I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”
No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. This kicks off today with what is known as Ash Wednesday.
In short, Lent is from a Latin word meaning the 40 days before Easter when Christians observe special fasts and other rites. The significance of the 40 originates from the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness before launching into his public ministry. A solemn spirit of repentance also flows with directed fasting and prayer currents. The Ash traditionally is from the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those most engaged celebrate by placing the form of a small cross, from the ash, on their forehead as a sign of their devotion and commitment to the process.
While I do not see myself ever diving fully into the deep end of this and similar traditions, it forces me to be quiet momentarily. In thinking practices, I am already engaged in some spiritual disciplines. For example, I am systematically reading my Bible and allocating time for prayer before I launch into anything else in my day. But in thinking about the principle of discipline in general, could more not hurt? The discipline of the musician and athlete distinguishes those who are serious from those just out for fun. The goal is for these rhythms to become second nature. While we want our inner lives to be passionate and constantly abiding with Christ, could more regular discipline help in this manner?
The reality is that while some have wrongly put their hope in the form instead of the Savior, to throw out all disciplines is a knee-jerk reaction on the other end of the pendulum swing. The improper use of something does not negate the proper use of it. I do not know the hearts and minds of others and their motives anyway. In truth, Jesus himself learned the Psalms of David and the words of the Pentateuch by rote as a child. So, there might be something here to take another look at.
Yes, my amazing Bride got me. Neither of us plans to convert to the High Church traditions. But what are we missing by snubbing something which does not fit into our paradigm, even if others may have abused the practice? Maybe there might also be some providence here when I consider that my heart has been circling the same half dozen verses over the past few weeks. Could this be a call of the Holy Spirit to slow down more and meditate on these texts at regular intervals of the day? Is formally setting aside specific times during the day a bad idea or something positive? Yes, probably the latter. So here we go. Lent of 2023 will no longer be a mere and mild passing joke about the lint found in the dryer but rather another pivotal moment drawing me closer to my Savior, which is where I want to be no matter how I get there.
What about you? Regarding Lent or any other practice that enlivens your walk with Jesus?
Typically the week between Christmas and New Year’s is quiet for me, and this year was no exception. This year I drank richly in the presence of all my family being together. In the last few days of the year, I usually begin to organize my receipts and records to compile on my schedule C for taxes and quietly take stock of the previous 12 months.
In this process, I will slowly read through my prayer journal from the last year and see prayers answered in amazing ways and lessons taught by God’s grace. Some I’m still chewing on. This year, I was able to recount a few truly miraculous answers from God’s loving providence. The landscape included such graces as the right medical provider coming on the scene at just the right time and family medical bills being forgiven.
Other touches from Heaven reminded me of God’s faithfulness and thus His calling us to rest in Him. As I reflected on these provisions this past week, I was reminded of God meeting the Hebrew’s daily needs in the history of Exodus as they wandered and waited upon Him in the wilderness.
Along with the events and answered prayers I recorded, it was interesting to review the scriptural passages that I had meditated on over the year. Some of these came to mind in prayer, daily life, or my yearly systematic reading of His word. Altogether, my quietness this past week reminded me of God’s faithfulness.
Below I’ve recorded a number of the verses that found their way into my prayer journal for 2022. Some of them were in application to something I was praying about at the time. Some caught me off guard and were out of nowhere. Some were not for me but an application for others, the church, and society. They are a reminder of God’s providence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s guidance. As we bring 2022 to a conclusion, they might be of encouragement to you as we move into 2023.
What about you? What are some lessons from the past year for you?
Some of the texts from my 2022 Prayer Journal.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Titus 1:8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Psalm 31:14-15 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Psalm 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Isaiah 54:4 Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Psalms 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
1 Chronicles 22:13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
Psalm 68:28 Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.
Did any of these speak to you? Are there Biblical passages that ministered to you this past year?
Ukraine? How do we respond to the Russian invasion that has gone on for almost two weeks now? By this, I do not mean governmental, political, or economic responses. Instead, the question has to do with our own hearts. Maybe it depends on the generation or location. Since the war began, I’ve not heard too much from younger adults in their early 20s. Perhaps this is because it is occurring on the other side of the globe. Out of sight, out of mind to our present context some would say.
