Day 20 – March 16

My name is Gina and I’m here to start a new week with you in our 40-day Lent journey. We’re halfway through!

Theme: Cooperating with God in our healing

Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1–17 (The Message)

Reflection

When I was a child, my mother slipped on a wet floor and tore a ligament in her knee. After she had surgery to repair the ligament, she had to do physical therapy. She said it was incredibly painful, but although the doctor had done his job well in repairing the ligament, it would not heal with the kind of elasticity and flexibility she had previously unless she exercised it several times a week with a trained professional. She faithfully performed the sometimes agonizing physical therapy and her full motion was restored.

I knew someone else who had a similar surgery. She refused to do the physical therapy afterward, and for the rest of her life she could not move independently without the aid of a walker, and later was confined to a wheelchair.

In the same way, when God initiates and leads a work in us, our job is to fully cooperate with what He’s doing. We don’t get to passively sit there while God does everything. He expects us to participate in some way. It doesn’t mean that we are responsible for our own healing or miracles. But it does mean that we submit to His instructions and follow them, the same way we would if a doctor were treating us, and asked us to do certain things on our own at home to maintain or improve on what he has done for us.

God is often called The Great Physician. This isn’t just a metaphor. The Bible is full of stories of miraculous physical healings. What’s interesting is that it seems the healings often occurred in vastly different ways.

A beloved story in Mark 5 describes a woman who bled for 12 years, and whose bleeding stopped instantaneously when she merely grabbed hold of the hem of Jesus’ clothes.

In another instance from Matthew 8, Jesus actually touched a leper, His healing more powerful than the contagious skin disease. In John 9, Jesus mixed some of His own saliva into some mud and spread it on a blind man’s eyes to restore his sight.

In one of the Bible’s more whimsical healing instructions, Isaiah 38:21, the prophet Isaiah instructed that a cake made of figs be applied to Hezekiah’s deadly boil to heal it. (If only we could stick a piece of cake on our cuts and bruises to heal them.)

Does this mean that if we pray for healing, and we don’t receive it, that we didn’t ask with enough faith, or have done something wrong and are being punished?

This story does not resolve these questions. We must set those aside for another day. What we see here is that God, in His holy and sovereign love, decides how He will work in our lives.

Namaan, a man with great power and status, had envisioned a magical ceremony where the equally great and powerful prophet Elijah stood before him and performed an impressive religious ritual. Namann was offended when he was given the humiliating instructions (through a lowly servant, no less, as if the prophet was too busy to bother) to go dunk himself in a muddy foreign river. He also didn’t believe it would work. How could such a simple and mortifying instruction heal him when his status or money could not buy it?

There were three things God was doing in Namaan’s life through this episode:

  1. Humbling a proud and powerful man
  2. Teaching him that God alone decides how He will work, and that it was Namaan’s role to participate with Him.
  3. Teaching him that God is God. There is no power in heaven and earth greater – or more loving – than our God.

Because Namaan cooperated, he was physically healed. But more importantly, he grew in humility, and he praised and worshiped the only true God from that time forward.

God has gifted us with free will. That means we can choose to cooperate with His work in us, or we can refuse it. God’s grace first awakens our spirits to the fact that we need Him. He initiates this part of the work, but He does not force His treatments or surgeries on us if we refuse to participate and do our own part, which He also gives us the grace to do.

The Church of the Nazarene describes this process in Article of Faith 10.1,

“We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the divine impulse to grow in grace as a Christlike disciple. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.”

We hold partial responsibility for our relationship with God. We need to obediently trust Him by doing whatever He asks us—such as avoiding temptation, seeking guidance from a mature believer, and being rooted in the Spirit through Bible reading and prayer.

Namaan is a beautiful example to us for how to live in relationship with God, through humility, obeying without question God’s sometimes enigmatic instructions or leading, and praising and thanking God for what He is doing and what we have faith He will do. Even if we don’t always understand it.

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Lord, you are our Great Physician. You are our wonderful healer, healing our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our spirits. You do this in the way You believe is best for us, and in Your perfect and good timing. When You choose not to heal us in the ways and timing we desire, we humbly and obediently submit to You anyway.  Because, we believe what is written in Romans 8:28, that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Grow our trust in You, so that we obey and follow You in even when we can’t make sense of what You’re doing, or don’t see You working. Grow our humility, so that we don’t experience the pain of thinking we know better than You, or trying to find healing in our own ways, without You.

But God, we see that in the Bible You are pleased when we ask You for healing. So, please heal us. Heal those of us who are in physical pain, who are suffering from chronic illnesses, cancer, autoimmune disorders, injuries and from seasonal viruses. Work through miracles and the prayers of your people, and through doctors and treatments, as well.

Please heal those of us suffering the anguish of mental illness, for whom scientific understanding and treatments are only moderately helpful or don’t help us at all. Please heal us from the lingering torment of past traumas and abuses. Give us victory over these, and new life.

We ask You to heal us from addictions – whether it is addiction to a substance like alcohol or a drug, or to pornography, sex, gambling, shopping, social media and technology.

Heal us from our spiritual diseases, such as pride and arrogance, self-pity, unforgiveness, regret and shame, fear and anxiety, self-hatred, racism, bigotry and prejudice.

You are the God of healing. You can do anything and heal anyone. In whatever way You choose to heal us, or be close to us in our suffering with Your peace and comfort, we choose to witness to what You have done and are doing, to praise You and give You glory. And we also choose to wait on You.

We love You.

Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture passages for today are from:

Luke 4:23–30

Psalm 42:1–7

Day 21 – March 17

Today is Tuesday, March 17. My name is Gina, and I’m back with you for another time of scripture reading, reflection, and prayer in our 40-day Lent journey. There’s a lot of distractions going on in the world right now, a lot of news to keep up with. But we have an opportunity to stop and recenter our hearts and minds on Jesus, and regain our perspective, focusing on God’s great power and goodness to us and to our world.

Let’s get started!

Theme: Remembering our forgiveness

Scripture: Matthew 18:21–35

Reflection

The message here is so obvious: We have been forgiven much, and despite that, we are tempted to forgive others far less.

Those of us who have received God’s forgiveness some time ago may start to forget what it is like to be separated from Him by our sin. We may forget the regrets and shame that we lived with. We may forget what it was like to keep doing things we knew were wrong, while feeling powerless to stop (Romans 7:15-20).

When we take forgiveness for granted, we might sometimes lose patience with others who don’t know yet that they can have God’s forgiveness, or that they need it. Or we are shocked and feel betrayed if we are hurt by another believer, intentionally or unintentionally.

