Devotional on Ecclesiastes

2003 – Rocky Mtn Natl Park – Colorado

Listening in prayer
Ecclesiastes 5: Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.
Some folks think God wants to hear us pray in the language of the King James Bible: “Almighty God, Thou Who art from everlasting to everlasting….” To them, prayer is a rather formal event that ought to be filled with plenty of pomp and circumstance. Sometimes, as I’m reminded here, I’m better off to pray without words at all and let God be in charge of what happens next. It does make sense. God is always the “first mover.” After all, the Bible doesn’t start off with “In the beginning man…”! So, rather than coming to prayer in what might be called “automatic mode,” in which every prayer is pretty much a copy of the one before, or with a sense of formality, I want to come to him humbly and honestly; not saying what I think he wants to hear, but in a genuine desire to hear from him. If I let him lead the way my prayer time will be more satisfying to both the Lord and to me. Prayer is just as much a matter of listening as it is a matter of talking.
Take Away: Being still before the Lord is a legitimate approach to prayer.

Devotional on Proverbs

2004 – Big Island, Hawaii

Learning to listen
Proverbs 3: Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go.
We tend to think that hearing from God is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or maybe that it’s something only saints on earth experience. It isn’t true. The Lord created us for fellowship with himself. From the beginning he walked with Adam in the cool of the day. I don’t have to do some extreme thing to hear from God. All I have to do is listen. But that’s a problem isn’t it? Hearing the Voice of God in the ordinary flow of life takes practice. If I want to hear him speak when I’m sitting in the emergency room of a hospital or when a precious friend is pouring his heart out to me seeking spiritual council I have to practice listening for him when I’m not in the pressure cooker of life. I’m certain that God speaks, and that he does so constantly. Sadly, I am also sure that I’m not a very good listener. For this proverb to work for me; for me to listen for God’s voice everywhere I go, I need to practice the presence of God every day. The way to accomplish that is for me to discipline myself to meet God by creating quiet places in life where I can learn to hear his Voice. Then, when I’m out there in the “everywhere you go” part of life, I will have trained my spiritual ear to recognize the Master’s Voice.
Take Away: It takes practice to learn to hear the Voice of God in the noisy situations of life.

Devotional on Isaiah

Lost Maples State Park, TX – 2006

Reason to expect an answer to prayer
Isaiah 26: God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us.
What an interesting prayer this is. I love the request for a “peaceful and whole life.” When all is said and done, this is about as insightful a request as a person can make for their own life. Isaiah lives in turbulent times and, in the face of so much uncertainty, this prayer makes a lot of sense. However, he isn’t the only one who has lived in such days. We do too. Again, I like this simple prayer. The second half of this sentence though, is the reason the person praying thinks the first half will be granted. Isaiah says, “We’re following your directions Lord, only doing what you’d have us do, operating under your power and authority.” You see, it makes no sense to plead with the Lord for peace and life if I’m ignoring his intentions for my life. The only way this prayer makes sense is when I pray it in the context of absolute obedience and trust. It’s only when I can say, “Everything I have done and am doing is what God is doing in me” that I can pray with an expectation of God’s blessing on my life.
Take Away: The Lord’s blessings often depend on my obedience.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

Extraordinary favors from God
Isaiah 38: I’ll add fifteen years to your life.
Hezekiah is one of the good guys who trusts in the Lord; a king who has his priorities right. When he gets sick Isaiah visits him and tells Hezekiah that this is it, he needs to prepare to die. Hezekiah prays a simple, trusting prayer that touches the heart of God who grants the king fifteen more years of life. As I read this story I remember that my life is in the hands of God. He has the final say. In Hezekiah’s case, the illness that comes to him is a natural one but God trumps it by granting him a supernatural healing. I know that the Lord doesn’t always do that, even in the lives of people just as good and trusting as Hezekiah. Still, this incident reminds me that I can ask for extraordinary favors from the Lord while trusting him in his wisdom to answer according to his grace.
Take Away: Sometimes, the Lord’s answer is “yes.”

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Alluvial Fan area – Rocky Mtn Natl Park, CO

The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.

