SCHEDULED

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. [Mark 1:35 (NLT)]

clock

I like the calendar app on our smartphones and its ability to remember recurring events: just put in an occasion and tell it to repeat every day, week, month, or year for as long as you want. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, yoga class, tennis lessons, Bible study—there’s no reason to miss any of those recurring events and my man no longer has any excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary! Our devices notify us of the day’s events and, with just a quick glance, we’re reminded of something we need to do, somewhere to go, or someone we should remember that day.

Attentive as we are about scheduling book club, haircuts, birthday cards or the dentist, are any of us as diligent about scheduling God into our lives? Do we schedule a recurring daily appointment with Him or is He just allotted one hour Sunday mornings? The most important appointment of the day (one that should be repeated each and every day with no end date) is the one we have with God.

Scheduling an appointment, however, doesn’t always mean it is kept. Things come up, plans change and appointments are broken. Since some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and personal trainers often charge when we don’t show for a session, we’re usually careful about keeping their appointments. God, however, doesn’t charge a fee if we skip our time with him. Perhaps, since He’s never too busy for us, we take Him for granted and frequently get too busy for Him! If we don’t have time to pray and read Scripture, we are far busier than God ever intended us to be.

Moreover, for what the lawyer, physician, or trainer charges per hour, we’re usually attentive to whatever it is they have to say to us. Are we as attentive when we meet with God? I start the day reading the day’s Bible verses and meditations in my in-box but my attention can get diverted to emails from the kids, humor from a friend, or a sale from my favorite retailer. While reading Scripture, I can get side-tracked, as well. I start researching one thing and, several links later, find myself totally immersed in another thing! It’s not so much that I’ve wasted the time—it’s that God is no longer at the front and center of our appointment and something or someone else has taken my attention. Pretty soon, breakfast and the day’s activities call; prayer and meditation get put off until a more convenient time. I promise to get back to God later, but that rarely happens. Even though I’ll spend time later in the day writing devotions, that’s doing a task for Him, rather than spending time with Him and the two are not the same.

Originally, I started this devotion with the point being to schedule and keep a daily appointment with God. Now, I realize I’m wrong. In actuality, God shouldn’t have to be scheduled; He should be there in the forefront 24/7/365. Rather than making time with God fit into our calendar and plans, it’s all of the other things demanding our attention that we must arrange to fit into His agenda and timetable.

We usually spend our money on what is most important to us—on what do we spend our time?

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger. [Ravi Zacharias]

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NLT)]

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. [Psalm 86:11 (NLT)]

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JEHOVAH RAPHA

Steamboat SkiThe same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:9,11 (NLT)]

Several years ago, what should have been my first ski run of the day became my last one of the season when a tumble down an icy slope left me with three broken ribs and tears in both my ACL and MCL. After the closing prayer at church that evening, the woman behind me said, “I see you’re in a lot of pain. May I lay hands on you and pray for you?” This woman believed she’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit with healing and I’d often seen her praying over others after church. Unsure about her supposed gift, I was in such pain and despair that I would have accepted any offer of relief. She accompanied me to the front of the church where a few others joined her as they laid hands on me and prayed.

I certainly needed prayer; my body hurt but so did my heart. Scheduled to depart in five days for a much anticipated tour of Belgium and the Netherlands, I suspected my injuries meant we’d have to cancel the trip. I also feared that I’d seen the last of my days skiing on the mountain.

While I can’t say whether those hands and prayers made an immediate difference, I know I felt far better leaving church than when I arrived. I still had torn ligaments and broken ribs, but my pain had eased and my spirits had lifted. The following day, we returned to the Midwest. Only time would heal my ribs but the orthopedic surgeon gave me a full leg brace and scheduled physical therapy. We took our trip and, in spite of my discomfort, had a wonderful time. Hoping to avoid the surgery that seemed inevitable, the next several months were spent in intense physical therapy. Fortunately, without needing surgical repair, I returned to the slopes and continued to ski, albeit with a leg brace and a little more caution, for several more years.

Was my excellent recovery because of the hands laid on me and prayers offered for me or the skill of my physician and physical therapist or both? Only God knows for sure, but I believe those petitions reached God’s ears and He acted on them. Through the healing prayers and touch of my brothers and sisters in Christ, God gave me the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength (along with good medical care) to recover fully.

Throughout the Bible we read of miraculous healings: Naaman was healed of leprosy, Elijah brought the widow’s son back to life, Peter and John healed a lame man, Paul healed the father of Publius, and physical healing was Jesus’ most common miracle.  We have a God who hears our prayers and has the power to heal: our Jehovah Rapha. Today, however, miraculous healings seem few and far between.

Before that evening, I’d questioned whether the Spirit still bestowed the gift of healing on believers. Could someone’s touch really serve as a conduit for God’s healing grace? I no longer doubt; while the spiritual gift of healing may not always manifest in immediate or inexplicable recovery, it does exist.

