they would not be tempted by the additional possibility of taking more power or engaging in corruption.
  2. We can intercede for those who don’t yet know Jesus, that their hearts would soften and open to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and that they would give their lives to Him.
  3. We can intercede for whole neighborhoods, cities, nations and peoples. Like Moses, Jonah, and others in scripture demonstrate, a city, a nation or a people group are not too large for our intercession. We can pray that God would liberally shower His grace over nations and peoples. We can pray that He would defeat human and spiritual principalities and powers that have enslaved people in a region, or people from a specific ethnic group. Geographic areas or people groups may seem to suffer from a specific sin, such as alcoholism, gang violence, or worship of evil spirits. Or they may be suffering from systemic evils, such as poverty or corruption. We can pray for a movement of the Holy Spirit that would heal nations and peoples from their sin and rebellion and turn them to Jesus Christ. We can pray for the principalities and powers of systemic evil to be broken so that people are set free to live fully into who God created them to be.
  4. We can intercede for fellow believers who are struggling and oppressed in various ways. We can ask that God set them free from anything that is blocking the full release of His work and power to transform them in Christ.
  5. We can intercede for our enemies. In Matthew 5, Jesus instructs his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We can pray for God to bless them, and that they would realize God’s love and be changed by Him.

Every weekend, we have been interceding for nations in a different part of Eurasia. Would you join us on Saturday and Sunday as we intercede for the peoples and the body of Christ in Central Europe? You can also go back to our podcasts and transcripts from earlier weekends to intercede with us for the peoples and nations of other parts of Eurasia, such as the CIS Field or the Middle East.

Reflection questions

  1. Is there something that seems to be blocking God’s full transformative power in your life? Find a trusted, mature Christian friend to intercede with you for a specific period of time, asking for God to give you victory over this obstacle.
  2. Is there a person, an authority or public figure, a city or a neighborhood, a nation or a people group for whom God may be calling you to commit your prayer for a period of time? Write down a short plan concerning who you will intercede for, what you will intercede about, when each day or week you will pray, and for how long. Will you ask anyone to join you?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Father,

Thank You that when we pray for each other, You hear us. Thank You that sometimes You even change Your planned course of action in response to our urgent requests on behalf of others. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for working to bring freedom, new life and transformation in people and people groups when Your Church intercedes for them.

Lord, sometimes we wish we could do more to help people who are suffering and enslaved in sin and don’t know You, or for our brothers and sisters who may be experiencing a time of trial or oppression. And yet, intercession is one of the most powerful things we can do. We thank You that You invite us to go to take up the battle on behalf of other people and that You’ve made this an effective way we can help.

Lord, if there is a person or a group of people who is gripped by an evil or something that is causing suffering, and You want us to intercede for them, please bring them to our mind. Fill us with a deep, desperate compassion for them that will fuel us over a period of time to pray for them consistently with longing and urgency.

And if we need someone to intercede for us, please send us brothers and sisters who will take up the battle for us, mediating with You on our behalf.

Thank You that You listen to our prayers and answer them in the wisest ways that are ultimately only for our good.

We pray all this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

John 5:30–47

Psalm 106:6–7,19–23

Day 29 – March 25

It’s Wednesday, March 25. Welcome back to our daily Lent Journey podcast. My name is Gina. Let’s read some scripture, reflect on it and pray together!

Theme: Jesus cleanses and transforms us

Scripture: Hebrews 10:4-10 (Living Bible)

Reflection

For thousands of years, humankind slaughtered animals as a way to erase their guilt and to win the favor of gods and spirits. The idea was to transfer their own sins to an animal. In this way, the people themselves didn’t have to die so that justice would be restored. The animal would die instead.

In this scripture, the writer of Hebrews explains why animal sacrifice was not a satisfactory system for restoring justice: Because sacrifices don’t stop the cycle of evil and suffering. If our sinful nature is not transformed, then we will just sin and sin and sin again. We’ll have to make sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice. And then we’ll sin and sin some more.

The word sin has two meanings. First, sin is for a specific act, thought or attitude that goes against God’s good plans for who He wants us to be. A sin can be a lustful thought that we embrace and explore, rather than pushing it out of our minds when it first intrudes on our thoughts. A sin can be a conversation laced with gossip; we engage even though we know it’s hurting everyone involved and we’ll probably regret it later. A sin can be taking comfort in eating too much food or from shopping instead of taking comfort from our relationship with God.

Then there is sin with a capital “S”: our posture of deciding that we will be in control of our own lives, instead of letting God be the Lord of our lives. This overarching posture is what leads to all the individual sins (with a lowercase “s”) that we commit against ourselves, others, and God.

Animal sacrifices did nothing to prevent people from committing future sins, nor did they cleanse people of their posture of sin – their tendency in thought, word, and deed to defy God by doing what they wanted, even when they knew it was wrong or that it would cause harm. After people sacrificed animals, they walked away no different than when they arrived at the temple to apologize for their sins. A slaughtered goat did not transform someone from the inside out into a new creation. A gutted bull did not replace someone’s selfish nature with one that starts to love others more than oneself. A dead pigeon did not daily whisper words of wisdom and caution into their minds, so that they could choose the loving words or actions before their default to the selfish ones.

When the writer says of God, “You were not satisfied with the animal sacrifices, slain and burnt before you as offerings for sin,” he does not mean that God is a voracious, bloodthirsty divinity who craves the overflowing of blood and death. He means that God was not satisfied with the system of sacrifices as a lasting solution to the problem of sin and evil. People were still sinning in abundance. They were still hurting themselves, each other, and God. They were still exploiting and oppressing each other. They were still selfish, trapped in destructive patterns of behavior and addiction to sin.

If all this injustice and suffering were going to be cut out at its root in each person, there had to be a new system to replace this faulty one.

So, the writer says, “After Christ said this about not being satisfied with the various sacrifices and offerings required under the old system, he then added, ‘Here I am. I have come to give my life.’”

Jesus’ death and resurrection canceled the first system in favor of a far better one. Under this new plan we can be forgiven and made clean by Christ’s dying for us, once and for all.

Because of this, the Holy Spirit now goes with us every moment of every day, guiding us, teaching us, and cleaning us from the wormy rot of our selfishness, which, unchecked, will eat us up from the inside out, and ultimately kill us.