Devotional on Proverbs

2006 – LaJolla, CA

No one way praying allowed
Proverbs 28: God has no use for the prayers of people who won’t listen to him.
I believe in prayer and consider myself to be a prayer learner. I’ve read books about it, talked about it, and practiced it. I’ve learned that there are different ways to pray. For instance, a person can kneel by their bedside or sit in an easy chair with a cup of coffee or write out a prayer or take a “prayer walk.” These and several other approaches are good ways to pray. One deal breaker to prayer is what is stated in this proverb: one way praying. Prayer is intended to be a conversation with God. It isn’t about my airing my list of wants and concerns while God patiently stands by like the waitress in a restaurant taking an order. I’ve found that, generally speaking, it’s my perspective that’s changed in prayer. The wise man of the proverbs reminds me of the conversational nature of prayer. Of course, there’s another aspect of “listening” here. When I spend time in the Presence of God and he does speak I’m to listen to what he says. That is, I’m to take it to heart and move forward in obedience. Often, I’ve found, God intends to use me in answer to my own prayers. He has work for me to do and, no matter how fervently I continue to pray, nothing will come of it until I start listening to what the Lord’s saying to me.
Take Away: Often, the Lord intends to use us in answer to our own prayers

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – Along Old Fall River Road – Rocky Mountains National Park

Surf’s up!
Isaiah 55: Seek God while he’s here to be found.
I’m coming up on four decades of ministry and along the way I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things. One of them is that there are “tides of the Spirit.” Even as the ocean has times of high and low tide, so do we (individuals as well as churches) experience such cycles in the spiritual realm. In my career as a pastor I have seen churches that seemed to be doing everything right but weren’t seeing the results one might expect. Then, to our delight, one positive thing kicks off a whole series of positive things. Suddenly, the efforts that had been fruitless before take on a new life and wonderful things start happening. I laughingly told someone once that I was thinking of writing a book telling how our church had seen significant gains over a two year period. The problem was that I had no idea of what to write; we were basically doing all the same things we had done in the years previous when there was nothing special happening. I’m sure that there were things associated with those memorable days that I simply didn’t see. For instance, secret prayer by some saints of God comes to mind. Still, the difference was that God moved, not because we got all our ducks in a row, but because of his own schedule and purpose. We were the happy recipients of it. Today, Isaiah reminds me, not only that there are tides of the Spirit, but that I must seize the moment when the tide is in. I move because God is moving. Because God is moving, some doors that have been closed to me might just be open for a while. You might say that when the tide is in it’s a good time to take a swim!
Take Away: As people who live in the Spirit we move when the Lord moves.

Devotional on Isaiah

2007 – taken off of the Port Bolivar Ferry – Galveston

All are welcome here
Isaiah 56: My house of worship will be known as a house of prayer for all people.
Previously, when I’ve read this passage, I focused on the “prayer side” of this message: that God’s house is to be a house of prayer and God’s people are to be a people of prayer. That theme is very much present in this passage, but it really isn’t the heart of its message. The core of this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy is the “all people” statement. God’s salvation, we’re told, isn’t just for the Jewish “insiders” but for the Gentile “outsiders” as well. Those with physical limitations whose worship experience is limited by the laws of Deuteronomy are not to be treated as second class worshipers. In fact, God promises that those who fall in the “outside” category yet are faithful to the Lord will be given an honored place, even more honored than that of the insiders. Everyone is invited to come to the “house of prayer for all people.” My response to this passage today is on two levels. First, I thank God for it because I’m one of the outsiders who have been granted access to the Lord. I wasn’t born to the right family but I’ve been adopted in. Second, I want to conduct my life with a strong realization that God welcomes people who aren’t like me. As one who’s been graciously granted access, I gladly join the “welcoming committee” that invites other outsiders in. Also, while I won’t take time to develop it here, the literal meaning of this passage reminds me that there are those who need special accommodation to fully participate in the activities at the house of worship. I want the church I attend to be as assessable as possible for those who have special needs and as welcoming as possible to people from all walks of life.
Take Away: The Lord welcomes me but he also welcomes people who aren’t like me.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Smoky Mountain National Park – Newfound Gap

Praise list
Isaiah 63: I’ll make a list of God’s gracious dealings.
The old gospel song says, “Count your blessings – name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” I don’t know that hymn writer Johnson Oatman was inspired by this passage but it certainly fits. Isaiah says he’s going to make a list of the things “God has done that need praising” and then work his way through that list. Like many Christians I have a prayer list that’s filled with concerns and needs. I think it’s a good idea; after all, there are many genuine needs and the Lord welcomes us to share our heart’s concerns. However, I need to balance that out by having, in addition to a prayer list, a “praise list” as well. Otherwise, I’m in danger of behaving like the nine lepers who are healed by Jesus. They rush on into their new lives without a backward glance while only one returns to say “thanks” to our Lord. I need to purposely make the effort to spend time each day rejoicing in all the Lord has done for me.
Take Away: Our “need filled” prayers should be balanced by strong component of “praise filled” prayers.