We can be like the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol:” we have abundant riches in forgiveness, but we hoard them with white-knuckled greed instead of lavishly spreading around what we have received.

Make no mistake, forgiveness is not easy. It’s really hard. Cultivating a grudge is easy. True forgiveness takes work. Often, our own fallen nature clutches at the false comfort of our unforgiveness. Like grief, it may be a journey of stages of letting go. But we can choose to move through each stage and not get stuck in one. There may even be times when we think we have finally reached a place of forgiveness with someone, only to realize we have taken it back, and must forgive them all over again. This may be true with the deepest of hurts.

Some people have a difficult time forgiving because it feels that to do so acquits someone who has not experienced justice or punishment for what they have done, or who isn’t sorry. It’s like letting them off the hook.

Forgiveness is about two parties, however. If the person who has caused the hurt is truly repentant, and will act differently in the future, forgiveness sets them free from regret and shame. Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation and healing in the relationship.

For the person who was hurt, forgiveness also sets them free. It’s like breaking chains of anger, hatred and bitterness in their lives. Or it’s like cleansing them from a poison that’s slowly eating them up from the inside.

It’s great news that when we forgive, our forgiveness is not dependent on the person we’re forgiving being sorry for what they’ve done. We can forgive someone who isn’t sorry and doesn’t want our forgiveness. We can also alter our relationship with them to protect ourselves from future hurt if they are not capable of changing, and we can’t have a loving and mutually respectful relationship with them.

Regardless of all this, forgiving others is not optional for believers. In a variety of Bible passages, Jesus clearly states that God only forgives us with the same measure that we forgive others. Read more in Mark 11: 24-25, and Matthew 6:5-7:6.

If we have a hard time forgiving, we might be like that servant in the story, forgetting the grace that God has lavished on us.

Romans 5:8 says, “For when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God didn’t even wait for us to realize we needed forgiveness, or to ask Him for it. He undertook what was necessary so that He could forgive us and restore our relationship with Him, setting us free from the shackles of regret, shame and sin and giving us a new life in Jesus.

We are reminded in Psalm 103:10-14 of the great lengths God goes to forgive us:

“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Let us remember our forgiveness. For as we remember God’s lavish forgiveness and grace to us, we will be strengthened and filled with the compassion to extend forgiveness to others.

Reflection questions:

  1. Do I need to ask God’s forgiveness for anything? Tell Him now that you’re sorry and that you want to change. Ask His forgiveness, and also His power to live in a clean relationship with Him.
  2. Do I need to forgive someone else for something? Ask the Spirit to empower you with genuine forgiveness, and to help you discern whether you need to talk with the person or people about how they have hurt you and attempt to reconcile.
  3. Have I done or said anything that I need to ask someone else’s forgiveness for? Ask the Spirit to empower you with the strength and courage to humbly acknowledge what you have done and ask the person’s forgiveness, and to tell them how you will interact with them differently in the future.

Let’s pray as Jesus taught us.

Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture passage is from Psalm 25:3-10.

Day 19 – March 15

Today is Sunday, March 15. My name is Sandra. Thank you for joining me to intercede for Northern Europe this weekend, during our 40-day Lent journey!

Theme: We are justified before God through our faith in Him

Scripture: Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Intercession

During our Lenten journey, each weekend we will pray for a different area of the Eurasia Church of the Nazarene.

The first weekend we prayed for the countries of the Western Mediterranean. The second weekend, we covered the Commonwealth of Independent States with our prayer. This weekend, we are interceding for the nations of Northern Europe, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ there.

The Church of the Nazarene describes Northern Europe as Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

Nazarenes have shared the following challenges facing the Church:

Believers say that as their societies continue to sharply secularize, they need a spirit of risk-taking, creativity and innovation to reach people in new ways with the enduring Gospel. The old paths of sharing about Jesus are no longer effective.

Despite more than a thousand years of rich Christian heritage, Northern Europe has largely forgotten its Christian identity and legacy. Believers seek discernment for how to maintain an uncompromised faith while at the same time embracing those societal changes that will help them reach people.

Internally, ethics in discipleship are not easy to navigate amid the influences of pluralism and postmodernism. Overall discipleship and next level leadership is a challenge. Believers have difficulty helping people move from simple church attendance to giving Jesus complete Lordship over their lives.

Among aging populations, attracting, retaining and discipling children and youth is a challenge. Yet, annual children and youth camps in Germany and the Netherlands are popular, and offer opportunities to evangelize and disciple children and youth.

In the United Kingdom, overbearing government rules combined with declining numbers of church involvement has put huge strain on local churches. It is difficult to find people willing and able to serve in administration. As a result, many churches struggle to keep focused on mission due to the constant demands of bureaucracy. 

Here are prayer requests for The Netherlands:

  • The Nazarene church in Utrecht is introducing bilingual Dutch and Arabic worship services in collaboration with Arabic-speaking Christians. The church wants to be a witness and accessible to its neighborhood, where a large number of Arabic-speaking people live.
  • Pray for the pilot project to start a leadership development program for new leaders as well as lifelong learning opportunity for those in ministry.
  • Pray for our churches as we explore new ways of reaching our surrounding communities though compassionate ministry projects, being present and presenting Jesus Christ in the neighborhood.
  • Pray that we gain wisdom for how our communities can be safe for children and vulnerable people. We want to know how to protect the weak.
  • Pray for the preparations of our district children’s camp with Pentecost and our district youth summer camp. These two events attract many children and teenagers. 

The United Kingdom asks for the following prayer requests:

  • God’s leading and blessing on new church planting initiatives;
  • A renewal within our churches and revival in our nation;
  • That we are a holy missional and transformational movement in the communities God has placed us in.
  • That our new emphasis on diaspora church planting would be fruitful, both in reaching people, but also in establishing a sense of oneness and reciprocating blessing with the traditional British church(es).
  • That we would be able to establish both a method and the means to renew our smaller churches into missional communities, less focused on maintenance and survival, and more focused on new missional opportunities.
  • We are in a season of significant leadership transition: That the right next generation of leaders would be appointed across the district.
  • That we would be fruitful in witnessing in our workplaces, schools and colleges, anointed of the Spirit with a renewed strength, graceful boldness, and humble clarity. That this would result in us personally seeing friends find faith in Jesus, and corporately that we would be able to plant new missional communities and churches.

Pray for Switzerland and Germany in the following ways:

  • Pray for God to raise up and prepare a new generation of lay and clergy leaders to lead the Church through the coming decades.
  • Ask that many called young and middle-aged people will pursue theological education to better prepare them for church leadership.
  • Ask God to prepare and bless the popular children’s and youth camps that are scheduled after Easter. These are annual times for new commitments to following Christ, and for discipling those who are already believers.
  • Pray that God would open churches’ hearts and minds for a new spirit of creativity and innovation to preach the gospel in fresh, true ways.
  • Ask the Spirit to pour out a revival that will infuse God’s people with persuasive boldness in sharing Jesus with their communities.