This is good news! We can be different! We can be freed from our compulsions and addictions and posture to curl inward into ourselves. We can turn outward with love toward God, which empowers us also to turn outward in love to others without fear. As we learn to love God and receive His love, we can even learn to love ourselves the right way. Our shame and guilt are thrown far, far away from us, so that we can confidently receive God’s love, knowing there is nothing we have done that still stands between us and God. All is forgiven. But even better, we have God’s power to choose not to sin when temptations come and opportunities arise. We might make mistakes, but our desire to do the loving thing toward God and others will keep growing and maturing.

How do we go from repeatedly apologizing for our sins to a place where we live in God’s gracious victory over sin?

We surrender. We give up. We turn over our choice to be the god of our own lives and to hang on to control. We kneel before the King of the universe and we swear allegiance to Him. And every day, we choose again and again to release our control to God. We plan ahead to obey before He even asks us to do something.

I think of it a lot like getting married. On a person’s wedding day, he stands before his future spouse and promises himself to her and only her from that day forward. It is a one-time commitment that will last as long as both live. This commitment is followed by a renewed commitment each morning to fully give himself to his spouse that day. If the marriage is one of love, he is promising that his love for his spouse will be stronger than any temptation to do something that would hurt her, or to put himself above her.

Can the person make mistakes in the relationship in times of immaturity or lack of wisdom? Does the person need to learn, over many years, ways to more effectively choose and love his spouse? Can the person even one day let that love fade and become unfaithful to that commitment? Yes, all this is true. Marriage takes work and everyone who is married is continually learning how to be better spouses. One has to keep stoking the coals into a flame. But if he views the marriage as a daily choice, and each day he makes the choice to love her before himself to the best of his ability, the marriage can grow, deepen, and should last.

Like a marriage, we can stand before God and make a lifelong commitment to love Him more than anyone or anything else. A lifetime commitment is made in that specific moment. Then, from that day forward, each day we renew that commitment by choosing to love God as He guides us, to get to know Him better, to obey Him in whatever He asks.

Have you made this commitment already? And are you choosing each day to fulfill this commitment you’ve made to live with Jesus as your only Lord? If not, what’s stopping you?

Reflection questions

  1. Have you asked God to forgive your sins, but you continue to live in a repetitive cycle of constantly failing God, rebelling against God or trapped in a sin that you can’t seem to stop? Take a moment to reflect on whether you struggle with sinning against God, yourself, and others.
  2. If you answered yes, are you ready for the freedom and power God offers to give you victory over your sin? If you are, pray now to surrender to God complete and total lordship over your life. Ask Him to cleanse you from your sin, and empower you with such a great love for Him that, out of your love, you would not do anything deliberately to hurt Him, others, or yourself from this day forward.
  3. If you have already taken this step of giving God lordship over your life, take some time to reflect on the freedom and relationship you have enjoyed by living in the Spirit’s power and love each day.
  4. Ask the Holy Spirit if there is an area of your life that He’s been waiting to show you where you might still need to give over lordship to Him.

Prayer

Lord, we recognize that there is no escape for us from the endless cycle of sin, of self-destructive choices, of hurting ourselves, others, and You, unless we surrender our godship over our lives and ask You to take over. We need the power and victory of the Holy Spirit over our compulsion to do the selfish thing, the thing that feels good in the moment, but will always cause harm and suffering, sooner or later.

We submit to You as master of our lives. We pray that You would cultivate in us such a grateful love for You that our love overpowers anything trying to tempt us to hurt You. Fill us with so much love for You that our desire to please You would cast all other pleasures and idols into the shade.

Only You can clean us and make us new. We need You, desperately. Our hope for transformation is in You alone. Please start and continue this transformative work in us right now.

You are so kind and good to want to set us free to live in the power of Your love. Thank You for who You are.

We ask all this in the name of your Son, who became the once and always sacrifice for our sins. Amen.

Conclusion

Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 40:5-11

Luke 1:26-38

Day 28 – March 24

It’s Tuesday, March 24, the 28th day of our 40-day Lent Journey. My name is Gina. Let’s spend some time focused on God and His word, and praying for each other.

Theme: God wants us to live in His love, not in fear

Scripture: John 5:1–18 (ESV)

Reflection

In the time of this story, people believed that diseases and physical disabilities, like blindness, deafness and lameness, were curses from God. They thought that if you were sick or disabled, it was because you had sinned or your parents had sinned, and so you were being punished.

The Jews also knew that God had commanded them to take one day of rest per week, a day to physically and mentally rest from work and spend it worshiping God, which brings spiritual rest. It was a day set aside for holistic self-care once a week.

One wonders if the people observed Sabbath out of fear, instead of love. They may have been so terrified of being punished if they even accidentally broke Sabbath law that the religious leaders took this relatively simple command – rest from your work one day a week – and made it impossibly complicated. They added hundreds of extra laws, divided into 39 categories, to ensure no one accidentally worked on the Sabbath. In fact, their countless rules, which were designed to hedge people in from accidentally breaking the law, just gave them hundreds more opportunities to mistakenly break the law.

In this story, we get a picture of people who lived in fear of a distant God, doing everything they could to avoid His punishment.

It was on Sabbath that Jesus approached this physically disabled man who had laid for years next to a pool of water that was believed to have divine healing qualities. People believed that occasionally an angel would stir up the waters, and the first person who could get into the waters would be healed. The man had repeatedly tried to access its power, but it was a competition for healing, and someone else always got there first.

It seems odd that Jesus would ask him a seemingly obvious question: “Do you want to be healed?”

The man probably thought, “Of course I want to be healed. Why else would I have laid here for years, trying and trying to get in the water first?” Here is a man who was persistent. He had spent his life trying to get healing.

But, the man was polite in his response to Jesus, if a bit defensive. Instead of replying directly, “Yes, I want to be healed,” he explained why he hadn’t been healed yet. He had tried, hard, over and over. But his efforts to save himself had not been enough.

Perhaps the man misunderstood Jesus’ question. He thought Jesus was wondering why the man hadn’t tried harder. In fact, Jesus was asking permission. In the gospels, Jesus didn’t force healing on people who didn’t want to be healed. He let people choose whether to accept his gift or not.