Devotional on Isaiah

2008 – Cataloochee Valley – Great Smoky Mtns Ntl Park

Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – View from Rhapsody of the Seas – Seattle, WA

Commanded by God not to pray
Jeremiah 11: I don’t want you praying for this people.
In Jeremiah 11 the literary style changes from mostly poetic to mostly prose. God has a talk with Jeremiah about his ministry. It’s here that Jeremiah is given a frightening command. God says, “Don’t pray for these people…I’m not going to listen.” I find that command as chilling as icy wind on a bleak winter day. Grace has been withdrawn and hope is dead. God says to them, “I have pronounced doom on you.” Once that bridge has been crossed it’s too late to pray. The Lord explains to Jeremiah that there are things happening beyond his view. Jeremiah says, “I had no idea what was going on” even concerning schemes against him, personally. In this case the withdrawal of grace is for a specific people and time. Later on Jesus makes it clear that God’s grace is available to “whoever believes.” On one hand, my realization of this brings me a sense of relief and I’m glad that I don’t live in a “don’t pray for these people” time in history. On the other hand, I’m reminded that there are clouds on the horizon. Personally, we each are promised a day when we’ll breathe our last and our future will be sealed. Beyond that, at a time “we do not know” the curtain of God’s grace is going to fall on history. What I do with the offer of grace now will make an eternal difference then.
Take Away: It’s foolish to treat our relationship with the Lord with anything short of a sense of urgency.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – View from Rhapsody of the Seas – Seattle, WA

We are sinners
Jeremiah 14: We know we’re guilty.
The prophet has no false illusions about his people. They’ve sinned against God and their sins have horrible consequences. I note that in this passage Jeremiah uses “we” language instead of “they” language. He identifies with his sinning countrymen. As I read this passage any picture I might have of a craggy old prophet shaking his finger at the “sinners” and telling them to shape up vanishes. Jeremiah cries out for God’s mercy using “first person” language: “we know we’re guilty,” “we’ve betrayed you.” Could it be that one reason the church fails to reach the lost is that we’ve adopted an “us and them” mentality? Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s important to pray for the lost while thanking the Lord that I’ve been found. Still, there’s a place for cooperate confession. Our culture is rotten. Immorality is the norm. These are “our” sins. Lord, we know we’re guilty, we’re bad people. Please do something to help us, do it for your sake.”
Take Away: There’s something powerful and life changing in praying prayers of cooperate confession.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Ketchikan, AK

A heaping helping of humble pie
Jeremiah 21: I’ve giving you a choice: life or death.
It’s doubly hard for the priest, Pashur, to come to Jeremiah with the request. He’s Jeremiah’s sworn enemy. Just recently he put the prophet in stocks for the night to teach him to mind his tongue. Still, things aren’t going well for the nation. They’re at war with the juggernaut Babylon and barring a miracle they face certain defeat. Even that, though, isn’t why Pashur finds himself in this humiliating conversation with Jeremiah. He’s here because King Zedekiah ordered him to go to Jeremiah and ask this troublesome man to pray for God’s intervention. Pashur protested, sputtering out that Jeremiah has already stated God’s judgment on him and his household. Maybe the king should send someone else. Zedekiah, though, ordered and didn’t ask, so the priest finds himself, hat in hand, asking Jeremiah to pray to God for the deliverance of the country from their powerful enemy. Jeremiah’s response is exactly what Pashur expects: more gloom and doom, more defeatist talk. The prophet says he won’t pray for them, in fact, he’s throwing his support to Nebuchadnezzar and his army. The stubborn prophet declares that not only does God refuse to help them but that he’s actively working against them. God’s offer of mercy is not that he’ll deliver them in battle, but that, if they surrender, they’ll live, carried off as captives. As I read this, I can’t help but think that bargaining with God is never a smart thing to do, but doing so while still rebelling against him, well, that’s just plain crazy.
Take Away: Bargaining with the Lord is never a smart thing to do.