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our wise and powerful God,

We come to Your throne today with many requests. Our hearts are burdened with love and concern for the peoples of Northern Europe. We know that You love them more than we ever could. We also know that You have all the power to intervene with Your prevenient grace to open their hearts to You. This is a power we do not have. It comes only through Your infinite grace and patience.

Father, You have a faithful and persevering Church across the nations of Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Your people have held firm to their resolve to follow You. They have endured many trials of marginalization and discouragement, and not abandoned You.

The enemy has tried to convince Your people that they are few. That they have no voice, and are irrelevant to their secular, atheistic societies. The enemy has tried to steal their hope and victory in You.

We know these are lies. Through You, Your Church has all the power it needs—and more—to reach the lost, and draw many into a vibrant, transforming relationship with You.

Please pour out Your Holy Spirit upon Your Church in Northern Europe. Fill our brothers and sisters with Your Spirit of victory over the principalities and powers of atheism and secularism. Root Your Church firm and deep in Your Word. Through the power of Your Truth, enable them to resist the seduction to compromise with the culture for the sake of being favored by people who defy and scorn You.

Make Your people’s joy, hope, love, and faith attractive to their families, neighborhoods, workplaces and communities. Let their love for each other be a witness of Your love. Heal and restore Your people to wholeness and wellness. In this, make them a witness for the kind of healing and wholeness You long to bring to the nations of Northern Europe.

Give Your Church discernment, wisdom, creativity, and courage to try new ways of reaching their societies with the gospel. Please bless the many church planting projects underway across Northern Europe. Lead and guide all those involved, so that they are doing this in Your love and wisdom.

Please raise up committed, mature, young and middle-aged people who will lead the Church through many years to come. Call hundreds to community ministry through volunteering or vocation, and hundreds of others to full-time church leadership. Plant a desire for ongoing theological education, and open doors so they can study.

Father, this week communities and nations of Northern Europe are taking important steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, often by temporarily stopping public gatherings. Please make Your Church shine bright with peace and love during this time of anxiety and uncertainty. While believers may not be able to gather physically for worship or compassionate outreach, please show them the doors You will open to minister to the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of their neighbors.

We entrust all these requests into Your hands, and pray all this in the name of Your wonderful Son, Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture readings for today are from:

Exodus 17:1-7

John 4:5-42

Psalm 95

To watch a video about the Northern Europe Field, visit: www.eurasiaregion.org/fields/northern-europe-field/

Join us again on Monday to start a new week of Lent!

Building up our spiritual immunity

This is a special edition of our Lent Journey reflections.

Fear and anxiety have been my lifelong companions.

My earliest memories are fearful ones. I feared ghosts in my closet and monsters under the bed. After watching a documentary about the destruction of ancient Pompeii, I feared a volcano would erupt overnight next to our house. (I still laugh about that one.) When a parent went to the grocery store, I feared they wouldn’t come back.

Fear can be a useful companion. God gave us the instinct of fear that, in proper circumstances, can warn us of real risk and danger. Heeding fear’s warnings, we can take responsible and proper precautions for our safety and that of others. Proverbs 9:10 says that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

But unchecked, fear can grow into a tyrant and terrorize us.

My fear grew into a monster as I reached adulthood, about the time I began to mature in my faith. This might seem ironic. But let me explain.

My childhood faith in God had been simplistic. I believed that He would rescue me from any trouble and fix all my pain and problems.

It was only in young adulthood that I realized God’s people suffer. God’s people endure grief and loss, physical agony, trauma and abuse, and even tragic, untimely death.

I believed in God and His power, but now I also believed that He might let me suffer. He might let a loved one die. He might let me lose my physical health. He might let a financial catastrophe occur. I began to wonder how I could trust a God who might not always protect me from pain and sorrow?

These realities came as a shock, and so my fear grew from a useful warning system to a dark shadow that followed me everywhere.

If God would not protect me from every pain in life, I decided I had to protect myself. But the list of potential dangers to avoid grew endless. Soon, I found myself overwhelmingly tempted to never leave my room.

One day, when my fear had reached a paralyzing level, God said, “You have to let go of your obsession with control. If you want to be free from this and have peace, you have to surrender everything to me, including your safety, your health, the safety and health of your loved ones, and all your future. I don’t promise you a life without suffering or pain. I only promise you my peace and myself. Do you really want me?”

It almost felt that to obey this gentle command would be to truly die. But I couldn’t live this way anymore. So, on that day I died to myself, and found myself resurrected by peace and new life in Jesus.

Not to say that I was never afraid again. Fear and anxiety continued to be my companions, but now their power over me was broken. They took a much smaller role in my life, only trying to grow out of proportion from time to time.

Occasionally, our enemy has exploited my weakness in the area of fear to trip me up, trap me, or retake my freedom in Christ. But each time, Jesus reminds me that I have all power in Him. In the name of Jesus, I have victory over the enemy and his fear.

Whether our anxiety has taken root through chemical imbalances in our brains, through past traumas or abuse, an innate tendency to worry, or for some other reason, one thing we know for sure: Anxiety is not from God. God does not want His people to fear. God is the source of love and peace. Anxiety comes from somewhere else.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

A simple Internet search for Bible verses about fear yields plenty of times God has addressed this. He must know that in our fallen nature, we just have a tendency to fear and worry.

Now, our world reels from the rapid spread of a new respiratory virus called COVID-19. Daily and hourly actions taken by our governments, minute-to-minute reports from our breathless news media, and frenzied, contradictory posts across our social media are fanning flames of fear and panic in the best of us.

There are contagious physical viruses such as influenza and COVID-19. But there is also the contagious emotional virus of fear.

We are bombarded with information on how to protect ourselves from contracting the virus. Then we are doused with more advice on how to care for ourselves if we do contract it.

There is less information about how to preemptively build up our body’s immune system, which is beautifully God-designed to attack and disarm new viruses when they enter our bodies.

The least amount of information is given for how to build up our spiritual immunity to fear.

Scientific studies have shown that prolonged, heightened anxiety and fear depresses our immune system, making us more vulnerable to catching contagious illnesses, and more sick once we are exposed.

We are wholistic beings, fully integrated as body, mind, emotions and spirit. So, when a strain is placed on one, this strains the other facets of our God-created being, as well. When we are afraid, we can actually become less healthy.