Jesus took the man’s answer as a yes, that he wanted to be healed. So, Jesus responded, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

Jesus offered the gift of healing, and the man’s responsibility was to participate by getting up and walking. He was obligated to step into his own healing by faith: the kind of faith that follows through with obedient action what is believed in the heart.

The man’s physical disability would not have allowed him the strength or mobility to pick up a mattress, let alone walk with it. Now that he was fully restored, he was obligated to do the work of carrying his mat to make room for someone else beside the pool.

Remember, this was Sabbath. By carrying his mat through the streets – one of the forbidden activities of work – the man was being asked by Jesus to break Sabbath law. And he did so, because his Savior asked him to. We see the man undergo a transformation from fear and self-protectiveness to the vulnerability of love and obedience. The man might have been afraid, like everyone else, that God would punish him again—this time for breaking Sabbath. He could have been afraid, but he wasn’t. He had lost his fear. Even greater than his physical healing, the man was spiritually transformed in the light of Jesus’ lavish love. He obeyed Jesus without fear. He trusted that if Jesus said he should carry his mat, then he could do that without punishment from God. He had a brand new relationship with God.

Interestingly, the religious leaders were not filled with praise and worship to the good God who had lovingly healed a sick man. They were furious that the man and Jesus had broken one of their traditions by “doing work” on Sabbath. Jesus had worked by healing the man (if you think that took any effort from Jesus). And the man had worked by removing his mat from beside the pool to make room for more sick people to take his place.

A wise friend once told me that sometimes there are people who may not have a healthy reaction to the good work God is doing in us.

When we begin to change, when we start to show God’s transformation in our lives, sometimes the people around us don’t get it. They don’t understand what God is doing in us. Maybe they are even threatened or convicted by how we are changing, because it shows them that they could experience change too, and they’re not ready. Or they don’t like how they have to change as they are forced to relate to us differently.

We can’t let other people’s unhealthy responses stop us from obeying Jesus, from participating in His healing work in us, and from celebrating our transformation or telling others about what God is doing in us. We can keep our eyes focused on Jesus and stand firm in our journey of healing and transformation.

We can choose to live in love, not in fear.

Reflection questions

  1. Do I live in a restricting fear of God? Or do I live in the freedom of His love for me?
  2. Do I sense that God is trying to work healing in some area of my life – emotionally, physically, or spiritually? What step of courage could I take this week to step in to what He wants to do?
  3. How can I celebrate with and encourage someone else who is on a journey of transformation in Christ?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our kind and loving God,

Thank You that You long for us to live in the freedom and joy of Your love, and not in fear of Your punishment. Thank You also that You give us the gift of healing, at different times and in different ways.

Reveal to us where You want to heal and restore us, and show us how we can cooperate with You in that.

Where people around us don’t celebrate what You are doing in our lives, please maintain our joy, and give us the courage to keep our eyes focused on You and not on what others think or how they react to our transformation. Help us to be a witness and testify to Your wonderful work in us, so that others will choose to participate in Your healing in their lives, as well.

We trust You, we obey You, and we love You.

In the name of our healing Lord Jesus, Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture readings for today are from:

Ezekiel 47:1–9,12

Psalm 46:1–8


Day 27 – March 23

Today is Monday, March 23! We are embarking on our fourth week of Lent. Thanks to all of you have joined us recently, and everyone who has been faithful to our journey since the first day! My name is Gina. Let’s get started on our scripture reading, reflection and prayer!

Theme: Joy comes in the morning

Scripture: Psalm 30:1–6, 11–13

Reflection

I could ask, “Have you ever felt like a situation might go on forever?” But I probably don’t need to ask. Almost all of us, no matter where we are in the world, are affected in some way by the lengthening shadow of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Who among us hasn’t asked ourselves, “How long is this going to last?” Some of us who thought it would blow over in a week or two may be starting to wonder if the expanding ripple effect will last for months or even years.

This Psalm expresses a similar sentiment, but it’s written in hindsight. The writer remembers his overconfidence in his prior time of prosperity. He thought, then, that his success and security would last forever. But, the prosperity and security suddenly dried up. He was filled with fear and panic.

The writer is looking back on these dark days from a new time of flourishing and security. He proclaims a deeply comforting truth: “Weeping may go on all night, but in the morning there is joy.”

Some of us have already experienced a time of pain or darkness in our lives when we wondered if there would ever be light again.

You may have lost a loved one, or lost something else precious, such as a way of life that you treasured, or a dream you cherished but has since died. You grieve, and you grieve, and you wonder if you will ever be happy again.

Some may have experienced terrible insecurity, forced to leave family and community because of persecution, violence or war. And no matter how hard you have tried, you haven’t found a new place to settle down and start over.

Some might think you’re never going to find a marriage partner or get pregnant; find a job; get out of debt; experience a day without chronic pain; escape abuse or the life-changing effects of abuse or trauma. You might feel that your stressful situation, whatever it is, will never be over.

There was one winter where I was struck harder with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) than ever before in my life. I was used to getting a little melancholy in winter, especially if I lived somewhere that was too cloudy and rainy for long periods of time. But one particular winter was worse than any I had gone through before. What made it so much worse this time was a prescription medication my doctor had given me, without telling me it caused depression as a side effect.

That winter it was rainy and grey every day for months, and I had no pleasure in anything at all. Trying to do even the simplest tasks and chores felt like a monumental effort. I wanted nothing more than to sleep, all the time. The days went on and on, with no end, and I was terrified that I had changed permanently. I wondered if I would be this depressed for the rest of my life.

Then, I was out walking on an unusually sunny day to get a little fresh air and exercise. For the first time, after seemingly endless months of just no color anywhere in the world, I noticed tiny green buds of leaves uncurling on the shrubs and trees. Examining those little gleaming buds of hope, I clearly heard words from God take shape in my mind, saying, “I can do the same for you.”

I stopped and stared at that shrub. While normally I do not hear so clearly from God as that, I knew without a doubt that the Creator of everything had just spoken to me. He had made me a promise that I would have new life again. He didn’t tell me when, but I clung to that lifeline of hope for the next few weeks. I soon learned from my doctor about the side effect from that prescription, and we changed my medicine. Spring was coming; sun and longer days came with that spring. The rain gradually decreased and, slowly, my normally joyful self was restored.

