Prayer prompt for Friday, Jan. 22

There are many Old Testament references to touch in Leviticus, etc., but thanks to Jesus, we are no longer under the old law. (Col. 2:20-23)

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.

 

The Hardest Job (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 10, 2015)

My first job (not including babysitting) was working the cash register at a drycleaner. I remember a customer got upset because his jeans were only extra-starched, but not stiff enough to double as drum skins. It was laughable, but that wasn’t the hardest job, by any means. Several years later, I worked as a newspaper reporter, and I once got chewed out by my editor. That job got on my nerves, but even it wasn’t the hardest job.

 

Then, there was the time I had to eat scorpion and dog meat (not in the same meal) at my teaching job in China, or else risk offending the host. That was a little freaky, but certainly not the hardest job I’ve had. There was also the job where a bunch of people got fired, and I eventually left for a much lower paying position just to save my skin (and my sanity). That job took a toll on my emotional health, but even it wasn’t the hardest.

 

For me, the hardest job is parenting. I used to think it was tough when the kids were little and needed constant care and attention, but sometimes it feels even more difficult now that they’re older and can voice their feelings and opinions. I can think of few things more humbling than having a person whose poop you’ve wiped and whose puke you’ve caught with your own shirt tell you that they don’t want you as a parent, or that you’re “so mean” to them, or that you “never” do anything nice for them.

 

Yes, parenting is certainly one of the most delayed-reward jobs on the planet. There are verses like Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 that we can encourage our children to memorize and put into practice, but Proverbs 22:6 is the epitome of all parenting verses, as it gives us hope that one of these days, we’ll eventually see the fruit from our labors.

 

Some of you are still in the diapering days; others are already enjoying grandparenthood. Some are not parents, but you still have influence over the children in your life. May we be examples for them to emulate our love and respect for God, so that they will take it to heart and … excuse me, I have to go … someone was apparently playing catch with a rock in the backyard and caught it with his face. Sigh.

Breaking the Lineage of Pride (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 21, 2014)

I conscientiously avoid activities that make me feel inferior, dumb, or inept – like crossword puzzles, swimsuit shopping, and contact sports. Instead, I tend to stick with things that make me feel comfortable with myself and my abilities. The problem is that when we get too comfortable, pride can creep in.

 

The book of Obadiah is only a chapter long, merely 21 verses. It is tucked between Amos and Jonah in the Old Testament. Scholars believe the text was written around 845 B.C. or 586 B.C., but the groups mentioned in the book (Edom and Judah) fought a lot in those days, so it’s difficult to determine an exact date. At any rate, Obadiah was a prophet with a somber message for the people of Edom, and the root of their problems could be traced back to pride. In fact, that lineage of pride could be traced all the way back to the founding father of the Edomites, Esau. You might remember Esau from stories in Genesis 25 and following; he’s the one who haphazardly traded his birthright to his slightly younger twin brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew & bread (v. 34). Apparently, his descendants inherited his cocky attitude.

 

The Edomites had gotten pretty cozy with their hill country vista, which was also advantageously located along the main caravan route from Egypt to Babylon. They had begun to feel pompous and invincible, so Obadiah warned them about the message he received from the Lord (v. 3-4):

“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord.

Obadiah’s prophecy went on to say that the house of Esau would be ransacked, and their snazzy cliff dwellings would be reduced to rubble. Something tells me their property values were about to take a nosedive.

 

We can avoid putting ourselves into the Edomites’ perilous situation in a couple of ways: first, we need to remember Colossians 3:23 and focus our talents on serving the Lord, rather than bringing undue attention to ourselves. Second, we could step out of our comfort zones every now & then and get involved in service and ministry that may not be tops on our to-do list. After all, it’s not about us. Pride may make us feel powerful in the short run, but as Proverbs 16:18 and Psalm 149:4 remind us, humility is the victor over pride.

Outgrowing Habits (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 25, 2014)

What are some of your habits? Brushing your teeth twice a day? Checking your smartphone at stop lights? Sitting in the same spot at the dinner table or church? Going to the gym after work? Kicking off your shoes when you get home? Watching certain TV shows? I reckon that most of our daily habits are simply routines that we’ve developed over time.

Other habits, though, can be detrimental to our health – not only physically, but also spiritually. We don’t care to admit such habits to ourselves, much less talk about them openly. These are the ones we go to when we’re upset, when we want to escape, when we feel down … the things we expose to our bodies, our eyes, our minds, under the guise of making us feel better, if only temporarily … or the things we say, do, and think when we feel threatened, hurt, or entitled.

God calls us to a better life than this, dear friends. As we grow closer to Christ, we need to break the habits that used to ensnare us. Check out what Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians (3:8-10, ERV): “But now put these things out of your life: anger, losing your temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and saying shameful things. Don’t lie to each other. You have taken off those old clothes—the person you once were and the bad things you did then. Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the one who made you. You are becoming more and more like him.”

I would be lying through my teeth if I claimed to have mastered all of this. I have too many habits that I still struggle with, and I’ve been a believer for nearly 30 years. If eliminating poor choices was easy, then we’d all be fit, no one would struggle with addiction, gossip would be unheard of, husbands and wives would model Christ in their marriages, kids would obey their parents, and we’d all manage our tempers and finances.

If it sounds too good to be true, remember that the objective isn’t necessarily perfection. Reread the verse from Colossians above. We are growing; we are becoming more like Christ. Change doesn’t always happen overnight, but as the poet wrote in Psalm 119:55, we choose every day whether to follow God or revert back to our old ways: “Lord, in the night I remembered your name, and I obeyed your teachings.”

Worth Waiting For (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 15, 2013)

When I was a kid, we had a tradition of opening certain presents on Christmas Eve night. My brother and I loved the idea, of course, because Christmas Eve seems so much closer than Christmas morning when you are a child. Waiting can be hard! The presents look so pretty under the tree, and you can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s that thing you really want … or perhaps it’s just a package of socks … but either way, the anticipation is mounting and you can’t wait to rip open the box!

Waiting is difficult in a lot of ways. I remember being 12 and thinking that it was the longest year on record; it seemed to take forrrevvvver to turn 13. I remember the few days between final exams and graduation, when the hard work is finally over and anticipation peaks. I remember being in the last few weeks and days of pregnancy, when you can’t sleep and can’t see your feet … the waiting is exhausting.

The Gospel of Luke tells us about a man who had waiting down to a science. In Ch. 2, Luke gives us a glimpse into the life of Simeon. We don’t know much about him, except that he was faithful to the Lord and was regarded as a good man. We assume that he was elderly, since he had received a promise from God that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah, but the Bible doesn’t say how old he was. One day, Simeon went to the temple in anticipation. He was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and he knew that his waiting time was over. He got to meet baby Jesus face to face and cuddle him in his arms. The promise that Simeon had lived for was coming true right before his eyes!

I wonder if Paul had someone like Simeon in mind when he wrote Colossians 2:6-7 (CEV), “You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following him. Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.” You and I may not have received a specific word from the Lord like Simeon did, but we do have something special, and that is hope. We have hope because of that little baby cradled in Simeon’s arms. We have a promise of eternal life with our Lord and Savior, Jesus. That is something worth waiting for!