The opposite has also been shown to be true: if we build up the health of our mind and spirit, we can build up the health of our body, too. Just as we can bolster our physical immunity by getting adequate and quality rest, eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of fluids, there are ways to build up our spiritual immunity.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul teaches us that God empowers us to take every thought captive. We can ask the Holy Spirit to take Lordship over our fearful, racing thoughts and surrender them to Him. We can practice Christian mindfulness, by focusing our mind on a truth about God or memorizing a comforting, inspiring verse or passage in the Bible.

We can spend a portion of each day listening to or reading God’s Word. We can play uplifting worship music that reminds us of God’s infinite power, wisdom, knowledge and love. We can praise God in quiet moments, meditating on His goodness, mercy, grace, and the ways He has been faithful to us in the past. We can write gratitude lists, taking stock of all the blessings He has poured on us.

We can encourage each other. We can think of ways to serve those negatively impacted by quarantines or illness. Taking our strength and peace from Jesus, we can influence our social circles and neighborhoods by spreading peace and love, instead of fear and anxiety.

These are opportunities to witness to our friends and family who haven’t experienced the peace and comfort of putting their trust in Jesus. Gently, and without preaching or condemning, we can share with others the difference that trusting God has made for us. How He gives us the miraculous gift of peace in troubled times.

In many cultures, there are Christian counselors available to listen to our fears and worries, who are trained and experienced in speaking God’s healing truth into our hearts and minds.

And finally, in God’s goodness He has allowed us to innovate prescription medicines and natural remedies that can help to limit our overproduction of adrenaline, calm our heart rate and racing thoughts, and correct chemical imbalances in our brains or bodies that push us in the direction of uncontrolled anxiety or panic attacks. Our doctors and our Christian counselors can help us explore appropriate options, as we care for all aspects of our God-created minds, bodies and spirits.

Our Lent podcast is a resource the Eurasia Region has created to give believers a few moments of centering their hearts, minds and bodies on the joyful peace that God offers to us through intimate and loving relationship with Him. There are other resources out there as well, from your local church, favorite books in your library, sermon or Bible study podcasts, and music streaming services.

As a classic hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” advises us:

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
  In the light of His glory and grace.
*

As we take reasonable precautions to clean and sanitize ourselves and the things we have touched, and comply with government measures to protect the vulnerable, let us also set our thoughts on God. Let us meditate on passages such as
Psalm 18: 1-6 and 16-19.

Lord, have mercy.

Amen.

As our church services and other gatherings around the world are postponed indefinitely and many people are staying at home to avoid exposing the vulnerable to the virus, let’s keep meeting together through our Lent Journey. Even though we are far apart from each other, we are still one in Jesus. We are one in the Holy Spirit. We can keep gathering for scripture readings, reflections, and prayer time throughout this Holy season.

Let’s practice setting our eyes on Jesus to build up our spiritual immunity and contagiously spread His peace and love to our families, our neighbors and our communities.

I’ll see you here again for our next Lent reflection time.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922. Public domain.

Day 18 – March 14

Greetings! It is Saturday, March 14, and we are concluding our second full week of our Lent journey together! My name is Sandra and today I will be leading us in scripture, and intercession for the countries of Northern Europe.

Theme: God forgives us; his discipline ends

ScriptureMicah 7:14–15,18–20

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 Commonwealth of Independent States with our prayers. The weekend before, we prayed over the nations of the Western Mediterranean.

This weekend, we pray for the nations and peoples of Northern Europe. The Nazarene church describes Northern Europe as Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

Nazarenes across Northern Europe have shared about the following needs and challenges in their cultures:

The societies here are highly secularized and post-Christian, and view this as a virtue of progress. Spiritual apathy is disguised as tolerance. Many view faith as irrelevant to their lives, or have not liked their church experience. That makes witness and evangelism very challenging.  

Despite more than a thousand years of rich Christian heritage, people in Northern Europe have largely forgotten it. For some, historic memories of religious wars and violent conflict have resulted in cynicism or even suspicion about matters of faith.

A significant part of the population has never been to church, and remains ignorant about who God is, what the Bible says, and what it means to follow Jesus. In this vacuum, atheism and neopaganism have taken root.

Violent crime, sexually transmitted diseases, mental illness, prostitution, and addiction rates are growing in some areas. Many are economically disadvantaged, living in poverty, or are homeless.

Across Northern Europe, refugees struggle to navigate the legal systems to receive asylum. A rapid influx of culturally and religiously diverse immigrants has strained infrastructures and social relations.

(Source: https://prayercast.com)

Intervals of political and religiously-motivated terrorism cause fear and disruption, and some lose their lives. Differing views on political matters have created division, tension, and sometimes, outright hostility.

There are signs of hope. While mainline and established churches are declining or even closing, new churches and Pentecostal churches are growing in some areas.

Some congregations are taking risks, trying innovative new ways to reach their communities with God’s love.

We should remember that every area of concern is also an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work miracles, to catalyze a movement of people repenting and seeking God anew. Where people have never read the Bible or heard about Jesus, these stories and their truths can again be fresh and full of hope.

Let us intercede for the peoples of Northern Europe.

Prayer

Our mighty and good Father, Creator of all things and all people,

We have seen in Your Word that You love every individual person alive, and in Your wise love, You judge and rescue nations.

As You judge the nations of Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Father, have mercy.

In different ways and times, Your Church has failed You, and failed its societies and nations. At times, it has failed to be the witness it should have been. Sometimes Your Church has participated in, rather than opposed, historical events of violence, racism, and war.

Today’s Church has inherited this historical burden, and as a consequence, now, many do not listen or believe as the Church preaches Christ. We repent for the part we have played over the centuries, and even today.

Our enemy would have us believe that Your Church today in Northern Europe is small and marginalized. This enemy shouts “defeat,” “irrelevance,” “failure,” and “powerlessness” to steal our sense of victory and effectiveness in our societies.

These are lies! No principality or power, whether spiritual or human, is a match for the Creator of All Things! For our God knows all, sees all, is everywhere at all times, is the source of all power, all goodness, all love, all wisdom. On the cross, Jesus, You defeated death itself! There is nothing and no one that can oppose You. In Your presence, all darkness flees. Your Church has the God of the Angel Armies on our side! Our enemy is nothing before us.

We invoke Your power over the evil Your love.

Almighty God, shatter strongholds of addiction, and the despair that fuels it. Set free those who are bound by alcoholism and drug addiction.

Be powerfully near to the refugee and immigrant – people who have fled death and violence in their home countries to establish a new, peaceful and prosperous life in Europe. Give them comfort and ease their fears as they navigate new languages, new cultures and customs, new government systems. Be close them, because often they are far from family and friends, separated from spouses, children or parents. Where some have been raised to follow another religion, take this opportunity in a new land to introduce them to believers who will love and accept them, and show them the way to Jesus.

