Black Jellybeans (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 18, 2014)

It takes a lot of courage to play the kids’ game of “Open your mouth & close your eyes, and you will have a big surprise!” You could end up with a delicious caramel or a licorice jellybean. (Unless you actually like black jellybeans, in which case, more power to you. Just thinking about them makes me want to gag.) I’ve been on the receiving end of one too many yucky surprises, so I am reluctant to play the game anymore. The trust just isn’t there.

Isn’t that like life, though? Sometimes we go through phases that feel like we’ve been given one bite of bitter licorice after another, so we lose trust and decide that God must not have our best interests in mind, after all. Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse, which reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for us. However, if you read the verse in context with the rest of the chapter, it illustrates this notion of choices and tricks very well. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. God tells them straight up that they might as well make the most of their situation, since he intended to leave them there for 70 years because they had turned their backs on him and followed false prophets, instead.

Granted, I don’t think that God plays tricks on us for a good laugh, but I firmly believe that he often lets us experience the consequences for our own choices. It might sound like a silly analogy, but we can’t expect to hang out with people who love licorice, keep candy jars full of black jellybeans in our homes, frequent the candy store, and then have the gall to complain about the licorice.

Sometimes we go through unpleasant times simply because we didn’t bother to step off the path that took us there.

Hopefully any trials that you are experiencing are more along the lines of icky jellybeans than decades of exile, but regardless of what your “Babylon” circumstance looks like, heed the instructions of Jeremiah 29:7: “And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray for her, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.” Don’t wallow in your misery and feel sorry for yourself; strive to make it better, and honor God through your efforts.

The Bigger the Ego, the Harder the Fall (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 11, 2014)

My brother and I used to love to play on the Slip & Slide in the summer (which, growing up in Houston, means all but a few weeks out of the year). The most important thing to remember about setting up the tarp was to clear the area of pinecones. If you’ve never had the misfortune of sliding across a hidden pine cone while careening down a Slip & Slide, then consider yourself lucky. The second most important thing to remember was never touch the water as soon as you turn on the hose, because it will scald you.

We would take turns running and sliding, over and over, and not think twice about diving headlong into the grass. We’d fly down the tarp Superman-style and feet-first, forwards and backwards. We even tried surfing and doing all kinds of “stupid human tricks” on that thing.

Nowadays? No way, José. You couldn’t bribe me with enough money to take a running start and throw myself onto the ground, Slip & Slide or not. A few decades and more than a few extra pounds and aching joints have transpired since my slipping and sliding days. The harder the fall, the longer the physical therapy … or something like that.

Actually, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Pride comes before the fall.” The Bible has quite a lot to say about taking a fall, and it’s not the Slip & Slide kind. That saying actually comes from Proverbs 16:18, and I love how The Message paraphrase tweaks it to read, “… the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

God isn’t interested in our tricks and stunts. He knows when we are being disingenuous in our day-to-day lives, even if we’ve managed to fool everyone else around us. He sees right through it when we play church, too. Take a look at what God spoke to his people through the prophet Amos (5:23-24, MSG): “I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

God wants the “you” behind the façade, the “you” with all the bumps & bruises of life, to come kneel at his throne and give up the games. Give up the tricks, the stunts, the show. Come to him with your raw ego in hand, knowing that even if it means bringing you down a few notches, it’s better to hand it over to God than fall flat on your face.