Bitterness or Grace? (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 3, 2016)

I watched a food show once on TV featuring Alton Brown who shared a trick about how to eliminate the bitterness from coffee. You simply add a pinch of kosher salt to the coffee grounds before brewing. It causes some kind of chemical reaction that is beyond my understanding, but the result is absolute culinary magic! Just that tiny bit of salt really does cut the bitter aftertaste and creates the smoothest cup of coffee you’ve ever had in your life.

 

Interestingly, Colossians 4:6 says that our words are to be seasoned with grace like salt. I find it fascinating that the God of the universe (the Creator of those glorious coffee beans!), used the imagery of salt in reference to our attitudes. Like salt and coffee grounds, grace can cut through bitter character.

 

A new year is upon us, and with the changing of the calendar comes a question: What do you want to do differently this year? I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions, but first impressions. Have you ever considered what impression your life makes on others, as a Christian, compared to who you were before you knew Christ? When people see us, do they see grace, or do we give off a vibe of bitterness or discontentment?

 

If you need a place to start, I encourage you to begin by finding ways to apply your Bible reading to your life personally. For example, take the chapter of Colossians 4 mentioned above. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul mentioned that we should be consistent in prayer, ask God for opportunities to share his word, and walk in wisdom. How can that be applied to your life, even this week? As you go about your daily routines at work, school, or home, why not ask the Lord to give you wisdom and to open your spiritual eyes to see opportunities to share your faith journey with others around you?

 

I think you might be surprised by how many opportunities you will recognize when you begin looking for them. Then when those opportunities arise, let your words be seasoned with grace as a reflection of Christ’s character.

 

Pressed on Every Side (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 1, 2015)

I heard a pastor give an illustration about coffee, which resonated with me – perhaps because we’re expecting highs in the low- to mid-40s for the next week, plus up to 2 ft of snow this weekend. A cup of hot coffee sounds fabulous to me, under those conditions!

 

The pastor talked about how we are the coffee beans, life is the hot water, and the resulting brew is our testimony to the world. We’re supposed to be smooth and refreshing, but unfortunately, many of us turn out rather bitter.

 

As I mulled over that illustration, a few more thoughts came to my mind. First of all, you don’t make coffee with whole beans. The beans have to be ground up first; they have to be broken. Psalm 51:17 (NLT) talks about offering our brokenness to the Lord. It reads, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Like the coffee bean, we need to be willing to become broken, so that we can be useful. David writes in Psalm 141:2 that our prayer is like incense to the Lord. Think of how delightful a newly opened package of coffee smells; in the same way, our lives can be an aromatic offering to God.

 

Another step in making coffee (and often in the Christian life) is pressure. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV), “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The hot water soaking in and pressing through the ground coffee beans is what gives flavor to the brew.

 

Lastly, there isn’t a lot that can be done to fix a bad pot of coffee. You can add sugar and cream, even flavors, to try to mask the bitterness, but it’s difficult to balance, and it never tastes quite right. May our lives not become a bitter brew! Instead, may we be a pleasing reminder to the world of God’s goodness.

Ministering within the Ministry (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 21, 2014)

Like a married couple drifting apart from each other as they start raising a family, sometimes we can get caught up with important things in ministry that detract us from other as-important (or even more-important) priorities. Raising kids is an important calling, no doubt. Cultivating a healthy marriage simultaneously can be difficult but doable, and maintaining strong individual relationships with the Lord is the foundation. Neglecting the foundation can damage the whole house, and there are no magic formulas or shortcuts.

We read in 2 Chronicles 29 that Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah at only 25 years old. He didn’t wait around before he undertook a massive foundation repair project – literally and figuratively. Verse 3 tells us that he went to work in his very first month to overhaul the temple. It had fallen into disrepair and desperately needed a thorough cleaning. So, he called together the Levites (the clans of priests) and commissioned them to assist in the renovation work.

Hezekiah acknowledged that his predecessors’ priorities had gotten out of whack, and he was committed to making things right before the Lord. In his case, things really were bad: previous rulers had abandoned the temple and quit making sacrifices to the Lord completely. They had neglected their ministry, and God was not happy about it.

I would submit to you that the issues we face as a church family aren’t usually as blatantly obvious as tell-tale foundation cracks in the wall. Sometimes, it can be seemingly minor ways that we begin to neglect to care for each other, the church facility, our pastors, our staff, our volunteers, the community, and our visitors. We begin to expect that things will work smoothly because they always have, yet we don’t make the effort to figure out why or how or what we can do about it. Donuts & coffee magically appear in the fellowship area each Sunday morning. Restrooms are clean and magically stocked with toilet paper. The bulletin magically shows up printed and stuffed with announcements. Volunteers magically show up in the nursery. Canned goods for the food pantry magically appear stacked in the lobby. Of course, none of those things happen magically at all. They require a lot of behind-the-scenes work from several people, week in and week out.

I like how the Living Bible translation sets up verse 12 in saying that “the Levites went into action” when Hezekiah called them to help. The Message paraphrase says that they “stood at attention.” The point is that they were ready and willing to put all hands on deck to reprioritize and get the job done. May we go and do likewise.