The Initiator of Our Belonging

Whether we find ourselves in exile, an outcast, or seeking refuge of any kind, these words of Isaiah cause us to exhale deeply and remember that our God is interceding and intervening on behalf of our identity. Savor a word or phrase from this passage and come back to it often this week. Notice what happens within your spirit, your breath and your shoulders as you dwell with these words. May God’s shalom wash over you.

Isaiah 62:1-5 NLT

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still.

Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent.

I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn,

and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

The nations will see your righteousness. World leaders will be blinded by your glory.

And you will be given a new name by the LORD’s own mouth.

The LORD will hold you in his hand for all to see—a splendid crown in the hand of God.

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.”

Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,”

for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride.

Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem,

just as a young man commits himself to his bride.

Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

For Prayer and Reflection:

What phrase or word shimmered as you listened to or read the text? Bring it into prayer with Jesus.

Reflect on your experience of God yearning for you; delighting in you. Where have you noticed this in your life? Where do you most long for God to delight in you? Bring these reflections into your prayer.

Rest quietly for a few minutes in any consoling words or pictures given to you.

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Our Own Betrayals

Amidst the pain of betrayal in this passage emerges the knowing of a place of intimate trust which Jesus shared with his father and closest friends. This garden was his place of prayer, his safe place, his vulnerable place. Within this cocoon of intimacy, Jesus bravely faced his betrayer - his friend. This can be a painfully hard passage to enter in our prayer. Perhaps the invitation is to simply trust that such a place exists for us too in our prayer. 

John 18:1-11 (NLT)
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. 2 Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. 3 The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
4 Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
5 “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) 6 As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” 9 He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened to the text? Did a word or phrase stand out in particular? Meditate on this word, phrase or picture. Is there more God wants to say to you?

This passage might guide you to reflect on your own experience of betrayal including times when you have betrayed yourself. What do you notice inside of you as reflect? How do you most need Jesus to be with you in this moment? Take some deep breaths remembering that God’s Spirit breathes in you. Be very, very gentle with yourself and simply ask for what you need.  You might hold your own hand, or lay your hand upon your heart in your prayer as an extension of compassion towards your pain and need.

Savor any consoling words or pictures God gives you. Simply rest in God’s presence.

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The Way of Trust and Surrender

Repeatedly through the Gospels, Jesus has candid conversations with those in relationship with him. He allows them not only to hear his words but also to actually live in the experience of them.   Some of what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage is...
 
I have shown and will keep showing you how I trust my Father's life in me, surrender to his initiatives and take action. It may look senseless, crazy or too hard to you at times but this is where life is so big that it can hold truth, reality and pain together while my Father continually works to bring renewal. Evil will not prevail. Vulnerable love is powerful. Are you willing to join me in what I am doing?

John 14:5-14 (NLT)
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

For Reflection and Prayer:
If something captured your attention - a word, a phrase, an image - let this simmer in you and allow the Spirit to expand its meaning for you. Journal what you hear and your response.

Meditate on one of the names of Jesus which has been particularly meaningful for you. What about that characteristic deepens your attachment to Jesus?

Quietly rest with God and any consoling words or images given to you in this time of prayer.

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How Do You Recognize God's Voice?

Now able to physically see, we can only imagine the sensory overload of all the many sights previously 'unseen' by the healed blind man. He likely had developed a highly attuned capacity to hear as a result of his physical blindness. It is interesting that Jesus continues to seek this man out. Jesus seems to be deliberately assuring the healed man of his presence and training him in learning how to recognize his voice. Even today he comes alongside us to help us learn to recognize his voice and see what was previously unseen.

John 9:35-41 (NLT)
 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”
38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.
39 Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, phrase or image which ‘shimmered’ for you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Quietly reflect on it in your prayer with Jesus. Journal your conversation.

Is there a particular feeling you experience as you reflect on these words? Welcome this feeling into your prayer and have a conversation with Jesus about it.

Remember words which Jesus has spoken to you in the past. How did you hear them? How did you know that it was Jesus speaking to you? What was the tone of his voice? What was the fruit of those words spoken to you?

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

More Food For Your Soul

We eat and drink a variety of foods and beverages every day. In this story Jesus invites us to recognize from where our real life nourishment and wholeness comes.

If we really believe that Christ is the Bread that is most needed, how might that change our daily rhythms? Taking in food and drink are essential to fuel our physical bodies (including our mind) for our work and daily life. How is it we can feed on this Bread from heaven, the One who gives us life, now and forever? Might you see this food as essential to sustaining your life? What might this look like for you?

Prayer and the Word are "feeding tubes" for our soul.

John 6:35-51 (NLT)
 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me.  However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.  For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.  And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.  For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
 Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
 But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said.  For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.  As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.  (Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from God, have seen him.)
 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.  Yes, I am the bread of life!  Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died.  Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
What spoke to you as you listened? What feelings seemed to accompany this? Sit with this and see what else the Spirit may reveal.