Father, where economic deprivation or generational abuse make people vulnerable to human trafficking, intervene so that they do not fall prey to abusers and traffickers. Raise up Your people across Northern Europe to search for and rescue the enslaved, and to proactively intervene with the vulnerable before they become ensnared to traffickers.

Break through strongholds of generational poverty so that people have the opportunity to become fully who you created them to be through education, better health, and dignified employment. Give them opportunities and the desire to be generous and care for others still in need.

For all those suffering from the daily anguish and despair of mental illness, restore them to wholeness. Instill them with hope, strength, and perseverance. Where it is Your will, bring healing.

Our Father, we ask you to prevent incidents of terrorism and politically motivated violence. Disrupt the plans of those who intend to do harm and death. Help people to stamp out the seeds of suspicion, fear and hostility between people that are sown through these acts of terrorism. Usher in a new age of valuing human life the way that You do.

In areas polarized by political differences, Holy Spirit, in Your power, teach people how to do the difficult work of seeking forgiveness, and understanding, and pursuing reconciliation.

Even now, we trust that the Holy Spirit is moving back and forth across Northern Europe, calling people to You, working restoration, healing, hope, freedom, and new life. We pray You will silence the spiritual and human voices of defeat, discouragement, and powerlessness. We ask that You reveal where You are already at work, and empower us with hope, optimism and trust as we join You in it.

You have reconciled whole nations and peoples to You, at different times through history. You can do it now, today. We ask You to do it. And where You want to use us as part of your work, use us.

We pray all this with believe and hope in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture readings are from:

Luke 15:11–3

Psalm 103:1–4, 9–12

To watch a video about the Northern Europe Field, visit www.eurasiaregion.org.

Let’s gather again tomorrow to intercede for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Northern Europe!


Day 17 – March 13

It’s Friday, March 13. We’ve nearly made it through our second full week of Lent together! My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing today’s scripture reading, reflection and prayer with you.

Theme: Envy will destroy us and others

Scripture: Genesis 37:3–4,12–28

Reflection

There’s no getting around it. Throughout all three scripture passages for today, we are being asked to look inward and root out any seeds of envy in our hearts and lives.

All three scripture passages deal with stories of people who allowed a stronghold of envy to fester in their hearts, compounding into an avalanche of worsening sin.

Envy is defined as a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions.

To covet is defined as having an excessive or wrongful desire. In biblical terms, this would mean to fervently want something for yourself that God has given to someone else or allowed them to have.

It was the ugly sin of envy that led Joseph’s brothers to hate him, because of the way their father favored him more than his other children. This hatred then gave birth to a murder plot, and finally to engage in human trafficking – his brothers sold Joseph into foreign slavery where anything could have happened to him.

In today’s New Testament reading, Jesus’s parable in Matthew describes a wealthy landowner whose renters were so envious of his wealth and prosperity that they plotted to violently steal it, finally murdering his son. This story is a metaphor for Jesus coming to humankind as a messenger of God, and being murdered by the people He had come to save.

The final of the 10 commandments that God gave His Hebrew people in Exodus chapter 20 is the instruction not to covet their neighbor’s house, wife, animal or anything else.

The Message puts it this way: “No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.”

When we allow seeds of envy to take root in us, they send up shoots of dissatisfaction, self-pity, and resentment of the blessings that others receive.

Sometimes, we may not even realize we are harboring envy. It can masquerade as false humility that demands others live the same we do.

“Why does someone need that much? Who needs a house that big or a car that costly?” we might ask. “It’s excessive.”

Remember, it was Judas, in John chapter 12, who complained when Mary poured a fortune’s worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet to display her gratitude that he had resurrected of her brother Lazarus. In verse 5, Judas whined, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

It’s true that in this case, Judas criticized generosity and gratitude to God, not an excessive, self-indulgent lifestyle. He put his complaint this way to sound virtuous and generous. But the next verse clarifies the envy hidden in his heart: “Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to take from what was put into it.”

It wasn’t about the poor at all. That was just a pretty and virtuous varnish to disguise his greed and envy.

Who are we to judge the blessings that others have received, and whether they deserve or need them?  It’s for God alone to understand His ways, why some have more than others, and what He plans to do through their circumstances.

For as Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

He also said, in Matthew 7, “Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.”

The Message puts it this way, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

While most of us do not go as far as Judas—stealing physical property to alleviate our greed—envy can steal from us. Envy steals our contentment and gratitude. We also miss the opportunity to authentically celebrate with others how God has chosen to bless them.

We might think, “I’m not envious. I’m content with my material possessions.” But we may need to watch out for other hidden forms of envy. We might envy someone else’s relationship with their partner, parents or children. We can envy someone else’s health, job or career success. We can envy someone’s personality or talents. It’s possible to even envy someone else’s relationship with God, or the way He chooses to speak to them.

Envy makes us unhappy, restless, and discontent. Gratitude for what God has given us, and for what God has given others, fills us with peace and contentment.

Is gratitude easy? Not necessarily. We might have to fight for it. Is it OK to desire anything at all that we don’t yet have?

Coveting is defined as “excessive or wrongful desire”, not as simply desire.

God seems to say that having desires that are surrendered to His will are fine.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

When we set God Himself as our greatest desire, then we idolize nothing else above Him. When God is our first desire, He can align the rest of our desires with His, and so sometimes He may see fit to fulfill our godly desires.

Reflection questions:

  1. Is there any blessing someone else has received that I envy? Ask for God’s forgiveness now.
  2. Have I ever lied to myself, to others, or to God by disguising my envy as virtue? Ask for God’s forgiveness now.
  3. More than anything else – more than a house, a job, a relationship, a skill or talent, a success, financial freedom, or health – do I want God? If not, repent for whatever idol has replaced God, and ask for His help to make Him your first desire, as well as to realign all your other desires with His heart.

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Giver of all good things,

We come to You with a sacrifice of our thanks for everything You have, in Your wisdom and perfect goodness, given to us. It is not for us to judge whether You have given us enough, or given someone else too much. We leave that to Your wisdom, mercy and justice. We choose to celebrate the good gifts You have given others, without questioning You or secretly believing it should have been ours.

We need Your Holy Spirit to uncover hidden seeds and roots of envy in us, which can hide even from our own awareness.

As David wrote in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my concerns.

See if there is any offensive way in me;

lead me in the way everlasting.

We do not have the power within ourselves to achieve victory over envy. Only You can do that in us. Please, do it. We entrust You with our heart, and pray that You continue to realign our desires with Yours. Above all else, help us to desire You.