There is a similar hope in this scripture. We may not know when, but as the writer promises, weeping may last for the night, but joy will come in the morning.

Cory Asbury, a Christian songwriter, wrote a simple and beautifully comforting song based on this passage, called “Always Faithful.” It says*,

I sought the Lord, and He heard my cry
And He answered me

Though weeping endures for the night
Your joy comes in the morning
Though sorrow may last for a time
Your joy comes in the morning

Faithful, You’re always faithful
True, You’re always true
You’ll never leave me, You’re always with me
You’re good, You’re good

If there’s a time when you have felt “on the brink of the grave”, as the Psalm-writer says, God can and will bring you back. He can and will make you laugh and smile again.

Reflection questions

  1. How do I cope, or where do I turn, when it feels like a painful situation or my pain is going to last forever?
  2. If I’m experiencing a time like this now, how is God speaking to me through today’s Psalm?
  3. How can I seek comfort and peace in God’s presence during my times of difficulty?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our close and loving Father,

You’re always faithful. You’re always true. You’ll never leave us. You’re always with us. You’re good to us. Always good.

When we go through uncertain or dark times that stretch our endurance and patience to the breaking point, we ask You for more strength, more peace, and more endurance. Be close to us in the midst of our long nights of anxiety, uncertainty, insecurity, grief and pain. Help us to believe and hold fast for the morning when You will restore us to full joy and the abundant life in You that you’ve promised us.

As we wait on You, please also use us to encourage others who are struggling and waiting. Use our voices to comfort and strengthen others.

Thank You for never leaving us, neither during the long dark nights, nor the joyful, dazzling mornings of a new day in You.

We need You, our Father. And we pray this in the name of Your Son, Jesus, who also spent a long, dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane; who endured torture and crucifixion, but who was resurrected one morning. A resurrection that gives us hope and belief that our morning of resurrection will come, too. We pray this in Your name, Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

Isaiah 65:17–25

John 4:43–54

*“Let Me See Your Eyes” (2009) Forerunner Music; writer(s): Cory Asbury, Seth Yates, Anna Asbury, James Wells, Jaye Thomas, David Whitworth

Day 26 – March 22

Today is Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. My name is Sandra. Thank you for joining me in our scripture reading, and weekend intercession for the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean Field.

Theme: We are children of light

Scripture: Ephesians 5:8-14 (Living Bible)

Intercession

During our Lenten journey, each weekend we are interceding for a different field of the Eurasia Church of the Nazarene. A field is a cluster of several countries where we have churches, and there are seven fields within the Eurasia Region. You can find out more about our fields and regions at www.eurasiaregion.org.

Last weekend we interceded for Northern Europe. The weekend before, we covered Commonwealth of Independent States with our prayers. The first weekend, we prayed over the nations of the Western Mediterranean.

This weekend, we will pray for the Eastern Mediterranean Field, also known as the Middle East.

In this field, the Church of the Nazarene includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, the Holy Land, and several areas we do not name for security reasons. 

Nazarenes in the Middle East have requested that we pray for our brothers and sisters there in the following ways:

Please pray for good and fruitful relationships between all denominations of Christians, including Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite, Protestant and Evangelical. Ask the Spirit of God to pour out a spirit of love, understanding and unity among all Christians in every region, so that believers can work side by side in evangelism and outreach to their communities and nations.

Pray that God would renew and strengthen His people in their ministry to refugees, so that they do not suffer from exhaustion and burn out.

Pray that through these compassionate ministries to refugees, many refugees will find hope and salvation in Jesus Christ. Pray that new believers among the refugees become missionaries to their new communities when they receive permission to emigrate.

Pray that God would grant tolerance and favor to His people from religious and community leaders, government authorities, family members, and neighbors.

Pray that restrictions on worship, evangelism, conversion, and the free practice of the Christian faith would be loosened or lifted.

Pray for Christian organizations, schools and churches struggling with financial difficulties. Ask God to provide all that they need, when they need it.

Pray for God to raise up mature, compassionate, wise and honest Christian leaders who will commit to remaining in their communities, even when they experience harassment, persecution, and economic limitations.

Pray that God would enable many believers of all ages to give faithful and consistent leadership to their local churches.

Pray that God would protect the health, jobs and finances of His people during this time of spreading corona virus. Ask God to pour out a spirit of creativity as believers lovingly move their worship services and other gatherings online to protect the vulnerable from illness. Pray for open doors and open hearts to share hope and peace in Jesus during an unprecedented and uncertain time in our world.

Let us pray.

Prayer

We come to You, our Heavenly Father, to intercede for Your Church in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, the Holy Land, and several areas we do not name for security reasons.

Lord, You have preserved a faithful remnant across these nations, who have stood firm in the midst of persecution, discrimination, harassment, economic deprivation, societal instability, and even war. Thank You for these who have loved You so much that they have obediently and humbly picked up their cross to follow You, Jesus. Thank You for these who have shared about You with people who don’t yet know You, even at personal risk to themselves.

Father, we ask that You would cultivate loving and unified relationships between all of Your people of every denomination. Teach Your followers that the world will know You through their love for each other. Help them see that Christian unity is necessary for the lost to be found. Holy Spirit, ignite a revival that consumes everything that separates Christians from each other, so that believers can work side by side in evangelism and outreach to their communities and nations.

Please renew and refresh all those who minister to refugees. Heal the exhausted from burn out. Raise up new workers for this harvest. Strengthen them through Your love and compassion.

Please grant Your people with favor from religious leaders, community influencers, and government authorities. Soften the hearts of family members and neighbors who have opposed Your people, especially new believers.

We ask You to remove restrictions on worship, evangelism, conversion, and the practice of the Christian faith. Where local congregations are very small, far apart, or cannot meet openly, please encourage them. Don’t let them feel isolated, small and powerless. Remind them that they have all of heaven behind them, and that they are part of a global Body of Christ; they are not alone.

Lord, with Your abundant heavenly resources, please provide for Christian organizations, schools and churches that struggle with financial limitations. As You miraculously provide for them, increase their faith in You.

