Prayer prompt for Monday, Sept. 21

In Mark 8:29 (& elsewhere), Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” Read the passage, and then answer the question for yourself.

Pleasantly surprised (Prayer Devotional for the week of July 5, 2015)

It sure is nice when things work out the way we’d hoped they would, but sometimes we act surprised about things that we should have expected, all along. I can only speak for myself, but I think I act guarded and reserved in an attempt to keep from feeling disappointed if things don’t work out, after all. I imagine that others react similarly, whether consciously or not.

For example, when I study hard and do the best I can on a school assignment, I probably should expect to get a good grade. Yet, I always wonder what I might have forgotten to include … or if the professor won’t like my word choice or agree with my conclusions. So, I hope for the best and try to expect nothing. That way, if/when I receive an A, I can finally let myself feel confident that I really did do a good job.

I see that same tendency to second-guess myself as I read stories about the disciples in the New Testament. Time and time again, Jesus had to remind them to trust him and not doubt. Whether they were dealing with how to feed the masses (Matthew 14 & again in 15), survive a storm (Luke 8), or cope with Jesus’ death (Mark 16), they fell back into their old ways of trying to figure things out on their own instead of having faith in Christ. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus told his disciples flat-out that they had “little faith.”

It should not surprise us, then, that the disciples doubted the first-hand accounts of those who had seen the risen Christ. Luke 24 tells of several eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection, and even though he had personally told the disciples before his death that he would rise again, they still doubted. When he finally appeared to them as a group, they thought he was a ghost (verse 37)!

One statement that I find really amazing in that chapter is verse 45. After going well beyond what should have been necessary to prove to the disciples that he had, indeed, returned from the grave, Jesus opened the disciples’ minds so that they could better understand the Scriptures. He equipped them to do the work that he was entrusting into their hands. Despite our doubt, our faithlessness, our incompetence, Christ calls us to continue his work. Do you trust that what he says is true?
(Originally posted March 18, 2012)

Hashtag Blessed (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 15, 2015)

The other day, I overheard someone who I don’t think of as being very spiritual describe a situation that had happened to her, and she added that she was “blessed” by it. That word caught my attention, and I thought about what she said – as well as my preconceived ideas about her. I thought about sports figures pointing to heaven or making the sign of the cross when they complete a great play. I thought about musicians and other performers mentioning God in their long list of people to thank for this-or-that award. I admit that sometimes I question their sincerity because those token acknowledgements often come across as fake to me.

 

Out of curiosity, I did a quick search on Twitter for posts with the hashtag #blessed. I found entries about new babies, Valentine’s Day gifts, waking up without an alarm, spending the day at the lake, a heart-shaped breakfast biscuit, meeting a famous person, and a new car. A few posts actually mentioned God, but most of the ones I read did not. Are these things really blessings, and should I even care whether they are or not?

 

In Mark 9:38-41, we read that John approached Jesus to let him know that he and the other disciples had taken a stand against a man who was performing miracles in Jesus’ name. The reason they stopped the man was because he wasn’t one on their group. I can relate to John’s perspective, because I think it’s the same attitude that I had above, judging people for saying that they were blessed.

 

I like the way The Message paraphrase interprets v. 41: “Count on it that God will notice.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think God is particularly bothered by people mentioning him in passing and offering quick words of thanks; however, he desires a deeper relationship with us. Those of us who walk with the Lord have an opportunity, like John and the other disciples, to mentor and be an example to the “hashtag blessed” crowd and help them become committed followers of Christ.

 

It’s great to give God credit for the blessings in our lives, but our faith-walks should be more than mere lip service to God. We shouldn’t have to rely on #blessed for people to see that there’s a real difference in our lives with Christ, compared to who we were before.

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.