#CoffeeTimePrayer: A painful choice

 

 

Reading: Ruth 1

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Disappointments are constant. I know, it’s not really the chirpy Monday morning message most people are looking for. To live is to feel, and to feel is to experience pain. Our faith isn’t a safeguard against this, just the opposite, as Brené Brown recently tweeted:

We are all in different stages of labour.

For Ruth the Moabite, her pain – her labour – must have felt like it was at a critical point. Having lost her husband and his brother in quick succession, she was faced with losing both her sister-in-law and beloved mother-in-law as well. All the security and family she had come to know and love would be taken from her in one fell swoop. It’s hard to imagine someone like Ruth being impressed by a chirpy Monday morning message!

In a way, Ruth could have walked away from the pain of the delivery by returning to her own family. There she would find safety and security in her family’s house until she married again. But Ruth decided to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and return with her to Naomi’s family. We often see in the book of Ruth little more than a romance, but Ruth’s decision isn’t motivated by the prospect of Boaz, who wasn’t even in the picture yet; nor just her love for Naomi. Rather, Ruth’s decision was based on her wanting to continue to serve the Lord.

In those days one’s tribal and cultural identities were inextricably woven with religion; all gods were “national gods”, and it wasn’t uncommon for a conquered people to adopt the gods of their conquerors. In Ruth’s mind, staying with Naomi and being part of her people equated to continuing to serve Yahweh, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, who returned to her people and their gods (Ruth 1:15).

Ruth continued to “labour” in uncertainty and insecurity and poverty, trusting that Naomi’s God – her God – would care for them.

When we’re faced with hurt, we generally want to stitch up the wounds as quickly as possible. I’ve never been in actual labour myself, but I doubt you’d easily find women eager to draw out the experience. We want to expel pain rather than dwell in it. It’s a natural and good impulse.

But I wonder if we sometimes walk away from laborious experiences before we’ve allowed God to midwife them. Rather than deal with our hurts and their causes, we walk away, mistakenly thinking that we’ve dealt with the situation when in reality we’re still carrying it around inside us. A painful but powerful image is that of a woman carrying a stillborn child until labour.

Are we carrying pain around in us instead of allowing God to birth us to new life?

I know: definitely not a chirpy message! But I hope that as this week unfolds, we’ll take a moment to appreciate the relief of delivery, and turn to God to help us through the experience.


Prayer: Lord, I pray that you would bring me delivery from my pain. Help me to release that which burdens me and to experience new life. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Being carried

 

 

Read: Jeremiah 10:1-5 NRSV

5 Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good.

A while back a friend and I went shopping at a nearby mall, and I volunteered to carry her two-year-old girl for a bit while she wrestled with the shopping trolley. Embarrassingly we’d barely gone a few shops before my arms were aching and I had to relinquish the little girl to the shopping trolley’s toddler seat. I wasn’t used to toting around an excited toddler, and my body quickly let me know it!

I’ve been going through a spiritual dry patch. It’s not impressive – nothing as fancy as a full-on spiritual crisis or a shadowed valley, nothing to write home about – but enough to let me realise, after a while, that my “body” ached from carrying this dry patch around. It’s just bad enough to make me drag-my-feet weary when it comes to spiritual issues: praying, Bible reading, church, relationship, life. It’s a constant “I don’t want to” vs “But I should”.

It’s exhausting, and I’m coming to realise it’s exhausting because I’m the one carrying instead of being carried.

My friend’s two-year-old won’t remember me carrying her that day, but she will recall the sensation of being carried far into her later years. But come adulthood, we often forget just what it feels like to be ferried about by (to our childhood eyes) mostly reliable adults, aloft and almost weightless and above all, safe.

When we feel heavy and weary and burdened, it’s usually because we’re carrying something around we’re not used to carrying around because we’re not supposed to be hauling it from place to place: unforgiveness, anger, doubt, apathy, fear, loneliness, legalism, religion. In the same way that the idols God spoke about are lifeless but for our moving them around and investing them with meaning and purpose, burdens lose their exhaustive power over us if only we would set them down – and instead be lifted up ourselves, safe and immersed in our Father’s arms.

This week marks the beginning of a new month, May. In the southern hemisphere we’re settling in for the first proper month of winter; our neighbours in the northern hemisphere are waking up to summer. Wherever we are, and no matter how heavy we feel, unburden yourself to God and enjoy the sensation of his uplifting you.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Listening for Jesus’ voice

 

 

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Today’s reading: John 10:3-5 (NRSV)

 

3 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

For the past few weeks, our women’s Bible study has been working through Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind. One of the lessons we’re learning is just what Jesus describes in John 10:3-5: learning to listen to Jesus’ voice and not to follow the voice of strangers. But I think we can go one step further and commit to not even recognising strangers’ voices.

You’re not good enough. Things will never change. Aren’t you tired of hoping they will? God doesn’t care. You’re such a bad person – a bad mother/a terrible husband/a lost cause. If we recognise these thoughts or their variations it’s because we’ve grown familiar with the enemy’s voice. Often we assume these thoughts – these lies – are just our own voices swirling back at us; another lie!

Learning to recognise and listen to Jesus’ voice is the only way to “unlearn” our recognition of the enemy’s voice. When we focus only on the voice of our Shepherd, other, conflicting voices will fail to reach our ears.

How do we do that? By listening to the voice of our Shepherd through prayer, the study of the Word, contemplation, fasting and worship.

We’re about halfway through Lent. If you haven’t set aside anything special, now may be a good time to pick one of the above practices (or others) and commit to them for the remainder of this Lenten season with the intent of growing more familiar with Jesus’ voice.