We ask You to raise up many mature and committed Christian leaders who will remain in their communities. Although there is a powerful attraction in immigrating to countries where employment opportunities and religious freedom are far greater, please help some to answer a call to stay. Give them a purpose and a mission to love their neighbors, and to serve the church where You have placed them.

In this time of spreading corona virus, many churches are moving worship to online platforms, out of love for the most vulnerable. Please protect the health of your people. Please provide for their financial needs where jobs are lost or businesses are closed. Please bless families whose children are home from school.

Most of all, God, breathe into Your people a special spirit of innovation, as they seek new ways to serve the church and to serve their communities during these anxious and uncertain times. Remind Your people to share their faith with those who are anxious or fearful. Open hearts so that many will put their hope in you for the first time. Enable your Church to disciple these new believers and to form new faith communities all across Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, the Holy Land,

We ask all this in the name of Jesus, Your Son.

Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture passages for today are from:

1 Samuel 16:1-13

John 9:1-41

Psalm 23

Thank you for interceding with us again this weekend. We hope you will join us for another week of Lent starting Monday!

Watch a video about the Church of the Nazarene in the Eastern Mediterranean Field.

Day 25 – March 21

Welcome to the fourth weekend during our Lent journey! It is Saturday, March 21st. My name is Sandra, and I will be leading you today for our Scripture reading and intercession time.

Theme: God wants our love

Scripture: Hosea 6:1-6 (Living Bible)

Intercession

During our Lenten journey, each weekend we are interceding for a different field of the Eurasia Church of the Nazarene. A field is a cluster of several countries where we have churches, and there are seven fields within the Eurasia Region. You can find out more about our fields and regions at www.eurasiaregion.org.

Last weekend we interceded for Northern Europe. The weekend before, we covered Commonwealth of Independent States with our prayers. The first weekend, we prayed over the nations of the Western Mediterranean.

This weekend, we will pray for the Eastern Mediterranean Field, also known as the Middle East.

In this field, the Church of the Nazarene includes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, the Holy Land, and several areas we do not name for security reasons. 

Here are some ways we can pray for the peoples of the Middle East.

In Jordan, just 4 percent of people are Christian. Fourteen of the 21 people groups in Jordan have not heard the Gospel. Though legally protected, many new followers of Christ are pressured to emigrate out of the country by legal and social discrimination, and by the rejection of family and communities. This results in fewer people remaining to bear witness to the transforming power of the Gospel, according to prayercast.com

With a population of 10 million people, Jordan is considered a stable country that welcomes refugees. It has taken 2.5 million Palestinian refugees since 1948. Since 2010, the country has taken more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, most of whom have had nowhere else to go. Welcoming and caring for refugees puts a huge strain on the country’s services and infrastructure.

Lebanon, a tiny country with 6 million inhabitants, has also taken more than 1 million refugees. Many of these do not qualify for permission to take local jobs or receive permanent residency. And many refugee children do not have opportunities to continue their education. The nation’s infrastructure and attitude toward the refugees is increasingly strained.

Lebanon is the Middle East’s most diverse population in terms of religion. Forty percent claim the Christian faith, with 1 percent of those attending Protestant churches.

Following a long history of civil war, Lebanon has achieved a fragile peace and stability, occasionally threatened by acts of political violence. Mass protests against the government that began in October 2019 led to a partial change in government, but the political crisis and protests continue.

In several other regions of the Middle East, including Syria, divisions between religious and ethnic factions continue to fracture communities and nations. Political coups, and the organized militias of religious extremist groups, have killed and displaced millions. They have destroyed whole villages, towns, cities, and regions, as well as families and individual lives. As a result, large swaths of people have become disillusioned with religion. Such regional instability and war leaves behind destabilized societies, widespread poverty, shattered economies and infrastructures. Survivors suffer lasting trauma and grief. A generation of children is missing their education. 

In the Holy Land, centuries of ethnic and religious conflict continue to divide the country, erupting frequently into violence. Barely two percent of people claim to be Christian, and these face legal and societal discrimination, and harassment. Christian missionaries are not welcome, and are actively opposed by other religions groups and anti-missionary organizations. According to prayercast.com, more than 80 percent of people in Israel are unreached with the gospel.

Here are ways we can pray for the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean Field:

Pray for widespread growth in religious freedom, both legally, and in the dominant social attitudes toward matters of faith and the freedom to convert.

People from other religious backgrounds are turning to Jesus in large numbers. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the hearts and minds of people across the Middle East, so that many more will find salvation in Jesus.

Pray for the multitude of refugees and displaced peoples who still have not found steady and adequate employment and housing. Ask God to meet all their needs, and lead them to places of safety where they can permanently settle and start new lives. Most of all, ask God to meet them in these places with the message of hope in Jesus. Pray for healing and forgiveness for those deeply wounded by the tragedy of war and for peace to reign.

Pray for Christians to commit to staying in their communities and nations, to provide a compassionate and faithful witness, and boldly spread the gospel to their neighbors. Pray for believers to courageously stand firm in their faith despite persecution and terror. Pray for the Gospel message to break through hearts hardened by longstanding divisions and intense rivalries.

Pray that the power and love of Christ and His people would shatter strongholds of hatred and prejudice, oppressive power and control, terror and death.

Ask God to raise up servant-oriented leaders at the local, regional, and national government levels. Pray that these leaders would love their people. Ask God to instill them with courage, integrity, wisdom, skills, and resources to expand freedom and opportunity for the people. Ask God to cultivate military and law enforcement personnel with honesty, compassion, justice and boldness to protect the innocent while fighting injustice.

Pray for reconciliation and peace among all the ethnically and religiously divided peoples of the Middle East.

Let us pray.

Prayer

We come to You, our Heavenly Father, to intercede for the peoples of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, the Holy Land, and several areas we do not name for security reasons.

Every single person in the Middle East is your beloved children. You know each one by name. You know their dreams, their hopes, their fears, their challenges, their pain and losses. You created each person with the intent to have a loving relationship with them. And You grieve for all those with whom you do not have that relationship.