Devotional on Jeremiah

2009 – Brazos Bend State Park – TX

God’s direction or just his blessing?
Jeremiah 43: Liar! Our God never sent you with this message.
It starts when Johanan and others come to Jeremiah asking him to pray as they decide on their course of action. It won’t be long before the king of Babylon hears of the murder of the governor he appointed over their territory and they want to get out of town before he comes to finish the destruction that was started when Jerusalem fell. They promise that they’ll do whatever God says. Jeremiah agrees to go to the Lord for a plan of action but the instructions he receives from the Lord surprises everyone, maybe even the prophet, himself. God says stay put and he’ll take care of them. That doesn’t sit well with any of the leaders. You see, they don’t really want God’s direction. Instead, they want God’s blessing on what they’ve already decided to do. When Jeremiah returns with a word from God that contradicts their plans they immediately declare Jeremiah to be a liar who has an agenda of his own. In spite of dire warnings from him they load everyone up and head for Egypt…and for more destruction. I’m glad I never make the mistake Johanan and the others did and ignore the “asking for directions” part and leap directly to the “Lord, bless what I’m about to do” part. Well, at least I know how it’s supposed to work. Maybe one of the reasons I end up in “Egypt” so often is that I spent all my prayer time explaining to the Lord why he ought to bless my predetermined course of action instead of asking him what it is, exactly, he wants me to do in the first place.
Take Away: Do we really want the Lord’s directions or just his rubber stamp on what we what to do?

Devotional on Lamentations

2010 – Rocky Mountain National Park

Quiet Hope
Lamentations 3: It’s a good thing to quietly hope…for help from God.
In the midst of this book of laments I find the wonderful oasis in chapter three. Like a desert traveler I can’t help but to stay for a while and pitch my tent and enjoy the beauty of this place. Jeremiah has seen all the worst of life and it’s likely that he won’t live to see things get much better. Still, he’s concluded that “it’s a good thing to quietly hope” in God. I love the phrase “quietly hope.” I remember praying with an individual once about a legitimate concern in their life. However, their prayer was loud and emotional to the point that I don’t think that they managed to get much of a prayer prayed. Now, let me quickly add that I’m not against emotional prayers and I don’t want to go on record as opposing “loud” prayers either. However, the individual I prayed with wasn’t praying so much as working up some emotional state. Hopeful trust isn’t best displayed in a loud, emotional prayer. To truly hope is to calm down, to look to God, and to place things in his hands. Jesus warned against praying as though we think God will be impressed by our many words and as I visit this passage, I think Jeremiah’s making a similar statement. Without making a lot of noise, without working up our emotions, we turn our faces to heaven in quiet hope in God. Remember, Jeremiah isn’t speaking theoretically here; after all, we’re in the heart of his book of Lamentations.
Take Away: To truly hope is to calm down, to look to God, and to place things in his hands.

Devotional on Lamentations

2010 – Alluvial Falls, RMNP, CO

The fine art of silence
Lamentations 3: Enter the silence.
Jeremiah advises: “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.” I don’t know much about silence. My life is filled with noise: music on the radio, something on the TV, conversation. Even when I pray, I refer to my prayer list. After all I have much to say to the Lord. I’d say my list is a pretty good one, with not only requests, but plenty of praises as well. Still, though, Jeremiah says that there’s a time for silence. The thing is that when I try to be silent before God my mind races off in a dozen directions at once. The prophet specifically says silence is good for times when life is hard and recommends our getting away from it all, not to talk to God but to experience silence before him. Many years before Jeremiah David described the “quiet waters” experience. He said it was there that the Lord restored his soul. I need to work on “entering the silence.” Maybe I need to pass through the “Lord, here’s my list” and the “when I finish here I need to do this” stages so I can arrive at the “enter the silence” stage. There’s a spiritual depth that can only be found when I “enter the silence.”
Take Away: There’s spiritual depth in silence.

Devotional on Ezekiel

2010 – Northeastern New Mexico

A pastoral visit to the hospital
Ezekiel 13: They’ve said, “No problem, everything’s just fine,” when things are not at all fine.
Several years ago I was at the hospital visiting a friend who was having surgery the next morning. When someone came into the room to go through a pre-surgery checklist, I excused myself and was about to leave. However, my friend asked me to stay. I reluctantly did so (by the way, I still don’t recommend that the pastor be present for such an interview). As they went through the checklist I was amazed at how blunt it was. Every possible problem was explained. There was a 3% chance of this and a 5% chance of that. Really, it was enough to scare a person! As I reflected on that experience I made a decision to deal with spiritual realities with people in the hospital with the same frankness. Rather than only focusing on praying for them that everything will be okay, I decided that, when the situation was right, I’d find a way to ask them how it is between them and God and offer to help them pray. I’m not pretending that I always get that done. For one thing, so many surgeries are now outpatient surgeries and the opportunity for such a conversation isn’t there. Still, I’m reminded that we Christians aren’t to always tell people “everything’s going to be just fine” when there’s a real chance that it isn’t going to be fine. I don’t have to scare people to death to offer to pray with them about spiritual needs in their life. In fact, it may be the most comforting encounter of all.
Take Away: When the time is right Christians should be ready to have spiritual conversations with people they care about.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – L’église de la Madeleine Catholic church – Paris

