A Worshipful Splurge (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 16, 2014)

I don’t splurge on very many things, but I have a bottle of perfume that cost about $40 on sale, which is expensive, in my book. I justify paying so much because I can make a single bottle stretch for a couple of years. The other morning while getting ready for work, I applied some hand lotion, and instead of waiting to let it soak in and dry, I immediately reached for that bottle of perfume, and it slipped right through my greasy fingers!

 

Thankfully, it landed in a basket in an open drawer and did not bust. I would have been disappointed to waste it, not to mention having to deal with cleaning up the mess. My whole house would probably smell girly, much to my sons’ chagrin! As I finished getting ready (more carefully!), I thought about a perfume story that I remembered from the Bible.

 

All four gospels give some account of a woman anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (see Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, & John 12). We’re not talking $40 type of expensive, either. The Bible says that this special perfume cost about a year’s income! Maybe some people nowadays would spend that kind of money on a fancy car or an original masterpiece of art, but I can’t imagine anything other than a house that most people would pay so much for.

 

Anointing usually involves pouring oil on one’s head, and Matthew and Mark bring attention to the extraordinary cost of the perfume as she anointed Jesus, but Luke and John share some additional details that I find remarkable. John mentions that the woman also anointed Jesus’ feet, then wiped off the perfume with her own hair. Luke adds that she was crying while she anointed his feet, and she wiped off her tears and the perfume with her hair.

 

You and I may not have the means to give extravagant financial offerings to the Lord, but each of us can give him things that are even more important: our love and our lives. The perfume anointing was an outward display of the woman’s heartfelt worship. In the same way, we can offer the Lord our sold-out hearts in worship every day.

Do Difficult Things (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 26, 2014)

The Bible doesn’t give us much insight as to what went through the potential disciples’ minds when Jesus called them to put down their fishing nets and follow him. It simply said that they did. In fact, Matthew 4:12 and Mark 1:18 report that Simon [Peter] and Andrew left their things “at once.” A few verses later, we learn that not only did brothers James & John also leave “immediately” upon hearing Jesus’ call, but they even left their father Zebedee behind in the boat preparing the fishing nets. Luke 5 gives us a bit more insight into the four men, as we learn that they were fishing partners who witnessed Jesus bring in a catch so full that their nets began to break.

 

And yet, where were the disciples later on, when things looked uncertain? They were back in a boat, fishing. In John 20, we read that the risen Christ appeared to his disciples and others, and although they were thrilled to see him, I imagine it was a lot to take in, mentally and emotionally.

 

John 21 goes on to say that Simon [Peter] decided to go fishing. My hunch is that he needed to clear his head, so he went back to something that was familiar to him.

 

I feel validated when I read about the disciples going back to their fishing boats while waiting for Jesus to give them instructions, because it tells me that they didn’t always know what to do, either. Yet, they knew to wait. They knew Who was in charge, and they followed his call. Just look at our fishing pal, Peter. Jesus told him that he was the rock upon which the church would be built (Matthew 16), and Peter was later martyred for his faith (John 21:18-19).

 

I have often struggled with understanding my place within God’s bigger plan, and sometimes I feel a little jealous of the disciples for having the advantage of Jesus’ face-to-face instructions, because honestly, I frequently feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. We can learn a lot from the fishing disciples: Be willing to wait on the Lord, but also be willing to get up and go when he calls.

Pomp and Circumstance (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 13, 2014)

Graduation is just around the corner, and for the life of me, I cannot hum the “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation song off the top of my head. Every time I try to think of it, the tune of “Hail to the Chief” comes to mind. Funny enough, both songs are famous for fancy-schmancy ceremonies where people get all dressed up to go sit and listen to other people give speeches. In the former case, we gather together to celebrate academic achievements as graduates enter the auditorium to the “Pomp and Circumstance” march. In the latter example, we hear “Hail to the Chief” when the President arrives at an official function.

Today being Palm Sunday makes me think of another story about someone important coming to town. In John 12 and Mark 11, we read about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, just days before he would be crucified. If you flip back a page to the end of Mark 10, you’ll notice that Jesus had just predicted his death for the third time, dealt with a couple of bickering disciples, and then oh-by-the-way, he healed a blind man.

Jesus was riding high on popularity (with the common-folk, that is; the religious leaders were itching to kill him), and he could have strolled into Jerusalem with all the bells and whistles of a presidential inauguration. Instead, he chose to ride a donkey and enter the city in a rather unremarkable manner. The crowds were still reeling from the amazing news of Lazarus’ recent resurrection (John 11; John 12:9-12), and people came out in droves to see the miracle-worker in person. They sang, “Hosanna!” and blessed him aloud as he came into Jerusalem.

Think about a typical presidential inauguration or State of the Union address. The President talks about his successes, agenda, and goals. I can’t think of any presidential speeches (at least not in my lifetime) where our country’s leader talked about what we should be prepared to do when he was no longer in office. Yet, that’s the approach Jesus took. He spoke candidly (and repeatedly) about his death and the promises of eternal life – about light and darkness, blindness and sight (see the rest of John 12).

I wonder how many of the fans who were shouting “Hosanna!” when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem stayed with the crowd when the cry turned to “Crucify him!” a few days later.

Deliver Us (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 23, 2014)

A friend confided in me recently that she is angry with God because he has not yet delivered a loved one from the noose of alcoholism, despite her years of prayer. I struggled with how to respond, because even though I may think I understand a few things, God’s reasons and his thoughts are far beyond mine. For the record, I believe whole-heartedly that he is fully capable of delivering us from addictions, healing us of diseases and injuries, and intervening on our behalf in ways that we’ll never understand. And yet, I also believe that he allows us to make choices that are harmful because we are his beloved, not his puppets.

We could run in circles asking “Why God?” questions. Why didn’t you fix my marriage? Why didn’t you take away the cancer? Why didn’t you miraculously keep that accident from happening?

The short, honest answer is I don’t know. The four gospels are chock-full of stories of Jesus healing people, and yet he hints in John 9 that sometimes there are deeper meanings to our sufferings. Some of the stories are vague, like Matthew 4:23 (NIV), where it simply states that he healed “every disease and sickness among the people.”

In many instances, the healing is accompanied by praise and/or renewed purpose, like Matthew 8:14, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is healed from a raging fever, and she begins waiting on him. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2, the man took his mat and left; he didn’t sit back down and continue being crippled.

Think about all the times (and there were lots!) in the Old Testament when the Israelites cried out to God: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Then, they went back to their old ways, disobeying the Lord till they got sick of themselves and cried out again: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Round and round they went. How often do we get upset about problems in our lives that were self-inflicted?

God’s deliverance may end up looking like something completely different from what we were asking or expecting. Hold onto hope, even when it is hard to understand.