Our enemy has raised up seemingly insurmountable obstacles to prevent millions upon millions of these people from hearing about you or believing in you. Among those who all themselves Christian, many practice only as an outward cultural, ethnic or family faith, and still do not know that they can have a personal, growing relationship with you.

Our mighty and powerful God, in your love, shatter the strongholds of ignorance, deception, legal oppression and fear that separate the people from recognizing your presence and responding to your love.

Father, though it is the birthplace of Christianity, in some places the disciples of Your Son Jesus are few and cannot testify about You and preach the Gospel. Yet, you are reaching thousands upon thousands of people through dreams and visions. There is no power, human or otherwise, that can withstand your determined love that pursues people even when there is no church or Christian to tell them about you. Please continue to make yourself known to millions more, trampling over every earthly and spiritual principality and power that might resist you. Bring countless people to saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Please protect and heal those suffering from the trauma of war, abuse and violence. You who call yourself our Comforter, comfort those who are grieving separation from loved ones, the deaths of family members and friends, the loss of businesses, personal property, and their entire way of life. Replace despair and sadness with hope for the future, and opportunities to rebuild their lives in a place of peace and rest.

Holy Spirit, we ask that those who have chosen violence and extremism will become disillusioned in their beliefs and ideology. Please ignite a movement of repentance and transformed lives among those who have pursued paths of violence, hatred and control.

God of justice, we ask you to topple strongholds of injustice, corruption, discrimination, oppression, abuse of power, and selfish leadership wherever it might be found. Please raise up wise, compassionate, courageous, honest and just authorities across every level of society, from villages to national governments, and throughout military and law enforcement. Let your goodness, peace and justice pour out on the peoples. Restore freedom to worship across these nations. Cultivate widespread tolerance, reconciliation, and a hunger for peace and understanding.

We know that you have been already and continue to pierce through every place of darkness with your dazzling light of truth and love. We thank you for all that you have been doing and are doing to seek out and save the lost. Please show us continued opportunities to join you in your work across the Middle East.

We entrust all our requests to your great power, love and wisdom, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture readings are found in:

Luke 18:9–14

Psalm 51:15–20

Join us again tomorrow as we intercede for God’s people across the Eastern Mediterranean Field. Watch a video about the field here.

Day 24 – March 20

Welcome back to the Lent Journey podcast! My name is Gina and I’m bringing you the scripture, reflection and prayer today.

Theme: There is only one requirement to be in God’s kingdom

Scripture: Mark 12:28–34 (Living Bible)

Reflection

When the teacher of religion agreed with all of Jesus’ answers to His questions, did you notice that Jesus didn’t say, “You have answered wisely: You are officially in the kingdom of God!” No, Jesus only said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Notice that the teacher of religion said, “I know it is more important to love God with my heart and understanding and strength and to love others as myself.” He knew it. And the passage said that Jesus realized this man’s understanding. So, why didn’t the right answers and the right knowledge qualify the man to become a citizen of God’s kingdom? Especially since he was already a religious leader? This leader obviously knew all the right answers about theology, God, and scripture.

When someone becomes a citizen of a country or a kingdom today, they must go through a variety of legal processes. Sometimes they have to pass a citizenship test. They have to complete mountains of paperwork. They must pay lawyers’ fees, application fees and documentation fees. They might even have to pay bribes. They swear loyalty to their new country, and sometimes allegiance to its rulers or founding document.

If they do all this correctly, they may be allowed to become a citizen.

Rarely will one of these new citizens ever meet the king, queen, prime minister, president, or other ruler of the country they are joining. And most certainly are not personally invited by this leader to become a citizen, nor are they likely to meet this leader after they relocate there.

But God’s kingdom is different from any earthly kingdom or nation: To be accepted as a citizen, we are not required first to know the right answers or do the right things. We are only required to know, love, and obey its ruler–God.

Maybe that’s why Jesus told the religious leader that he was not far from the kingdom of God, though he was not yet in it, either. The scribe knew all the right answers about God and His kingdom. He even claimed to serve God as part of the temple leadership. But he didn’t yet know God. He didn’t have a personal relationship with God, who was standing right in front of him in the person of Jesus. That scribe had an opportunity that most of us long for and do not get in this life: to talk to and hear from, to touch and be close to the living God in the flesh. And, in that moment of testing Jesus’ knowledge, he missed that opportunity.

What is faith? Is it knowing all the stories in the Bible by heart? Is it being able to recite the characteristics of God from memory? Does going to church every Sunday mean we have faith? What about giving offerings and tithes? Maybe if we volunteer sometimes in a church ministry or outreach project? Go on a mission trip?

These are all good things. Great things, even. But they do not give us citizenship in God’s kingdom. Only one thing does that: submitting ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and journeying throughout our lives, every day, in an increasingly intimate relationship with Him.

Most of us do not know the ruler of our own country, or any other country, for that matter. Most of us could never hope to even get in the same room with one of them. And if we could, they are not likely to take a lasting interest in us and our daily personal lives. They won’t have time to call us up for a quick chat every morning, or give us a tight hug at night before we go to sleep. When we have problems, there’s little chance we could reach them, much less their assistants or representatives.

What a privilege, then, that we are each personally invited by the Creator of all that exists, of our planet and everything in it, to join His kingdom. And we are invited to become citizens through no requirements or qualifications other than that we choose to know Him. We are invited into conversation with Him every day, about anything and everything, small and large. He is eager to hear about our joys and thankfulness, our problems and fears. And He has lots to say to us, too, if we learn how to listen.

Anyone can be a citizen of this kingdom. No one is banned or forbidden. All are welcome. More than welcome. In fact, for every person who refuses this invitation, God is filled with sorrow and loss. But He overflows with joy for every person who accepts His free invitation. No paperwork. No lines. No appointments. No interviews. No fees or bribes. No tests. Just love. His love, and our love in return.

Reflection questions

  1. Where does your faith rest? Does it rest in your own activities for God and knowing things about God? Or does your faith rest in knowing God Himself and growing in that relationship day by day?
  2. If you realize that you don’t know God personally, as a close friend and as the master of your life, you can take that step of faith right now. Tell God that you want to accept His invitation to become a citizen of His kingdom. Give your full allegiance to God as your heavenly ruler, and ask Him to help you begin your journey of relationship with Him today.
  3. Maybe you are a citizen of the kingdom, but your focus has shifted more toward doing things for God rather than knowing God himself. Pray now for God to help you bring your focus back to your relationship as your first priority, and remind you of how wonderful it is to confide in and listen to God daily.