We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

Matthew 21:33–43

Psalm 105:16–22

Day 16 – March 12

Today is Thursday, and we’re approaching the close of the second week of Lent. My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing the scripture, reflection and prayer time with you today.

Scripture: Psalm 1 (Living Bible)

Reflection

The Bible is full of agricultural analogies. Over hundreds of years, the books of both the Old and New Testament were written by and among peoples who lived close to the land and animals. Their very survival depended on knowing how to cultivate fruit and vegetables, grow grain, and protect livestock from disease, accident, and wild animals.

The vast majority of ancient peoples were subsistence farmers or shepherds, which meant they only grew or gathered enough for their own family to eat day by day.

In some of today’s societies and cultures we live in places where larger corporations do most of the farming. The rest of the population purchases our harvest at markets and grocery stores. So we may give little or no thought to the possibility of starvation, or where our food will come from. Especially if our society has the means to import food from distant countries when their own region experiences a drought, early frost, or crop failure due to insects or disease.

But the people who lived during the time of these prophetic writings probably gave a lot of thought to their survival, and how to ensure their plants and animals produced their food, milk, and meat.

In this context, a Psalm about the necessity of resisting the so-called wisdom and advice of people who live in defiance of God takes on much greater weight than we might realize today.

The land of the Bible was a dry, arid climate. Droughts were frequent, rainfall infrequent. Water was critical to survival, both for the people to drink, and for their crops and animals to live and flourish.

Here, we are shown a picture of trees along a riverbank, their roots pushing through the soil to draw life-giving water from the rushing river below, and their branches heavy with juicy fruits. The Psalm writer says that we are like these trees—healthy, nourished, satisfied, bursting with fruit and green leaves—when we orient our very selves around God’s laws, and are always alert to obeying them. We are trees that live.

By contrast, those who defy God’s laws are compared with chaff. Chaff is any kind of disposable shell or husk from grain. It contains nothing that would nourish a human, and humans can’t digest it. When grain is harvested, this chaff is peeled away and burned, discarded, or fed to animals. In this Psalm, those who ignore God are like dead husks. Chaff is the picture of those who defy God as the one Who has outlined the ways we need to live to experience peace and prosperity with Him and each other.

This is no small matter. Like many other passages we’ve read during our Lent journey, God draws a picture of a life or death choice.

When God gathers up those who love Him at the end of time, those who didn’t love by obeying Him will be like chaff: blown away.

One of today’s other scripture readings, from Jeremiah, is almost an exact echo of this Psalm. The prophet says that a man who turns from God’s wisdom to put his trust in the wisdom of other men is like a stunted shrub in the desert. A dried up, withered shrub that is dying for lack of water and nourishment. But, Jeremiah continues, a man who trusts in God is “like a tree on a riverbank, roots reaching deep into the water,” producing “luscious fruit.”

Sometimes we might think of rules or laws as a drag on our freedom. Human law systems can certainly become oppressive, impossibly complex, and create new injustices while trying to correct existing ones. We find ourselves looking for ways around overbearing regulations that might help someone else but hurt us. We resent laws passed by out-of-touch or corrupt legislators that obstruct our prosperity, or restrict our freedom to worship God and talk about Him with others.

God’s laws are not like that. They are perfectly designed to set us free. It is man’s wisdom and ways that enslave us. Not God’s.

All around us are people who think they know the best way for us to live. They distort God’s laws to satisfy their desire for immediate gratification, or to be sheltered from the natural consequences of their ungodly choices.

Some say they are believers, but pick and choose laws from God’s Word, saying some are good, but the rest are misunderstood today, or that we can ignore any of God’s laws that seem to be too harsh or unloving according to our contemporary, cultural definitions of kindness or love. They are loose with their obedience.

Some openly rebel against God’s laws, determined that they know what is best for them and their societies. Others refuse to acknowledge God as the giver of these good laws.

As the Psalm writer says, we should avoid walking in the counsel of such people. Meaning, we can have relationships with them, but shun their advice when it counters God’s laws. When we walk with people who don’t know God, we should influence them, not the other way around.

Our reward is that the godly person experiences “delight” in thinking about God’s perfect wisdom and goodness embodied in His laws. Joy and peace come from rooting ourselves in the nourishing, life-giving soil and water of God’s Word, while those who refuse to obey His fully revealed laws will blow away as lifeless husks and shells.

It’s a stark picture, but thank God that in His goodness, He keeps warning us, holding nothing back that we need to know to make an informed choice about who we will serve and how we will live.

Let’s make sure we know and understand God’s laws, and follow them out of our love and gratitude to Him.

Reflection questions

  1. Have I taken the time to study, understand and delight in God’s whole law, found throughout the Bible? How can I reach a deeper and more complete understanding of how God wants me to live?
  2. Have I found it convenient to skip over some of God’s laws, or have I reshaped them to make me feel more comfortable? If so, which ones and why?
  3. Is there an area of my life I have been disobedient, and need to begin putting God’s law into practice in my life?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our Father,

We ask Your mercy and forgiveness for any way in which we have ignored, failed to understand, or even defied Your good and kind laws. We acknowledge that anything You ask us to do or not do is only for our good, for our peace and prosperity. We know that You would not give us laws that harm us. Forgive us for doubting You or thinking we know better.

Please help us to reach a more complete understanding of how You are asking us to live, not just in our words and actions, but in our attitudes and relationship with You.

Grant us spiritual, emotional and psychological nourishment through delighting in Your good laws, so that our witness will help others to experience the joy of obeying You, too.

Thank You for being a giver of good laws.

We pray this in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scriptures for today’s reading are from:

Jeremiah 17:5–10

Luke 16:19-31

Day 15 – March 11

It’s Wednesday, and we’re halfway through the second full week of Lent. My name is Gina, and today I’m meeting with you again for our daily scripture reading, reflection and prayer.

Theme: We are never alone in our pain

Scripture: Psalm 31: 9-16

Reflection

Negative emotions take a toll on us over time. Every person at some time experiences this: we find ourselves in the seemingly never-ending grip of grief and loss; of depression and anxiety; of terror or fear; of desperation to escape a situation of suffering, and no matter what we do, we cannot find that escape. As Maria, a Nazarene church leader in Hungary has said, suffering begets even more suffering. We suffer because of difficulties in our life, and then we begin to suffer because we are suffering.

These emotions take a toll on our bodies, as indicated when the writer says:

my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.

We become plagued with stomach problems; headaches; sleep loss and other kinds of physical pain or biological malfunction.

Worse, the Psalmist describes the isolation many of us feel when these negative emotions continue on for long periods of time. If people around us don’t understand how we feel or why, or are burdened by our pain, some may start to avoid us or spend less time with us.

