Our Year in Review (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 28, 2014)

Facebook has a slideshow feature where it takes your popular posts from the previous year and creates a highlight reel to share with your friends. It was interesting to walk down memory lane and revisit all the adventures that have taken place in 2014: graduation, a new job, a cross-country move, our first “real” winter … a lot of things have happened!

 

A year ago, I was up to my eyeballs with my dissertation, hoping the end was in sight. Ecclesiastes 12:12b (CEV) came to mind, as I thought about those months of research & writing: “There is no end to books, and too much study will wear you out.” Ha! That’s certainly how I felt, at that time. Now, that’s all behind me, and the tables are turned – I’m the one doling out assignments, not the one doing homework!

 

2014 was a roller coaster of emotions for me. It was nerve-wracking, at times, but also exciting. There have been other years – 2009 comes to mind right away – that were more dreadful than joyful, and I couldn’t wait for the calendar to turn. Maybe your 2014 wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Perhaps you are anxious for the year to be finished, so you can put it behind you. I can empathize, but take heart!

 

Maybe 2015 is your year for a Do Over. Perhaps you need a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate. We may not be able to have a Do Over in every area of our lives, but we can certainly get the New Year off to a great start, spiritually speaking. Lamentations 3:21-23 reminds us that God’s mercies are new every morning. We don’t need to jumpstart the year with fireworks and a midnight toast to take advantage of God’s Do Over offer. We can start anew TODAY.

 

While I got a good laugh out of Ecclesiastes 12:12 mentioned above, the rest of that chapter really hits home, as we think about the coming New Year. The author writes in verses 13-14 (CEV): “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.”

 

Instead of dwelling on what might have gone wrong in 2014, let’s focus on honoring God in 2015. Just imagine what He can do!!

A Time for Everything (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 9, 2014)

I have a confession to make: There have been a couple of years in the not-so-distant past when I didn’t feel like decorating for the holidays. I didn’t really want to do anything for Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t bring myself to start thinking about Christmas. In fact, if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have even bothered to put up a Christmas tree. It’s not that I dislike Christmas (although, the older I get, the more frustrated I feel about how ridiculously we’ve commercialized it), but I just didn’t feel like celebrating anything. Christmas break 2008 was the last time I saw my brother alive, and the holiday season always makes me feel melancholy.

 

One reason I like the book of Ecclesiastes is because it was written by the wisest man alive (King Solomon), which might make you assume that he had it all together, but apparently he had days just like the rest of us when he was at his wits’ end. In Ch. 3, verses 1-8, Solomon lists several opposites as a way of explaining the balancing act of life. Verse 4 (NIV), for example, says that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

 

Solomon went on to explain in verse 11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Those years when I didn’t feel like celebrating? There was a time and a reason for that. I still mourn, of course, but this year feels like a new beginning. Perhaps it’s the chill in the air and the prospect of snow on Christmas, but I’m eager to decorate this year. I’m actually looking forward to the holidays and the turning of the calendar.

 

God is at work, exchanging our ashes of mourning into lovely crowns (Isaiah 61) and making the darkest day beautiful again. We need only look around us to see his masterpiece.

Look for Wisdom (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 6, 2014)

I have a t-shirt that reads: “The book was better.” I love it, because with few exceptions (like The Princess Bride), I think it’s a true statement. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy movies a lot, but books can go into so much more depth on plot and character development. I develop an image in my mind of how the character looks, and one of the most frustrating things to me about watching a movie based on a book is when the actors don’t look the way I pictured the characters to be when I read the story.

We are visual creatures, and if you don’t believe me, then try wearing a t-shirt & sweatpants to your next job interview or go out in public with bed-head. We make snap judgments about people based on appearance every day. Even the church isn’t immune from first impressions. Take the prophet Samuel, for example. When he met each of Jesse’s sons to determine which one would be the next king (as God had instructed him to do … see the full story in 1 Samuel), he assumed that the eldest, tallest, and/or most physically attractive would be God’s chosen one.

Boy, did God throw Samuel a curveball! Samuel didn’t even voice his thoughts aloud as he was introduced to Jesse’s first son, but God knew what he was thinking and said to him in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV), “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” After Solomon sized up seven older brothers, Jesse’s youngest son, David, was anointed as king.

A generation later, God appeared to Jesse’s grandson/David’s son, King Solomon, in a dream and invited him to ask for something (1 Kings 3). Instead of long life, revenge, or wealth, Solomon asked for wisdom. God was so pleased with his selfless request that he also gave him the worldly things that he did not ask for. Solomon would later write in Ecclesiastes 8:1b (MSG), “Wisdom puts light in the eyes, and gives gentleness to words and manners.”

Does having wisdom mean that Solomon was perfect? Of course not, yet I can’t help but wonder if he remembered hearing a thing or two about his dad’s experience with Samuel as he was growing up, and Solomon seemed to understand that what’s inside (our character traits and relationship with the Lord) matters more than what’s outside (mere appearances).