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Dear God, our Ruler in heaven,

Thank You for inviting us to become citizens of Your just, good, merciful, gracious and everlasting kingdom. Thank You that to become part of Your kingdom, You only ask that we swear our allegiance to You, and commit to knowing You personally, in a loving and intimate relationship.

Thank You that You are not distant and separated from us like earthly rulers; You are right next to us, every hour of the day, all the time!

You want us to talk to You about everything in our lives. And You want to tell us things, too. What an amazing God You are, who longs for vibrant, two-way conversation with us throughout each day. You never get bored of what we have to say or ask, or hearing about the way we feel. You’re never too busy for us, even though You are the ruler of all that exists.

You are constantly speaking to us, even when we aren’t listening. Teach us to hear Your voice clearly. Teach us how to pause and give You our attention. Please tune our hearts to recognize the ways You speak to us.

Thank You for being so wonderful and good to us. We love You and are so honored and privileged to be citizens of Your beautiful kingdom. We come to You in the name of our Lord, Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

After this podcast is over, why don’t you give at least 10 to 15 minutes sometime today to waiting on and listening to God? We do a lot of talking to God when we pray, and some of us don’t make space for listening, too. Bring Him a question, and over the rest of the day or the week, look for His answer.

Today’s additional scripture readings are from:

Hosea 14:1–9

Psalm 81:8–14

Day 23 – March 19

Today is Thursday, March 19. We are on the 23rd day of our 40-day Lent journey. Every day we have new people joining us from around the world. More than a thousand people have visited our website, from every continent except Antarctica! My name is Gina, and I will share the scripture, reflection and prayer with you as we come together as one in spirit, if not in person.

Theme: Our God is uncontrollable and uncontainable

Scripture: Luke 2: 41-52 (The Message)

Reflection

Many parents will understand the anguish that Joseph and Mary must have felt in this story. They had traveled a whole day on foot, thinking their 12-year-old son was in the same caravan, in the safe company of one of their relatives. Then, that night, they found they had carelessly left their child behind, alone, in a big city overflowing with pilgrims and tourists from all over the nation.

Then there was the anguish they endured having to spend another day on the road to get back to Jerusalem, before they could even start searching for him. Can you imagine, three days and three nights, searching a crowded city for your lost child? Was he terrified and alone? Did he wonder how his own parents could have abandoned him like this?

Maybe they were thinking, “We had one job. We were asked to raise our people’s Messiah. We just had to keep him safe and alive until he became an adult, and now this!”

They must have felt like the worst parenting failures in human history. 

Then, the relief that must have poured through their bodies when they finally thought to check the temple on the third day: There He sat, calmly chatting with the religious leaders as if there was nothing more important in that moment.

So like a child to be oblivious about how much he had terrified and worried his parents.

If Joseph and Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t they go to the temple first? Why did they wait to check there until the third day? Could they have ended their agony much sooner if they had known to look for Jesus where he was most likely to be found?

In one of the most astonishing role reversals in history, our God, whom we call Father, for a brief moment chose to be a human child who obeyed human parents. So in this way, God knows what it’s like for us to be His children.

However, our God is not a child or someone within our power to control. We did not create God. Our God created us! He is our parent. (But not as limited as a human parent, because He is the creator of all that exists!)

This story invites us to ask ourselves some questions:

Can we control God? Do we try to?

Do we sometimes feel that when we want God, He is nowhere to be found? Do we look for Him in the wrong places? Or that He should be where we want Him to be, when we want Him to be there, doing what we think He should be doing?

Our God is uncontrollable and uncontainable. And when it comes right down to it, when we are in the most frightening, uncertain or most challenging circumstances, that is the God we need. Only such a being is capable of handling our worst problems.  

When we first confront the reality that God is not a being we can control or predict, or even understand, it might be upsetting. Joseph and Mary were terrified and upset for a lot of reasons. One reason was realizing they had lost control of their child. Another was fearing that tragic harm might come to him, or that they could lose him forever.

We are used to striving for control, and whenever we don’t feel in control, our first response may be to feel scared or angry. Won’t a tragedy occur, or couldn’t we lose something precious, if we aren’t in control of everything at all times?

Control is always an illusion. It can also be an idol (which by its very nature is an illusion). We exhaust ourselves grasping for this illusion of control when we will never have it. We become like a dog that chases its tail. That dog will never catch its tail, no matter how hard it tries.

But, if we are willing to release our insistence on control, we can find comfort – and rest – knowing the God we worship is more than great enough, powerful enough, wise enough, loving enough, and knowledgeable enough to care for us.

That’s not frightening. That’s wonderful! That’s a relief! That’s rest!

Let’s rest in the beautiful wonder of knowing, as the English saying goes, “We can let go and let God.”

Reflection questions

  1. Is it possible that you are worshipping an image of God that you have made smaller than He really is, so that you can feel in control? Have you treated God like a child you try to order around? Apologize to Him now and ask Him to help you see God a bit more as He really is, and not simply as you imagine Him to be.
  2. What is one area where you might be holding tightly to the illusion of control? Ask God to help you release it to Him.
  3. Do you feel tired or frustrated in your efforts to try and gain control over something? Ask God to give you the rest of releasing it to Him.

Prayer

Our good, amazing and uncontrollable God:

King David wrote about Your greatness in Psalm 8 when he said,

“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
    your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
    Why take a second look our way?”

And yet You are deeply concerned with us, with our hurts and fears, our anxieties, pain, and grief. In Your love, take control of everything for us, so that we can rest and trust You, as a child trusts her parent to care for all her needs and to comfort her when she’s afraid or feels lost.

Thank You for being so powerful, so knowledgeable, so wise, so loving, that we could not possibly contain You or control You. We are like specks of dust in comparison to Your awesome greatness. And even more like dust are our problems, compared to You. That’s good news for us.

Thank You that we can release our futile and exhausting efforts at grasping for control and let You take over. Thank You for the rest You offer us in that.