We may also isolate ourselves because we don’t want to burden others with our grief, fear, or pain, or because we don’t know how to talk about it.

Sometimes, we may feel blamed or responsible for whatever is happening that is making us feel bad. We bend under the additional weight of guilt or shame that is heaped onto our already impossible mountain of distress.

What I like about this Psalm, first, is that we learn none of us is the first or only person ever to feel alone in our pain. If those around us don’t understand or don’t sit with us patiently in our pain, we can find companionship in the Bible, where MANY of God’s people give us their uncensored stories of despair and isolation.

We also quickly recognize that God does not leave us alone in our times of sadness, fear or pain. We can turn to Him for companionship, for comfort, and to help carry some of the weight of our feelings.

When others close to us might wish we would hurry up and get over “it,” God, Who is outside of all time, has infinite patience. His perfect wisdom knows how long we need to move through our sorrow, and He gives us that time. When others don’t know how to help us, or try to help us in ways that don’t help, God knows just what we need.

And best of all, He will never leave our side, not for a second. There are times we may not sense His presence, but it doesn’t mean He isn’t with us. He will grieve with us when something or someone has died; He will hold us tightly when we’re afraid; He will sit beside us when we have anxiety attacks or bouts of depression. He will understand the physical pain for which we can find no cure or relief. He will hurt as we hurt.

Sometimes, God chooses to be near us through other people. But if there is no one available, He will never leave us alone. He Himself is always with us.

Thanks be to our Suffering God for suffering with us when we suffer, and never leaving us alone.

Reflection questions

  1. Have you ever experienced pain that made you feel isolated and alone? Was it because others didn’t understand, weren’t helpful, or because you withdrew from people to suffer alone? What difference does it make to know that God is always with us and understands our suffering?
  2. Have you ever struggled to understand or know how to respond effectively to someone else’s pain? In the future, how could you bring your patient and comforting presence to someone who just needs to not be alone in their pain?
  3. How can you turn to God for comfort and presence in the midst of your suffering?

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Our Father,

Thank you for drawing close to us in our suffering, even when we may not sense You and wonder where You are. We trust Your promise that You don’t leave us alone, ever, and especially not when we’re in pain. Thank You that You even use times of struggle to help us grow.

As we experience low times and sad times, develop in us compassion and empathy for others’ pain, and help us learn how to most effectively walk with them patiently and gently in their times of suffering, too.

We trust you and praise you no matter what is happening to us, even if we don’t feel like it.

We pray this in the powerful name of Jesus,

Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture readings for today are from:

Jeremiah 18:1–11,18–20

Matthew 20:17–28

Watch a sermon and testimony of Maria Gusztin about suffering.

Read a story about a woman in Nepal who felt alone in her suffering, but discovered she was not truly alone.

Let’s meet here again tomorrow to pray and study God’s word again!

Day 14 – March 10

Today is Tuesday, March 10. We’ve been together two weeks now on our 40-day Lent journey! My name is Gina, and it’s great to have our growing group of international prayer and fasting warriors back together today for scripture, reflection and prayer.

Scripture: Psalm 50:7–15,22–24

Reflection

What can I give someone who has everything?

That’s a question I’ve had to ask myself a few times in my life, when I wanted to give back to someone who generously gave something to me. And yet, I had no idea what gift I could give them, because they had experienced great material blessings; anything they wanted, they could obtain themselves.

When that has happened, I have realized that all I have to give them is my gratitude, and my relationship.

That seems to be the message of today’s Psalm.

God is speaking to the people of Israel. The people had a misunderstanding about their relationship with God. They thought that He wanted them to give Him sacrifices of their physical property: namely their livestock—bulls, goats, birds and sheep. Some who might have been very poor could put small coins in the temple’s offering box.

In this passage, God reminds them that He owns the whole world. He owns all of creation. They couldn’t give Him anything that He didn’t already possess. The livestock they sacrificed to Him were already His. In fact, they only had those animals to sacrifice because He first gave these gifts to them.

The passage says:

For all the animals of field and forest are mine! The cattle on a thousand hills! And all the birds upon the mountains! If I were hungry, I would not mention it to you—for all the world is mine and everything in it.

“You know what I really want?” God is asking. “I just want your gratitude. A thank you note would be nice.”

Psalm 50: 15: What I want from you is your true thanks; I want your promises fulfilled. I want you to trust me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you and you can give me glory.

“And, you know what else I could use?” He asks. “I’d like it if you turned to me when you needed help, and not to other gods and resources, or to yourselves.”

These two things—gratitude for what He’d given them, and seeking God to meet their needs—underscore the main thing He wanted most of all: He wanted a relationship of mutual love with the people of Israel.

In their frenzy of sacrifices, the people had gotten so busy doing things for God that they had forgotten the point of it all—to be with God; to know Him. To love Him back for loving them. He wanted their relationship more than all the stuff they were doing for Him. The latter had overshadowed, and even replaced, the former.

We can make the same mistake. Many of us Christians get so busy serving God in ministry, volunteering in our favorite causes, caring for our families, and all the things that we feel obligated to do for God, that we neglect God Himself. God is saying, “That’s not the main thing I want from you. What I want more than anything is simply you. I want us to be close. I want to shower my love on you, and receive your gratitude and love in return.”

We make things so complicated when it can be so easy. We exhaust ourselves trying to please God, and maybe even begin to resent Him when we run ourselves ragged in His name. He says, “I never wanted all that from you in the first place. Not if it means we aren’t spending time together.”

Service to God and others flows out of our intimate relationship with God. God is the source of our love, strength, wisdom and perseverance in ministry. We can’t mine resources out of something that doesn’t exist.

What a beautiful God we have, who gives us Himself, and asks us for ourselves in return.

As we journey through Lent, a time when many Christians choose a sacrifice to make to God, such as giving up some kind of food or activity, let’s not forget that this is no substitute for spending time with God and deepening our relationship with Him, making space each day for His presence and voice. If we give up something, let it be something that helps us make that space to focus our attention and time on God Himself; that enables us to be with Him and thank Him for everything He’s done for us.

Let’s prioritize what God really wants: Giving God ourselves; spending time with Him; seeking to know Him more; thanking Him for all His blessings. Let’s experience the peace and restfulness of relationship, instead of the exhaustion of frenzied sacrifice. And thank God for His goodness that this is what He wants most.