What do you hunger for? How do you experience Jesus as your bread of life? Take this into your prayer.

Notice any “murmurings” rising up in you and have a gentle conversation with Jesus about what you truly need.

Consider the inclusivity of God and His desire for all.

Only The Father Knows

The season of Advent reminds us to wait with intention.

Jesus' life, recorded in the Scripture gives us many clues as to what he was waiting and watching for. He consistently went off to be alone with his Father. He longed to be in the company of his father, to be at home with him. This text reminds us that there are some things which only the Father knows. We can either fear the Father's knowledge and how he will use it or we can imitate Jesus and draw close to the Father and listen to his heart. We can wonder. What might the Father know that he too longs for us to hear?

Matthew 24:36, 42-44 NLT

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Did a word, phrase or picture come to mind as you listened to the text?

Journal what you are wondering about. Bring these wonderings into conversation with Jesus.

Did a particular feeling or emotion arise as you listened to the text? Tell Jesus about it. He or the Father may have more to say to you about it.

Our Hiding Place

The place we go to hide can become the place where we become found by God and find God for ourselves. It is a place where we can be seen and known with love and compassion, including the parts of ourselves we most want to hide from. As you find a quiet moment to listen to the words of Psalm 32, give them room to soak in like a softly falling rain.

Psalm 32:1-7 NIV
1 Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the LORD does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the LORD.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened to the text? Did it stir up a feeling within you as you listened?
What do you hear about God in this passage?
What do you hear about yourself in these words?
What is your prayer that emerges from these words? What might you ask God to do in you?

Safe Shelter

How might your prayer open the door to experiencing the safe shelter of God, regardless of circumstance?

God meets us in our prayer as we quiet our hearts and allow God's abiding presence to create a sense of safety within us. This may not happen instantaneously and our sometimes unconscious images of God keep us from trusting that God could actually be safe enough to be real and honest with. Yet God promises us his perfect peace as we set our minds on him and it is God's supernatural, mysterious power which brings this peace to us. Be patient with yourself as you learn to approach God in quiet confidence. Sometimes beginning our prayer with an image in our heart of a safe meeting place with God helps us find courage to begin to trust that possibility of safe shelter.

Psalm 36: 5-10 NLT

Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O LORD.
7     How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
    in the shadow of your wings.
8 You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
    letting them drink from your river of delights.
9 For you are the fountain of life,
    the light by which we see.

For Reflection and Prayer:

What word, a phrase, image, or feeling shimmered as you listened? Bring it into your prayer with Jesus. Journal what Jesus says in response to you.

Reflect on a time when the Lord showed unfailing love and faithfulness to you. Savor this experience in your prayer. Allow God to expand the vastness or depth of the experience by returning to it. You may want to journal or express your experience artistically with pencil, ink or color.

Is there a situation now which you would like to bring with you under the shelter of God’s wings? One of the pictures on the table may assist you in visualizing this request in your prayer and simply staying there with God.

A Shared Gaze

The mountains in our lives can seem like permanently immovable obstacles on our journey to live into the abundant life. Yet perhaps they are the very thing which prompts our gaze to shift. The mountains invite us to look up; to see them and to see beyond them.

Thankfully, there is One who is ever seeing us. whose loving gaze is always upon us. God sees us long before we see God. What might it be like meet God's gaze today and mutually share in it together? Even for a moment.

Slow down a task today, and consider God's gaze upon you as you are in it. Soak in God's pleasure.

Psalm 121 (NLT)
1 I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth!
3 He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.
5 The LORD himself watches over you!
    The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.
7 The LORD keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What word, a phrase, image, or feeling caught your attention as you listened? Bring it into your prayer with Jesus. Journal what Jesus says in response to you.

How do you experience the gaze of God? What does God see? Linger in the gaze of God.

What mountains stand before you this day? What helps you shift your gaze to God? And what shifts in you as you shift your gaze?

How have you experienced the protective shade of God?

Our Fight Song

Our fight song sounds much different from the popular methods of the world for we do not battle in the flesh. There is One who fights for us. As we learn to be still, pray, trust, speak truth, worship and dwell with God, we experience God doing battle on our behalf.

For many, this is a go-to Psalm for spiritual battle, oppression and contending prayer. Learn this song, and sing it often.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Psalm 91 (NLT)

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
8 Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.
9 If you make the LORD your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

For Reflection and Prayer:

What word, a phrase, image, or feeling caught your attention as you listened? Bring it into your prayer.

Reflect on how or when have you experienced God fighting battle for you or sheltering you.

If you were to form this Psalm into a song, how would it sound? What elements, rhythm, tone, theme, melody, harmony, voice and/or form would you use? How would God’s voice to you sound within it?