Keep up the good work
Daniel 6: He continued to pray just as he had always done.
The king has been duped by Daniel’s political enemies into banning prayer. They’re sure Daniel will “break the law” and pray anyway…and they’re right. I like the phrase “he continued to pray just as he had always done.” One can’t “continue” to pray unless he’s in the habit of praying in the first place. Daniel has lived in a pagan culture for a long time but he’s found an anchor in prayer. Three times each day he retreats to a place of prayer, keeping his connection with his God intact. Through the years he’s risen to a powerful position in multiple administrations. He’s been an explainer of dreams and a solver of mysteries. Now we see the key to it all. Daniel prays. I don’t think I can overestimate the importance of my “continuing to pray.”
Take Away: Nothing takes the place of prayer in the lives of the people of the Lord.

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Paris – Louvre

Tempting God
Daniel 6: Your God…is going to get you out of this.
Darius’ ego trip has put one of his most loyal supporters in jeopardy. The command making himself the only object of prayer was a dumb one in the first place. Who does he think he is anyway? I see that when the trap is sprung that Darius works all day long trying to find a way to reverse it. I don’t get that one. Law of the Medes and Persians or not, he is the King after all. Finally, Darius gives up and prepares to toss Daniel into the den of lions. Darius gives Daniel a pep talk and in he goes. In this passage Darius is cut a lot of slack so I need to be careful in how I think about it. Still, I have to admit that Darius gets under my skin a bit. He makes a dumb law. Then, even though he is king and all, can’t figure a way out of it. He then tells Daniel, “Your God…is going to get you out of this.” If Darius has all this faith in God why did he issue his silly decree in the first place?” But, of course, he’s right. God is King of kings and he is King over the king of the beasts. The lions are under his authority and God controls them through the night. As I say, I don’t want to be too hard on Darius, but it’s not smart to place oneself or others in jeopardy through our own foolishness and then say, “God will take care of things.” I’m glad that the Lord is gracious to me in my silliness, but I don’t want to tempt the Lord either.
Take Away: It’s not smart to place oneself or others in jeopardy through our own foolishness and then say, “The Lord will take care of things.”

Devotional on Daniel

2011 – Paris – Notre-Dame Cathedral

Intercessory prayers
Daniel 9: All we have to show for our lives is guilt and shame.
As we well know, Daniel is a praying man. Honestly, when I first read of Daniel’s opening his window toward Jerusalem for prayer three times a day I had the impression he had some sort of reverent ritual of prayer. I have nothing against praying the prayers of other people or of repeating prayers that are meaningful to us and I had the feeling that Daniel prayed like that. Now, as I arrive in chapter nine I have the actual text of one of Daniel’s prayers. It’s anything but a ritual of prayer! Here’s a man pouring out his heart to God. Daniel has had a disturbing vision, he’s been reading Jeremiah’s troubling prophecies, and, as he considers these things his heart is broken. I note that Daniel doesn’t pray about “their” sins when thinking of the sins of his people. He sees a nation drowning in sin and, without joining them in their rebellion, jumps right into the pool with them. In other words, Daniel doesn’t piously hover above all the sinners calling them to repent. Rather, he becomes one of them and then begins to plead with God for forgiveness and restoration. His humbleness in identifying with lost people is a powerful picture of intercessory prayer. Also, there’s zero self-justification here. Daniel doesn’t try to explain to the Lord that there’s a righteous remnant left or that he, himself, has never wavered. Instead, he grieves “our sins,” confesses that God is right in judging those sins, and pleads for mercy and forgiveness. I need this lesson because I live in a sinful nation that seems intent on seeing how angry it can make God. At the same time, there are millions who have been swept along by this flow, not so much in rebellion against God as in confusion and ignorance. Like Daniel of old, I pray, “Lord save us. We are sinners living apart from you, lost and without hope. Have mercy on us, not because we deserve it but because you are the God of mercy.”
Take Away: Jesus taught his followers to pray for forgiveness for “our trespasses” – not “their trespasses.”

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