The Privilege of Suffering?

Read Philippians 1:21-30.

In vs. 29, Paul writes, “For God has graciously granted you the privilege of not only believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” The suffering Paul and many of his contemporaries did for Christ was real. Simply because of their faith, many were imprisoned, brutalized, or killed, often in the most tortuous way possible. We may wonder how Paul could possibly have viewed that as a privilege. And yet, he found joy in his faith as he saw the values of God’s kingdom being enacted, as these Christian communities formed around the shared purpose of living as Jesus lived and taught. He celebrated the fruit of faith that was being shown in these communities – unity, peace, equity, mutual accountability.

To what degree do you suffer for your faith? Are there places in which or people with whom it is harder for you to live according to the core value of Christian love? What does it look like to stand firm in your faith, while still showing gentleness and humility?

Today, offer a prayer of thanks for those who were willing to suffer for their faith so that you may practice yours freely and without fear.


Covenant Keeping

Read Psalm 105: 1-6,37-45.

In this recounting of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, we find words of praise for God’s steadfast covenant-keeping. Every covenant throughout the biblical story has two parts: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Over and over throughout human history, we have failed to be God’s people. We have idolized the things of this world, we have put our own needs before those of our neighbors, we have insisted on our own way, and we have failed to forgive.

Sometimes I think I’m doing a good job of being God’s person, but then I find myself judging someone or failing to recognize my part in a problem or ignoring someone’s pain. The good news found in this psalm is that even when we don’t hold up our end of the covenant, God continues to do so – offering us abundant life, blessing us to be a blessing to others, and inviting us back onto the path of healing and restoration.

Say a prayer of confession and find assurance in the promise that God forgives you and offers a second (and third and fourth and fifth…) chance.


Sabbath Dinner

Read Exodus 16:2-15.

In verse 5, we read, “On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” It may be stating the obvious, but this instruction had to do with practicing sabbath. They were to gather on cook what they needed on the day prior to the sabbath so that everyone had a chance to rest, recharge, and reconnect with God.

This brings to mind the stories I have heard of Sundays past. It was often the habit of mothers and grandmothers (in days before men did much cooking!) to do all the cooking for Sunday dinner on Saturdays. After going to church, families would sit down to cold ham or chicken, salads, rolls, and dessert. Extended family and neighbors often came over for a visit or for cards. Sundays were not only for reconnecting with God through church, but they were also for reconnecting with family and friends.

How important is practicing sabbath in your life? How and when do you practice it? When you are resting or when you are with family and friends, how often do you consider it a time to draw you closer to God?

Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for those moments of rest and reconnection.


On Forgiveness

Read Matthew 18:21-35.

As Christians, part of our calling is to reflect the nature of God to the world. In today’s text, Jesus is calling on us to show the same generous spirit of forgiveness that God has lavished upon us.

Have you ever been forgiven of a large debt or of wrong behavior? How did that make you feel to receive that kind of forgiveness? Imagine a weight sitting on your shoulders. Feel the tension in your back as you carry that weight. What does it feel like to have someone help you remove the weight? That is what Christ does for us daily.

Think of someone to whom you can offer the same kind of forgiveness that you have received from God.


On Not Judging Others

Read Romans 14:1-12.

In this passage about judging others, verse 2 always makes me smile when Paul says “the weak” only eat vegetables. This serves as a reminder that the biblical authors were anointed, yes, but still real people who were shaped by their upbringing and by the cultural norms of their day. Even when he was writing about not judging others, Paul was judging others. We all struggle with this. For me, when I am judging others, it usually comes back to either my own insecurity or my failure – my failure to listen, my failure to learn, or my failure to love.

How can we do a better job of understanding the source of our judgment and how can we do a better job of understanding what has led a person to behave or believe in a certain way? How could understanding a person’s motivating factors help us to love them better? Think of an individual or a group of people you are tempted to judge. What might motivate them to behave or believe in a certain way? How might considering this affect the way you see and respond to them?

Offer a prayer of blessing for this person or group of people.


The Songs of Faith

Read Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21.

The song of Moses is one of hundreds of songs in the bible. Miriam has a song, Mary has a song, Zechariah and the angels at Jesus’ birth have songs. Many of the Psalms were originally songs sung in worship. The Song of Solomon is a whole book of songs, and Isaiah has many songs in it as well.

Music has an ability to connect important themes or moments to our soul. A birthday just isn’t the same without being sung to. What songs or hymns are important to you? What makes those songs important? Are there songs that enhance your faith?

Say a prayer giving thanks for the beauty and power of music in your life.


The Path to Freedom

Read Exodus 14:19-31.

This is a story with many layers. The wind blowing over the waters to create a path to freedom bring to mind the opening verses of Genesis, where we hear of the breath of God blowing over the face of the waters. This hints that in delivering Israel from slavery into freedom, God was making a new creation – of creating order from chaos once again. Up to this point, God has been leading the Israelites, but here, God’s role shifts as the angel moves from the front to bringing up the rear – offering protection as the Israelites now take the final, terrifying step towards freedom.

When we are seeking freedom in our lives – whether it is freedom from fear, anxiety, self-doubt, unhealthy relationships, unhealthy habits, materialism, debt, etc. – we sometimes wonder why God doesn’t make it any easier. Could it be that God has led us to this place and now protects us as we take the first, furtive step onto the path to freedom? From what do you need to be delivered? How has God led you to this place and what decisions must you make before you walk between the waves? What tools will you use when you feel overwhelmed and are tempted to turn back?

In prayer, ask God for the wisdom to know what it is that keeps you in chains, for the humility to follow God’s lead, and for the courage to take steps towards freedom.


Conflict Resolution

Read Matthew 18:15-20.

Here, Jesus gives a step-by-step approach to resolving conflict. If someone hurts us, we are to speak honestly and openly with the person, revealing the pain that we have experienced. If that doesn’t seem to help, then we are to ask for help from one or two trusted friends. If the one who has done harm still won’t listen, then involve more people. If even that won’t work, then take a break from that relationship.

It seems that we live in a culture that skips the hard work of honest dialogue and either blasts their grievances to anyone who will listen or puts a halt to any contact. How different would social media or the news or television or our own personal lives look if we privately hashed out our differences? What pain might be avoided? What hurtful words might go unsaid? Think of someone with whom you have a difficult relationship. Would a calm, honest conversation be helpful?

In prayer, ask God for the courage to have difficult conversations, for the humility to admit your own part in a problem, and for the peace to offer forgiveness.


The Time is Now

Read Romans 13:8-14.

Paul reminds us in verses 11-12 that it is time to wake from our sleep for salvation is nearer than it ever has been. This is the truth each day with which we are gifted. Each day brings the opportunity to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” in the way we think, speak, and act. Each day brings the opportunity to speak words of hope, to bring light to someone’s day. Each day brings the opportunity to forgive someone or to make amends.

If you knew this was your last day, what conversations would you have? With whom would you want to spend time? Why not take advantage of this day? Why wait?

In prayer, ask God to enliven your faith and compel you to shine the light of love into the lives of others.


Energetic Praise

Read Psalm 149.

In this psalm of praise, we can imagine an animated, vigorous celebration, complete with shouting and dancing and singing at the top of your lungs. In other words, about the opposite of what we’re used to in our own worship services. Why is this? What keeps us from expressing our thanks and praise with such abandon? Are we too self-conscious? Are we too proud?

In verse 4, we read God adorns the humble with victory. What would it look like to set down our pride and worship with great enthusiasm and humility?

Sometime today when you’re in the car or in the shower, practice this type of worship. Bonus points if you do it where someone else can hear!