We don’t seem to have a problem hearing out the enemy and his poisonous monologues. Similarly, we won’t be able to learn Jesus’ voice unless we listen!

Prayer: Dearest Shepherd Jesus, I listen for your voice. I confess that your voice is the only one I’m interested in hearing! Help me to learn to listen to you, to find your voice in my heart, my prayers, my study and my meditation. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Finding life

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Reading: Luke 24:1-5 (NRSV)

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Quite a few years ago there was a fatal motor car accident on one of our town’s bridges. Next to it, between the bridge and its intersection now sits a small patch of well-maintained grass, decorated with a white wooden cross, flowers and other mementos. Looking at this memorial when driving past is a sad reminder of the way we try to remember life where it has passed, and how painful it can be to revisit the tombs of our grief.

It couldn’t have been easy for the women to visit Jesus’ tomb that morning. They had spent the Sabbath in shock, grief and mourning, having lost their friend, their leader and the man they thought their Messiah to a painful, humiliating death. Their emotional pain would probably have been augmented by fear: fear of the political climate in Jerusalem, anxiety about whether they or their friends or relatives would face the same fate as Jesus had, worry about whether they would be ostracised, disappointed that things had not turned out differently. No indeed, visiting Jesus’ tomb as the twelve hid was an act of devotion, bravery and duty that gets far too little attention in male-driven narratives!

But imagine their confusion (elation, bewilderment, disbelief, shock) when they find only a vision of angels and an empty tomb instead of Jesus’ body. Imagine the beginning of hope in the pits of their stomachs as they began to wonder – could it be true? What if Jesus had risen again? What if his terrible death had been redeemed? What if their longing for their Messiah wasn’t hopeless after all?

The words of the angel chided them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” These words asked so many other questions: Why did you not believe? Why did you mourn? Why did you lose hope? Did you truly not realise that the tomb was empty all along?

Well, friends? Why do we – resurrected to new lives in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) – continue to look for the living among the dead? What do we hope to find among the tombs of our former, sin-dead lives, other than graves? And yet – if only we would take the trouble to roll away the stones covering them – we would see that these tombs are empty. Not because we never died, but because we have already risen in the Spirit.

Lent starts in a few weeks. In the northern hemisphere Christians can look to the beginnings of spring around them to remember their new life. In the southern hemisphere, however, we can look to the discolouring leaves, the longer nights, the crisper air to remind us that yes, we have descended into the grave just like our Lord. But the grave couldn’t contain him and it can’t contain us, just like winter cannot constantly contain the world.

What was buried will rise again.

Instead of seeking our lives among the dead, let us seek Life, eternal and abundant (John 10:10) with its source, Jesus Christ.


Prayer: Dearest Lord, I seek and find my life in You today. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: The guest of sinners

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Some days you read something in the Bible that makes your heart skip a beat.

This week Luke 19:7 was that for me. Tucked away in the familiar story about short Zacchaeus is this observation: “All who saw it [Jesus visiting with Zacchaeus] began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” What a wonderful reality this is! In his incarnation, our Lord and Saviour came to be the guest of sinners – of our fallen world – all to the purpose of reconciling us to God and letting us into the Kingdom.

Most of us are lucky (?) enough that we get to forget the sin we’ve been forgiven for. We’re so used to grace, so used to the overpowering and victorious love of God that we forget just what a big deal it is. But it wasn’t always that way, and I think that’s why people like Paul were so transported by the utter mercy of God – having been under the broad axe of the law, they understood perfectly just what they had been redeemed from. But two thousand years after his sacrificing, atoning death, many of us have had the cultural luxury of easy access to knowledge of Jesus and grace, and easy participation in his Body and his blood. While many more people today can say that they’re saved than in the years after Jesus’ Crucifixion (and that’s a good thing!), I think we sometimes forget exactly what it is we’ve been saved from – death!

My prayer this week is that I’ll be reminded of the sheer volume of God’s grace. If I am – if I remember what a sinner I am, and that I’m a sinner saved – then I should also be able to remember that others are sinners, saved too, or that some are sinners in need of salvation. In recognising my own sinful nature, who then am I to judge others for theirs?

If grace is to be appreciated and fully embraced, it follows that even while we recognise that we’ve been made new in Christ, we cannot forget the old nature. Our condemned nature is the soil in which the seed of our metanoia, our conversion, takes root. We don’t become new people in Christ because we forget the old; on the contrary, remembering who we were before is essential to our lives in Christ! I’m convinced that Christianity as a religion and as a moral bulwark is in decline exactly because we’ve become so used to our salvation that we’ve forgotten how much we needed it – and still do – in the first place!

If I ever get a tattoo, it’ll be two words on my wrist: sinner, saved. To me that encapsulates “grace” in a way that the word “grace” can’t. It’s the old nature, death, sin defeated; and the grace of a new morning, a second chance, a love indescribable. It’s the very reality of Jesus Christ.

As we head into February, let’s not suffer from amnesia. Yes, we were sinners – terrible sinners, with mistakes as tall as buildings. We don’t have to dwell on this, but we have to make peace with it if we’re to properly understand and experience just what it means to be saved, what it means to be alive, what it means to be free and loved.

Prayer: Jesus, you’re mighty to save! Thank you for your grace, your love! Thank you for our redemption! Holy Spirit, help me to remember the awesome reality of being a “sinner, saved”. Help me to remember that I too am a sinner in need of a Saviour, as much, if not more than other people!