Advent prayer

Gracious, loving Father. You have come to earth as fire, as a dove, as a man. The light and breath of life became a man, to be born and die and conquer death. The light of life had to face the terror of death? Had to go through the depths of grief? Had to endure temptation, torture, betrayal? Knew family and friends? How could I have taken this for granted before? You made all these aspects of life but yet You are not above experiencing them Yourself, in the way that we experience them.

You direct my steps and rule my words, help me focus my thoughts and clear out my pride so there is room for You. Please… I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer of wholeness

Holy Father. All praise, nothing but worship, to Your precious name. Your fullness is all around us, tangible and intangible, in pleasure and in pain. You offer the wholeness we crave, the meaning for our limited amount of time. You offer boundaries and freedom in perfect balance. You offer love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and companionship overflowing. You don’t expect us to be perfect or uniform or anything else, but instead You hope and yearn for us in all things to turn to You. You are always near, waiting for us to turn and come closer to You. We come to You with all that we have, our joys and our pain, our gratitude and our requests, our fears and our hopes, our lament and our praise. And You are with us in all of them. You know them intimately. You listen as we share them. You occupy the space that creates relationship. You make us full of awe as we think that the Eternal Creator and Sustainer of all is here to listen, to guide, to fill us up, to reconcile with us so that we can be in relationship. You are King of my days and all that is in them. I will worship You forever. Please help me live by faith. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Leviticus 23

The Bible is a story about God and His people; about Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church. It is not about us. Perhaps we can relate to some of the stories or glean guidance from the wisdom in Scriptures. But what we can get real meaning from is seeking God in the stories.

We see God giving His people exactly what they need, over and over. We see His extended patience before delivering justice. We see His compassion while delivering justice. We see His love, mercy, grace and forgiveness as a response to human choices. We see His faithfulness, even when His people are unfaithful. We see His disregard for earthly status as a measure of whether someone has worth or a unique purpose in His plan. In passages such as Leviticus 23 that are full of laws that seem odd to our culture and time, we see God looking out for His people, giving them laws that are in their best interest, that will help them stay close to Him.

There are many places in Scripture that are difficult to explain without extensively studying the historical and cultural context, and that remain hard to explain even after such study. And honestly, it is hard to get excited about daily Bible reading when countless laws or genealogies make up the day’s portion of text. But what if instead of trying to explain or defend every verse of Scripture, we think about what the Scripture means in the context of God’s relationship with His people? The laws become examples of God guiding His people. The genealogies become an example of God caring about individuals, even when to us they seem lost in the larger scheme of things (and if they seem lost in the big picture to us, how much more amazing it is that they don’t seem like that to God!). Instead of reading scriptures for black and white answers and evidence for debates, what would happen if we read scripture for assurance? Assurance that God is still doing for His people today what He has been doing for His people since the beginning of time. Living out scripture would become less like a check list and more like a new perspective for seeing the world and what God is doing in our lives.

Ezekiel 43 & 47

These are incredible descriptions of God returning to his people. In chapter 43, the glory of the Lord fills the temple. There’s nothing I can say about it except to recommend a few readings of it.

In chapter 47, the beauty of the text also leaves little room for comment. Ezekiel describes a river that gradually grows deeper, even though it has no tributaries. This river also renews itself into fresh water. Salt water becomes fresh water. It gives life to many fruit bearing trees and living creatures. There are even swamps and marshes so that there can still be salt. The river is complete, perfect, full of diversity and pure. “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Vs.12). What a beautiful promise. I love the metaphors in the Bible and am adding this one to the list. Even though I like to think about the beauty at the end of the river, I must keep in mind that the river grows gradually and eventually into “a river that no one could cross” (vs. 5). I must be patient to see the beauty at the end, and I must depend on God to take me there, because I can’t cross on my own.