Reflection questions

  1. We are two weeks into Lent. For those of us who have chosen to give up something for God during this 40 days, are we prioritizing time to spend in God’s presence each day, to study His word and listen to His voice? If not, what can we do this week to clear out that space and give God the gift of relationship?
  2. As we survey the entire landscape of our lives, have we replaced relationship with God by doing things for God? If so, ask the Holy Spirit to show us if there are things we are doing for God that we can set aside and give that time to getting to know God better.
  3. God has said today that He yearns for our gratitude. Think of five things right now that He has given you that you want to thank Him for.

Let’s pray.

Prayer

Kind and generous Father,

Thank You for walking closely to us during the past two weeks of Lent. Thank You for being the kind of God, the only god, who actually desires and pursues a loving relationship with us. Thank You for knocking down every wall and removing every obstacle that separates us from You, even things we construct between us and You without realizing it.

As we give You the sacrifice of our time, our listening, and ourselves, please speak into our lives. Show us where we have prioritized anything over You, and give us wisdom to see where and how to put You first again.

Where we have exhausted ourselves in Your service, please give us the gift of Your rest and renewal.

We give You the sacrifice of our gratitude. You have blessed us abundantly, and often in ways we don’t even see. Most of all, You have given us Yourself. Thank You for this greatest gift of all.

Instill in us a spirit of gratitude every day. And help us to seek relationship with You first in all things.

We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Conclusion

The additional scripture passages for today are found in:

Isaiah 1:2–4,16–20

Matthew 23:1–12

Let’s meet again tomorrow!

Day 13 – March 9

Today is Monday, March 9. We’ve been walking through our Lent journey for almost two weeks now. My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing the scripture reading, reflection, and prayer time with you today.

Theme: A life of generosity

Scripture: Luke 6:27–38

Reflection

When I was in public school, for several years a group of girls bullied me. If a teacher or another adult wasn’t within hearing distance, they took every opportunity to isolate me so they could mock my clothes, my hair and my mannerisms, humiliating me in front of as many other students as possible. 

I was terrified of these girls, and felt powerless to change the situation or to get the upper hand.

One day, my dad suggested, “Why don’t you try praying for them?”

I remembered, then, reading in the Bible I was supposed to love my enemies. So I started praying for them every day.

At first, I did this grudgingly. Obviously I did not want good things to happen to them. I wanted them to suffer for the way they made me suffer every day at school.

But something interesting happened. The more I prayed for these popular cheerleaders, who seemed to have everything from money to beauty to opportunity, the more I actually felt sorry for them. I noticed ways they were poorer than me. Listening to their conversations, I realized some of their parents had divorced, and they were being neglected by the parent they lived with. Others had unstable home lives. Some were entirely too spoiled by the wealth and attention of their parents, and they lacked gratitude and joy for the abundance they were given.

Worse still, none of them knew God like I did.

The more I prayed, the more compassion God gave me for my enemies. It became easy to forgive them for the ways they intentionally tried to hurt and crush me.

Even more so, I found myself doing kind things for them in return. If one dropped a pen on the floor, I picked it up and gave it back to her. One day, I even plucked up the courage to invite another to church with me.

My bullies were confounded. They did not know what to do when I was nice to them after they put gum in my hair or mocked my clothes in front of the class. They became confused, uncertain and even embarrassed. Gradually, the bullying stopped.

Putting a stop to the bullying had not been my goal. What I had sought through prayer was understanding and forgiveness. My growing compassion had the unintended consequence of catalyzing a change in our relationship.

This doesn’t work every time. Jesus loved his enemies and in return they murdered him. Many Christians’ last words as they are being killed is for God to forgive those who are killing them. The objective of loving our enemies is not primarily to escape their malicious actions. It’s something more important: It’s about releasing God’s power to transform us and flow through us to others.

When I prayed for the mean girls at my school, I learned that praying God’s love and blessings for someone, even when I didn’t want to, allowed God to work a transformation in me. He replaced my powerlessness, my anger, my anxiety and sadness – feelings that were all focused inward on myself – with peace, compassion, joy and power over my own response to the situation.

I changed.

Some might read today’s passage as giving our enemies the license to continue abusing us. But when I prayed for my enemies, and allowed God to plant compassion and forgiveness in me, God replaced my helplessness with His power to stand against the abuse with His love. He showed me that love is more powerful than fear. As I developed compassion and forgiveness, I think I began to exude a strength and confidence I hadn’t had before. My changed attitude sent the message that they could no longer abuse me.

Contrary to what the world believes, God’s forgiveness and compassion strengthens us, empowers us. It doesn’t make us weaker.

The ways of the world are to love those who love us, and to disregard or even hate those who hate us. That’s the easy way. Anyone can do that, as implied in today’s passage. But God’s ways are not the ways of our world. His kingdom requires more from us, but it gives us so much more in return.

As Jesus said in today’s reading, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? …. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

When we live by these rules, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We extend to others the lavish generosity that God has extended to us. And sometimes, by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, others are transformed, too. Many times our unconditionally loving witness does bring people to relationship with Jesus.

Let us extend the same mercy and forgiveness to our enemies that our God has extended to us. For as Romans 5:10 says, we were once God’s enemies. As Jesus concluded this passage, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Reflection questions

  1. Is there someone in my life who I simply don’t like and try to avoid, or someone who is even my enemy, trying to hurt me in some way? Commit today to begin praying God’s love and blessings for that person or people every day, and ask for God’s compassion and forgiveness to work in your own heart.
  2. What is my posture toward others, generally? Am I lavish and generous in my kindness, understanding and compassion? Or am I a bit miserly, being quick to judge and criticize, and to dismiss those who annoy me? Ask God to cultivate a generous spirit in me toward others.
  3. What is one act of kindness I can extend toward an enemy or someone I’ve experienced broken relationship with this week?

Prayer

Dear Father,

Getting along with other people is one of the hardest things you ask us to do in this life. Our fallen human nature wants to hurt people who have hurt us, or to just dispose of the relationship and walk away. We try to avoid people who annoy us. We may even wish punishment or justice to those who harm us.

Yet, that is not how you want us to live and who you want us to be as citizens of your kingdom. You ask us to trust you for justice, and in our own hearts to extend Christlike compassion and forgiveness to others. 

Father, plant in us the seeds of a lavishly generous spirit to others. Give us the strength and wisdom to lovingly oppose abusive or hurtful behaviors toward us. Fill us with compassion and understanding, so that we can see how it is that hurting people tend to hurt others. Transform us, and through us, transform those around us who are hard to get along with, or whom we even consider to be our enemies.

 Teach us to love others as you have loved us.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Conclusion

Today’s additional scripture readings are found in:

Daniel 9:3–10

Psalm 79:1–9

Watch the video story of a man in India who made his family’s life so difficult that they didn’t even like him. But a change began when his wife prayed and fasted for him.