While few of us may be gifted with healing, every one of us should be engaged in intercessory prayers for the sick. Nevertheless, no matter how strong our faith, the faith of those who pray for us or of those for whom we pray, healing does not always occur. Let us remember that healing is more than the mending of broken bodies; it is the mending of broken souls. God is more concerned with our spiritual salvation than our physical well-being and the restoration of our bodies may have to wait until we enter God’s glory. The healing of our souls, however, can happen right now!

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. [James 5:13-15a (NLT)]

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FOR THOSE WHO LABOR

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. [Galatians 6:3-5 (NLT)]

Old World WisconsinLabor Day was my least favorite holiday when I was a girl (and not just because school started the next day)! For the Smith family, Labor Day meant work. We spent the entire day helping my father as he climbed up and down a ladder to exchange the screens (that had been mounted the previous Memorial Day) with the external storm windows. It was several years before I understood that Labor Day was not a special day dedicated to this yearly ritual of washing windows, lugging screens and windows to and from the garage, and otherwise spending my last day of summer vacation working. Energy efficiency and fuel bills were of no interest to me and, selfishly, it never occurred to me that my father probably didn’t enjoy the holiday ritual any more than did his children. I certainly never thought to thank him for working so hard to provide us with the house (and storm windows) that kept us safe and warm all winter long!

In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday to honor the contributions workers make to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our nation. Nowadays, rather than the storm window ritual, most people celebrate with barbecues and shopping the Labor Day sales. They probably don’t give much thought to the people whose labor makes all that we have and do possible. This year, however, I have a new appreciation for our nation’s workers.

While my husband and I can remain safely at home to limit our exposure to other people and COVID-19, many workers can’t. They continue to harvest food, manufacture products, package goods, deliver boxes, stock shelves, work cash registers, keep the utilities running, prepare the dishes, serve the food, repair what’s broken, cut our hair, teach our children, care for the sick, put out fires, fill prescriptions, and protect our safety. Being in contact with others puts them at a higher risk of infection and many are working under challenging conditions. They deal with daily temperature checks and health screenings, masks, sanitizing regimens, new procedures, irate customers, anxious parents, testy co-workers, fearful patients, and child care issues while schools teach on line. Although safer, working remotely from home offers its own set of challenges. It’s not easy to give the sermon to a computer screen week after week, be isolated from the rest of your management team, have the kitchen table do double duty as your office and your child’s schoolroom, or make your business video-chats from the bathroom because it’s the only private spot in the house! Keeping the attention of a classroom of first-graders while teaching remotely from your bedroom on Zoom, discussing investments with a client when the dog is fiercely barking at the Amazon delivery man, or closing a deal when your toddler calls for help going potty is problematic!

This Labor Day is more than the end of summer and beginning of pumpkin spice everything season. It is a time to pray for our workers: both those still employed and those who’ve lost their jobs.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of work and for all who labor in our communities, many of whom we never see or thank. We lift in prayer those who labor and ask that you keep them safe. May they always be treated fairly and properly compensated for their work. For those who long for employment, we pray for their perseverance as they seek work and for success in finding it. Make us attentive to the needs and appreciative of the efforts of the workers we encounter. May their work always glorify you.

O God, you have bound us together in this life. Give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of all who labor. May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Reinhold Niebuhr]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens.  Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. [Isaiah 46:9-10 (NLT)]

For want of a nail the shoe was lost, For want of a shoe the horse was lost, For want of a horse the rider was lost, For want of a rider the battle was lost, For want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. [Poor Richard’s Almanack (1758)]

painted lady - marigoldOf course, in another time or place, a missing nail might have better consequences. Without the nail, horseshoe and rider, the horse wouldn’t have been on the road, reared at the sight of a snake, and thrown off his rider (who died from his injuries)! Life is unpredictable.

Theorizing that weather prediction models are inaccurate because knowing the precise starting conditions is impossible and a tiny change can throw off the results, meteorology professor Edward Lorenz posed this question in 1972: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” Of course, a single act like the butterfly flapping its wings won’t cause a cyclone but Lorenz’s point was that nature’s interdependent cause-and-effect relationships are too complex to resolve. Small variations in conditions can have massive, minor, or imperceptible consequences and it is impossible to predict which will be the case.

As if the magnitude of this pandemic isn’t proof enough, Lorenz’s “butterfly effect” reminds us that life is amazingly unpredictable. We often pray that God will fix, heal, repair, reverse, or resolve situations or people and are disappointed when it seems that God has turned a deaf ear to us. The answers to our prayers, however, are not up to us—they are up to Him and the people and situations we want God to change are frequently the people and circumstances that God is using to change us!

As weather forecasters have learned with the “butterfly effect,” we mortals can’t possibly see all of the consequences of the changes we request in our prayers. God is the only one capable of knowing the repercussions of any alteration. While we have a limited concept of what the future will bring, His view is all-encompassing; He sees not just our lives, but all of the lives before us, with us, and those yet to come. God knows exactly what will happen if He grants our prayers, not just to us but also to everyone else. Our faith is not that God will give us what we want but that God will give us what is best!