Prayer of prescence

Father, loving Father, always here. In my need You draw me near. You are here in the tension of opposing forces trying to establish balance. You are here in every circumstance, sick or well, good or bad. You are here despite my lack of faithfulness and understanding. You are here offering to awake me to the fulness of Your grace, love and light, Your kindness and generosity, You security and meaning. You are here, You always have been and always will be. I don’t need to worry about the future because You will be there. Help me open up to You each moment. Help me seek You and find You, ask You and hear/ receive from You, knock on Your door and enter when You open it. Thank You. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Fear

Many times I wonder where I’m going to get the energy to get out of bed tomorrow and get through the experiences that I know are coming, much less the ones that I don’t expect. Not only the energy, but also the courage.

Many times each new idea I have also makes me tremble with fear. Because I know these are not just ideas, they are ideas God has given me the responsibility to act on. I tremble because I forget He has also given me or will give me the energy, courage, support, resources and whatever else I need to act on them.

Right now I feel so open to where God is taking me that I also feel empty. And right now I feel scared. And right now I feel alone, but also not alone. And right now I feel my faith changing into something real.

I’ve learned that God will draw near to me when I draw near to Him. I’ve learned that He is all I need in any circumstance. I’ve learned that He still works miracles and He sometimes uses human hands to do them. I’ve learned the mission of the church is healing. I’ve learned that sin is anything that is destructive or distracts from the mission of healing. I’ve learned that the Bible is a multitude of stories and experiences that provide us a means of reflection on our own stories and experiences so that we can make sense of them on God’s terms. I’ve learned that God’s terms are not bound by space or time and that they are founded on grace, love, mercy and justice. And I’ve learned that in this transforming faith, I may have many fears, but there is no room for letting fear prevent me from moving forward. It is simply not an option.

And what is my plan for conquering this fear? Simply being present. Showing up and staying. Showing up, staying and letting God take care of the rest. So I show up to the blank page on my computer to express and organize my thoughts. I show up to my Bible and prayer journal for guidance and assurance. I show up to the various tasks and commitments of my life to seek God and learn about Him, to thank Him and to share Him with others. I show up to various relationships to let God work His most powerful miracles, teach His most powerful lessons and move and shape my life in His most powerful ways. Sometimes I don’t show up and that is my greatest sin. I’ll try to ignore the thoughts that I am scared to express, I’ll do something else rather than pray, I do daily tasks without being present with God in them or I’ll neglect or avoid a relationship. But every time I do show up, God is there, every single time.

Matthew 5

One of my favorite passages of scripture in recent years is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 in Matthew, also in various chapters in the other gospels). The theme of the sermon on the mount is to trust God. Just like Israel was to show their trust in God by following his instructions with the manna (see Exodus 16), we can show our trust by following the instructions Jesus gives us here. He is teaching us that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. He is teaching that he will provide for us spiritually, emotionally, physically, that his instructions can resolve conflict, that he is enough, that his love for us is enough for us to be kind to our enemies. He is teaching that he sees and remembers what we do for him, that he will provide earthly blessings as we need them; that he will deliver justice, that he will give us what we ask for and draw near to us when we draw near to him, that he will provide us with trustworthy spiritual leaders and that those who believe and have faith to the point of action will stand firm.

Whether I’m taking classes in Family Studies or Management & Leadership, the lessons Jesus teaches here are recognized as best practices when working with others. These disciplines aren’t recognizing things like meekness, humility and love as best practices because Jesus tells us too, but rather because they just make sense. Being humble during a conflict with someone else will deescalate like nothing else because how do you argue with someone who is truly humble? This is the evidence I point to when talking to non-believers about why I personally believe that God exists and that he created us. I don’t know enough about science to use proof from that field, but I do know God’s instructions for interpersonal relationships are what makes the most sense and even what research shows to be best. Every time I read Jesus’s teaching or see them in action, I am in awe at God’s perfect wisdom.

Philippians 1

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…” (vs. 9).