Letting go can be so hard for us, even almost impossible. As the desperate parent cried out to Jesus in Mark 9, “I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!”

We pray all this in the name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture readings are from:

2 Samuel 7:4,8-16

Romans 4:13-18

Psalm 89:1-4, 26-29

Day 22 – March 18

Today is Wednesday, March 18. My name is Gina, and I’m here with you for more scripture reading, reflection and prayer time in our 40 day Lent journey. There are a lot of things we could be thinking about right now, things we could be worrying about right now. Let’s just take a moment to quiet ourselves, quiet our minds, our hearts. Let’s quiet our cell phones, televisions, news streams and let’s give God our full attention right now.

Theme: Worshipping God is good for us

Scripture: Psalm 78:1–6 (NIV)

Reflection

A Nazarene leader in South Asia told me that he was writing a book for his children. It was a book of stories about all the times God had been faithful to provide for all his needs. For example, he told them a story about when he bought some food with his last money, but while he was gone from home, stray animals got into his room and ate his food. Having nothing else to eat, he thanked God for his other blessings, and prepared to go to sleep. A knock on the door revealed a friend who had missed his train. The friend held up two bags of food and said, “Can I stay with you tonight? I brought extra food to share.”

Nazarenes in Moldova who have experienced God’s lasting freedom from alcoholism and drug addiction seek out people in drug rehabilitation centers and tell them what God has done for them. As a result, many former addicts find freedom in Christ, and in in turn, they continue to share their stories with even more addicts.

That’s what this passage is talking about: Making sure that we regularly tell each other our stories about what God has done for us.  We should tell the stories of God’s “praiseworthy deeds,” about “his power” and “wonders.” We are to tell them to each other now, and also to our children and future generations, as described in this Psalm.

Today’s additional scripture passage, Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 5–9, urges much the same thing: “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.”

Why does God care? Is He some cosmic narcissist who wants everyone to talk about Him all the time in glowing and exaggerated terms?

Is He an insecure heavenly ruler, who needs humans to constantly tell Him how great He is, to stoke His failing self-esteem?

No! The truth is, God doesn’t need us to praise Him, either to Him or about Him to each other.

Like everything else that God does, or that He asks us to do, it’s because we need this. Our moods and our faith are both influenced by what we listen to and what we talk about.

This is why, in 1 Thessalonians 5, it says, “So encourage each other to build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.”

We could apply this beyond crude language or stories. We can extend this advice to our choice between a lot of complaining or intentionally talking more about what we’re thankful for.

Even non-Christians understand the physical and psychological benefits of being grateful. Psychology Today, an online publication, cites various studies that demonstrate people who are more grateful:

  1. have better and more compassionate relationships with others
  2. have higher self-esteem
  3. report fewer physical aches and pains
  4. sleep better
  5. are less depressed
  6. are more resilient following trauma

It goes on to say that gratitude is a choice; that “mentally strong people” exchange their self-pity for gratitude.

Recent studies in biology and psychology only reinforce what God began saying to us thousands of years ago through the Bible’s authors: It is for OUR benefit that He commands us to dwell on His goodness and faithfulness, and to tell stories about God’s blessings and miracles to each other and to future generations. Expressing gratitude and worship to God contributes to our physical and mental health. Allowing our thoughts to dwell on His character brings peace, joy, and hope.

Have you ever felt there was a voice in your head that just repeated negative thoughts or replayed bad experiences over and over, like a song on repeat? Our enemy constantly fights for our attention. Our enemy tries to distract us, frustrate us, and center our thoughts on our disappointments, our failures, or the ways others have failed us or betrayed us. The enemy does this on purpose to steal our focus from God.

When we start to become aware that negativity is dominating our perspective, we can see that our focus has shifted. It’s time to shift it back to God.

While there’s nothing wrong with confronting and processing our negative feelings with God or others, balancing those stories or feelings with worship and thankfulness to God will regulate the scales of our perspective, and give us all the benefits we’ve just read.

We can fulfill God’s command to praise Him and testify to others about all He has done in a variety of ways:

  • We can spend a bit of time each day or once a week with a prayer journal, writing the things we are grateful for.
  • When we’re with friends or family and others we know, we can share stories of how God has been faithful to meet our needs.
  • Each time we worry about something, or remember something that makes us sad, anxious, frustrated, angry or bitter, we can choose to remember a beautiful character trait about our God, and praise God for being Who He is.
  • If a conversation we are having is lingering in negative stories, we can balance that with a positive story of God’s goodness and grace to us.

Let us do as we are urged in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18: “Always be joyful. Always keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Reflection questions:

  1. What are five things I’m thankful for today? Make a game of this. See how many you can come up with, maybe lots more than 5!
  2. On balance, do I tend to do more complaining and repeating negative stories and experiences to myself and others? Or do I balance negative thoughts and stories with grateful ones about God’s goodness and faithfulness?
  3. What is one story of God’s faithfulness that I might be able to share with someone today who needs to hear it?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our loving and close Father,

These are days when it is easy to find all our thoughts and attention and conversation glued to the negative, the frightening, to what has gone wrong, or ways we are frustrated. Thank You that it’s OK to have those moments or times in our lives when we have truly difficult or frightening experiences or circumstances.

But thank You, also, that You give us a way to rise above all of this by refocusing our thought and words on You. We want to do that now.

We praise You, our Creator God who is outside of all time, who sees and knows in intimate detail of even the most ancient and distant past.

You also know every detail of our present: our personal present, and the present of every human being alive. And, You know even the future. All of it. There is nothing to come for us and our generation, or for future generations, that You do not know.

We worship Your greatness, Your goodness, Your infinite power, Your endless love, Your perfect wisdom, Your knowledge that is far beyond all human knowledge. Everything that is a mystery to us is no mystery to You, whatsoever.

You have showered us with Your love in great abundance, more than we could ever deserve. You have rescued us from our sins and from our shortcomings. You are ever and always restoring us, healing us, forgiving us, comforting us, and reconciling us.

Thank you for Who You are, and all that You have done and will do. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Conclusion 

Deuteronomy 4:1–2,5–9

Matthew 5:17–19

Read more about Rev. Simon Jothi, the man who tells stories of God’s faithfulness to His children, and how God has loved and called him.