For me though, I grew up in the latter part of the Cold War, so my connection is a bit heightened. I remember being in college when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. So, the knowledge of an aggressive Russia triggers emotions.
More importantly, during a ten-week foreign internship in 1993, I spent just over a week in Ukraine, so I have personal connections there. In addition, through other ministry contacts, I am aware of Christian leaders in the country. On the other end of the storyline, I lived in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996, helping establish a Bible college, and have many beautiful memories from that time and know people in Russia who do not support the actions of Putin and other Soviet-era leaders who want to take over Ukraine.
But across the world, the public chatter is growing much more vocal. Maybe it’s the constant media. One of the differences between the Viet Nam war and all previous wars is the amount of continuous media coverage that comes into American homes on the nightly news with more graphic images than ever before. Today, with our media technology, anyone with a cell phone can record and shoot to the world at any time. So, these videos and reports from Ukraine are sometimes happening in real-time, which conveys raw information and sometimes very intense emotions.
So, for us, who are not actually on the ground there, how can we respond? There are some great and growing options to send humanitarian aid. Two of those are with Impact Ministry Group and Marked Men For Christ in which you can go to the site and click to designate for Ukraine. Physically, though, there is little more. On the other hand, as a child of God, there is indeed so much more we can and must do. In truth, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, there is the essential thing that can and must be done, we must pray.
When I think of prayers in the Bible, one of the first appeals that come to my mind is a prayer we know as the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 is one of the most widely referenced and partially quoted prayers within and without the church. With a bolt, it flies out of the shoot with the opening line of, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . .” and is further carried with the powerful image of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
The text is a recording of prayer deep within the soul of King David as he acknowledged that despite everything, God will bring deliverance. We don’t know if the context was one of him fleeing the mad King Saul, or possibly, this was even more personal as some believe that David offered up this praise and plea when his son, Absalom, tried to usurp the Kingdom from David and take his life. Whatever the historical specifics may be, we see in this prayer David reaching up to God and finding hope despite what was quaking around him in the present.
Yes, we can still today reach back some three thousand years and find hope for today. But the real and ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in John 10:11 where Jesus addresses all our tensions with the proclamation that he indeed is the one and only Good Shepherd. It was Jesus who faced the final and greatest enemy, death, and triumphed over it and Satan on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. His resurrection demands proof of his divinity and thus we have assurance of His future return with the final judgment, and reward. As David trusted in the God of all creation, we too, lift our voices with praise and prayer today knowing that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, will hear us.
-Like so many occasions in so many places of the past, I recite in faith, David’s prayer of Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
-From David’s prayer, I offer up my brief personal and present additions . . .
“Lord, I declare before all creation that you, and you alone, are the true shepherd. Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Trump, and other governmental leaders are not the true shepherd and the power they wield is only given by you. To you, and you alone, I ask that you bring divine help to the suffering not only in Ukraine but to all who call out to you.
Jesus, the valley of the shadow of death is very real in Ukraine today. I ask that you use your rod and staff to confuse and confront those who are set against you and set toward evil and violence. As David prayed for the confusing of the enemy in 2 Samuel 15:31, we pray that you will bring to nothing those who are bent on violence. I ask that you bring miracles and wisdom to those standing against evil.
Lord, David spoke of hope, of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. He spoke that even though he was separated from the tabernacle, from the Arc of the Covenant, which was still in Jerusalem. David spoke of hope because his hope was in you.
I pray for those in Ukraine suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I pray for those in Russia who do not agree with the aggressive actions of Putin. I pray for those who live near the DMZ in North and South Korea, for those in Cuba, for those in China and Taiwan. I pray for the people of Honduras who are now under communist rule. I pray for the poor in Mexico, Central America, Africa, and in the lower reaches of rural America and the slums of US and international cities.
I pray that you will bring the final and ultimate victory. As we wait for your complete judgment and renewal of all things, give us strength to carry on in trust. Above all, I pray for open hearts and that they will see your grace and power. I pray that through the chaos right now, you might be glorified, and people might come to know you.
Yes, Jesus, I pray that you would be the shepherd to those who call upon your name.
This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.