#CoffeeTimePrayer: God’s freebie

 

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Oprah. My favourite episodes were the ones where she gave stuff away. Who doesn’t like freebies? As the years progressed and her show gained in popularity, the freebies escalated too. I remember in one show everyone got a car. The audience lost their minds.

Funnily, nothing brings out the worst in people like the prospect of a freebie. It either turns us into starry-eyed dreamers who show up for free toasters or microwaves and end up buying dubious timeshares, or we become staunch cynics with jaundiced eyes who don’t believe any good can come of anything. There’s no middle ground.

In Matthew 20:29-34 we read the story of Jesus healing two blind men. It’s outside of Jericho, and Jesus and a big crowd are coming past. The men had probably heard about Jesus – calling him, “Son of David,” presumes some knowledge of him – but whether they actually believed the rumours we can’t say. Still, a supposed healer and holy man coming through the neighbourhood? What did they have to lose?

Jesus turned aside to their calls and asked them, “What can I do for you?” I’m sure Jesus knew what they wanted. But did they? Would they ask Jesus for what they wanted or, faced with the prospect of a “freebie” healing, would they lose their heads like an Oprah audience or regard the opportunity as suspect at best?

Looking at the story’s conclusion – both men are healed and choose to follow Jesus – it’s easy to see that Jesus’ motives were pure. He didn’t confront the two blind men with an ultimatum before feeling compassion for them and curing their blindness. The “freebie” was a genuine, no-strings-attached miracle.

How do we approach Jesus when faced with the opportunity for “freebie” grace? Do we go mad with it, “squandering” it on ourselves with little to spare or care for anyone else, or do we decline it because we’re afraid there are Ts and Cs or hidden costs we don’t want to pay? Either is a waste of a wonderful miracle – a continual second chance with God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the miracle that is your grace! Help me to be generous with it, both with myself and the folks around me. Amen.

Book review: A 21-Day Prayer Journey by Itumeleng Matlaila

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To my pleasant surprise, I won Itumeleng Matlaila’s A 21-Day Prayer Journey on Facebook from the publishers, Struik Christian Media. Not long after it was delivered I had the opportunity to use it in a seven-day fast. Though geared to congregations and study groups, I nevertheless found Matlaila’s book useful for my personal fast. The daily prayer topics were a great way to pray for those things I usually neglect (my country, the church and so on), and it kept my fast from being a purely self-involved enterprise. The prayers are well-written and Scriptural and helped to focus my fast, and I appreciated the space to make prayer notes. Altogether a well-put-together little book that’d work well in both individual and corporate fasting.

Title: A 21-Day Prayer Journey
Author: Itumeleng Matlaila
Publisher: Struik Christian Media
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: [No data])
Best feature of the book: It’s pick-up-and-use. The prayers are prophetic.
Worst feature of the book: It’s not ideal for absolute beginners where fasting is concerned.
Trigger warnings: N/A
You’ll like this if… You’re looking for a tool to facilitate a fast, or if you’re keen on investing prayer in South Africa and Africa.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Fertile ground

 

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Once when I was a young teen my friends and I were playing the 30 Seconds board game. At one point a person on the opposite team quickly had to explain something to their teammate; we stuck our fingers in our ears to stop us from overhearing. Unfortunately, our nefarious plan to eavesdrop failed when they asked us, “Can you hear us?” and yours truly shook her head “No”!

In Matthew 13:16-17, wedged between the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, Jesus told his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (NRSV). Because we have seen and heard Jesus through the Word and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we can’t shake our heads “No!” when we clearly hear his voice! We don’t have the excuse of thorny or rocky or weedy ground to explain our lack of faithful yield, because we “[hear] the word and understand it” (verse 23).

If like me you often find yourself shaking your head “No!” when Jesus talks to you, don’t be discouraged! In Proverbs 20:12 we read, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both” (NRSV). Rather than condemn ourselves for our lack of yield, we can ask the Spirit of God to restore our sight and to heal our hearing, to see him and to hear him so we can be fruitful ground for the Kingdom seed.

Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear you. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hope alights

Brown Bird on a Branch

Winston Churchill called his depression a “black dog”. It was something that dogged his steps, leading him to avoid balconies or railway tracks for fear that he wouldn’t be able to resist suicide.

If depression is like a black dog, then hope alights like a bird. It flits from tree to tree and garden to garden. One of the joys of bird watching is how transient individual birds are even when they’re nesting in the area. To see them is to appreciate them, for the sight might be rare.

Hope is hard when we’re having “black dog” days. We can become so preoccupied with the creature pursuing us that we forget to keep our eyes open for hope. But hope is perched above us. Sometimes it’s hardly visible, but it’s always worth the trouble to look for it. Like God, it might just surprise us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:5 NIV

Lord God, help us to find the hope of you in our darkest days. Amen.

Sabbath: God, glorified

 

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Read: Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

4 Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Listen: Blessed Assurance; ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.

Readings: Acts 1:6-14

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;  and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

John 17:1-11

3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

Pray: 

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven,
will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
But where are you, Jesus,
when bombs tear through people
when hatred is solidified
into the destruction of lives?

Where are you, Jesus,
when lives are lost through violence,
– violence both sanctioned and unsanctioned –
when incendiary self-righteousness
shrapnels everything in its path?

Where are you, Jesus,
when people weep for their loved ones
or what remains of them,
when faith is scattered like human flesh
over an arena in Manchester or a Libyan street?

Where are you, Jesus?
Like your disciples we search the sky,
hoping to glimpse something,
hoping to see – hoping to hope.
Is our search fruitless?
Do angels answer us, “Why do you stand here
looking at the sky?”

Are we looking for you in the wrong places, Lord?
Searching for you in the heavens rather than looking for your face
among the mourners, the wounded, the dead?
Do we stare at the heavens
rather than seek you in the pain of loss
the incomprehension of cruelty
the acts of kindness and commiseration
the hope that tomorrow will be better
even if today’s actions are inexcusable?

Do we find, in looking at the heavens,
an answering search to ours?

Oh, find us, Lord,
and help us to find you.

Amen.