In retrospect, I can only offer thanks that God, in His infinite wisdom and love, didn’t give me everything for which I asked. When Garth Brooks thanked God for unanswered prayers, he was wrong. God always answers prayers; it’s just that sometimes He answers with a “No!”

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care.
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. [Garth Brooks]

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? [Romans 11:33-34 (NLT]

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SAVORING THE PSALMS

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. [Psalm 119:89-91 (NLT)]

spreading dogbane

Because she enjoyed saying the psalms in unison during church, my friend wanted to read the entire book of Psalms. Viewing it as a project, she read at least five psalms a day. But, rather than savoring them individually as she might a Mother’s Day card from her son, she sped through them as she would a novel and what should have been a pleasure was a disappointment.

The unique beauty of a diamond ring isn’t discernible until it’s taken out of the display case, placed on black velvet, and viewed from all angles through a jeweler’s loupe. To truly appreciate the gem, however, it helps to know something about diamonds; it’s the same with the Psalms. Because they’re poetry, they’re best viewed and appreciated one at a time. While we don’t need to know the 4 C’s of gemology, knowing something about the psalms’ poetic structure helps us understand and appreciate these ancient songs of worship.

Written and collected from the time of Moses (1440 BC) to the Israelites’ return from their Babylonian captivity in 450 BC, the psalms express the full range of human emotion from the greatest joy to the deepest despair. Their passion goes from brutal and graphic appeals for an enemy’s destruction to jubilant cries of praise and thanksgiving (sometimes in the same psalm). Like all poetry, the psalms employ a number of literary devices to pack the biggest amount of thought into as few words as possible. Their use of meter, acrostics, metaphor and simile, hyperbole, emotional rather than logical connections, and something called parallelism mean that the reader has to read them thoughtfully to unpack their complete meaning.

To stay true to their original content, poetic aspects like compression and meter are lost in translation. For example, Psalm 23’s “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” is only four words in Hebrew and “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” is only three! Also lost in translation is the beauty of the acrostic psalms in which the initial letter of each line or phrase was in alphabetic order. Psalm 119, for example, is made up of 22 sections, starting with aleph and ending with tav, with the rest of the Hebrew alphabet in-between. The acrostic may have signified that the subject had been covered completely (“from A to Z”) or could have served as a mnemonic device for memorizing the psalm.

One thing we don’t lose in translation is rhyme; even in Hebrew, the psalms never rhymed. Rather than rhyme, they used something called parallelism. Rather than words sounding alike, two or more thoughts sounded alike as the psalmist repeated the same thought or phrase one or more times. In many cases, the identical thought was clearly repeated, as in Psalm 18:4: “The ropes of death entangled me; the floods of destruction swept over me.” Sometimes, the parallel lines contrasted with or opposed one another, as in Psalm 18:27: “You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.” Successive lines often built on and developed the first line, as in Psalm 1:1: “Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join with mockers.” Unlike rhyme or meter, parallelism translates into any language which makes the beauty of the psalms universal. I don’t think that happened by accident. Regardless of who penned them, like the rest of Scripture, the Psalms clearly were God-breathed and meant for all people in all times.

The psalms are more than poetry; they are beautifully written prayers and should be read slowly and reverently. I’ve suggested that my friend start over by reading only one psalm each day and thinking of Psalms as she might a box of deliciously rich gourmet chocolate. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” By consuming just one psalm (or one chocolate) at a time, the whole complexity and richness of each one will get the attention it deserves.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. [Psalm 119:103 (NLT)]

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USING A MIX

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! [Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)]

tri-colored heron

While I enjoy cooking from scratch, I’ve never found recipes that produce better results than those from certain boxed mixes. Conceding that someone else has created better and easier recipes than mine for cornbread and brownies, I occasionally resort to using them. Nevertheless, I usually add chopped green chilies to the cornbread and chocolate chips or crushed Oreos to the brownies to make the finished product uniquely my own.

Like a boxed mix, there are times when we want to use a ready-made prayers when talking with God. Ready-made prayers are well written and, like Kraft mac ‘n cheese, comforting in their familiarity. They help us to convey thoughts we just can’t seem to find the words to express, clarify our concerns, or guide our prayers in God’s direction instead of in our own. Believing they kept him in touch with “sound doctrine” rather than his version of “religion” and fixed his focus on the long-range rather than the immediate, C.S. Lewis often used prayers from The Book of Common Prayer.

Just as I occasionally resort to a baking mix, like Lewis, there are times I use ready-made prayers like the ones found in the Psalms, The Book of Common Prayer, John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, or The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. Sometimes other people’s way with words—their passion, vulnerability, repentance or joy—are more expressive than anything I could articulate. Reinhold Niebuhr’s words, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” say it better than I ever could.

Nevertheless, much as having the same recipe prepared the same way over and over again can get boring, saying the same prayers over and over again can get humdrum. The disciples were warned about the mindless repetition of prayers. Our prayers should never be dull and routine and we should be cautious of reciting words that are overly familiar or insincere. It helps if we’re sure to add a little something of our own thoughts to ready-made prayers just as we might do with a boxed mix of cornbread or brownies!

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me. [Psalm 86:1-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.