A similar form of the word discernment is used in Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”. It is also used in Luke 9:45. Jesus predicts his death in vs. 44 and then Luke states, “But they [the disciples] did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”. The verse in Hebrews and verses 10-11 of Philippians 1 point to the interpretation of discernment as conscience. The verse in Luke points to discernment as not deciding between right and wrong (like a conscience does) but as perception or understanding. I Googled the definition of discernment and found a specific definition for Christian contexts, which is “perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtain spiritual direction and understanding”. That definition joins together the two meanings of conscience, “spiritual direction”, (Philippians 1 and Hebrews 5) and perception, “understanding” (Luke 9).

Still fascinated by this word, I looked into online commentaries from BibleHub.com and found commentators that described this discernment as a sense of moral feeling. Paul wants the Philippians to have both knowledge in Christ, as in a cognitive understanding, but also a mature conscience in which the knowledge of good and evil is felt. Deciding right and wrong by our feeling, our conscience, seems dicey. What if our conscience is different from someone else’s? Wouldn’t that make unity quite difficult? But Paul doesn’t encourage the development of conscience so that the Philippians can argue over right and wrong and who’s conscience is purer. He prays that they “may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Later in the letter he will admonish the Philippians to fill their minds with things that are excellent, true, noble, wise, lovely, just, pure and praiseworthy. It is important to discern and meditate on what is right, not so much so that we can condemn what is wrong, but so that we can gain a deeper understanding of what is right and be able to better choose right from wrong. This will lead to the fruits of righteousness that glorify and praise God (vs. 11).

We can gain discernment through love and knowledge, which form a chain reaction in every direction. Love for God invokes curiousness to learn more about Him and closer intimacy with Him helps make our feelings and perceptions align with His. Likewise, knowledge and understanding invoke more love for God. This is one of many instances where different aspects of Christianity are connected so that they lead to a continuous cycle of growing infinitely closer to God. These patterns shut off my analytical mind and make me pause in awe and worship of the perfect completeness God as Father, Son and Spirit have provided us.

1 John 4

“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.”

The relationship between fear and love is a theme in many stories, for example, someone hiding something because they are afraid they won’t be loved if they show it. In these stories, the tension between fear and love is explored to reveal what true love is.

In his letter, John is combating gnosticism and is trying to help believers see what truth is. It doesn’t take long to see that John’s emphasis in this letter is love. Why? Because love is truth. God is love and love comes from God. If it is love from God, then it is truth. And what kind of love is this? What kind of love has God shown to us? He loved us while we were imperfect. He spared no cost to heal us. We do not have to be afraid because we are not perfect.

I have to admit, I have a hard time loving myself unconditionally or believing that others love me because I know that I am not perfect. I don’t really see it as an issue with self-esteem or self-confidence, it is an issue with fear. I am afraid that since I am not perfect, that I am not worthy of love. To put it another way, I am doubting that God’s love or other people’s love is strong enough to look beyond my imperfections. I know this is ridiculous, I love others even though they are not perfect and I know that they love me even though I am not perfect. But knowing something cognitively and feeling it are entirely different. I don’t know how exactly I hope to go about feeling love for myself and others’ love for me, but I can begin by trusting that in God’s perfect love, the love that saved me and saves me while I am still a sinner, I have no need to fear. I’m not trying to be a better person so that God (or others or myself) will love me more, but instead because the more I become like Christ, the more I will know God.

Another amazing thing about becoming more like Christ and being around others who are becoming more like Christ is found in verse 12, “No one as ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” As the footnotes in my NIV version say, “Thus the God whom ‘no one has ever seen’ is seen in those who love, because God lives in them.” I want to be around people who see my imperfections and love me anyway, because they help me know God’s love. I want to be around people who aren’t perfect (including myself) and love them anyway, because this is an opportunity for God’s love to be made complete in me and for me to learn more about God.

Micah 6

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:6-8

Right now in my life, God is answering my prayers for Him to teach me to depend on Him. He also recently answered my prayers for Him to teach me to be content in any situation. He’s helped me learn how to become content, and now He’s helping me learn to stay content by depending on Him.

A big part of the learning process for me involves asking questions. The following is something I wrote to myself one night to sort out the questions. I want to share it now just in case anyone else can relate to the questions or the ideas that follow them.

What is dependence on God?

It is questions that can’t be answered. Because if they were, it would mean we could accomplish them on our own.

It means not knowing what the plan is for tomorrow or the next day or your whole life. It means change and discomfort. It means letting go of yourself whenever you’re not exactly sure of yourself and instead exchanging your insecurity for complete confidence in God.

For me right now, dependence is not knowing exactly what instructions I should let govern my behavior or decision making. I don’t have a rulebook or instruction manual. I have the Holy Spirit inside me and I never know what exactly is going on. I live in confusion, but confidence. Confidence that someone else, someone perfect, is in control. This confidence means I don’t worry. I don’t dip into despair at the weight of individual, local or global problems. I still feel compassion and rage, but I don’t feel the weight on my own shoulders. I hope rather than despair. And I don’t even have this confidence 100% of the time, I lose my way frequently, but I know that if I draw near, He will bring me back. I don’t seek to get lost, but when I do, I know I can always go back to Him.

So who am I supposed to be in this world? If I’m depending on God, what actions do I take? What qualities do I cultivate and which ones do I trash? I cultivate the qualities of Himself that he has shown me and try to reflect them to others. He has shown me that he is faithful. Therefore, I want to be faithful. I want the people I have relationships to know that I will always be running towards them, no matter how they change or what choices they make. This means I seek to cultivate qualities that lead me to being consistent, strong, willing to risk rejection, full of compassion, available and kind. In terms of Micah 6:8, it means I seek to love mercy.

He has shown me through His Son to love Him and love others, so that I would do to them what I wish they would do to me. This is justice. To treat people like you want to be treated. This applies to the people I disagree with, that I don’t fit in with, who share a different worldview than me. This applies to people who are defenseless and powerless. This applies to the people that I love and that love me and who I take for granted. This applies to the difficult people in my life currently and those that will be there in the future. This applies to all my neighbors. I have trouble with this. I have trouble understanding that God loves me so much that I don’t need acceptance from anyone else. I have trouble practicing the idea that I don’t have to put down someone else’s view in order to establish my own. Please God, help me live justly.

And for the final piece of Micah 6:8—to walk humbly with my God. Total dependence on God. Scary. Frightening. Peaceful. Somber joy. Mourning at the sight of myself, rejoicing in the presence of His salvation and love. Incredible. Always seeking Him for where to go, what to do, what to say. Always praying. Never being arrogant because I’m not confident in myself. Humble because I am submitting to Him always. Humility that blocks out my self, my impulses, my distractions, my vices. Humility that makes myself vulnerable and not in control of anything ever. Humility that says, I’m sorry for all those times I thought I had all the answers. I’m sorry for ignoring you. I’m sorry for not seeking you. I’m sorry for letting others make up my mind for me. I’m sorry for hurting you and hurting others. This humility must be lived. Lived through meekness. Lived through devotion. Lived through seeking, quiet seeking, stilling my soul so I can listen. It must be lived through feeling. Feeling vulnerable. It must be lived through decisions. Deciding on trust. It must be lived through worship and awe. It must be lived through equanimity, unshakeable peace and trust. Unshakeable because there is no self-constructed image or lie that could be shook, just honest acceptance of who I am and that God can use me even though I am not perfect. It must be lived through the courage of letting Him lead and work through me in ways I think are outside of my ability or comfort zone. It must be lived through deep friendship with God, full of layers of depth and understanding of each other.

The more I learn about God, the more I know who He wants me to be in the world. And maybe He has a different relationship with each of us. Maybe He shows different parts of Himself to each of us at different times, hoping that we will reflect them in the world. And with everyone having a different reflection of God, they work together in unity to carry on Christ’s work of restoring creation. Restoring what is beautiful, what God saw on the 1st, 2nd…6th days of creation and said “It is Good.”. Then we will rest with God.